July 19th: Carbelling? It’s Not Cricket In Some Eyes
Go back fifty or a hundred years and the idea of catching a barbel was the stuff of dreams and aspiration for the majority of anglers. Indeed the same could be said for carp. Although both species had been written about widely for centuries in books and periodicals they really were rare creatures. Carp were introduced to the UK in the 14th Century by monks although they were far different from the ones we usually catch today.
Wild carp were invariably commons, long and lean, famed for their fighting abilities. Later came the mirror and ornamental varieties, specifically bred for the table. Fish that grew very quickly to huge size but required far less preparation for the table.
The perception of carp, long regarded by many as requiring far too much time to catch, more or less changed when Richard Walker smashed the British Rod Caught Record with his 44-pounder from Redmire in 1952. Walker is now regarded as the godfather of modern specialist angling and those who followed in his footsteps developed ways and means to catch carp that brought their capture within the skill sets of everyday anglers. Carp fishing has rapidly popularised to a point where it is probably the most sought after species in the country today.
Barbel on the other hand continued to maintain an aura of exoticism until the last two decades mostly thanks to their limited distribution. The barbel, you see, only occurred naturally in Easterly flowing rivers that were once connected to the River Rhine. That pretty much restricted natural barbel distribution to the Thames, Great Ouse and Trent catchments all of which suffered to some degree or other from industrial pollution or man’s meddling and taming.
A few fish were introduced successfully to the Hampshire Avon and Dorset Stour in 1896 and again in the 1960’s, but it was arguably their stocking into the River Severn in 1956 that created the catalyst for a revolution.
Barbel found the River Severn very much to their liking and bred prolifically, rapidly becoming the dominant species in the whole river and it was from here that anglers took many a liberty by transferring what they caught to other rivers along the motorway corridors. In recent years the Environment Agency has taken to breeding barbel and stocking them far and wide as cormorants decimate the natural silver fish populations.
Perhaps the most prolific barbel river in the whole country today is the River Trent. Some might argue that the Wye is a worthy challenger but the spread of barbel is quite limited in that river whereas Trent barbel can now be found throughout the river and all its tributaries. Indeed some days it is harder not to connect with a barbel than to actually catch one. They really are that widespread.
In the same way that carp fishing changed from a time when a par-boiled potato was considered a state-of-the-art bait, and honey paste an exotic concoction, so barbel fishing has metamorphosized into a new black art. Fortunately the old traditional methods and the new techno-driven ones can sit happily side-by-side. For some it is about tradition. Anglers with a penchant for tweed, cane rods and centrepin reels. For others it is high-tech wizardry and electronics.
Now I have to hold my hands up and make a confession. I had always thought my good friend Lee Swords had coined the phrase ‘carbelling’ which refers to a hybrid style of fishing that merges carp fishing and barbel fishing, hence carbelling. ‘No Bob,’ He wrote to me a while ago, ‘I nicked the phrase from you!’ So rightly or wrongly, I am the creator, the author of a style maligned by many, indeed despised by some!
So what is carbelling? Well, it’s the use of multiple rods, positioned vertically on rod rests or a pod to keep as much line out of the water as possible. The rods tend to be stepped up in power, the reels fitted with a free spool facility and at the other end we have what might easily be mistaken for the kind of gear you might consider using to catch cod! Large swimfeeders carrying anything from three to 8oz of lead are the name of the game. These are rigged up in bolt style fashion so the fish actually hooks itself and the line passes over an electric bite alarm so you can pitch a tent and go to sleep while the rods fish for themselves. For want of a better description it is vertical carping. The rods, reels, alarms, rigs and baits are pretty much identical.
You can image this style is not universally popular, especially with the purists. Especially when carbellers camp up for days on end in the best swims, prepared to sit it out for however long until the fish they hope to catch makes a mistake. If you can’t beat them with skill, stick around and bore them out.
Many would venture so far as to suggest this way of fishing is the work of the devil but I can tell you this. It is incredibly effective. But then again, so is dynamite. It is each to their own I guess but there will come a time when sensible clubs apply a time limit to swim occupancy. Surely 12 hours and then move isn’t too much to ask?
Fishery Of The Week
My old mate Bill Rushmer has come up with this week’s recommended fishery, Pondwood Fisheries at White Waltham in Berkshire which is particularly noted for catfish with carp in Lake 1. Well stocked with both carp and catfish, the latter now run to over 50lb. Lake 2 is noted for its large head of carp running to over 20 lb but the vast majority are much smaller match sized fish. The Wood Lake holds mainly smaller carp with big bags often caught. Snake River holds carp of all sizes to about 30 lb plus most other species. The roach are mainly coming to pole fishing tactics down the track with hemp and caster.
Day tickets are £10.
Night fishing is available by prior arrangement with Mick Holdaway on 01189 345299.