Boy have I been busy of late! Trouble is, the more fishing I do the more I feel a desire to write about it. At least I’m catching a few to actually write about, but beware, we are now sliding headlong towards August which can be one of the trickiest months of the season, especially on rivers. It’s a time when levels are low, there’s not much flow and the oxygen content flops. Those fishing near weirs will continue to catch and that’s where I’d recommend you head if you possibly can.
Anyway, I’ve written far too much for one blog (again) – some say I do that every time(!) – so I’m going to split it. I’ll publish this half today and the rest next week. Might be a lull after that for a few weeks as things are set to get mighty busy but I’ll try and find time to stick something of interest up to make it worth you dropping back.
Interestingly I had a nice email from someone who reckons he likes to read my older blogs, you know, the ones relating to the same time last year as much as what I did last week or last month. He reckons it keeps him ahead of the game and I have to say he has a point. Have you read all the old blogs? If not there’s a real goldmine of information and entertainment waiting for you if you’re at a loose end.
But back to the present…
As much as I am happy to respond to the many emails this site is generating can I please request you stop asking me where the good pegs are on the Trent? The Trent is one long barbel swim. In fact it probably holds more barbel than any other river in the country right now and I include the Severn in that. From Gainsborough to Burton and beyond, you’re never very far away from a barbel.
So let me generalise. If you can find water that runs at walking pace over gravel, averaging between 4 and 8 feet deep it will be a barbel swim – end of discussion. If you fish on the outside of a bend, that is with the deeper water and flow under your feet and it meets the above criteria, it’s a barbel swim.
A Lesson You Must Learn
The following paragraphs contain everything you need to know about becoming a better barbel angler. These are the crown jewels and providing you can understand what I’m saying your catches will improve. If you don’t grasp what I’m trying to say you’ll just think I’m an arse!
So be it…
Seriously, if you’re not catching barbel at this present time you may be in a bad swim but the chances are it is your tactics that are wrong. You are most likely frightening the fish away by your approach to them. Barbel are not intelligent fish but they do express many of the same attributes as bullocks (which just happens to be a good description of half the rubbish I read in articles about barbel tactics!) in that they’re extremely curious creatures but twitchy in equal measures.
Stand still and a herd of bullocks will approach you, make a move towards them and they scatter. Spook them properly and they will go away and sulk under a distant tree with just the daft ones returning after a suitable period of time.
You need to start thinking about HOW you feed, not just how much. You need to start thinking about ACCURACY and also about the effects of your own actions. You need to learn to be STEALTHY, even on rivers like the Trent. In fact most anglers I see need to start THINKING – full stop! Use a bit of plain old logic when you’re fishing. Ask yourself – why am I doing this? What could I do that would improve my chances?
And you should also go and find yourself some barbel in shallow, clear water and observe how they react to your actions.
Stu and I spent umpteen days filming barbel underwater and the results are there for all to see in our DVDs. Study those fish if you can’t be bothered to find some of your own. It will tell you so much about how barbel react – especially in the latest two where we introduce tackle to the fish and see how their behaviour changes.
Barbel fishing doesn’t have to be all about two rods pointing at the sky in one swim, setting up a tent and boring them out. That’s not fishing, it’s camping!
The Easy Answer? I Don’t Think So…
I’m also getting a number of emails that say, ‘I know where you’re fishing so I’ve bought a ticket to fish there’, in the full expectation that they’ll turn up and start knocking out barbel by the dozen. Oh well, good luck. You probably won’t bump into me though, as I will be long gone, moved onto pastures new. I’ll be catching fish elsewhere. And then the cycle will begin again.
Let’s get something straight from the outset. I don’t fish for BIG fish, otherwise I’d probably be camped out at Dunham Bridge with the rest of the circus. I’ve not even set foot on the Collingham bank for 15 years!
I’m not an obsessive who camps out for days racking up the numbers, either. I fish where it’s convenient for me and wherever I can find a bit of peace and quiet. When that peace is shattered I tend to move on and start catching lots of fish again elsewhere.
If you stop obsessing over numbers, size and the places where other people fish you’ll enjoy your fishing a lot more.
I love the irony of folk who have fished opposite me, chucked their feeders closer to my bank than where I’m casting, who then decide they’ll swap banks to fish where I’m fishing. Err, why bother? Just chuck shorter mate!
And it would seem the only swims where folk think it’s possible to catch barbel on a stick float are the ones where they’ve seen me fishing… Err, hello? I don’t think so. And there are still miles of water where it’s rare to see an angler. The Ashfield stretch at Cromwell was like that when I fished there. The (now) Barbel Society stretch at Sutton was the same.
But let’s be perfectly honest here, if you can’t catch barbel where you’re currently fishing on a prolific river like the Trent then that probably says more about your angling abilities than where you’re fishing. I’m sorry if that hurts, or if it sounds a bit patronising, or even conceited – it’s not meant to. It’s just that on the basis of probability it’s probably true.
Put the effort into thinking, watercraft, developing your skills, techniques and presentations. Learn about barbel behaviour and habits. Learn about feeding and for Christ’s sake, consider doing something different for a change because if you’re not catching at the moment when the fishing, quite frankly, is ridiculously easy, you’re definitely doing something wrong! Change what you do, not where you go, as that alone will not improve your catches one iota.
Getting It Wrong – Big Time
I spent a couple of days fishing different stretches of a tiny river that holds a few barbel and the two days couldn’t have been more different. The first trip was to a completely new stretch (fishing wise) that I first gazed into around 40 years ago – my how time flies. It still looks exactly the same. Only the fish profile has changed.
The water is shallow, crystal clear and quite weedy. The biggest problem right now, and it will be all summer long, is the amount of drifting weed. Great rafts of it drift through your swim at every depth and it’s everywhere from your feet to the far bank. Even heavy back leads don’t beat it for long but a line that angles down through the water will be festooned within a minute or two. This is frustrating fishing at its very worst.
So anyway, I walked the length for the first time and it wasn’t long before I happened upon a swim containing no less than 20 barbel. Oh, my, God! I was going to fill my boots.
The swim didn’t take a lot of finding, the hammered down banks and the litter was a great give-away, as were the lines hanging down from the hawthorn bush these fish were packed beneath. And boy were they spooky. The old bait dropper had ’em out straight away. The bigger, more experienced fish shot off downstream at the splash, the smaller ones homed straight in on the feed. Head down, tails up, the decision was do I nick an easy fish or do I wait? I waited and sure enough the others returned. For a while the swim was a writhing mass of barbel.
So I gently swung out a lead, feathering it down to reduce the splash and do you know what, that tiny plop was enough to empty the swim! Hmmm. And then the weed dragged my rig round in an arc which meant I had to give them another scary ‘plop’ to worry about.
The answer to the fish’s confidence was simple. Feed, leave half an hour, feed again, leave half an hour and repeat until you could throw a house brick amongst them. But I didn’t have enough time for that. It’s in swims like this where patience is a virtue. Lots of feeding fish in the river doesn’t always equate to easy fishing. Think about that next time you’re blanking on the Trent, crashing 4oz feeders on their heads.
And then I snapped my rod tip! The old Infinity has served me proud for a lot of years but it has had a dogs share of abuse. Plink and the top six inches slid down the line. Oh well, I always fancied an 11-foot barbel rod!
Eventually I managed to get a bait in position for long enough to attract a bite – from a bleeding chub! The old long hair meant it was able to shake it’s head violently enough to dislodge the hook but not before everything vacated the swim.
Time to calm down and slow down. It wasn’t a race to catch as many fish as possible. However I was trying to get some self-take action shots at the same time and that in itself was to be my undoing. I did hook two barbel and both came off while I was trying to play them and mess with the camera at the same time. Once was bad enough. Twice was plain stupid.
The solution to the ‘plop’ problem was to bury the lead inside a PVA mesh bag of pellets to soften the impact and create a point of attraction for the fish to home in on. I was also suffering with the trailing branches and lengths of fishing line as my long hook link was prone to catching on the way in. A short hook link was required. By then hooking the bag it shortened the short hook link by half and prevented any further snagging.
Then I hooked a chub that I simply couldn’t shake off, so I landed it. This was when I realised I’d seriously underestimated the size of these fish. It was a rather nice brassy lump from such a tiny river.
Anyway, by now the disturbance had had an effect on the fish in that the larger fish had split from the smaller ones. Most of these had shot off downstream, returning only briefly before fleeing again at the slightest disturbance. Then I spotted a fin protruding out from right underneath the far bank vegetation upstream of the main shoal of fish. It was tucked right underneath the greenery at the back of a channel no wider than a foot and this fish was indeed a mighty specimen. Time for a bit of THINKING. You know, that thing I’ve been banging on about to you.
By using the dropper I could keep the smaller fish occupied. By loose feeding small quantities upstream of the big girl I would try and attract her attention. Then I discovered she had a mate for company. It was a chub, and judging by the one I’d just caught this one was a good 5lb and if the chub was 5lb this old girl was easily a double.
The loose feed worked to a degree. The odd couple would saunter out and snatch a few pellets before sliding back beneath the cover. Several times I thought she’d gone for good but no, she was still there. When I felt sure she was out of sight I swung out the lead-in-bag combo with the short hook link. Two minutes later she crept out, very cautiously and after what seemed like an eternity but was probably about 30 seconds I felt a solid ‘donk’. My strike met with nothing. And that was it. She’d gone.
Stupid short hook link. Stupid me for striking at what might even have been a liner. Had the bait been taken properly there would have been no need for a strike.
I cursed and fumed for a while and then decided to catch one of the smaller barbel, just for the hell of it and then I went home. It was 2pm and I’d spent 4 hours on the bank. More than enough to know it wasn’t my day and the fault lay at my own door. The difference between my inept failure was that I knew who’s fault it was and I didn’t need to go looking for a new ‘easier’ place to fish.
Geting It Right
I returned to the same river the following day and fished a completely different stretch. Well, two stretches if you’re counting as this was a roving day. My goal, as ever on this river, is to catch fish from new swims rather than to grind out the same old fish from the same old swims. What’s the point in that? Would I learn anything by doing so? I arrived in mid-morning beneath a scorching sun and blue skies. Perfect fishing weather!
Last time I was here I found myself a new swim that no-one else had fished this season based on the chest high nettles I had to suffer for my art. Alas someone had been there since as there was now a path through to the swim.
Still, I introduced a little bait, out came a fish, in went my rig and within 30 seconds I’d hooked it. Unfortunately the hook link broke under very little pressure. Had I checked it? No. Should I have? Well that’s bleeding obvious, isn’t it? But how often do we do that?
I had visions of another frustrating day ahead. Better get my mind in gear, I thought.
I moved to the next stretch downstream, skipping the nailed on ‘flier’ peg which was empty. What’s the point? I’ve not a lot to learn there. Pulling up by a stand of trees where Stu had caught previously I fed and waited. Nothing materialised. Oh well. Can’t win ’em all.
Dropping down a short way there’s a pool which runs onto some shallows and an overhanging tree. It always looks tasty but I’ve never seen anything there except chub. But I fed them for old times sake and then I spotted a barbel. It only looked about 3lb but a fish is a fish.
So I fed the chub and got the barbel interested. I rather hoped the feeding would attract more barbel but it remained the only one. So I lulled it into a false sense of security, waited while it went on a little tour of the swim and placed my bait read for its return. Then a chub pounced on my bait. I watched as it shook it’s whole body violently and fortunately managed to shake the hook leaving my bait just where I wanted it.
Along came the barbel and I was able to watch it picking up smaller pellets here and there. I knew it was going to make a mistake and sure enough it suddenly stiffened and began writhing. Only when I put a bend in the rod did it bolt.
The nice thing was that this fish was a good deal bigger than my earlier estimate of 3lb. I thanked the fish, returned her and moved on.
A little way downstream I dropped into a prolific swim, just for a look really and I couldn’t resist catching a barbel, which didn’t take long to be honest. These fish have seen a bit of action and they vanished after one had been caught. Trouble is, the floating weed trundling through and snagging your line every time is bad enough, but the swim has a fabulous head of chub that love to mess up your presentation.
After shaking off a couple I decided to net the next one and it was another clonker. Game over with the barbel, though.
I then decided to catch a few chub on freeline tactics, just for the hell of it. Loose fed pellets got them competing, the barbel rig minus the lead was a bit obvious. I had a few but I must return with sensible chub gear sometime rather than the somewhat obvious 12lb braid.
Further downstream I discovered a completely new swim at the expense of some severe nettle rashes, scratches, lacerations from brambles and getting tangled up in those stupid clingy, stringy creeper things. I could tell for certain no-one had fished here. Mind you, the swim was underneath a couple of trees and there was no way of lifting a rod vertically more than about 4 feet above the water. It was a jungle.
What attracted me to the swim was the gravel. There’s a right kind of gravel for barbel on this river. Find it and you invariably find fish. Add cover to gravel and you have a nailed on swim. Here there was a big raft trapped by trailing branches.
In went some pellets and hemp and out popped a shoal of barbel – just like that! I let them feed and as sure as night follows day they slunk back to whence they came. In went the dropper again, followed immediately by my rig. When the fish didn’t return for a couple of minutes I began to get twitchy but there was no need. Within three minutes I was into my first barbel from the new swim.
Back it went. Too small to be bothered with a picture if I’m honest and I was on my way to another swim. This is somewhere I can nick a fish anytime I want providing I don’t hammer it and that no-one else finds it. Trouble is, Stu will find it!
My next and final swim was one I found last week. Last year there were no fish in it. This year the bush has grown and acquired the right shape to afford good cover and protection. The fish here are of a much larger stamp than you find elsewhere on the river but boy are they twitchy. Turns out Stu’s now ‘discovered’ this swim and had a couple of fish from it. That’s four between us in the past week and as I was going to have a couple today it would mean more than half the shoal had been caught.
That means it’ll get harder or they’ll find a new home.
Again it was a case of feeding and watching, being patient, letting the shoal get confident and start competing. It’s all too easy to get impatient and begin casting in too soon. It’s fascinating to watch how they leave cover very tentatively, pick up a bit of food and swirl back round heading for safety. How one fish’s movements are replicated by the others.
Again, when I did pick my moment, and I chose it very carefully in that split second after the swim emptied, I’ll bet I didn’t have to wait a minute before I hooked into what was one of the better specimens in the swim.
Back she went, I fed again, waited and then nicked another. Time to move.
This is called fishing. Camping by rods is something completely different. Stalking fish is a world apart from stalking successful anglers. Successful anglers are successful anglers for a reason. Ronaldo could give you his boots but you ain’t never going to score 30 goals a season with them. It’s exactly why you need to start thinking about what you do rather than what others do.
Anyway, I’d now had enough. It was getting on towards teatime. Before leaving I checked a couple of old favourite swims. One that is hidden beneath a big overhanging tree, where trailing branches catch a canopy of debris, has produced some nice fish for me in the past. Today it was home to four decent sized bream and no signs of barbel or chub. Odd that. The bream pounced on my free offerings, puffing up wisps of silt. There used to be lots of bream in this river, these are the only four I’ve seen all year. Where have they gone? Did the floods push them downstream?
And finally, I checked out one last swim. This used to be a barbel banker, too. Still looks the part but I could only tempt one fish out to feed – if you ignore the chub. Oddly I could loose feed on top of this one and it carried on feeding regardless. Obviously it hadn’t been fished for this season. Should I nip back to the car, grab a rod and catch it? Nah, can’t be bothered. Fishing’s more than just racking up numbers… Isn’t it?
I guess, for some, it’s not.
The Night Stalker
Stu Walker is having one hell of a season, racking up more doubles already than I’m likely to catch all year. “Why don’t you join me?” He asks, but the plain fact is I’ve no intention of doing what he’s doing despite having a ticket for the same water.
You see, Stu’s adopted his favourite roving approach to catch these fish, never spending more than an hour in each spot. Unfortunately he’s doing this in the dark. That’s right, he’s on the go all night long, non stop, no sleeping, no bivvy, nothing.
Tera Patrick couldn’t keep me up all night these days so Stu’s got no chance!
“I just drink a lot of Red Bull,” He says.
I’d need amphetaminesto even contemplate it. Which incidentally was how a lot of the early carp pioneers managed to fish through the nights in days before bite alarms were invented.
He’s only managed to trick one double during daylight hours so far but I might have to give it a go myself next week. In daylight, of course.
So I Says To Darth…
I had the privilege of attending the ROSCARS last week. That’s the Rotherham Oscars and it was a glittering occasion staged at Magna. Magna’saninteractive science park these days but once upon a time it was a huge steelworks. Quite what anyone would have thought 30 years ago had one of the workers predicted that in a few years time the rolling mill would be carpeted and they’d be holding awards ceremonies in it I cannot imagine but there’s a fair chance the bloke would have been wrapped up in a straight jacket.
“Any problems, Bob, you just let me know and I’ll send the storm troopers round.”
Rotherham United manager Ronnie Moore was presenting one of the awards and he leaked an exclusive that local boy Howard Webb was going to referee the World Cup Final. Now we just need Ronnie’s Millers to be playing in a proper football ground of their own and climbing back up the leagues.
They might be a bunch of tossers but they’re our tossers! We might be two divisions apart but they’re still our rivals and it would be good to see them in the fixture list again, providing we don’t have to slump two divisions for that to happen.
Plans are now well advanced for their new ground and then they can escape that soulless Don Valley Stadium where only athletics meetings and rock concerts should ever be staged.
Boy, You’re Gonna Carry That Weight
You’ll recall in my last blog I highlighted the deliberate practise of jettisoning leads when carp fishing. It provoked this response on a forum:
“Interesting thread, I’ve never met Bob Roberts nor have I had any dealings with him. But I must admit to taking a bit of a dislike to him.”
“Having also read some of his blogs, he seems to talk some proper nonsense too, his views on lead ejection rigs are frankly a joke and smack of Des Taylor type shock jock journalism.”
Des and I may share some views but this is certainly not shock jock sensationalism, nor is it a joke. It’s about how we will be viewed and judged by non-anglers and those who would cheerfully ban the sport altogether. Let us get something straight from the outset. Lead is poisonous. It is toxic. Lead can cause developmental problems. There is no minimum safe exposure limit. There are government regulations regarding ‘acceptable’ limits for products and pollution.
That is not shock jock journalism. It is fact.
Check out the Straight Dope web site (in their words: fighting ignorance since 1973 – it’s taking longer than we thought). It explains the issue of lead weights and wildlife is not restricted to a few swans in the UK. It’s a worldwide problem. It is not just the highlighted waterfowl casualties, either. Raptors and scavengers are affected by secondary poisoning and the use of lead in any form is under threat. Lead bans are creeping into legislation and the blatant encouragement of anglers, by other ‘celebrity’ anglers, to dump lead into our waterways is pure stupidity because it plays into the hands of those who are against us. It is irresponsible.
It doesn’t matter if these leads are too big to be ingested by wildlife – that simply is not the point. It’s no more acceptable than throwing your lager cans in the bushes on the grounds that no-one can see them when the vegetation is in full bloom.
It’s one thing to lose a lead accidentallybut it’s quite another to go deliberately dumping leads into the environment when there are perfectly acceptable alternatives. This practice is potentially angling’s biggest Achilles heel outside of livebaiting (another area where we are shooting ourselves in the foot).
LivebaitingI will defend while ever I can draw breath, even though I seldom do it. It is fundamental to some fishing practises and to condemn it is one step away from banning hooks completely. You cannot justify sticking a hook in a fishes mouth when it takes your hook bait and then object to someone sticking a hook into the flank of a fish when it’s meant to be eaten by another fish. That just doesn’t make sense, does it?
Or maybe it’s nothing to do with leads, angling practices or shock jocks after all. Maybe it’s just symptomatic of angling forums and the kind of individual who seeks attention through the Internet by broadcasting insults about folk they’ve never met.
Strikes me they have a lot in common with dung beetles. A life spent looking for sh*te and then parading it around for all to see.
Then they eat it…
Actually, that’s not strictly true as there are three kinds of dung beetle. The first, known as rollers, are noted for rolling dung into spherical balls, which are used as a food source or brooding chambers. Other dung beetles, known as tunnelers, bury the dung wherever they find it. A third group, the dwellers, neither roll nor burrow: they simply live in manure.
Sounds about right to me.
Well the World Cup is finally over. Wasn’t exactly memorable, was it? Good for Africa? We’ll see. But who pays, and how, when the circus leaves town? They surely must have incurred a massive amount of debt to build those fine stadiums and improve the transport infrastructure. And will the glittering spectacle change the world’s perception of an African continent and its many problems?
As one wit commented, “Surely we don’t send them all that aid money so they can blow it all on trumpets?”
But what about the final? Ugly, wasn’t it? The Dutch, famous for their cloggs, once gave us ‘total football’. Last night they gave us total thuggery. It was a shameful display of totally brutal football. Stop the man, kill the game, negate the flair. Pray for a break or the lottery of penalties.
It was so nearly effective and that would have been a ‘total’ travesty.
Fortunately football won out in the end but how pathetic it was to watch the Dutch complaining that the ref had missed a foul at the other end. Missed a foul? The Dutch picked up no less than 9 yellow cards. One Dutchman was sent off when it could so easily have been three or four.
Alas there was no dignity in defeat for the Orangemen. No pangs of sympathy for the vanquished. No lasting glory. Any other result would have been a stain on the game.
Honestly, it was like watching Leeds United in the 1960’s, Norman ‘bites yer legs’ Hunter, Charlton’s black book, the snarling Bremner all rolled into 10 orange shirted cloggers – versus Doncaster Rovers, the masters of sweet short, sharp passing football; where there’s never really a need for the long ball, or even for it to leave the grass…
To Be Continued…
Well, that’s your lot for now. This blog continues but you’ll have to wait a few days to read the rest of it.