Saturday, 17 November 2012

Cold Water Barbel — Endeavouring to Persevere...

Arrival at a river venue with a rod bag brim full of barbel gear is one thing, arrival after dark with one rod made up but the second not is another, but arrival with said and a rod bag who's zip's just bust open leaving gaping holes top, side and bottom, out which aforementioned barbel gear pokes and dangles as you trudge down the lane and over the footbridge, well that's a small disaster in progress.

Soon I'm trudging back along our imagined route and crossing back over the Avon all the way to the parked car armed with Martin's high lumen torch scanning grass and tarmac looking for the missing top section from the unmade rod. It is nowhere to be seen. Hey ho...! Kerching. Nevertheless, I still have one complete example of a barbel rod and that's going to have to be enough.

I'll endeavour to persevere...

The water is cold but the air is mild and misty. I think it looks just the part for the predators Martin seeks and despite the off-putting icy liquid they live in mid November, also for the big barbel I'm after. The baits are hooked up, chucked out, then we sit back to await events. I'm banking on the barbel moving into the tail of the weir in an hour or two so my 40 yard right angle casts are made into the thick of it and allowed to find their place. The swim looks a little tricky should I hook a big girl because of a projecting bush to my left but I think holding tight and bringing a fish into the slack water near bank should work a treat.

Thinking ahead is a good thing when fishing. Thinking back is better though. My history of fishing this particular place suggests that it is the exception to every known rule regarding just about every species. When nothing is biting elsewhere on the river, they will here, and every time I've fished it for barbel in cold weather things have gone very well just so long as I've used the right bait.

My set up includes a big home-brew feeder with a 2 inch bore on a short rotten bottom paternoster link of six-pound line weakened further by one turn loop knots. After trying and testing this rig in other weirs I've decided that it's my barbel rig wherever I go because a snagged feeder simply breaks off every time there's a problem and barbel fishing by its very nature creates them even in the best of situations. The size 6 barbless hook was tied with the ever faithful palomar, a knot that has never let me down and the unreliable knotless knot that's cost me most dearly this season, not even considered. 

The bait was luncheon meat freeze-marinaded in a 'special' with an odor that seems to draw barbel upstream and a taste they can't resist when they find it. I've used only it twice before in wintertime but both times hooked double-figure fish, consequently, I have some faith in it as a 'secret weapon' and will be utterly convinced of it should I get a barbel tonight.

Three hours later we've not had a sniff between us of barbel, zander or pike, in fact there's not been even the tiniest indication of fish and my faith in my dynamite bait is taking a mighty knock and sways precariously on its pedestal... Then, I load the feeder with twenty broken chunks of meat (it's a very big feeder!) bound in breadcrumbs and put it in the flow, leave it a while, and then pull in to deposit a small pile of scent laden food on the bottom.

I make a cast into enemy territory. This means putting the bait at a dangerously dicey angle along the near bank, thirty yards past the obstructing tree and into an area fifteen yards downstream of where I had been fishing but slap in the scent trail of the smelly bait deposit. I don't have anything to lose except my feeder and the fish, should it ever come by, and everything to gain should I win out...

A little later the rod top twitches — a bite — Hooray! Were both sitting side by side watching the rod top now and it moves again — Hooray! We think it might be chub but there's a nagging doubt in my head and I think that it's actually barbel because this place hardly ever throws up chub. I've only ever had one in all the sessions after roach, bream and barbel I've ever conducted here. It has to be what I've come for — it just has to be.

Then I get a one-foot twitch! Hooray! A proper bite...

From now on in my rod is alive — there's cautious fish rooting about in enemy territory. I tell Martin that should we "sit it out all night, I'll have a double for sure... it's simply a matter of time." My faith is restored and I'm certain it's gonna work sooner or later.

Time is running down though and we're set to pack down at 8:30pm so we have just a half an hour left. Then I get a few taps and knocks and after an agonising pause comes a two-foot twitch that once again fails to hook up, nevertheless things are happening and I'm absolutely certain it's my target species who's the culprit. Martin gets a short run that fails to hook up too and so we decide to extend things another twenty minutes just for the chance of anything of any size in the bag to save the day.

Twenty minutes pass by. "Let's give it another ten minutes," say's Martin...

It was probably minutes after but seems to happen just as he finishes his sentence —the rod whacks over viciously and a really strong fish ploughs off just where I don't want it to go which is at an even tighter angle past the tree and even further downstream.

"Good fish Mart, heavy fish..."

"Take it easy Jeff , take it easy..."

Luckily, it stops dead after taking more line than I'm comfortable with and then decides to exit the main flow and come back not only my way but well away from the severe near bank angles I'd dreaded and into clear water of its own accord — all I have to do now is pump slowly and carefully and it comes along. Then it all goes rock solid and the rod is no longer pulsing, which is the worst feeling in the world as I'm sure you know.

I think I've an idea what's happened so I exert pressure slowly by inching the rod backwards over my shoulder till I feel a 'pop' through the line as the feeder link breaks away and the tethered fish (and angler too!) are freed.

It's all a matter of being very careful then because the fish is tiring, has ceased making runs and lunges and chooses to hug bottom. She's heavy though and even in four feet of water she's proving hard to force upwards to the waiting net, but I know she's mine — I'm not losing this fish. NO way.

The netting of a desired fish is the most fraught operation of all, isn't it? After the adrenalised craziness of the early battle it's that ominous splashing about on the surface that she's indulging in now, and the unpredictable angles created as she moves invisibly beneath the scum accumulated under the bank that makes it so nail biting. Coming unstuck now is more likely than ever... but...

Martin makes a swift measured movement and she's in the bag!


Swift guesstimates put the fish a scraper double but nighttime calculations are often deceived and when the meshes are peeled back the fish may be short, but she's a porker. I know she's over the hurdle no problem. Martin zeros' the scales while I sort myself out and she's hoist up in the sack...

Ooh, 11lb 14 oz... Wasn't expecting that far over...!

Next are the trophy shots, an operation I dread in the dark what with the camera blinding before the flash fires resulting in half-closed eyes. I've learned it's best to look at the fish instead and avoid disaster...

Thankfully Martin makes a great job of it by putting his torch to work for framing purposes and even though it's just started raining the resulting pictures are sterling!

She's rested for a few minutes in the water but is strong and healthy and kicks off back to the depths early. No trouble at that anxious moment then...

It's about time I put one on the bank after losing so many good fish this year. I felt I'd been forgiven for some long forgotten sin I'm sure I must have committed back last Christmastime!

It only takes one well-earned prize to put the world to rights when things are looking black though.

And this was such a capture...!


  1. Just a few more minutes. That's all it takes some times. Well done, you kept the faith through those hard times and won through.
    Things happen when you keep at it.

  2. Glad your confidence has been restored! A cracking hard-earned fish.

  3. What a cracking fish, well done

  4. What a smashing fish Jeff, and well done to the camerman!

  5. When we finish and take out the rods how many times as the fish of our dreams been looking at the bait thinking "shall I or not" then it's gone and he swims off to feed elsewhere leaving us with no knowlege of how close we were.
    This time the few minutes were enough - well done with a nice fish and as mentioned well done to the photographer.

  6. Tremendous, I always lose the will towards the end of a session, may explain a few things. Great catch great pics...

  7. Cracking fish and very good photography.
    I'm a great believer in the just one more cast,and I'll leave that rod fishing whilst I pack up approach, saved many a fishless day!

  8. That is a beautiful November beard Jeff, well done and give the photographer a hearty pat on the back as he took some wonderful stills.

  9. Thanks everyone. It was quite a night. Nothing more exciting than waiting for something 'bound to happen' and then it does!

  10. well done Jeff thats a cracking Barbel and well earned fish as well, what a porker indeed, plus a lovely photograph to match.