Well it’s been a busy old month, the upshot of which has resulted in this real mixed bag, the barbel Gods fortunately smiled down at the most opportune moment but then, as the month wore on, they made sure to remind me not to take them for granted as at the end of the day they always call the tune.
So, after a couple of days hard graft building my deck at home where I can sit up high and look out over the surrounding hills, tired and worn out but raring to go on the fishing front I found myself with a day to spare on the Kennet and a chance to try out and hopefully christen a brand new rod.
Now I’m always reluctant about recommending rods, it’s easy to talk about the qualities of any particular rod but over the years I have realised that what suits one will definitely not suit another. Rods are a very personal choice; they need to be an extension of you, to fit comfortably and to give perfect synchronization.
What I will say is that my 11ft Barbel Seeker performed beautifully – as I knew it would. I’ve put my 12ft version to the test many times but on small rivers like the Kennet the shorter rod really comes into its own.
My days’ fishing with casters and hemp resulted in half a dozen nice fish including a double and I was now set up nicely for the following day when I was to be joined by Simon, a young man working for the RAF and very soon about to embark on a tour of duty to Afghanistan.
The pressure I felt was a bit different to the norm, I really did want the day to be special so that Simon would take a great memory away with him to the far off desert and Camp Bastion.
Simon was no novice at barbel fishing having landed good sized fish from his home rivers in the East Midlands. He soon had a couple of barbel in the net but it was now mid afternoon and while we had spent a really enjoyable morning talking about all manner of things the hope that a bigger fish would make an appearance loomed large in my head.
Like many others Simon had yet to enjoy the sheer delight of catching a barbel on the pin, I have to say I’m always amazed by this because there always seems to be something missing when using a fixed spool, it’s as though you’re watching a silent movie as the tip goes round and there is no sound so I decided to put this right for Simon.
When I take people out I usually have about four rods all made up in their sleeves, with pins attached naturally, and for some reason I decided to let Simon use the rod that had only been christened the previous day.
We sat back awaiting events, the rod was perfectly positioned, the hair rigged casters were in the exact spot, the dropper had just deposited its third load and bang on cue the reel screamed into life…
Simon controlled the pin as though he had been using one forever, the rod came into its own and in a very short space of time the pair of us were peering into the landing net as a rather large barbel lay resting at the water’s edge.
I gave Simon that knowing look and shook his hand, this was a job done alright, I didn’t want to say a weight but I knew it was going well over twelve pounds, perfect.
Allowing for the sling, the needle on the scales hovered around the fourteen pound mark, a fantastic result and I looked up to the sky and gave thanks to the fishing Gods who had looked down on us today.
This particular barbel is a distinctive fish, having a slight two tone colouration and a scar on the gill cover; it had been caught ten days’ previously by my cousin. Now the interesting point is that it was ten ounces lighter in weight then.
Many years ago, back in my Barbel Catcher’s days, I can readily recall a discussion that became quite heated when a similar instance took place, there was disbelief that a fish would put on that much weight in the summer so quickly, and it was assumed there had to be something wrong with the scales.
Well we’ve moved on since those days and now know that a barbel can quite easily go on a feeding spree and pack on the ounces, however to be on the safe side both my cousin and I checked our scales for accuracy and were pleased to note they were fine.
As the day began to draw to an end we were joined by none other than Chris Tarrant; it’s always a pleasure to see him on the river and I know that people I am with really enjoy seeing him as well. It’s quite surreal to be having a laugh on the riverbank with him and then getting back home to see Vic and Bob pushing him into a glass box with a half naked old man with a long grey beard – it’s a strange world!
Chris plotted up nearby and after fifteen minutes or so he came back to our swim holding the worse for wear Match Aerial I had ever seen, it looked like something that had been lying on the ocean bed for centuries! We concluded that not everyone is a centrepin fan and someone must have hurled it in the river in a moment of huge displeasure…. although I don’t think Trefor West has ever visited this fishery!
For those who don’t know or have never seen Trefor at one of his talks, he hates the things!
Anyway we decided for a good laugh it would be a nice idea to package it up neatly and send it off to Fred Crouch to ask if he would repair it; Chris did this the very next day because Fred told me he had received it when we spoke and he told me that, along with the accompanying letter, it had cheered him up no end.
As I said goodbye to Simon in the car park I was filled with mixed emotions, humility alongside someone who has spent time in the recent warzones and has a young family, relief that the Gods had smiled on us and great pride to have shared in such a memorable experience.
Other trips down to the Kennet proved less productive, as I said at the beginning no matter how good we may think we are, the fishing Gods will always let us know that they control our destiny, we just think we do!
Crayfish in particular can be a damned nuisance on the Kennet at times and it’s always a difficult call, should I stay or should I move? When you’ve already put in a couple of pints of casters it isn’t easy to up sticks and try somewhere else, sometimes you just have to get through it and wait until the barbel move in and push the crayfish out, it can be hard work and frustrating but it usually works.
After the Kennet trips I spent three days at the Evesham Festival working alongside my good pal the Doc, Paul Garner. It’s been a long time since I’d attended any general fishing shows; I used to love the big shows at the NEC, always a great opportunity to catch up with everyone.
I watched a skilled matchman play a barbel on a pole and all I’ll say is that I won’t be looking to add one of those monstrous things to my rod collection! I also met up with a good many friends, old and new, and it was great to see Alex Bones once again. Alex is a top match angler himself and I’ve enjoyed his company a couple of times on the river, we get on really well even though we come from completely different ends of the Angling spectrum. It was also good to see Dicky from the FishingMagic Forum doing his stint on the Angling Trust stand.
I simply have to mention that the seat I mentioned in my FM diary last month proved to be very popular – as I knew it would!
After Evesham I found myself back in Essex, really close to my old stamping ground, Chipping Ongar, for a wedding at the oldest timber framed church in the country, it’s said to date back to the seventh century, perhaps Ron can shed some light?!
It’s a sobering thought when you see nephews you remember as kids with their own children you realise you’re now part of the older generation, a timely reminder that time waits for no one. But then the rousing chorus of Livin’ on a Prayer comes blasting through the speakers and I’m young once more………..you have to hold on to what you’ve got……
My next fishing trip was to the Wye where I had to meet up with a couple of auction winners. The Barbel Society Research and Conservation auction has become an annual event and helps to raise lots of money that goes towards all sorts of projects relating to habitat improvements and also a research project in conjunction with Bournemouth University which we are really excited about. I’ll expand on this another time.
I had to stop off in Worcester and decided to spend a few hours on the Lower Severn before heading off to Holme Lacy. The recent rain had added much needed colour and raised the level a foot or so and I have to say I was confident of catching one or two.
Settling into a swim I hadn’t fished for a long time I put in ten big droppers of mixed pellets and particles. A pretty basic rig with a hair rigged 15mm Robin Red pellet was cast out, no more than twenty feet from the bank. There were three or four other anglers close by and they hadn’t caught but then they rarely put any feed in to attract the fish!
My luck was in and during the short session I caught two barbel, each weighing over ten pounds, to say I was pleased would be understating by miles!
The phone rang and Pete Reading was on the end of the line just as I had a near ten pound bream on the end of my line, it’s amazing how often that happens, fish on as the mobile rings.
Earlier in the week I was speaking to Pete once again, this time his reel screamed and a rather nice Avon barbel was the end result. There was another memorable occasion with Pete again when he called at eight in the morning while I was at Adams Mill just as the reel went and I ended up with a fourteen pound plus barbel.
Memo to myself, ring Pete more often especially when the going is tough!
Back to that bream, I didn’t weigh it but believe me it was big, there are plenty of them in the Lower Severn, I’m not sure I could specifically fish for them though!
Unfortunately the rain seemed to have the opposite effect on the Wye and the three of us struggled, barbel were caught so it wasn’t a complete disaster, but I felt we should have done better – that’s fishing.
As I sign off I’m preparing for another three days on the Kennet, two of which are in the company of Fred Bonney, the pressure is on once again as we are hoping for a new personal best barbel for Fred.
Livin’ on a prayer, that’s me!
See you soon.