Late Autumn Barbel and Pike: Dr Paul Garner.
This excellent account of some of Paul Garner's sessions a few years ago holds good: Wye barbel, reservoir pike and zander all in one article!
It has certainly been a diverse month, but one that has produced a few smiles and plenty of fish along the way. Not all of them have been huge by any means, but each one has been a special memory, as much for the company and locations as the fish caught. Perhaps I am getting old, but just being out there with good mates is (almost) as important as putting a whacker on the bank or in the boat and November has been filled with many happy memories.
Autumn on the Wye
Any right-thinking angler will go misty eyed at the thought of a day on the River Wye. To my mind it is our most beautiful and most engaging river; one that can provide incredible sport for both game and coarse angler alike but, as with any river, you have to learn the moods and fish accordingly. Late autumn can be a strange time on the river. As the water temperature begins to fall the barbel stop feeding and the massive hauls of fish that are relatively common in the summer months suddenly come to a halt. The fishing can become much trickier, the banks treacherous in places, and the higher flows can make fishing difficult.
Given this background, it was with a slight degree of apprehension that I set off to meet friends Vic and Ian, along with Stuart Morgan, for a day on one of the Wye & Usk Foundations stretches of the middle Wye. In actual fact, we were fishing a stretch that I had only previously looked at a couple of times but had never actually fished, so it was going to be a slightly trickier operation than normal. The final stress-factor was that Ian hadn’t caught a barbel for ‘donkey’s years’ and was desperate to catch one of the Wye’s finest.
The Red Lion Hotel's location close to Bredwardine Bridge could hardly be better.
The rest of our motley crew arrived at the river reasonably early but I was stuck at home eagerly awaiting the delivery of my books, so it was gone lunchtime before I finally made my way down the narrow lanes and parked up on the side of the road but the news wasn’t good: no fish, despite a few swims having been tried.
Vic was settled in a swim at the top of the stretch with a nice slack, and was busily trying to catch a pike - his main target for the day. No runs had come his way, so I quickly modified his rig slightly, picked out the smallest herring from his cool bag (which must still have weighed the best part of a pound) and lowered it within a foot of the bank. The float cocked as the bait touched down and then gently pulled under and moved out into the flow, still quite clearly visible a couple of inches under the surface.
Winding down I hit the take, shouted to Vic and passed him the rod, it was game on! Ten pounds of wild river pike was soon in the net and it was one ‘tick in the box’ after less than thirty minutes on the bank; now it was time to sort Ian out with a barbel!
One of the biggest mistakes anglers make on the Wye is to fish with light leads and feeders that simply don’t hold bottom. Do this on most rivers and it will likely lodge in some weed, but on the Wye the chances are that the feeder will snag and you will be pulling for a break. Despite moving Ian into a cracking looking crease swim, with most of the flow pushing across the river, his feeders simply were not heavy enough. Soon I had him swapped over to a 4oz lead wrapped in pellet paste and he was then fishing effectively.
Regular recasting got the swim prepped and as the sun started to fall lower in the sky his rod tip sprung back and he was into what was certainly pulling like a barbel. Soon the fish was in the net and it was two out of two! We ended the day with another cracking barbel of well over eight pounds, plus another nice pike, and with the light having all but gone decided it was definitely pub o’clock!
It’s good to talk
Most winters I put together a few talks for local fishing clubs and some of the specialist groups, such as the Pike Anglers’ Club and Barbel Society. Now I am not usually the most gregarious of people but I do enjoy getting together with like-minded anglers and, hopefully, putting a little bit back into fishing. Obviously this year I have the added incentive of a book to sell so it is not only a sense of altruism that makes me want to stand in front of a group of people, most of whom I have never met before, and try to entertain them for a couple of hours!
This year I have gone as far as buying myself an iPad to use to display the talks and what a brilliant tool it is. OK, it does come in useful for watching BBC4 on iPlayer as well, but so far, fingers crossed, it has performed faultlessly. So far I have only put together fairly basic slide shows but with my new toy the ambition is starting to grow and the next step is to try and integrate video clips into the talks as well. It is early days yet but if I can get my head around the technology it should be interesting!
Recent talks have been mainly about barbel and pike fishing, with a bit of underwater stuff thrown in for good measure. Now that the tech is sorted and the nerves of doing a new talk for the first time have been overcome I have really started to enjoy them and am looking forward to a few more in the spring.
One of the ways I make a living is by photographing and writing articles with, and about, other anglers and apart from the financial rewards of doing this (which are far from great) I find these days out a fantastic way to learn new ideas and methods. You can’t help but learn stuff from going fishing with other anglers but how often do you sit with them observing and quizzing them for a whole day? This puts me in a very privileged position and it really does spark off all kinds of ideas.
Last month I managed a day out with two anglers whose progress I have been following for a while, as we fish some of the same venues, and who approach their fishing in quite a different, but nonetheless effective, manner to me. Father and son team Gary and Sam Edmonds have been very successful lure and fly anglers over the last few years and I knew that there would be much to learn from them.
We arranged a day out on Rutland which, to be fair, had been fishing rather slowly of late, but we were confident of a few zander and the chance to photograph some methods that most anglers would not be familiar with. We had a cracking day and some nice fish came to the boat, all caught on variations on the vertical fishing and drop-shotting themes. It really was an eye-opener for me and made me think about other changes I could make to my own fishing in the future. The company was also fantastic and another visit, perhaps after perch on one of their local venues, is pencilled in for the near future.
Apart from the trip to Rutland I have only managed a single trip to Grafham this month, but it was almost very rewarding! The fishing has again been a little slow, especially on lures, and when this happens I find that a very minimalist approach, literally just dragging the jigs along the bottom, can pay dividends. Two hits in quick succession resulted in a mean looking fish of about 8lb and another, which fell off on the way in.
Interestingly, both of these fish came from the edges of a huge ball of bait fish, some 30 feet wide and 20 feet deep that had taken up residence in a relatively open area of the ressie. Each time I used the GPS to pass over the ball of fish they seemed to be moving around and were often difficult to find at times. I could imagine this huge shoal of perch or roach fry, just like those shots of balls of sardines being hunted by barracuda and other ocean predators, next time I will take an underwater camera with me and see if I can capture them on film.
Piking in the unknown
Anglers can be a funny bunch sometimes. To my mind there are very few venues left in the UK where there is the chance of catching a very big unknown fish. Most venues have a fair bit of history behind them and barring the odd freak occurrence, will produce fish of a known stamp. Of course, there are plenty of examples of left-field venues throwing up odd big fish, especially with species such as perch and eels that can turn up specimens almost anywhere. Lesser known pike venues are a lot thinner on the ground, so it surprises me that more anglers don’t have a dabble on some of the less known trout reservoirs, such as Hanningfield, Ravensthorpe and Farmoor, amongst many others.
Although it is little more than a concrete bowl, Farmoor holds a special attraction for me. OK, I was lucky enough to catch a big fish from there, but still the tales of big fish of several different species seen in this lake date back decades. Each year I try to have a few days pike fishing on here, but with work commitments, I would only be able to manage a single day this year.
The news wasn’t good, no pike had been reported and Andy Black and I would be fishing on almost the last day of the trial. Anglers had been on but the numbers were low, as always. Both Andy and I prefer lure fishing so the bait gear was left at home and we decided to fish just lures in a fairly methodical pattern, covering the features I had found on previous trips. After an hour and a half I had a good hit on a rubber lure and was attached to a decent fish, which put up an excellent account of itself as it went airborne by the side of the boat. It wasn’t the hoped for monster, but a prettier pike you would be hard-pressed to find and soon a sleek 14 pounder was having her picture taken.
No more fish came our way that day, but we did spot another good pike, and although I am sure the lake has a relatively low density of fish that, to me, is a good thing, increasing the chances of one of them having grown very big indeed. As long as it is open I will be back again as the place really does have a sense of the unknown about it.
Chew on this
Like most people I only get one or two tickets each year on Chew Valley, the current Mecca for UK pike anglers, but normally in the course of a year I manage to pick up the odd extra day from friends who need to find a boat partner at short notice. As it turned out the wet weather of the last few weeks did me a favour as a friend who works outside needed to drop out to concentrate on working whilst the weather was ok, and it took me all of a milli-second to agree to go in his place.
I already had a seat on the Friday, so with Wednesday and Thursday now secured it meant I would have three days in a row on the lake - nice! There were mixed reports on what was coming out: a few anglers were catching big fish, but for most it was just the odd run, mainly coming to the boats. Funnily enough tickets are normally easier to pick up when the fishing is tough, but you have to be in it to win it as they say!
Normally by late November a good proportion of the pike have moved to deeper water, but with the water temperature still over 7 degrees I thought that they would probably be a bit spread out. We did have some inside information from earlier in the week though that most of the action was coming from a reasonable depth, so this is where we decided to start.
It was a breezy day, but with no rain forecast the fishing was comfortable and I find most pike reservoirs tend to fish well when the conditions are like this. So we hunkered down in the boat and set about watching the floats for signs of activity. It was going to be a slow old day and every couple of hours we up anchored and moved a little. This is a tactic that can work well on Chew. By covering the depth contour that the fish feel most comfortable in you will often eventually locate a pod of fish that haven’t already been covered. I know a lot of anglers give each spot only 30 to 45 minutes, but on here I have found that a longer stint can often pay dividends when the water is cooling and I save the quick hits for October and late February.
With the boat due in at 4:10pm we only had time to fish a few spots and as the day drew on with no signs of a fish it was looking like a blank was on the cards. Our final move of the day was to an area that I hadn’t fished before but which seemed to hold lots of features, with a stream bed and a hump to one side of the swim before the water dropped away into the main basin. Fishing a new spot is always pretty much a chuck it and chance it affair as you can’t work the area with the echo sounder to get a good idea of the contours without disturbing the fish, so I tend to fish away from the boat and edge the baits back trying to cover a bit of water in the hope of bumping into a fish.
Just before 4pm one of the floats suddenly lifted and began bobbing around before moving off quite confidently with my BaitBox herring. This was it, my first chance of the day and I just hoped that I didn’t fluff it! It seemed to take an age to wind down to the fish but eventually I caught up with it and as I bent the rod into it there was a satisfying thump on the other end that signalled it was a decent fish. The fight was typically dogged and I played it carefully, keeping it off the surface until it was ready for the net. She went in first time and a decent pike was ours; unfortunately, it wasn’t one of the monsters for which Chew is famed, but at a smidgen over 20 pounds it was big enough!
The next two days passed in a bit of a flash. The weather, as forecast, went much colder as a high front moved over the country. Bright sunny days and still frosty conditions mean that the pike tend to feed early and late and being on a boat with only limited fishing time isn’t the place to be. Still, despite no more fish coming to our boat we worked hard, learnt some new areas and enjoyed the weather. Some people think that you just have to turn up to catch big fish from Chew but the reality is somewhat different. Yes, you can drop lucky, but for every success stories there are plenty of blanks.
So the month ended as it had begun with a smile on my face, fantastic company and a few fish under our belt - you can’t ask for fairer than that!