Early August, the family and I head off on holiday, Wessex bound. The draw is beautiful scenery, wildlife, walking, interesting cities, for the others shopping and for me the chance to have another go at catching Barbel in their natural wild river environment. As I've said before, stillwater Barbel don't count!
Anyway, a day of driving was followed by a walk in the wild woods where we saw many species of birds including, most impressively Buzzards soaring high over head. These were soon upstaged by the Deer we saw scampering through the trees after being alerted by Isaac. Home for the week was a small converted barn which at some point in it's history had been used for making cider. Shelley was disappointed that there was none left behind but not disappointed by the quality of the local brews! After a couple of days I couldn't resist the lure of the river that lay at the bottom of the hill. An exploratory wander revealed the water was low and clear but I managed to find a spot that I felt gave me a chance of a fish, despite my almost total lack of Barbel fishing experience.
So bright and early on the Monday morning I made my way down to the river and commenced fishing in an area that was slightly deeper than the shallows that surrounded it but still retained a decent pace to it. The river was still gin clear and carrying an annoying amount of drifting weed but not enough to make fishing impossible. After a while I worked out how to keep two rods in the water and fish effectively. My downstream rod consisted of a leger with a long hooklength baited with two 10mm fishmeal boilies and a PVA bag of Halibut pellets. This was cast just to the edge of the faster flowing water. The other rod was also baited with a couple of boilies but on this I fished a feeder filled with Hemp which rolled round with the current, methods I'd learnt last year.
The early morning period saw hazy mist rolling down the river but this soon burnt off leaving a mostly bright day punctuated but a couple of short sharp showers. I recast the Hemp rod regularly but let the pellet rod fish for itself mostly. It was a pleasant morning on the river with only the bird life for company but it lacked the most important thing, fish! After a few hours of catching nothing it was hard to remain confident without any experience to draw on. I looked at my watch at around 0930, the kids would be well and truly on the move, time to head back to the barn. It was only when I reached the car that I noticed the “Private fishing” sign nailed to a tree at the top of the bank....
The following afternoon all four of us; Madi, Isaac, Shelley & I had a rendezvous with Rob at a stretch that was ideal for our purposes. Plenty of green space for the children to run around in, a pub nearby for sustenance and the chance of a Barbel in the river. We fished with rolling feeders baited with hemp and maggots and caught fish virtually from the off; Bleak, Dace, Chub...but the Barbel avoided us. Bites came in fits and starts, we kept the bait going in, hoping.... Rob caught the better sized Chub and a Lovely Perch...The weather was very nice, the local best bitter excellent and the company was first class. We chatted all the usual fishy stuff along with football and cricket then put the world to rights but still no Barbel appeared.
As the light faded we adjourned to another local pub for a well earned pint and introductions to another angling brother. Although I could have stayed and drank beer all evening, all too soon the children were yawning and it was time to head off. I'll be having a beer with Rob at the convention next month and the next time we fish together will probably be out here in the east after the Pike?
A couple of days passed and I still had a load of hemp fermenting in a bucket so made another early morning visit to the river. This time I fished a little further along from the stretch I'd tried on my first attempt. OK, this time I knew I shouldn't be there and this would require a little more subtlety should someone challenge me but hey, what harm was I doing?
The upstream end of my swim was shallow with water rushing through into the deeper run in front of me with swirling eddies on either bank. It looked the business, surely home to a Barbel or two? Time would tell. I fished the same methods as the first trip, PVA & pellets on the downstream 'sleeper' rod and hemp in a feeder rolling down with the current on the second. However I'd purchased a tin of sweetcorn to give me a better chance of catching any Chub that might be around. The morning was dull and gloomy, constantly threatening rain but not quite delivering. It was wonderfully quiet in the tree lined banks, only the pipping of Kingfishers zipping along the river and the mewing of ever impressive Buzzards high over head broke the silence.
Time passed. I kept feeding the hemp and rolling the feeder but the only thing I caught was rocks. These wild rivers are heavy on the tackle but I'd come prepared. I may have had the occasional slight tap on the rod tips but being unused to this style of fishing I hardly noticed. I did know that should I be lucky and a Barbel find my bait there'd be no mistaking the bite. I kept hoping...
By 1000 I'd almost run out of bait but resolved to keep on going until it was all gone. I glanced down into the clear water and noticed a cheeky Chub mopping up a few bits of corn I'd dropped before sliding off into the river again. A few minutes later it repeated the procedure and this was just too much to take. OK, it wasn't a Barbel but it was a fish of a size that made it worth catching so I dropped my bait into position and waited. A few minutes passed and the Chub appeared again, made its way to my bait, watch the quiver tip and....nothing happened...but my bait had gone??? Maybe it wasn't meant to be my day. One more go, three grains of corn on the hair, dropped into position and wait. Five minutes later and here came the Chub again, this time I didn't rely on the quiver tip. I watched the fish approach my bait, the bait disappeared, I struck and the fish was on! After a short fight on a stiff rod the fish was brought to the net. By no means a monster but big enough to put a smile on my face.
I loaded the feeder with the last of the hemp and stuffed the hook/hair with a load of corn. Would one last cast bring me the Barbel I craved? The answer was no but if anything the drive to catch another is even stronger than it was a year ago. That evening was the last of our holiday so the family and I took a stroll along another stretch of this beautiful river, saying goodbye. It occurred to me only then the things I could have done a little differently to give myself another chance...I'll be back next year.
A few days later we were back home. Shelley and I took a long walk along a stretch of my local river. I wondered how Barbel would fair in this river but I fear the answer would be badly. Two years ago I wrote about the demise of this little river through abstraction and neglect http://fishingsgreat.blogspot.com/2009/09/nostalgia.html now things are even worse . No flow, painfully shallow and choked to strangulation point by weed. I really fear for the future of this waterway, it's bloody criminal.