Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Underwater barbel and the realities of big bream fishing

river derwent barbel swims
X marks the spot
Back in the autumn of 2013 I received an email from a lad called Jack Perks (check out Jacks website here - click me) who wanted to know if it would be possible to use our club water on the River Soar to film zander underwater. My response was that he could try but I didn't fancy his chances one bit. The species are far from thick on the ground in our area and add the generally low visibility and you have a needle in a haystack scenario. Ok, next question, did I know anywhere suitable for filming barbel? Now we were getting somewhere. One swim on the Derwent in particular came to mind immediately and I would be more than happy to help Jack get the footage he needed. Mother nature then did what she does best and threw in a curve ball, the rains came and the limited window of opportunity before winter set in was lost.

In all honesty I had pretty much forgotten the matter until Jack got in touch this summer and asked if I was still up for it, too right I was! I knew that the river was in probably in as good a condition for the task as we were likely to find as it had been very low all season and so with no time like the present I arranged to pick Jack up the following week.

My description to Jack of the area that I had in mind was that it was maybe three feet deep in a fairly fast flow but that it had a lovely clear patch of gravel that the barbel liked to move over. He was considering just bringing along chest waders but I suggested that the wetsuit would be a safer bet just in case. Well after suiting up bankside and negotiating the steep slope to the waters edge Jack slipped into the water which was maybe waist deep in the edge, hmm, I didn't think it was that deep. A bit further out and he started to experience quite a bit of water pressure making movement tricky. By the time he got to my "three foot" spot he was almost up to his neck! Oh dear, I was starting to feel a bit guilty at this stage, the initial plan of holding a camera out in the river attached to a pole was a non starter due to the flow and if Jack lowered his GoPro's down to the river bed by hand as he had expected to he would never get them out again, time for a rethink.

Fortunately I can't claim that I keep my van in a condition of great tidiness, to say the very least, and so it was with some almost expected luck that a rummage found a bag of Trent feeders within which was a spool of 20lb line, as you might expect! Back at the river I secured the line to each of the two cameras with a triple quadruple grinner knot and prayed that nothing would go amiss. Daunting stuff indeed this filming lark, I'm not sure that I would be brave enough to lower a few hundred quid of my own hard earned into the drink to be honest. Jack once again ventured out into the river and one by one positioned the cameras as best he could, hoping that they remained upright and pointing in the right direction while I secured the mono back on the bank. All we could do then is introduce a bit of bait and wait. Jack told me that the battery life of the GoPro is temperature dependent but typically seventy minutes and so we would give it a bit beyond that before retrieving them. He also pointed out that what to me was gin clear water wasn't necessarily so when viewed from below. Small suspended particles catching light coming from above can give a much murkier effect that when seen from the bank. In short much of what we were doing was down to chance, and worse still we wouldn't know the results until the film was uploaded later in the day. I was starting to form the impression that being a wildlife photographer could easily drive you insane. What I did know was that the barbel came through the swim, I spotted fish on a couple of occasions as I lay peering into the river, whether they passed in front of either camera I could only speculate about.

I was kept in suspense for a few more hours but later that day I got an email containing a couple of still shots, yes, we'd cracked it! Look out for the full film which is due to be released around April time of next year. Meanwhile check this out.

And so on to bream. They are one species that I have spent very little time pursuing over the years and I had made my mind up that this year I would dedicate autumn to them. I have a water on my doorstep, namely Swithland reservoir, with great pedigree, in fact at one time it held the British record, yet I had never previously considered having a go at the slabs. The place is hard, very bloody hard, but that I can cope with so long as I know the rewards are there if it comes together and I had got myself organised throughout the summer ready to get stuck in. I had even crossed a line that I never thought I would and invested in a bait boat. If I had a pound for every time I have cursed those things over the years, but the fact is that without one I would be fishing with one hand behind my back and when the odds are very much stacked against you anyway that would be a bad start.

And so when September rolled in I got started and the truth be known I loved it. Fishing the reservoir isn't simple. When the water is full there are very few swims but it was dropping by the time I made my first trip, although that gives you space it also leaves you fishing in the mud and sand littered with rocks and boulders just waiting to bust your ankle.

Swithland reservoir bream fishing
Walking on the moon
At it's best you have peace and solitude the likes of which you don't find on many waters nowadays, if the coin lands on the other side you have an endless stream of local youths arriving by car causing all sorts of noise, rubbish and aggravation.

Simply glorious
Bream wise typically it seems to produce a few either side of ten fish per year in total, when full and including both the top and bottom lakes it is in the region of 160 acres in size. The two parts are separated by an overspill but when at full capacity that is submerged so that fish could easily be in either side yet the top lake would be nigh on impossible to bream fish. Along with less than a handful of fishable swims it is shallow and absolutely loaded with bird life which would be on the bait in an instance. The crux of the matter is that you have to get in a mindset that you are just going to be spending a lot of time there with no sign of fish whatsoever and so you need to be in the right mindset and I thought I had that pretty much sorted. I had rigged the van up so that much of the essential kit was in there permanently and I just had to chuck in the rods and rucksack.

As it turns out I made one big mistake, I just wasn't realistic about how much time I was going to have available. Trying to do two jobs at once, as I was had ended up doing for the second half of the year, threw a big spanner in the works and yet another dose of mystery illness sealed the job. At best I could only manage the odd night and that's no way to tackle a venue like that, you need to give it your all. I did a measly five night sessions and then had to face facts and leave it alone. That's something of a first for me and it stung a bit to be honest but it was the right thing to do, I've winged it plenty when it comes to being responsible about work in the past but it would have been wrong to do it this time.

Bream hound on watch
So what did I miss out on? Well as far as I'm aware the grand total number of bream landed this year was seven, caught over a period of about ten days, nothing before or after, rock hard fishing indeed. Even if I had spent dozens of nights in their pursuit, as some do, there was certainly no guarantee that a chance would have come my way, that is simply the nature of the beast.

Consolation prize


  1. I thought I was the only one that was bad at judging the depth of water, just as well he was keen! Ill keep an eye out for the finished product next year

  2. Err, all barbel are underwater, well, the live ones are anyway :o)

    Big bream fishing on big waters eh? That's the long haul if ever there was one and I wish you all the luck possible for your quest. If you get a result you will be doing cartwheels, if you fail then you may be talking to the trees. I fall in the 'life's too short' school of thought when it comes to bream.

    Have a successful and healthy '15.

    1. Er, yeah, good point!

      Whether or not I return to the res next autumn I don't know mate, possibly not as i have somewhere else lined up that isn't quite so silly but we'll see, it's certainly a lovely place to blank :)

      All the best Dave, hope you're string gets pulled aplenty next year