Sunday Sport Column June 21st, 2013: OPENING DAY BARBEL
It has been described as the enigmatic prince of the river with good reason. Pound for pound the barbel is the hardest fighting fish to swim in our rivers. A noble fish in the eyes of many although I prefer to see it as an obliging fish and not always the sharpest knife in the drawer. Barbel are not the most difficult fish to catch providing you can find them. After that it’s all down to careful application of bait and gaining their confidence. In the early weeks of the season they can be real mugs but they will wise up as the season progresses.
I opened up my river season on a tiny river. It’s shallow, crystal clear and very weedy. The perfect water for stalking. My tactics, as always on this river, were based around minimalism and being mobile. It’s not for the lazy angler who might want to sit in one swim all day.
A typical session will see me walking several miles of river wearing polarising glasses. Often described wrongly as ‘polaroids’ (they’re not – Polaroids are photographs), these optical marvels cut out surface glare and allow you to see into the water. For the past 15 years I’ve had mine made by a laboratory in Croydon – Optilabs – and can thoroughly recommend their mail order service. Made to my prescription they’re not the cheapest but the very best never is.
My first task is to find where the fish are. I might spend two hours searching and baiting before I make my first cast but it’s well worth it. You see, when I do make a cast I am expecting to catch a fish within minutes.
Until I’m ready to start fishing my tackle stays in my vehicle. I require only a bait bucket and a bait dropper rod at this stage. Barbel shoals tend to be quite localised, especially at this time of year. Look for an overhanging bush, a depression in the river bed, a channel in the streamer weed, these kind of things.
I will have two baits in my bucket, some freshly prepared hempseed, cooked until it is split open and some Mistral Ellipse Pellets. The bait dropper is used to lay a bed of bait upstream of the fish-holding features. Not too little, not too much. Perhaps the equivalent of half a teacup full.
Once this is introduced to 3 or four swims I’ll have a coffee and let things settle down. I’m in no rush. After 15 minutes I will then re-visit each of these swims taking care not to show myself on the skyline and make only minimal disturbance. One noisy footfall or sudden movement can spook the fish and ruin your chances.
Peering into each swim I want to see signs of barbel feeding – and chances are they will be. I may bait each swim once more, with less bait this time. It just depends what reaction I’ve provoked. Are the fish feeding hard, are they confident? Use your eyes. Be patient. Only when the fish can be seen to feed confidently should you consider introducing any tackle.
Rig up with a running leger and a long hook link. It’s important to keep the fish away from the line between the leger and your rod tip. If they brush against this it will spook them, hence the long tail.
Usually the fish will be munching pellets and then backing off to whatever cover is available. Thirty seconds later they will be back. Observe them closely. A pattern will usually emerge. When they back off it’s time to cast – don’t do it when they are in the swim. Your lead needs to land upstream so your hookbait is in the feeding zone.
Don’t bother with a rod rest, hold the rod, lay the line over your crooked index finger and hang on. Bite’s tend to be dramatic and the fight explosive. Your first barbel of the season is probably only seconds away and it’ll be an adrenalin charged experience; trust me, it always is.
What’s more, because you have baited three or 4 swims the experience can be repeated again and again. During a typical day I might target 6 or even 10 swims and that’s the key to successful barbel fishing in a nutshell. Being mobile and getting them to feed confidently. Catching them is the easy bit.
(Picture: Bob with Society Chairman Steve Pope)
If I had to offer one suggestion that would make you a better barbel angler it would be join the Barbel Society. This club has regular regional meetings, publishes its own glossy magazine, manages barbel fisheries, holds teach-ins and organises a fantastic one-day show each year. It’s a community rather than a club and there’s a wealth of experience to tap into on their web site and Facebook page. Stu Walker and I gave a talk at this year’s show along with the likes of Des Taylor, Dave Harrell, Dr Paul Garner and Rob Swindells. Some line-up, eh? It’s an incredibly friendly society and one I would wholeheartedly recommend you join. There’s even a new book out this year, Barbel Tales.
Here’s me with the Chairman of the Society, Steve Springsteen look-alike and big fan of the Sunday Sport angling column, Steve Pope.
Fishery Of The Week
Pool Bridge Farm, Wheldrake Lane, Crockey Hill, York, YO19 4SQ
I fished here a couple of years ago and the roach fishing was superb and there are some very big perch. You’ll find four excellent coarse lakes to pick from plus a specimen carp lake that has already thrown up fish to nudging 30lbs.
Not many fisheries offer the chance to do a bit of ‘glamping’ and there’s a cracking on-site cafe. There’s ample parking, disabled pegs and toilet facilities, showers and you’re perfectly located to explore York and the surrounding area. The city centre is a 10-minute drive, or a 40-minute stroll through beautiful meadowland.
For more details visit the web site www.poolbridge.co.uk or phone 01904 633340 (mobile: 07928 359420) between 9am and 2pm on any day except Monday when the cafe is also closed.