Wye Barbel and Reservoir Pike - The Doc Spot
FishingMagic is delighted to extend a welcome to long-time site contributor Dr Paul Garner, who now joins us on a regular basis as part of our monthly team of diarists. This month it's River Wye barbel and reservoir pike that are on the Doc's mind
The kids going back to school, nights getting longer, and only twelve weeks until Christmas! September might mark the end of summer time, but it’s not all bad...
September is certainly one of my favourite months; marking as it so often does the threshold between the summer fishing (what summer?) and the winter. Conditions are favourable for a wide range of species, and with new venues opening up at this time of year it offers some exciting opportunities for the all-rounder. My fishing this month has certainly been diverse, and, as is so often the case, a mixed bag along the way.
Wye Valley days
It is no secret that I love the Wye Valley, the majestic scenery and the superb fishing on offer make it a difficult combination to beat. In recent years the river has really opened up for coarse fishing, thanks in no small part to the work of the Wye & Usk Foundation. OK, the fishing is often quite expensive compared to your average commercial fishery, but so what? Anything this good in life doesn’t come cheap.
I try to ration my summer fishing on the Wye. My fear is that with fishing that can be so prolific it would be easy to become bored and lose the feeling of excited anticipation that I get every time I visit; a bit like a kid who is let loose in a sweet shop, eventually the novelty will wear thin. September is perhaps the best time to fish the Wye. The valley is looking its best, with the greens and burnt yellows of the cut fields contrasting with the autumnal colours of the tree-lined banks. The river will be likely carrying a little extra water, with floods a possibility. The chub will also be more spread out by now, making it easier to select the barbel than it is at the start of the season.
September saw me visit the river twice, trips that had long been in the diary, as they were to combine a couple of days guiding with some exploratory fishing of my own. The first trip was to be for three days, with the idea of starting on the Llanthomas Fishery towards the upper end of the coarse fishing on the river and then work further down on each successive day.
With Llanthomas to myself I was able to just spend my time just idling the day away. There was no rush, not even any great urgency to catch anything, it was very much a day to just sit back and enjoy. The morning was spent with a lure rod in search of pike. After covering every likely-looking pool with no sign of a fish in the low water it was back to the fishing hut and time for a brew before getting the trotting gear put together. The rest of the morning was spent catching fish every couple of trots down the shallows reaches of the river, gradually working my way downstream. None of the fish were big, but the fishing was fun and it is impossible to let anything intrude on your concentration when long-trotting.
After a late lunch I picked up a barbel rod and a bucket of softened pellets and wandered down to one of the known barbel holding swims. As the afternoon wore on the tip would flick and then spring back as either a battling barbel or good chub picked up one pellet too many. By dark I was ready for bed, so packed up as the moon began to rise and after a fish and chip supper hit the sack for the night.
Day two was to be spent exploring a couple of miles of river that was new to me in search of pike. OK, it was still very early in the year, and the river was very low – ideally you need a flood or two to concentrate the pike into the slacker water and get them hungry for the sport to be good. The day passed quickly with no sign of a pike, but I learnt a lot about the stretch, plumbing every swim to find the deeper areas and committing to memory the occasional snag and drop-off that would cause trouble come winter. As dusk began to fall it was back to the chippy and another early night as the third day would hopefully be much busier!
By now I had worked my way almost down to Monmouth, some fifty odd miles from my starting point, and on this third day it was time to earn my keep, as I would be guiding Paul and Mark from Grimsby. Today we were on a stretch that I knew fairly well, and the plan was to catch the boys plenty of barbel, with hopefully a good fish mixed in. Tactics were very simple, straight lead tactics with 4ft hooklengths terminating in a size 12 hook and a single 10mm halibut pellet as bait. Rather than fish feeders, which would have been asking for trouble as the swims were quite snaggy, we used 3oz leads on a Nash lead clip with a large PVA bag of Fish Frenzy halibut pellets attached to the lead.
I always feel a weight lift off my shoulders when my customers catch their first fish of the morning, and fortunately today it didn’t take very long, as a pristine eight pounder put in an appearance after only half an hour. The barbel continued to keep us on our toes right through the day, but as usually happens during the last hour of daylight they went on a feeding frenzy and the baits were being taken almost on the drop. It was certainly a long day, but with twelve barbel landed, and a few others lost, it proved to be a cracking day on the river.
The following week it was back to the river for another day, this time in the company of Mark and Ben. Conditions couldn’t have been more different to the sunny days and low clear water just five days previously. This time we were faced with constant heavy rain and a river rising fast. In fact the river came up by over three feet during the day. Fortunately the barbel didn’t seem to mind, and once again we caught steadily throughout the day. Interestingly, the normal evening feed just didn’t happen, perhaps because of the changing conditions, and so we had to settle for seven barbel to just over 9lb, along with a couple more lost.
October will probably see me back on the Wye for another day or two. If you would like to join me, then please drop me an e-mail via my website at: www.drpaulgarner.co.uk
Although pike fishing has always traditionally started on 01 October, several of the trout reservoirs have started to open earlier than this. The main reason is that on these large open venues the weather, and most importantly the wind, can make boat fishing impossible later in the year, so the only way to squeeze in a few weeks of fairly reliable predator fishing is to open early. This is a double-edged sword in many ways. I would much prefer to have another month targeting traditional autumn species, such as bream and barbel, but with pike whoever is first on a venue often reaps the greatest reward, or so the theory goes! This state of affairs has been compounded this year with an even earlier start than normal, so it would be the beginning of September when Anglian Water would let us pred-heads loose on some of their venues.
Opening week dawned with the weather still in summer mode, although untypically for this year that meant hardly a breath of wind and bright sunny days. With a water temperature of 18 degrees conditions were going to be challenging to say the least! My boat partner for the opening couple of days was Lewis Baldwin, and we would use subtly different tactics to try and ascertain what the predators wanted, if anything at all. As I set up the first drift of the morning there was a palpable sense of excitement as most of the local ‘talent’, plus a few predator anglers from further afield were out in force. We would soon know what kind of mood the predators were in.
Drift followed drift, with little to show for our efforts. One low double-figure pike to Lewis and a couple of zander caught on crankbaits got us on the score sheet, but it was tough going. The only thing that we could console ourselves with was that everyone was suffering the same fate. Were the pike actually in residence?
Yes they were, as two big girls sidled up to the boat, inspecting our lures carefully before deciding that today wasn’t going to be the day. At least these close encounters gave us the belief that we needed to carry on. Lure fishing is all about believing that you are getting it right, even when you aren’t catching. That solid thump can come on the first cast or the last cast of the day, but if you get bored and change tactics, or lose concentration, then that fish will definitely not make your day.
We finished up with a couple more pike and zander, giving us a respectable total for the day compared to the other boats. Still, it was early days, there would be more to come as the week unfolded.
Persistence is futile
Except events steadfastly refused to unfold. Day two was tougher still, with just a few zander boated. Day three and it was a change of boat partner as Tom Colloff joined me. A few more zander and a cracking perch of 3lb 8oz for Tom caught on a Powerbait Split Belly soft lure were our reward for sweating it out all day.
Day four I had tickets to the Paralympic Games in London, and despite wanting to be on the reservoirs, there was no way that I was going to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity. Suffice to say, the Games surpassed my expectations by a massive margin, as had my experiences earlier in the year at the Olympic Games events that we had been lucky enough to attend.
So the ‘Para’s’ effectively put paid to my fishing, and as we didn’t get back home until the early hours of the morning it also meant that Friday was missed, although reports were still coming back of very little being caught. Better to keep my powder dry and wait for a change in the conditions that would trigger the fish into feeding, I thought, and with a low pressure front due to hit over the weekend things were looking good.
Week two and conditions couldn’t have been better, with strong winds and wet weather forecast. Uncomfortable fishing conditions, but the pike in particular love it when it cuts up a little rough. With renewed expectations we set forth once again, racing out across the mile-plus of open water to our first area of the day. Yet, despite the conditions being ideal, the fish had other ideas and we struggled once again. Fortunately, my vertical fishing has come on in leaps and bounds over the last couple of years, and this is my get out of jail tactic on these big reservoirs. Very rarely does vertical fishing fail to produce a few zander, along with the odd perch and pike, turning a poor day around many times in the process.
A switch of venues later in the week resulted in more action, with plenty of pike to mid-doubles falling for a variety of soft plastics cast from the drifting boat. Perhaps I bumped one better fish, but it was on and off so quickly that there was really no time to be sure. As the month drew towards an end it was time to reflect on our reservoir results.
Certainly, compared to our very high standards it had been a difficult few weeks. Hard fishing though makes you think, and new tactics had been tried, others improved and the results in the hard light of day don’t look too bad, with pike into the twenties, plenty of zander and perch to over 3 pounds coming to my boat (although not necessarily to me).
October will see more time spent afloat, including trips to a couple of new venues, along with the beginning of the winters barbel fishing campaign, and a trip across the channel in search of more predators. The Wye will not be totally neglected, with a few days pencilled in along the way. Busy times indeed, plus the launch of my first book at the end of the month and several trade shows to attend.
Hopefully I will share all of this and more next month.
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