I bumped into a couple of Ribble regulars at a fund-raiser last night and they mentioned they like my blog because I still write about my sessions even when I’m having a stinker….well they should enjoy this months because November was pretty grim!!!
A month of limited opportunities to fish and poor returns, due almost certainly to my Barbel obsession blinding me to the realities of the prevailing conditions. Ironically last season was one of my best winters ever for Barbel; I improved my catches quite dramatically from previous years by taking a more logical and pragmatic approach to cold weather fishing, letting the water temperature trend dictate my target species and tactics. Somehow I seem to have forgotten my own advice! I started to write a blog about exactly this subject but didn’t finish it, I will dig it out when I get a chance.
November is often a time of transition for the river angler. The harsher winter weather has got a good foothold now and the water temperatures have plummeted. Barbel start to become a more difficult proposition as their metabolism (and hence their feeding spells) slow in line with the fall of the thermometer, making pursuit a sometimes thankless task.
However, all is not lost. An able substitute is coming into its prime; sometimes bold as brass, others as elusive as morning mist, but always a good possibility in any conditions, the charismatic Chub quickly become my target species when the conditions are not conducive to the Barbel. They provide an interesting change of tactics and location, and I find myself becoming just as obsessed in pursuit of them as I am with that of the prince of the river.
05.11.17 Upper Trent
Quite a strange overnight session targeting barbel, starting with a promisingly clear sunny afternoon, night came early lit by a massive full moon, shining like the sun in a crystal clear star dotted sky. It was too good to last however, ruined by a never ending biblical deluge that didn’t stop until dawn, turning my swim into a bog, most of which somehow got inside my bivvy and sleeping bag. I didn’t like it much and neither did the Barbel who conspired to thwart me yet again! However the chub did and I had a long disrupted night landing 12 of the buggers with the majority not very impressive and under 3lb, just one decent fish of 4lb! I take little pleasure catching chub when I am targeting Barbel and I was an exhausted and broken man by dawn!
10.11.17 River Dane
A very brief window of opportunity opened and I was out of it quicker than a greased weasel! I could only go local so I flew down to the Dane for a couple of hours late afternoon. Now this was the type of chub fishing I like!
The river was up a few inches and had a bit of colour, and armed with my chub rod and some liquidised bread with a few slices of Warburtons and my ever reliable cheese paste for bait, I was a free spirit.
My chub kit for small rivers is pretty straight forward, a reasonably priced drennan series 7 avon rod with the 2oz glass quiver tip fitted, compensation for horrible basic fittings is a lovely through action perfect for chub fishing. This is paired with a Shimano 3000 twin power reel filled with either 4lb sensor or 5lb series 7 mono. Now this is a bit of quality and has the sweetest clutch of any reel I own, an absolute boon for cushioning chub lunges on light tackle.
My end rig couldn’t be simpler, just a 4-6″ paternoster of 8lb mono to provide a stiff boom and prevent tangles, onto which I attach a tiny clip swivel for a home-made mini cage feeder, split shot or even a lump of plastercine. This is secured to the mainline by a drennan float stop for adjustablilty and ease. Tied direct to the mainline is a size 8 barbless animal hook, big enough to hold a good chunk of bread or lump of cheesepaste. The hook is concealed inside the bait so the quite large size isn’t an issue. I usually nip a shot on the line when bread fishing to make sure it gets down to the bottom, but leave it far enough from the hookbait to allow a good flutter in the current.
I prefer barbless because of the likelihood of hooking a Grayling, they are very fragile and sometimes, despite touch ledgering and striking like lightening, they manage to bolt down the bait and get hooked deeply. I like to get them back as quickly as possible and a barbless speeds up the unhooking process. Provided fish are played on a tight line losses are not significantly worse than using barbed.
Its lovely to throw off the clutter of my overweight barbel kit for a single avon rod and a handful of tackle and I’m far more mobile; in fact the way the Dane fishes these days its almost essential to fish multiple swims to make the most of it. For whatever reason the Chub don’t seem to gather in shoals like they used to and its difficult to build a swim and catch multiple fish no matter how quiet your approach may be. Despite this a good days fishing can still be had, its just a case of adapting to the circumstances and snatch a couple of fish from here and there.
The water temp was surprisingly cold and I had a slow start, the first couple of swims proved fruitless, which made me fear the worst, but eventually I found a few fish in a deep glide and had a couple before it went quiet, and I took that as a prompt to try the far end of the stretch. This type of fishing doesn’t work if the river is busy but fortunately I had it all to myself.
Another 2 small chub obliged in a nearside undercut opposite a willow on the far bank, I couldn’t get a touch in the obvious area under the tree, but when I cast short and my rig rolled down the side, the rod was almost wrenched from my grasp. It was quite satisfying to get some fish from a less obvious feature and just reminded me to try undercut banks more often.
As it was almost dark now I settled into my final swim down a treacherously steep bank. I made the descent with some difficulty and had a nagging worry that I might not get out so easily! This swim looked so ‘barbelly’ I just had to have a go for one. I quickly set up my stalking rod and quietly lowered my pellet rig close to the upstream snag. I always touch ledger for chub and it works just as well for Barbel; I sat with adrenaline coursing, the line looped over my finger waiting for the electric shock of the pluck or wrench.
I really fancied my chances of a Berty but ironically it was Chub all the way, despite the 10lb braid hooklength and size 10’s hook. Funny, they were playing hard to get on the finer gear I was using earlier. Maybe it was the pellets they liked but I had 4 fish in an hour, all I estimated between 3 and 4lb, and each one did its best to turn my carefully nursed barbel swim into a Jacuzzi. So precarious was my fishing position I passed on weighing and photographing any of them on the grounds of safety, so you will just have to take my word for it!
By now it was non stop lagging down and the banks were becoming a mud bath. I decided to call it quits and packed up, but my fears of a difficult ascent to safety were well founded, and I had to resort to the old ‘double bankstick’ ice axes to crawl my way to the top of the bank, coating myself liberally in mud and, as I later realised, cow dung that I unfortunately crawled through in the dark…Hey, shit happens!!! Despite this I was satisfied with a return of 7 chub from a short session.
24.11.17 Mid Ribble
Sunday, Monday and Tuesday this week we had torrential rain, but more crucially the air temperatures were 15C. This was very promising, bringing a pulse of relatively warm water into the rivers that might spark the lethargic Barbel into a feeding spell. The bad news was that there was a huge drop in temperature Wednesday and Thursday but I still headed out on Friday with high hopes.
The Ribble had been 3m+ in the early hours of Thursday but I knew it well enough to expect it would be right back down by the time I got there. It was still carrying a few feet of nicely coloured water, but it was perfectly fishable. I chose a reliable high water swim with a decent slack on the nearside and a pronounced crease line that looked quite promising. Unfortunately my hopes were dashed on first view of the thermometer which read a frigid 5C, I knew a rapid temperature drop had occurred since Monday/Tuesday and the chances of a November Barbel were all but dashed. However my ‘Barbel blindness’ prevailed and I still went for it with a small feeder cast on the crease-line, filled with a winter mix of ground pellet and hemp so as to provide a flavour trail but not to overfeed any potential fish. The second rod was a straight lead with boilie and a pva bag of oily hemp to stop it melting too quickly, mixed with bit of finely broken boilie and cast downstream in the slack water.
The weather was lovely in the afternoon; the sun did its best and I was lulled into a false sense of security. I was day dreaming in my chair when I noticed a slight tap on the downstream rod followed by a good old tear off. Grabbing the rod a decent scrap ensued; I thought it was a really good chub until getting it close to the bank the mystery fish flew straight out of the water and revealed itself as a lump of a Brown trout (or maybe a sea trout?). I’m not a trout man and I was surprised to see a full set of teeth on this one, obviously it was a fish eater. It was unhooked and returned for a lucky fluff chucker to have a crack at another day.
After that things took a downturn, the weather turned evil, a crazy intense hailstone storm followed by a massive cold snap with temps down to 4C and continuous heavy rain, I stuck it out 2 hours into dark but at the first lull in the rain I dashed back to the car and headed for home, vowing next time to think more carefully about the conditions before committing to trying for a Barbel.
So that was that, a combination of football and early works Christmas parties put paid to any more trips in November. I didn’t manage a barbel and so that’s my ‘barbel each month’ annual resolution blown out of the water. Hopefully I can get out more often in December but I will definitely be more choosy about my target fish if it gets as cold as expected. I will dig out the article on cold water fishing, have a read and remind myself what I did differently last year!