The particular stretch of river which I am going to write about this month, is one I’ve had a love hate relationship with over the last five or so years. I know there are some very big barbel in there, I have seen the photos of them, I’ve seen them in the water, and on a couple of occasions, I’ve even been lucky enough to witness them being caught, but up until this point, in all this time I had only managed to catch one smallish one of about 8lb or so. My plans were, to spend September and October, giving it a proper dedicated campaign to see if I could finally get to grips with one of the behemoths that reside within it.
Having spent the last few years searching up and down it’s lengths, I had a rough idea of what each area held with regard to depths and swim make up, so I knew roughly the area I wanted to target. I was planning to start introducing a large bucket of mixed particles, pellets, flaked maize and crushed and whole CC Moore XXX boilies into my chosen swim every other night for a couple of weeks, before starting to fish it. Typically of my luck, I had managed to coincide my first trip down with a couple of days of rain, so when I arrived to trickle a little bit of bait in, the level was up a couple of feet and over the bank, so I couldn’t actually get to my chosen swim. In an ideal world, I would have taken the bait back home and waited for the level to drop sufficiently. Instead I opted for a swim a couple of hundred yards upstream. I had fished this swim before, so I knew there was a nice deep gravel run under a long run of overhanging trees, just on the edge of a crease where the main flow came off the shallows, so I was still happy with it even as a second choice. When I returned a couple of days later, the water had dropped almost two feet, and despite being able to now access my original choice of swim, I really liked the look of where I had primed earlier, so I decided to continue baiting under the trees.
The weekend came, and I had planned to fish elsewhere, but the conditions just didn’t feel right for that venue, so I decided to bite the bullet and drop into my baited swim in the morning rather than fish the night elsewhere, just to see if there was anything mooching around. As it happened, I ended up staying up late watching crap tv on the Friday, so after a late night, I overslept on the Saturday and didn’t end up getting down to the river until around lunchtime. Thankfully no one was there, although to be honest, I wasn’t too surprised as in the last 5 years, I’ve only seen about 4 or 5 other people, so I carefully put my gear down and set about tackling up. Being a small intimate river, but with big fish present, I was going to use my own hand built 10ft 2lb test curve stalking rod, combined with a centrepin loaded with 15lb Kinetic braid. I know it’s always a thorny issue of heavy strong tackle versus ‘sporting’ tackle, but I have always been firmly in the camp of play the fish as quickly and safely as possible, rather than spend ages exhausting the fish on under gunned tackle, hence the heavy gear. This was combined with a 2oz Grappler lead, a 2.5 foot hooklink of 15lb Trickster Heavy and my ever faithful size 8 Covert Wide Gape Talon Tip hook. For hookbait, as I had been baiting with them, I was going to stick with a 14mm CC Moore XXX boilie, tipping it off with a single grain of Enterprise Tackle fake corn. There are huge numbers of minnows along this stretch, and a pretty good head of signal crayfish too, so I wanted to be sure that even if the boilie got whittled away, I’d still have something there as a hookbait. I was planning on replacing the bait every hour anyway though just to be on the safe side.
With everything all set up, it was time to start fishing. I shoved a handful or so boilies in my pockets, and waded across the river. The gravels dropped away into the run just close enough for me to be able to lower my rig in gently without having to go over the top of my waders, then I scattered the boilies in a rough line from directly above the hookbait to about 5ft upstream, my thinking being they would wash down and settle roughly around the hookbait. Carefully paying out line, I waded back across the shallows and plonked myself back in my chair. Resting the rod on the front rests and across my lap, I sat back to wait, not really expecting much until later in the day when the light started to fade. Almost straight away, I started getting the odd knock and tap on the rod tip as what felt like small chublets and dace etc tried to steal my baits. The only other signs of life, apart from the hoardes of minnows at my feet, was the familiar hum of wings, high pitched chirping and occasional plop of a kingfisher searching for his lunch just downstream.
Just as I was watching him diving in and out of the water, my rod was wrenched round and almost pulled from my grip. If I hadn’t been holding it at the time, I think the rod butt probably would have hit me in the chin the take was so violent. I clamped down on the centrepin and tried to stop the fish bolting downstream, instantly realising I was attached to something rather large. I was just starting to think I had maybe hooked one of the rogue carp that reside along this stretch, when BANG, the rod snapped. No warning at all, it just snapped clean off about 3” above the reel seat!! Now I was in a pickle, on one end of the line, was a large fish trying to head downstream, and on the other was me holding a reel and rod butt, with a stupid surprised look on my face. I couldn’t even hold the rest of the rod and use that, as it had javelined down the line and was now languishing in mid-air over the river.
The only thing I could do, was rather unceremoniously winch the fish back to me. Thankfully I was on the centrepin, as it would have been a real nightmare trying to do it with a fixed spool. Somehow I managed to gain some semblance of control, and slowly bring the fish under control. I was still convinced that I was attached to a large carp, so when I saw it was not only a barbel, but an absolute beast of one, I could hardly believe my eyes. Easily the biggest barbel I had ever seen, let alone hooked, slowly coming up the gravels towards me. The head was absolutely immense, and with two huge triangular orange pectoral fins out the side, it looked more like a Vulcan bomber than a fish. Thankfully (and luckily) she pretty much swam straight into the waiting net, and I lifted the mesh to engulf her. Looking down she looked even bigger and I just stood there grinning for a few seconds. Placing my chair out in the water, I placed the net handle across it with my rucksack as a counterweight on the other end, and let her rest in the flow for a few minutes, whilst I sorted out the scales and camera etc. before lifting her out. I had to lift her up about three times on the scales to make sure I was actually seeing what they were reading. At 16lb 6oz I had smashed my previous pb by a clonking 1lb 4oz, and after only about 30 minutes of starting my Autumn barbel campaign. I had initially planned to do self takes, as I normally do, but this one was a bit special. So I placed her back in the net in the flow, and made a quick phone call. I knew fellow Gardner Tackle sales rep Ollie Thomas was out with his girlfriend fairly close for a nice romantic lunch, so I took the chance and called him to see if he could pop down and do the honours. Thankfully he was more than happy to do so, and in a very short space of time, both he and his girlfriend appeared to take some pics. Not only had he brought his new camera with him to try out, but since I had told him about the snapping of my rod, like a true gent, he had brought down his stalking rod which lives in the boot of his car for me, so I could carry on fishing. As per normal, Ollie did a fantastic job with the camera, taking some superb shots of me with the fish on the mat, and in the water as I returned her. Standing out in the water with her, one of the nicest parts of the catch, was watching her swim off strongly back upstream. Unfortunately, the rest of the session sped by without another bite (I blame it on Ollie’s rod), and as night drew in, I packed up and made my way back home for a celebratory curry.
So that was it, my plans for the next few months turned upside down on the first trip, ironically I had been debating dropping this ticket at the end of the season, as despite the fact I knew the fish were there, it was really starting to kick me in the teeth with only one other fish in 5 years from it. Somehow though, I think I will probably renew it again next year. The only problem now is, what do I do for the next couple of months, do I stick it out to see if there are any other big barbel about and see if I have truly shaken this monkey off my back, do I go back and see if the big bream are still playing ball, or do I start my late Autumn perch campaign early?