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Barbel - In Search of Bronzed Warriors


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Excessive flood water or not, Lee Swords tackles the Trent for barbel (and not a few nice chub).

Barbel - In search of Bronzed Warriors

(it ain't that hard... they are really floody greedy!)

THE NEXT TIME somebody comes up to me and laughs, saying, "I bet this weather is good for the fishing," as the rain threatens to shatter tiles and explode drainpipes, I think I will disembowel them with a pair of choppie scissors!

I am now sick of the rain. I don't like it anymore, I want it to stop!

But like most things it hasn't always been like that; it's just over familiarity breeds contempt - then downright hatred!

Moving into the final week of the closed season the weather had been pretty much dry, even if it had not been that hot. When the rain came, it did so with my blessing and a certain amount of relief as there is little worse than a rain-starved river when it comes to Barbus Barbus. Oh yes, old Bertie likes a bit of water going over his head!

Unfortunately, the rain decided to get a bit silly and drop out of the sky daily in monthly rations. Inches of rain fell in single sittings day after day after day. The River Trent was pushed to the tops of its flood banks and that is pretty much where it stayed!

Well that is where it stayed for the lucky ones, those less fortunate were given a little reminder that long after we have burnt out the gifts of Mother Nature and this fantastic planet she will still be here, doing her thing. Like it or not, when Mother Nature decides to party she swings like a Thai lady boy on ketamine!

I knew the river was at the top of its flood bank before I set out, but also knew through experience that the area I had chosen to fish should still be safe with its solid banks and easy escape route should the worst happen and the river went over the top and I had to 'do one'!

The bivvy was my first priority

On arriving at my swim the bivvy was my first priority; there would be immeasurably more discomfort to myself over the 36 hours I planned to be here if I was to get caught in a squall now. The trusty old machete cleared away a patch of balsam and brambles and the bivvy was raised just in time as the grey clouds that had threatened for most of the day finally delivered on their promise.

The downpour arrived and lashed down hard for well over an hour, wave after wave of monsoon style rain lashed at the thin nylon membrane that served to protect me from the elements. Furious that I should even dare seek shelter the elements tried their utmost to destroy the very fabric of my temporary home. Rivulets of muddy water ran down towards the river, each one adding to an already swollen beast.

"What the hell am I doing? Should I even be here?" I ask myself as I push myself deeper into my little nylon cocoon.

This is not the weather that I grew up with, this stuff is freakish and, as if to prove my point, as suddenly as the deluge started it stopped, almost as though a tap that fed a giant sprinkler system had been turned off.

So with the rain abated I set about getting the last bits of my gear sorted and ten minutes later I was all set up and ready to fish. So there I was, sitting back on my trusty old chair high atop the flood bank like King Canute, willing the rain-swollen river to halt and not wash me away. The water was quite heavily coloured and lapped at my feet but in my favour it was not thick with sludge and there was no smell of sewage which I have always found to be the kiss of death.

My nice new shiny 15ft Fox monster rods looked awesome sat atop the alarms, oozing power, with a menacing air about them. Real monsters, perfect for these conditions!

If your CSL melts PVA then it's cack!

I had already made up a batch of pellet groundbait as loose feed. This was made up of Teme Severn mini mix which had been doused with CSL and bound together with their stick and method mix groundbait: whoever said Barbel disliked groundbait must also think that mice detest cheese! My mix isn't at all stodgy but dry to the touch, yet holds when squeezed, this allows it to go into PVA bags without problems. Not that you would have any problems with high quality CSL as it does not easily melt PVA, so what I will say is that if your bags melt when you fill them with CSL, then your CSL is cack!

One set-up would be a feeder....

Straight lead
...and the other PVA and straight lead

As per usual I decided to mix and match my set-ups, one would be a feeder, the other PVA and straight lead, with double lamprey boilie on one and an Elips pellet cluster on the other. Gentle lobs had my baits sitting on what I hoped were the shingle patches pretty much about where I would normally sit in this peg, which if I tried that today would have had me sat in about six feet of water.

Selection of presentations
Selection of presentations so I can chop and change

The river raced past and the 2.75 TC top throbbed like a teenager in a strip joint, weed began to build up on the line but the 6oz of lead held fast and the rod top barely gave the extra load any notice at all. I was wondering how long it would be before the weed pulled the lead out of place but as luck would have it the fishing gods decided that I wouldn't have to wait too long to pop the cherry of this new rod. The tip gave a single savage jag before dropping back then banging round in that typical stuttering chub fashion.

Hooping the rod into the fish I was pleasantly surprised at how sporting the action of this rod was. Don't get me wrong, the fish stood no chance at all against the 2.75 lb of test curve but the action did not threaten to rip out the hook and I felt totally comfortable playing the fish, the rod not at all poker-ish, having an almost artificial intelligence that seemed to compensate for a lighter fish.

The fish soon slipped over the lip of the net and thrashed away deep within the folds, disappointed at how fast it had succumbed to the power of the beast! A good sized chub of maybe two and a half pounds, a nice start to a session and a season!

A poo-like bait cluster, a true chod of a fishing bait

So there I was, minutes into a season and already the blank was gone. How happy was I? Trying not to superglue my fingers together or to the Sigma Elips pellets I was attempting to get to stick onto the hair, I smiled to myself as I added another three to the pellet cluster for good measure then another one just for a laugh. I had in my hand a dozen or so Elips pellets superglued into what can only be described as a *true chod of a fishing bait!

*Things like this can get you a fine from the EA if they see them floating downriver.

Savage bite

Anyway let's not talk about my poo-like bait cluster but about the savage, wrenching bite that it provoked after no more than twenty minutes. It bent my rod round so hard that I thought it would shatter! The fish turned 180 degrees straight on with the flow and did its best Linford Christy as it tried to do the fifty meters it would need to reach the overhanging tree and the raft of rubbish it had accrued during the flood.

If it made the snag the game was over, so it was now or never as I clamped my hand on the spool and stopped the clutch in its tracks. The rod hooped further and further over, the middle section now asserting the reserve power of the rod. Less than ten metres from the tree and the fish was halted. With all this extra water turning it would be the trick now!

There was no way that I was going to try to hoist and winch the fish against this current, so I decided to land the fish where it was. Picking up the landing net and tucking it under my arm I held out the rod horizontally and simply walked in the free line as I made my way along the flood bank between two thick stands of balsam, carefully stepping over the Mr Hanky (Poo) that a previous angler had thoughtfully left in the middle of the track - why they cannot bury their jobbies is beyond me!

10lb barbel
10lb barbel

The tissue-wrapped bowel movement avoidance dance accomplished I soon had what looked to be my first double figure barbel of the season in the net and the scales confirmed my thoughts by the narrowest of margins. So the mission was accomplished and my first barbel Climax points were in the bank! 10lb dead. Thank you very much!

Slipping the fish back I made a mental note to avoid the log jam on the path just in case I had to do the same thing in the middle of the night when slipping on a number two could have odorous consequences at best, and deadly consequences at worst! When fishing near a severely flooded river the last thing you want is to go skidding into it on a chocolate pudding!

With the level of the river and the possibility that the local sewage works was overflowing and several hundred thousand chocolate sea trout were now on their way to Skegness like a host of returning kelts, I decided that, with the help of a long stick, I would help it on its return migration to the Lincolnshire coast!

So with Mr. Hanky wedged in the fork of a long branch I flung him into the river. A sight reminiscent of something out of Lord of the Rings when the Orc horde flung the severed heads of captured soldiers over the walls with their siege ballistae!

He entered the river with a loud 'plop', to which a chub swirled and instantly realized he wasn't keen on big brown slugs!

Even though his brassy flanks were thick set, oh how I prayed that I didn't catch him anytime soon. The sight of regurgitated maggots is one thing, but a chewed up chocolate sea trout would be something else indeed!

My luck was in as it seemed there were numerous chub in residence and the odds of landing that one was slim indeed as fish after fish impaled themselves on my assorted T7 bait combinations, the most successful being the Elips 'poo' cluster. This must be a shoal of coprophagic Chevins that I have landed on I thought to myself!

The light began to fail and the day slipped quietly away as my constant crepuscular companions on these overnight fishing adventures began to show themselves, some of them welcome, such as the bats that do amazing aerial acrobatics as they chase moths and other flying insects, or the owls that perch in the high branches above me and sing unmelodious songs as they sharpen their talons ready for a night on the vermin. Others, like the rats and the slugs, are not so welcome as they plot audacious conspiracies from the thick undergrowth to rob me of my CSL soaked pellet-rich groundbait!

The unmistakeable power of a good barbel

So there I was, awaiting total darkness, quite happily reeling in chub after chub, when the downriver rod screamed off again. This was no stuttering run but the unmistakable power of a good barbel and again it tried to use its aqua dynamic shape to its advantage, holding itself very deep and making its way down the river bed towards the very snag that the previous fish had tried to reach.

Unfortunately for the fish I was ready for it and halted its progress quite quickly, whereon we had a battle royal under the rod tip before it too succumbed to the folds of the net! At that point I looked up to see a whole tree drift past not 10 yards from the bank. A whole chuffing tree!

If that had snagged me no amount of backlead or fancy weed catching knots would have stopped it!

One thing is for sure, that after these floods have finally abated there will be some new snag swims where there were none previously, and some old favourites that will be gone forever. The amount of bankside trees lost must be quite considerable.

A quad of Grappa

Anyway less of the arboreal and back onto the piscatorial, the fish was rested and then offered to the scales for judgment - get in! The needle bounced between 10lb 6oz and 10lb 4 oz before settling at the lower weight. Why can't I have optimistic scales that settle on the higher weight? My PB list would be so much better. Well, perhaps not much better but it would certainly be 'a Little' better and of that I am quite sure.

So with a pair of doubles and numerous chub to my credit I decided that I would enjoy a nightcap celebration. In my bag was a bottle of Grappa. Grappa for those not in the know is an Italian spirit which is quite fiery, but not in the same league as Absinthe! The liquid was warm and soothing and very welcome. I sat back in my seat and nursed what was left of the small quad left in my beaker; everything was good in the world.

Placing the bottle of Grappa back into my food bag I notice two medium sized rats looking directly at me from the edge of the reeds not more than twenty feet away. Their little black eyes were shiny and inquisitive, "what are they doing?" I said to myself, then all of a sudden one of the rats scurried forward towards my Sensas bait tub, which I had already taken the precaution of placing the lid on. The rat was holding a small yellow and black box in its front paws as it reached the bucket and it dropped what I could now see was a match box and scurried back to the reeds to rejoin its friend.

Before I could reach into my bag to get out the rat traps there was a bright flash of light and an almighty bang as my Sensas bucket was rendered down to nothing more than molten plastic and smoldering groundbait.

What the hell was that? Lightning? I hadn't heard any thunder and the sky was clear with thousands of stars on view. Then I heard it, a tiny little voice, high pitched with a slight Cockney accent:

"I thought I told you, to only blow the bloody lid off!"

Grappa joined Black Absinthe on the list of drinks not suited to fishing trips. Although to its credit the little Sicilian bloke called 'Sal' from the Cosa Nostra that lives in the bottle was very entertaining and his stories of the old country had me enthralled till almost dawn when his conversation about the untimely end of Benny 'six fingers' Provolone was rudely interrupted by the down river bite alarm screaming off!

Bleary eyed, I instinctively reached out for the butt of the rod and put a healthy bend in its action. Standing up and moving into a better position I stub my toe on a perfectly un-melted half full Sensas tub - I really have to lay off the celebrations!

A 5lb 12oz chub and I settled for a drink of lucazade

A spirited chub was soon on its way into the net, its brassy flanks showing up well as it fought under the rod tip. These Trent fish being exceptionally tenacious and heavily set in their build provide good sport, even on such an un-level playing field as mine.

5.12 chub
5lb 12oz chub

Once in the net I realized it was even bigger than I had thought and was certainly built to be a six, but it was instantly obvious as soon as I lifted the fish that it had spawned out and was very loose in the belly. The scales settled on 5lb 12oz and I settled for a drink of lucazade.

Fired up with glucose I set about re-baiting and recasting in an organized regime. If I have no action the rod is recast every 15 minutes. Soon the sun was high in the sky and several more fish had graced the net including another chub of 5lb dead.

The sun had warmed and the river started to fine down, having dropped about an inch over the last hour when the down river margin rod bucked over and the Fox Micron wailied its merry song as another barbel obviously showed an interest in the gastronomic significance of Lamprey.

This fight was far more powerful than the others and true to form it too decided to use the force of the current to make its way down towards the tree snag. It was a wee bit more determined to make it as the sensation of roots and small twigs pinging the line made my heart miss more than a few beats.

I thought it would top 12lb

Again holding the extra long rod straight out at arm's length I was able to force the fish from under the bank and out into relatively clear water where it was a simple case of attrition. Before long I was able to force the fish into gulping a bit of air and in no time the job was done and I had my first serious double of the season, a fish I thought would go to over 12lb easily, but once on the scales could only muster a spawned out 11lb 10oz. Superb all the same!

11lb 10oz
11lb 10oz

After that I relaxed and simply fished the day out until it was time to leave some three hours later. I had only one more fish, a nice chub of well over 3lb and whilst trying to position the fish close to my face so as to cover my double chin that I noticed something was slightly amiss.

"Jesus you've got bad breath" I said to the chub.

"Yeah, I had a chocolate brownie for tea yesterday"

"Was it any good?"

"No, it was shit!"

The end!

Join Lee and friends for a FishingMagic barbel fish-in on the Trent this weekend!

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