Barbel Fishing – The Pope’s River Diary
Steve is back after his short break, seems he’s brought perfect river fishing weather with him too...
Now where was I?
The last time I graced this page the sun was blazing, the Severn was in a gentle mood, running low and still with Keith the seal as its unwanted visitor, and you could wade across the river where I like to fish on the Wye, oh and us Tottenham fans were having to endure the great AVB master plan!
Well it’s a lot colder for a start and as I’m staying put in the UK this winter that means the thermals are getting an airing and I’ll be getting caked in mud down on the river. The Severn is an ocean and yep, the visitor is still there...The Kennet is covering much of Berkshire and I imagine the Wye is lapping at the door of the fishing hut as we speak and I refuse to talk football anymore!
So let’s go back a few months, and I’ll pick some of the best bits from my diaries and I’ll bring you right up to date with my barbel fishing exploits.
August turned out to be a month of highs and lows, exasperation and delight, but when all was said and done it truly was a reaffirmation of what fishing is really all about, I’ll explain.
The second and third Wye Valley Experiences were both very tricky and ultimately disappointing in terms of the number of fish caught. The former took place once again when the sun was blazing down from a clear blue sky, the river was low and even in the usual guaranteed hotspots the fish, including the ubiquitous chub, were just lazing around waiting until much later in the day before any thoughts of feeding entered their tiny brains. We should have been doing the same, I doubt if anyone else out enjoying the fabulous summer weather was moaning!
Staying on the Wye I had a few guiding engagements during the month and even managed a couple of hours to myself when it then became very apparent just how downright awkward the barbel could be during those extreme summer conditions.
Close to midnight, alone in the total darkness it was as though someone had just rung the dinner bell, I was catching a barbel every cast. The pellet had hardly touched the bottom before the tell-tale pull across my fingers registered yet another take. The fish were not big but It was hugely enjoyable and I’ve no doubt if I had stayed on I would have kept on catching but I had to be awake bright and early to see if I could repeat the process in daylight for a couple of guests.
The swim that was seemingly full of fish the night before just switched off completely during the day but fortunately for us the barbel were feeding a little further downstream and we managed a few to a good size.
Another guided day on the same stretch put everything into perspective. I met up with Paul, a really nice bloke who just wanted to learn as much as he possibly could about fishing on a river like the Wye. He was happy getting bites, catching lots of chub and landing his very first barbel. The look of joy on his face told me that fishing really is special when everything is fresh and new and we should never forget that in the endless quest to catch more and bigger.
The Kennet where I fish is not producing the numbers any more, each season my expected number of chances in a daytime session becomes fewer. If I can conjure up three chances on each session I now consider that to be a good result but at least one of those chances should produce a double figure fish.
However sometimes there may just be the one chance and that is exactly how it was for young James, but when it’s a personal best – not far off 12lb, your first barbel on the ‘pin and your first from a new river then there is no doubt - it’s well worth waiting for! You can tell from the smile on his face that James was a very happy man!
And those are the pictures I like to see: happy, smiley people, pleased with what they are catching - not miserable, sullen ugly mugs that look anything but pleased with their catch, which unfortunately is more often the case in the fishing photo’s we see. One of my real bugbears, if you can’t look happy then keep out of the shot!
September proved to be an interesting month. After a slow start the Kennet doubles began to show, the Severn stayed well and truly in the Doldrums and the Wye was put on the back burner until next year, all will be revealed! The continued lack of rain and the subsequent low level on the Severn saw me cancelling a couple of planned trips, it wasn’t all doom and gloom though as this unexpected break allowed me to spend more time at home with my grandson Henry.
I didn’t realise just how much fun you can have playing with pull back cars that cost little more than a pound from Tesco! Watching these things whizzing across the floor, getting lost under the sofas and cabinets equals hours of pure content. Playing football in the garden until you are completely knackered and then suffering the ignominy of having a two year old pull you up out of the chair while you are endeavouring to catch your breath. You can’t beat it and I won’t tell a lie, there was a tear in my eye as I waved him goodbye as he set off back to Sydney.
Every now and then you come across someone who really is larger than life, Martin from the first Wye Valley Experience was one such man and he joined me for two days on the Kennet.
Three score years and ten but looking at least a decade younger Martin pulled into the car park in his gleaming Cayenne and I just knew we were going to have an interesting couple of days.
Now I don’t know about you but I had never before been fishing with a man who has owned fourteen airplanes, and yep I did say fourteen. I must have spent two hours at least just listening to the stories of Martin’s - aka Biggles – flying exploits and he kept me totally enthralled. Anecdotes? You need to think Michael Caine; I put Martin in that sort of league! Here was a man who had seen and done just about everything there is to do but fortunately for me catching barbel had lagged behind in his portfolio of achievement and so I was on a winner.
The fishing was tough as it sometimes is and just one barbel came our way but it was more than enough to put a broad smile on Martin’s face and send him back to Nottingham a happy man. I guarantee it was one of his biggest smiles of the year because there couldn’t have been that many while he was in Australia a couple of months later with the Barmy Army!
I then found myself on the lower reaches of the Severn and I knew it was going to be difficult and so it proved. I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say that just one barbel was the sum total for a lot of effort. The river here is certainly out of sorts.
Back on the Kennet I had six days on the spin which produced four double figure fish and plenty of fun!
First up was Keith – no, not the seal - and having enjoyed a good deal of correspondence with him I knew we would hit it off straight away, a Spurs fan, a Boss fan, an Aussie fan there was no way we could fail! Fortunately a barbel read the script and at 12lb 7oz it was the biggest on a guiding day for more than a year, happy days indeed.
Something that has pleased me no end since I started taking people out is the number of younger anglers who have booked days with me; I’m talking about guys the right side of thirty! Ken and Richard fall into this demographic and they were the next in line for a day on the river.
I had met Ken twice before, he is a regular on the Wye breaks and he is a very good angler. Living in Christchurch right on top of the Royalty he has honed his skills rolling meat there and has landed some mighty fine barbel. But he had never fished the Kennet and this was the chance to put that right.
I always pick up my casters early in the morning from the local tackle shop, that means I’m away for twenty minutes or so and when I returned with the bait there was Ken with a rather nice barbel resting in the landing net - who needs a guide! He had decided to let a lump of meat roll right under the tree cover and bang he was into the eleven pounder right away. With the job already a good ‘un we spent the day covering more swims and I watched with great admiration at Ken’s skill in casting straight off the ‘pin, it was clever stuff!
Richard from London was rather less experienced on the barbel front but that didn’t stop him landing two nice fish culminating in a new best of 10lb 7oz. I’m sure he too will now become a member of the barbel fishing fraternity; I do hope so because he is a really nice fella.
Billy, an ex-rugby player, from down on the Kent coast with a love of sea fishing but now with an appetite for barbel after testing the local waters was the penultimate guest in my very busy week. The barbel really came out to play for him, five in fact with the best topping ten pounds by ten ounces. From the email I received a week later it would seem the day made quite an impact, Billy now has a new Seeker rod and a centrepin reel and I’m looking forward to hearing of his exploits on his local river which isn’t one of the easiest.
September arrived and at the beginning of the month I had a great result whilst out filming with that smashing bloke Matt Rand. If you follow my diary you will remember the two days I enjoyed with Matt last year on the banks of the lower Severn, we had a great time then and the ensuing result found its way into the pages of the Angler’s Mail. This time out Matt was hoping to get some film clips to use on the YouTube channel, so as always the pressure was on but as I’ve already hinted things went well.
Our first day went by rather quietly, I managed to find a couple of barbel and so we were able to film some action sequences. Matt spent some time in the weir pool using the drop shotting technique and was rewarded with a splendid perch but that was it.
We had some good footage in the can but a good sized barbel would really be the icing on the cake and give us the result we were both hoping for from the outset.
Later that evening I decided that I would be in my swim fishing at the very first light, I’ve mentioned before how I have often found the barbel in feeding mode at that time especially if the previous day’s fishing had been slow even though bait had been introduced. Dropping my hair rigged casters over the previous day’s carpet of hemp and caster I didn’t have long to wait. The rod top pulled around in that tell-tale slow motion style and the pin started to give line and I knew straight away that I was attached to a good ‘un. Even after so many years in pursuit of barbel I still get that massive adrenaline rush when I know there is a big fish on the end of my line, the fight is just so different; no high speed runs just a determined resistance that eventually you master and the prize rolls into the net.
I quickly rang Matt to check that he was on his way and then he suddenly appeared as if on cue and I said something along the lines of “Job’s done!”
After the excitement of playing and landing your barbel the next high is grabbing the landing net mesh and lifting the fish up on to the mat, this does it for me, it is the precise moment you know that here’s a fish worth weighing! Whenever I have guiding clients with me I always try to understate the moment, I can tell reasonably well what a barbel is likely to weigh but I prefer to see the reaction when the scales are read!
This one went thirteen and a half pounds, my best from the venue for a couple of years, we were more than happy.
To put perspective on this, a barbel of this size is a huge fish in my book, you can only ever catch what is in front of you and there are very few venues where a barbel in excess of thirteen pounds would be considered anything other than big. On this particular venue, to the best of my knowledge, there may be just one fish larger by a half pound or so. I’m not one to target venues that hold the monster fish although I have to admit I am tempted to have a go on the Dove but that elusive dream of a lower Severn leviathan forever haunts me like a siren’s call and the car always seems to be on auto pilot at this time of the year, destination Worcester!
The barbel duly took centre stage as Matt shot some excellent footage, the day had barely begun and the work side was almost done. More barbel came our way and a nice chub put in an appearance while we dabbled in the weir pool and Matt enjoyed more success on the river with his drop shotting. I have to say I was intrigued watching the simplicity of the method and its obvious effectiveness but I’m sure my wrist joints would suffer after a few hours of it!
So our two days on the Kennet came to an end, once again we had achieved what we set out to do and I’m looking forward to our next session together, the Wye will be calling I suspect.
More days on the Kennet, more doubles, September had turned out to be a very successful month.
As we said goodbye my mind was already on my next engagement, a talk I had agreed to give at the Lands End pub not too far away and for the Berkshire region of the Barbel Society.
I have to say that giving talks does not faze me at all, in fact I enjoy it, but I had no visuals for this one, just had to hope that I could keep my brain in gear for half an hour or so. Preparation had been done and I listed twenty points as lessons I have learned over the years, it seemed to go down well and the list has now increased to forty and once again it went down well in Stockport where I gave a talk in November. Seems like I’ve found myself back on the talk circuit as there is another coming up in Bewdley tomorrow (February 15) when I will be warming up the audience for Des Taylor, I’m looking forward to it.
It doesn’t look as if I’ll be in Australia this winter so if the river ever becomes fishable again this season I will be down on the Severn searching for that winter monster!
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