When I started this blog I vowed to make my reports as honest as possible, but the last couple of months have made pretty dismal reading, such has been the dearth of my target species, the mighty Barbel. However I am going to stick to my guns even if it pains me to recount fruitless frustrating hours sat watching motionless rod tops, I just hope it is not to boring for anybody who cares to read it, warts and all.
To be honest, after a relatively disappointing July with few Barbel to speak of, I entered August with confidence quite low. After some introspection I resolved not to change what I was doing too drastically; my methods and bait have proven to be effective for many years. However, things weren’t going well so something had to be done. I am always looking for new edges so I made one or two tweaks to my rigs, plus a small change in work ethic, namely to get mobile and try to cover more swims. This was to address the obvious lack of dispersal of the Barbel; many of my fellow anglers were reporting good catches from one swim while nothing was being caught on the rest of the section, usually an early season phenomena post spawning where fish stay around the spawning grounds but this year it is still very much in evidence and we are not far from Autumn!
During mid-August I had the opportunity to have a few days holiday on the middle Severn, one of my favourite rivers and normally very productive for Barbel. If I couldn’t catch there in August with mild conditions and some rainfall forecast, things really would be desperate. This would be sandwiched in between trips to the Ribble and upper Trent so plenty of opportunity to end the relative Barbel famine (if only!).
04.08.17 Mid Ribble
A bright and breezy day, not the best Barbel weather but lovely to be wandering with a fishing rod in the beautiful Ribble valley. Only a few anglers were out on this popular club stretch, quite surprising considering the river was fining down after a fair amount of rain fell during the week and was still carrying a hint of lovely peaty colour. Clarity, or lack of it is, in my opinion, the number one factor in dictating the success or failure of Ribble barbel fishing, closely followed by water temperature.
I was lucky enough to get on a fancied swim but decided to take a softly softly approach as far as feed goes. I fished a medium feeder rig two thirds across to the edge of the main flow line. Any further across is asking for trouble as the river bed is littered with big stones, a tackle graveyard.
As mentioned in the intro I had made some adjustments to my rig to try to improve bait presentation by tying a very fine braid hair and supergluing a couple of the smallest hinders pellets to it, a tiny bait presented as carefully as I could manage while still having the strength in the rig to handle a hard fighting double (I wish!). My commitment to be more mobile vanished and I ended up staying put the whole day apart from a quick recce in the afternoon.
I have great faith in pellets on the Ribble, but I am careful of the quantities I give as freebies, preferring to give the fish more hemp than pellet and increasing the amount of flavoured groundbait, in an attempt to provide a scent trail but not too much free feed. This becomes more crucial as the water temperatures drop in winter, where a couple of pellets will fill a fish for days as their metabolism slows. However, the plan sort of backfired when my tiny bait attracted a tiny Barbel, though I was quite pleased to see a new year class coming through, always a good sign of a healthy Barbel population. It’s of great concern to see rivers producing exclusively large specimen Barbel without a mix of smaller ones showing up, such as seems to be the case currently with the river Dove. I fear there is a problem building for the future of this wonderful river if recruitment of new year groups is failing, but that’s a serious topic for another day.
The day passed with little to report other than constant action from eels. Now this is interesting, my second rod fishing worm down the deep channel just down my near side was in constant action with them ranging from a few ounces to a couple of pounds. I’m not a fan, but again it shows a healthy balance of species, and of course eels are Otters favourite food, so maybe less of my target species will fall prey to them. It’s strange considering eels have been practically absent from the Ribble for the last few years, very much in line with the national statistics where the population has crashed dramatically.
Later, just as dark descended my feeder rod went off and after a brief but lively tussle I landed a Barbel of around 4lb. Never has a splasher been more welcome, understandable after my recent lack of success. I stuck it out till 11pm then called it quits. Other anglers passing reported it being a hard day all round, so I wasn’t too despondent on the 40 mile drive home.
07.08.17 Mid Severn club water
Day 1 of a four day Severn break based in one of my favourite fishing towns, Bridgnorth. After a breakfast departure it was lunch time before I reached my destination, a club water downstream of Shrewsbury which has been kind to me in the past.
I had no problem getting a favourite swim where I always do well with my secret recipe flavoured luncheon meat fished half way across in the main flow. However I had made the batch up and frozen it to absorb the flavour a couple of days earlier using an old tin I found in my bait store. I guess it must have been many years old because it had basically turned to jelly. I only found out as it thawed and became impossible to keep on the rig, despite using the ‘ladies legs’ hair rig method that is usually fantastic for keeping meat on the hair for long casts. I think it was so soft that the impact with the water after a 40m cast was destroying the cubes; in desperation I tried wrapping it in pva net and using straw under the wire to spread the force, all to no avail. All very frustrating as the first 2 chunks were still partly frozen and stayed on well, and resulted in 2 cracking 3 foot twitches from a 6lb and a 7lb12oz Barbel. After that I had no idea if my bait was still on after casting but had no more fish. Lesson learnt, use fresh meat!
I stayed till dusk and only just made the last hour in my favourite Bridgnorth pub, the Bell and Talbot and barely managed to squeeze a few down before last orders. The Black Country beer is just so good, I even contemplated missing out on food to have a last pint, but in the end a sprint to the kebab shop saved the day.
08.08.17 Severn Stoke- Lower Severn
This felt like a pilgrimage for me to fish this famous length of Birmingham anglers controlled water. I have never made it to the lower until last season’s excellent weekend on Pixham with the Barbel Society, mainly due to the distraction of the middle reaches of the river being so good I never really had the urge to pass Bewdley.
There is something about the lower Severn, slow, deep and home to larger Barbel in general than the middle, and much larger boats than I had ever encountered in my river fishing experience. Severn Stoke is a very beautiful stretch of water and obviously popular with the boat trippers.
I had some local advice from Lawrence Breakspeare and James Benfield, both extremely successful Barbel anglers on the lower river, but they warned me it might be difficult as the river had been out of sorts, and so it proved. Features don’t jump out at you down on the lower, very few visible indicators can be seen on the surface but I knew I was in the right area so I stuck it out till dark. Sadly, only bream obliged, big ones granted but not my target species, so I went home to my B&B with my tail between my legs, vowing to return in the Autumn.
09.08.17 Knowle Sands- Mid Seven
This Birmingham anglers stretch is one of my favourites. Located just a stone’s throw from Bridgnorth and down a massive hill to the river; obviously that means an equally massive climb back up at the end of the day. The positive thing is it puts a few off so I can usually get one of my chosen swims here. Unfortunately it is also prone to being fished by some real low-life’s judging from the amount of litter I usually have to collect before I fish; why people come to the beauty of the Severn and feel they have the right to leave their detritus behind is beyond my understanding, but I collected it up anyway, ready to be carted back up ‘cardiac hill’ at dusk.
The rain of the previous days had started to show today and I estimated a rise of 18″ of water from normal level, plus a lovely brown tinge that promised a Barbel or two. As usual on the Severn, it also made the banks treacherous underfoot; I always carry a length of nylon rope and use a deep set bankstick at the top of the bank before I descend to the river side, it has helped me so many times in the past I usually do it on even mildly sloped banks these days.
I fished the standard pellet feeder rod in the main flow line and with my second I dropped a boilie rig down the nearside into a deep slack that I have found this to produce the larger fish in the past. This sleeper rod was set low to the water and after throwing a handful of broken boilies around the slack I cast it in, engaged the bait-runner and left it to its own devices, still mindful that I had to be on the rod quickly in the event of a run.
I started to get a few on the pellet rod, just small fish around 3-5lb but spirited fighters and great fun. Then in the afternoon the sleeper rod screamed off and I had a decent barbel of 7lb, followed shortly after by one of 8lb. By now I was getting fish on both rods quite regularly but the sleeper was producing way better stamp, averaging 7lb. I even managed to hook a couple of quality roach but it was a bit unfair on the gear I was using, however it shows the potential for a nice float fishing session.
Before I knew it dusk had passed and I had to be off per B.A. club rules. I’d had 13 fish, biggest 8lb, not huge but a very enjoyable and action packed day…the big hill didn’t seem so bad!
10.08.17 Mid Severn club waters
I decided to head part way home to a new club water near Atcham. It was more of an exploratory visit and in the end I walked 2 full sections, just chatting to the 2 anglers present and generally having a good look around. It was a very attractive bit of river and eventually I came across an enclosed swim overhung with willows with a distinct flow line on the edge of the trees, that just looked so ‘fishy’ I had to give it a try. I could only fish one rod, and because some of the colour had dropped out overnight I decided to go for a straight lead and loose feed approach. I was surprised the only fish to take an interest was a nice perch because it looked like a Barbel’s dream location.
In accordance with my new policy I decided to get moving and try a different length a few miles downstream on another club ticket. As usual at this venue I found an empty car park meaning I had the river to myself. I set up in a compact swim below a willow bush with a deep hollow on the nearside and the main flow running by only 5m out. I love this stretch, it’s so picturesque, peaceful and full of wildlife. For some reason the water looked more coloured than the last venue and I had a good feeling as I set up a medium feeder with pellet, and swung it out underarm to the edge of the flow.
Only 10 minutes later I had an absolute screamer that resulted in a very nicely conditioned 8lb’er, followed half an hour later, after a bait change to boilie, by an equally ferocious take from one about 7lb. Both were landed with some difficulty due to a downstream bush that the fish seem to head for, and I had to act quickly to stop them. After the commotion I put a few broken boilies in and went for a walk to let the swim settle. This seemed to do the trick and a couple of 5-6lb fish obliged at dusk.
As dark fell I was hoping for one last big fish but it was not to be, however I was pleased with the trip in general and felt as if a corner had been turned.
18.08.17 Upper Trent
A long trek to the upper Trent to meet my mate Kris from Stoke. We were fishing a popular stretch and as he lives a lot closer he was already well ensconced in his favourite ‘flyer’ by the time I had negotiated the agony of 85 miles on the M56, M6, A50 etc. As we were staying the night I fished the next peg upstream despite having a poor result from there last time while Kris battered them from just 30 yards away. I was confident that this time would be different….Wrong!
Just to confound my optimism my swim failed to produce a barbel despite it looking an absolute peach with the extra water in the Trent creating a fantastic looking crease; Mr Crabtree would have been salivating! Kris proceeded to land four thumping Barbel, topped by a 13lb specimen that was fin perfect and would have made any anglers season.
I had plenty of time sat watching my motionless isotopes to ponder the reason for my failure; why won’t those barbel move from the downstream swim? My theory is the slightly deeper hollow that exists there holds food, the fish expect to find items dropped from the flow in that location. Logically when there are freebies already there why would they need to waste energy moving further upstream?
Three bream between 2 and 4lb and a couple of chublets were the only visitors to disturb my night. Generally I never worry about blanking, always looking to learn something new from a visit to a river, but I have to admit to feeling a bit deflated after the success of my Severn trip and the close proximity of Barbel to my unloved baits.
The highlight of my session (other than witnessing Kris’s fish) was a cheesy oatcake he cooked for me in his ‘ridge-monkey’! That’s when you know it’s been a hard slog. To be fair to the lad he could actually work for the Stoke tourist board such is his enthusiasm for the best things to come from his ‘fair’ city; the previously mentioned oatcakes which make up 75% of the average Stokies diet, his beloved Stoke City FC and of course the River Trent!
In the cold light of day a trip to the Salt Box for a full English was in order, and we were accompanied by Mark, a fellow Stockport lad we met on the bank. A bit of banter and a full belly certainly lifted my spirits for the drive home. I know the potential of this stretch so won’t be dissuaded easily; just to confirm this the following week my pal Harry landed this stunning creature from an undisclosed location on the river…simply awesome! My plans are already in place for a triumphant return.
25.08.17 Upper Trent
My triumphant return turned out to be somewhat less than triumphant. Another overnighter, this time I got there before Kris so had the pick of the pegs. It was a close call between 2 swims, I chose a lovely looking swim with a deeper gulley running down mid river and fished both rods along it.
Kris turned up in the evening and dropped in the other swim I had looked at, and went on to land 4 nice barbel…I blanked yet again! I didn’t even get a decent kip as several small chub, just big enough to move the rig and set off my alarms, plagued me throughout the night!
I thought I had turned a corner after my Severn trip but obviously I chose a dead end street full of pot-holes. It is incredibly frustrating to blank when my mate is catching just a hundred metres away, but I am sure it is a temporary slump I’m in and that things will come good sooner or later. I take so much pleasure from this great sport of ours that even after all the bad days and 150 mile round trips I wouldn’t change a thing.
Autumn is round the corner…bring it on!!!