A solid start to my barbel campaign (barbel article)

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Variety is definitely the spice of life in my book. Don’t misunderstand me, I have absolutely no problem with those anglers who purse a single species, with a single mind that never wavers or detours; in fact I have the utmost respect for such fishermen. But personally, I prefer to fish for a variety of species.

Obviously attempting to make the most of the summer months, tench are featuring heavily in my current fishing trips. But very close behind, in second place, is a fish that I have come to appreciate very much in recent years – the barbel. Although, come autumn, the species will move to the top of the list, the reality is that I can’t wait that long, hence there will have to be moments during the summer when the barbel gear gets dusted down!

I was a regular on both the rivers Dove and Severn last season, and both were very good to me, with some big fish gracing my landing net. But that was then, this is now! I do intend to fish both rivers a fair few times over this coming season though, so watch this space, as they say!

Kicking off my barbel campaign for 2003/2004, I decided to head for the lower Severn. The ‘Severn below Worcester’ is as synonymous with big barbel as the ‘Ouse above Bedford’ However, a word of warning. Although the fish are there, they aren’t exactly crawling up the rods in a desperate urge to be caught! Patience is the name of the game if you’re in pursuit of the monsters on the lower Severn.

Arriving at the water’s edge on a lovely, hot July afternoon, the first thing I did was to bait up. A bait dropper is an essential piece of equipment for the barbel angler on the lower Severn. It enables one to place large amounts of bait in a precise spot. How much bait you decide to put out, of course, depends on the various factors in the field of play, but when the temperature is high and the shoals of chub move into the baited area, I find that a small bucket of particles is not overdoing it. In winter I’ll definitely change tactics, but even then a bait dropper is still effective.

On this occasion I had to wait, as is usually the case in the summer, until darkness fell before I had my first fish. I’ve already mentioned shoals of chub, and the first fish to take a fancy to my bait was indeed of that species. It was a very long fish, and measured 20” from snout to the end of its tail. But it was so lean, and just about took the readout to 3lb exactly.

Within five minutes, I was into my first barbel of the season. Although it weighed in at 8-3-0, it was again a very lean fish and was just a fraction short of 30”. The second barbel came just before midnight. It was much smaller at 5-3-8, but as with the previous two fish it was very thin; in fact the adjective ‘bony’ certainly would not be out of place in describing this fish. It’s impossible to comment after just three fish, but I do hope that the anaemic looking fish I have caught so far are not typical.

One of the disadvantages of certain types of fishing in the summer months is that it gets dark so late. A few hours into dark and it’s past midnight. Hence on this session, I only fished three hours of real darkness and yet it’s 1.30 am before I’m packing away. The temperature aspect may not be to everyone’s liking, but one good thing about winter fishing is that you can have a really good night session, and still be home before the witching hour!

Following the trip to the lower Severn, I made my first visit to the Dove a few days later. It was a scorcher of a day and the river was very low. The water temperature was 17 though, so that was quite good. The way the sun was beating down, one could be forgiven for imaging the water being hot enough to boil an egg in!

As I usually do with my static fishing barbel approach, the first thing I did on arrival was to bait up the swim. Although it was the middle of a very hot day, and the river was running low, within five minutes of casting out I was into a barbel. The rod tip itself gave the first signs of interest, as it started to tap away. This was followed very quickly, by the rod lurching over, as the hooked fish immediately headed for underwater cover.

It was a very good fight and I did all I could to keep the fish away from a snag that it was trying to reach. This is one of the important considerations that we have to take on board when fishing small, intimate rivers such as the Dove. As soon as a fish is hooked, it will instinctively head for safety in the form of tree roots, overhanging branches, submerged trees etc. It is imperative that we use the correct tackle such as a suitable rod and line strength.

Once away from the snag, and into the open river, the odds were strongly in my favour, and so it was no surprise when I slipped the net under a fish that in bingo terms could be described as three fat ladies – 8-8-8! It’s always nice to get the first fish of a session, and to do it five minutes after casting out is especially welcomed.

 (Article number 2 originally published July 2003. If you like why not share? Thanks)