So here we are at the end of my barbel year. I would dearly love to be able to tell you that I have had a great burst of activity in December and blitzed my remaining target but it was not to be. For the third month running the Severn came up into the fields and I have not paid it a single visit. Fishing in flood is very rewarding at times but it is essential to know your river well and having opted to fish new stretches this year, Iím just not familiar enough with them to be able to make it pay. The hazards of fishing in such conditions canít be ignored either. Itís so easy to lose your footing on a slippery bank and end up falling into a swollen river. Indeed one of the clubs I have membership of has advised its members not to visit the Severn.
The Ribble has been a different matter yet again however. Up and coloured for most of the last month, itís still been possible to wet a line and to take some good fish. This has meant moving around quite a bit and fishing different spots which suited the current and prevailing conditions. Itís been tricky to know just where to fish since the Ribble, being a spate river, rises and falls very quickly so while the Environment Agency Rivercall line (find the numbers at http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk//fish/shared/rivercall/index.htm) has been helpful in getting an idea of what state the river is in, only by actually arriving at the riverbank has it been possible to get accurate knowledge and on more than one occasion Iíve switched venues at the last minute when the river has been higher or lower than expected.
This situation has meant that a flexible approach has been needed, particularly with regard to which rods to take. Ordinarily, I would use one of three types of rod for barbel fishing, the avon, the carp rod and the quivertip. Avons are my first choice for general fishing in open water. They are a delight to play fish on and have enough power to control even the largest barbel. The avons I use are Tri-cast eleven footers with a test curve of one and a quarter pounds. Iíve had these rods for many years and have never felt the need to change them which is testament to their usefulness.
For heavy work where there are snags nearby or where a particularly long cast is required, I use carp rods. I have a pair of twelve foot carbon carp rods with a test curve of two and a quarter pounds which have quite a through action and are capable of casting very heavy feeders. These have been invaluable this year as the fishing has become more difficult and it has been necessary to fish in amongst the sunken trees.
Sometimes a more subtle approach is needed and that is when I turn to the quivertip rod. The use of light leads is one such situation where the barbel might only give a slight indication and the quivertip picks up the bites nicely. So with three types of rod available for three different situations itís been logical to take one of each while Iíve been chopping and changing so much.
Lots of Water, Lots of Fish
The first trip this month found the river to be quite high, much more so than the rivercall line had indicated. My first choice swim, which necessitated fishing across to the far bank, had to be abandoned as even four ounce feeders would not hold in such a current. A mile or so downstream from this point there is a near-bank slack and it was here that I headed for.
I find fishing slacks is often rather hit and miss with more poor days than good but with the occasional very good day which can make it worthwhile. To hedge my bets rather, I opted to fish one rod in the slack water and the other out in the main flow - though not very far out!
The main flow rod was to be an avon to which was attached a heavy feeder filled with hemp and pellets (no surprises there!). The rod fished in the slack was using a light lead which was flicked out into the main flow and allowed to swing back into the slack, settling on the edge of the current. With the water being almost stationary here it was not necessary to use a dropper or feeder since any bait thrown in could be relied upon to stay put and a tiny quarter ounce bomb was all that was needed for casting weight. Needless to say, the quivertip rod was ideal for this. The weather was remarkably mild for early December, with a little rain in the air and the likelihood was that the fish would feed well in the coloured water.
Hookbaits had to be smelly in such murky conditions so with "stinkers" on the feeder rod and garlic sausage on the tip I was confident that the fish would be able to find their dinner.
It turned out to be a topsy turvy kind of session with the chub behaving like barbel and the barbel behaving like chub but at the end of the day I went home well satisfied with my catch of four chub and three barbel, the best fish going a nice 8lbs 11oz. All of the chub had taken stinkers in the fast water and all had given great rod-wrenching bites, hooking themselves in the process. Conversely, all of the barbel were taken in the slack water on garlic sausage and gave quite delicate bites.
It was very pleasing to take such a good catch of fish on a day when there were no other anglers on the river. The flexible approach certainly helped too and I feel sure I would not have caught those barbel had I not been using the quivertip.
Canít Take Him Anywhere
Itís been very noticeable that the Ribble chub have something of a ceiling on their weight this year. Most of them are over four pounds but a great many of the fish Iíve caught have weighed between 4lbs 12oz and 4lbs 15oz. I have probably had twenty fish of this weight since June yet astonishingly, Iíve still not caught a five pounder this year. My son Joe had one of exactly five pounds back in the summer and heís ribbed me all season about being a better chub fisherman than I am - and Iím beginning to think he is!
We had a session a couple of weeks back which produced no barbel but several chub. The river was rising quite quickly when we arrived - never a good state on the Ribble. Bites were thin on the ground but I did pick up a couple of four pounders on fishmeal boilies. Joe had no bites at all until well into dark when he hooked a nice chub. I went over to photograph the fish which went 4lbs 14oz but before I got the camera out he was into another one. This was a little bigger and at 5lbs 5oz was a new pb for Joe. The two fish, together weighing over ten pounds, made a nice picture and I was well pleased for him. Iíll have to catch a bigger one soon though as Iím getting unbearable earache!
Two days before Christmas and it was time for my last trip of 2000 and the last episode of barbel year. A short dry spell was enough to get the Ribble down to normal level and despite the plummeting temperatures, I knew I was in with a chance of a barbel. Winter barbel fishing is naturally slower than in the summer but all too often it is the larger fish which feed. Itís noticeable too that the fish are prepared to feed more in daylight, so while a typical summer fishing session would start at around six in the evening for me, a winter session starts at around ten in the morning. Feed is kept to a minimum since cold fish donít need to eat much to keep their metabolism on tick-over but the bait should also be kept in a tight area, so if only one fish feeds, itís feeding close to the hookbait.
I used "stinkers" as hookbait, fished over a light carpet of pellets and in the event, only one fish did feed that day, a beautiful stocky barbel of 8lbs 12oz. Dark in colour and deep at the shoulder it was a fish typical of winter and fought like blazes all the way to the net. The fish was blind in its right eye but otherwise in a healthy condition and swam off strongly on its release. I took this barbel at around 1pm with the light levels about at their highest for the day and though I fished on into darkness, no other fish came my way. The bite was merely a gentle nodding of the rod top - a far cry from the vicious pulls we get in warmer weather!
Fishing on my own this day, I took the photographs myself using an electronic remote lead to the camera. This takes a fair bit of setting up so I staked the barbel out in a sack in deep water while I prepared the camera. Those few minutes of rest were enough to give the fish its strength back and it was quite a struggle to hold it still for the camera. Thatís the beauty of using a remote rather than a self timer, itís easy to wait for the fish to stop struggling then press down on the button with one knee. I have lots of pictures of "fish juggling" taken on self timer in the past.
Now, at the close of the year, a freeze has enveloped the country and the barbel will be tucked away in their snags and gullies waiting for a rise in temperature to start them feeding again.
As I look back, I have to admit itís been a difficult year but one which brought its rewards. I have achieved one of my two targets by catching a PB Ribble barbel of 9lbs 9oz but failed to get a big barbel from the Severn - still, one out of two ainít bad!
A lot of good fishing has come my way however with quite a large number of seven and eight pound barbel being caught along with a sprinkling of nines. The average size of the barbel caught has really been very good - probably over seven pounds, though I havenít worked it out. When the barbel havenít wanted to play, the chub have always been there to keep me company - I must be sure to catch a five pounder before the seasonís out.
The real purpose of my barbel year has been fulfilled, that is, it has provided a vehicle on which I could deliver this series of articles and tell you about barbel fishing my way. Over the months we have covered quite a lot of ground including location, feeding, the "mechanics" of barbel fishing, baits and of course, tackle. I can honestly say that Iíve learned quite a lot myself over the months. Fishing for just one species adds a kind of pressure which forces you to look for new ways of solving problems. So, while in the past I may have resorted to stillwater fishing for pike in times of flood, Iíve had to get out there and try new approaches on the riverbank in order to catch.
Would I do it again? Probably not. I love my barbel fishing but I also love to catch pike, tench, bream and other coarse fish. As dawn breaks on the new year and the snow lies thick on the ground, thoughts are already turning to a session for pike, or maybe itíll be grayling