Seeing double on the Severn (barbel article)

The session I’m writing about in this week’s diary entry, is one I thought I might not make. I set off from home mid-afternoon as usual, giving myself plenty of time to reach the river and set up. I was making good time on the M5 until suddenly a wall of traffic loomed ahead. It wasn’t slow moving even – it was most definitely stationary.

There was no option other than to sit it out. So I turned off the engine and read the sleeve notes of a recent Tamla Motown CD I have purchased, while of course, listening to the music while I waited. For fifteen minutes I just sat there, and as each minute went by, it became obvious that I wouldn’t get to the river before dark.

However, while listening to The Temptations’ ‘I got heaven right here on earth’ my own prayers were answered, as suddenly, and without warning, the traffic started to move. There was no apparent reason why we were delayed it seemed, and within a minute I was back on track, coasting along the motorway.

As I parked the car and unloaded the gear there was still plenty of time before dark and so I was able to bait up the swim, get everything ready, and cast out before dusk started to descend upon the river. Within twenty minutes I was rewarded with a small barbel on the mid-river rod. And I mean small – at 3lb 3oz, even for the middle Severn that would be a small fish.

The rest of the evening was very quiet though. Apart from a number of two-second runs from chub, there was no action to report at all. As the sun set, it got very cold. This is typical autumn weather – the days can sometimes be warm, but the nights can be positively freezing! This is why we need to pay particular attention to what we wear at this time of the year. But even then, we can still feel the cold, and I found myself constantly jiggling my toes around to create some friction, and therefore generate some heat!

Someone recently asked me the key to catching big barbel on the lower Severn. I was able to give an immediate answer without having to think about it; it can all be summed up in one word – perseverance! And as the evening wore on, this session was certainly a lesson in that. Midnight came and went, and the local village church clocks signified that fact, the only noise to be heard in the now very still atmosphere.

Then, an hour later, as the solitary bells chimed out 1.00 p.m., within five minutes I was into a barbel that felt like a good fish. It certainly put up a good fight, but eventually I found myself slipping the net under a fish that looked, at first glance, like it would be a double. The scales registered 10-4-8, and for a few minutes, the bitter cold night was forgotten as the adrenaline created by my third Severn double of the season far outweighed the numbness of my toes!

There were no more fish, even though I bravely – or crazily, depending on your point of view – stuck it out until 9.15 a.m. the next morning. It was also interesting, noting the time that I had caught the fish, that the previous evening I had been reading an article where the author claimed that you will never catch a barbel between 1.00 and 4.00 a.m.! The motto is ‘never say never’!

Also, for those of you who take an interest in the moon theory regarding angling (and I want to stress the word ‘theory’, you may be interested to know that the fish was caught during a ‘bad’ day! And also, incidentally, was my previous 12 lb 10 oz barbel caught a week or so earlier. Just goes to show doesn’t it.

At the time of writing, the Severn, like most of our rivers, is in need of some rain. There is hardly any flow and it’s difficult to imagine that very soon, what is now a peaceful, almost canal-like flow will be replaced by a raging torrent with trees, sheep and other such things being swept along towards the sea. A few years ago I even witnessed a coffin floating downstream!

The lower Severn, typical of many larger rivers as they mature, has floodplains. These are what you see on the TV every now and then – usually an aerial view taken from a light aircraft – covered in water as the river bursts its banks. Once the river manages to reach the height of the banks and spills over, there is no stopping it. Once that initial challenge is overcome, the perfectly flat nature of the surrounding area means it is quickly swamped.

Although the lower Severn fishes well when it’s right up to the banks, it is unwise to tackle it when it’s in the fields one mile either side of the original river! That obviously goes without saying. But I will certainly be on the Severn when it’s right up to the rim – and that can be a good time to pursue barbel – particularly when the prevailing SW winds have deposited lots of (relatively) warm rain on the river. So check out my angling diary over the coming months for some flood water barbel sessions on the Severn. I’m looking forward to them!

(Article 16, originally published November 2003. If you like, why not share? Thanks)