Small river plus otters equals no barbel (barbel article, entry 209)

For the first couple of sessions of the week I returned to the ‘small undisclosed river’ that I have been fishing since the start of the season. To say it has been hard is an understatement, and that trend continued as once again I failed to find any barbel. The first outing saw the river looking something like it ought to at this time of the year, instead of resembling a large lake, as it has been doing recently courtesy of the downpours we have been experiencing. With it being shallow it is definitely an after-dark venue, and that suited me fine as due to work commitments I wasn’t able to cast a line until almost 09.30.

 In spite of the river looking good I had nothing at all, not even an enquiry from a chub. However you cannot fault my commitment as I decided to stay through the night in the hope that something would pass my way. But nothing did, or at least it didn’t take a fancy to the offering I had laid out for it. I do lean much more to the first theory rather than the latter though, as I am sure that if there was a fish around then I would have at least been aware of it. I wasn’t deterred though and a couple of days later I was back again. A man of dedication or a sucker for punishment, I will let you decide the answer to that.

 This time the river was looking spot-on and I thought to myself that if I don’t catch this time then the barbel have definitely done a runner. Well, that was the case and after otter activity was observed again I am wondering if that is the reason for the lack of fish. Otter and barbel do not go well together, particularly in a small and shallow river like this. I know from reading accounts by people who have been diving into rivers that they can often swim right up to barbel, and certainly an otter would take full advantage of this docile behaviour. Anyway I shall see how it goes, as I won’t be giving up just yet, that’s for sure.


I rounded the week off by heading for a recognised barbel river – The Severn. If you can’t catch them from there, then you really are struggling; but having said that, the lower reaches of the river are as temperamental as they come. In life the older we get, the more predictable and stable we should become, but in the case of the River Severn the opposite is true. Rather than behaving like a dependable person of mature years, it is more akin to an out of control wild-hormone teenager, where you never know what is coming next.

 The river itself was already high when I arrived and during the session it started to creep up the bank. I only stayed till dark, but at the rate of increase I would not have been surprised if by the next morning it was right at the rim. But the swim I had chosen, with a protruding willow to the left, looked like a reasonable high water mark and so there was no issue as far as bait presentation was concerned. Casting out my boilie, I had no problems from the racing water just a few metres out into the main flow.

 During the session the effects of the rain manifested themselves with numerous items drifting past, from forty-feet long trees complete with root systems to clumps of turf that were the result of sections of bank that had been washed away. It reminded me of the Generation Game when you have to remember everything that comes along, except in this instance it was more a case of dead sheep than cuddly toys.


But whatever was happening on the surface, the fish were feeding beneath it. It was a lovely bite that saw me striking into what felt like an excellent fish. If I had lost it I would have sworn that it was a double, such was the way it fought. It hugged the bottom and didn’t race off like smaller fish so often do, indicating to me that I had connected with a cracking fish. However it wasn’t as big as I thought. Still, it was nice to actually catch something so I wasn’t disappointed.

 I ended up having a hook pull later on right at the end of the session. That didn’t feel like a big fish at all, but who knows, based on my previous error of judgement! By the time I did pack away though it was becoming harder to fish as the rapidly rising river even started to affect a bait presented under the rod tip. The biggest problem was the amount of debris that started to wrap itself around the terminal tackle. Within five minutes of casting out the rod was bent over almost double with the weight of the stuff pulling into the current. But by then it was time to pack away anyway, so it didn’t cause too many problems. Perhaps it wasn’t such a good high water mark after all.

(Originally published July 2oo7)

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