River Severn Barbel - Crouching Barbel, Hidden Chub.
Andy Scholey returns to the River Severn for his annual 'lads outing' and finally finds barbel success with a method new to him...
“A woman goes to the doctor’s...”
By this time I was already laughing. You know how it is the first day of a fishing holiday when your spirits are high, the corniest of jokes seem to assume Pythonesque stature, and you end up laughing like a drain at anything.
“She says to the doctor...”continued Micky, “Doctor, I’m worried about these green bits sticking out of my knickers” I laughed again in anticipation, trying to work out the punch line in advance. We were on the M6 on our way to the River Severn, in early September; it’s an annual outing and the third time we had travelled to the Severn and as ever expectations were high, nearly as high as the water levels in the river that had, thankfully, fallen considerably from flood proportions.
“The doctor takes a look and says ‘Oh I see, you’ve got bits of lettuce there, but no need to worry, it’s only the tip of the Iceberg!’”
It was a good job I wasn’t driving as I exploded with laughter.
I had taken the trouble to acquire day tickets for the first day, Sunday, from the admirable BAA office and also checked which venues had matches, thus avoiding timewasting in Bewdley. We headed for Arley and settled in some comfortable swims but it was not a very relaxing day as there were anglers on the opposite bank who were continually shouting to each other in broad northern accents about the most ridiculously mundane things; it was hard to concentrate.
Then there were the canoes! It wouldn’t be so bad if they just paddled through your swim, but oh no! One group had youngsters who, when not using their mobile phones, could hardly make headway against the current. The dodgy Boy Scout-type leader left one youngster – with wrists like matchsticks – behind and he couldn’t make more than six or seven strokes before he stopped, allowing the current to spin him around and fall back through our swims again. He was in front of us for forty minutes before Akela came to tow him back to the main party.
As the canoe activity calmed down and it looked as though we were in for a bit of peace and quiet a gamekeeper on the opposite bank arrived and proceeded to feed the ducks with huge sacks of wheat. There must have been five or six hundred ducks noisily squabbling over the grub. As I said, not very relaxing.
On the fishing front we were following the conventional method of chucking in large three-ounce cage feeders into the middle of the river and, along with everyone else, fishing pellet. This is not really me but I kept lobbing it out more in hope than anything else.
I grew up on the Yorkshire rivers during the 1960s, when anything bigger than a size 16 hook and a ½oz Arlesey bomb was considered crude, so you can imagine that heavy feeder tactics comes a bit hard to me! So, for the last forty minutes or so, I decided I would scale right down to a small bomb, increase the hook length and pop on an 8mm banded halibut pellet, which I covered in a small quantity of halibut pellet paste to give a finished hook bait about the size of a small cherry. It’s hard to explain but I had a strong feeling that this would work. In theory, the bomb would find its own spot, possibly drifting under some overhanging branches before it settled.
On my second cast with this, I had my first bite of the day...which I duly missed, and put down to a dace or small chub. Micky had already packed up and had come to see how I was getting on. I explained that I’d gone a bit lighter and, as far as I was concerned, more subtle. I showed him my pellet and paste set-up then delicately cast with an underhand swing announcing ‘Last chuck!’
After a couple of minutes the rod tip pulled round and I struck into what appeared to be a nice fish. It put up a decent fight and there was some speculation as to what it might be before we saw the white lips of a Severn chub. Micky kindly offered to help with the landing net and as I guided the fish towards it he lunged and missed by about four inches; it reacted with another dogged run. Micky apologised profoundly and netted it at the second time of asking, explaining that he thought it was over the net – he clearly should have gone to Specsavers. The fish weighed 4lb 3oz and gave me bragging rights for the rest of the evening.
On Monday morning we visited S R Lewis, tackle shop, for some day tickets and this was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip. Stan, bless him, is getting on now and it is starting to show; he tried to help Glen find some 12mm halibut pellets but couldn’t read the large, 2in high red lettering on the top right corner. Next, he wrote our BAA day tickets and asked Micky whether the pen was working...I don’t think he can actually see his own writing. His shop is crammed full of tackle, mostly old tackle that’s never been out of its box, thousands of floats; flies; lures; spinners; rod-rests; nets: but also modern hooks; rigs; weights and baits. It is certainly in my top-ten best ever tackle shops in the world.
Despite Stan’s advice (“You’ll need to go to church before you fish there!”) we decided to fish Hampton Loade left bank; the river level had dropped another foot and looked better for it. The canoe traffic was much reduced but the noise from the caravan park opposite was incessant – lawn mowers; radios; people shouting to each other. The anglers from the park had their shirts off and their pot-bellies appeared like a row of little moons...
Micky caught a chub first chuck, fishing pellet in the middle; it weighed 3lb 12oz. Just before lunch, Glen hooked a small barbel of 4lb 12oz on the same, conventional tactics; then Micky landed a barbel of about 4lb; I blanked.
In the afternoon Micky had a chat with the bailiff from the adjacent Kinver Freeliner’s stretch, who said that the best three swims on this section were right at the far end of the beat, by a hawthorn bush. I can’t quite do justice to the doleful Brummie accent but the conversation went something like this:
“Yow noid to be fishin’ Kamasan Black-cap, block-end, fifty gram foiders for a pellit attack. Not thowse cage foiders! Anuvver good bait to troy mate is mate, curried mate!” by which I thought he meant curried meat, but it was difficult to say.
We thanked him for his advice and had a chat to attempt to decipher what he’d said. We decided to give it a try so the next day we braced ourselves for a lengthy walk only to discover when we got there, that there was someone in the swim – b*****d!
Micky dropped in a couple of swims below him, Glen forty metres below him and me thirty below him. Although the river had fallen another foot the flow was fairly powerful and I had to concede that I was not really up to far-bank feeder fishing in that strength of current. The prospect of hurling swimfeeders the size of small baked-bean tins all day forced me to fish the near channel. The only problem was that all the fish were over the far bank under the protection of a long line of willows; just to prove they were there, Micky had two colossal bites...and missed them both!
At around midday despondency was setting in and I had resigned myself to another barbel blank on the Severn when, as if mocking me, a barbel leapt out of the river like a dolphin over on the far side. Galvanised by the shock I became determined to try my best and set to thinking what else I could do. A little light bulb appeared over my head as I remembered something Stan had said three years ago about rolling meat*.
So...I removed my cage feeder and replaced it with a 1oz Arlesey bomb with a sliding paternoster of about 10in, a ledger stop and a 20in hooklength. I buried my hook in a small piece of curried luncheon meat and cast over to the far side. It was a nice cast, slightly upstream, and I allowed the bomb to bounce along the bottom - expecting it to catch some weed at any moment - but it travelled nicely for about twenty metres, whereupon I reeled in, checked the bait for weed and cast out again; another nice cast in the middle of the channel.
Holding the rod tip as high as possible I mended the line a little as the bait passed in front of me and it appeared to stop momentarily. I raised the rod tip to try and help it over an imagined weed bed when something pulled back! I had hooked a barbel second cast in with a method I’d never tried before...
I had to play it for four or five minutes in the strong current but eventually landed a medium sized barbel of 5lb 13oz, my first in three years on the Severn; I was astonished and elated simultaneously. It could have been a fluke, beginner’s luck; I tried the same tactic for another hour with no result. Late on, half an hour before we were due to pack up Glen caught a 6lb pike whilst retrieving his 14mm halibut pellet: it was one of those days.
As far as our annual trips are concerned we’ll probably give the Severn a rest for a few years now and return to the River Swale, or possibly the Trent, although we’ll certainly miss visiting Stan Lewis’s tackle shop.
*Footnote: Although I caught this fish in early September, Eddy Widdup’s excellent article ‘Rolling on the River’ rather diluted the impact of my story and, incidentally, nicked the title I was going to use. In the discussion he quotes the artist of ‘Proud Mary’ as Tina Turner when actually the version I know is by Creedance Clearwater Revival  which just goes to prove how old I am!