Pike, Barbel and a bit of Sun: The Doc Spot
For Paul Garner the start of a new year brings new challenges...and a few old ones
I like the start of a new year. After the slow wind down towards Christmas the new year brings with it a set of new challenges and targets to look forward to. It is the time to start making plans for the coming months, which in turn sets my mind along a wonderful imaginary trail that normally ends up beside a lily-fringed tench pool early on a summer’s morning.
But I digress, whilst wishing the short cold days away is all very well and good, there is still a lot of the winter remaining and plenty of coldwater opportunities if you wrap up warm and want to get out on the bank. Very often winter fishing is just as much about being out in the elements as it is catching fish. Just being in the countryside and glimpsing sights that most only see on the TV make our winter’s special.
New year, new venues
Over the last few years most of my winter fishing has been on the wonderful River Test in Hampshire. Living as I do in the Midlands this means a long journey; often approaching three hours each way and hotel bills on top of that if a trip of more than a day is planned. Whilst I have loved every minute of my fishing down there, this year there just had to be a reality check and with a heavy-heart I decided not to renew my ticket.
This left me at something of a loss as to what to do, but at the same time there were plenty of other venues closer to home to explore during January. So New Year’s day began with a visit to a couple of local venues that could throw up a big pike or two. The plan was to spend January; the normal hiatus between autumn and spring reservoir pike fishing, looking at several new venues. If the weather proved favourable, then the odd barbel trip would be thrown in too.
January 1st proved to be the first blank of the year. Well, I suppose it comes along at some point, so better to get it out of the way early on! The venues were nice though, so would be worth a return trip at a later date. I like these short hit and run trips to new venues. Whilst you might not catch a great deal, each day can give you an impression of one or two venues. Often there will be a feeling that a river or lake is worth looking at further just from spending some time on the bank. The bailiff on the first venue was particularly helpful. To be honest, the water was very coloured when we arrived, and did not look ideal. The bailiff confirmed that we were probably going to struggle, and rather than sting us for the price of a full day ticket took a couple of quid off us and suggested a venue just up the road.
Venue two looked to be in much better condition, but the pike just weren’t playing ball and by darkness I was still fishless.
As with January 2012, there was a brief break in the harsh weather early one and I just knew that the barbel would be on the feed. The only problem was that I found myself 200 miles away pike fishing in a sodden boat in the Lake District! Keeping an eye on the weather whilst in the Lakes there was going to be one day on my return when I would be able to get out for the evening and make the most of the mild weather.
Two days in the Lake District fishing with Andy Black resulted in our first fish of the year, a small jack each, mine falling for the ever-reliable Berkley Split Belly Shad. Despite the weather we fished hard from the boat, and had put the effort in, but this notoriously difficult venue had beaten us up. The trip did give us a good opportunity to play around with Andy’s new side-scanner echo sounder set-up, and the results were pretty amazing. More of this in future months, but suffice to say for now that this equipment really is going to take our predator fishing to the next level, of that I have no doubt.
With the river having been in flood for much of the preceding couple of months any thought of a proper campaign had been put on hold, but with the river carrying a couple of feet of water and warming up the barbel would be feeding, and so it proved. Parking the car on the highest piece of grass I could find I made the long walk down to the river and after bait-dropping a pint of NashBait whiskey flavoured maggots I filled the feeder and lowered my rig, complete with two real maggots and a hair-rigged rubber maggot, to the edge of the main flow.
Just after starting to fish the rain began and the banks became incredibly treacherous. Now I am not the most dextrous of people, and every time I moved it was a case of trying my best not to fall head first into five foot of angry looking water! I was just settling under the umbrella when the rod tip nodded twice and then lurched round in typical barbel fashion.
The fight was something else in the flow and I was sure that I had latched into one of the river’s real whoppers. I played the fish reasonably hard to keep it away from the near bank undergrowth and it was several minutes before I was able to get it upstream of me and roll it backwards into the waiting net. As it turned out, it was a bionic 8-pounder, rather than the hoped-for mid-double, but I was as pleased as punch to catch a good fish on my first put-in. Timing really is everything when it comes to winter barbel fishing.
By the time I had sorted the fish out it was really peeing it down, and I was becoming worried about getting the car back across the field. I texted a mate to tell him of my fish and my predicament, and his reply was pretty much what I had feared, more rain, and I was a prat for parking on the grass! Not able to concentrate, I decided to pack up and get the car moved before it became too late and as it turned out this was the right move as the car was well and truly stuck.
Two hours of swearing and pushing and pulling later the car was dragged backwards across the field and on to harder ground with more than a little help from the landowners 4x4. There was mud everywhere, and I kicked myself for missing out on more barbel simply by getting too carried away.
So ended my January barbel fishing, and it really was daft to drive off the road in the first place, but there you go. I’ve only managed to get stuck twice in the last twenty years, but this time I knew that it had cost me some good fish.
The following day I had to drive to Essex to give a talk to the local Pike Anglers Club region and with that the wintry weather descended once again, flooding the river with snow-melt and that was the end of that. In fact the weather became so bad that even the British Carp and Coarse Angling show in Norwich had to be postponed because of the poor state of the roads. It really was a bad time across the country and to be honest there was not a lot of inclination to drive too far from home in search of a fish or two.
I did venture out once more, again in search of pike, but this trip also ended with just a small jack for my troubles, still it was another venue visited and some useful information logged for the future. This trip was the first chance for me to use a new underwater video rig that I had been building, and despite the conditions being poor, the camera worked fine and is now ready to be put to work on a new project that Stuart Morgan and I are embarking on this spring.
The other significant event in January was the allocation of pike fishing tickets for Chew Valley Reservoir. For 2013 the old e-mail or letter application system had been replaced by phone booking, that would see several thousand keen pikers trying to get their tickets for the year. Tickets would obviously be oversubscribed as usual but, with a limit of four days per angler, they would probably go further than before and the phone system would give everyone an equal chance of getting through. Although there was a fair bit of grumbling about the phone system it made sense to me and would obviously reward those willing to put in the effort.
I must admit though that after three days of trying to get through my patience was somewhat strained. Facebook was full of happy people who had got their tickets and I was beginning to think that this wasn’t going to be my year but just as I was about to give up the engaged tone changed to a ringing sound and in the excitement I almost hung up! It had ‘only’ taken me 1200 calls – yes 1200, to get through, but my tickets were in the bag.
Someone asked me was it worth it? In the cold light of day the answer is probably no, there are lots of other places to go fishing, but none offer the same track-record as Chew, and few have the same kind of buzz about them as that magical place.
Time for some sun
Fishing at the bank end of January was curtailed by our annual family holiday to the lovely island of Madeira. My wife has to put up with an awful lot during the course of a year, so fishing is normally off-limits when we are away, but I did manage to sneak down and watch the local guys fishing for mullet and other inshore fish from the local stone piers. Madeira does have a fairly significant run on tuna and marlin at certain times of the year, so maybe I will return for a go for them one day. On this trip it was just lovely to be able to walk around in a T-shirt and catch some rays before heading back and seeing what February would bring.
With pike fishing on the reservoirs recommencing in February and hopefully another crack at the barbel before the end of the season, along with a few sessions after a potential British record, February is going to be a busy month!
I’ll tell you how it went next time!
By the Same Author
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- Record-Shaking River Severn Zander for The Doc
- Keeping Records and Learning Lessons: The Doc Spot