Probably my toughest challenge to date! (barbel article, entry 469)

Some time ago I went for a walk. Nothing unusual there. A walk alongside some flowing water. Definitely nothing unusual there. But this particular waterway isn’t known as a fishing venue; in fact no club has laid claim to it and it’s hardly one that an angler would give a second glance to. Very shallow apart from bends, with dense overgrown banks. Nothing to indicate it would support fish stocks.

I did spot a few small chub though, just the odd one and certainly nothing much in terms of size. But then, as I carefully made my way along the bank, aided by bright sun, crystal clear water at its lowest level and polaroids, I noticed the unmistakeable shape of a barbel. Then another. And another. Nothing big, just the odd small fish, but I was absolutely taken back to even see them. How did they get there? And how were they even surviving in such an ’empty’ environment?

The overgrown small river

Several questions and numerous answers went through my mind as I watched the barbel. But one thought immediately dominated. I must return and fish for them. So, with the new river season not that far away, my mind was firmly on a campaign to catch a barbel from the place. For the sake of giving it a tag let’s call it my ‘small river’. Weighing up the odds and based on all the factors, I settled on maybe 1 fish in 10 sessions would be a result. So wanting to give myself a challenge I set a target of 1 in 7.

This was based on fish numbers, access points and fishing time. Daytime angling is going to be a waste of time unless there is maybe extra water on, so I was looking at very short evening outings. If the river remained at normal level then the bends, assuming I could get to them through the undergrowth, remained the only realistic possibility of a fish. But if there was maybe just one foot of water coming through then I was confident the fish would spread out more in search of food. I gave my approach a lot of thought leading up to June 16.

A close up of my lead approach to the venue

And with rain beginning to fall in the area my confidence began to grow for a midnight start. However this was dashed with the river almost two metres up. And whilst some venues respond to that amount of floodwater, in this instance that was not the case. By the virtue of its size it was simply overwhelmed. But, as quickly as it came up it began to fall, and later in the day, so still the 16th, I made my way late evening to do my first cast of the new river season.

As you can see from the photograph the venue is so narrow that even a small tree spans bank to bank. With overhanging branches combined with dense bankside vegetation fishing wasn’t easy and several tangles ensued, especially after darkness. I had already thought out my approach carefully and you can see part of that strategy close up in the above photograph. The items in the shot are all straightforward and that’s a Drennan float stop at the head of it all ensuring the set-up was fixed but safe.

I went for a Barbel Stix line of attack

Mainline was 8lb Sufix Synergy, which was more than sufficient for the job in hand. The hook length was about 2.5 feet of Drennan Double Strength ending with a Drennan boilie hook size 8 tied with a knotless knot. My bait choice was to fish a small irregular sized piece of Undercover Barbel Stix on a hair rig. I didn’t feed the swim heavily, just a few small pieces of Stix and a small PVA bag on the cast with a few pellets packed in with the hook bait.

I was fishing one of the bends and flicked the bait out, tightened the line and put the rod in the rest. It was still a couple of hours before dark so the three chub rattles I had were actually encouraging. Regardless of size and species, there were fish out there. I figured that with a crowd attracting a crowd, albeit on a smaller scale, just a few feeding chub would attract the attention of any passing barbel. So in went a trickle of a few more pellets and pieces of Stix.

Not the biggest but one of the best!

As darkness fell I was entertained by common pipistrelles, daubenton’s and brown long-eared. They are bats by the way, and I say entertained because I had my Batbox switched on by my side. And as I was ready to pack away I saw a barn owl hunting the field on the far bank. And anyone who night fishes regularly will know just how well your eyes adapt to darkness. But what about the period of time in between the bats and the owl!

Well, as my rod lurched and I lifted, I knew straight away that I was connected with a barbel. I’ve certainly had bigger but it must rank up there as one of my best ever. And regardless of size or even if it’s ever been caught before it still knew how to put up maximum resistance. In typical barbel fashion it came to the net several times before I finally won. What a brilliant fish and from the moment I had it safe in the mesh I was over the proverbial moon.

Not a barbel this time but a small chub

Anything else was just going to be a bonus and when my rod burst into life an hour or so later I thought I had my second barbel, only to be greeted by a chub at the net. If I’d have lost the fish before I had seen it, I would have been sure it was another barbus such was the fight. After all the commotion in the swim, plus the fact it was midnight, I decided to pack away and head for home. It was almost 2.00am as it was before I finally hit the pillow, and with church later that morning I wanted to get a few hours sleep so I would be nice and fresh.

Flavoured hemp ready to go

Quite keen, I was back the next evening for another sort session. Everything was as before, the only difference being I threw in a couple of handfuls of hemp flavoured with Undercover dip. It was to be a dry night according to the forecasters but just before dark the heavens opened and they didn’t stop. Good job I had my umbrella. Even the 30 feet sycamore in full leaf – although that’s what you call Realtree – couldn’t protect me from the elements. I did have a lovely lurch on the rod, but instead of a barbel, I netted a chub about 1.5lb.

The Severn looking good for an overnighter

The only fish of the session but at least it kept me from a blank. To round the week off my barbel head was firmly on, but it was to a totally different venue I ventured. The mighty lower Severn. And one that was carrying some extra water as well. So while for many anglers it is a formidable opponent when it’s running at normal level, with a metre or two of increase it becomes a definite no-go. The river was falling though and looked great for the overnighter I had got planned.

My tackle was pretty much the same as for the small river, just stepped up a little. Mainline was 10lb Sufix Synergy and the 1.5oz leads became 3.5oz. The mono hook length was swapped for Korda Supernatural braid and hook pattern was a size 7 ESP Big T Raptor. Hook bait was a 12mm M2 boilie soaked in M2 dip. In fact I soaked all boilies used, not just the hook bait, so that they had a little extra flavour. The lower Severn is a big, wide place and anything you can do to attract a fish to your bait is a good thing.

M2 boilies soaked in M2 dip

The tub, by the way, is an old SBS one. So once the bait had been used I didn’t throw the container away. It’s well made and will continue to serve me for this purpose. It also washes out well which means you can switch flavours without any issues. Fishing by late afternoon in the glorious sunshine I had my first barbel  on the left hand rod which was downstream and about 3 lengths out. Both rods were cast using large PVA bags filled with boilies and M2 pellets.

The first barbel was out in bright sunshine

It wasn’t big, but as anyone knows who fishes the lower Severn, often any fish is a result. I was off the mark and that’s always a great start the further down the river you go. I was there for the night and my second one, again to the left rod, came about 11.00pm. They were getting bigger, but the pattern didn’t continue as that was my final barbel. I can’t say fish though because at 6.00am I had a chub on the right rod, directly ahead at 1.5 lengths out.

The second barbel was the biggest of the session

The session was also memorable in that I saw an otter. At dusk it came through the margins, saw me and dived. I even had a liner off it! And on arrival I heard 3 cuckoos all within 200 metres of each other. My first thought was to feel sorry for any nesting warblers in the area. But the reality is that’s nature and that’s life. Eat and be eaten pretty much sums up the natural world around us!

Check out my Angling Journal website and if you’re going to be at the Great Northern Fishing Show next Saturday then make sure you visit the Harris Sportsmail stand. I will be on there so say hello and have a chat. It looks like being another great event and I’m certainly looking forward to it. But if you’re not going to be there, no worries. You can still contact me on my facebook page and twitter! And my Angling Journal will be updated next Saturday as usual when I will be after my favourite species, the perch.  (article published July 7 2012)



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