Geographically challenged on the Severn (barbel article)

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With the announcement by Kinver Freeliners that they had obtained a new water on the River Severn, I decided to head there on a Sunday afternoon and give it a go. Situated between the riverside towns of Bewdley and Stourport, it was easy enough to find and the title of this week’s article is explained in the accompanying video. Although autumn, it was a lovely day and I was in my shorts to begin the session. However as the sun set, my Sundridge suit took over. I will pretty much be in that now until next spring at least.

Although I have general knowledge of the Severn of course, this particular stretch was new to me. So I had a decent walk along the bank and then settled into a swim where I would spend the evening. With no recent rain, the river was very sluggish, but the upside was it made fishing with two rods easy. The swim I chose gave adequate access to the river itself so two rods would not create any problem at all. When I come across stuff that implies you can’t be a proper barbel angler if you fish with two rods I smile. Sometimes I fish with one, other times two.

My line strength was 10lb which is pretty much standard for my barbel fishing. Certainly with snags littering the bed of the Severn, the moment a fish is hooked it will instinctively head for one of them, and you need to be able to give it enough pressure to prevent that. It’s more than just line of course, but that’s a big part of the equation. As you can see from the video I catapulted pellets out which was possible with the flow. The pellets were Multimix Proactive and I also added them to the PVA bags.

Actual hook baits were 10mm undercover flavoured pellet on one rod and frankfurter flavoured pellet on the other, from the SBS Serious Barbel Baits range. The only action I had though was from a hook pull chub. I was confident and even stayed until 3.00am before finally packing away and heading for home. I did see a barn owl in flight as I drove on the main road off the venue, so my timing was just right there at least. In the meantime I discovered that three other anglers had also fished the venue and blanked, so at least I wasn’t alone. It will definitely produce though, of that I have no doubt and I will certainly be back.

My next session, although on the same river and again a Kinver-run stretch was further upstream. I visited Hampton Loade (photo 2) which is definitely middle Severn, no doubt about that this time. The river was very low and very clear, and in many places so shallow that you could see right across from one bank to the other, as the depth was just inches. There were a number of anglers on the bank and the word was, that apart from one ‘lucky’ guy who had caught, everyone else had blanked. I was surprised at how many were actually out, the car park was pretty full down the one side with anglers’ vehicles. It reminded me of the ‘old days’ when rivers were a lot busier than they are now.

My angling day had started a few hours earlier when I made my monthly visit to SBS in Kidderminster to meet with Des Taylor and to collect some bait. This included a few packs of the recently released Barbel Stix. Prior to hitting the shops and the general public, Des showed them to me and I thought then that they could be a winner. Now it was time to let the rubber hit the road. This time the river was lower than session one, and into the mix went the gales and downpours. A wet and windy evening awaited me as I made my way downstream, first and foremost looking for a decent peg that wasn’t taken.

But as is often the case it’s the first swims that are taken and from then on you start to get more freedom. Hence by the time I reached the end of the meadow it was like being in a different world. I settled in a spot that had deeper water in front of me. Well, I couldn’t see the bottom and in the conditions that was a good start! My tackle approach was pretty much as per session one. Even bait-wise it was similar. I catapulted the Multimix Proactive pellets out, probably about half a kilo, forming a swathe just up to halfway across the river.

The right-hand rod I fished with hair-rigged Squiddy flavoured Barbel Stix and the other rod I started with Undercover flavoured pellet before switching to Undercover boilie at dusk. All baits were dipped in their respective flavours. A 2oz lead was sufficient to hold bottom and the only time anything moved was when weed came down the river and wrapped itself around the line. Other than when I had a fish that is. The first take came late afternoon but while it was still light. A barbel had taken a fancy to the Stix and I brought it right to the net before it decided it didn’t want to be caught.

Ah well, these things happen I tell myself. As it splashed around under the rod tip and did a number of surges it caught the line of my other rod. Or so I thought because once the fish had gone and I had reeled in, the rod tip moved again. The result: the fish that you can see in photo 1. Not a monster but considering the number of blankers around on the Severn at the moment, I was just happy to not only get a second bite of the cherry but to actually net something regardless of size. There are times when any fish, no matter how small it is, is a result. This was definitely one of those times.

The period then up to dark, and just into it, was highlighted not by fish but birds. I saw a group of c.40 swallow and house martin in migration flight. This is the time of the year when the summer visitors disappear to warmer parts of the world and of course our winter migrants arrive. I had also found some departing wheatears earlier in the week while out birding, and it reminded me of the time I had a wheatear and a fieldfare (winter bird) next to each other as I watched through my binoculars. Once darkness set in on the Severn a barn owl made its silent flight upstream as it followed the course of the river.

And it was during darkness that I caught the final two fish. The first one (photo 3) was on the Stix while the other (photo 4), the biggest of the evening, came to a boilie. As is often the case with barbel it didn’t fight half as much as the others in the context of racing off like an express train. Like bigger barbel it hugged the bottom and plodded. Novice barbel anglers often think they have lost the fish of a lifetime because it resembled the fishy equivalent of Usain Bolt, when in fact it was more likely to be a 4-5lb fish. They go ballistic when hooked.

By the time I got back to the car the three words to describe the conditions were dark, wet and windy. But when the going gets tough, the insane go fishing. And so 24 hours later I was back on the same section. With some rain not only freshening up the river but also adding a few vital inches to the level, the conditions were much more favourable than the day before. Not that it was much of a temptation, but I walked past the swim where I had caught my barbel and headed for another further downstream. There’s nothing wrong with having a favourite peg or whatever; I do myself, but I also like to try new spots as well.

I put out a bed of pellets and hook bait goodies, cast out and waited for the inevitable. However the inevitable in this instance was a blank. That’s fishing for you isn’t it. When the conditions were hardly favourable I caught but when they improved I blanked. In many ways that’s what I love about angling. You just never know. We plan, we prepare, we strategise. And then we have to cast out into the unknown. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. If fishing ever became a ‘minority report’ then it’s time to hang up the rods. Not that it ever will of course.

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  1. Hi Stuart I really enjoy your videos I’m 14 years old an I love fishing the biggest fish I’ve caught was a 12pound pike from the local park , I was wondering maybe I could go fishing with you it would be amazing and I would really epriciate it if not then it will be ok thank you my email address is once again thank you yours sincerely Reece Middleton