A slow start but it all comes good in the end (barbel article)

I start this week’s angling journal with what was my fourteenth visit to the Lower Severn so far this season. We are all different, of course, and that’s the beauty of angling – we can make it what we want it to be. Some anglers like to fish as many different venues as possible, and don’t like to get too attached to one place. Personally I tend to fish in campaigns, which can last anything from three months to several seasons.

I started to fish this particular stretch of the lower Severn seriously last season. And whilst obviously taking a break for the close season and also taking some time out for a tench campaign, I have continued this autumn where I left off in March. Prior to my fourteenth visit of this season I had tackled the stretch a total of thirty one times. The venue has yielded five doubles, three of them being in the ten pound bracket, whilst the best two fish weighed in at 12.10 and 13.11 respectively.

On this particular trip we had just had some rain deposited in the area, brought in by SW winds. Hence it was no surprise to discover that the water temperature was a healthy (for this time of the year) ten degrees. In fact, with the river looking good, I was feeling confident that I would add to my tally of five doubles from the lower Severn.

However, it wasn’t to be! I’m actually glad though that fishing is so unpredictable. Imagine if we knew prior to every trip what we could catch, when we would catch it and how big it was going to be! It would certainly take away that anticipatory feeling that angling is all about – watching the float or rod tip, not knowing when it will dip or pull round.

However, I didn’t blank as such, as a chub around the two-pound mark ensured that I did at least catch something. I was actually fishing with quite a decent size boilie and was amazed to see that the fish had taken it cleanly. No matter how much you try to eliminate chub when barbel fishing, the reality is that you can’t.

It’s a parallel situation to bream and tench when carp fishing. I must add however, that although I may be focusing on one particular species I certainly don’t get upset if another should take the bait. Sometimes, particularly as we are now in our coldest season of winter, I’m just glad to catch anything!

Talking of colder weather, I also generally cut down on bait as the water temperature falls. The heady days of summer when water readings were into the 20’s are now a distant memory. Certainly as we’re moving on in December, anything over nine degrees will be a welcome bonus!

Hence the bait dropper and a bucket of particles will very rarely be seen on the riverbank when I’m out in the winter. Instead I’m more likely to fish with a PVA bag of pellets. As I will only recast in the event of catching a fish, I certainly won’t be overfeeding.

With a lull in the rain, which meant the rivers were falling, I decided to switch my attention to the Derbyshire Dove for my next session. I wanted to see if I could repeat the success of my previous visit, when I hooked and landed a double figure barbel, which weighed in at 10-7-0.

Prior to the session, it was time to make some boilies. I am very fortunate to have a wife who not only encourages me in my angling and lets me have a free range in the kitchen, but also helps me in my bait preparation! We didn’t quite have ‘to love, cherish and make boilies together’ in our marriage vows, but we could have done!

Hence, it was time to get out the various ingredients and knock up a few barbel sweets the night before my visit to the Dove. It gives a lot of satisfaction when you catch fish on a bait that is totally your own, from the creation of the recipe through to the actual making.

I’ve had doubles on the Dove when the temperature has been much cooler, so with it being ten degrees I certainly felt confident that I would at least catch something. Arriving at the river, it certainly looked good. However, as with my previous trip to the Severn I drew a blank as far as barbel were concerned. And on this occasion I didn’t even have the comfort of a chub to avoid a blank.

I fished from 1.45 – 9.00 p.m. with two rods, which meant that I put 14.5 rod hours into the session without so much a tap, knock or shudder! Still, I enjoyed every minute of it, as I always do when angling, and even as I packed away I felt that I could have stayed for another seven hours!

I don’t know about you, but when driving home after a session, the next trip and the relevant preparation is never far from my mind. And so it was, as I began the thirty-odd mile journey back home to South Staffordshire, I was already thinking about my next barbel session…

And so it was that I rounded the week off with a return visit to the lower Severn. The river was falling slightly and with a nice bit of colour in it, there wasn’t any reason why I should catch. Mind, I had said that on my two previous barbel sessions! And the temperature was now down to eight degrees, so I already had my excuses lined up should I blank!

But a blank it wasn’t to be. While it was still light I caught a barbel on the left-hand rod that weighed in at 7-2-8. Not a massive fish, but on the back of two barbel blanks, a very welcome fish indeed. Settling back down after re-casting, with the light fading quickly, a tawny owl landed in the tree to my right, less than ten feet away.

Once darkness set in, barbel number two made the unhooking mat. Another healthy looking fish, this one was a bit smaller at 6-15-8. Within the hour I was playing another barbel, and again this one fell to the boilie on the left-hand rod. It didn’t feel particularly big as I played it, but slipping the net under it I could instantly see it was larger then the previous two fish.

Even then I thought it was just a high nine, and was therefore very pleasantly surprised to see my scales register 10-5-0. It had been a slow start, but had indeed come good in the end. And amazingly I had struggled on water temperatures of ten degrees, yet had a good session when it had dropped by 20%. That’s angling for you…


(Article 22, originally published December 2003)