OK, so it is a bit of a generalisation. I am certain that it isn't the fact that it is Monday which is important, and I am sure it won't necessarily hold true for other rivers. However, by examining the potential reasons for this apparent bias it may help us to understand a little more about the behaviour of our quarry, and ultimately catch more of them.

Background

As a relative newcomer to barbel fishing, I found myself undergoing a baptism of fire last year, as a new job took me to within a short stroll of a well known stretch of one of Britain's best big fish rivers. The Hampshire Avon has long been renowned as a specimen hunter's paradise, with Ringwood and District Angling Club's day ticket Upper Severals fishery being one of the most well known stretches. The learning curve was steep - most of the guys I met on the bank were serious, dedicated anglers and as a result played their cards pretty close to their chests. That said, I wouldn't have had it any other way, and it was interesting to note that even experienced anglers were very set in their ways, apparently content to go through the "tried and trusted" motions rather than trying something new in an attempt to improve their catches.

For obvious reasons the "known hotspots" receive much of the angling pressure. Consequently most of the captures occur in the known swims, however this then becomes a catch 22 situation (sorry!). Further, because the most fished swims receive the most bait, the fish soon learn where they are most likely to get a feed. Of course, each time a fish is hooked in a particular swim the potential is there for the attraction of that area to be diminished. There are of course a variety of ways in which a fish can avoid being hooked, however on pressured river fisheries I think there are two that are particularly important.

Feeding elsewhere

On any stretch of river there are areas which receive more fishing pressure than others. By avoiding these areas altogether, a fish can substantially reduce its chances of being hooked. Of course there is a downside to this theory in that food availability is likely to be lower, or at least harder to get, in these relatively unfished areas, than in the areas which receive large helpings of feed on a regular basis.

Feeding at different times

Angling pressure is generally not normally distributed, but is focussed both towards particular times of the day (often evenings during the summer), and at weekends. Indeed, many clubs operate rules that preclude fishing during particular periods, usually at night. By feeding during those periods when anglers are not usually present, a fish can significantly reduce the likelihood of a trip to the bank.

The Obligatory Science Bit
As a fish ecologist, thinking like a fish (that's thinking, not drinking) goes with the territory, and when fishing a new venue for the first time I often try to let an understanding of the ecology of the target species dictate or at least influence my choice of tactics. For obvious reasons, being captured and killed by a predator is not a good thing for a fish. Similarly, death by starvation is to be avoided wherever possible. Consequently, over many years of natural selection, fish have evolved a range of behaviours which both reduce the likelihood of them being killed by predators, whilst maintaining their food intake at a level which will allow them to grow and ultimately reproduce. Scientific studies have shown that individual fish are capable of modifying their behaviour in response to negative stimuli, for example encounters with predators. Anglers are in many respects akin to predators and although, thankfully, most encounters that barbel have with anglers are non-fatal, the experience is still an undesirable one as far as the fish is concerned, and the potential for captures to result in modifications of behaviour is established. If my "feed elsewhere" or "feed at different times" theories are correct, then by modifying its behaviour slightly a fish can maximise its food intake, whilst minimising the chances of being hooked.

Formulating a Theory
The popular swims are popular because they hold barbel at certain times. The barbel are used to finding food in particular places, including the popular swims. By fishing the popular swims the day after they were fished (and therefore baited) some of the fish's natural caution should have been overcome. Further, most anglers upon arriving at a swim introduce bait, either by hand, or via a bait dropper. By approaching the swim with caution, and introducing little or no loose feed, any feeding barbel which are in the vicinity should soon find the hookbait. I have it on good authority that the majority of the barbel caught on this particular stretch of the Avon are caught during the hours of darkness. Any barbel that feeds during the evening in any of the popular swims, on food that has been recently introduced, is in with a good chance of feeling a hook. Conversely, any barbel which has modified its "normal" behaviour having been caught, and now feeds in the popular swims during the early hours of the morning, on bait which has been in the water for a number of hours, is fairly certain of getting a free meal. I decided that the best approach would be to fish popular swims, particularly those which I knew to have been fished recently, and to fish them at times of the day that the barbel would consider to be safe.

The Proof of the Theory is in the Catching
During July and August 1999 I fished 15 short sessions on the Upper Severals, totalling 42.5 hours fishing, catching 10 barbel in the process (Table 1.). It has been noticeable that I have caught the most from swims that I know were fished the previous evening. Also interesting is the fact that eight of the ten fish recorded were caught during daylight, whilst virtually all of the other catches that I am aware of during this period occurred after dark.



Table 1. Summary of fishing sessions on Upper Severals, Hampshire Avon during July and August 1999.



SessionsHoursBarbelHours/barbel
Sun412.543.13
Mon36.7541.69
Tue25.250>5.25
Wed000*
Thurs23.750>3.75
Fri13.250>3.25
Sat31125.50
Tot1542.510





Of course there are a number of possible reasons why the catch rate on Monday's is so much higher than on any other day. But I have proved to my satisfaction that by cautiously approaching the popular swims at "unusual" times, particularly when they have been fished the previous evening, and introducing just a hookbait, or a very small amount of feed, I can catch barbel which have undoubtedly seen it all before.

I am not suggesting for a minute that if everyone goes fishing on a Monday they will catch more barbel. In fact, if the principle is correct then Tuesday would rapidly become the best day. The point I hope to get across is that by carefully monitoring your own catches, as well as those of others, you can often observe trends which give clues to the response of fish to angling pressure. It is just this sort of information which can keep you one step ahead of the game, help to improve your catches, and ultimately boost your enjoyment of the sport.