Anyone who reads my merry little blog will probably already know this, but for those who don't I will repeat it again to fill you in: of all the species of fish that swim in British waters and of all those which I angle after, my big time bogey fish is the barbel. I don't know what it is about them and me that doesn't go well together, but the fact is that we do not seem to mesh well at all. The list of incidents is far too long and torrid to go into, needless to say I often get the feeling it would be easier for me to try and catch burbot rather than a barbel.
This year I even took a membership for a club who have the rights to quite a large amount of the river Avon local to me which has a decent reputation for barbel, in order to maximise the time I could spend on the bank. I have intermittently been visiting the water here and there since the season began in order to try and get to know it in earnest for an autumn barbel campaign. This itself has not been without tribulations.
When I first ventured there early in the season for a probing session the conditions were perfect for fishing, but I was fishing blind in unknown water. My next foray saw me land two small chub before having a confusing run in with a barbel on a clearing river. Next time I went, I crept into a prime spot and began baiting the swim to try and pull them out of a snag and feeding. As I waited, I saw another angler approaching looking a bit peeved. Turned out there was a match on and I was in his swim. Even though the club match planner stated the match was on a different stretch of river it turned out they had claimed the full hundred and twenty pegs so as sixteen blokes could have a match. I was promptly shooed away before the lynch mob got hold of me. Things had not started well, but undeterred I was ready to go back for a session even though the Avon, like many rivers, is currently clear as glass and two feet down.
My previous visit saw me baiting a swim recommended to me by others as a barbel banker. The flow compresses into a run which emanates at the head of the swim to my right. Starting right under my feet and continuing down stream was a deep slack. The combination of these two totally different bits of water formed a crease which runs directly under a deep sanctuary of a willow where the barbel and chub supposedly hide out.
Knowing full and well I was going to have to tread very carefully here with the river being so low, I decided to a gentle approach would be the best option. No big leads here! A simple running rig with a 18" combi rig hook link. Few few inches of camo braid and the rest made up of 12lb camo soft steel. I wanted to be able to flick the rig in alongside the willow and for the flow to pull it under the snag. So I used the very smallest lead which would allow the flow to move it into the crease, where it should stop with the dissipating flow and leave my 10mm pellet amongst the loose bed of bait.
The other thing I had decided prior to even going, was to keep well off the pallets which the club have installed for comfort of their members. So I sat right back tight against and patch of stinging nettles to keep my presence well hidden. I was so far back in fact that my rod tip was probably where most anglers fishing this swim would normally sit.
I dared not crash a bait dropper into the swim, and not wanting to make any disturbance with any big items like PVA bags, I fed the swim gently, one small pouch of hemp and pellets at a time, into the crease well above where I was fishing. This I hoped would stir the chub into movement and hopefully spur any barbel along too.
It had all gone well and I got that distinct feeling you get that sooner of later that tip would bend round. Regularly the bait went in and the small fish I could see were enjoying the bounty. After carefully loading the catapult to again I took aim and launched another helping of freebies into the head of the swim. Instantly the tip hooped round and somehow I got my hand on the rod to strike into thin air. It must have been a fish ether moving through the water intercepting falling bait or something spooked by the sound. Ether way I got the feeling that it may of been detrimental to my cause.
I carried on for a further three hours, but the day had grown much lighter and my tip had remained motionless. Though before moving off I had a quick cast with a worm. As the slack water under the willow screamed perch. Even using a barbel rig minus its lead, my free lined worm attracted the attentions of a one pound perch first cast. This was something well worth remembering when I return with my lighter chub outfit later in the year.
I walked the entire stretch making mental notes of any depressions, gravel runs and deep holes for when the water is coloured. One thing that struck me was the distinct lack of fish. Not one chub was sighted slinking away and no minnows or roach held in the edges, nothing!
Heading down the stretch I made my way to a swim where I had spotted a shoal of chub on my last visit. Now I say swim in the loosest possible reference. As this was little more than a hole on the bank side vegetation. I do not know what anyone else calls it, but I call it the jungle.
You can barely poke a rod in and can certainly only lift it enough to strike, but the swim contained fish and I was getting a little desperate. And although chub were not what I hoped for, a tussle in the undergrowth would no doubt satisfy me today.
I watched between twenty and thirty chub drifting in and out of the dense snag for half an hour before I crept in with a baited rod. After waiting for a gap in the fish I swung a worm out into a clearing on their patrol route before slipping back away from the bank. The first pod of chub swung round in front of me and the head fish dipped towards the bait, then shot off like a bullet scattering the rest. The next two lots ignored my bait totally. Thinking they were not seeing it, I next tried flicking the free lined worm in front of them. This proved exactly how twitchy they were. When fish flew in all directions when the worm sank before them.
After letting them settle again, I redeposited the worm tight to my own bank just within sight and sat back a to wait. I remember thinking at the time how could chub be so wary at this time of year, when in the winter they are, lets be honest mugs for any free food that lands in front of them.
Ages passed before they reappeared and shoal after shoal passed over my bait. Then as a shoal of six or more fair sized chub came into sight. A fish broke rank sank down and my bait was gone in one quick gulp.
My deft strike was met with sheer hell. Fish went in every possible direction and the hooked fish powered towards the snag as I pulled back. Then it did something I have never seen a chub do ever, and came flying out the water shaking its head. This was no chub! it was jack pike pretending to be a chub.
I can't for the life of me figure out why a little pike was hanging out with the chub or why they would feel comfortable in its company. But as green is green it was swimming amongst them and ate my worm fair and square.
After releasing that stunning fish I left feeling half dazed and perplexed. Why were all those chub so wary. The best I can come up with is fishing pressure combined with predators and clear water has resulted in them spending any day light time deep in the snags where it is safe. Needless to say I will be thinking twice about going back before it rains a bit and colours up the water. Or maybe I might even consider going burbot fishing instead.