Friday, 2 January 2015

Back to the barbel - A tale of three rivers

It's fair to say that over the years I have pretty much ignored barbel during the colder months which is to some extent a bit odd as without a doubt the species is at its very best weight wise once summer is past. The thing is that although I do class myself as a specimen angler weight is not, and never will be, the full story when it comes down to my enjoyment of angling. There is nothing I love more than watching fish feeding around my baited rig, it is angling at its most intense. Throw a beautiful stretch of secluded river and a handful of hard fighting barbel into the equation and you have my kind of barbel fishing, pure heaven. However this year I decided that I would change things and when suitable conditions arrived I would have a crack at a whiskers or two during the colder months. Too many times in the past I've stubbornly ignored what I knew well to be perfect barbel weather as I had my heart set on other species, and after all a break from the routine to try something different makes fishing so much more enjoyable.

I rarely barbel fish the Soar nowadays, in fact I don't fish the river much at all, but I did see an opportunity to have a little go, especially as it would conveniently fit in with the short amount of time I had available. The Soar barbel have been in decline for a few years now which seems to be due to a combination of the existing stock being mostly old fish and them not spawning successfully. A worrying situation which may be due to a number of different factors but thankfully we have just received an additional boost in the form of a thousand juvenile fish from the Environment Agency so hopefully the future is bright.
The Soar in all its glory
For seven days I baited two swims while out bailiffing, each spot was given twenty five Code Red boilies per night. I then had three chances to reap the rewards and fortunately this coincided with a bit of rain to freshen things up which was a bonus. My first attempt was in the furthest swim downstream, there being maybe two hundred yards between the two. The rod tips were knocking virtually straight away and pretty soon the first fish slipped up though a bream wasn't really what I had in mind. Two more bream plus a chub followed before the evening was out.

One of two 5lb+ chub in three trips
With a shoal of bream obviously resident I decided to leave that area alone and concentrate on the upstream spot. It didn't take long to get a bite in that swim either, quite obviously the prebait had worked well. This time a 5lb chub was first to the next followed an hour later by another one which did make me wonder how many boilies they had devoured over the previous days.

Battered fish?
But then the rod hooped over for a third time and this fish pulled back a bit more than a chub and I was chuffed to see a barbel pop up in the margins. Not a big fish by any means but certainly a result and the result of a plan working which is always nice. My third and final short session once again produced chub and a solitary bream, maybe with more time and persistence I could have picked up another barbel who knows.

Soar barbel
Early November saw the skies open properly, time to break out the big guns and head for the Trent. It was with some trepidation that I drove down the narrow track that led to the river as I knew that the water must be approaching the top of the bank and the adjacent parking area. I have finally started to make a note of water level data pulled from the Environment Agency website so that I have a reasonable idea of what to expect. Previously I have managed to remember information for a particular venue once stuck into a bit of a campaign but when I move on that memory tends to be lost which is a bit daft, An app on my phone now lets me make a quick entry along with a photo for reference if I feel the need, I can then look back at the list when needed. Fortunately there was a good eighteen inches of clearance so I noted that down and as the Environment Agency website had already shown that the water was slowly receding I could leave the van safe in the knowledge that it wouldn't be floating past me later!

I loaded up and started to head down river but came to an abrupt halt when I found that the river had breached into the field creating a band of water too wide to jump and too deep to wade. Fortunately my waders are usually left hanging up in the van and so after a brief delay I was soon back on my way. A brief recce gave me three possible swims to go at, each one defined by a bankside feature which diverted the considerable flow slightly hence causing a crease and allowing any resident fish some respite from the full force and whilst also allowing me to hold a rig in position without the addition of a breeze block. I plumped for a spot where a slight protrusion in the bank formed a small bay which was lined with trees, space was tight and so I would leave the second rod in the quiver, one bait in the right place is good enough and certainly better than choosing another swim just so that you can get a second bait out.

My initial cast into a new swim is always done with no hooklink attached, firstly to establish if any snags are present and secondly as I tend to use a number of quick initial casts of a feeder to get some bait onto the river bed and I find it easier without a hooklink. A few underarm swings came back clean and so I clipped on a 4oz feeder and made four quick casts loaded with dampened pellet just to get a bit of smell down there. I then switched back to a grippa lead around which I was going to mould some paste.

One thing I have been doing a bit this year is sticking a small bright "sight blob", for want of a better word, on top of the hair rigged boilie. Carp anglers have been doing this for donkeys years so why not barbel? Apart from giving a visual target at the hookbait by using a buoyant tippet you can just balance out the weight of the hook a little bit. How that works in a strong flow is a matter for speculation but what I do know is that it certainly doesn't do any harm and I have caught plenty of fish using the method. A tiny yellow pineapple dumbell sat nicely in top of the 16mm hookbait.

Two hours of gazing at the isotope for only a couple of very slight knocks had me starting to wonder if I was in the right spot but, as often seems to be the case, just as my concentration started to wane the rod walloped over and the clutch started to squeal before I knew what was going on. The fight was a bit hairly to say the least. Semi submerged treeline to the right and a great wad of bankside foliage directly in front of me along with a bush to the left gave little room for manoeuvre. Throw an angry Trent and an angrier barbel into the mix and you have fun and games but that's why we go fishing isn't it, great sport. With a bit of luck and a lot of persuasion I managed to bundle the fish into the net where it was left for five minutes to give us both a breather, this floodwater lark certainly gets the adrenalin going.

Double trouble
The next week I fancied a bit of chubbing and with the Derwent fining off nicely it seemed that the time was right. Arriving just before dark I settled in to one of my old favourite swims, with rain forcast I didn't feel like roving on this trip so it was brolly up and get comfortable. Half a dozen lumps of paste were dropped into midstream fifteen yards upstream and the same number ten yards downstream towards an overhanging tree. As a rule I prefer to fish the upstream area in that swim and watch for dropback bites but the river was holding a little bit more water than I had bargained for and my first cast showed that it was still carrying a bit of debris that was a nuisance so I made my next cast towards the tree. After a couple of minutes the tip jabbed around sharply and my strike met solid resistance, too solid I thought. I had encountered a snag in that area during the previous winter and I had it in mind that the flow had carried my light link ledger closer to the bank than I had thought hence hitting the snag. A bit of heaving seemed to get things moving slightly and I eased the dead weight up towards my position before it ground to a halt right in front of me. This time I couldn't feel any movement whatsoever and so after a minute or so I had a little prod around with the landing net handle though it didn't seem to reach the right area. I was just pondering my next move when I felt the rod pull down and all of a sudden I was backwinding, oh hello! For the next ten minute my eleven foot quiver tip rod was put through its paces good and proper as what was obviously a barbel gave me the run around in the pacey swim. Every time I thought I was making headway more line would be taken. With a 5lb hooklink and the light rod there was only so much pressure that I could apply but eventually the swirls on the surface became more frequent and then this great big golden flank appeared in the light of my headtorch, it certainly looked to be a good old lump of fish. Amazingly it fitted quite comfortably in my chub sized landing net and as I secured the net with a bankstick I took a second to have a proper look, it was definitely a good double. Once the camera and weighing kit was set up ready to go I went to retrieve the fish and only then got a proper feeling for it's weight, this was getting interesting. The scales made it 13lb 6oz, my biggest from the Derwent and a right old result made especially interesting on that relatively light tackle.

Fat as butter
With the fish returned I finally sat down and made another cast. Again it was only a matter of minutes before the rod bent around and I was in again, and it was soon evident that it was another barbel! This fight wasn't quite so one sided and before long another whiskered warrior was sitting in the mesh, this one being about half the size of the first. I should have gone barbelling! The intended species finally got chance to have a bite to eat a little while later and at 5lb on the nose it wasn't a bad fish either. All in all a very enjoyable three hours fishing.

As you may have noticed I had been having some camera trouble, it was taking ages to save each image and so totally screwing up my self take system. After messing around with all of the settings I had just about come to the conclusion that the camera was kaput which was all of the incentive I needed to splash out on a new one that I had been eyeing up for a while, a Canon G1X. Not long after my new toy arrived a thought struck me, maybe it was the memory card, ooops! One new sd card later and I now own two cameras, erm, I better hide one of them quick I think! 


  1. Well done on those Barbel and Chub, that 13 is especially great - such a pristine fish and it looks fat!

    1. Yeah it was in great nick mate, probably nearer 11 than 13 early season