Last year whilst grubbing around on the river I got chatting to an old guy - well I was chatting, he was moaning. Amongst his various gripes he mumbled the word carbeling, by which he was referring to when carp anglers, who normally spend their time pitched up for days on end next to some lake awaiting a pig of a carp, instead ply their carpy scaled down tactics to fishing for big barbel on non native rivers.
Hearing this made me realise that I could possibly coin a new phrase of my own for a technique I have been using for a good many years now.
Zarbeling ; To fish for zander using using barbel techniques and tackle.
I started doing this after what can be considered one of the most frustrating sessions ever. Whilst fishing a particularly coloured Avon on a mild February day with some very heavy cloud cover, my two bite alarms sounded all day with multiple enquiries, from what I was convinced were zander. Even low resistance rigs fished into the slack water using light set drop off indicators could not convert the initial enquiries into actual runs. Late in the day my riparian companion Rob rolled up to my swim, after spending the session quiver tipping for small fish down stream. After watching my bank side disco for a while he tied on a trace, cast out a dead bait, and lo and behold, he got a tiny bit of a bite which he converted into a nice zander.
This got me thinking that tip rods were the way forward for river zander fishing. On a lake or canal that has little or no flow you can leave the bail arm open on your reel with whatever bite indicator you favour attached, and have no problems.
The problem with rivers is the flow. To fish at all in the flow there is always an element of resistance/pressure on your rigs, and we all know zander hate both. Barbel rods offered both a sensitive quiver tip plus enough power to deal with the biggest zander you are likely to come across, and even with pike right up to 20lb should you be lucky enough to hook one. Rig wise I straight away began using a free running big barbel set up, just with a wire trace and trebles attached instead of a mono or braid hook link.
By holding the tension myself I could actually feel the fish move off, and I let it go on its merry way whilst keeping in touch with it. Once I had let it have what I thought was enough time to get the bait in its mouth, my sharp strike met with throbbing resistance.
This was a revelation! I now began converting probably 80% or more of the slight taps into landed fish and I have never looked back.
With this unnerving warm weather we are currently experiencing and my need to get back on running water, I wondered if a dusk zarbeling session might be the right way to go. With a fining down river with a healthy bit of colour and near double figure temperatures to boot, the conditions looked about spot on.
I could of just played it safe and gone chubbing on the upper Avon where I knew the fish were on the feed, and given my state Sunday morning after the bloggers winter watering the night before, that was nearly the case. But as I ummed and ahhed, mooching around the house, I came to the conclusion that another window like this in the weather might not be so forthcoming over the next few months, so I got my act together and headed out.
Anyone who fishes any busy town waters will fully understand what I mean when I say that I soon found myself sitting in that still strip of almost silent land between the bustling path populated by Sunday walkers and the ever moving river. I kind of love being in this place half between humanity and nature. You walk along that path to get where you're going, then step out of society slightly and begin to dabble with nature instead whilst all the other people still on the path are oblivious to things going on right beside them.
After sitting in silence staring skyward for the best part of an hour, I was beginning to think my gamble was going to end badly, and pangs of regret crept into my mind. Given the conditions I had hoped even during the daylight hours some interest might have been garnered, but not so much as a nod had occurred. Sure the plethora of rubbish still suspended in the water kept me busy recasting every now and again, but the feeling I was working for nothing had begun to undermine my confidence badly.
Then twang!!! It always amazes me that even after watching rod tips for hours as they move back and forth that we anglers can spot the difference between an rotten old leaf catching your line and the tiniest pluck of a fish. This was no leaf, bag or any other shite for that matter. It was one hundred percent a fish. Rod in hand I could feel a few more tiny tremors travelling back along the just taught line. Then it moved off and I tracked the fish through ninety degrees with the rod flicked of the baitrunner and as the line tightened I struck hard into a solid fish.
My decision to gamble on a zarbeling session had paid of with the capture of my first zander of the year, and at seven pounds plus it was a great first fish. As is so often the case on this busy bit of water, once that first bite was out the way it all kicked off. Two more smaller zander fell one after another before it quietened off for a while.
Vilified, my thoughts were pushing me away from the river and homeward. My hunger had become apparent, and the idea of the beef and ale pie I would soon be eating was betraying me. That was until one of my rod tips began bouncing around.
I have found when using this method of bite indication for predators that the difference between a zander and a pike bite is never more evident A zander nine times out of ten gives a single tap then unless line is given it will certainly drop the bait. A pike on the other hand nearly always indicates its presence in one of two ways: either the rod tip slowly bends over, then for some reason springs back before bouncing back and forth until you hit it; or it hammers off straight onto the bait runner just like a barbel. Either way the difference is obvious once you seen a few examples of each.
The first pike was tiny and no injustice was therefore felt when it got off. Only a short while after recasting onto the exact same spot, the next pike to pick up my bait really put a bend in my rod as it hung deep in the still powerful current.
Long and wide across the shoulders, this young lady has was well on her way to becoming a proper river pike. Like all the fish I caught on this short session she was solid. The fish, unlike us anglers, seem to have fared very well in the flooded conditions, and its nice to know that whilst we have been unable to fish, our quarry has been able to feed up in earnest for any cold weather ahead.