Needle in a haystack (barbel article, entry 164)

As a ‘soul man’, with a particular leaning towards Tamla Motown, whenever I hear the phrase ‘Needle in a haystack’, I instantly think of The Velvelettes’ classic track. However, it has a secondary prompt, as it also reminds me very much of the barbel in the River Sow! And with a catch rate this season so far of four fish in seventeen sessions, I think you understand why. But with three of those being doubles (the best a magnificent 12lb 4oz specimen) it’s hardly a wild goose chase I find myself on.

The first two sessions this week saw me heading to a familiar stretch – even down to fishing a tried and trusted peg. However, both visits drew a blank. Even though the conditions were perfect, the river was top notch and Wolves were riding high in the league, unfortunately the goods weren’t delivered. But isn’t that what makes fishing so compelling? The only predictable thing about angling is that it is unpredictable.

I for one am glad that it isn’t scientific. Imagine if we knew that on a certain day we would catch at 9.43 pm and apart from that it was all downhill. It would certainly take away the element of ‘not knowing’ – an important factor that drives the angler on. However, some devotees of the moon theory do exactly that – fishing to a particular moment, believing that once that small window has passed they may as well go home.

But even though I struggled on the fish front, I did see a crane fly overhead. Looking up I saw an enormous bird, which once I got my binoculars on it instantly identified it as a crane. This is the first time I have seen one, hence it is a ‘lifer’ (birding term for a first sighting) and it shows how we can appreciate the wider nature package, even when we blank!

The one fish I did encounter though, on my second trip, was a dead chub floating downstream. Fishing it out, the marks on its body indicated that an otter had attacked it. And as if to underline that point, later in the session an otter passed through the swim. With just three feet of water in front of me, the resultant splash when it became aware of my presence hardly did wonders for the rest of the session.

Returning for a third and final trip of the week, I decided to fish a new meadow. It is one that I have been on before, but never for barbel. The swim itself looked excellent, although with the density of barbel in the Sow you never really know if there will be any fish in any given swim. But there is only one way to find out! (Apart from exploring that is, but with the river being coloured, that was a non-starter).

The sun had already set anyway by the time I arrived, so putting in a dozen boilies / balls of paste, I put the rod in the rest and sat back to await some action. I had a number of chub plucks early on, but no signs of barbel at all. Fishing till midnight, I left the swim thinking that it must be worth another visit, as it just looked so ‘barbely’.

On the way back home I asked myself the question, would I like to know exactly how many fish in the Sow, their weights, and their exact locations and movements. Although it would no doubt make my fishing more productive, the answer was an emphatic ‘no’. I much prefer the way it is now, having to work hard, constantly think about what I am doing and slowly but surely piecing together bits of information. In fact I wouldn’t have it any other way, but the title ‘Needle in a haystack’ is a very appropriate one as far as the Sow and barbel are concerned!

(Originally published September 2006)

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