The Accidental Barbel
Sean seems to be heading for double trouble; not only fishing for barbel with a 16s hook, but fishing with Deanos too?
Well it wasn’t completely an accident. I was sort of fishing for barbel; it was just that I didn’t intend to catch it just at that moment, and on that rod, and using that reel. I’d better explain hadn’t I?
Last Friday I’d arranged to have an afternoon’s fishing on the Swale with Deanos. Just before leaving home I checked the Environment Agency Website and found that the river was about 4ft up having fallen from around 8ft up over the last 36 hours. The weather during the previous week hadn’t been especially mild so I compromised and took both barbel and chub gear with me.
As usual, Deanos was late. I didn’t bother waiting and set off upstream towards some swims that I knew were a good bet in these conditions. It was a cool day with a light south easterly breeze that wafted a fine drizzle which penetrated every nook and cranny in my clothing. The river looked to have dropped a bit more and it was carrying only a small amount of colour – perfect for chub, but probably a little too clear for barbel. I decided that it would be best to start with the chub and switch to barbel for the last hour. When doing this I have a strategy for selecting a swim which gives me a good chance of a chub or two and maximises the chance of a barbel later in the day.
The swim I had in mind is perfect for this tactic, it consists of a crease caused by a spindly willow tree at the head of a slight bay. Below this is a short length of steadier water leading to an area of heavy cover. The tactic is to fish the crease for a few hours and then move down closer (but not too close!) to the cover for the last hour. My thinking is that in these conditions the chub will be more active than the barbel and will move further from cover to feed. The barbel are more likely to hang back closer to the cover, but if one does decide to move further upstream there is a nice resting area on the slack water side of the crease.
Today I’ll be fishing my usual cold water bait of dead maggots as my feed, with live maggots on the hook. The dead maggots are prepared by riddling all the dust off a pint of maggots, giving them a good glug with Teme Severn Lamprey liquid (chub love it) and popping them in the freezer for at least 48 hours. I bring a pint of live maggots with me for my hook baits and freeze what’s left over for my next trip. To present the deads use a dark pellet groundbait mixed with some roughly crushed pellets. This mixture is dampened just enough to be pressed into a cage feeder, but not wet enough to hold in a ball when squeezed. A generous helping of the dead maggots is then mixed in. The idea is that some of the groundbait will escape from the feeder as it sinks and a trail of particles and lamprey smell will waft downstream. A fish follow the trail of particles upstream the movement of the live maggots on the hook will catch their attention and tempt them into making a mistake.
I place a dropper full of dead maggots and half a dropper of crushed pellets halfway down the crease and stop to consider my options. The water temperature is 6C, so I’m fairly convinced that I’m best to start with the chub gear and anyway I’ve got a new outfit that I’m just itching to try. I’ve just finished restoring a Chapmans 500 avon rod and I’ve also got a Allcocks Delmatic reel which arrived in the post on Wednesday and was given a quick service and loaded with line on Thursday. I decide to start with these and save my full fat barbel gear for later in the day.
The Delmatic is loaded with 8lb Fox Reflex mono which I’m trying for the first time and to this I attach a hook length of 6lb Preston Grand Match Fluoro and a size 16 Drennan Wide Gape spade end hook. This last is a bit of a risk, but I’ve run out of the Drennan Carbon Feeder hooks which I usually use for maggot fishing for big fish. A small cage feeder is clipped on, two maggots impaled on the hook, I swing the rig out to the crease and settle back damply into my chair.
“Av y’ad owt mate?”
Deanos can move very quietly for a big lad. As my heart rate subsides I turn to greet him.
“No nothing. This is my first cast.”
“Why’s tha fishin wi’ a stick?”
I maintain a diplomatic silence.
Deanos has encouraged me to fish with him with the promise of one of his mum’s fruit cakes and the bribe is duly handed over. It’s hermetically sealed to prevent any sneaky sampling and no doubt the big lad’s been threatened with dire consequences if it isn’t delivered in one piece. We talk for a while about swims and tactics and I make a hash of my second cast. On my third cast the rod tip twitches slightly and is then still.
“Could be a gudgeon.”
Deanos perks up: he likes gudgeon. His favourite method is to pan fry them in a little clarified butter with some shallots and a little garlic. How he learned to do this in Castleford beats me.
I give it another five minutes, retrieve and examine the maggots. Not a mark on them. A good sign: probably a chub.
A few minutes into my fourth cast the rod tip twitches twice pulls round slightly and holds. I strike.
A powerful fish heads off across the river.
“Looks like a decent chub.”
Five minutes later I’m starting to revise the possible identity of the yet unseen fish and I’m getting a little concerned as I’m fishing with a small, fine gauge hook on untried gear. I hear a rustle in my bag.
“What are you doing?”
“Ah’m hungry. I allus get hungry when ah’m nervous.”
“Well there’s nothing in there except the cake so pay attention.”
The little cane rod is doing a good job of cushioning the suspect hook and I’m having to back wind as I don’t know how good the drag is on the reel. The fish is hanging out in the heavy current and I’m struggling to move it on the relatively light gear. Slowly, slowly I begin to gain ground. The feeder appears and a huge pale shape looms out of the depths.
Deanos readies the net, but the fish isn’t beaten and it powers off towards the far bank. My right arm is now aching.
“Tha’s been playing it for ovver ten minutes, get a move on.”
Gradually I work the fish back towards us. The feeder appears again and the fish rolls slowly just under the surface. Deanos sinks the net and I inch the fish slowly over it.
“Got it mate!”
I sink back into my seat. The fish is the biggest barbel I’ve seen.
The big lad is obviously chuffed and after a bit of hand shaking and back slapping (I’ve still got the bruises) we settle into the routine of unhooking, weighing and photographing the fish. The little hook has survived the lengthy battle intact and shows no sign of opening. Despite its large frame the fish doesn’t quite weigh as as much as I thought, but at 10lb 11oz I can’t complain. Like all cold water barbel it doesn’t seem too affected by the fight and it goes back without needing much nursing.
The rest of the afternoon is a bit of an anticlimax and by the time I pack up at 6 o’clock the only other fish caught was a small chub to Deanos. I walk back down the bank in the dark.
“You not packed up yet?”
“No Mate ah’m stoppin ‘til ah get a biggun.”
I smile as I trudge off into the dark evening.
(Editor's note: and still no pictures of the great man himself, that Yorkshire angler extraordinaire, darling of the Castleford Ladies Bingo Group and muncher of all things sweet and tasty (not to mention sometimes tackle thief, if you're not watching your kit) Deanos. Perhaps the pictures are so big to account for his frame, Sean can't get them through the email system.)
By the Same Author
- Book review - Memories of the Yorkshire Fishing Industry
- Winter Fishing – A Wandering Session
- Barbel Fishing - Floodwater Tactics on Big Rivers
- Nash PegOne Tackle ‘n’ Bait Caddy
- Loch Lomond Dreams
- River Fishing - The Last Hurrah
- Cold Water Chub
- Chub Fishing on a Rising River
- Grayling Fishing - Between Times
- Book Review - The Lambton Worm by Pete McParlin