No big barbel, but thankfully no big cats either (barbel article)

With the rivers running very low and clear, at least the lower Severn provides an opportunity to fish in some depth of water. Although it was still in need of a good flushing, the fact that is that it still offered the best option of all the rivers I intend to fish this autumn. As I made my way to the peg that I had chosen to fish, the water was well down, but of course the river still ran deep. When you can see the bottom of the lower Severn then you know you’ve got problems!

Talking of problems, we’re all aware of the negative impact that angling related litter has on our pastime. Of course, it’s not simply an angling problem; it’s a society one. But that doesn’t help our cause when rubbish is left at the water’s edge by departing fishermen.

On this particular trip as I walked the river’s edge I noticed a number of yellow rectangular cards that were scattered along the bank. Out of curiosity, I examined one. It was a peg marker; obviously a club had held a contest there recently! And more to the point, the club had its name printed on the card! Now, if it were just one, or maybe two cards, I wouldn’t have had a problem, they could have been left accidentally. But every peg contained them! Well done, ‘The Mason Arms’!

As I reached my peg, I dumped my gear and drank almost a litre of juice straight off. Yes, it was a hot day and the long walk from the car meant I was in need of some liquid. It’s important that we carry plenty of fluids with us during the summer. Of course, we need to do the same in the winter – lots of hot drinks are important on those dark, cold winter sessions. But for now, I was content with cold orange squash.

The first fishing act was to deposit half a bucket full of particles on the riverbed via a bait dropper. Once this was done, I leisurely set up, as I had plenty of time before dusk would set in. As I prepared the rods, a couple of salmon leapt clear of the water right in front of me. Although this was just my third lower Severn trip of the season, I have seen more salmon than the whole of last season and the previous one put together.

After a couple of hours of darkness, the right hand rod bent double and I was into a barbel. It felt like a good fish, and as I netted it, I was convinced it was my second double from the river. However, when I weighed it, it didn’t even make 9lb, topping at 8-14-8. I had to do a re-take, as I was sure it was a double. But no, it still didn’t budge above the previous weight. Just goes to show you need scales, and reliable ones at that!

As the night wore on, I had a few chub runs, landing just the one fish. On the right gear and in the right conditions, at 2lb 5oz it would have put up a good fight, but with it being up against barbel tackle, the odds were against it.

It can be a game of patience on the lower Severn and I find the radio is a wonderful companion. As the time drifted into the early hours I found myself listening to a phone-in programme about big cats that are prowling the countryside. I don’t get spooked very easily but after an hour of that I did tend to get a bit jumpy at some of the noises in the undergrowth around me! And if you know the lower Severn, I was fishing at the bottom of the bank, right next to the river in a peg that was extremely overgrown. Puma territory, or so they said on the radio!

Anyway, just about awake, I called it quits at 2.45 am! There were no big cats, just the one barbel and the one chub. Still, with the temperamental character of the lower Severn, it’s always good just to catch something! Normally I walk back to the car without any problem whatsoever, but on this occasion I kept hearing ‘noises’ in the undergrowth…

But it will take more than just a few rumours of big cats to keep me away from fishing, and so it was I returned to the lower Severn for my next barbel session. The lure of big barbel is greater than the fear of big cats! The area I targeted is particularly overgrown; it doesn’t see many anglers, which I find quite appealing really. I much prefer to fish away from the madding crowds if at all possible.

I had my first bite a couple of hours before dark, within half an hour of setting up actually. It wasn’t a barbel though, but a chub of approximately 2lb. I always find it amazing how relatively small fish manage to take such large baits, and many a time I’ve caught chub on big baits intended for barbel. Indeed this fish was the fourth of the campaign, which is one per session.

If pushed, I would list chub as my favourite fish. There’s nothing better than playing one with the right tackle. But of course, on 10lb line, this fish didn’t do justice to its species. Although it tried its hardest to evade capture in reality it was nothing more than a case of reeling in.

During the rest of the session I also had a few more chub ‘runs’ but I didn’t actually land any more of the species. Still, it makes it interesting and helps you to keep on your toes. Fishing the lower Severn can be a long waiting game most of the time and a little bit of action, albeit from a ‘rogue’ chub, can help to break up the long spells of inactivity.

Just a few minutes into dark I had a good bite from a barbel. Unfortunately though, I had a break on the main line. I don’t like that sort of thing happening. Not only is it a lost fish, but also it is now carrying tackle around. Of course, this is one of the reasons why we need to think safety when constructing our rigs. That way we can minimise problems in the event that a breakage should occur. I’m always checking the line, both hook length and main, for weakness. But in reality, one can’t legislate for a sharp rock or piece or corrugated iron on the riverbed.

It is also important to always fish with the correct line strength. One still hears of anglers fishing for barbel with 2lb line! However, I don’t feel that condemnation and aggression is the answer, as some anglers do. We need to constantly educate and instruct in the right spirit. After all, we’ve all had to start somewhere haven’t we?

Wondering whether I would have my first barbel blank on the lower Severn this season, I was rescued by a fish just before 10.00 p.m. At a shade over 4lb, it was just a baby – but they all count. This was to be my one and only barbel of the trip. Therefore, no big barbel to report. But then again, no big cats either!

(Article 8, originally published September 2003. If you like then why not share? Thanks)