Barbel Fishing - The Pope's River Diary: September 2012
This month Steve explains just why he has had a long and passionate love affair with the lower River Severn - and why that love will never fade
In my last diary piece I said that this one would be all about the lower Severn and so it is. This particular section of the longest river in the country has come right back to form and I want to share my recent experiences with you, while at the same time revisiting some past glories on what is, for me, the most exciting and mysterious stretch of river in the country.
As much as I love the Kennet and the Teme and am currently enjoying a fledgling dalliance with the wonderful River Wye my heart will always belong to the lower Severn, it’s just the way it is.
I am a man who puts loyalty high on any agenda, one of the reasons I’m just about to celebrate forty years of marriage. Treat her with love, care and respect and she will give up her secrets, the ties that bind can never be broken.
When she is up then it’s happy days all round, when she’s down you may have to work that little bit harder to tempt the goodies that live below the surface - and we’ll look at both those scenarios in this piece - but before we do let’s go back more than twenty years to the day this on-going love affair began.
I had been fishing the River Teme regularly with my great friend Fred Crouch, and while we were having enormous fun catching many of the now famous ‘Teme tigers’ they were not exactly the biggest fish around. Fred had mentioned to one of his pals from days gone by that we were fishing up on the Teme on the Worcester and District waters and he promptly gave Fred the heads up about a stretch they controlled on the Severn, a place known as Pixham Ferry. This was the place to try, he said, because the river there held really big specimens and was relatively untapped territory – at least by barbel catchers from the south.
And that was why Fred and I, on a bitterly cold January afternoon, found ourselves on the banks of the lower Severn surveying what at first glance appeared to be a most uninspiring stretch of river. My first impressions were of a straight featureless canal-like stretch - how wrong can you be.
We fished for a few hours but the wind was blowing across the bleak landscape and all self-respecting barbel were cosied up conserving their energy, feeding the last thing on their minds. But we had seen enough and promised ourselves a return in the summer when we would put in a serious effort to capture a Severn monster that we knew resided there.
When the summer duly arrived we did return and at my fourth serious attempt, on a balmy August night, I was fortunate enough to catch what really was a monster at the time, Fred did the honours with the landing net and we both watched in awe as the needle on the scales stopped just three ounces shy of the fourteen pound mark, we were both in Severnth heaven!
How could I not be attracted to the river after that?
Since that fateful day I have spent many hours waiting and hoping for the barbel of my dreams. Lots of wonderful barbel have come my way including two that actually did get past the magical fourteen pound mark and every time my bait enters the deepest, darkest depths I’m sure that the mythical Severn monster will pick it up, I know other Severn aficionados have exactly the same feeling.
Back in the old days good old luncheon meat was the preferred bait as soon as the sun had set, with maggots and sweetcorn vying for top spot during the daylight hours. Things have changed a bit with the advent of pellets and boilies but one thing remains the same, the Severn barbels’ love of hempseed and I would never fish the river for the species without it.
So let’s bring this diary right up to date. I have spent a good bit of time on the lower Severn during this past month fishing for both myself and in the company of guests and friends and the results have been very good indeed.
I’ll run through what is my basic approach on the river at this time of the year.
At first light a gallon of hemp goes straight in. This is deposited by way of a medium Seymo dropper and takes about 36 drops. I always use a dedicated rod for bait-dropping, stocking up with £10 rods and reels from the man on the mike. A three pound test curve carp rod does the job and gets the bait out up to a third of the way across with no trouble at all. On the east bank I have found that I catch far more fish further out in the deeper water, on the west bank the barbel are often under the rod top and there I would go for the large Seymo baitdropper as no real cast is required, that also holds true on the east bank when the river is in flood. After the bait has gone in it’s just a matter of waiting until the barbel find the food.
Back in the early nineties I would often fish for two days and bait heavily with hemp and hope that by the second day they would have found it. What often used to happen was I would be back home watching the TV when the phone would ring and Lol Breakspear would be on the line telling me that it was a bad move not to fish the third day because he moved in and caught a couple of elevens! This happened so often that it became very apparent to both of us that the third day was almost guaranteed to produce, let me also add that I was fishing with Lol at this time and he lived local and he was and is a bloomin’ good angler!
Depending on whether the ubiquitous bream shoals move in or not the carpet of hemp, which I spread over an area of 25sq. yards or so, is topped up regularly – I get through loads of the black seeds!
Tackle wise I use 12ft. Free Spirit Seeker rods coupled with Rapidex, Speedia or Aerial centrepin reels. Line is 12lb mono but I step up to the Big River rods when the water is well up.
Daytime bait is usually a small pellet in conjunction with one of Fisky’s Feeders filled with small pellets and Halibut/Frenzied hemp groundbait.
Towards late afternoon I change one rod to a boilie with a straight lead, my choice at the moment is The Crave and I introduce crushed boilies by way of the dropper. I also use meat, a decent cube cut in half and superglued to the hair with the edges roughed up. I tend to fish two rods during the day and just the one after dark; it’s just not worth the hassle when you’re playing a decent barbel! Plus, having recently enjoyed the dubious pleasure of having both rods go off at once early in the morning, the thought of it happening in darkness is just too much for me these days!
Hooklength material is eitherSufix, Nash or Drennan coated braid with the last couple of inches stripped back, hook wise it’s a Barbel Specialist size 6, 7, 8 or 9.
So how have these tactics fared?
At the beginning of the month I was joined by Justin, a keen barbel man who had bid for the fishing with me on the BS Research and Conservation auction. He caught eight barbel up to ten pounds and during his stay I managed to fish a bit myself picking up half a dozen to just over double figures.
As Justin departed I was joined by my carp fishing pal James and his good buddy Matt. The boys did well; personal bests upped with James coming out on top with two cracking fish over eleven pounds. I get a distinct feeling that barbel will now figure high on their agenda, although last time we spoke Chew Reservoir was calling so don’t be surprised to see James holding a thirty pound pike in the not too distant future!
Next up it was two days in the company of Matt Rand, a really top bloke. We had been trying to set a date to meet up for quite some time and the purpose of the couple of days together on the river was to get a feature tied up, I think we managed to get enough good material for an Anglers Mail Action Replay.
Matt is an excellent angler landing many superb fish from the Fens near his home, I wanted to see him catch a double figure barbel from my home river, it didn’t happen but he landed a barbel and the double will just have to wait until the next time when I’ll be looking forward to spending time in his company once again.
As Matt drove off, I was left to contemplate the next two days’ fishing which would be in the company of Dave, a retired policeman from Liverpool, who had yet to catch a barbel.
The pressure was on as the colour was fast disappearing from the river as it fell back to normal level but lady luck was still smiling and as the sun shone over the Malverns Dave landed four barbel, three of which were doubles! As I said to him it’s all downhill from here on!
Baz joined me for a couple of days just as the river played hard to get and then I met up with Lee who picked up a couple in less than favourable conditions, however he took on board all the advice I could muster and promptly went away to land an absolute stunner just upstream that went over the thirteen pound mark!
Yet again, as it has been so many times in the past, the Severn was very good to me and my friends; while other rivers suffer the mighty Sabrina just keeps on rollin’ along, doing the business and confirming to me that our love affair will most certainly see me out!
So there you have it, the lower Severn is back on form, although I’m not so sure it ever lost its way, and it’s always been at the very top as far as I’m concerned.
Now here’s some extremely exciting breaking news.
The Barbel Society has just acquired the fishing rights to the stretch I mentioned at the beginning of this diary piece, the iconic Pixham Ferry. If you want to fish there - and trust me this is one awesome stretch of water - then all you need to do is visit the Barbel Society website and join up and apply for a permit and lower Severn barbel will be yours for the catching!
Next time out I’m back on the Kennet and once again the fishing gods smiled on me and my guests, I’ll tell you all about it in the next diary.
Finally, make sure that you make the most of the current barbel catching conditions; the cold weather is just around the corner.
By the Same Author
- Barbel Fishing – The Pope’s River Diary: April 2013
- Barbel Fishing – The Pope’s River Diary
- Barbel Fishing – The Pope’s River Diary: February 2013
- Barbel Fishing – The Pope’s River Diary: January 2013
- Barbel Fishing - The Wye Valley Experience 2013
- Barbel Fishing – The Pope’s River Diary: December 2012
- Barbel Fishing - The Pope's River Diary: November 2012
- Barbel Fishing - The Pope’s River Diary: October 2012
- Barbel Fishing - The Pope's River Diary: September 2012
- Barbel Fishing – The Pope’s River Diary: August