Stuart Walker and I finally launched our debut DVD, Barbel Days And Ways Volume One on November 1st. Much of the previous year was spent on the creative side – planning, filming, editing and so on. I’ve made a dozen of more angling films in my time and they’ve all been pretty dire if I’m honest. Okay, a couple have been okay but the early stuff still gives me sleepless nights. It’s the sort of job that everyone THINKS they can do but when you see the results you realise just how good John Wilson actually is. One thing making those early films did was give me an insight into how films are made and how time consuming getting the detail right can be. If I had my way Barbel Days And Ways was going to be my magnum opus; if it wasn’t right it wouldn’t be released.
Stu and I agreed there was no point in putting our reputations on the line and then releasing a crap film. We would invest whatever time it took to get exactly what we wanted. It was vitally important to us that we created something ‘new’ rather than a Barbel Even Closer replica or a Korda Carp Underwater DVD.
We also had to bear in mind that we were launching at the same time the long awaited and much hyped Catching the Impossible. Would that kill our sales? And just how many DVDs should we press? Because they don’t come cheap.
We encountered a barrage of technical terms that we knew nothing of – what on earth is a glass master for instance? I really thought it was as simple as delivering a copy to a factory and just getting them duplicated. Oh yeah? Perhaps it is if you’re not a perfectionist.
Maximising the quality of our product was a nightmare. We were happy to pay whatever it cost for the highest quality disks but at maximum screen resolution there were issues. More worrying was the fact that they might not actually play all the way through and there would be no recompense. And all the while our deadline was looming.
Apparently we were trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot and the biggest fear was we’d go for the best possible quality and find ourselves with a product that wouldn’t play on a small percentage of old DVD players. That was a complete no-no.
It doesn’t end there, though. Sleeve design. Sleeve notes. What kind of packaging? To shrink wrap or not? Should we post out in boxes or jiffy bags? Record keeping, payment methods, tracking, turn round targets, stock control, security, marketing, reviews, interviews, articles, features and a million promises made in both directions.
All trivialities to most folk but each one an issue to resolve before we sold so much as a single copy. And boy does stuff like this eat up your fishing time. But we got there eventually and a mountain of boxes went into safe storage. Meantime Volume Two still wanted editing…
The launch week was one of nervous tension. We believed in our hearts that the product was good, but how good? Would it get slated by the critics? Would we compare miserably with Hugh Miles’ work? What if my stalkers on the Internet forums decided to launch a destructive campaign? Would the press like it and most importantly, would the paying customer like it?
Well, we needn’t have worried.
Emails from satisfied customers began to flood in, filled with superlatives like…
Entertaining – stunning – excellent – great underwater footage – nice to see the focus on fish location – great fish care – wonderful spawning sequences – great entertainment – a brilliant film – loved the underwater footage – top DVD – I loved it!
It captured the spirit and excitement
I even missed Match of the Day
Lee Swords is as mad as a bucket of frogs
The whole Calverton section was an eye opener to me
Fantastic service. Ordered yesterday, arrived 08.45 this morning
I ordered my DVD yesterday afternoon and was amazed when I returned from work today and it had already arrived
Ordered yesterday, arrived and watched today… Top service!
My only disappointment is I’ve got to wait until the spring for Volume 2! Please let me know as soon as it is available
Bring on Volume 2!
And my favourite…
I have to say the Dove section was superb. Both of you were like big kids and as I sat watching it, the first day of the season, my heart started to beat faster. I could smell the river, hear the water sliding past, feel the excitement. The river looked fantastic. Bought back loads of memories when I was a kid and the magical 16th finally, finally came around. Well done.
It was at this point we began to realise we weren’t just kidding ourselves that the film was good. It actually was!
The Graham Marsden wrote a fabulous review on Fishing Magic. Not only did he give it a maximum 10/10, he wrote:
Fishing DVD’s of this quality of picture, sound and content are hard to find. The DVD is testament to the fact that it is possible for two anglers and some reasonably decent kit to make a very, very good fishing film, certainly better than some of the stuff I’ve seen on the Sky channels. A professional job, pretty much seamless continuity and the picture and sound quality could hardly be much better.
In Coarse Fisherman magazine Alan Barnes added:
How anybody new to barbel fishing – and experienced anglers for that – can’t learn something here by watching this film is beyond me. A terrific piece of work that Bob and Stu can be justifiably proud of.
Fabulous stuff. Then followed an interview in the Mail, the Times announced our arrival and suddenly we went from slapping ourselves on the back to a state of blind panic. One minute we were wondered how on earth we’d ever recoup our outlay, the next we were running round like headless chickens trying to keep up with the demand.
We never actually thought about how long it takes to process an individual order. I didn’t bargain for the village post office being closed down just days after we launched, either. Suddenly something as simple as just nipping out to the post office was an hour’s job.
But enough of this, what of the fishing?
Well, as you might imagine, time has been at a premium and my trips, by necessity, have been short and fairly local. Top priority was to get another Improve Your Coarse Fishing article in the can and it’s time someone blew the myth about bloodworm fishing. I get tired of hearing the same old clichés. You can’t catch on anything else when folk start using bloodworm (truth is: folk are only using it BECAUSE they can’t catch on anything else as a rule), you only catch tiddlers, tiny little eyes and tails and it’s too expensive.
So I went along to the Stainforth and Keadby Canal to prove otherwise. My first trip was just a case of scoping the venue out because I’ve not fished there in a while but I did win my share of matches on it in the past. I fished with my old mate Trevor Empson. We’ve known each other over thirty years and have enjoyed some rare old scrapes and adventures in that time. A great lad to fish with.
Anyway we shared what’s called a match pack. It’s the amount of worm and joker each angler is allowed to use in a match and costs £12. I don’t think £6 each is out of the way for a day’s fishing, do you? It’s a lot better than paying £2 and catching nowt!
We sat peg-to-peg and caught fish from the off but by flicking out a few casters just past the worm line I was able to pick up a few bonus roach and a skimmer of about 12oz. In four hours we caught maybe 15lb of fish between us. The feature went just as well but with a few really nice twists. Happen I’d best not reveal all for fear of upsetting Kev Green. He’ll want you to read it first in the magazine.
And then came one of the highlights of the month, a trip to Wales and the upper Wye. I’ve known Peter Smith for years now. He owns the Caer Beris Manor hotel in Builth Wells and is mad on angling. He moved to Wales initially so he could be near some of his favourite carp waters. He then was one of the first to discover the Wye’s barbel potential but his biggest passion has always been for the mahseer, mainly he could do that in short breaks from the demanding business of running a hotel. Laterly he’s taken a bit of a back seat on the management side of things and taken to his coarse fishing again.
Back in the summer he said, “Bob, why don’t we run a few ‘weekends with…’ and share this fabulous fishing with a few more people?”
His plan was that I’d host a gathering of up to 8 anglers, to offer coaching and guidance, throw in a room, a couple of slap-up meals, a few drinks and generally enjoy what is a truly great place to stay and fish.
“Okay…” I said, with a tinge of reluctance, not sure what I was letting myself in for. Let’s do it. And this was to be the first. Five guests of varying abilities and widely different backgrounds, from professional boxing to rest home provision, soldier turned gardner to tradesmen. A proper mixed bag. It could have been a disaster but turned out to be one of the nicest angling gatherings it has been my pleasure to be part of, ever.
Driving down I feared the worst. The Trent was High and mighty, the Soar brimmed the bank tops, the Avon just coming back out of the fields, the Severn likewise, the Teme was the colour that only the Teme goes, red, high and fierce. The Lugg was no better.
Yet as I dropped down into Builth I could barely believe my eyes. The Wye was up, certainly, and full of leaves, but it was more or less clear. Definitely fishable.
I’ll not go into too much detail other than to say the fishing was patchy and hard. But every angler caught, in fact we saw a couple of PBs and one guy ended a 40-year blank with a 4lb chub because that’s how long it had been since he last fished. Another caught his first ever grayling. The river deteriorated on Sunday making the fishing even harder but everyone was happy, so much so that they said if we were to run another weekend they’d love to come back.
And we might just do that, perhaps three times a year, February for Grayling, August for chub and barbel plus October for the chub. Peter pitched the price sensibly, not too cheap, not to dear. The hotel might look grand and impressive but it does welcome anglers, and even allows dogs. Two guests brought partners and they loved it, too. Eating in a private, oak panelled dining room gave us the freedom to be as relaxed as we liked, watch some exclusive ‘unseen’ DVD footage, do rig and tackle demonstrations and really get to know each other as the stories flowed.
I’m guessing space will be at a premium next time we run one as we’ll be limiting the sessions to a maximum of six anglers.
Nearly forgot. I sneaked in a little bonus trip to the River Don, right in the heart of Rotherham. It came about by accident, really. I’d called in a supermarket right next to the river. As you do, I had a quick peek over the railings and couldn’t believe my eyes. The place was alive with roach and I’m not just talking about the odd fish topping, there were fish lopping out all over the place, everywhere you looked, constantly. I’m talking multiple rises every couple of seconds. It was SOLID!
So the first chance I got I nipped down there. Parking was a nightmare. There’s no-where to leave a car in towns these days. Anyway, I found somewhere on what was a derelict street cum demolition site, just past the end of the dreaded twin yellows.
You know, I couldn’t wait to get started, but setting up a long enough pole rig with nervous fingers and thumbs seemed to take forever. All the while I kept flicking in a few maggots so the fish would be lined up and waiting.
Well, eventually I was ready. In went the rig and…
I messed around with depths, lines, the usual tricks, and nothing. Not a bite. And you know what? I never saw a fish top. Not one. After a couple of hours, probably less in reality, I gave up and went back to the car. Puzzled on the fishing side but relieved on the parking side becaue it was only when I got back to the car that I spotted a tiny little, grime encrusted notice that said, Unattended Vehicles Will Be Clamped.
Whew. Had I been bagging I’d most likely have returned to a whole load of expensive grief. See, there is a bright side to blanking. As you can imagine, I threw my tackle in the back of the van pretty sharpishly and hit the road,
This month I also decided to revisit one of my all-time favourite swims on a little river that’s not too far away. It’s a place I’ve always tried to keep a lid on because I’ve had some fabulous catches from there, mostly big bream, odd carp, cracking chub, sometimes a clonking roach or two, you know what I mean, THAT secret swim we all dream about and keep for ourselves, never hammering it, just dropping in maybe a couple of times a season and filling your boots. I’ve even had hundred pound catches from there before and that’s on the float.
I know it’s been a couple of years since I last visited but what faced me was quite a shock. I couldn’t get near the swim because a whole jungle of willow bushes has shot up and made the swim completely inaccessible. It just goes to show how rapidly these trees can grow in the right conditions and just why the River Authorities have to prune them back. What it did bring home to me was how easily it would be for us all to take a few cuttings from existing willows and simply push the saplings into the margins. Do that and within a few years you’ll have a riot of cover where fish can shelter.
In other words, instead of complaining – do something positive!
And then be patient.
I did fish, albeit in a different swim but I was stuck by how much weed is now growing in the river and how much was floating down and making presentation difficult. Alas it was never going to be a great day and I packed up with lots to think about. The ideal place to fish the swim has always been from the far bank. More so now. But how on earth would I get there. It must be nigh-on two miles from the nearest road on that bank. Hmmm…!
The Gate Inn at Haxey lies beside the River Idle and is quite popular because the access is so good. It offers cheap food, cheap digs and cheap day tickets for anyone who’s interested. The fishing ain’t what it used to be but you can usually catch a few roach there in winter and as a result it can get fairly busy, especially at weekends.
I dropped in for a few hours one Thursday. After shooting the breeze and putting the world to rights in Len Squires’ tackle shop (R&R Sports, Bawtry) first, it was around 10am when I got there. The only other angler on the bank was just packing up, not having had a single bite in the two hours he’d been there.
This worried me because Len had revealed that the previous day’s reports from every commercial fishery in the area made for dismal hearing. Folk blanking on commercials? What’s the world coming to? Stick some more fish in, I say (only joking!).
“You’ll be lucky to get a bite!” Predicted Len.
Oh well. That didn’t fill me with inspiration and this chap only thickened the cloud above my head. But I had a mission. I’d just taken delivery of one of the new Adcock Stanton Reels and I was going to use it come what may. In fact I deliberately chose a swim where the breeze was whipping around all over the place, just so I’d have to work harder (yes, I’m slightly mad!).
Anyway, I tackled up, flicked out a few maggots, swung out the float and watched the red tip glide downstream for all of four yards. Then it buried. Clunk! Bob 1, Roach nil. And you know, I caught on and off all day. I missed loads of bites due to the wind. Bumped several fish off on the Gamakatsu fine wire barbless black 22 hooks and generally had the nicest days fishing I’ve had a long, long time. There simply isn’t anything to match fishing a stick float with a centrepin and catching roach.
Except maybe when you hit something that at first feels like a chub, or maybe a proper ‘crumper’ of a roach but turns out to be the biggest dace you’ve ever seen. Honestly, I couldn’t believe the size of it and I was left ruing the fact that my Canon Digital camera is currently being repaired at a ridiculous price for what I’m sure is the removal of a speck of dust, or something. I didn’t have any scales with me, either, but you know? I couldn’t care less, because I know it was a dace and I know it was ‘about’ a pound. The ounces simply don’t matter. In fact they would only have given me bragging rights – “I say old chap, can you believe I caught a dace weighing one pound, two ounces and four drams?”
Yeah, right. I caught the fish, I was happy because it Christened my new centrepin in a memorable way and it went back safely. But I do wonder if maybe, just maybe, there might be a few other clonking dace around. Or was it a one-off? Because it was way bigger than any other I’ve had from the river and five times bigger than any other dace I caught that day.
A fluke, probably.
And a needle in a haystack to boot.
But it’s these little surprises that make fishing a very special sport. You know, I can’t wait to get back there and I’d be there if I wasn’t stuck at home working on all these bloomin’ DVD orders! But just keep ‘em coming. Okay?
And the month ended with a day in a tackle shop. Chapmans of Hull held an open day in their Hessle superstore. It was fun to meet up with lots of customers and it was great to catch up with Jan Porter and Shaun Harrison (Quest Baits). Angling’s like a big family, really. You make lots of contacts in the trade and who appear in the media over the years, folk you’ve fished with on junior coaching sessions, ACA fund raisers, angling shows, demos and the like, indeed some turn into great friendships, but like any family you only seem to get together on special occasions. You don’t exactly live in each others’ pockets, so these days are a bonus rather than a chore, but do you know what? Everyone says the same, they wish they could find time to get out fishing more.
I’ll drink to that!
And just to round of a great month, the first pressing of the DVD all-but sold out and we had to order a new batch. Things are looking up. It’s raised interest in Germany, Italy and Holland, mainly through the various web forums and the new customers we’ve attracted across Europe seem keen to share their rivers with us so who knows? In a future Barbel Days & Ways you might even see us on the Rhine, or the Tiber, or who knows. A whole new world is opening up and the message to UK barbel anglers might be, we are not alone…