No such thing as a bad day at the water’s edge (barbel article, entry 158)

All of our major rivers in this country have tributaries that are not so well known, other than to the people that live in the immediate area. One such waterway is the River Sow, which eventually empties itself into the Trent on the edges of Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. Apart from flowing through the town of Stafford, it meanders mostly through countryside.

It is very much a chub river, and whilst it may not contain fish that rival some of the top venues in the country, nevertheless for those in the catchment area, it does provide some excellent sport. But as with many rivers today, it also holds barbel. You wouldn’t describe it as a ‘barbel river’ but they are in there, as I found out in the summer of 2002.

I had a few sessions in pursuit of the species and came up trumps with just the one fish – but as it was a double, then certainly one that was very welcome indeed. Since then I have had the odd session here and there but have never caught another fish. So this season, with a really focused barbel campaign ahead, I decided to once more spend some quality time on the Sow.

Arriving at the water’s edge an hour or so before the sun set over the horizon, I first had to clear access to the river. Like so many of our flowing water venues these days, the banks hardly see an angler. Certainly there are the popular spots, but get away from those and you will very often have the whole place to yourself. And that’s how it was for me on the Sow, although I had decided to fish just the one peg anyway.

The session itself lasted for 4 ½ hours – even then it meant I didn’t eventually hit the pillow at home until 2.30. That’s one of the downsides of summer angling – the days are so long and the nights so short. And if you are one of those anglers like me, who does most of his fishing at night, it doesn’t half eat into your daily routine. It’s like working shifts, except that we don’t go home to sleep but usually to begin work.

The Sow produced just the one fish – a chub pushing 4lb. It would certainly have been an excellent fish had I specifically been pursuing it, but on 10lb line it didn’t provide much of a fight. The river itself was very quiet. Often in the summer once darkness sets in, there are fish topping on a regular basis, but on this occasion the surface remained undisturbed.

And by coincidence, as I am once more fishing the Sow, I was surprised to see that my fish of four years ago appears on Brian Dowling’s list of record barbel that appeared on Barbel Fishing World the day after my session. No doubt, like many of the river records, bigger fish have been caught. But if fish aren’t publicised then there’s nothing that can be done. So seeing the fish gave me the added incentive to catch another – and bigger! And if I do, then you will be the first to read about it.

To complete the week I headed in the opposite direction into Worcestershire to fish the Teme. I returned to the same section I had fished on my last visit to the river. And with thunderstorms approaching fast I had no intention of roving, but rather to bed down in one swim. In fact, no sooner had I cast out then the heavens opened. Fortunately though, I was well away from the centre of the thunder and lightning, instead just a downpour was all I experienced. And as it was the hottest July day ever on record, it was actually quite refreshing.

Within seconds of the bait being in the river, I found myself striking into a bream. As darkness fell I was confident that I would catch a barbel, but it wasn’t to be. I did have a good bite just after midnight, but this turned out to be a chub. Again, a good fish, but as with chub when using barbel gear, the odds are overwhelmingly in favour of the angler.

My frame of mind was very much ‘I’m not going home till I catch one’, so I decided to fish on through the night. The swim in question must be one of the most uncomfortable I have ever set up in. I couldn’t even begin to explain what it is like, but as long as safety is taken care of, I choose a peg for the fishing potential not my own comfort.

As dawn came and went, I was disappointed that I hadn’t caught a barbel. In fact it was my fourth barbel blank on the trot. But I always tell it as it is, so just as I write about my ‘good’ days I also share about the ‘bad’ ones too! And I deliberately use inverted commas because in reality there is no such thing as a bad day at the water’s edge!

(Originally published July 2006)

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