Barbel Fishing – The Pope’s River Diary: July 2013
Steve Pope had a rather inauspicious start to the season, so what did July bring - apart from more scorching weather?
Well... It delivered a slight improvement but the aforementioned daytime heat certainly made for difficult fishing, especially on the Wye.
After the disappointment of failing to tempt a fish on Ian’s visit, the following day’s guiding session was one filled with apprehension and the incessant sun blazing down from a clear blue sky only added to the doubt in my mind - and I don’t do doubt when I’m guiding!
Robert’s brother had treated him to a day’s fishing with me and the pressure was on to produce the goods.
Guiding days during the summer are marathon affairs, I’m not one who calls time at five thirty in the afternoon, I immerse myself totally and we don’t finish until it’s too dark to see the rod tip.
I tried just about everything, we covered the whole fishery but it wasn’t until late in the day when a very obliging barbel, that lives in a Crabtree-esque weirpool, decided to pounce on the piece of meat we were bouncing around in the current.
Guiding days aren’t all about catching fish but boy does it help!
Robert drove off to Essex a very happy man and I’m sure he’ll be relating plenty of anecdotes to his regular customers in Chelmsford who pop in for a short back and sides!
On the Saturday I had a committee meeting to attend, and attend it I did, but my contribution was nil. For the first time in my life I was hit with all the symptoms hay fever sufferers have to endure. My eyes were streaming and I could hardly make out who was sitting opposite, my nose was constantly running and basically I was in a right mess! After the meeting I should have attended the Barbel School but my immediate concern was whether I could see clearly enough to drive back. I just about managed it and within an hour or so everything was back to normal, I’ve never suffered from hay fever but obviously there was something at the meeting venue that I was allergic to - someone must have wanted me to keep quiet!
Before I get on to the fishing I have to mention the tennis, I always felt this would be Murray’s year at Wimbledon and so it turned out to be. I have always supported him - unless he was playing against Rafa who is just about my favourite sporting hero - and I’ve no doubt he will win a few more Grand Slams before time catches up with him.
While based close by the river I decided to have a walk along a favourite stretch to see how the fishing was going, the hot weather and very low water levels had already convinced me that the barbel would not yet be feeding in the lower river and I was right. Two pals who know their stuff had been plugging away, one had put in eight sessions for just two barbel, not a good enough return for me to want to get the rods out. Once the rains come - and they will - the lower Severn will fish very well, I just hope I’m there at the right time!
Next up, four days’ guiding on the Kennet, and with the sun still shining, much to the delight of the non-barbel fishing population, I was just slightly concerned that the actual fishing would be rather tough.
One fish on Monday, two on Tuesday and a near double on Wednesday so I suppose you could say things improved on each day but yet again it was far from easy, we really fished hard and covered a great deal of river but to no real avail.
When you put in a proper concerted effort the results always paint the picture, there were not sufficient numbers of barbel in any of the swims we tried and the odd individual that may have been in residence was just not interested! But a barbel angler never gives in and while I was pondering over the three days before hitting the sack in preparation for day four a thought crossed my mind.
As I had already decided to concentrate the Thursday effort on another area, I decided to cast a line into a well-baited swim that had not produced the results even into dusk on the night before.
So at just after six in the morning I carefully placed the hair rigged casters into what I hoped would be the hit zone and within twenty seconds the rod was almost pulled off the rests and line peeled off the pin so savage was the take!
At five past six a 10lb 4oz barbel was resting on the mat.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve caught barbel early in the morning, I’ve had quite a few on the Severn and I’m absolutely certain that daybreak can be every bit as good as dusk for catching barbel, it’s just that misty summer dawns are more associated with tench than they are with barbel. We may well be missing a trick. Time to nab a couple of hours before work rather than after work and into the evening methinks!
I have sent a memo to myself asking I put as much effort into the early hours as I would into the time leading up to dark, especially in swims that have not produced the previous day in spite of plenty of bait going in, I’m sure it will produce a good few bonus fish.
When Mick pulled into the car park for his second day I told him about the double but assured him we would get another during the day, we had come so close the previous day with a fish of 9lb 14oz and I was confident that a meatball attack in a different swim would do the trick.
Next to casters meatballs are my favourite Kennet bait, the barbel really do have a taste for these most un-appetising of offerings...It can’t just be me who finds them so revolting surely?!
Before going down that path though I decided to stick it out for a couple of hours in the early morning double swim just in case other fish were on the move - they weren’t!
So just after lunch we settled into the meatball swim, a near bank depression shaded by an overhanging tree but very awkward to get a bait into the precise spot. Half a dozen meatballs were scattered close to the edge of the branches and I hoped they would be enough to tempt one or two barbel from their sanctuary.
The gentle cast placed the hair-rigged and Superglued meatball in exactly the right spot so that it would nestle under the cover and we sat back to await developments. No need to reel in and check the bait, I had already established that the crayfish were absent and the glue would keep the meat attached all day long!
When the bite came once again it was savage, the customary three foot pull - at the butt - as Des Taylor always likes to say!
Mick is a big strong bloke - an ex champion boxer no less - and I doubt there’s a barbel swimming that would prove to be an equal match, I would have to say it was a technical knockout in the third round! Mind you at 8lb 12oz and as clean as a whistle it was a very worthy opponent.
We were still looking for those extra ounces, not in an obsessive way I must stress, more a steely determination borne from spending two whole days giving our all and we were not going to be denied!
A couple of hours flew by, half a dozen meaty balls were put into the swim and we waited patiently...
Bang, another wrencher, no chance of being taken by surprise this time - the centrepin rod had come out!
Mick had to use a little more subtlety as a tough adversary was on the other end now and we were looking to carve out a points victory this time. The fight unfolded as many bouts do, a round won here, a couple lost there but in the end class always wins through and to the victor, the spoils!
I knew when the barbel hit the net that it was objective achieved, not sure quite how I was so certain because the Samson digitals only gave us an ounce to spare but an ounce is enough - we had our double!
Mick departed a very happy man; I had literally exhausted myself not only searching out the prize but also through expending so much energy imparting as much knowledge as I possibly could. I needed a break - and still the sun blazed down, a proper summer at last, hard to remember when we last saw four days of unbroken blue sky in July!
The rest didn’t last long, just a day in fact and then I really was off on a break, a Wye Valley break or, to be correct, the first of my summer Wye Valley Experiences!
Destination Builth Wells and the simply superb Caer Beris Manor Hotel, owned and run by the charismatic Peter Smith - a man who knows just about everyone on the angling scene.
Sitting on the terrace overlooking the River Irfon and the fabulous gardens we sipped tea from the fine bone china cups and wondered how the extreme temperatures and low water levels would impact on the fishing, and if we could put together a plan B just in case!
By later that evening all our guests had arrived and we were sat at the large table in the baronial dining room devouring a fine dinner while discussing the fishing in store over the following four days. I tried my best to mix my usual optimism with a dose of realism based on the conditions we were going to be faced with.
Now I wish I was able to regale you with wondrous tales of multiple barbel catches, some approaching double figures, laced with endless glistening chub - but I can’t! Perhaps if we had been based closer to Ross we might have had a chance but when the youngest in the party, who is super keen and had caught a big Royalty fish a few days previously, state that it was just too damn hot for fishing you know there are problems!
We caught a few barbel and some nice chub, we ate superbly well, we almost keeled over with heat exhaustion, I walked miles and incredibly bumped into two Barbel Society acquaintances in the car park at How Caple but most important of all we had a bloomin’ good time!
With two more Wye Valley Experiences in place for next month I’m just crossing my fingers and everything else that the weather is less fierce and there is a bit more water in the river!
After that fishing was put on temporary hold as I set off for Hertfordshire to be around for my youngest daughter as she delivered the newest addition to the family, my little granddaughter Eva, weighing in at 6lb 12oz, not much of a barbel, a nice chub perhaps, but far more importantly the most beautiful, perfect little lady you will ever see!
I’m a very proud man.
I can’t finish this piece without a little gloat over the way we are stuffing the Aussies in the Ashes series – I hope I haven’t tempted fate there because another test will have been played before these words hit the web!
There’s loads about the Wye coming up in my August diary, I’m sure the barbel will come out to play next time!
Until then, enjoy your fishing!
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