Obviously one cannot state this as a positive rule as every season varies, and barbel tend to roam a bit at any time of year, and I must admit that I have had good early season catches in past years, but one’s views change as life passes . There are also tench and carp to consider as early season quarry, and sometimes, although it becomes less so every year, summer salmon and grilse can be a genuine occupation for June and July.
Perhaps it is general, but so far I have found the barbel hard to catch this season everywhere. Perhaps it is more of a truism to say they are hard to find as the rivers have altered so much during the great winter floods. We found it so as we started our barbel fishing, when, as Kay and I have done for the last four years, at the beginning of August we popped up to the Midlands to have three days (half days) fishing with our barbel fanatic friend, Ken Clower, who I purposely call, "The Wizard of the Trent", as apart from being a brilliant barbel angler, he and family friends have an association with the famous barbel angler F.W.K.Wallis, and older readers will certainly know of Wallis, one time holder of the barbel record, and his named rod, the "Wallis Wizard"
Yes, the three days were harder fishing than usual, and even Ken and his pal George struggled to produce barbel on the first day. George looks after Kay by providing her with his three allowable day tickets, and although he caught a number of chub, no barbel! Ken got one and some chub. Kay and I failed miserably as we were in a very snaggy swim and the two I hooked found trouble, but I did get the hooks back. Kay’s only fish was lost when her hook-length severed on a lump of metal, or something equally sharp as it was a clean cut, but on our next afternoon Kay and George both had a couple, Ken had half a dozen, but I never had a bite. Thankfully Ken put me in a good swim for our third afternoon where I regained my confidence with 7 barbel, the best two going 9lb. and 10lb.4oz. Ken had 2, one was an 8 pounder, George 2 chub, and poor Kay had 2 barbel fall off the hooks, which doesn’t often happen with barbel.
The foregoing is boring to read, but the last bit about a couple of barbel chucking the hook leads nicely into my first barbel trip to the Dorset Avon. I still want to call it the ‘Hampshire Avon’.
Although I use various ways of attaching a hook-bait, when I want to use something soft I still prefer to use a large hook, and mould the bait around it, or threadle the hook through with luncheon meat, sausage, and the like. If you get a pull with a big hook in a large bait, it’s almost impossible to miss on the strike, providing the fish has a large enough mouth to engulf it. I was getting short of large hooks, having used them for altering hooks on spinners and etc., so I had a search through my old salmon fly hooks and found a dozen that had a nice bend, with medium shanks, (salmon hooks are often long in the shank) small barb, and a tight straight eye. I checked the points. They were extremely sharp. Perfect!
When I arrived at my chosen swim it had looked OK from a distance, but how the floods of winter had changed it. There was still plenty of weed, and still a good run between the weed and the bank, but I could see very little gravel, and it appeared that there were large rocks on the bed of the river, well out from the bank. They were large chunks of the bank that had broken away, probably of a clay nature, as they never seem to wash away from where it has happened in past floods. However, beyond the ‘rocks’ the bed appeared clear, not clean gravel but it still looked worth a try, and I have caught some good barbel from the swim in past years.
I started with maggots, but not for long. Each time I checked the bait the maggots were sucked dry from small leaches. These were grey, about the length of a maggot, and there were a few white ones that looked like maggots. I assumed that the loose feed would be suffering the same fate. I changed to casters, which came back as shells, also sucked dry. In all my years of fishing I have never come across anything like it before, and all the anglers I have asked have never heard of such a thing. Anybody out there know anything about it?
On went a large hook and a large lump of meat and thankfully the leaches left it alone. They must require live food. It was a long wait, but eventually the rod was pulled over, quite slowly for a barbel bite, and I hooked what was obviously a large fish. It cruised ponderously towards the weed, then under the weed, and having moved downstream a bit I put on some pressure and out came the hook. I cursed as it was a big fish, but, "Ah well", just one of those things! The hook was still very sharp, but no more bites.
My next trip was as a guest on the Kennet. I thought I would try a lump of meat so on went the big hook, but the crayfish were whittling the meat down so fast that I soon gave up, and changed hooks to bait with something much harder. I use hook-links and link-swivels and so lazily dropped the large hook in a box to tidy up when I got home. I did get a barbel, and so did my host, but usually we get a few, so perhaps it’s hard on the Kennet too this year.
When I got home, cleaned up and tidied the tackle, I was about to wind the large hook around its rig board when I swore somewhat. I noticed that this particular hook was somewhat different, and the difference had probably cost me a good barbel on the Avon. The barb was cut the wrong way!!?? Instead of preventing the hook coming adrift, the barb had prevented the hook penetrating. All the other hooks, including the one I had checked when I found the pattern, were correctly cut, but the one I had unfortunately used was a duff one. In forty years in the fishing tackle trade I had never seen similar, and yet, when I checked other large hooks that I had, I found another one, but this time a different pattern with a turned down eye. In future I really must wear my glasses when looking at hooks, rather than just feeling the point for sharpness.
After the Kennet trip, two other days in August were on the Avon. The first day took me to a swim where I found some barbel, but thought I was losing my touch as they were knocking my big baits, but I could not get a good enough pull to hook them. Having decided to fish it again with maggots and casters, (I couldn’t get any casters) I turned up with plenty of maggots but the swim was occupied. I tried a couple of other swims but no barbel, although one swim I was shown, (anglers are kind to geriatrics) produced a chub in excess of five pounds.
The next session, after several moves, did find me a barbel, but more of that later.
No fishing for five days until September 4th., which found me back in the swim where I had seen the barbel but could not catch them. An angler told me that others had fished it hard and taken one or two fish to over 9lb. No wonder they were hard. I tried several things and had knocks, fish that wanted the bait but were very shy, and was about to change from paste when I had a little pull, rather than a knock, so I decided to stick with the paste. Within an hour I hooked a fish that made me wonder if it was a barbel. It hammered off downstream at a great rate of knots, passing all the weedbeds that I had thought a hooked fish would plough into, only stopping some 40yds. below me. I fished this swim with the knowledge that a fish would be difficult to land, but by passing the rod around three trees I could get to the next swim about 20yds. down, then no further, but from there should be able to extract any weeded fish. Was I wrong? This fish had not stopped despite tremendous pressure, as I do play hard. I gained some line but was at stalemate when an angler turned up, weighed up the situation from his perspective, and suggested that I could get the line OVER a further three or four trees. I must admit that I had not thought of trying that. Age must be catching up with me as I have passed my rod over small trees many times, and doubtless written about it. Being short doesn’t help one look upwards in situations I guess, but as the chap was a lot taller than me I gave him the rod, and he got the line over easily. They were pollarded willows and although growing well, the branches were soft through which the line passed. I thanked him profusely as it was then an easy job for me to play out the fish. My new- found friend then had the job of weighing the fish to save me searching for my glasses, and he took my picture.
I would probably have got the fish out eventually but if I had used my brain I should have looked at the height of the trees. The barbel was 11lb.12oz.
Another angler came to chat and while he was with me I got another barbel that I recognised as the one I had caught five days earlier, as it was deformed. It was probably some electro-netting that had caused it, and it was easily remembered, but more interesting was that only five days earlier I had caught the same fish about 1.5 miles downstream.
I was going to pack up in order to be off the river at the prerequisite hour after sunset, when the angler chatting to me informed me that as it was now September we could stay for two hours after sunset. What would you do? I had caught a couple of barbel where they were hard in the last hour, so of course I stayed. About ten minutes after I would normally have left the river, over went the rod, and my third fish was being bullied hard in the poor light of late dusk. That was a fat and perfect looking barbel in tip-top condition that did not look if it had seen a hook for a very long time, if at all. It was 11lb.4oz.
In reality I can probably thank the angler who helped me over the trees for the first barbel, (he also took a picture of the second double for me) and I can certainly thank the other chap for the second 11 pounder, as I would have gone home before it took the bait if he had not told me about the ruling relating to September and sunset. Now I need to find some new swims for the autumn. Oh! I also managed to catch half a dozen salmon during August, and plenty of trout. For the best salmon I can thank a friend of the editor of this website. He spotted it, and I caught it and returned it the next day. In case he is interested here is a picture. Thanks mates!
Tom Saville thinks the 'leaches' that were attacking my maggots on the Avon were platyhelminths, which are like nematode worms. Tom studied zoology at Manchester University and gained a Bsc.