Seeds Of The Sow Sown In My Childhood… Setting The River Barbel Record Four Times – A Walk Down Angling’s Memory Lane

Growing up as a child, I was aware of Izaak Walton and his contribution to the world of angling. Back then I bought the Angling Times every week and never threw a copy away. I had a huge pile in my wardrobe at home, and I would always be reading old copies, to keep feeding the thirst for fishing-related knowledge.

On one occasion, opening a freshly-bought edition,  I can recall coming across a big feature on the River Sow. It was, if I remember correctly, over at least two pages and was in black and white. The Staffordshire waterway was one that the author of the Compleat angler had himself fished.

Although at that stage there was no way that I could target the river itself, as I had no transport, I guess without realising it at the time, it became a bucket-list tick stored away in the subconscious realms of my mind.

Then, in my thirties I joined a club that had water on the Sow and my childhood memories were awakened. After a number of visits to the river in pursuit of chub, always up for a challenge, I switched my attention to barbel.

I had heard rumours of the species, although I do think that you need to be careful about things you hear along the angling grapevine, otherwise you’ll be chasing the piscatorial equivalent of the wild goose.

However, based on the fact that it was a tributary of the Trent, it was more or less obvious that the river would contain barbel. Thus began a campaign in pursuit of Barbus barbus that would cover a number of years.

I would need to go into my angling records to tell you exactly how many sixty-odd mile round trips I made to the Sow. Either sitting there all night, or arriving back home in early hours of the morning, I certainly put some dedicated time into the campaign.

Fishing with boilies, I was determined to eliminate smaller fish, but as we know, even a 1lb chub has a cavernous mouth. Thus, many times when my rod tip pulled round, I ultimately ended up with a chevin in the net.

However, I did catch the occasional barbel, and each one although it worked out at many rod hours per fish, most certainly inspired me to continue. Over time, I ended up setting a Barbel Society acknowledged record for the river on four occasions.

The fish – that can be seen in the lead image – weighed in at 10-0-8 (August 2002), 10-3-0 (July 2006), 10-7-0 (August 2006) and 12-4-0 (August 2006).

It remains one of the longest-standing Barbel Society records. With 82 rivers on the list, there are just 21 that were established prior to mine. In addition, although I haven’t fished the Sow for some considerable time, it appears that the barbel have been noticeable by their absence.

Regardless of when – I don’t want to say ‘if’ – I return to the river, and regardless of what I may catch in the future, the fact remains that the Sow has left memories behind that will never fade.


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    1. You’re welcome and tight lines. If I return in the future it will probably be like starting all over again for me!

  1. Hi Stewart. It’s great to hear your tales from the sow. I have found the barbel to be quite elusive here. I moved to Stafford 3 years ago but I still head to the river dove for the barbus with my chances of catching them more likely. I would appreciate any info on spots you found fruitful. I appreciate the river has likely changed since your campaign but any tips would be great. Cheers

    1. Hello, J S Carp. It’s been 14 years since I fished there, I understand the barbel are even more elusive now.
      When I targeted the river I went with a clean sheet and fished numerous spots, with no prior knowledge.
      I did hundreds of rod hours over a period of several years for a few fish.
      Having said that, they were good ones.
      My advice to anyone would be do some legwork, especially when the river’s low and clear.
      And, above all, be patient and realistic.
      If you live local, it’s more ideal than my 60 mild round trips. You can do more shorter sessions.