Water, water everywhere (barbel article, entry 207)

Water, water every where, ne any drop to drink…thus runs the text of the original Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1798. Well, I’m not sure about drinking it, but there has certainly been plenty of the stuff in this region lately, as we have experienced rainfall on a level that has been unbelievable. It has been frustrating more than anything, from an angling perspective, because I’ve been pulling at the reins to get out on the rivers yet have been thwarted on so many occasions.


In particular I have wanted to fish the small undisclosed river that I mentioned in last week’s article. And I did manage – in between downpours – to fit in a session. With it being such a small river it is really during after-dark fishing that I will be expecting to catch. As it is both shallow and narrow, the hours of darkness will give the fish that confidence that they need to move from the cover of reeds and overhanging trees and begin feeding.


However, with the river right to the top of the banks, I decided to begin the session early afternoon rather than wait until later. I got to the river just in time, as the heavens opened, and staying till midnight, I watched my indicator stick at the water’s edge get smaller and smaller as the levels rose at a rapid pace. By the time I left for home, it was just a matter of time before the fields would be covered once more with a sheet of water. I didn’t catch anything, in fact as time wore on it was impossible to keep the bait in the water for more than ten minutes due to the amount of debris being washed down. Every time I reeled in I had a washing line of weed and junk wrapped around it.


I am under no illusions concerning the difficulty of this venue, and if I can catch a barbel every 5 sessions, I will be more than happy with that. And that’s under normal circumstances. But when the conditions are also against you then you know that you have an uphill struggle on your hands. It’s the sort of river where you have to put your bait there and wait, constant casting is not going to do any good at all. The name of the game will be patience and it will be stealth that catches the fish.


Concerning flooded rivers though, a lot of anglers are frightened off by excess water. Don’t be. Obviously there is a point at which you have to quit (read on) but as long as you can get to the bank then there is always the chance of a fish. My comments above are specific to the stretch I fished; other venues are much more flood-friendly. One thing to bear in mind as well is that the speed of the water on the surface is not necessarily that of the flow along the bottom. So by choosing a good high water mark, you can still continue to fish. That is where prior knowledge comes in handy, so that you aren’t just turning up and casting out. Even on my ‘small undisclosed river’ I have done my homework and walked the stretch on a day when the river was low and the sun high in the sky.


Regarding feeding, a flooded river will have the fish feeding more than a sluggish one. And because the flow on the bed is not at the same rate as that on the surface, don’t worry about bait being washed away. You do have to get the bait down quickly though, and so what I usually do is to make a stiff mix of brown crumb and seeds (which I have been using for my barbel angling for some years) and mould it around the lead. That way it hits the deck before it even begins to think about breaking up. It’s no good feeding the fish 100 metres downstream.


In spite of the deluge, I gave it a couple of days and was hopeful that the levels had fallen to at least allow me to wade to the water’s edge. However, as I drove to the river, the number of closed roads due to flooding meant that I had to turn back and go home. I did manage to get some photographs from a dry vantage point, and when a tiny stream suddenly becomes a mile wide then you know it’s time to call it a day! This is very unusual for the start of the season; this time last year the big concern amongst barbel anglers was the pitifully low conditions and how they would affect our favourite species.


Still barbel-less, I had one more chance to catch a fish before we finally waved good-bye to the month of June. And with the river being in better shape than many other local ones, it was to the Dove that I headed. This will be my 8th year of fishing the river, and whilst some seasons have been more concentrated that others, I dread to think of the number of hours that I have sat alongside it pursuing barbel. However, they have been worth it as I’ve had some good fish from there, including my current personal best.


The river was in good condition as I set up, which was just before noon. However, as the day wore on, the levels began to rise and this made fishing increasingly difficult, to the point where the lead was being washed into the nearside bank within a couple of minutes of casting out. As darkness fell, knowing that I was beaten, I decided to switch swims to one that was much more able to cope with excess water. In all honesty I should have done that earlier, but ‘better late than never’ I said to myself as I trundled along the meadow.


And what a difference it made, being in the new swim. With ten feet of water under the rod tip, I not only had deep water to fish into, but being just out of the main current meant that I had no problems whatsoever with the rising water levels. Just a metre or so out the river raced through with all manner of stuff passing through, but my bait was totally unaffected. And after ten hours of blanking in the previous swim, in just forty five minutes I was striking into my first barbel of the season.

After a short fight, I found myself netting a fish that weighed in at 8-11-0. I was surprised to see the fish go to that weight, but a closer inspection revealed that it was absolutely full and not like the lean fish that you so often catch at this time of the year. It had obviously been taking advantage of the conditions to gorge. But either way I was more than happy to be off the mark at last.

(Originally published June 2007)

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