On a go-slow, but not quite a strike (barbel article and video, entry 447)


Click images above to enlarge

Watch the accompanying video

As an all-rounder I’m always trying to match the conditions with the species. Particularly in the winter it’s important that we maximise our chances of catching. When you’re a specimen angler and targeting bigger fish then you need to give yourself the edge. Of course, angling is all about pleasure, but at the same time there’s no point in (as they say in these parts) ‘floggin’ a ded oss’. There’s a difference between a challenge and an impossible situation. Whilst I relish the former, I don’t see the point in the latter.

That’s why, although I admire the dedication of the single-species angler, I prefer to switch my targets; not only because I enjoy fishing for variety but that I want to put the odds in my favour as much as possible. It’s hard enough doing the sort of fishing I do as it is, without making it even tougher. So on that, with the river falling after being in the fields, i decided to have a go and try and catch a Severn barbel. I knew that the river would be fishable, it was just where the temperature would be that was the issue.

Well, my judgement was spot-on, as a reading of 8.1C on arrival at the middle reaches of the river gave me confidence as I set up. With the air being 14.8C and the sun out, it could quite easily have been a day in late spring – or even, knowing the British weather, the middle of summer. However, after a mild period, cold nights had become the norm and within just a few hours as the sun set, the thermometer plunged to minus. In fact, my landing net (photo 1) looked as if it had been starched. It was frozen stiff and holding it up it maintained its shape as it had lain on the ground.

I go through my bait approach in the accompanying video, so there’s no need to repeat myself here. But you can see the stuff I used (photo 2) with squiddy Barbel Stix and an M2 boilie being the actual baits out in the water. They were fished a couple of lengths out, just on the edge of the main flow, which was still pushing through. I had my one and only fish an hour or so into dark and it was as a result of switching the left-hand rod. On an otherwise dead river, I noticed a good fish top further downstream.

I cast to the spot and within a short period of time, my rod came alive as the isotope started to dance in the darkness of an icy cold Shropshire night. The fish (photo 3) put up a great fight but in time I found myself netting it and positioning myself on the now solid ground for a photograph. But as I stress in the video, it’s not about the temperature this side that counts, but rather that beneath the surface that counts. Nevertheless it is always an achievement to catch in icy cold conditions and as I had switched my rod to where the fish was, certainly a lesson in the importance of flexibility. And to complete my evening, on the journey home I saw a barn owl. Excellent!

My second barbel session of the article saw me once again on the middle Severn but heading to a different stretch. The cold weather had affected the river, so although it was up a little, which isn’t too bad, the temperature was down from my previous outing with the thermometer reading 6.4C on arrival. I was on my first overnighter (photo 4) of the year and was on a section I have fished before and caught well. Not quantity but quality, and as I so often write, that suits me fine. My baits were as previously and I put out a mix of pellets by hand as I wasn’t fishing that far out (2 lengths) which were a mixture of standard trout and SBS betaine and M2 (photo 5).

I fished Drennan Double Strength on the left rod, which was out in the open and Korum Supernatural on the other which was fished just off a clump of overhanging willows. Once hooked this is where any barbel will instinctively head for and so the advantage is that the hooklength doesn’t part as it grates against branches. Arriving late afternoon I was fishing and set up by dusk.. Very confident, I watched and waited. And watched and waited. However it wasn’t until 7.30 the next morning when I had the first bit of action as the tip on the right rod (M2 boilie) started to dance.

I struck into a barbel but after a few seconds I had a hook-pull. I was only going to fish till about 9.00am but as I didn’t have anything on till later in the afternoon I decided to push on for another four hours. But nothing else was to be tempted. However I was up for the challenge and decided to use my next angling slot(a day later) to get back. The weather was miserable, overcast, wet and the banks were muddier than before. But those are just minor factors as far as I’m concerned. Yes of course I prefer dry conditions, but I won’t let a bit (or a lot!) of rain bother me.

With two-nights ahead of me, I was confident. Even though the air temperature had fallen sharply, the water was holding up reasonably well. The river itself was rising steadily but the swim I chose is a favourite high-water mark of mine and sandwiched between two protruding clumps of willows, even when the river is racing through I can fish just off the main flow with no problems. Plus it’s big enough to get two rods in comfortably as well. With some heavy rain on arrival, you can just make out the rainbow over the river (photo 6) with the other end ‘connecting’ with the ground in a field beyond the far bank.

The conditions were quite horrendous really. Very heavy rain reduced the bank to a mud bath, overnight frosts were quite biting and on the second night a storm blew in that was so ferocious my Trakker shelter uprooted and went on a journey of its own. Fortunately I managed to retrieve it and set it up again! This time I had to improvise using all manner of things to secure it. This happened at about 10.30pm! On the barbel front I blanked, although I did have one definite fish on that I lost. So close eh! But the chub were a little more obliging (photos 7, 8, 10). I’ve been catching some nice middle Severn chub in recent times but in barbel gear. However, watch this space as I am going to target them specifically in the near future.

My baits were the same throughout the sessions, on one rod a 12mm M2 boilie and on the other Barbel Stix, with the last outing switching from squiddy to frankfurter (photo 9). All baits were well soaked in dips which gives that added flavour, and of course leak-off. I regularly put out pellets during the session but on a little and often basis, only getting through about a kilo in each spot. Plus a few loose offerings. With the conditions the way they were I erred on the safe side. Remember, you can always put more bait in if needed but you can’t take it out again!

This week’s entry is summed up perfectly in the title! It was slow but I still caught something. The reality is that fishing is like this, you don’t go out and catch big every time. The are times when you struggle (session 1 a single barbel, session 3 a few chub for two nights) and of course when you don’t catch at all (session 2). As an angling writer I like to tell it how it is, otherwise you’re giving a false impression. You hear stories of anglers changing clothes and scenery to pass one fish off as several right through to sheer lies where there isn’t even a fish involved. I don’t see the point. Tell it as it is. You’ll actually get more of a following (if that’s what you want) that way as opposed to trying to make yourself some sort of piscatorial superstar! (Published February 4 2012)

Stewart Bloor’s Angling Journal website


  1. it seam that you fishing in modern way.
    so can i ask you advice in specific fishing problem .
    if you agree send me your email I dont find it here .

  2. Hi stewat. I’m from the north east of England and fish for barbel and chub on the river Swale and would love to get hold ov some ov those sbs barbel hooker pellets but I’m struggling to get hold ov any. Could u please tell me if poss how or where to get some. Thanx n great videos and info Stewart ……

  3. hi Stewart. pigeon seeds, can you give me more details as i cant find your article on them… wanted to get some in play for my barbel trip on the 16th…cheers

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