It is a time when our own little bit of the world is warming to acceptably tolerable temperatures in which to live; it is a time when colour is coming to the land, and when even the predominant greens of our island are at their brightest and most varied, before the leaves have discoloured with the pollutants of the air, and the ageing process of living things. It is a time when the grasses are fresh and new, the smells are clean, new life is being created and nursed and nurtured by unchallenged maternal instinct all around, and for anglers, it is a month when so much is happening for those who follow this sport of ours - especially if one is like me and follows every aspect of angling.
In the middle of the month we have the glorious 16th, which is still the highlight of the year for many coarse anglers, especially those who are keen on river and stream fishing, and we are probably 1ucky that the closed season has been retained on rivers, giving the fish a needed rest from angling pressure.
I didn't always think that the closed season was that essential, but the fish were never fished for so much as now during the winter and so were rested then. I was of the opinion, and still am, that plenty of fish spawn outside of the dates laid down by statute, but now that waters are so accessible as we are mostly a mechanically mobile society, and many anglers do not ease up much during the winter, (that would hardly be true this winter with continual flooding followed by the foot and mouth epidemic) the closed season is required to benefit a river's inhabitants. Personally I don't think that the authorities should have removed the desirability of a closed season on still waters either.
For many seasons I followed the traditional coarse angler's quarry at the start by chasing tench, and, although hardly anyone fished for them years ago as carp were considered to be almost uncatchable, my wife and I, and a few friends, would try and get in some carp fishing as well. That apart, before the salmon down here in the south became so scarce, I found that June was an excellent month to put a few of those on the bank. There were still some good fish coming in from the sea, multi-sea-winter fish that ran late spring and carried a few pounds of solidity around their bones, and pulled like hell in the warming water - metabolic rate and all that I guess.
The salmon fishing helped me to some other good fishing too. When my good friend Brian Harris and I shared a salmon rod on the Avon, we were able to observe the whereabouts of the barbel shoals during the fence months when the river was clear enough, and as barbel are quite happy in shallow swims, it was still possible to see some even if there was slight colour. Of course, towards the spawning time they were favouring shallow water anyway without any anglers influencing their behaviour. We also had the advantage of a few weeks fishing for the barbel before the fishery was opened for day-ticket coarse fishing on August 1st. I must admit, that keen as I was on the salmon fishing, I often fished through the beat too quickly sometimes so that I could get stuck into some barbel fishing. To have a fine stretch of Avon coarse fishing to onese1f was, in my opinion, marvellous, a wonderful bonus, although that view was certainly not shared by many salmon anglers. Their loss!
Unfortunately, owing to the owner selling the fishery where Brian and I shared the beat, we lost our fishing, but after retirement, Kay and I managed to obtain a beat on a couple of other Avon fishings, and so were able to regain our early barbel fishing. Sometimes it was very good, but for some reason, I don't think we ever did as well as in the earlier days when Brian and I had some terrific early season barbel fishing. Owing to business commitments, we were not always able to fish together, and sometimes when he took his young son Stuart, I have a feeling he concentrated more on the barbel than the salmon as he would ring me and tell me of days when they caught many fish, so he must have been putting most of the effort into the barbel fishing.
I admit to doing the same. After June 16th, on my own, I would take advantage of wandering the river with a float rod, plenty of maggots, a few worms, and very little else to clutter one and make mobility less agreeable. It was beautiful fishing. Rarely was the water too low or too weedy by June to affect the ease of working float gear. If I recall correctly, there had already been a weed cut by then anyway, and the fish, having been left alone for some time, especially by float anglers, were very receptive to the tactics although not necessarily easy.
One of my favoured fishing styles is trotting with the centre-pin for any species, but for barbel it is unbelievably gratifying. Big bags can be caught on the float as a barbel bite is hardly ever missed. I suppose I must have had knocks on the float, I have certainly had extremely tentative bites when legering, from good barbel, but I honestly cannot remember ever getting poor bite registration from barbel when I have been float fishing. There have been times when they have been wary and I have had to fish fine to get bites, but when they have decided to take the bait, it has always been almost impossible to miss.
I should mention here, that I have been fishing over the last few seasons where the barbel are extremely shy, and it needed very little carelessness from an angler in body or tackle to spook them and drive them under cover. On very fine float tackle they would be hooked, but shamefully, too many would be left with hooks in them. It is not of any use fishing with ultra fine gear for barbel if the stretch is too snaggy
or weedy, or if one does not have the skill or knowledge of playing such fish on light gear. One problem that seems to be misunderstood is that modern carbon rods are far stiffer AND FASTER for their diameter than any former rod material, and the chosen rod must be extremely SOFT in action when fishing very fine for big fish, or breaks are inevitable.
Big fish can be landed on fine stuff given a certain amount of luck and ability. I have enclosed a picture with this piece as an example. A 221b 2oz carp that I played and landed from the tidal Thames on 2lb bs. It was from a boat, which was an advantage - as was the playing of a hammerhead shark, upwards of 350lb, (the guides put it at 500lb but that is doubtful) which I beat on 20lb bs There are a couple of stories there perhaps in the future.
One of the things about barbel that even some hardened specimen hunters accept, is that barbel don't have to be big to be well worth fishing for. Shoal barbel, running from 3 or 4lb to about 7lb can give terrific sport as they fight very strongly. When I pick one from the water when I am wading, net the larger fish, or net from the bank, as with good roach, I have an emotional feeling about the fish which somehow I cannot explain. In my senior years, and having caught hundreds of barbel, it is something that I should be over by now, but it is still there. If I am ever lucky enough (it will be luck as I won't ever deliberately fish for them) to catch one of the monsters that, although still rare, are commoner today than ever in past years, 14, 15, or more pounds in weight, I have a fear of serious trouble with the amount of adrenaline that will be activated.
Owing to those annoying nuisances that come with ageing, I don't trot now as much as I would like to, and consequently am tending to fish with legering gear rather than trot. Many years ago, when legering certain areas owing to conditions being unsuitable for the float, some of the fishing tended to be a little difficult, with the barbel becoming extremely cautious of putting their lips around a bait with a hook in it. If they did, the bait could be inhaled and exhaled faster than one could blink, let alone strike a bite that only moved the rod about a quarter inch. In spite of it, Kay and I became very proficient at hitting those tiny bites and it resulted in a lot of barbel, but there were plenty of times when we also had to scale down to a very low b.s. nylon to get any pick-ups at all. Bites would still be tentative and one would think that a gudgeon would bite in stronger fashion. Actually it would, but if one hoped for the once common, rod trying to dive into the river sort of bite, one would wait a long time. Fortunately, in spite of the low bs, we knew how to handle the fish well and rarely got broken.
Well, since then, it ain't got any easier! Even with big baits, or this boilie lark, bites can still be too tentative to hook easily. Hair rigs don't always help much either when using standard legering methods. I hasten to add here that I don't use 'the method' or fish during the hours of darkness, and I'm not after monsters, but I do like to catch barbel.
I have overcome the bite problem to a certain extent when fishing with larger baits by fishing upstream. The problem with fishing across and down, or straight down along the bank, is that when the fish picks up the bait it immediately feels drag. With shy fish, unless some self-hooking method is used it usually means instant rejection of the bait unless you're bloody sharp. When fishing up, and using any reasonable weight of lead, the same problem applies, but if one can fish a weightless bait upstream, or just a couple of small split shot, the problem is partly solved as the drag is removed.
Two things are worth noting. One is that a barbel generally picks up a bait and drops downstream with it, thus feeling the drag from the weight or rod when one is fishing down or across, but if casting upstream without weight, or very little, a barbel dropping down does not cause any tightening of line and therefore no drag. Sometimes they come down so fast that one has to wind faster to take up enough slack to tighten into them. The other thing to note is that as the current pushes the line flat to the bottom, very little weight is sometimes needed to hold. Some of the pastes that a friend gives me are plenty heavy enough to hold in a reasonable current if a good lump is used.
When a lead is required because the current is really heavy, the drag factor is introduced again even when fishing upstream. To try and avoid it, after casting up I very gently pull the lead downstream to try and get the lead downstream of the bait. If you do this, a cagey barbel will often suck the bait in confidently as it feels no resistance, which there would be from an anchored bait fished downstream. I have done this a lot where I can see both bait and lead and watch both barbel and rodtop. A fish that would not even pick up a downstream fished bait, often happily takes the bait up of the lead. Once well in its mouth, the fish seems to be happy to move off with the bait even though it then tightens to the lead.
When fishing upstream with feeder tackle and small baits I change from leger to paternoster. I have my hook linked above the feeder, fish with a rod top almost touching the surface, tighten up and strike instantly at the slightest slackening of the line. I only fish this method though in shallow swims, and rarely straight upstream as I am fearful of line bites. In deeper swims I fear of a line too visual to the fish. Perhaps I should give it a try in the latter case - who knows?
There is always the obvious advantage when fishing upstream (and the fish dictate that fine gear is essential even then) that one is already downstream of the fish, and in a perfect position from which to play them - until they come hammering down past you anyway. Along with other writers, I have been emphasising the need to get below your fish in a fast river for more than 40 years, and yet I still see anglers trying to lug fish upstream to the swim from well downstream. It's strain enough on heavy gear if there's room to move and no need to pull them up, but absolutely stupid on light tackle - even worse when there are snags or heavy weeds and the swim is of a type that one cannot follow a fish. If you cannot move from your fishing spot, it is not only stupid to fish fine if it's snaggy or weedy, but it is not within the spirit of angling,
Early season barbel can be apparently in good condition, but on a couple of occasions Kay and I have given it up as the fish we caught were so thin. They weren't just spawned out, the whole body was so thin you could have cut your hand on the ridge bone. After catching a second that was as bad as the first fish, that was enough to have us packing it in. To carry on fishing for fish out of condition, would have been as bad as unnecessarily leaving hooks in them!