Monday, 3 September 2012

Avon Barbel & Eels - Blood and Sand!

It looked the most attractive piece of barbel water imaginable. The tip of an island with a long glide of fast water to our left pouring downstream from the rock weir above us and trundling into the distance below, with a cutting to the right and its associated slack water. A typical Warwickshire Avon navigation lock. Oddly, despite its good looks and clear potential for a barbel or two, the grass beneath our feet was hardly worn through and the banks overgrown. Clearly, this was not a popular spot. Nevertheless, we could both sit in it and fish two rods each comfortably, so we had it for the evening come what may.

Nothing would hold fast across the way, so just off the near side of the flow was where we'd have to fish with all the baits lined up in a long row when the current had pulled the leads into place. I had the downstream rods, and the furthest cast to the far right hander was a good forty yards downstream. Within just minutes of it settling down, the double pellet bait was picked up, the top hooped over, and I was into a fish.

At first I thought it to be a chub or small barbel, but at range and with the fish moving straight into the slack water, it was hard to tell. Suddenly, I was attached to a big barbel when the fish became not only heavy, but strong too. The rod bent into a big long curve, gave a few hard kicks, and then it all went solid. The fish had snagged or weeded, so I pulled high and hard, the line grated, and then the fight was on again, only now the fish was a chub once more, and a small one too, all the feelings of barbel, big or small, having dissipated. Martin was ready with the net, but then the culprit came up in the water, we finally saw it, and the net was retired. An eel, and one of only a pound at most...

Thankfully it was lip hooked, which is a clear advantage that bolt rigs lend with these famously difficult customers who mostly wolf down bait so deeply that cutting the line at the lip is the only option with them. It was gushing blood from its belly, that much was clear as it performed gyrating arabesques whilst dangling off the trace. Forceps and a swiftly turned hook saw it drop to the ground where I flipped it on its back and stroked its bloody belly to put it in a trance.

Three slashed incisions gave away the secret of the odd battle with first this fish and then that fish, because it had been grabbed mid way by an unfortunate pike. Eel blood is a deadly poison that can kill a mammal such as a rabbit with just a few drops injected into its own blood stream. When a predator grabs an eel and draws blood, it gets a shock, because it mouth reacts by rapidly numbing and swelling, when the eel is swiftly dropped, and the predator swims away relatively unharmed.

It worked for this eel, because not only did it survive the pike attack, but also survived my induced trance and went back still bleeding a little, but kicking hard. I supposed a trail of poison eel blood was not going to induce more savagery and the fish would survive. Ordinarily, being a Eastender by birth and upbringing, that eel would have been jellied the same evening and eaten for breakfast next day, but the rules forbid it nowadays, I'm afraid. So it survived under the protection of the law too.

Taking care not to rub my eyes (or lick my hands!) on the way, I went to the bank and scrubbed my hands with sand and water to remove all trace of the eels bloody thick slime. I'm still alive because of my caution and natural lack of appetite for raw eel jelly, I'm sure!

Martin opportunist jigging for the poisoned pike
Well, after such a start, we thought we'd be in for some action. Two hours later we'd had none. The swim seemed not only dead as regards its barbel potential, but was proving rather difficult to fish in any case because almost every cast would snag on either rocks or sunken branches. Tackle losses were mounting rapidly, fish were not forthcoming, and the evidence of the unworn banks spoke of a tackle graveyard where no-one fished in their right minds for very long.

Then at dusk I was alerted to the vibrating rod top attached to a piece of luncheon meat fished right under the near bank to avoid the snags, and struck into another fish. It was eel number two, again lip hooked and released by the same method of grabbing the hook with forceps and turning it sharply upwards, whence the eel bolted off to the water through the long grass at the bankside with uncanny accuracy, plopped in, and swam away.

An hour into darkness we pronounced the swim a dead loss. It had looked the part, but had proven itself anything but. We were in the process of packing down to go, and were just discussing the swim's lack of barbel, and its surprising lack of anything else excepting eels and pike, when Martin's downstream rod finally sprang into life after four hours of inactivity and he was, at last, into what we'd come for — a barbel.

Well, he was into it for a second or two, and then it was away and lost to a hook pull. All that time for nothing much, and then right at very last knocking.

Blood & Sand!


  1. Not heard of eel poison blood before Jeff, I don't think that the pike care anyway. I've caught lots of pike on eel sections etc over the years from rivers and lakes. They can digest almost anything. Thanks for not warning me though ! Mind you I don't lick my fingers while fishing either.
    Sods law on the barbel though,all evening and not a touch then that. Next time we'll av um mate.

  2. It is toxic Martin, and can kill if injected. The toxic agent breaks down after death so eel sections are good bait, but fresh blood causes all kinds of reactions in other animals on contact with the 'sensitive' parts like eyes and tongues.