Barbel or bust on the lower Severn (barbel article, entry 400)

This is my debut barbel article of the year, but not the first time I have fished for them in 2011. In fact I did three sessions in January, all ending in a blank. How many anglers would like a snow-backdrop to a barbel photograph? Or a cold water fish? Well the reality is that unless you actually go out and fish in the conditions described you will never catch. It’s as simple as that. My sessions were in reasonable weather spells, well considering how bad everything was at the start of the year anyway. But I struggled big-time on each session and so ended up with not so much as a tap on the rod tip.

And even though I have been side-tracked (in the nicest sense) in the meantime by other species, I was determined to catch a barbel before the season ran out on me. With a mild spell breaking in on otherwise wintry weather, I decided it was going to be a case of barbel or bust as I set off for an overnighter on the lower Severn. I went through a stage some years ago when the river below Worcester was a regular haunt of mine. I must have spent hundreds of hours pursuing the elusive big fish off the mysterious creature that the Severn is once it widens and deepens.


In fact I had the BBC come and film me one time while I fished. The idea of a fishing minister (I’m a Rev if you weren’t aware) fascinated someone at the Beeb and so I spent a few hours with a cameraman on the banks of the Severn. I didn’t catch though, fish can’t be ordered for the camera at the best of time; barbel on the lower are another thing altogether.

Anyway it was to the same stretch that I returned this time round, and with no-one else fishing, it was actually in the same peg that I dropped my gear. The river looked good, pretty much at the upper reaches of normal winter level and with a nice colour. The banks were already muddy and very slippery, and with very heavy rain forecast for the night it was going to get worse. There for the night, this is where swim selection in terms of safety is an important decision.


Fishing two rods, my set-up was pretty identical -10lb Sufix Synergy main line: 10lb Drennan Double Strength hook length of 3 feet: 3 ounce flat lead: Drennan boilie hook and hair rigged baits. On the left rod fished a third of the way out downstream I fished an SBS lobworm 14mm boilie. The right rod was out towards the middle and presented another SBS bait, an Undercover pellet/boilie. I used PVA bags and included a few free offerings in each one. The bait on the right rod had been soaking in Undercover dip for some time during the day and looked particularly good.


It came as no surprise when, within an hour of casting out, and still not quite dark yet, the rod with the smelly baits came alive as the hair rig did its trick and hooked a fish. With my three previous blanks well behind me as distant memories, I was really pleased to slip the fish over the waiting landing net.

With my unhooking mat and bank stick for the camera already set up, within a short time the fish was back in the water swimming off into the deeps of the river. Knowing the lower Severn I did wonder if it would be the only barbel of the session. I was right.


I had a screaming run on the right rod though into evening. Surely a barbel I thought to myself, but the immediate fight made me think chub. This was revised again as bream entered the equation. It had been so long since I’ve been barbel fishing on the river in south Worcestershire, I had completely forgotten about the barbel angler’s nightmare. However this fish proved to be a one-off and as far as the rest of the session itself was concerned, it was all quiet on the fish front.


There was plenty of action otherwise though, as at 4.00am a change in wind from SW to NW ripped into my Trakker shelter and turned it inside out. In torrential rain I feared the worst, but thankfully apart from a broken rib and a hole in the shelter, no other damage was done and I was able to peg everything in again. By now though the mud was horrendous and it was a real struggle to even lift my feet to walk.

Yet in spite of all of this, I was actually thinking how much I was enjoying myself at the water’s edge. Soaked, muddy, cold and awful conditions and I’m not regretting being there. I think only an angler in my mould will understand where I’m coming from. The saying ‘You don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps if you are’ can quite easily be translated into my type of fishing for sure.


Packing away in the morning every step on the long journey back to the car was hard going. It was as if I was wearing metal boots and the ground was a magnet, so thick was the mud. And the trip back was made even worse by the fact that my barrow (they’re not just for carp you know) had a tyre puncture. I ended up doing two journeys, which would have been tough enough in normal circumstances. Once I finally got everything in the car and I was ready to drive home I felt like I had done a good session in the gym never mind an overnighter on the river.


As we push on into 2011 there are now signs of green life everywhere and amongst several plants bursting into life I spotted numerous broad-leaved dock. That’s them on the right. They are very common and like so many of our native species is considered a weed. But just like there is no such thing as a nuisance fish in my book (not even a bream when barbel fishing!) then a weed isn’t in my vocabulary either. They’re all beautiful British wild flowers!

It was great to be back on the lower Severn and I told myself that I musn’t leave it so long till the next visit. In fact it was my next session that saw me back on the river, but not after barbel. Instead I was pursuing perch. But more of that next week. In the meantime, if you’re on facebook then join me on my page – the link is below. Hope to see you on there! (Article published March 12 2011)



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