It’s just a routine check, Sir (barbel article)

It’s hardly surprising that the weather forms the staple diet of conversation in the British Isles. After all, it’s so unpredictable and changeable. My work (I am the Director of a Christian based Charity) takes in many different parts of the world and in the main, for many of the nations we work in, it’s possible to predict weather patterns years in advance for any given month. Here in England it’s more often the case that we don’t know what the next day will bring!

And so it was on the day in question that I’m writing about. The previous day was one of driving rain from the north, chilly winds and a completely overcast sky. And yet here I was, twenty-four hours later, walking along the banks of the lower Severn with a blue sky, the sun shining and not even the faintest hint of a breeze. Such is that strange phenomenon known as the English weather!

Surprisingly, the downpour of the previous day had not even affected the river; it was still low and clear. Although we have basically had a very dry river season so far, it won’t be long before the rains come in vengeance, that’s for sure. Looking at the river in its present state it’s hard to imagine that in the next few months it will be in the fields on more than one occasion.

Due to the nature of the lower River Severn, it’s possible to fish two rods very comfortably without any worries of tangling. And as I am currently averaging less than two barbel per session, I don’t have any concerns about having a fish on each rod at the same time! On this session I place one rod downstream, about a length out from a clump of overhanging willows and the other in mid-river.

Settling back, I expected a quiet couple of hours until dusk started to set in. But within five minutes I had a run on the left rod. However, it was a typical chub take and I ended up striking into nothing. The fish must have really been keen, because at regular intervals I kept experiencing more of the same – two to three second runs, resulting in no fish.

Still, it was quite encouraging as it showed the fish were pretty active. I did have slight concerns that the previous day’s rain from the north may have caused the water temperature to drop. But as the river showed no signs of the rain, the effects therefore were minimal.

As darkness crept in, I observed the setting sun as it disappeared over the horizon in front of me. The sky was blood red at the point where the sun was just visible; the old rhyme ‘Red sky at night shepherds’ delight’ came to mind. Hopefully that would be translated into an angler’s delight, I thought to myself.

As the sun finally yielded and night-time proper enveloped the river, I had the first fish of the session. Following a number of blank runs I finally hit one of the chub that had been plaguing me on the left-hand rod. It wasn’t a big fish, weighing in at just under 3lb. But like all the other chub I catch on the lower Severn it was fin perfect.

With so many anglers concentrating on barbel, I do wonder as to the potential of the other species. I keep promising myself a campaign after chub, perch or roach on the river. However, the obvious stumbling block is the barbel. Whilst there is always the possibility of a really big fish, I find myself constantly drawn to pursuing the species. I suppose I could always fish for the others and put a rod out for the barbel. However, the problem with that is I am a very focused angler and need to do one or the other, not both.

However, one of these days I will surprise myself, that’s for sure! Perhaps when the temperature is so low that barbel are simply out of the question; maybe then I’ll give the others a go. But talking of the potential of other species, a couple of hours or so into dark and the right hand rod came to life. As I struck I could instantly tell it was no barbel. Yet it felt quite heavy.

For a while I began to think that I might have hooked a big chub. However, as the fish came into netting range, my headlamp revealed that a slab of bronze was on its side waiting to be scooped up. Yes, I had caught a bream! And as far as the river is concerned it was a pretty decent one too. I thought it was a good ‘5’ and wasn’t disappointed when it went to 5-15-0.

Another ounce would have been nice of course, as it would have moved up into the next weight bracket. I did have a 6lb+ bream from the lower Severn last season while barbel fishing, so there are some decent fish, as far as the rivers are concerned, in there. Although I’ve had several 9lb+ bream from lakes I have yet to catch my first double, and catching the fish from the Severn on this occasion whetted my appetite to perhaps do a bream campaign next spring.

But for now I’m focusing on barbel, and although I had caught a chub and a bream I was still waiting for my first fish of the target species to put in an appearance. I wasn’t to be disappointed though and an hour or so after the bream made the journey from the riverbed to the unhooking mat, a 7lb 2oz barbel was doing the same. Of course, the big difference is that the latter put up a bit more of a fight!

Although it was just a ‘7’ it looked like it had started to put on some weight; no doubt it had been a ‘6’ a few weeks before. Now is the time that many fish will move up into the next weight category as they start to pack on the pounds. The lightweights will become middleweights and they in turn will become heavyweights. And doing a round or two with one of those is what draws many an angler to keep returning to the Severn below Worcester.

Packing up at midnight, I made the way back to the car and began the short journey that would take me to the main road. I was unaware that an encounter with the police lay literally just around the corner. No, not the barbel police, but the real McCoy! As I pulled out on to the main rod, the car that had just gone by was a police vehicle. When they pulled over to let me pass and then began to follow me, I knew what was coming!

A mile or so down the road and my rear mirror was suddenly ablaze with blue flashing lights. An officer informed me that ‘It’s just a routine check, Sir’. Going round my car he ran his hands over my tyres, presumably to check the tread. As I had just driven down a lane that had horse manure everywhere, I dreaded to think what might have happened!

But if he did encounter any unpleasant substance, he didn’t let on. Maybe next time he’ll use a torch! Anyway, my tyres and tax disk all in order, I was allowed to continue my journey home. I’m just glad he didn’t ask me the registration number, because after seven years of owning the car, I still get it wrong!

(Article number 12, originally published October 2003)