Rob Hudson achieved something I certainly never have by catching a wintertime Barbel (early Feb'). Rob has kindly written up his capture to give us all hope! Over to Rob.....
It was the back end of October 2009 when I caught my last Barbel. Since then we have been gripped by one of the coldest winters I can remember, with the fishing being hard to say the least.
Yet I have kept persevering every weekend regardless of the conditions, just targeting different species on different venues. Chasing Chub on the Leam & Upper Avon when stupidly cold and barbel on the Middle Avon when things warmed up a little.
Mr Chub has been very kind to me, making a least one appearance on each visit to the Upper, bar the 2 blanks (but we don’t count those as fishing days). The average weight has been about the 4lb mark on the Upper. Not quite the monsters ‘r Keith catches! And the Leam has thrown up the odd 4lber too!
More often than not it’s been ‘stupid cold’ on the days I have had my ‘fishing pass’ stamped, so my attempts at catching a winter barbel have been few and far between.
Both of the Winter sections in ‘Barbel, A life times Addiction’ by Trefor West and ‘Quest for Barbel’ by Tony Miles & Trefor have been read and re-read until they have been firmly etched into the angling segment of my brain. Armed with this ‘insider’ knowledge I have been careful to study all forms of weather information in the vain hope I might hear those infamous words ‘rain coming up from the south west’. But alas only a few times have they been muttered this winter!
So when, at the start of February, we were told that a warmer front from the south west was fighting its way north against the seemingly ever present Siberian winter, I waited with baited breath. Would it push further than Worcestershire & Gloucestershire? Or would it fizzle out yet again? Or worse still clash with the cold and fall as snow, now this would be a real killer. Although I’d still probably go fishing, but for what? Please let it rain, please let it be barbel..............
It’s not true what they say about the Met office, they do get it right- sometimes. The rain came and the river rose. The initial rise was around Wednesday. This I figured would be pointless as the rain was falling on frozen ground and would be dropping the river temperature. Lucky, because I had to work.
Thursday and Friday past with a little more rain on both days. This I was hoping would keep the river level up, ready for Saturday’s foray. The venue was a foregone conclusion, middle Avon, Wasperton. A long stretch suited to a mobile approach. Although I was confident the water temperature had gone up, I was still aware I’d have to go and find them.
A quick chat with the lady serving in our work’s canteen on the Friday, confirmed the river was still up and looking like ‘hot chocolate’. Unfortunately no crystal ball involved, she lives in Barford and walks the Avon every day. Another good contact made!
My mind then turned to bait, tackle & tactics. Considering the venue, I opted for a classic Spam attack! I would unleash the Garlic Salt & Archie Braddock’s Barbel Magic flavoured cubes of spam.
The rod would be my trusty Korum Neoteric Twin Tip, sporting the slightly sexy 2lb top. This was coupled with the ‘common-in-all garden’ Shimano 5000RE bait runner. I’d be surprised to find anyone who doesn’t own one!
Main line would be PowerPro braid. Hooklink would be 15lb Mantis gold, 10-12”. Hook being size 6 Drennan SS Barbel tied using knotless-knot. I would be using standard running rig set-up. Lead size determined by flow etc.
My fishing approach would be determined by the condition of the river, but I did have a method I was hoping I could use. One I had been practising and hopefully perfecting!
Saturday morning came and was started off, as usual, in Alfonso’s cafe with a ‘Full English’. This did mean a slight delay in proceedings but it’s always worth it. I set off just after 10am. On the way I crossed the Avon via the M40, a quick glance over the bridge confirmed my want. Still chocolate in colour!
I parked up by the river around 10.30. It’s only a short walk to the river’s edge so I left the tackle in the van and went to have a ‘shufty’ about. The Avon still had about a foot or so on it, but had lost the force (and crap) it has when in the first stages of rising/flooding. This would make life a little simpler. Things were looking good, especially as I couldn’t see anyone else further downstream.
Unfortunately I couldn’t take a water temp due to somehow pulling the wires out from the casing of my digital thermometer. Something else to add to the ‘must fix-it’ list. But I was confident it was up, if only slightly.
Back to the van to grab the tackle etc. Rod, landing net, scales and a few items of essential tackle stuffed into pockets was all I needed.
Back at the water’s edge I selected a 2” cube of meat and impaled it onto the size 6 hook. Pushing the bend of the hook out the other side of the meat I slipped through the obligatory piece of grass; pulling the hook back once in place to secure it. (This I have done since I was at school, and with every piece of meat I have ever fished with.)
On went a 3oz lead and we were set. Where to start? My mind recalled pages of numerous books and magazine articles about winter floods and how to fish them. Now, the main one that has stuck with me the most predominantly is the teachings from Mr Trefor West, probably because it cost me £150! I shall not divulge all as I really recommend you spend a day with him yourself. He is a mine of information and tales.
So, with my mental note of possible swims I make my first cast. River is running right to left as I stand facing it. The method I chose was one Mr West showed me, which is also in his book, so no new fancy technique coming up I’m afraid. I’ll explain briefly to those who have not yet read his book...shame on you!
The cast is made upstream, in steady flow. As the lead lands you feel it bounce along the gravel. It holds tight. At this point I reel down and take up the slack. My rod tip is angled a foot downstream of where the line enters the water. This creates a downward tension on the line. The theory being that any weed/debris build-up will only drag the lead downstream out of position. Indicated by dink, dink, dink. Now, if the bait is taken by a barbel, due to its natural feeding movement of ‘suck, lift & turn’ the lead lifts up off the bottom. This you feel, a slight pluck on the line before the lead bounces again. At that point, and in Trefor’s word’s, ‘Assume the position and whack it’. Job done.
So, now I’ve shared my £150 with you, back to the fishing.
I made my first cast into a likely swim. Lead bounced a few times along the gravel. The braid providing excellent ‘feel’. It held. I wound down. I waited. Eventually the lead dislodged under the weight of some weed. Dink, dink, dink it went. Then stopped again. Nothing until it moved again. After 5 minutes the lead worked its way along the swim, past me, and downstream. I reeled in.
I repeated the process for another 20 minutes. I usually give each swim 3-4 runs through before moving on.
The next swim I chose had produced before in similar conditions, so I was feeling confident. The river narrows slightly here due to reed beds one side and a collapsed bank complete with trees, the other. The river deepens slightly here too before rising up again into a shallow, gravel run.
On went another 2” cube of Bob’s Special Spam Surprise. The cast was made upstream as usual. Lead bounced, lead held. Nothing came of the first 2 runs.
Before I recast I put a new piece of meat on and the usual check of the hooklink was made. This cast landed further across and came to rest against an old reed bed. As I wound down it felt as if I’d probably snagged it, it was held that firm. I waited, feeling the small bits of rubbish bounce off the braid with my right index finger. The braid was so tight it was singing in the cold wind at times.
It felt like forever before I felt any sort of lead movement. But this time I felt a pluck on the line and a slight lift of the lead. I played the routine through my head quickly, ’tight-line, pluck, lift, bounce, whack it!’ By the time the lead had hit the river bed again the Korum was flying backwards picking up as much slack line as possible. Meanwhile I was hurriedly reeling forward. Was it game on or had I caught a stick again?
As I reeled down the movement of the braid went upstream. Game on!
She plodded upstream for a while before I turned her back with some strong side strain. She then made a couple of hard surging runs towards a sunken log in front of me which required a good pull up and over style of playing a fish, before a last gasp roll at the net. Top Banana! I had finally bagged a winter Boris!
I fished on through the day along the whole stretch and back up again, but alas no more where to fall to Bob’s Special Spam Surprise, but I didn’t care as my mission had been completed and a happy man I was too!
Thanks for sharing Bob!