Kennet Barbel - Adam Rayner is 'The Apprentice'
Welchy teams up with Adam Rayner to help lay a few old ghosts to rest on the River Kennet.
It started back in 2009 when I had the bright idea to write an occasional ‘Apprentice’ series for my ‘Adventures’ column in Anglers Mail. No, I wasn’t going to grow a scruffy beard, become a lord and suddenly find my bank account boosted by several orders of magnitude; nor was I going to do any actual hiring or firing – I was just going to go fishing.
The difference is that I wouldn’t be fishing alone; I would be bringing along an ‘apprentice’ in the shape of an ultra-keen but relatively inexperienced ‘pleasure’ angler and I would be introducing them to the world of big fish angling – one species at a time.
The aim was not to give my pupil for the session ‘all the gear and no idea’ and simply drop them in a prime swim with my own kit but to use – and if necessary adapt - the kit they already had and to point them in the direction they would need to follow in terms of location, feeding, tackle and methods.
The victim, sorry apprentice, duly appointed was Adam Rayner - a madly passionate angler since childhood who, rather than drift into the specialist world, moved instead into the commercial scene and became a competent performer with small to medium sized carp and the multitude of other smaller species such waters offer; a pleasure angler who took real pleasure in his angling as it were.
To cut a very long story short we made a start with barbel as Adam’s PB was a somewhat pathetic commercial pool specimen of 1lb 8oz which took a bare hook as he rested his gear in the margins – to a lifelong barbel addict such as me that just would not do!
We plotted up on what was then one of the prime swims on the middle River Kennet (British Waterways have subsequently destroyed it in an orgy of habitat destruction in the name of navigation.) I spent a while talking tackle and tactics then let the big man loose on the river whereupon he caught a bream - and was chuffed to bits with it...
A swim playing host to a shedful of giant beards and my man is happy with a bream... I grinned sweetly and tried to stay calm, it was going to be a long session...
From there it went from bad to worse.
An hour later Adam’s second bite was not from a bream as his freespool went into meltdown. Unfortunately I had to point out this fact as Adam was on the phone at the time and although he had played commercial carp whilst chatting to a mate he soon realised barbel were not in quite the same league and he was ‘done’ in the snags. The look on Adam’s face said it all; I didn’t need to say a word...
A second chance, an hour later, saw the mainline part after Adam had done the hard work and got the fish clear of the snags and a third chance, after dark, resulted in the hooklength parting. It had been a real baptism of fire, attached to three lumpy beards but no cigar...
We re-scheduled for take two and despite Adam fishing faultlessly it just didn’t happen; I really felt for him but that is fishing and sometimes you have to accept it’s not your fault; although I struggled to convince the big fella!
Take three was another grueller resulting in a small barbel well after dark; a new PB by ounces but a woefully small fish and the ‘victory’ was somewhat hollow for both of us.
Roll on 2011...
A couple of years down the line Adam had developed as an angler and added a few nice fish to his CV but for both of us the small matter of a decent barbel had become personal and Adam in particular had a serious need to exorcise the ghosts of his barbel fishing past.
We arranged to meet on the River Kennet again but this time there was no need to run through the basics of tackle and tactics as Adam was well prepared with stepped up line, bombproof hooklengths, strong hooks and a larder of bait.
He started off putting a groundbait mix together with a base of fishmeal laced with Dynamite Baits’ Chilli Hemp, plenty of casters, a few pellets of varying sizes and a handful of Spicy Shrimp boilies blitzed to crumbs in a Korda Krusha.
The next job was to get the feed going in and for the next hour or so he cast a packed feeder into the swim every few minutes - without a hooklength attached - to create a scent corridor downstream from the fishing area which would hopefully pull any barbel in the vicinity upstream with it.
It was late morning by the time I reckoned we had done all of the baiting and waiting that was necessary and I reckoned if there were any barbel in the area they would be on the spot and ready to pick up a well-presented and carefully cast bait... I went through a few last minute rig and bait checks just in case, tweaked a few things here and there and we were off.
Thankfully Adam was spot on in the accuracy stakes and, after setting the freespool, hovered heron-like over his rod waiting for that 3ft twitch - which never materialised...
It was a bright, sunny day and we watched an otter working the far bank which didn’t exactly fill me with a lot of confidence but although it took longer than I had expected there were barbel about as a savage take at lunchtime proved quite conclusively.
As I watched the action played out before me in a ghastly nightmare vision and the ghosts of 2009 materialised as the fish locked Adam up solid in a snag because his clutch wasn’t set tightly enough – schoolboy error! I could have wept...
Never one to give up Adam put the rod down and handlined for a break; something gave and he swore the fish was still attached but I was not convinced as he just pulled metre after metre of slack line in. Then there it was – a barbel – led in gently like a dog on a lead and netted without so much as an argument.
At 6lb 10oz it was technically a new PB by some margin but I was uneasy; the line hadn’t parted so it was a ‘fair’ capture but to me it just wasn’t right. With heavy downpours forecast and a long drive I’m sure we both would rather have settled the score early but it wasn’t to be and I insisted he caught a ‘proper’ one before we left...
So, we baited and waited and tried again...and waited...and waited...and called our partners to explain why we were going to be late home...and waited and waited and waited and the light faded and we waited...and waited and...and the rod went round three feet and Adam was in...
My initial estimate of 7lb 8oz was light as the fish actually weighed in at 9lb. I was relieved and delighted in equal measure and Adam was, well, Adam was emotional!! It had been a long time coming but worth waiting for.
On the walk back to the car Adam looked across, glint in his eye, and said: “We are going to have to come back for a double you know...”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry: “Adam it’s job done – YOU’RE FIRED!!!”
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