Passing the eleven-plus on the Dove (barbel article and video, entry 268)

It’s been over twelve months since I last fished the River Dove. It may sound odd to some if I say that my last visit to the river produced a barbel that weighed in at 16lb 1oz. So I catch a fish like that and stay away for a year. Am I mad? I’m sure that many anglers would have been back the next day – and in the same swim – hoping to catch its big sister. I guess we all respond to exceptional fish catches in many different ways and above all there is no right or wrong. For me I had no desire to return, and I relished a challenge elsewhere, although I knew that was just a temporary thing. But I have once more felt the stirrings of the Dove in my soul and so that’s where I planned to fish this week.

A torrential downpour

After a dry start to the river season, it has been consistently wet ever since. So although I knew the river wouldn’t be in the fields, it would certainly be carrying some extra water. Whilst perhaps the novice would flinch at a river that is up to the rim, the experienced barbel angler would simply relish the opportunity to get the rods out. And whilst it wasn’t as high as I thought it may have been, it was definitely well above normal summer level.

My intention was to spend a certain time in a swim and then move on, and to that purpose took just the one rod. However, on the journey there I found myself in one of the most torrential downpours that I have ever experienced. And considering I’ve been in Africa during the rainy season, as well as some extreme weather in North America, that says something. And with more heavy showers coming in later (against the previous day’s weather forecast I must add) it didn’t take much to persuade me to find a peg and stay in it.


A quality barbel from the Dove

The county boundary

The River Dove is a tributary of the Trent and for much of its journey – certainly the bits that attract barbel anglers – it forms the county boundary between Derbyshire and Staffordshire. I suppose most anglers wouldn’t give it a thought, but I’ve always been interested in the traditional geographical divisions of England and Wales. And it’s for that reason, that although my postal address since 1974 has been West Midlands, I still class myself as a Staffordshire resident. Anyway I see the former as what it really is, an administrative area not an historical shire. However for all my interest in counties, when it comes to fishing, I couldn’t care less. I choose my swim purely and simply on merit rather than whether I will be fishing in Derbyshire or Staffordshire.

Although it was purely by chance, I timed my arrival at the water’s edge perfectly. From the moment I left the car to the time I put the umbrella up, it remained dry. And then it started to rain again. I should have done a double-check on the weather forecast, as the more stationary approach to the session would have seen me take two rods. But it wasn’t a major thing and at least I was fishing. And that’s what really counts. It had been a busy week and I was quite tired previously, but there’s nothing like the prospect of the first cast to put some zip back into a weary body.

Super-human barbel

Having fished the Dove since the year 2000, I have had many a run in with a barbel that has got the better of me. However I don’t buy into the idea that somehow the fish that swim the river are ‘super-human’ (for want of a better expression). Some anglers infer that the Dove barbel are pretty much a species in their own right. I don’t believe that the fish there are any different really to those in other rivers. But because the very big fish are never far from a snag such as an overhanging tree then the moment that they are hooked they will be in there if you give them a chance.


Tip of the week

If you intend to fish for barbel don’t be afraid to go for ‘heavy’ tackle, in fact it’s essential that you don’t go too light. Fish need to be landed in a reasonable time.

And it’s that knowledge that they are literally a second or two from what they see as safety that causes the initial struggle between angler and quarry to be so intense. But draw them out into open water and the odds are firmly in your favour. Plus you need to use the right gear. And on that front I was well equipped with a 2.5 test curve Daiwa Powermesh, a rod that is more suited as far as initial thoughts are concerned, with carp fishing. But when a good double-figure barbel picks up your bait and powers immediately into underwater tree roots just metres away, you need something powerful to stop it in its tracks. And combined with 15lb line, there’s not much that’s going to get the better of me once it’s hooked.


An eleven at eleven

Although I was fishing at 4.15pm, it was seven hours later when I had my first bit of action. Even a solid tip such as a Powermesh comes to life when a good barbel runs for cover. It’s a great feeling lifting into a decent fish, yet it’s also never fully satisfying until you finally net it and the capture is complete. The feeling of initial euphoria can very quickly turn if, for whatever reason, the fish doesn’t make it to the unhooking mat. But this one did and the scales confirmed that not only was it a double, but that it was an ’11’.

I rested the fish in the net, keeping an eye on it while I prepared to cast out again. The fish was absolutely fine and swam off strongly. I had originally decided to fish until 1.00am, but as the night wore on I decided to stay a little longer, particularly as I had an easy day following. Although a few fish were topping in the stretch, it was 3.00am before my next fish picked up the boilie. However, within seconds the line parted company just above the hook. It could have been caused by a number of reasons, but either way I decided to call it quits at that.



The river visible beyond the undergrowth

I’ll be back

By the time I rolled into bed it was 4.30am and a new day was starting for many. On the way home I passed a couple of milkmen on their very early morning rounds. And once into the urban area of Walsall and beyond I noticed several drunks staggering along the footpath, doing the one-step forward two-steps back routine. Being offered the option between a night on the river and a night on the tiles, I know which I would choose every time. And to end on that note, my next visit to the Dove won’t be next year. I’ll be back!



Click on the icon for this week’s video clip


The week ahead

Barbel will again be my quarry for the week ahead, although I’m not sure yet which river(s) I will be fishing. So although the finer details need to be worked out, one thing is for sure – barbel it is.

(Originally published August 2008)


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