Nightmare on Barbel Street
Andy Scholey takes a look at his annual three day barbel fishing break which didn’t go exactly according to plan, for him at least.
It’s not just about the fishing is it? I mean, the fact that this is the third time I’ve visited the River Severn to fish for barbel and still haven’t caught one doesn’t really matter, does it? Or am I being neurotic?
Glen seems to be in a hurry this morning. We’ve already hit a partridge and given a woodpigeon a really big scare in Glen’s VW Transporter, which seems to be a lot quicker than usual.
We arrive in Bewdley at about 9.45am and look for a new tackle shop that Micky has heard about but we can’t find it, there is a farmer’s market on and the town centre is very busy.
Last year we used the old shop near the river, S R Lewis Tackle, with the zombie bream in the window and the mountain of halibut pellet. The shop hasn’t changed and, if anything, the mountain of pellet has grown with the addition of some packs of Robin Red. Stan is sitting in the doorway, he looks a little older. He obliges us with BAA day-tickets and then, without asking, making a radical departure from last year’s reticence, starts to offer some unsolicited advice.
“Where are you planning on going lads?” he opens.
“Well, I’ve had look at the BAA web site and thought about Newhalls Meadow”.
“That’s where you don’t want to go!”
“No! You need to be in the faster water when the river’s as low as this” which seems to make sense.
Last year Stan wouldn’t speak to us until we’d bought tickets to his stretch so I think he’s mellowed a bit. He explains where to go and, rather conspiratorially, even gives us the top-secret combination of the BAA lock on the gate to the fishery at Blackstone Rock.
We park at the side of the river to have a look at the venue and discover, for the first time, the pigeon we gave a bit of a scare to. It’s lodged in Glen’s radiator grill. I told you he was travelling!
Today, the river is low and slow and gin clear – we don’t fancy it. Of course there’s a small section that’s not available to us which four lads are fishing, all tucked into one swim, they say you’re almost guaranteed barbel there, and it looks pretty good so we plan to get some Stourport AC day-tickets and try there tomorrow. We make a twenty-mile trip through Bridgenorth and end up at Knowle Sands where the river looks more inviting but Micky decides to spin for pike for two hours so you know he doesn’t think it’s much good. Needless to say, we don’t catch anything.
It’s about 6.30pm and we are checking in the George Hotel, Bewdley. They’re a bit full but we’ve booked ahead. My room is 101. George Orwell wrote in his novel 1984 “…The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.” And we have a bit of a joke about it. After a quick shower I meet the lads down in the bar for a couple of pints and something to eat and after a short trawl around Bewdley we return for an early night; another day has passed without catching barbel.
It’s three-thirty in the morning and I’m lying in Micky’s double bed, wondering what strange course of events has led to me being there!
I remember getting up to go to the toilet; my room was tiny and I turned right, half-asleep, and opened the bathroom door and walked through. A moment later the gentle swoosh and click announced that the room’s self-closing door had locked me out. I was in the corridor with just my rather unfashionable white Y-fronts on needing a wee badly!
The pub’s gent’s was just around the hall so I trotted quickly out through another door and into the toilets. Afterwards, when I came out, I realised that I’d gone through a keypad security door and was now on the first floor landing under the scrutiny of CCTV! I tried to get back into the hotel through the bar downstairs but that was locked and I tried all the other floors without luck. Now, here’s the really interesting bit, in my left hand is my mobile phone; I’m not wedded to my mobile like some people, I often forget it so why in Heaven’s name did I have it now? I’ll never know, but there it was, sitting firmly in my palm like a gift from the Gods.
I tried to ring Micky but he didn’t answer. I pondered what my options would be, a night in the toilets perhaps, I had broken into a cold sweat. I gave Micky one last call and he answered.
“Micky, Micky… it’s Andy Scholey!” I whispered urgently “I’ve locked myself out of my room” you could hear Micky trying to take this in. “I’m out in the corridor”.
To give him his due he came out to rescue me in a couple of minutes, what a relief! He was trying very hard not to laugh as I explained what had happened and he tried the hotel reception but it wasn’t manned and it was at this point I realised I would be spending the rest of the night in bed with him.
In the morning Micky went to the hotel reception to get a spare key for my room. When he told the receptionist that I’d locked myself out and had to spend the night in his room she never batted an eyelid.
“Happens all the time!” she said.
I shower the night-time sweat from my body and make my way down for breakfast. Glen looks up from the table and is laughing so uncontrollably that I think he might rupture something. I have a very subdued breakfast before we make our way to Stan’s again for some more BAA tickets.
“Where are you going today, lads?” he asks.
“We thought we’d give Hampton Loade a try”
“That’s where you don’t want to go!” he says, and proceeds to tell us several other places we should try before Hampton Loade.
At Hampton Loade we walk further down the fields than we’ve ever done and find three swims thirty or forty yards apart. It looks peaceful and quiet, which is precisely what I need to relax and contemplate what happened to me last night. I’m just settling in when a chap on the opposite bank drives into the field and opens the boot of his car. At that moment every duck within a ten mile radius descends onto the river; there are hundreds of the little feathered baskets and the noise is incredible. The chap chucks the contents of two sacks onto the field and into the water as the noise level increases and the water boils with feeding ducks. This lasts for about two hours and is not conducive to thoughtful angling.
Later, in the afternoon, a small flotilla of canoes uses the water in front of me for a mini-regatta so I decide to move. I heave my stuff up the bank and look for another swim. Micky and Glen have already moved upstream back towards the car park.
As I approach Micky I see that he’s playing a fish. He finally lands a four pound barbel, the first in nearly two days. I have only one option open to me: I move into Micky’s swim! At the very least I think I might have a chance now. My presence has not put Micky off as he hooks another at about 5.30, slightly bigger this time.
A local Brummie out walking his dog strikes up a conversation with us; he tells us about the BAA length above the ferry car park at Hampton Loade. He is full of enthusiasm, which is very difficult for someone with a depressing Brummie accent.
“The third field is owkay, if yow wanna catch three or four” he helpfully suggests “Bud if yow wanna catch mo-o-re… yow’ll ‘ave to go across all three fields”.
What a ridiculous thing to say - if you want to catch more, - as if we would pack up after we caught three or something. A study was conducted in 2008 where people were asked to grade the intelligence of a person based on their accent and the Brummie accent was ranked as the least intelligent. It even scored lower than being silent! However he has convinced us to fish there tomorrow which says it all.
That night I was particularly nervous about falling asleep. I had contemplated sleeping in my jeans with the room keys in my pocket, or putting the dressing table in front of the door but I needn’t have worried. The night passed uneventfully.
This morning we mysteriously stumble across Bewdley Tackle and Leisure, the new shop, I can’t see how we missed it. Inside it is neat, roomy, orderly, well stocked but lacking in character. They only have two BAA tickets left so we return to Stan’s for the final ticket and his advice on where we don’t want to go today, it’s a treat to visit him.
The stretch upstream of the Hampton Loade Ferry looks really good, lots of willows on the far bank and a nice steady flow. We pass the first couple of fields and a through herd of cows, with a surprise bull! We seem to have the whole bank to ourselves and choose three cracking swims opposite a long line of willows and tackle up; this is grand.
Just before eleven o’clock Glen catches a nice barbel of 4lb 10oz which puts the pressure on o Micky a bit, I’m not even in the race and despite fishing as well as I can, something’s not quite right although I’m beginning to enjoy myself. Around midday the swims between the willows opposite fill up with an assortment of anglers, presumably from the many unsightly caravan sites dotted along the river. Every time I look over to one guy in particular he’s playing a fish. His hands are in front of his face as if he’s holding his rod high. One fish after another, I reckon he must be really good until I realise that it’s the pose he makes when he’s re-lighting his pipe.
At about one o’clock Micky attracts our attention, he’s got one on and we watch him play a decent fish for three or four minutes finally landing a nice 8lb 2oz barbel, a new personal best.
Well, that’s seven Severn days without a barbel for me, I don’t think I’m up to big river fishing but, despite everything, I’m looking forward to coming next year; after all it’s not just about catching is it?