We had a dabble on the Thursday. I brushed away the cobwebs and gave the trotting rod and reel a much needed airing. Many moons ago I used to love float fishing, especially trotting a float for roach. Back then I was pretty good but forty plus years hiatus is enough to make anyone a tad rusty! But fishing is a bit like riding a bike: you don’t forget how to do it. I very quickly felt comfortable with the float winding its merry way downstream. I’m not quite up to Dave Harrell standard but at least I was active in the float fishing stakes once more. It wasn’t long before a couple of chub, a few dace and a manic trout provided some fun, but barbel proved to be somewhat elusive.

Back in my caravan I pondered on what we might expect the following day and developed a plan of action. Bright and early and at the river’s edge next day, a blue sky day was in the offing. Coupled with the low water level things were going to be difficult.

Indeed they were.

We covered a number of swims and tried a number of different tactics but to no avail: not even a chub could be tempted! So the first guiding day of a new season ended in a glorious blank! Never mind, I’ll be meeting up with Steve again on the Kennet later in the season and I really hope the barbel gods are in a good mood because it’s a fair old hike from Sheffield to Berkshire!

And a few days later, Berkshire is where I found myself ready for three full sessions on the Kennet and, hopefully, plenty of barbel action. I was really pleased to meet up with Richard for the third consecutive year. He’s not a dyed-in-the-wool barbel angler but I think I’ve infected him with the bug. The air temperature was on the rise, and 30 degrees by midday brought out the brolly to prevent sunstroke. The fishing was hard as you might expect. Had it not been a guiding day I would have been at home topping up the tan.

My usual trick of baiting a particular swim with hemp and 6mm cubes of meat had failed to produce a bite within the statutory thirty minutes so it was off to the prepared swim for an all-out caster and hemp attack. A nice sized trout was the culprit as the old pin screamed into life around midday and it wasn’t till late afternoon that a barbel of about six pound picked up the bait. Then that was it. No matter how hard we tried the fish were having none of it and in the oppressive heat I can’t say that I blamed them. Hopefully I’ll fish with Richard again some time.

Next morning it was another Richard who greeted me in the carpark.  This Richard was the proud possessor of an Edward Barder Mk IV, as light as a feather and simply stunning to look at – but then it ought to be because you don’t get a lot of change from two grand! With such an exquisite rod there really is only one make of reel that can sit comfortably on the handle:  a Chris Lythe.  And that’s exactly what Richard subsequently pulled from his bag – the Scotton Trotter to be precise and it, too, was every bit as beautiful as the Barder. With a combined value of around £2,500.00 I told Rich that this was the most expensive set up I had ever encountered on a guided day and that I was extremely jealous!!

Now bearing in mind that Richard was a barbel virgin and our day together came courtesy of a Christmas present from his better half, the pressure to catch became just a little more intense! I already had a rod set up at the swim and a pint of casters and hemp had already been slung in so we were ready to go: the super set up could wait a while.

It’s worth going into a bit of detail with regard to the swim. Three and a half feet deep, a few clumps of streamer weed on the nearside and overhanging trees on the far side. When I ask anglers who have never seen the swim before where they would place their bait, they all – to a man – say ‘…as close to the overhanging trees as possible’ When I tell them they’re wrong they are all surprised! The only time I would cast close to or under the trees is when applying hit and run tactics: one fish then move on. If I’m sitting it out for the day then the bait goes in where the fish don’t expect it to be – and that’s close to the near bank. I take no credit for this tactic. My dear friend, Fred Crouch, proved to me many years ago how successful this method is. As he was keen to say, ‘ If I’m good enough to bring along some food for them then they can at least make the effort to pick it up where I put it.’ And of course he was right.

So the hair-rigged casters were delicately placed no more than two feet from the bank and eased into position underneath the swaying fronds, tantalisingly tempting for the unsuspecting barbel.

It didn’t take long. My old Rapidex sprang into life and the rod-tip pulled round. Richard was out of his seat in a flash and it was game on! Despite a couple of spirited attempts to get back under the far bank Richard applied maximum pressure and the barbel was resting in the net in double quick time. But Richard’s super-rig was yet to be christened!

A nice fish of 10lb 6oz for ‘Richard II’

I’d previously ordered a load of casters from the local tackle shop so I suggested Richard carry on single-handedly while I nipped into town. I was only ten minutes but on my return I found the young man 25 yards downstream with my landing net and a barbel of 10lb 6oz! As it happened, the fish was deformed, but there was nothing wrong with the 8lber that Richard later bent into with his Barder cane! 

It was obvious the unusually high air temperature had made an impact and the barbel was rested for fully ten minutes before it was lifted from the water, no chance of unhooking in the water because of the low level (18’’ down) and the ‘high’ bank. A quick photo, no weighing and back it went into the river after another ten minute rest in the landing net.

Richard’s first ever barbel and he was elated, and then he told me was left handed and I wouldn’t have known it because he handled my right handed set up perfectly.

However it was now time to rest the swim and change over to the Barder and Lythe to see if we could repeat the action using this superb tackle.

It was at this point that Richard informed me the rod was yet to be christened!

The Barder bends into an 8lb barbel

So another challenge, but first I had to shoot down to the tackle shop to collect the casters I had on order. Only a ten minute drive and Richard was cool, he knew what to do if that Lythe purred and made sweet music!

Twenty five minutes later and I’m back at the swim observing that Richard was not in his seat, the rod was not in the rest and he was twenty five yards downstream in the landing swim holding my landing net!

Yep, it all happened in my absence, a double figure barbel had read the script; it wouldn’t have been quite right for a smaller fish to be the first to test such sublime tackle!

10-06, what a result and once more we took all the time it needed for the barbel to fully recover.

You can see from the photo that this fish was deformed, we get a few like this on this particular venue.

Richard with the Brokeback Barbel

Opinions vary on the cause of this in barbel. There is possible linkage with pollution, bacterial infection or it could be genetic. There is quite a bit of information online: Google spinal lordosis, kyphosis and scoliosis in fish and you will find much interesting data and you can form your own opinion. I tend to go with an egg abnormality because it seems most logical.

There was one more to come; a very lively fish just short of 8lbs and it went off like a train putting a healthy curve in the cane as you can see in the shot above.

We received a visit from Simon, my guest for the following day, who had driven down from Birmingham and had just checked in at the pub B and B which I always recommend to those coming a fair distance. We called it a day before dusk fell, the heat had worn us out and fortunately Richard did not have too far to drive and anyway he had the comfort of his gorgeous ‘Landy’ so I didn’t have too much sympathy!!

A fascinating day in fabulous company! Richard was a very interesting character and I was very pleased that he could return home and tell his wife that the Christmas present was well worth it!