This is the opening chapter of my book -Target set and Achieved - lots of barbel but plenty of other specimen fish of all species to read about. Get your copy for Xmas at philsmithangler.co.uk
*The Barbel Challenge.*
It all began with a simple thought: ‘How many different
rivers could I catch a double figure barbel from in one season?’
After some consideration I decided on seven.
It seemed reasonable bearing in mind my results in the preceding seasons.
With that target in mind I began the
Little did I realise how much
time or how many seasons would pass before the challenge would be met.
That said, I did quickly upgrade the seven
total to eight and then finally upped that to 10 to make the challenge one I
thought was both worthy of the name yet attainable with effort.
It was the start of the 2004/5 season that saw the
beginning of my barbel odyssey with sessions on a number of rivers capable of
producing that elusive double. My main effort would be placed on the Great
Ouse, and since I was a member of the Adams Mill syndicate it was there that I
A lot of rubbish has been
written and spoken about the Mill, along the theme of: ‘Easy fishing for tame
fish held between two weirs just a few hundred yards apart.’
Nothing could be further from the truth, the
fish can and do run between the two weirs but they are the best part of two
When I first tried to catch
these barbel the water was a normal club ticket at about £25 per season. In my
first year I took a total of one barbel for a lot of effort, so easy they are
Then the owner realised what a gold
mine he was sitting on and in the way of life he maximised his profits by
offering it to the highest bidder at the first opportunity.
That led to the controlling club setting up a
There was an eight-man
limit for anglers fishing on any given day but this were rarely, if ever
achieved, and the fishing settled down to a very relaxed style of obtaining a
Over the following season I
developed my skills in catching difficult fish and also my knowledge of the
water, giving more chance of locating the fish.
By the 2004 season I was well able to find and entice these giants and
hence it made a good choice to begin the campaign.
I arrived at Adams at about 11am on July 1st,
and although the start time was quite late there was only one other angler on
the venue. Fortunately he was fishing
for chub and did not interfere with the choice of barbel swims I would need to
make. From the car park there is only a
short section up to the top weir, I had decided to fish in this length and only
needed to choose between the three or so known holding spots it contained. Probably the two best places were The Top
Hole and the weir pool itself. A quick
check showed that there were barbel in the weir. The other swim appeared empty,
although that could change very quickly.
With no one waiting to move into either swim I decided I would take the
chance and bait both areas, fishing one and leaving the other to see if fish
would move in. Should an angler come
that wished to try it then he would have the advantage of going into a ready
A favoured method for barbel is the aptly named ‘bait and
wait’ tactic where one will bait up a swim without fishing for several hours in
order to allow the fish to feed in confidence. So, having mixed three pints of
casters with two pint of hemp I introduced about half of it via a bait dropper
into the Top Hole. I had done well in the past in this swim with the method,
now it just needed time to mature.
several hours I returned at regular intervals to add more caster/hemp mix via
the bait dropper.
Still no sign of fish,
but not to worry, back to the Weir, where the same bait and wait tactics had
encouraged the barbel and chub to feed with a vengeance.
The time had come to try and catch one of those big fish
that could be seen with their tails waving as they scoffed the feed I had put in. My tackle comprised of a Drennan Power Barbel
rod with a 1.75lb action. This was
teamed up with 10lb Pro Gold main line and a 15lb Powerbraid hook link, a 2.5oz
lead fixed onto a safety clip would then give the bolt effect I was looking for
on the set-up. Barbel, more than a
number of our coarse fish species, are not tolerant of feeling the fishing line
across their body when over the feed. In
order to alleviate this problem I used a half inch round bullet stopped
three-feet up the main line. This ensures that the line will lie on the bed of
the river and hopefully the fish will be less aware of its presence. A size 12
Drennan Super Specialist hook tied with a knotless knot to leave a hair
completed the rig. Three casters were
then superglued onto the hair in a torpedo fashion as this style also helps to
make the set-up a little more resistant to the attentions of the small fish
such as dace and minnows.
My baited area was at the head of a clear channel amongst
the streamer weed that danced in the flow.
The cast was a simple requirement of laying the baited hook at the
downstream end and allowing the line to settle along the channel upstream of
This was accomplished in
one of the spells while the fish were on their guided tour of the weir so I
then settled down to await their return.
As is so often the case with bait and wait, the bite came quite quickly
once I had cast in.
With the rod wrapped
round in a great attempt to snap it, I struck into a defiant fish that was
certainly annoyed at being hooked.
big advantage of barbel fishing is that once hooked the barbel, unlike chub or
carp, will not consciously make for the safety of the nearest snag.
Unfortunately that does not mean that they
never get snagged; this fish proved the point as he charged through a cabbage
bed and almost by chance found himself wrapped around one of the stems.
I could see the fish and estimated him at
about 13lb but although I got him free of the stem, he threw the hook as he came
towards the waiting landing net.
disappointing, but you win some and lose some; just make sure the first option
beats the second by a considerable margin.
The battle had spooked the other fish, so with another
baited swim waiting it was time for a move.
This time when I returned and again bait dropped into the Top Hole it
was in the knowledge that my last visit had shown barbel to be present.
Pressured barbel can be quite spooky and I
still needed to get their confidence in feeding freely.
They would come and go from the swim but each
time they returned their stay would be little longer.
I would bait drop each time they left putting
just caster in the swim, no need for hemp as it had done its job of bringing
the fish into the swim. Then having decided it was time I bait dropped yet
again, but this time I laid the baited hook down and across the swim back to my
Because of the nature of the
swim I needed chest waders to get to the front of the rushes in order to bait
up and cast the baited rod out.
having put the rod on the rests whilst I was still in the water, the reel was
spinning in response to a take before I could get back on terra firma.
Total panic just about sums up the next few
minutes as I scrambled out of the water and tried to get control of the
He had torn off downstream into
the streamer weed that flourished there, now I would have trouble bringing him
up to my position through that jungle.
Standard practice when dealing with this situation is to get downstream
of the fish, then pull him down out of the streamer.
This I did but once out into the open he just
shot off back upstream into the hole where he had taken refuge.
I went back upstream and he moved back
downstream in parody of a dance routine.
Some fish you can bully into doing what you want, but not this one, at
the moment he was in charge.
This game continued for some minutes with my worry that he
would come off as with the last fish.
Obviously with their extra strength and power it is the bigger fish that
are likely to gain their freedom.
minutes passed it became obvious that my efforts were having an effect, his
runs became shorter as he spent more time in front of my position instead of
forcing me to follow his. At last he slipped over the net and the Adams monster
Stef Horak came along the bank
in response to my phone call and soon had it on the scales giving me a weight
of 16lb 14oz.
It is the second time I
had caught this fish, the previous capture still stands as my personal best at
17lb 1oz, but that is well short of the best recorded weight when it took the
record at 21lb 2oz.
That was it then,
one down with nine to go, but as with all plans it did not work out that way
and I finished the season with seven different river targets acheived.
The following season 2005/06, I set out to do exactly the
same target of ten rivers, but again I failed with just six successes.
Probably the barbel that stood out from this
season’s catch was that taken from the Kennet, a beautiful river in picturesque
It was the middle of
February 2006 and my intention had been to go down south to fish for chub on
the Dorset Stour.
One of the problems of
travelling good distances for your fishing is that of changeable weather.
It had been quite mild but the
south-westerlies had brought rain over the country.
A call to Terry Lampard confirmed the upper
river was coming up fast and the extra water would be down to the Bournemouth
area by the following morning.
plans to travel already made it just meant a change of venue.
A discussion with Stef soon came up with the
option of the River Kennet and the choice of Burghfield.
That put the final stamp on the plan.
The Kennet is a slightly different river in that for much
of its length it runs in conjunction with the Kennet & Avon Canal.
The section to be fished was one where the
river came through a weir as it left one of the canalised lengths.
Stef had said he would be going downstream to
a swim where he had previously enjoyed some success, while I decided to fish
The first ever barbel I caught
was taken from Rushey Weir on the River Thames, and I think these features have
held a special interest since that date.
Although they all have the same basic function, that of allowing a water
level change, they are all different, and even the same weir changes from
day-to-day as the flow rate changes or the different weir gates are
This time, with flood water
coming downstream, the gates were open and the weir resembled a whirlpool.
The diffent currents charged through the open
gates to swirl around and finally join together into one flow leaving the weir
to continue its way downstream.
come along the towpath I arrived at the weir and stood obsevving the flows and
currents in order to pick the most advantageous place to fish from.
At this time the open gate set- up had given
a heavy flow under the nearside bank but the far side appeared to have far less
current passing it.
Moving to that side
I could see the flow coming through the nearest gate going down the middle and
then turning back in an eddy.
interest fell on the dead water left in the middle where the flows separated to
go their different ways, and I decided that would be my pitch for the day.
First order of the day was to lay the table, so out came
the bait dropper and I began to introduce the hemp and maggots that I had
With the water quite
coloured I would not normally use maggots.
These had been left from a previous trip and would change to caster
quite quickly so I might as well use them up and hope the barbel would come
across the meal they would provide.
rod would be fished with maggots and a swimfeeder; the other would be on my
usual Dynamite Monster Crab shelf-life boilie fished in conjunction with a PVA
bag of mixed pellets.
Tackle was fairly
standard, comprising of Drennan 1.75lb Power Barbel rods combined with my
preferred Mitchell 300 reels loaded with 12lb Pro Gold line.
The hook link is a combi-rig of 10-inches of
15lb Pro Gold tied to 3-inches of 15lb braid and a size 8 Drennan Continental
With the rods cast out I
could sit behind the brolly and soak in the winter sunshine waiting for the
typical slam round of the rod top that signals the barbel bite.
That said, I could foresee that with the
different flows it might not happen like that.
Having cast into the slack water the flow was actually coming straight
towards me and in all probability this would resulting a slack line bite as the
fish picked up the bait and moved off in the direction of the flow.
Throughout the morning I kept up the feed by the simple
method of recasting at regular intervals.
The feeder rod would be filled with fresh maggots and the other rod
would have a new PVA bag attached.
last! I watched as the line went completely slack on the boilie rod. The fish
was moving across the flow quite quickly, and I had to reel in quickly before I
caught up with him and the rod bent over as I at last made proper contact.
The power of big barbel never fails to amaze
me and this was no exception. I hoped it was a barbel since at this stage there
was always a chance it was a carp, the power was certainly enough for that to
be the case.
After a good five minutes
of the fight I called for Stef, by the time he arrived the fish was cruising
back and forth just in front of me, then his back broke the surface and I could
at last confirm it was a barbel.
fight was almost over by that time and shortly after I was bringing a large
barbel over the net. I had thought it would be a double but when I saw the
depth of it I knew I had a new Kennet best.
Once he had been unhooked, I put the net back in the water while I got
the camera and scales ready for the exciting bit.
Stef and I often play the guessing game at
this stage and this time Stef won with his try of 14lb, maybe 15lb.
At 15lb 5oz it was, and still remains, my
equal second best river fish behind the Traveller off the Great Ouse.
Yet again fate had stepped in and instead of
fishing for chub on the Stour I had taken a magnificent fish off the Kennet.
I’ll take those presents any time she wants to pass them out.
That fish gave me a total of six river
doubles completed for the year, but it was a figure I did not improve on. Not a
failure, but disappointing not to have improved on last season’s result.