I have often thought myself and Barbus barbus are like two positively charged ions, we seem to repel one another! After a few fruitless forays and a shove by a good friend in the right direction I think I might be becoming a bit more of a negative in this dynamic, and in doing so me and my old adversary might actually seem to be a little more attracted to each other. Not that I was never attracted to them, more that anything that could go wrong, would go wrong when I tried to catch one.
My first session on this venue was disaster, my second was somewhat less so; on that second session I did at least come in contact with a barbel if only briefly... In an awkward swim where the best place to cast was just out of reach I persevered fishing a small mat formed around a trailing willow branch, and after numerous chub-like rattles on the rod tip I got the now sacred three foot twitch. After hitting and holding, the fish swung quickly out into the flow and then equally quickly back, ending up well and truly stuck in snag. I will go on record as saying this was the sweetest lost fish I have ever had in my life as after trying every trick I know, from slackening off, changing the angle and trying to pull through, the dull thumping on the end of my line stopped. I hate having that feeling that I have left a fish possibly tethered and would rather never catch another fish in my life than leave one caught up. With great sorrow I concluded my only option was to pull for the break and hope that my free running rig would drop off the soon to be broken line.
The one thing I did discover in this crappy situation was how good the integrity of my rig was, when the drooping willow branch soon started to move under the strain of my locked up clutch. Then low and behold, the lead appeared followed by my hook link. The joy at finding the fish had got off in the snag was what made that loss so sweet, and soon enough an ounce an half of lead flying through the air had me diving into the undergrowth.
My next session I fished a recently vacated swim down stream of the snag swim. I knew there was fish in the area as Baz had landed four from the every swim earlier in the afternoon. Knots checked, I cast out towards the opposite bank and waited. It's hard to sit on your hands when some very determined chub are plucking your pellets so hard that you're getting bites that would normally be manna in the winter. But hard as it was I waited and sure enough after a while the rod buckled over as a barbel turned off bait in mouth.
Personally I feel that in the first few moments of a barbel fight you can never know how big a barbel is, as they all go like stink on that savage first run and this one was no different. With my rod held low and maximum pressure, that first run was subdued and a sprightly spirited barbel came out into the safety of the main flow. Truthfully I could not have cared if it was three or thirteen pounds as it crossed the net because for me, getting that barbel jinx off my back is the hardest thing every year. It did turn out to only be a little one but I can truthfully say it was one of the most satisfying.
After that first one I didn't have to wait long for the next bite either, though how I turned a proper 'fish on' bite into striking into thin air I don't know. That didn't matter as my next cast again hit that sweet spot a foot off the willow leaves, and my third bite came moments later from a powerful near six pound fish which took me on a merry dance around the swim.
Whether six fish out of the same swim in one day was too much pressure or whether the fish actually came out of the snag and into open water as dark fell, I couldn't say, but weirdly the activity dropped off as the bats appeared in the night sky. I did not care at all as the monkey was well and truly off my back and I could now start enjoying my barbel fishing properly.
If I wasn't keen enough to return a few days later I nearly boiled over when a couple of decent downpours topped up the river. After watching a small spike appear on the Environment agency graph it looked like the Avon might for once be in the right condition when I arrived.
When I first saw the river in the half light I could just see the normally highly visible fronds of weed were at least half obscured by the clearing water, as I headed back to the previously highly productive area. Sadly though after an hour and a half of perseverance I had only had a few lack lustre chub nibbles. Not wanting to waste good time in a swim which I was convinced should have produced quite quickly, I upped sticks to fish another swim I had my eye on.
With my bait comfortably cast to an over hanging tree on the inside edge I thought it might take a while for a bite to emerge, so I set about knocking up a few more PVA bags of pellets. Yes and you've guessed it, the moment I began twisting that first bag ready for knotting, the rod was rammed around. I wasn't sure if it was a mad-ass chub or a barbel as the bite was so vicious, but the initial fight was not too savage. Then as the fish vibrated upstream the line fell slack. Undeterred I quickly finished making a few bags before recasting, but no others materialised.
Now I found myself in a quandary; should I stick it out in a known hot spot or take my chances upstream in the shallow but coloured water? A week prior to this I had walked all through the shallows checking out possible holes to fish, and save a few blasé chub and pike it seemed rather lifeless, but I knew some of the snags held barbel and this colour might have inclined them from there hidey holes. This might be my best opportunity to take advantage of the coloured water. So I took a chance and went off to search them out rather than wait for them to find me.
I ended up fishing a jungle of a swim I had clocked out the previous week. The main flow of the river gets channelled into a rip right down the centre of the river by a jutting reed bed on which I was sat and a very extensive bit of cover on the opposite bank. At the start of the over hanging willow was very shallow but from what I had seen previously it deepened off under the cover and ended in a big slack behind it.
The river here is so narrow I could just about swing my rig into place and almost cushion its landing as it went in, it was that close. In a way its an awkward swim to fish with extra water in the river, as my line was cutting straight through the main flow and my bait had ended up just at the end of the cover on the crease formed by the fast water and the slack meeting. My hope was that any of the fish that I assumed normally were tight under cover might be either out in the deeper water, or may move in and out of it looking for passing food in the faster water.
There was certainly some small fish topping in the eddy behind the trees and they were even quite interested in my baits initially, but soon enough all went quiet. The rig was holding so rather than recast I held fast and waited. After about half an hour my phone rang and it turned out to be one of my little brothers calling for a chat. I automatically use my left hand to hold my phone when I am fishing and thank god I do as a few minutes into our conversation my rod jumped forward a foot as an attached barbel dived under the cover. Squealing like a little girl that I had a fish on and would call him back, I tossed my phone over my shoulder hopefully onto the ground and applied maximum pressure to try and extract the fish from under the willows.
Finally after a real tug of war, I spotted a flash of colour at the edge of the over hanging trees before I watched the vague shape of a barbel glide out into the main flow then dive back towards the cover, stripping line off my reel. This turned out to be this fishes major tactic. Three or four more times it did the same before settling deep down in the main current just holding head down. Careful patience won the day though and a big rubbery mouth soon appeared just off my waiting net.
With the fish safe and recuperating in a convenient notch in the reeds I went about looking for my abandoned phone, which I found standing straight up in the mud and still saying I was still on the line with my brother. After establishing he had long rung off I began trying to calm down and get everything in place to sort the fish out. She certainly had recovered and was a little lively to say the least. But lucky for me I had my Korum sling mat with me all wet and ready to cradle her.
I was well over the moon to catch such a lovely lump of a fish from such a tiny and intimate swim. She even acquitted her self amiably whilst I carefully did some self takes before holding her in the flow and watching her slide across the flow back under the trees into her snaggy home.