It’s out of my control! After years of organising barbel fishing trips to The River Swale in Yorkshire with, it has to be said, limited success, my buddies have decided a change was needed. Micky has organised the venue and accommodation, Glen’s doing the driving.

This year, we have decided to travel a few extra miles to fish the ‘Mecca’ of barbel angling at Bewdley on the River Severn!

For five years, we returned to the River Swale in September. It was a bit like re-visiting an old girlfriend with her lovely meandering curves, her soft sandy bottom, and accommodating, roomy swims; occasionally moody but we always looked forward to seeing her again. This time it’s different, we’ve not much idea what to expect from the Severn, although we know she’ll be bigger and might be harder to crack!

In Bewdley we head for the local tackle shop to get information, tickets and bait. The shop is wonderfully placed, on the riverside, just downstream from the elegant Bewdley Bridge, designed by Thomas Telford, completed in 1798. The shop looks as though it was built at the same time and the proprietor, S R Lewis (Stan) looks as though he might have been present at the grand opening of the bridge!

Looking into the shop window, I get a feeling that not much has changed in the last hundred years or so. In the window everything is faded by the sun; there are a couple of glass cases containing stuffed fish. One has two small, jaded bream with their eyes missing which makes them look like extras from “The Revenge of the Bloodthirsty Killer Bream Zombies”.

Walking inside is like passing through a time warp; old reels in faded boxes, rods on display in cotton bags, Limerick hooks, cork floats, feeders, bait boxes on shelves up to the ceiling. There is no sign of the walls or a floor! Everything is covered in stock; where the floor should be there is the largest mountain of Halibut pellet packets I’ve ever seen. There must be half a tonne! On the counter, there are discoloured tins of luncheon meat, dull tins of sweetcorn and hemp, more aged floats and feeders. It’s a bewildering display of old and new tackle. Standing at the end of the counter, looking imperious, is Stan. We introduce ourselves and ask about the fishing and day tickets.

“This stretch is the best fishing from here to Bristol!” he proudly boasts. “There were twenty-six 2lb roach caught in one match; barbel up to 16lb, bream, perch, pike to thirty pounds!” he says without drawing breath, his voice mildly reminiscent of John Major.

We ask him how the river is fishing at the moment; “It’s a bit hard” he concedes “But they’re there to catch if you know where to go and how to go about it.” It turns out that he sells the day tickets for a short stretch above the town, which we inquire about.

“How d’you get there?” It’s a simple enough question but a suspicious glint appears in Stan’s eye; “I’ll tell you after you’ve bought the tickets!” he says defiantly. It’s clear he’s not going to tell us anything until we show some commitment. We buy three day-tickets; on the back of them, it states we need a rod licence from the National Rivers Authority! Stan gives us the information and directions he promised. and we head off back to the twenty-first century and some fishing.

We park in a field, make our way down to the river and find some swims. I take a look around mine – I’m appalled at the amount of litter; mainly line but loads of plastic packets, luncheon meat cans, pop bottles, sandwich cartons and beer cans from the caravan park in the next field. I spend fifteen minutes cleaning up.

101221SurprisedPerch_451338666.jpgThe flow doesn’t look too much so I tackle up with 1½oz feeder and loosely pack it with dampened 4mm halibut pellets. The rod tip doesn’t move for four hours. Later on in the afternoon, in between the showers, I manage to catch a couple of very small, but welcome, perch, on float fished maggot, whilst Micky has explored all the remaining swims with his spinner and eventually hooks but fails to land a 2lb pike. All this time, Glen has been patiently sitting it out with his 14mm halibut pellet, nibbling on his biscuits.

At 6.30 we pack up and make the short journey back into Bewdley.

Day Two

Today the plan is to try the river this morning and if we have no luck to come back to Bewdley and fish a local commercial water for two or three hours.

Back in Stan’s tackle shop we tell him how we struggled the day before, he looks sceptical. He appears deep in thought, as if deciding whether to tell us a great secret.
“Yesterday, I sent my bailiff to one chap who showed him how to approach it, and he caught a barbel first cast in.”

“Oh really! How was that then?” I ask. Again, he pauses before he chooses to enlighten us.

“Very small pieces of meat, rolled along in the flow” and nods knowingly, and we make appreciative murmurings. I tell him we’re thinking about going to Hampton Loade today. Stan draws in a deep breath.

“That’s the worst possible place you could go!” he declares, then, unexpectedly, Stan says “Have I told you about the time I fished the World Champion off the water?” As it’s only the second time we’ve ever been in the shop it’s highly unlikely.

“It was like this you see – I was fishing next to Billy Lane in a big match at Hampton Loade in the 60s.” He has our attention now. “Billy was a good friend of mine” he continues “and with about an hour to go before the end of the match, Billy packed up and left, he hadn’t caught anything. I watched him all the way down the field, then over the stile. I waited about ten more minutes and then I packed up, I’d blanked as well! And that’s how I fished the World Champion OFF the water. It’s all in my book.”

Book! Blimey!

At Hampton Loade the river looks marvellous and I like the look of my swim, strong but steady flow, nice comfy bank. I tackle up with the 2½oz in-line knobbly feeder, mould some softened pellets and cast out my 10mm banded pellet, perfect. Ten minutes later, I have to pull for a break as I’m stuck fast on the bottom: I lose four feeders in rapid succession.

I’m a Yorkshireman through and through. I get upset if I use a couple of hooks in a day, never mind four feeders in an hour! I decide to take a breather and go for a chat with the lad from Exeter just downstream; he’s not had anything. He tells me that the River Exe is fishing really well at the moment, great chub fishing, bream, and dace to nearly a pound almost anywhere you choose to fish.

101221MickysBarbel_394421913.jpgMicky is plodding away, at about four o’clock there is a noise I can’t quite make out then I hear Glen shout Andy! I head up to Micky’s in time to see him put his rod down and check the landing net for the barbel he’s just landed. It’s so long since I’ve seen one it looks quite small to me.

“Two pounder” I say charitably, “Maybe two and a half. You don’t normally see them that small.” I have my scales so we weigh it in his landing net, “Might go three” as I get a closer look. The scales register 5lb 5oz, making the fish a princely 4lb 2oz. “Well done Micky, we’re all chuffed.” Micky puts the fish back and it swims away swiftly without requiring any recovery time, they must be fit these Severn barbel.

The Exeter lad comes over to tell me his mate has just landed a four pound barbel, and inform me that the River Exe is fantastic at the moment; matches won with fifty pounds of silver fish on the float.

Glen, Micky and I slog on, you catch a lot of fish in the last hour!

After an hour or so the Exeter lads are packing up to leave, they stop for a chat and tell us they’ve struggled all week but have caught three or four today between them. Oh! By the way, the Exe is fishing its head off; really brilliant! We pack up at 6.30 and head back for pint.

Day Three

This morning we give Stan a miss, and head straight for Hampton Loade, we decide to fish down the bottom towards where the reports of bigger catches have been. It’s a very long walk, fully loaded with gear. The rapids, glides and bends disappear further down and the river straightens out.

We settle in three similar swims, which appear to be the famous Matt Hayes swims from ‘Greater Rod Race’. I fish for three hours without luck. I soon convince myself that these swims are not going to produce today so I decide to move back upstream near the car park; Micky and Glen stay put, they have so much more patience than I do.

Trying to get a bite is like solving the hardest Soduku in the world, I’ve tried just about everything when I remember someone talking about wrapping paste around the halibut pellet, so I give it a try. Almost immediately, I get a good bite but miss it, but I’m sure I’ve cracked it: this is the answer!

101221LateGudgeon_476174707.jpgNext cast in I get another good bite, but I wait for a proper pull round. A few taps and knocks, but nothing conclusive so I change to maggot, more taps and knocks. After a few strikes, I eventually hook a gudgeon; as gudgeon go it’s quite a big one, not what I was hoping for, but it’s saved a blank which is a pathetic thought.

I’ve had enough, I want to go home. I quickly pack up and get to the top of the bank as Micky and Glen approach with their gear. “Didn’t ya hear us?” says Glen stating the obvious. “We’ve been hollering and shouting. We tried your mobile.”

“Yeah! Glen’s nicked one at the end, he’s got one, 5lb 2oz. He’s the new World Champion!” says Micky, out of breath and perspiring, it’s a long walk from the far end of the river.

Hold it a bit closer, it’ll look bigger!

“Brilliant! Well done Glen!” his determination has paid off. Despite everything – lost tackle and my lost world title – I’m genuinely pleased for him. Glen has come through at the death due to his tenacious never say die approach.

The River Severn has been different, definitely harder than The Swale. It may have just been the water conditions at the time, I don’t know, but just buying a few heavy feeders isn’t really enough preparation. Next time I’ll be ready!

Andy Scholey 2010