REFLECTIONS – A New Book By Chris Turnbull
I feel privileged to have been afforded the opportunity to review many fine angling books in my time but that honour pales into frivolity when compared to those occasions when authors and publishers allow me an opportunity to actually publish extracts or sample chapters from their books along with some of the actual images here on my web site.
I know from personal experience what it’s like to publish a book. It’s like giving birth. First you get the urge to create and then you nurture this ‘thing’, for that’s what a book is to an author, it’s a living, growing thing that begins life as an embryonic idea but before it bursts out onto an expectant world you’ll experience doubts, sick feelings, pain, strain and worry. No mother ever delivers an ugly child, at least not in her eyes and no author ever sets out to write a bad book. But deep down you can only hope you produce neither, so I’m only too happy to allow great anglers like Chris Turnbull a chance to share with you a chapter from a book that will be so dear to his own heart.
This is how he describes his aim…
From Chris Turnbull’s introduction to Reflections:
The remit given to me for this book is to put together an autobiographical collection of my own angling stories in a way that is both evocative and instructional, and certainly that brief suits me well, as however much I embellish it with anecdotal stories, I find writing technical stuff hard work and boring. I’ve tried to write here what I personally like best in an angling book – that being something that entertains me, gives me a few ideas and inspires me to go fishing.
Despite the impression some angling ‘experts’ like to create, even the most successful of them have their off-days and suffer from cock-ups and failures along the way. This is all part of the fabric of angling that makes it so absorbing. Indeed, without the challenges, the lessons we have to learn, and the problems we have to overcome in order (hopefully) to be rewarded by catching the fish of our dreams, angling would not be the absorbing activity it is.
Sometimes those fish come ridiculously easily, others we have to suffer for, and some of them elude us forever; this is specimen angling, ‘warts and all’, and that is in essence what I’ve tried to portray in this book.
Chapter 18 – Five Big Barbel by Chris Turnbull
By 2005, seventeen years had passed since NACA had started its Sayer’s Meadow Project, transforming the fishery beyondrecognition. By now the fishery record had risen to an incredible 17.14, withat least two fish regularly weighing over 17 lbs. Having now personally caught most of the big fish at Sayer’s at least once with a long list of 14, 15 and 16-pounders under my belt, I had the measure of catching them on a regular basis. I hadn’t intended to fish seriously for them that summer until September, by which time they should have put on a significant amount of growth. Nevertheless, the season saw me regularly pre-baiting the river with DT Bait Developments’ Orange and Blood boilies, a bait I’d been tipped off as being very effective everywhere it had been used. As the summer progressed, I couldn’t resist putting in the odd short session to assess the fishes’ response. I’d been successfully using boilies for a few seasons now, but had been most successful when using them in conjunction with pellets. The fish had certainly liked the mix I’d been using, but I felt that it had lacked the pulling power I was looking for. Hopefully my new bait would remedy this situation; however, just in case some extra persuasion might be required, I’d also bought several kilos of pellets of the same flavour.
On Friday 5th August, I woke up to rain, but by midday the weather had cleared and I couldn’t resist the opportunity of trying out my new bait. By 2.35 pm, I was standing next to the mill-pool at the top of the fishery throwing in a few handfuls of my new pellets. As usual, the chub piled in and started intercepting them on the drop. However, within minutes, seven barbel had joined in the fray and were tearing up the bottom in a frenzy. None of these fish looked particularly big, so I decided to see what I could find elsewhere. Judging by their keenness to feed, I suspected no-one had been around to spook them for a while. Hopefully the same situation would exist downstream.
By now, we had identified most of the biggest fish individually. Several of them had been caught in the mill-pools in June and July, although, due to late spawning, their weights had been down. Since then, I’d watched three big barbel cautiously feeding in ‘The Hawthorn’ swim, the name now given to the swim where I’d caught that trio of big fish three years earlier. They had been swimming out from under the fallen snag-tree at the bottom of the glide and picking up a few halibut pellets in open water before dashing back under the cover of its branches. The swim seemed a good starting point to assess their reaction to my new bait, and as I settled in, I noticed that the marginal plants had closed right in, suggesting no one had been there for some time.
My 1.12 lb Harrison rod was already set up, complete with Shimano Baitrunner, 14 lb b.s. mono, and12 lb ESP Sink-link hook-length complete with a size 8 ESP Raptor T6 hook. All I had to do was clip a 2 oz bomb onto the run-ring, set the distance of the back-lead from the rig and attach a boilie to the hair.
On the Wensum, I preferred running leads to semi-fixed rigs, as bolt-rigs all too easily hook the chub, whereas when using running leads, they are more likely to rattle the rod without hooking up. The use of two rods also has no place here, as catching these fish is a game of stealth where, rather like jungle warfare, one rod can be applied as effectively as a sniper’s rifle, while two rods would be like sending in heavy artillery, only to find the enemy had heard you coming and fled.
At the head of the swim, a large weed-bed stretched across the river from bank to bank, a couple of yards below which lay a smaller patch of potomageton. The barbel invariably held up in the snags fifteen yards downstream of my fishing position; however, rather than risk damaging fish by fishing close to the snags, I much preferred to have them follow a bait-trail upstream so I could hook and playthem in open water. Confident that a few fish would be lying under the tree, I carefully swung my baited rig a rod-length out to a patch of clean gravel between the two weed-beds.
While the river was gin-clear, even with my Polaroids on, there was sufficient glare to prevent a view of the hook-bait, and I hoped that it was not hung up in weed. After mending the line so that the back-lead was positioned under a patch of marginal streamer weed, I broke up a dozen boilies and flicked them in to rest close to my hook-bait; however, several minutes elapsed without any fish being drawn to the bait, and I decided to introduced some of my pellets to the head of the swim withatrail of bait settling around my hook-bait. Normally the sound of pellets hitting the water would draw an instant response from the chub, with the barbel following them in.
With just enough bothersome horse-flies around to prevent me giving the fishing my full attention, I held onto the rod with my right hand with the line crooked across my finger. I’m not a staunch advocate of touch-ledgering for barbel, but as I prefer watching the water to staring at the rod-tip, it is a useful method of preventing the rod being dragged in while I’m not watching it. I have no doubt that barbel can pick up and eject a bait with hardly a twitch on the rod – indeed I’ve seen it happen numerous times – but striking at twitches is madness in a swim full of chub and barbel, as the last thing I wanted to do is strike a twitch and hook a chub, otherwise should that twitch be caused by a barbel brushing against the line, striking would achieve nothing other than spooking it, along with any other barbel feeding in the swim. Providing it hasn’t pricked itself, a barbel may well pick up the hook-bait a second time, therefore I prefer to wait for the fish hook themselves and ignore everything else.
As I watched the water, I became aware of movements under the potamogeton below the baited area, followed by a big fish nudging its way onto the clear gravel, with another fish equally as big idling into view a few seconds later. Both the water-level and flow-rate were reasonably high, but the water was clearer than it had been all season and Icould see both fish well enough to attempt to identify them individually. Before long, however, the number of fish feeding in the swim had got out of hand, with most of the biggest fish in the fishery partying over my bait. At a guess, five of them may have been over 15 lbs, with at least five smaller doubles also getting a look in. And incredibly, there was not a single chub amongst them to spoil the party.
The swim was a mass of long muscular bodies, waving tails, flashing fins and nudging barbules. Plumes of silt were pouring out of the weed-beds, reeds were shaking and, despite the back-lead, the rod was bouncing in the rest. Wow, what a painting this would make, I thought, as I waited for my rod to pull round. One minute followed another, however, without that imminent bite occurring and I began to think something was wrong. Was it the shape of my boilie? Could they have becomecautious of little round balls? Or perhaps my hook-bait was hung up in weed? Gradually one fish after another dropped out of the swim, until eventually not a single fish was left.
After leaving the bait for a few minutes to ensure I didn’t spook any fish that might still be lurking under the weed, I lifted it out of the water andwasn¹t surprised to find it masked in weed. After picking it off, I picked a few bits out of the boilie to break up its shape and then carefully dropped it back into position. After breaking up a dozen more boilies and flicking them out, I introduced a few more pellets.
I’d long ago realised that with Wensum barbel, the first cast into a swim is the one most likely to catch a fish, with eachsubsequent cast increasingly likely to raise their suspicions. I’d seen no reason to suspect that I had spooked these fish, but waited nervously to see what their response would be to a second helping. Soon enough, the odd fish started working its way back into the baited area. One particularly long fish entered the swim and picked up a few mouthfuls before drifting over to the far side of the river and turningback towards the snags. It hesitated for a second, however, as greed overcame its caution, and then swam back onto to the baited area. As its barbules workedbusily over the gravel, I noticed the width across its back and compared this with its huge length – I suspected it might be the fish I had named ‘The Beast’, but would she take the hook-bait? Suddenly she looked agitated and turned away off the bait. My first thought was that something had spooked her, but when the line pulled hard against my finger, I realised my hook in its lip had been responsible!
In a split second, the fish was charging back towards the snags with my rod bent double and the stiffly-set clutch grudgingly giving line. As her powerful body started disappearing beneath the overhanging branches, I cursed myself for not setting it even tighter, and clamped down hard on the spool to halt its first run. After this, it was just a matter of slogging it out in open water. Nothing is more exhilarating than the spectacular fight of a really big barbel, but at this time of year it pays to get it over as quickly as possible before they are totally knackered and become difficult to nurse back. This fish was having none of that, however, and dragged the fight out for ages, despite my bullying it as hard as I dared.
Once in the net, my recognition of the fish was confirmed. Resting her in the landing-net, I ‘phoned round for someone to take some photographs. Half an hour later, Bob Chambers, one of the fishery bailiffs, came to my aid. At 16.09, she beat my previous personal best by 2 ozs. ‘The Beast’ had lifted the Wensum record to 17.14 when Stephen Harper caught her the previous October, and she was now marginally up in weight for the time of year, so I couldn¹t resist speculating on how heavy she would eventually become.
The following Tuesday, I returned to the river at 3.15 pm and fed the barbel in the mill-pool for twenty minutes. I was pleased to see ‘The Beast’ had now joined them, and not wishing to risk catching her again, I elected to try my luck down-river once again. It was perhaps 4.10 pm when I settled in ‘The Hawthorn’. After retying the rig and baiting the hook, I followed the procedure of first getting the hook-bait in position before introducing a few broken boilies and three handfuls of pellets. I knew I’d got everything spot-on when, as if on cue, a number of big fish started mopping up my offerings. I remember thinking that this was going to be all too easy, and the bite, when it came, took somewhat less than five minutes. After a slightly less manic battle I had another huge fish resting in the net.
This time Stephen Harper and his son Oliver came to my aid. I had instantly recognised the fish as one we call ‘OnePec’. Usually she is the second biggest fish in the stretch by a few ounces; however as Oliver did the honours with the scales he confirmed her as weighing 17.07. Unbelievably, I’d hit jackpot and caught my target 17-pounder at least a month before I’d expected any of the fish to top that weight.
As summer slowly changed towards autumn, I continued the same ‘laid-back’ approach to my fishing, enjoying the occasional short session whenever fine weather obliged and other commitments allowed.
As I continued to put the odd decent fish on the bank, I gradually noticed signs of my new boilies becoming established and working well without the addition of any pellets. By the end of September, the fish had dispersed throughout the fishery rather than being shoaled up, but with the water now coloured a dull brown by a thick bloom of algal diatoms, visually spotting them had become increasingly difficult.
Despite this turbidity of the water, on Thursday, 22nd September, I had noticed a couple of nice fish in ‘The Hawthorn’, and while I did manage to elicit and subsequently miss a pick-up from the bigger of them, the ensuing capture of two chub prompted me to move on to try a few other swims. What had struck me on this occasion, however, was how my new bait seemed to be bringing about a persistent feeding response in the barbel, even when they were clearly unsettled. Thinking about it over the weekend, I decided to return again the following Monday to see how far I could push this response.
As it happened, I arrived at the river just in time to find Jim Bigden preparing his self-photographing gear in ‘The Hawthorn’ swim. After we snapped off a few shots of a 12.04 he had just landed, Jim said that he was intending to move on to the bend upstream, so I was welcome to ‘The Hawthorn’ if I wanted. Normally, I’d be reluctant to fish a spot that had been recently disturbed; however, according to Jim there was another good fish present in the swim. Seeing as this fish would be totally unsettled by the capture of its buddy, this presented an ideal opportunity to test how far I could push my new bait.
As it happened, the best part of four hours followed with me playing cat and mouse with an extremely hesitant fish that had an obvious craving for my bait. Luckily, there were few chub around to complicate the proceedings, and eventually, by trickling in a couple of broken boilies whenever the fish vacated the swim, I gradually managed to build up its confidence to the point that I had it yo-yoing in and out of the swim in response to each bit of bait going in. At this point, after hiding up the lead and line in weed at the head of the swim withjust the hook-bait out in open water, that barbel made its inevitable mistake. In the net, I instantly recognised it as a fish I knew as ‘Wonky’. It had weighed 13.12 on our last acquaintance in 2002, but now weighed a massive 16.10. I was elated to remake her acquaintance, although her tail and dorsal had now been badly damaged by otters.
As that year’s glorious Indian summer gradually set in, the flow rates continued to deplete, with the water becoming even more coloured with diatoms. I’d decided to give it a rest, but during the second half of October, the occasional spot of rain had helped relieve that situation, with the odd fish putting in an appearance.
This included a surprise 17.06 whopper to Stephen Harper which had eluded capture for two years since Tim Ellis had caught her at 15 lbs. Due to the infrequence of its capture I had named her ‘The Visitor’. On the 22nd October, Mr Harper struck again, landing ‘One Pec’ and raising his own Wensum record by a single ounce to 17.15. Clearly the Wensum’s first ’18’ was now on the cards, but who would be its lucky captor?
On Monday the 24th, a torrential downpour finally started to freshen the condition of the river. Due to family commitments, my efforts had recently diminished. It had been a month since I’d caught my last barbel, and I couldn¹t resist fishing the following day. I chose an area well away from the scene of my previous catches that Summer, a spot in which I¹d previously caught a number of fish in flood conditions and which is ironically known as the ‘No Barbel’ swim. The river looked good, carrying almost an extra foot of water with plenty of colour in it, but inevitably also carrying lots of rotting weed andfallen leaves. Apart from the inevitable chub pulls, the afternoon passed uneventfully, although I continued to feel I’d chosen the right area. I packed up at dusk deciding to return the following day. With the usual hotspots devoid of fish, it seemed likely that they would be moving around during the night and that by putting in a big bed of bait, I might hold a few fish in the area and increase my chances of catching one the following day.
As it happened, circumstances prevented the early start I’d intended, and I didn’t get to the river until 3.30 pm. This late in the day, it was entirely likely someone else would have fished the ‘No Barbel’ swim, and so it proved when I found Steve Hare ensconced in the exact spot where I’d thrown a pound of boilies the previous evening. Electing to try further downstream, I stopped for a chat with Jim who was settled in a swim called ‘The Pipe Bend’.
Stephen Harper’s capture of ‘One Pec’ inevitably took top spot in our conversation, after which we mulled over the question whether, seeing as ‘One Pec’ had weighed almost a pound more than ‘The Beast’ when I’d caught them both in August, was there much chance of ‘The Beast’ now being the heavier of the two?
Before we could deliberate any further, my mobile rang with the same Mr Harper ‘phoning from his office to tell me that Steve Hare needed help with some photographs, having just landed ‘The Beast’ at a new top weight. Almost simultaneously, Steve Hare burst through the bushes with a look of bewilderment on his face. As it happened, another of the members, Steve Loades, had turned up just in time to help land the fish, andwas baby-sitting it while he came to find us. I couldn’t stop myself from blabbering on about all the bait I’d thrown in the swim the day before; however, when this fantastic creature was eventually lifted onto the unhooking mat, the sight of it was sufficiently humbling for me to shut my face and get on with the task of recording the occasion on my camera.
For the record, she weighed 18.13 and measured a fraction over 34 inches long, witha 20-inch girth. After admiring and doting over her, she eventually swam away, leaving Steve Loades babbling (I’m sure he would call it philosophically) about what had once been speculation having finally become history! Not only had the Wensumnow broken the 18 lb-barrier, it had done so in style, being only the second river in the country ever to do so.
My fishing may have been somewhat casual earlier in the season, but now I was getting in at least a few hours whenever possible, although with the unseasonably mild conditions we were experiencing, plenty of other members were doing likewise. Not surprisingly, Steve Hare was again ensconced in the ‘No Barbel’ swim the following day but landed only one solitary chub; however, with it weighing over 6 lbs, he wasn’t exactly complaining. As a contingency plan, I’d pre-baited another swim at the head of the fishery and I fished there from 3.00 pm to 7.30 pm, but caught only chub.
The following afternoon I returned at 2.30 pm andwasnot surprised to find Jim settled in the ‘No Barbel’ swim. While it would have been difficult to pass it by had it been vacant, I was very keen to try an area of open water thirty yards downstream of it. I asked Jim if he minded me fishing so close, andhe had no objection. With few barbel coming out from any of the usual areas, my thinking was that the odd fish could be laying up under the beds of watercress growing out from the reedy margins in this area. Something Steve Loades had recently said about having caught barbel the previous season by dropping his hookbait into unfished spots close to the ‘going areas’ prompted me to set up in a spot in the reeds, downstream from where one might usually fish.
After positioning the hookbait a rod-length out just above a raft of cress, I dropped in eight broken boilies and six whole baits, before putting the Baitrunner on and relaxing back into my chair. My theory seemed sound, but I was fishing blind, withonly my confidence in the pulling power of my bait to rely on. Over an hour passed with no knocks from chub to cause concern, while I enjoyed the clement weather andwatched the antics of a pair of kingfishers that were active in the area. It was simply good to be out and, when the rod pulled round, it was more hoped-for than expected. The hooked fish shot across the river before heading powerfully upstream. I shouted to Jim, and was surprised to have Stephen andOliver Harper suddenly appear behind me withJim following close behind.
The fish rolled heavily on the surface before clamping itself onto the river-bed. When it eventually rolled into the waiting net, we identified her while still in the water as being a gorgeous fish known as ‘The Blemish’. At 17.03, she was ounces above her heaviest weight the previous season, making her the fifth different fish over 17 lbs from Sayer’s that year.
Reflections is published by Harper Fine Angling Books in a limited edition (1,000 copies) cloth bound edition with dust jacket priced £30 plus £6 P&P. It contains many fine paintings and illustrations by the author within its 240 pages. The book is 240 x 190mm andfull colour throughout. Just 7 leather boundcopies (of 50) remain at the time of publishing this article priced at £195 plus £8 P&P. Full details can be found here.
About The Author
Chris Turnbull is well known throughout the UK angling world as a successful and innovative big fish angler, writer, artist and fisheries conservationist. Born in Sussex in 1950, Chris trained as an Graphic Artist at the Medway College Of Art in the late 1960s. He moved to Norfolk in 1980 specifically because of the fine fishing the county offered.
As a writer, Chris has written contributions for various fishing books and magazines, including Red Letter Days edited by Pete Rogers, Carp: The Quest For The Queen by Bailey and Page, Pike Fishing In The UK, edited by Steve Rogowski, and most recently Times To Remember by Bob Buteux andfriends. Alongside these works he has also produced three well received books of his own, namely, Big Fish From Famous Waters, published by David & Charles in 1990, Success With Big Tench, David & Charles 1992, and A Time For Tench, Harnser Books 2004. The latter is popularly considered to be the definitive book on modern tench fishing.
As an artist and illustrator, Chris is credited as being one of the UK’s foremost angling artists with his cover artwork fronting many well-known angling books. He has a web site currently under construction but you can find some gallery images here.
I am currently reading Reflections and will add a review at a later date but, for now, I will say it is one of the finest angling books I have ever seen. Fantastic stories, great photographs and numerous full colour paintings by the author. Every page I’ve turned so far has been an absolute delight.