Tuesday, 24 September 2013

River Trent barbel fishing - learning the ropes

The river Trent is about twenty minutes from my front door at its closest point yet over the years I have neglected it greatly in preference for the more intimate rivers that feed into it, namely the Soar and Derwent. I was probably fifteen or so when I caught my first Trent barbel, miniature rockets from Clifton Grove that did nasty things to a nine foot Silstar Matchpicker, almost as brutal as attempting to cast a 2oz feeder on the poor rod but that was the best I had available at the time and so it had to do.

Pocket rockets from down "The Grove"

Since those very distant days I have hardly targeted the rivers whiskered residents at all bar a handful of sessions in the last three years where a few larger residents have graced the net. Wether it be whilst playing fish or just going through the process of actually fishing you can be left with no doubt that what the Trent lacks in intimacy it certainly makes up for in raw power, not to mention it's huge appetite for gobbling up any tackle that you dare to risk by casting into it, she can be one unforgiving lady alright.

One evening I was sitting at home when I got to thinking that it was high time that I had a proper go for the Trent barbel and as there is no time like the present I chucked together the required kit and sorted out some bait ready to head up the motorway the next evening after work. The tactics were to be big open ended feeders full of pellets of various sizes and types held in place with a bung of groundbait made up of vitalin and fishmeal method mix. The plan was to create a trail downstream with the smaller particles travelling further and the bulk of the larger pellets remaining in situ, a flavour gradient if you like and at the peak of the trail the ultimate prize, a piece of steel in the lip! That was my starting point but this was to be a new learning curve, it is the obvious solution but that doesn't always mean that it is the best solution but only time will tell on that one. The other point to consider was hooklink length, type and hook/bait size. Long links of up to 6ft are regularly spoken about by Trent regulars as are scaled down baits for daylight use, again that's something I was prepared to mess around with but for a start I was going to go in with what I more often than not use on the smaller rivers and take it from there. Size 6 hooks, a slightly whittled down 16mm boilie and a coated braid hooklink of eighteen inches or so would be my first move.

My knowledge of my chosen piece of river was very limited. I had fished in the area two or three times about three years previously and that coincided with a very dry summer that made it more than hard work. In fact it felt more like fishing a lake with copious amounts of blanket weed all over the place and great beds of floating stuff down the margins that had to be removed before I had any hope of fishing whatsoever. The result of those trips were bream, bream, and more bream plus one solitary and very skinny chub that obviously felt sorry for me and decided to hang itself. The upshot was that I was starting from scratch again, thankfully the river I was looking at had no resemblance whatsoever to that horrible piece of water that I remembered and I left the tackle in the van while I headed off to walk the bank and suss out a likely starting point. There was a drop of extra water in the river, well actually probably three feet or so according to the EA website, and it did look pretty tasty to be honest. I liked the look of several swims but most had a near suicidal drop to water level and I ended up plumping for an area that gave me a nice crease at maybe twenty five yards range which ran down onto a big near side tree, there simply had to be barbel in the area.

My first two casts were my first two mistakes and a lesson learnt. Next time I would make a few exploratory lobs with a lead and no hooklink attached to test the lie of the land as I had just lost a fivers worth of feeders in snags. Ten minutes with that bare lead gave me a good idea of where I could and could not cast to and so it was time to start again and get those feeders working for me. Initially the rods were cast every five minutes or so just to get some feed down on the bottom and after a dozen casts I slowed that down to every half an hour or so. On one retrieve I snagged up on some line and dragged in the most incredible rig I have ever seen, a plastic bag full of stones tied up as a weight and an eyed hood with the line tied directly to the shank half way up. Perhaps it belonged to the same delightful person that had left a broken keepnet shoved into the undergrowth along with several empty beer and bait cans.

Just when you think that you've seen it all
I kept the regular casting routine going for the three hours that I had remaining until dusk without the slightest of indications on the rod tips and then just as the light started to fall from the sky the downstream rod was away. I actually thought that I might be connected to a chub due to the less than violent fight but no it was a barbel, even if it was only of 5lb's or so it was a start.

Go and fetch your mum son

An hour later his twin brother put in an appearance. I had been told that this stretch threw up more doubles than singles so trust me to go and put the mockers on things first time out! As much as I would like to I just don't have the ability to stay awake into the early hours. Sleep is one thing that I really can't manage well without and as I had no intention of bivvying up riverside, on this occasion anyway, once the two cans of energy drink had worn off and my eyes started to droop at 1am I called it a night and headed back to the van for a few hours shut eye before heading off to work in the morning.

Two days later I was back for another go. The river had fined down considerably and lost most of its colour but there was still about a foot of water on which can only be good when it comes down to tempting a bite or two. For a start I dropped my kit down in the same swim that I had fished before but it just didn't look right without that extra flow on and so I headed back downstream a little way and found a much more respectable looking crease, that would do nicely. The short rigs had produced so far but I did have to wait until dark for a bite and I wanted to experiment a little to see if I could improve on that. With that in mind one rod was rigged up with a five foot mono hooklink and a size ten hook with a couple of 6mm pellets glued to a hair while I kept the other rig consistent as a control. I had arrived a bit earlier this time and had five hours of daylight to play with so this was to be a good test. After losing yet another feeder in a snag that my leading around had somehow avoided I got into the swing of things and worked the feeders a bit harder this time. It took two hours to get an indication that something was eating the bait, only a couple of small knocks though but it was the small bait that was working. Another half hour passed before a more positive bite developed on the same rod and a fish was hooked. This felt like a reasonable fish but it didn't seem very barbel like and when it shot right in towards the near bank foliage that idea was reinforced, it had to be a chub. I wasn't destined to find out for certain though as at that moment the hook pulled, a combination of heavy feeder, heavy rod, small hook and a hair rig with bait to hook separation designed to avoid hooking chub saw to that.

No more bites were forthcoming in daylight and as dusk approached I removed the long rig and replaced it with my shorter boilie version, I'm no lover of small hooks if I can get away with a big one and I knew that after dark I definitely could. That was proved to be correct an hour later when I had a right old belter of a bite which resulted in a fight to match. This one was no chub and it wasn't a 5lb barbel either, blimey it went mental and I wasn't surprised when I looked into to the net see that it was well into double figures. After a fight like that it certainly deserved a good rest and I used a bankstick to secure the net before quickly winding in the other rod to stop any chance of that one belting off and leaving me in a right old mess. Five minutes later after having set up the tripod, camera and weighing gear, I hoisted her out onto the mat, quickly checked the weight at a respectable 11lb 8oz, fired off a few pictures and had her back in the water in no time.

11lb 8
Now that was more like it. With my enthusiasm now fired up good and proper I kept those feeders going in at regular intervals and just after midnight, not long after returning a bream of 7lb's odd, I was rewarded with another rod wrencher of a bite. I had a few heart stopping moments with this fish as it caught up on a snag of some sort for a moment or two but luck was on my side and it came free before beating me up for a few more minutes, not helped by me purposely going easy just in case the line had been damaged by the unseen obstruction. This wasn't far from being the twin of the first fish but in fact it was a tad heavier at 11lb 15oz and as it turned out I was right to go easy on the fight as the 12lb mainline was badly shredded. Like I said, she really is one hell of an unforgiving river.

11lb 15

That was my signal to pack up happy, I was just about dead on my feet not to mention being in great danger of being eaten alive by hoards of horrible black slugs too, another hour in that spot and all that would be left of me in the morning would be a pile of slimed up clothes!

I returned for two more sessions in the following couple of weeks, once again life had caught up with me as seems to be the way this year and I was really struggling to get stuck in to a serious bit of campaign fishing. One more small barbel came to the net along with several more bream, typical of those sessions of a few years back and the river level was similar too with no sign of any much needed rain to gee things up. My last visit was three weeks ago, I found myself with a bit of free time at the last minute and decided that was the place to be, it wasn't. This time I went equipped for a full night session and dropped into a new swim much further upstream though in all honesty it really did look lacking in flow. The night passed with only bream to show for my efforts and I headed off home and then to work as usual the next morning. It was only when I got back home that evening that I spotted the great big oil stains all over my drive and took a look under the van to see a hoofing great dent in the sump. It was only then that I remembered that unusual bump that I had felt when driving down the track the night before, captain disaster strikes again.


  1. Can I have my rig back please :o)

    An epic tale with a great conclusion, well done on your brace. The Trent must be the best barbel river in the country by far. Shame about the sump though.

    1. No!

      Cheers Dave ;) How you doing mate? I'm afraid my reading is as far behind as my blogging this year has been daft I'll be glad to see the snow!

    2. You've missed nothing on my blog, its been an odd year with few fish. No matter, there's always that next trip :o)

    3. The longer the wait the better the reward Dave ;)