That’s it, I’ll blame the otters (barbel article and video, entry 313)


That’s it, I’ll blame the otters!

I can’t believe that we are already over a month into the river season. It only seems like five minutes and I was doing my last canal session of the close season, knowing that the next time I packed the car it would be to head for flowing water. And this year it was the River Sow in Staffordshire that enticed me to a midnight start. And that’s where the first two Angling Journal entries of the season came from. But the low water conditions saw the next pair of articles focusing on eels and roach. But this time round it’s back on the Stour after the elusive barbel!

Although the river was low again when I arrived for session one, it had seen some water in the meantime so it wasn’t stale. River anglers are a funny breed. Either there’s too much water or not enough! It’s much easier if you fish a canal as it never changes from one week to the next, regardless of what the weather does. It can rain non-stop for a week and it never floods or we can have drought for weeks on end and it still stays topped up. But still the rivers have that appeal, and maybe it’s the challenge and the unpredictability that drives us on.

The first chub of the week

The section I am going to concentrate on this summer on the Sow is one where I have yet to catch a barbel – although that statistic has to be qualified by the fact that prior to this season I haven’t fished for the species there. Returning to the stretch it looked pretty much like no-one else had been since my last visit. You don’t need to be Adrian Monk to take one look at the vegetation and see how it has grown back without being disturbed. I arrived late evening and cast out two rods, both identical in every way – 8lb Sufix Synergy mainline to 8lb Drennan Double Strength hook length and size 4 Drennan boilie hook. Even on a small river, choose the right swim and two rods are not a problem.

The first bit of excitement was not from a fish though but an otter. A large (c.30) group of Canada geese that were lazily hanging around at the head of the swim suddenly got out of the way very quickly and exited the water onto the far bank field. I thought at first that the pair of mute swans I had seen earlier had returned to clear the river. But instead of two fluffed up white feather balls protecting their territory, I just caught sight of a big otter disappearing beneath the surface of the water. I have mixed feelings about otters and just like the cormorant issue, I can see both sides of the argument. My position is that of a definite fence-sitter!


Another nice Sow chub on session one

As far as the session was concerned, no barbel put in an appearance but I did catch a couple of nice chub. So far this season the chub that I am catching from the Sow are averaging well into 4lb. Of course on the right gear they would put up a great fight, but even on barbel tackle they are still giving a good show of themselves. And to round the session off, as I packed away in the morning a solitary common tern made its way along the course of the river. That’s the first I have seen on the river so I was well pleased with that sighting. And a couple of days later I was back on the river and in the same peg.

I baited up with my usual pigeon conditioner seeds that I take with me when barbel fishing, but this time put them out by hand. The Sow is such a small river that you can easily bait up the far bank if you want to without any effort. I usually use brown crumb as a carrier or a bait dropper to get the seeds to the bottom quickly, but with flow being at less than walking pace I decided to dispense with anything other than just seeds. The seeds that I use are a standard mix and consist of 10 different varieties. They are easy to prepare and are also very cheap. I paid £11 for my last sack. Put them in a fancy packet, stick a well known angler’s face on the front and add a brand name for good measure and you could probably make something in the region of 1,000% profit if you marketed the sack in smaller packets!

I thought it was a barbel at first!

I had just the one chub on this session, although just for a moment when I first struck into the fish, I did wonder if I had caught an elusive barbel! But the feelings of elation were very quickly dismissed when I realised that it was a chub. I also thought that I was about to see an otter as well, during the evening. The nearside reeds were moving as something was obviously making its way downstream. Thinking it could be an otter, I waited with camcorder in hand, only to find that a female mallard and brood of four juveniles were the culprits.

I don’t know why I am so excited about the prospect of seeing otters though, after all there is more than a suggestive link between them being there and the barbel being elusive. And although, as I have already written, I do have mixed feelings, somehow I can’t get myself to feel angry about sharing the river with them. But I suppose human nature always looks to blame someone else for our own shortcomings. And in this case, the reason I didn’t catch a barbel is nothing to do with me. It’s the otters’ fault. That’s it, I’ll blame the otters!

(click icon above for this week’s video)


(Originally published July 2009)

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