Barbel Fishing – The Pope’s River Diary: January 2013
This month Steve is looking back on lessons learned on the rivers Kennet, Wye and Severn
The difficult thing about producing a monthly diary, especially when you are a barbel man, is that you really need to be catching a few or at the very least be out there giving it your best shot. Now if events conspire to stop you doing that; such as the river being in the fields, the air temperature being well below zero, the ground having a carpet of thick snow or, like me ,you are firmly ensconced on the other side of the world, then you must have a plan B...
Now although I’ve been here in Sydney since the beginning of December as yet I haven’t been able to fit a day’s fishing in, I’ve just been too busy and it’s been too hot most of the time. Plus I wasn’t quite sure how long I was going to be allowed to stay here this time because of the visa situation; my better half has been here since July and that put the cat amongst the pigeons but it has now been sorted and I won’t be back in the UK until the end of April, so now I’m also looking for a plan C, D and E as well!
Fortunately that shouldn’t be a great problem, I have a couple of topics in reserve and Big John, my Geordie sea fishing pal, will be here during the early part of February so I’ll be spending a good deal of time fishing the harbour and other trips are in the pipeline now my future here is settled.
I have also considered including a few more controversial topics but have decided to leave that, for the time being, to fellow diarist Mark Barrett, he seems to be better equipped for it than I; however next month when I will be articulating a Barbel Man’s Blues it may well include material that might just get the forum buzzing.
But back to plan B, as I hinted last month I want to look at some of the observations from my fishing during this season and expand a little on the tactics employed, lessons learnt and ideas for next time that I hope will help some of you to put a few extra fish on the bank; more of a feature than a diary if you like.
I’ve said it before on here but my fishing philosophy is pretty simple and straightforward - I like to catch as many nice fish as I can, as often as I can. I’m not into full blown specimen hunting, it’s just not my thing and I just haven’t the time or inclination these days. But don’t misunderstand that, in barbel fishing terms I’m always happy to catch but I’m even happier when I’m catching doubles and I suppose it’s fair to say they are my target most of the time.
I’m very aware that those of us who have been fishing for barbel for many years take a huge amount of what we know for granted, it’s why you often hear groans on the forum when the same old topics keep coming around, the fact is it’s old hat and obvious to many but for some it’s all very new. I suppose this has become far more apparent to me in recent years since I started guiding.
I don’t want this to come over in a big headed manner, if you have been following my diaries you will know that’s not me and it’s certainly not my style.
We all like to analyse our fishing, well I hope we do. You know the sort of thing, work things out when it doesn’t go to plan, put the pieces together, convince ourselves to make a subtle change or make a move because we know the fish are just not there!
I spent a lot of time on the river last year and for the five months between July and November I was out on the bank fifty percent of the time, you observe a lot and you learn a lot when you put those sorts of hours in so let’s look at the three rivers where I spent most of that time: the Kennet, the Severn and the Wye.
The River Kennet
The barbel numbers on the stretch I fish have definitely changed, the fish are fewer in number and my catches over the last five years show a steady reduction and, when I put those together with fellow anglers, the results tell a story. The dilemma for me as an angler is to try to come up with the reasons why.
I know that at least one otter is in residence somewhere close by, I’ve seen it with my own eyes, what I have not seen is any evidence of barbel that may have been taken, so I don’t jump to conclusions on that one. The likely answer is natural wastage, old fish die. The barbel have certainly become more dispersed, evidence for this is the fact that the fish have been caught away from their usual holding areas. I haven’t managed to locate a twelve this season, but a couple have been caught and so I know they are still around, they just didn’t pick up one of my baits.
On a number of occasions I, and others, took a fish within minutes of starting - sometimes seconds - and that was it. At times another showed later on in the morning but to me that just confirmed that the numbers are just not there as in past times the casters would always tempt them if they were at home. The crayfish told me what was going on, when they were very active I’m sure the barbel were not around, but as soon as I got the tell tale sign that my bait had not been touched the bait dropper went straight in and invariably a barbel was soon in the net.
As the numbers are down the effectiveness of casters is somewhat diminished, the bait still catches more in my opinion but you just cannot induce the feeding frenzy that occurs when there are a decent number of fish in the swim. So I looked elsewhere, keeping away from the pellet option because it is used by the vast majority and my chances then are just the same as everyone else and that isn’t good enough. I have found one solution in tiny pieces of meat fished in the same way as I would use Elips pellets. Fred Crouch fished meat in a similar manner, mixing a tin of chopped up pieces with hemp and fishing it particle style, I prefer Superglueing two tiny pieces together on the hair and found that polony worked very well.
I have to put a word in here for Thatcham Angling, all through the summer months not once did I get let down with my casters. As long as I gave plenty of notice, a week usually, the casters were always there and in perfect condition whenever I wanted them - and at the right price as well.
Sit it out or move about, or ‘should I stay or should I go?’ The perennial question asked so many times by barbel anglers, especially those relatively new to the game. As I keep saying the numbers are down so it has certainly paid to move about a bit more and go looking for the odd fish, or perhaps group of fish, while maintaining a base camp as well. I’m able to do this on the Kennet as I rarely find more than one or two on the fishery and a small blackcap feeder loaded with a few casters and the usual casters on the hair cast into a likely looking spot has captured a few bonus fish, usually within minutes.
If the crayfish are absent then I really do prefer to fish close in - and by close I mean within a foot of the near bank. Although the barbel will lay up that close in shallow water my preference is for a swim with a depth of four feet or more as the bank then acts as cover, so many people overlook this point.
I will be fishing the Kennet again this coming summer and full of confidence, my expectation level is in keeping with the barbel population so that equates to three or four chances on a good day with a couple of those chances coming from double figure fish.
The River Wye
Without doubt my number one tip based on my experiences on this river is quite simple, nothing to do with bait or rigs it’s just this; as long as conditions are normal and conducive, if you have picked a likely looking spot, introduced half a dozen medium droppers filled with hemp and small mixed pellet and you have not had a take within an hour then move!
There are so many barbel in the Wye from below Ross to above Hay that you should never be too far away from a group of fish. However they are sometimes reluctant to come to you especially if you only have one day on the river.
My number two tip is to be sure to call in on Woody in Hereford; he really is the man in the know, especially around the Hereford area.
And that leads me on to this: the vast majority of people I see fishing the Wye like to cast out to the middle and beyond when the barbel can be caught really close in if you pick the right swim with good depth and flow. What I have noticed though is that it can take more than just one day to get them feeding under your rod top if there isn’t a resident population and that needs to be kept in mind.
I’ll be making sure I have enough bait too because if you do land on a decent sized shoal they will get through the feed. I would take two gallons of hemp and the same amount of mixed small pellet for a day’s fishing so that I’m prepared. It doesn’t all have to go in, the barbel will tell you how much to use!
The barbel in the river are certainly bigger now and I’m expecting, not hoping, to see nine pounders among the multiple catches - and that’s great fishing in my book.
The river has now become just about the number one holiday fishing destination for the river enthusiast, although from my experience finding somewhere to fish in total confidence is not a problem, but it is something to bear in mind.
I will certainly be taking boilies with me this year and I’ll be fishing them as I showed you in the last diary, I have no doubt at all that they will work very well.
The River Severn
As I’ve been saying all along, and if you follow my diary you will have seen that the results bear me out, the lower river is as good as it’s ever been with plenty of barbel and plenty of doubles.
However, lady luck often plays a part, yes that goddess Fortuna who is rarely mentioned by serious anglers, but who nevertheless plays havoc with us at times! A good example: back in the summer my pal Baz, who was hoping for his first Severn double, fished with me for a couple of days and it turned out to be a real struggle although conditions appeared to be fine. Not long after Dave, who had never caught a barbel, landed four including three doubles fishing in exactly the same manner – lady luck was smiling on Dave and not Baz for some reason!
While I mention good conditions, and just to show we can only ‘think’ we know it all, on a blazing summer’s day with not a cloud in the sky and the river as low as it had been all summer the barbel went on a daytime feeding spree, eighteen fish came out if I recall and a good few doubles. Any self-respecting barbel angler would have been sat in a beer garden! So the lesson, as always, is if you are there with a bait in the water you’re always in with a shout!
The tactic of baiting a swim heavily with hemp over a two or three day period continued to work for me, what I did notice was that by keeping the pellet feed to a minimum the bream shoals were discouraged. Lower Severn anglers can be plagued by these fish which certainly average a good size, reaching double figures, but a truly unwelcome guest when your sights are set on the big barbel.
If I’m fishing on the west bank, somewhere such as Pixham, I fish close in as the depth in general is greater on that side; on the east bank I usually fish a bit further out - but not too far. Bait-wise I’ll be using the split boilie tactic quite a bit, the ubiquitous Elips and I’ll be glueing various sized pieces of meat to the hair, they all work.
I don’t believe for one minute that the seal has devoured the barbel stocks, we have all learned quite a bit from that episode! I’ll be fishing with lots of confidence hoping for plenty of doubles and perhaps the barbel of a Severn barbel man’s dreams.
And a word for Alan’s tackle shop in Worcester, a wonderful emporium and they too have never let me down with bait orders, if you’re going to the Severn and you should, then call in on them.
Next month I should be able to report on some fishing exploits over here but I will be concentrating on my take on Ian’s ‘I Hate Angling!’ piece. I’ll be touching on the sort of things that have kept me going for many years and helped me maintain an ever growing enthusiasm plus I’ll mention the downside of being so involved, its heart on sleeve time with few holds barred, I’ll see you then.
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