The festivities of Christmas are now a distant memory, but the lasting and happy legacy of the holiday season was a wad of cash burning a hole in my pocket. The January sales aren’t as good as they used to be since we adopted ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ from the yanks (or whatever it ‘s now called, I know it seemed to go on the whole of December!) but there were still a few bargains to be had. The upshot of all this is that January sees me as the proud owner of a bargain pair of Shimano 6000D-OC reels, a barrow and a compact fishing stove. Some logic has been applied here; all these items should be useful on the bigger, more tackle destructive rivers such as the Trent, and I now feel happier having a go at a few overnighters before the river season terminates in March. For now this gear is in storage because I’m far to feeble to try until the weather warms up significantly.
In the mean time I had to make the most of what January has to offer, which in short is not usually a lot on the Barbel front, but always a chance of a nice Chub or two.
05.01.18 Middle Ribble
Last month I had a lovely Barbel session on this stretch landing four fish, two of which were around the 9lb mark. Today the conditions were almost identical except for one crucial factor…water temperature!
Despite having problems with my thermometer (now resolved), I spoke to a couple of contacts who fished the Ribble that productive day last month, and from their readings I believe the water was around 8C; today using my new instrument I read just over 5C, and my same local informant confirmed my measurement was thereabouts but told me the bad news that it had fallen 1C overnight. Doesn’t sound like much but I am a great believer in temperature trends being critical to success.
I was still very optimistic despite this news because everything looked the same. I had the pick of the swims to choose from, plumping for one adjacent to the scene of my previous success, which featured the same characteristics I was looking for, slow and deep with a pronounced drop off. I approached it in an identical manner and fished both rods on the same line, just past the shelf where the river depth changed from 8ft to 12ft, which equates to a cast of 40 yards, approximately ¾ across the river, but there the similarities between the 2 sessions ended.
Due to fears of over feeding in the lower temperatures I fished a really small feeder carrying 4oz of lead and it was holding bottom well. The second rod was placed downstream, a straight 4oz lead, boilie hookbait and a PVA bag secured to the lead with a clip; because of the good depth here I prefer to do this instead of impaling it directly on the hook. I believe the mesh can melt before the rig has settled, resulting in the detached bag rolling downstream away from the target area.
There Ribble was carrying a couple of feet of water and the rigs soon gathered leaves, grass and weed on the line, but to be honest, after sitting watching motionless tips for half an hour, it was almost a relief to have to wind in, clean up and re-bait.
A couple of hours into the session a chap set up 50m upstream on the far bank. Funny how the grass always seems greener, I was envious of his short cast to the deep water and features on his bank. As far as I am aware he didn’t catch but we had a nice chat across the water.
Two hours in, at last some action as the rod top nodded and I quickly pounced and wound down into a fish. It was no barbel, that was obvious from the odd fight it put up, and as it crossed the net I saw it was a trout. Now I don’t particularly like catching trout but I quite like the look of them; this one however, only its mother could love. With a bent spine and a mean set of teeth, I took a snap out of curiosity and was glad to slip it back. Obviously it was fully functional and feeding, and this deformity, though not common, does occur in Barbel and other species and seems not to affect them detrimentally.
Next cast another bite, this time a proper rod rattler, but again I could tell it wasn’t my target species. A nice pristine chub of about 3.5lb was the culprit, putting up a bit of resistance but no match for the Barbel gear. At this juncture I decided the chances of a Barbel were looking bleak and switched the downstream rod to a more chub friendly rig, with an 8lb team silstar hooklength and a small halibut ellipse pellet super-glued onto a fine hair. This is about as fine as I go on the Ribble, it really is the most abrasive bedrock of any of the rivers I fish, and a chance encounter with a barbel of any size is going to end badly!
Sods law the next cast resulted in the bite of the day, a barbelesque 3 foot twitch that had me cursing my tackle change as I was convinced this was the hoped for Barbel. It wasn’t..despite the hair raising fight on the lighter rig I could tell it wasn’t a Berty, instead a big chub using the deep powerful flow to its advantage. It had been around the block a few times but it was still an impressive fish and well worth a trip to the scales. Sadly it was a little bit hollow as they can be at this time of year and came in at 5lb1oz, but still a decent stamp.
I stuck it out a couple of hours into dark, optimistic of a Barbel but it was not to be. In fact it died completely and even the Chub cleared off.
By now the weather had seriously deteriorated and I was soggy mess by the time I got back to the car, but I still enjoyed myself and I was glad I grabbed the opportunity to try for a Barbel, the weather forecast showed a cold, bleak month ahead.
12/01/18 Upper Dane
A quick social session on the Dane this morning prompted by a surprise phone call from a good fishing buddy of mine, Matt Marlow. He had the day off and fancied a bit of trotting so I headed to meet him at a club venue we both have access to.
It is a beautiful stretch of river and the club fortunately has several adjoining lengths, which allows a bit of ‘Mr Crabtree’ style roaming. I love to do this but it just isn’t practical on small busy venues; prebaiting likely swims then returning to them half an hour later you have every chance of finding them occupied, which defeats the object somewhat.
As I don’t see Matt often I took a seat behind him, unpacked the flask and chatted for quite a while, putting the fishing world to rights. I was quite taken by his set-up of a centre pin and a 15ft Drennan Acolyte rod and eventually blagged a go for myself. Its been a while since I fished this style but it was a real pleasure to inch the float down the glide with his top of the range gear. I was very impressed with the reel in particularly, I think it was an Adcock Stanton. I am a great believer in modern tackle and to be honest I don’t use any old items, but I have to admit this worked a treat and was perfect for the job in hand; the line just trickled off under the pressure of the flow. I checked out the prices that evening and was shocked; obviously there is a good market for these old classics to elevate the prices to these levels for used reels. I know they are extremely popular with some Barbel men for close in work.
Eventually I decided to actually have a go for a fish myself and wishing Matt good luck I wandered upstream to another field. The river was 6″ up and lightly coloured but the water was icy cold. I knew we’d had a couple of very cold nights this week but wasn’t expecting it to be so severe.
Eventually I picked a couple of likely looking swims and dropped a little bit of liquidised bread in each one. I started at the furthest swim, intending to fish my way back to the car. Two swims later and I hadn’t had a touch, and these were good looking spots with nice features so it was a bit disheartening. Usually fishing the bread and cheese paste method, and with the aforementioned pre-baiting, I expect to get a bite first or second cast if the chub are in a feeding mood, so I wasn’t feeling optimistic as I trudged to my third swim.
This swim featured a raft of flotsam trapped against the far bank by a fallen tree, all the current flowed under the tree but the downstream part of it created a nice sheltered slack, and I chose to place my rig on the edge of this. First cast I felt a jagged tug and I was in; a 3lb chub resulted so I was very pleased and slightly relieved to have caught something at least. That is one of the features of visiting several swims, eventually you will come across a feeding fish in even the most unpromising conditions, and I am a firm believer this philosophy will translate to Barbel fishing just the same in cold water conditions where the ‘bait and wait’ approach loses its effectivity as the fish are too cold to actively hunt down your free offerings.
By now it was practically dusk and I just had time to blank in a final swim before heading back to meet Matt and walk back to the car park. He reported a few grayling and its pleasing to see them seemingly making a good come-back on this very picturesque river.
13/01/18 Middle Dane
My second session in as many days, I was feeling blessed as I drove to another stretch of the Dane, this time closer to Middlewich. Its one of my favourites and I have had some nice Chub from here, up to 4lb14oz which is my Dane pb, plus its as reliable for Barbel as anywhere on the Dane can be these days. Today was definitely going to be a Chub day; the air temperature of 6C was the same as yesterday but a biting wind blew and it was absolutely freezing if you were exposed to it. Sadly all the pegs I fished today seemed to be facing into the teeth of it, so my ‘touch ledgering’ fingers were soon blue!
This was another social, meeting my mate Kris from Stoke. He had got there early and was just setting up on a ‘banker’ swim. Unfortunately with the extra water it didn’t look quite as good as it can and was a bit turbulent. However he fancied his chances, so I sat down for a nice catch-up, before heading downstream to find a few fish.
First cast in my first swim, I had an unmissable wrench…that I somehow managed to miss! I cursed myself for my ineptitude, knowing full well that it was going to be a tough day and bites would be at a premium, and despite patiently and carefully continuing to fish I didn’t receive the slightest interest after that.
I gave it half an hour and moved on to swim number two. This was a nice slack under my feet and an overhanging willow downstream. I always look for features that might provide shelter; such is the level of predation on rivers these days these features are sure to hold fish. This was no exception as on my second cast I had a fearsome bite that caught me unawares and almost snatched the rod from my hand. Fortunately I hung on and after a fantastic battle I slid a nice Chub over the net. It looked a chunky fish so I gave it a weigh and it was 4lb4oz, not to be sniffed at. It had certainly trashed the swim and even though I released it in another area I had no more luck there.
Moving on I tried a nice glide that dropped under the root system of a near bank tree. I made sure my rig was light enough to allow the current to roll it under there and I was rewarded with another very aggressive bite and a frantic scrap from a Chub of 4lb1oz.
I went back upstream at lunch and had a good chat with Kris who had got out the float gear and started getting some interest. He ended the day with a couple of trout and a nice grayling so we both went home happy.
21.01.18 Middle Dane
I managed to snatch a few hours today and headed for yet another quick chub session on the Dane, arriving at 8.30am to an empty car park. As I yomped down the hill full of optimism, I remarked to myself that at least the weather was decent, cold at 2C but with an overcast sky, little wind and a falling river after recent heavy rain. When I got a look at the water I estimated 10-12″ up and quite heavily coloured.
With the river to myself I settled in a nice swim with a fast glide traveling past a series of overhanging trees, some of which had fallen, creating an extensive series of rafts that provide shelter and hold the fish. On first viewing with this much extra water the swim doesn’t look too appealing, with a turbulent surface belying its true potential, but if a light rig is allowed to roll down toward the near bank snags it becomes evident that there is slack water all the way along the tree line and I believe the fish rest in there and move up and down the length of the snags intercepting food items in the flow.
I didn’t have long to wait for my first fish, a nice Chub of around 3lb that really used the fast flow to its advantage and gave a good account of itself.
A second chub followed a few casts later; this was a bigger fish and again caused some havoc as it charged around the swim. I was impressed with its size and got the scales out; a very decent 4lb1oz so I took a trophy shot with my phone because, as usual, I had forgotten to pack my camera. The result was predictably disappointing; how these facebook lads produce quality selfies with just a phone is beyond me!
By now the weather had deteriorated into Siberian conditions, with howling wind driving sleet and snow into my face, dashing my earlier enthusiasm. I had almost lost the will to live but was determined to try a couple more swims.
After no interest in the next usually reliable spot, I staggered on to a noted flyer featuring a large overhanging willow and a nearside slack. Second cast I had an excellent bite resulting in a nice chub of 3lb15oz.
This was to be the final act for today, I was defeated by the conditions. I could no longer touch ledger as my fingers had become as nimble as Edwards scissor hands, not much use for the delicate operation of attaching bread flake to a size 8!
26.01.18 Mid Ribble
I don’t want to become a weather bore, and repetition makes for dull reading, but I really believe successful Barbel fishing is all about being on the river when the conditions become right.
I had one opportunity to fish this week and that was Friday afternoon, but I just knew from looking at the weather forecast it had to be Sunday or Monday, with a warm wet front moving in during the morning of Saturday.
The evidence was there but I would still rather fish than sit at home, so I bombed down to the mid Ribble and still targetted Barbel despite knowing my chances were slim, mainly because I hadn’t caught a single one this month and I was getting a bit desperate for the old ‘3 foot twitch’.
The Ribble looked perfect, mucky brown and 2 feet up, but the water temp was just 5C and it had dropped half a degree more by 21.00 when I finally gave up without a Barbel, just 2 chub and a trout.
It was a pleasant afternoon in the sun but it didn’t half drop cold as dusk arrived. I had to prize my net off the grass as it had frozen solid.
As I expected the temps rose perfectly Saturday night and loads of fish came out Sunday including a stunning 12lb plus to a Ribble regular I know, an absolute belter for this river, congratulations in order there. I must admit to feeling a bit jealous as I reviewed facebook on Sunday evening and seemingly everybody I know had filled their boots, but I am not bitter, one day my ship will come in!
As the saying goes, the fat lady has sung her January song and not a single Barbel crossed the threshold of my landing net. Even the Chub played hard to get and the few I managed from the Ribble were not exactly earth shaking specimens when you see the quality that the river is capable of.
The Dane threw a few fish my way and although of a decent stamp, they were hard won. I read a lot of concerned posts recently regarding the current state of this wonderful river, alluding to issues of predation and pollution being the underlying root cause of the decline in the general health of the ecosystem which manifests itself in poor anglers returns. I read these with some sympathy but I have little idea of the root causes of the decline in fish stocks; I believe it is probably a combination of factors including the above plus some large building projects upstream and I wouldn’t discount agricultural run-off as a major factor.
Other than these concerns, my only other disappointed is that I missed that weather window of opportunity in the last week to snag a January Barbel, it was such an obvious set of conditions I’m sure even I would have caught one, I would have been there had the inconvenience of work and impending destitution not reared its ugly and rather threatening head.
Instead I console myself remembering the enjoyable laid-back Dane sessions with my fishing mates that, despite the scant fish returns, provided some amusing moments and much needed camaraderie.
My new reels are now loaded and my membership of ‘the other’ Ribble fishing club came through so plenty to look forward to next month. Hopefully work won’t get in the way of the important stuff!
Until next month, Tight Lines