The lower Severn – Magnificent, Mysterious, Manipulative (barbel article and video, entry 418)

Click images above to enlarge

There are many words that we as anglers could use to describe any river that we fish on a regular basis. But thinking of one waterway that I have spent hundreds of hours on, the words that come to mind for me are contained within the title of this article. Of course, that’s the lower Severn that I am referring to, as indicated in the heading and captured in photograph 1. Although it may have the same water running through its veins as the upper and middle, it is really a distinct species in its own right. Magnificent, if only for its sheer size, and not just width but depth; there are no fords to make your way across to the other side no matter how low the river may be.

Mysterious to a fault. You need a degree in piscatorial psychology to begin to even understand the mood swings of this mighty river. There are times when, if you were a gambling man, you would put everything you own on the fact that a red-letter day awaits you. You blank. Then other times you just know it’s going to be a struggle of a session. And you surprise yourself even. The deep, dark waters in the physical merely add to the mystery. Then finally there’s the manipulative nature of this wonderful river. Manipulation means to have us where it wants us. And for anglers to return again and again, enduring blank after blank, we are nothing more than puppets on strings really.

But the other side of the coin is that the lower Severn isn’t infallible. Although the residents play hard to get, even put on a disappearing act that would make the best magicians marvel, the reality is that with experience, dedication and sometimes just that factor we call ‘luck’, the river is there to be exploited. Last week’s Angling Journal recorded a double-figure barbel from the water below Worcester; well this week I’ve been at it again. I wrote in some detail my rigs and bait last time round so with nothing changing much from that, there’s no need to repeat myself. I did use carp dacron on the left rod from the off this time though and double strength on the right, both Drennan products. Hookbait was an SBS 14mm lobworm boilie.

As you can see from the accompanying video I was pitched up right next to the river. The idea of a bedchair and sleeping bag do not fit well with many barbel anglers. But having said that, there are lots of things that lots of barbel anglers don’t like, so what we have to do is to examine each thing objectively. The lower Severn is a different proposition to the river further upstream where you may get amongst a shoal of fish and catch as many in one session on one rod that you will all season on the lower with two. If you want to sit there alert and intense for hour after hour holding the line between your finger and thumb, that’s fine. But I prefer to put the rods out and sit back, or lie back to be more precise.

My sleeping bag doesn’t have an effective zip, that broke years ago. Which suits me fine as I don’t use it anyway. I lie on the bag or if it gets a little chilly, wrap it around me like a quilt. Fully dressed and with the opening to the river, within a split second of the alarm sounding I’m lifting into the fish. With the rods coming from beneath the chair they are positioned in such a way that I can strike from where I lie. And as I catnap rather than drift into deep sleeps, I’m never more than a moment away from hitting the fish. That’s important on a river like the lower Severn, which could be subtitled ‘snag city’.

And snag city lost me my first barbel. Whether it be a forty feet long tree or just a branch hugging the river branch until the next flood takes it away, the bed of the lower Severn is littered with obstacles. Even the pulling of a light lead through the swim doesn’t reveal everything as somehow small snags have this ability to make themselves appear invisible. And as for knowing the river, even in pegs that you are familiar with, all that changes next time twelve feet of water races through and shuffles everything around. This is just one of the reasons why the river is such a challenge.

Then I lost a second fish, this was on the dacron hooklength and was a hook pull. Like the first one it felt like a good fish and so I was disappointed when everything came back except for the barbel. My thoughts immediately turned to my last session where, following two lost fish there as well, I netted a double. Would lightning strike twice? Too right it would, Groundhog Day eat your heart out. The double strength rod lurched into life and I struck into a barbel that once more indicated it was special. I did my best to steer it clear from any path that it wanted to go knowing full well that even if it was running on instinct alone, as it wasn’t that familiar with the swim, it would still be heading for some sort of obstruction.

Eventually I won the battle and I netted another good fish that you can see in shots 2 and 3 above. To highlight the point that I made in last week’s article about photographs and weight of fish, I think this one looks bigger than the barbel last time round even though there’s approximately two and a half pounds difference. No more barbel though in the rest of the session, but then again I didn’t get a single bream, which is unusual for the lower Severn. But I did have a few chub though. I was certainly full of confidence for my next visit.

I was on the river with plenty of time before dusk, which is very much the start of feeding time for the residents. I baited up a trail about a third of the way across the river, a good twenty metres in length, intending to drop the baits on the underwater buffet table. The food consisted of pigeon conditioner seeds with brown crumb and wheat and some corn steep liquor. The latter really gives it an enticing flavour and as I threw the balls of bait out by hand I was visualising the fish moving in and enjoying their feast, little realising that there is a catch. We as humans know that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but I don’t think fish quite grasp that.

Fishing two rods as always, the only major change was that I now had some Korum Supernatural as a hook length. I had been unable to get any Drennan carp dacron locally so decided to give it a try. Even before fishing it looked excellent, with the diameter noticeably advantageous over lighter line strength dacron. It was more expensive, but at £10 for 20 meters it’s hardly going to break the bank. I never compromise on cost where it’s important. Whilst I may look at savings on peripheral items of tackle, the closer I get to the business end, the more I become inflexible.

The left rod was a 14mm lobworm boilie, dipped in lobworm additive and cast out with pellets and boilies. The right rod was similar except the bait was a 14mm M2 pellet shaped boilie, with bait as always from the SBS range of products. Rods out for dusk I sat back and waited. It wasn’t long before the lobworm boilie was picked up and from the moment I struck into the fish I knew it was a good one (photograph 4). It put up a great fight but eventually it threw up the white flag, surrendered and slipped into my net. I don’t always disclose weights, but suffice it to say that it was my third barbel of the season from the lower Severn and I’m averaging double figures. I was over the moon as I returned the fish and watched it gracefully swim back into the deeps.

The next fish on the bank was right at the end of the session as I was thinking about packing away. A screaming run and right until the end I thought it was a barbel, so imagine my surprise when I found myself about to net a common carp. I didn’t weigh the fish but it was a double, a very well proportioned fish that was solid in every way. This fell to the lobworm boilie and wondering why I hadn’t had any action on the M2, that question was answered when I reeled in to find the hook embedded in a small twig. These things happen, and particularly on the lower Severn, which is just another obstacle you have to deal with. And that’s why, when it does come together, the sense of reward is that much sweeter. (Published July 2011)


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