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As far as my winter barbel fishing is concerned, the phrase ‘a window of opportunity’ isn’t a clever-sounding slogan, it’s actually an encapsulation of practical reality. So when I’m aware that conditions are favourable for targeting the species then I will take advantage of that period, which is very often a window that doesn’t stay open very long. Particularly at this time of the year any mild spell will always have cold, frost, ice, northerly and eastern winds waiting in the wings to overcome it.
Hence with conditions looking very good for barbel I decided to head for the middle Severn (photo 1) and focus on the species while the unseasonal mild spell prevailed. The river was well up but falling, obviously a nice colour to it, and best of all the temperature was 8.9C which was also on the rise. Whilst water temperature is important, the crucial factor is not so much the actual reading but the trend. What we are looking for is a reading on the rise. It’s better to be fishing 6C of water when it’s been 4C for the past 2 weeks than 6C when it’s down from 10C.
I fished hair-rigged baits and in the accompanying video I tie one for the camera at the water’s edge. Due to the type of baits I use for barbel the hair rig is a major part of my approach for the species. Fishing two rods I had squiddy Barbel Stix on the one and an M2 boilie on the other. The swim that I was in, and fishing just this side of the main flow, which was still coming through at a decent pace, meant I was able to put a trickle of free offerings out during the session by hand. There’s no point in putting bait out if you’re feeding the fish half a mile downstream.
My hook baits were dipped (photos 2, 8, 10) with those particular photos from a set that were done specifically for the SBS new UK website that was launched recently. So as they have already been taken, rather than replicate them for the sake of it at the water’s edge, I thought I would use them in a couple of barbel entries in my Angling Journal. After all they’re much better than the ones I could take on my own anyway. I don’t think (if I say so myself) I do too bad with photos and videos considering it’s one man and his camera. But with helping hands it does take things to a different level.
Casting out, it wasn’t long before a barbel (photo 3) took a fancy to the M2 boilie. The rod pulled round, I struck, a short but spirited fight ensued and it all ended with the fish in the net. Well actually it was completed when the barbel was returned and swam back safely. With barbel, always ensure that they are ready to go back. They give their all from hooking to netting and as anglers we need to be be aware that with the privilege of catching such a wonderful fish comes the responsibility of making sure it’s recovered properly before releasing. If not they will ‘belly-up’ and float downstream to a certain death.
Fish anywhere between Bridgnorth and Bewdley and you never far away from the Severn Valley Railway. A remnant from the golden age of steam and there’s only one thing better than hearing the sounds of a bygone era in the distance and that’s being in one of the spots where you actually get to see the trains in person. And as you can see (photo 4) I was perfectly positioned with the tracks running within 100 metres of the far bank. I’m not a train-spotter by any stretch of the imagination, and I’d never travel somewhere to see them, but when they’re there right in front of me, I can certainly appreciate them.
One thing I am a fan of though is football. A season ticket holder at Molineux, where I sit in the South Bank. A stand incidentally that I will be in on my 50th birthday soon when we play Man City, and one that I first visited in 1963. Just a toddler, my mom worked at Beatties as an evening cleaner, my dad couldn’t get a baby-sitter so he just took me to the game instead. So to bring a football analogy into the equation, and back to my session on the Severn, I did a two-footed tackle on the river. I wasn’t fully immersed but certainly my feet were. I took advantage of the breeze by setting up a makeshift washing line on the common hawthorn bush behind me (photo 5).
Although a surprise pair of socks manifested themselves (thanks Ben!) because my boots were soaking they soon became just as wet as the originals. And once the sun set the air temperature fell pretty sharply and it was quite chilly in the cloudless, star-spangled Shropshire countryside. My feet felt like extras in an Ice Age movie but no way was I going to quit before the time I had set myself to depart the water. There’s a difference between stubbornness and determination of course, and for me it’s about the latter not the former. And my positivity was rewarded when again the M2 boilie proved irresistible to a fish (photo 6)
This was a bigger one and although the fight was just as spirited, it lasted longer. But the outcome was the same as it made its way to the landing net. Although the conditions had been very good, I had just the 2 fish. But a number of anglers in the day had to my knowledge all blanked. Plus several on the evening, on my stretch and elsewhere had all remained fish-less, which when taken in the context of the big picture, those fish were quite an achievement really. Not that we should ever compare ourselves to others as if we’re in some of league table or competition, but when you are able to view your catches in comparison then you do get perspective.
On my second visit to the middle Severn I had no-one to judge my blank against, as I had the whole stretch to myself. I’m sure the driving wind and gale force blasts had something to do with it! What a difference a day makes though, no wonder we talk about the weather so much in the British Isles. And the all-important water temperature had dropped as well, down to 7.8C. In percentage terms that’s a fall of over 10%. You could argue why bother taking the temperature as you’re there so going to fish anyway.
But the point is, that knowing temperature – and more importantly trend – helps you to determine how much bait to put out. And so, by processing the figures on this occasion, I only threw out a handful of freebies. In addition, the two fish I had caught the day before were absolutely packed out. They looked like my stomach when I’ve had a binge at my favourite Chinese buffet in Wolverhampton. Stuffed is a word I would use to describe the experience. And just like when I’ve had an evening in that place I’m not looking for another feast.
But I could possibly be tempted by something really nice and small though. But on this session, the piscatorial equivalents of an after eight mint, an M2 boilie and a cube of squiddy Barbel Stix, went untouched. And talking of the latter, in the accompanying video I say they come in a cube, well actually they come in a strip. You break them off to form your own cube. But you know what I mean!
My third and final outing to the Severn saw the river rising rapidly and the temperature falling sharply. Down to 7.1C there had been a definite drop in just the three days on the trot I had been. So a colder river is bad enough but with the resultant debris of a rising one, I knew I was in for a challenge. With the day being very wet (photo 7) it was very important to choose a swim that not only allowed me to present a bait reasonably well but also one that was safe. I ended up fishing downstream of a clump of trees. The ground was quite flat and the branches helped to deflect the ever-increasing flow.
I still had to recast fairly regularly though, certainly a lot more frequently than I would do under normal circumstances. Not surprisingly I was the only angler on the stretch, and even though I knew it was going to be tough, I’m a firm believer that as long as your bait is in the water you have a chance. Even if it’s just 1%, well it’s 1% more than if you weren’t fishing! And my determination was rewarded when I had a solid take on the cube of squiddy. I though it may have been a small barbel but I was pleasantly surprised to net a big chub (photo 9).
Actually I was over the moon and regardless of the fact that I was fishing for barbel, to catch anything in the conditions I was out in, was a result as far as I was concerned. And as I had been thinking about some chub sessions before the end of the season anyway, the fish took my enthusiasm level up a notch. So as they say, watch this space. And to round the night off, I saw two barn owls on the way home. Added to the one I spotted the day before that made a total of three different Shropshire birds. Excellent! (article published January 14 2012)