You haven’t had a disaster for a while (barbel article and video, entry 417)

Click images above to enlarge

I recently wrote about not only thinking outside the box, but living there as well. Or in our case, fishing there. In other words, whilst we don’t neglect conventional wisdom, we shouldn’t get dictated to by it either. This week’s Angling Journal serves to illustrate that point. One thing to beware of in angling is the self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, it is ‘common knowledge’ that you don’t barbel fish the lower Severn (photograph 1) till October as it’s a waste of time. Add to that the big barbel of 12lb+ don’t exist any more, you’d think I was crazy to be making my first trip of the new season to the river below Worcester in pursuit of barbel. In addition the flow was less than the local canal, so all in all, following traditional thinking, I was basically wasting my time.

But this is where the self-fulfilling prophecy becomes exactly that. For example, all it takes is for one person to have a blank on the middle Severn after barbel with luncheon meat and he makes the statement that ‘meat has now blown on the Severn’. Aided and abetted by the internet, through which news travels faster than ever before, suddenly the word on the street, or should that be the bank, is that if you are going to barbel alley then forget the traditional meat bait. So because anglers stop using it, no-one catches on it. Apart from the ones that are not hemmed in by what they hear of course, in fact their catches increase as they capitalise. But it’s a tough road to go in many ways because confidence is such an important part of angling. We cast the meat out and if we haven’t had a take for an hour we may begin to wonder if the rumours are actually facts.

But that’s where we need resolve and not to quit just because we don’t have a fish straight away. It’s good to have your ear to the ground but in another way it can be a bad thing because you can find yourself getting influenced. And as we know, influences can be either good or they can be bad. My own position is that whilst I listen to what’s being said, because I am aware of the self-fulfilling prophecy I don’t allow it to affect my plans. Hence, a couple of days into the river season and I’m heading southbound on the M5 to the deep, wide stretch of river that always attracts me. Maybe it’s the mystery, perhaps the fact that you never know whether the next pull-round could be from a new river record, or just the fact that where I fish you hardly ever see another angler. Or a combination of all three.

I show my attractor feed mix in the video. It consists of a small tub of pigeon conditioner seeds with brown crumb and ground wheat as the carrier. To the liquid I added some SBS corn steep liquor. I baited two areas, one downstream and the other slightly upstream, both up to half-way across the river. Once the bait had been deposited the next step was to get the rods set up and cast out. My mainline was 10lb Sufix Synergy, it’s the brand that I’ve fished with for years and as it’s never let me down, will no doubt continue into the future as well. Hooklengths were 10lb Drennan Double Strength, both about a metre, with hooks Drennan boilie size 4. The leads were 2oz on the downstream rod and 3oz on the upstream. Both were held in place by two 10mm beads and fixed by a powergum knot, thus creating a bolt-rig effect.

The bait on both rods was a 14mm SBS lobworm boilie. This was dunked in lobworm dip and placed in a PVA bag. A layer of pellets was then complemented by a few boilies, some whole but a few broken to create a variety. I cast the upstream rod out and then proceeded to get the other one set up. As it’s pretty much a dusk through dawn feeding time in the summer, I was taken by surprise when the rod came alive and the baitrunner kicked into top gear. Striking into an obvious barbel, I had it on for a short time and then I lost it as the hook length went. This was followed a while later by a similar experience on the downstream rod. This was unusual but rather than keep on putting the same rig back on, I switched to a length of carp dacron. With the hook length now reduced to just a foot, that again is not what conventional barbel wisdom dictated.

You may be wondering what the title of this week’s piece is all about, well the two lost fish are part of that of course. In text conversation with my wife I related how I had left my headtorch at home and so had to fish ‘blind’ so to speak. Along with the two fish, that was her response. Usually, as any night anglers will know, your eyes do get quite adjusted to the conditions. However, I would have to choose one of the darkest nights to leave behind a pretty essential piece of equipment wouldn’t I? Fortunately my camcorder has a night-light facility so I was able to use that for baiting up. It drained the battery though, and I was grateful that at least I had charged it fully before setting out. I just had enough to finish the accompanying video clips in the morning.

It was a nightmare really, struggling with no headtorch, but I was able to get on to the downstream rod as once again I had a fish take the boilie. Lifting into the barbel I knew immediately it was a good one. Whilst the smaller fish go mental and head off like they’re doing express train impersonations, thus giving the impression to inexperienced anglers that lose them that they have just been connected to a monster, the real biggies will hug the bottom and will plod more than explode. I even had it snagged for a while but giving line, whatever obstruction it was, saw the fish swimming free and slowly but surely make its way, albeit against its wishes, to the bank. It was a couple of lengths out that the bale arm on the reel collapsed. This is one of my new Daiwa reels that I have recently bought. I know it was a good fish, but it ought to be able to deal with a Severn barbel you’d have thought.

It was a relieved angler that eventually slipped the fish over the waiting landing net and lifted it enough to have it safe and secure. First glimpse, even though it was without anything other than minimal light, confirmed that it was a double. A nice way to kick your river season off eh? Placing the fish on the unhooking mat I was keen to weigh it. And can you believe it, my super-reliable and super-efficient scales started to play up, with the digital read-out going crazy. However this was remedied by a simple turning off and on, which then gave me a very healthy 12lb 9oz. To say I was excited would be an understatement. After all the things that had gone wrong, whether in my control or outside of it, it was just brilliant to get that fish on the bank.

The rest of the session saw no more of my target species, but with a bream and a chub later on I ended with a bbc I guess. That’s barbel, bream, chub in case you’re wondering. They come, particularly the bream, with the territory on the lower Severn. That’s the barbel, of course, in photographs 3 and 5. Usually I take a few shots with my quick-fire camera and choose the best for the article but due to the circumstances I did a lot less, although fortunately they came out so I was able to use them and not have to do more. The fish itself was absolutely solid, the sort of barbel that you associate with the first floods of the autumn and a feeding binge. I wasn’t surprised at the weight, and although the second shot gives an idea of the dimensions of the fish, I think photographs aren’t always true representations of the weight.

I’m not referring to the ones that quite clearly are nowhere near the declared weight, but genuine shots. When you compare the fish above to the barbel on my Angling Journal home page it looks smaller, even though it is a few ounces bigger. When I take my usual number of photographs you would be amazed at the difference. Sometimes a 10lb barbel looks like a ‘7’ but in the next shot as I moved, adjusted my position or whatever, suddenly it looks like a ’12’ or a ’13’. Which is why we need to be very careful before we set ourselves up against declared weights. Yes, sometimes it is obvious. I’ve seen people say they are holding a 2lb roach and unless they are the Incredible Hulk, no way is it even over 12oz as their thumb and fingers practically meet over the fish.

To complete my disasters I managed to push a rib through my shelter thus ensuring that the wet night produced a steady trickle of water just above me. So I ended up with a whole catalogue of mishaps, but all of them were pushed into insignificance by the magnificent barbel, that just like the newborn baby, eclipsed the pain of childbirth. Well, maybe not quite the same, but I am a man, before I get the women’s liberation movement on my case. But even that fish isn’t my best lower Severn barbel, that is a creature that weighed in at 13lb 11oz and again that was a summer fish, caught in the July of 2002. Ironically it was reading through one of my old angling notebooks that prompted me to have a crack at the river again this time round. I’m easily lead and I’m easily influenced.

The bird in photograph 2 is a cuckoo and that is featured on the video. From the moment I made my approach to the river I could hear it, and it called continually right through to dusk, starting again just before 4.00am the next morning. I even saw two in dusk flight on the far bank of the river. You can hear the bird as a background on a number of the clips on the video. Another bird in full throat was the song thrush pictured in photograph 4. It settled in a tree fairly close by and so I managed to capture that on camcorder as well. I love British wildlife and I make no apologies whatsoever for the fact that it features very much in my Angling Journal on a weekly basis. Whether birds, trees, flowers or more, I love the whole lot.

Finally, I noticed that my facebook page this week had risen to 299 ‘likes’. So I posted that the 300th person to ‘like’ it, if they were an angler and wanted one, would get a mention. Within a few minutes Branden Noseworthy from Canada was on there and so he gets his name in print, albeit on a computer screen. Branden is from New Brunswick, which although I’ve been to Canada a few times, I’ve been to the opposite end. My visits have been on church preaching trips so sadly, no fishing. I have been skiing in Saskatchewan though, and if you’re not familiar with Canada that’s like saying I’ve been skiing in Norfolk. And proper stuff as well, real snow and all that. And very enjoyable it was too. It had been ages since I’ve been to the Italian Alps and the French Alps, but like riding a bike it all comes back to you. (Published July 2011)


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