The first, and most significant change was to move to another area on the Ribble. You may recall I described a swim which I nicknamed the "suicide swim" a couple of months back. This is a place on the river where a big snag, in the shape of an old tree, forms a holding spot for barbel on the far bank. I knew there were big fish there and so I decided to concentrate on this for a while. Fortunately, the rains abated at last. This was vital since it is impossible to fish the far bank of a large river like the Ribble when the river is carrying much extra water. Indeed it had been the rains which had prevented me from returning to this spot since fishing it early in the season - the rains had one more trick to play on me however!
One advantage in fishing this stretch is that the farmer allows you to take your car into his fields and so avoid a long walk with heavy gear. I had taken advantage of this early in the year and decided to do so again - bad mistake! As I trundled down the track towards the field it struck me how wet everything was, even though it hadn't rained seriously for several days. I opened the gate, drove the car through and shut it behind me again. Fifty yards further on I realised my mistake as the car sank up to its axles in the soft ground AAAARGH! Fortunately, a friendly farmhand was on hand to pull me out with a tractor but I got a good ticking off from the farmer who told me that he didn't allow cars in the field after the end of September - I won't need telling again!
I shouldered the tackle and yomped off to my chosen spot - at least the swim was free and I wasted no time in getting set up. Fifteen pound main line and a twelve pound hooklength would, I reckoned, be enough to bully the fish out of the snag.
Besides the change in venue, colder water meant a change in feeding too. I don't tend to use so much hempseed in winter, relying instead on trout pellets to lay down a carpet. Pellets give off a strong smell and the barbel seem to home in on them quite easily. They get more of a reward when they find the pellets too. I'm sure the colder water makes the barbel a little sluggish and they are looking for an easy meal. Hemp takes a lot of digging out of the gravel while pellets can just be hoovered up. I half-fill the feeder with hemp and then top it up with pellets before adding my usual groundbait plug. Pellets on their own tend to swell and get lodged in the feeder so the hempseed is mainly there to flush the pellets out.
The Stinker Strikes
I elected to use two different hookbaits this time. One rod was baited with jumbo pellets while on the other, I used a type of doctored boilie I've nicknamed the "stinker". These are shop bought boilies to which has been added a considerable amount of extra flavouring. On this occasion I was using Nash seafood boilies and flavoured them with extra seafood flavouring. This is easily done by putting all the boilies into a plastic bag, spooning in some of the concentrated flavouring and shaking up the lot until the flavouring is absorbed. I don't dare carry out this process in the house as the stench is unbearable for hours afterwards. In fact it doesn't seem to matter how well wrapped up the boilies are, some of the smell always seems to get out and I've had my bait banished to the garden more than once!
Darkness fell and it wasn't long before the action started. Pellets produced the first fish but the stinkers soon took over as the fish's favourite. To cut a long story short, I had a hectic few hours taking a total of six chub (all over 4lb) and three barbel, the biggest going 8lb 5oz. Of the nine fish caught, seven of them took the stinkers while only two took pellets. I didn't lose a single fish either - the heavy tackle did its job just fine.
I was delighted with this result. A new swim (more or less) and a new bait had turned up some good fish and I could hardly wait to get back there. When I did, I took Joe with me and we fished side by side. I had a similar experience to the first session, again taking three barbel and six chub with the biggest barbel a nice fish of 8lb 7oz - this was getting good. Joe had a harder time of it and had very few bites but turned up trumps in the end with a lovely barbel of 9lb 5oz, the biggest of the season so far. Once again the stinkers produced the majority of my fish but Joe's barbel came to garlic sausage, a bait that I introduced to you last month and for which I have a growing respect. Of course I was pleased for Joe but couldn't help but be jealous as I still hadn't cracked the 9lb barrier on the Ribble and I was, after all, fishing for a P.B.
The stinkers were producing a lot of fish and I was well pleased with them but there was a fly in the ointment. The highly flavoured bait was obviously proving far more attractive to chub than it was to the barbel - hence the high ratio of chub to barbel. It came as no surprise that Joe had his big fish on another bait. The barbel are probably having a hard time getting to the stinkers before the chub pick them up! It looks like the next challenge is going to be to find a flavouring that I can use which will be more attractive to the barbel. Knowing chub, it's not going to be an easy task! It was for this reason that I have persisted with other baits on one rod while the stinkers have attracted most of the bites. Garlic sausage is, obviously becoming a firm favourite but I also have a great deal of faith in other boilies. Most of the boilies I use are fishmeal based with some element of fish or seafood to the flavouring. I have to confess to being a bit lazy and using shop-bought boilies rather than making my own but hey, I have a busy life! Apart from the Nash seafood boilies, I've also had a lot of success with Nash "sting fishmeal". This bait seems to catch from the off with no prebaiting and I've caught lots of fish on it over the years. More recently I've been trying out Mainline Active-8 and Assasin-8 frozen boilies. These too work well but once again, they seem to catch far more chub than barbel.
Bridesmaid No Longer
The next trip, it all came right at last. Joe and I arrived in the middle of a beautiful sunny afternoon intending to get set up and put some bait in before dark. The river was only about a foot up - the lowest I had seen it in many weeks and just about right for fishing this particular spot. We had only been there a matter of fifteen minutes when I had a savage bite on an "ordinary" boilie, a sting fishmeal with no extra flavour added. The fish went 9lb 9oz, at last I had got my Ribble best, beating my old mark by 11oz. We fished on into the night taking a nice catch of chub to 4lb 14oz and several smaller barbel. I went home a happy man.
Looking at the pictures afterwards, it looks very much like Joe's nine pounder and mine were one and the same, though I could be wrong. I'm confident that there are bigger fish in that swim though so the repeat capture doesn't worry me unduly.
Now I was in a quandary. Two eights and two nines in three trips is pretty good going for the Ribble and I felt sure a double was only just around the corner so the temptation to return to the same spot was great. On the other hand, having completed one half of my target, I needed to get down to the Severn to try and get the other half, a Severn PB. The decision was soon taken out of my hands as more torrential rain lashed the country and both rivers burst their banks once again. Indeed the way this weather is going, I have to admit that I'm beginning to regret my decision to fish for barbel all year.
These latter floods have been truly exceptional. My problem has been that I couldn't get to the river to catch a few fish but that's pretty small stuff compared to the way in which the floods have affected many people. One can only feel pity for those thousands of people who have had their homes ruined or there lives disrupted by the effect of these torrential downpours and it's quite extraordinary that these extremes of climate we are experiencing have not led to loss of life.
Devastation on the Ribble
Just recently, the rain abated again. The Severn has remained quite high for most of the last month and I've not risked paying it a visit but the Ribble is a true spate river which rises quickly and falls equally quickly. As a result, two days without rain is enough to allow the river to come down to a reasonable level and, spotting my chance, I managed an afternoon and evening session. I knew where I was heading for. There's a stretch of the river where it's possible to fish effectively even when it is carrying a couple of feet of extra water and this is where I went. The sight that met me when I got down to my chosen stretch was quite a shock! In places, great chunks of bank had been torn away by the water while in others, fresh soggy piles of silt and sand lie where once there was comfortable grassy bank. In order to reach this swim I had to cross a small stream. This used to be no more than a stride across from one bank to the other but now it's a major obstacle. The river has cut the bank away on one side and with a drop to the water of some five or six feet, I found that I had to throw the items of tackle across, one by one, and then leap across the gap - hairy stuff!
The session produced no barbel but it was significant in some ways. Having started fishing at around 1pm, I expected that I would have to wait until the light started to fade before getting any action. In fact the fish, though they were all chub, were feeding quite ravenously right from the start. Using stinkers on one rod and Mainline Assassin-8 boilies on the other it was a bite a cast for the first two hours. I caught a chub of around 3lbs on the first cast and this proved to be the smallest of the day, the others all going 4lbs . As usual, I failed to get a five pounder but I had a tremendous day's fishing taking six fours to 4lb 14oz and I had the entire stretch to myself! Against all the rules, as darkness fell, the chub stopped feeding altogether though I expect that this was more to do with the increasing rainfall which resulted in a rapidly rising river!
All in all, while the weather has frustrated my efforts somewhat, I've been pretty pleased with this month's catches. New baits and new swims have turned up some good fish at times when most anglers have stayed away from the riverbank and I'm hopeful that the lessons learned will stand me in good stead for the hard winter months to come. I still have that dilemma to face however. Do I continue in my quest and try for a personal best from the Severn or do I go all out for a Ribble double? Perhaps I'll let the weather decide for me!