Monday, 22 July 2019

The Art of Catching Barbel.

 Is quite simply put in other words, to understand the art of catching chub!. This is true throughout all fishing in our wonderful and enchanting rivers. Where barbel reside chub are almost certainly close by.

 This season I have chosen to invest quite a bit of time on a neglected stretch of river off the beaten track and away from my usual haunts. Revisiting somewhere I haven't been for some time, I spent in the region of fifteen trips a few years back attempting to cross paths with an elusive monster, one that I had the pleasure of seeing with my own eyes holding steady in a fast narrow stretch of river. Chocked with ranunculus, just as it was then. I am almost holding out hope that she may still be alive or another specimen of her calibre hidden amongst the large healthy beds of weed that could quite easily conceal such a creature, the unknown for me is tantalising yet nervous at the same time, my efforts may not be rewarded in such glorious fashion.

 The very sense of being there, on that stretch of water fills one with such excitement that even with my continuing health issues that I shall not bore you with enable me to find the strength and ability to pick my way through the maze of towering stinging nettles for the first time as I look to nestle myself along with my B James Mark IV Avon 10ft split cane rod and a little bag of bait in a nook or cranny that looks fisherable. As I approached the last three to four feet of the bank I can just make out through my steamed polaroids the tail of what looked like a good barbel.

 I crouched back down behind the slightly less dense bank side foliage and wipe the condensation from my glasses whilst gently wafting some cool air up my light jumper. As I regained my viewing position I could see with clear vision a barbel of at least ten pounds holding at the tail end of a bed of ranunculus that stretched possible forty feet! This unfortunately meant I had probably entered what would be the area I would pull fish up from, so I beat a slow retreat after admiring such a glistening creature for a little longer. Confident my cover wasn't blow I slipped my way upstream to roughly where I thought the ranunculus would start and my prediction was spot on as I stumbled upon a large clear gravel patch with the beginnings of the roots of weed arching up and waving in the flow.

 This was certainly earmarked as one of my spots, so I underarm threw out a healthy helping of 6mm pellets and broken 15mm dumbbell boilies, kindly made by Darren McCann of the Hookbait Co. With the dinner bell rang this was not for fishing in mind on this occasion, yes I knew one very good barbel lay forty feet downstream and possibly more between her and the bait, but I wanted the bait to settle and allow whatever was there to feed confidently until such time that I felt the swim was ready for me to start fishing.

 In the back of my mind the fast glide where I saw, 'The Monster",  we shall just call her for future reference and wondered was there anywhere to possibly fish what is a very pacy swim. A further venture upstream through what appeared to be virgin jungle was energy sapping, sweat pouring from every pore on my body, the sound of the faster water was getting louder and this spurred me on to continue! As I got closer visions of "The Monster" crossed my mind again and almost peered through the water expectantly. This time though there was to be no initial mirage followed by the realisation of a 14-16lb barbel sitting in the flow just a rod length from me.

 Rewind those few years I just remember thinking to myself, one: how could I not have bought a rod along knowing I was looking for areas to fish and potentially have a chance at fishing for something, but secondly: why, knowing the potential of the water did I not give it more of a chance. I think the reason this campaign has come about is simply I want a challenge, away from other anglers and fish the good old fashion way, whether its stalking at close quarters or playing the long game, fast forward those years and I am here. Hoping that my chance of something special hasn't passed me by.

 The swift glide has more weed on it now than it used to but looks in fine fettle and although I didn't see a barbel I did spot the odd chub drifting around at the tail end of the weed runs. The section I am fishing is possibly half a mile long, no weir pools to keep me occupied and I feel the fish don't move much, I only think this simply based on my knowledge of barbel, yes they do move a lot and know to be transient but there is a whole host of overhanging bushes, marginal trees in the water, not to mention the very healthy weed growth which provides masses of cover. Natural food here is not in short supply either as I bait dropped out a few batches of the bait I came back with fresh water shrimp and even watched a dragonfly larvae climbing out the river in front of me as I watched that barbel.

 Knowing that competition food wise is going to be hard I felt that it would be good to get around five patches in total ticking over with bait and maybe adopt the forty-five minute rule, this is if you've had no bite in that time move to the next swim, or if you catch, move anyway to manage the swim in a way that doesn't put pressure on the shoal if indeed one exists. It's all about swim management. So over the last week including last Thursday I managed to make the journey down to keep the bait going in. Driving all that way just to bait up!...the saying "effort = reward" I'm hoping this rings true and on the 16th of July I made my first journey down to the river with the rod all set up.

 The previous evening, instead of watching the tripe on the television I sat down and started tying a few rigs that should see me through the season. My main approach is going to be bait and wait ( unless stalking becomes an option ) so I made a few rigs using the Gardner gravel coloured coated braid and by stripping around six inches of the coating off allowed me to give the hair/hook a lot of flexibility, in time this small design may pay off. The hooks I use are wide gape hooks, always use wide gape for barbel, regardless if I am rolling meat or static fishing, the pattern is something I have absolute faith in. The size of the hook I want to relatively match the size of the bait so I am settling with a size 8 for now which is also coated in a gravel coating so that when fishing in the sunlight it doesn't glint which could put feeding fish off.

 The five swims I have chosen to get feeding all look fairly similar in terms of weed growth and cover, but the pace is different throughout the stretch and I am keeping an eye on a sixth possible location when in flood conditions during the winter as it has a fairly large back eddy that no doubt will be somewhere fish, especially barbel and chub will seek refuge come the cooler months with the higher likelihood of rains. On the 16th I dropped into a peg I really did fancy right from the off but with the bright sunlight I could still see some of my broken boilies amongst the gravel which was a good indicator to me that the fish in the time I had been feeding that spot weren't on it often enough to clear it off. That did open up a few dilemmas in my head as to whether it is a feeding area, or an area just the odd passing fish grubs up on and goes off elsewhere.

 I'll leave myself to ponder on that another time. Having gathered my gear I slipped off back down my little trail, shrouded by the annoyingly tall nettles, getting stung on my neck and face (which wasn't pleasant) I got to my next port of call, a nice swift run in the middle and an inside crease that I felt may well hold a fish or two. With my 1.5oz gravel coloured lead I gently placed it twenty feet downstream and a rod length out, sat back and waited for the tip to slam round and the centrepin to spin!

 The tranquility experienced on the bank in such wild surroundings is a huge part as to why I love angling so much and at a time where there is so much negativity, I can safely say that there will be (hopefully) none of that on this quest. As a pair of Kingfishers chased each other up and down I almost missed just the tiniest of taps on the rod, only subtle, but enough to get my attention as around fifteen minutes had passed by now and I was just soaking up the atmosphere, as you do.

 Then, like a shark had just taken the bait with rod lurched healthily downstream and line tore of my nearly sixty year old reel, I was sure that in just a short time I had caught a barbel, after finally gaining control of the rod and I gingerly got upright I began to gain quickly on what turned out to be a modest chub of around 4lbs, not my target, but it was a fish. After a quick snap of actually what was a stunning looking fish I headed downstream and rested the patch I'd just caught from.

 This peg was one of the wider ones and in truth quite tricky to fish but I chose it as a potential area of interest is that the gravel was spotless the whole way across, only a couple little bits of weed and I felt this was a peg at night that the barbel and probably chub would come in and feed on, thus giving it a go. Again, I opted to put on a small PVA bag and underarm casted the bait out with minimal noise as I am not sure yet whether the noise turns the fish on or spooks them, only time will tell on that one.

 I sat in this particular patch for around half an hour whilst occasionally standing up to stretch my back and legs, but, to also have a peer through the polaroids to see if there was any activity on the gravel for which there was none on each of my checks. After half an hour I decided to make my way back to the swim I had the chub from and hoped that any other chub in there would have spoked off and any barbel in the peg would have a feed.

 Same as before I inched my bait into position and just laid back, daydreaming of what could be, questions and scenarios constantly running through my mind. The fact I am trying is enough for me, I believe I have caught enough barbel over the years to say I am competent enough to achieve such a quest, should my target still be swimming these waters. An hour passed by in a flash and said to myself I need to pack myself away for 9pm, that gave me time to get to the motor and get home without waking up the mrs. As nine o'clock came, I packed my bag away and folding the net away and into it nifty little sleeve, just leaving the rod out, as you do, just to eek that last opportunity out of the trip and it worked!

 A single tap was followed by a ferocious slam of the rod which took me by surprise as there was no precursor, a sturdy fight ensued out in mid flow and dived into a small bed of weed which gave me the impression it was a chub, now it felt heavier than a chub so I was a little curious, a few seconds later the fish finally came out the weed and rolled on the surface, a large chub turned and all the while the landing net is getting scrambled back together again!. As the chub turned it went deep in front of me to the bottom and showed no intention of coming in, but with such stepped gear owing to the abundance of weed the chub was swiftly bought back up to an awaiting net.

Pleased with that!

Caught at 2108, measuring 21.6 inches in length.

 Home time delayed by a little while but when its a chub of 5lb 8ozs I am sure nobody minds. In fantastic condition and in the winter it will certainly tip the scales over the 6lb mark, it certainly was no barbel, but the art of catching barbel is the art of catching chub, so it's inevitable. 


  1. Good to see you are mobile again and that is a mint looking chub - nice one.
    I used to use wide gapes for barbel but nowadays it's curved shanks all the way.

    1. I thought she was going to go little heavier but I could not be upset by that, the Barbel have been somewhat anonymous, just trying to find one and hopefully get amongst a few then.


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