For someone who is a self-professed river fanatic, it just seemed really strange that here I was, well into a new season, and all I had done was fish lakes! Even though I was actually maximising the use of my angling time by fishing for tench instead of barbel, somehow it didn’t quite seem right! Therefore, even if only to satisfy that yearning inside, I packed my barbel gear and headed for the River Severn. To borrow from one of my Northern Soul tracks, it was definitely a case of ‘Severn days too long’ (yes, I can hear you groan!), although in this instance it was actually into the third week.
But prior to the actual fishing, I had to prepare for the session, which would be the start of a barbel campaign that will now see me through until next March. Although I will fish for other species as well (I can usually juggle two campaigns at the same time) the common denominator for the next nine months will be barbel.
The first stage of my preparation was to load some new line on my reel. My bream sessions on the gravel pit meant that it was imperative that fresh line appeared. By their very nature – and name – fishing gravel pits means that you do need to change line more frequently than normal. I usually check and change my line quite regularly anyway, as it’s a key element, and even the slightest flaw will be exploited by a good fish.
Apart from changing the line, the only other thing I needed to do was to make some boilies. Or in this case, I delegated the task to my lovely assistant Debby. Well, that’s what wives are for isn’t it! To be truthful though, my wife does lend me a hand sometimes when we make boilies, and on this occasion as I had just been laying some bricks and couldn’t get the smell of concrete from my hands, she did offer. Even as a non-angling woman, she knows how I feel about any possibility of tainting baits. Sometimes I’m fussier about what goes into my boilies than I am about the food I eat!
The day arrived and as I walked to the Severn from the car park, I got excited at my first glimpse of the river. It reminded me, as a kid living smack bang in the middle of the country, how I always used to look for the sea from the train window as we journeyed towards the North Wales coast on our family vacation. Here I am, 30-odd years later, different situation and different circumstances, yet that first glimpse of water still causes my heart to leap. And long may that child-like love for angling be maintained is what I say.
As I dropped everything into the peg (No matter how I try I always seem to end up with a mountain of gear) and took a drink, looking round I was the only angler for as far as the eye can see, and that was including both banks. Not that I’m complaining, of course, it’s merely an observation. But give me the wide-open spaces any time. Of course it’s each to his own, but I do like nothing better than being the only angler on a stretch. Or failing that, at least have a good distance between the next one and me.
Before I even thought about fishing, I baited up with seeds. Out came the bait dropper and in went half a bucket of feed. I baited up two spots, one well downstream and the other about half way across. With the river being low and having minimal flow, a reasonable sized lead would comfortably hold the bait where I wanted it to be once I cast out. As I had a few hours to go before dark (I find the lower Severn doesn’t fish that well in summer during the daytime for barbel with boilies) there was plenty of time to set up. In fact, even with taking my time, it was about 6.00 pm before I eventually cast out and settled back.
It was to be a further six hours plus before I landed my first fish if the session. It fought well that I estimated it to be a chub. I was very surprised therefore, to discover a good bream break the surface as I slipped it over the waiting landing net. Of course river bream fight harder then their still-water cousins, but this one was particularly feisty. Returning it, I reflected on what a quiet session it had been up to that point.
It was well into the early hours (2.30 am to be precise) when I hooked into the next fish. ‘It’s definitely not a barbel, but almost certainly a very big bream. Maybe it is even my first double’, I thought to myself, as I played the fish. Well, imagine my surprise when I lifted a barbel from the water. It’s a funny old world sometimes isn’t it! I didn’t weigh the fish but estimated it to be a high ‘4’ and maybe even a scraper ‘5’ but definitely not any more than that.
The nights are quite short at this time of the year, and as the sun started to poke its head over the horizon, I thought that I would go home without a decent barbel. However, at 4.30 am I had a lovely take that resulted in me trying my hardest to stop the fish in its tracks. I thought I had lost it when it had obviously found itself a snag to hide away in. But a little teasing and I found myself once more playing the fish, but this time a branch as well.
Once away from the tree, I was clearly the favourite and soon found myself netting a very nice fish. ‘What an ending’ I thought, ‘a double to go home with’. However I was very surprised to find that the scales didn’t make the magical 10lb mark. In fact so surprised was I that I weighed it twice! And that’s a waste of time really, as my scales are super-accurate. But somehow I had to settle the issue in my mind. Returning the fish I still couldn’t believe it wasn’t a double. Still, there’ll be plenty more opportunities over the next few months to put that right!
(Originally published July 2005)