There is a tendency to believe many techniques available to the modern angler are recent innovations. In fact a little research will reveal that there is much to be learnt from our forefathers. Over the summer I quoted from the Compleat Angler to illustrate that in Isaac's day baits such as chopped worm and sophisticated pastes were the norm. Presenting cocktail baits, such as worm and caddis larvae was also recommended and Isaac even gave us his own version of boilies - a paste that he recommends be toughened up by being placed by a fire. (Does that make them 'bakies'?!)
As for techniques, again, some currently in vogue were first described generations ago. Take 'The Method' feeder, for example - such a technique ("A lump of ground bait as large as an orange should be squeezed round the lead") was described by Bernard Venables in 'Mr Crabtree goes Fishing', 50 years a go. And have a look at this passage, again from The Compleat Angler...
"And the Barbel will bite also at generals, which, not being too much scoured, but green, are a choice bait for him: and so is cheese, which is not to be too hard, but kept a day or two in a wet linen cloth, to make it tough; with this you may also bait the water a day or two before you fish for the Barbel, and be much the likelier to catch store; and if the cheese were laid in clarified honey a short time before, as namely, an hour or two, you were still the likelier to catch fish. Some have directed to cut the cheese into thin pieces, and toast it; and then tie it on the hook with fine silk."
So it looks like we can add pre-baiting campaigns and hair-rigs to our list of 'old' innovations. The above quotes from Bernard Venables and Isaac Walton were both, coincidentally, taken from chapters dealing with Barbel. Perhaps today's obsession with this species is also not such a 'new thing'.
Late summer is often regarded as the prime time for barbel - again Isaac was here first, confirming that angling for them was "choicely good in August". Thus, September saw me targeting my quarry in earnest. And with a singular lack of success!
On returning from the family holiday in Florida I managed 5 trips during the month. Alas ALL 3 of my evening/night trips to the Kennet drew a blank. A couple of these trips were to new venues/swims but still, in a total of 24 hours on the bank I think I registered a solitary bite - a pretty unedifying return.
Fishing at the weekends from the autumn onwards has to compete with football and I managed just 2 brief trotting sessions on a stretch of the middle Kennet. However they provided more than adequate compensations for my evening frustrations.
The first of these trips was a real 'Red Letter Day'. The bare facts are these; 6 hours fishing produced 14 chub between 2 and 5lb, 5 barbel between 3 and 5lb, a 1 lb perch and a couple of 1 lb brownies. Added to this were dozens of dace and roach, and a few grayling, salmon parr and gudgeon. All taken trotting maggot with my trusty centre-pin in fast streamy reaches. A 'bite a chuck' all session, it was sport of the highest order and a day I'll not forget in a hurry.
Needless to say I was back a week later. The sport for this return was less brisk but I was content enough to bring 5 chub to the net, the biggest an ounce under 4lb. The barbel, though, were conspicuous by their absence.
The first two weeks of October were unseasonably mild so the focus of my attentions was back to the barbel. In fact, as I write this in the closing days of the month, meteorologists are claiming it to be one of the warmest on record. Ideal barbel conditions, especially as some spells of rain have put a bit of colour back in the river. This was borne out by my first evening trip of the month which thankfully broke my run of blanks. Two barbel were banked, an 8lber was quickly followed by one half that size - and a splendid chub of five and a half pounds rounded off the session.
Ten days later, I returned to this swim for what has to be one of my best barbel sessions ever. Conditions were mild, in fact I'd go as far as saying it was warm - I was in shirt sleeves till mid-night and have the mosquito bites to prove it! The river was up a bit and fining down after rain earlier in the week - perfect. My confidence for a good session was sky high.
I arrived as it got dark and was settled into my swim by 19.30. Five minutes later I was slipping the net under a 6lb fish. This was quickly followed by a fish a pound heavier. Just 45 minutes later I quickly reacted to the gentlest of 'rustles' on the line and connected with an absolute lump. The fight was a long, slow, ponderous one; not at all like a barbel and for nearly 10 minutes the fish hugged the bottom - keeping me guessing. At last I had the fish up in the water and I picked it out by the light of my head-torch. I could see it was a barbel and easily a double. Netting it, I let it recover for a couple of minutes before unhooking and weighing it. 10lb 14oz - a new P.B. A quick photo and the fish was slipped back, with me grinning from ear to ear. Three fish in less than an hour; what a start!
Within 10 minutes of re-casting I was in again! A much more energetic battle resulted in an 8lb 9oz fish. And so it went on! The next hour produced another brace of 6lbers before things went quiet for a while. Over an hour without a bite and then another brace in quick succession; a 4lb fish was followed by another of 8lb; this fish putting up the biggest struggle of the night - it fought with sheer guile and tenacity, constantly plunging for the tree roots to the right and left of my swim. I often find these 7 and 8 lb fish put up the best scrap - younger, fitter fish perhaps?
That proved to be the final action of the evening and by 0100 I was letting myself, quietly, into the house, trying to be careful not to wake Jaq. Eight barbel in 5 hours fishing and a new PB, I couldn't have wished for anything better.
After such a session I was in the mood for some experimentation. Thus my final 'after dark' session of the month saw me back at Aldermaston where I'd blanked a month earlier. I've still to really get to grips with this water and so for this trip I planned to bait up a couple of swims, 50m apart, with hemp and pellet and alternate between the 2 of them.
Again I was settling in to my 1st swim as night fell and within 10 minutes of casting out my pellet bait, had connected with a long slow pull which I'd first assumed was debris on the line. From the fight this was obviously no barbel and within a couple of minutes I was slipping the net under a plump chub, a couple of ounces under 5lb.
An hour later and a switch of swims brought a sense of 'deja vu'. Exactly the same type of bite had a near identical result. Another chub, bigger than the first by some 10 ounces was quickly banked. A fine specimen without a mark on it. These Kennet chub are certainly getting bigger and this was my 5th of the season over the 5lb mark.
The next 3 hours were spent without a bite. Time was divided evenly between the two spots and I was just having one of those 'I'll give it 10 more minutes' thoughts when the rod was all but pulled out of my hands and the clutch screamed into life. I'd been 'stargazing' at the time and this explosion of energy at the end of my line jolted me back to earth. This was unmistakably a barbel. It steamed off diagonally across the current and it was a few seconds before I realised the clutch was set too light - I really had been dozing. Five minutes later, the line was retrieved, and the fish was beginning to tire after a terrific scrap. A long lean fish it looked bigger than the 8lb 12 oz it registered on my scales but it was a fine way to finish off the evening.