As I write this article the 2011/2012 river season has finished and we are now well into the exile that is the close season. For me this generates mixed emotions; I am a little sad that a truly brilliant season is over but, at the same time, I am excited and looking forward to the three month break as it gives me a chance to reflect on the season just passed, to plan and prepare for the new season and to focus my plan of attack for when the rivers open again on 16 June, make no mistake it will be here before you know it!

Despite my mixed emotions I am an avid supporter of the close season, I know there are many debates regarding shortening or lifting it altogether but I for one hope we retain one of the finest angling traditions and keep the three month break forever. After all 16 June would never again the same would it?

Coming into this close season was a little easier than it has been for the past two years as we were extremely fortunate with the weather this year. Both January to March 2010 and 2011 were extremely cold and, apart from very brief windows of opportunity for barbel, I spent most of my time chasing big chub and went into the close season not having caught too many barbel.

However, this year was a lot better; we had a lovely mild spell during Christmas and despite a little snow this carried on into January and through to March and overall conditions were much improved on previous years. The only frustration was that the weather was a little inconsistent and it proved difficult, unless you could spend every moment by the river, to be on the bank at exactly the right time. I did, however, manage some lovely fish from the Kennet and one particular session I found the barbel and chub in a real feeding frenzy and I was fortunate to bank a few during February.

Coming into March with even more mild weather I really wanted to end my season on a high and to reach a landmark – more on this later – and to have one last ‘bagging’ session, ideally on either the River Severn or the River Wye. This would, I hoped, make the three month break a little easier to bear!

With the Wye low and clear and not hearing too many positive reports in the week leading up to the last weekend of the season it didn’t look good. The Severn on the other hand was carrying a bit of water and dropping, water temperatures were increasing daily and reports suggested the river was fishing its head off!  My Sunday bagging trip was a no brainer…the Severn it was then!

I know the Severn very well and have fished it many times in the past but for this session I really fancied trying a new stretch and targeted an area between Bewdley and Stourport, lower than the usual true middle Severn, which would hopefully mean I would avoid the masses of anglers undoubtedly out for the last weekend in the usual spots below Bridgnorth and Arley.

When you are planning a session on a venue that is not necessarily on your doorstep, and the Severn is a good one and a half to two hour drive for me, it is vital that you can obtain as much advance information as possible. This is where a good network of angling friends helps; I also keep an eye on river levels by using the EA Website and on trends with levels and temperatures as this is vital for the cooler months. The weather forecast is all important too and for Sunday it was showing a bright sunny day with temperatures up to 15 degrees. With this forecast I decided to get to the river as early as possible for two reasons: one, to avoid as many other anglers as possible and two, as the brightness increased the sport would almost certainly slow down and in my experience I find barbel will generally go off the feed as the sun climbs higher in the sky and the temperature increases.

So, on the last Sunday of the season I was up bright and breezy, car loaded and off for my final sortie of the season to the River Severn! I arrived in the Stourport area in good time and by 06:30 I was on the banks of my targeted stretch having a good look at the river and potential swims.

I was in luck as no other anglers were present so I had the run of the place. I always like to have a good look around when I arrive at a new stretch, although usually I would have investigated a new stretch prior to the actual day. This morning I wanted to get fishing ASAP as the day was already bright and I knew that I was realistically only going to have the morning to play with. Fortunately walking up river I quickly located a swim that to me screamed barbel so that would do for me!

My chosen swim was on the inside of a bend with a big slack close in and a slack on the far bank, creating a narrow channel of flowing water straight down the middle and into a bend on my right. It just had to be worth a go and, despite it being an extremely awkward swim to fish due to the nature of a steep bank and sloppy mud, sometimes the awkward swims have to be fished. Top tip here – when fishing the Wye and Severn that have very steep banks, soft mud etc, always carry a spike with a rope attached so that this can be staked at the top of your swim. Believe me this will make your life much easier and on the day in question I simply could not have fished this swim without it as I would never have got back up the bank, don’t leave home without one…

My plan of attack was to fish two rods; I anticipated that the left hand rod – straight out in front and straight into the middle of the flowing water – would be the most productive area but I also wanted to try downstream into the flow just before the river went into the bend to the right so my right hand rod would go there. Generally on bigger rivers I use two rods and my attack today was to have the second, right hand rod, acting as a ‘sleeper’ and left out for long periods of time and this might catch me an extra fish or two.

Generally on a new stretch of river or new swim two rods are ideal as you can use them to search out and locate where the fish are and go from there. Sometimes when the barbel are really having it you may need to bring the second rod in even if both rods are producing as when it gets frantic it is just not manageable, or prudent, to have rods taking off with fish whilst playing fish on the other rod. Instead you can alternate spots, resting one spot at a time, and continue to catch.

My early start paid off and I was set up and ready to go with both rods on my chosen spots by 07:00, the river looked spot on, I was confident in my swim choice and my approach and my barbel radar was going into overdrive. Hopefully the barbel would also be up for it and have read the same brief as me…

My approach to feeding and bait was kept as simple as possible. March can be a funny time of year so you need to gauge if the fish want feeding or just a little sampler and/or smell to get them onto your hook bait and with rivers such as the Severn and Wye, with a massive head of fish, it’s generally easy to gauge your plan of attack. Even in the warmer months I like to start off cautiously and see how many fish I have in the swim, and then go from there. If there are fish in front of you and you are catching, then you can step up the feed release rate to suit.

Today, due to the conditions, I was anticipating the fish feeding but not being completely ravenous so I was going to rely on the first few casts to introduce a little bait via a 2oz open-ended feeder and then assess the situation as the session progressed. I was using a simple groundbait mix comprising Bait-Tech Marine Halibut Method mix and N-Tice, mixed 50/50. This was mixed damp, as I didn’t want the contents to be emptied immediately but a slow release, trailing some smell into the flow, and releasing the 4mm Supermarine Feed Pellets after five to ten minutes of being on the bottom.

If, or when, fish were evident in the swim I would then look at releasing bait quicker to keep them feeding. Hook baits were to be alternated between a single or double 8mm drilled Supermarine Pellet, and chunks of N-Tice Polony.

When using Groundbait for my approach, and there are many different ways of delivering bait for the Severn and Wye, I always use a base of Marine Halibut as we all know barbel love it and the Bait-Tech Marine Halibut Method mix is very versatile as it can be mixed in numerous ways to suit conditions.

For the session I used the N-Tice Groundbait with Marine Halibut as the N-Tice is a really meaty mix and for cooler water conditions I have found that it really stimulates barbel into feeding. In warmer water I use Mojo as this is more fishmeal based. Again, for cooler water conditions, I have found that the Supermarine Pellets, both as feed and for hook bait, are effective and, in my experience, they do give me an edge in colder water. These pellets are also very effective in clear water as the red colour gives an edge – give them a go and I promise you your results will improve.

I use the N-Tice Polony as it is very versatile as a hookbait, you can manipulate it into many forms for the hair and, although I don’t use meat very often, it is unwise to discount it on the Severn as it catches barbel big time. I plan on going into much more detail on the baits I use, their applications, when to use them, how to use them, rigs to use with them and how to and when to feed to keep barbel in your swim feeding in future articles, so watch this space…

With both rods out, after five minutes the right hand downstream rod nodded over and a lovely chub of about 3lb graced the bank, nailed on a chunk of N-Tice Polony, a good start and the rod was soon re-baited and put back on the spot. Meanwhile, the left hand rod on my favoured spot was showing signs of fish moving onto my bait with small taps and rattles as fish moved over the feeder as the bait released.

After about fifteen minutes a couple of small line bites, then an obvious barbel tremor was followed a few seconds later by a nice confident bite and we were in and straight away it was obviously a barbel! Fantastic! The first barbel of the session is always great as it means you have got your swim selection, rod positioning, bait and feeding correct. The fish was a beautiful specimen and, as with all Severn barbel, scrapped hard and was nailed on a single 8mm Supermarine Pellet.

That fish was the first of three on the left hand rod over the next hour with another chub on the right hand rod.  By the second hour the left hand rod was really producing and I was taking barbel regularly, every twenty minutes or so, and by alternating between single and double pellets and the meat I managed eight barbel all between 6 and 8lb and two chub by 10:30am, we were bagging!

As expected as the sun started to rise and temperatures increased sport started to slow and fishing until 12:00 I managed two more barbel and one more chub. The last barbel I caught being the ‘landmark’ that I previously mentioned, my 350th barbel of the season, and at 9lb 6oz it was the best of the day too. What a result and as you would expect I was very pleased.

I decided to call it a day at 12:00 as I was more than happy with the morning’s result with ten barbel and three chub and achieving that landmark, so I decided to take some time and have a look at the rest of this new section of river and to then travel further upstream to catch up with some friends fishing a different section. It pays when you have travelled some distance to your venue to take time and look at different stretches and have a good mooch about and take notes for next time. I plan on visiting my new hot swim in the new season as it has some real potential not just for bagging but, speaking to local sources and the bailiff, for some big barbel too.

So there we go – a final successful visit to the Severn and a nice little bagging session to round off what has been a truly brilliant season; I have learnt lots, met lots of new people, had some great laughs and caught lots of wonderful barbel and chub.

Don’t be too glum as it is now the close season, use the three month break wisely to organise your tackle and bait, walk the rivers and check out your target areas and formulate a plan for next season. I will be back with you here on FishingMagic to hopefully help you to put a few more barbel on the bank and share lots of tips on rigs and bait and, of course, to share my adventures that I hope might inspire some of you to get out on the banks and enjoy catching these wonderful barbel!