The Autumn Sessions

Having had a dismal summer trying – and mostly failing – to catch barbel on the Kennet, word was out that the Thames was witnessing a dace population explosion, so Andy and I decided we should take advantage of it.

Out came the match float rod, closed face reel and stick floats that hadn’t seen action for a few seasons and a couple of sessions were spent trotting the stream. Both sessions were very productive, resulting in around 150 dace each time, plus a few roach and perch. They weren’t big by any means, but it was good fun, with virtually a bite a chuck, and made a nice change from sitting behind a pair of motionless barbel rods.

During both sessions, a number of dace were attacked by pike as I was bringing them in. So for the next few outings, I indulged in some lure fishing, catching a few jack pike, but nothing weighing above a couple of pounds. The pike that were attacking the dace were larger than this, but I couldn’t seem to find them when actually fishing for them.

In October, my dad had a bad fall which put him in hospital for nearly four weeks, and he is now permanently in a bad way, which has somewhat curtailed my fishing since then. I did manage a trip in December, trotting the Thames in an attempt to locate some of the bigger roach that apparently had been showing, but the river was up, swirling and not really suited to float fishing and I blanked. That was it until March.


Depressing Start to Season

Following the dismal opening session of the new season, for my second trip I went to a stretch that had always produced for me in the past, although I hadn’t fished it for several years. I more or less had my pick of swims, which surprised for this popular venue, so settled into a spot that had a good reputation in years gone by.

I was encouraged early on when a small barbel rose close to where one of my baits was lying. But this proved to be a false hope, as the day remained totally biteless. After that one sight of a fish, the river seemed completely lifeless, not even crayfish were plucking at the bait.

I hope that the lack of bites from the two normally productive Kennet venues that I’ve fished so far is only down to the fish being in spawning mode rather than feeding mode, and is not a further indication of the crash in barbel populations that seems to have affected the Kennet in recent years.

On a wildlife note, I spotted several raptors (of the bird kind, not the Jurassic Park ones), buzzards, a red kite, kestrel an a sparrowhawk. I also heard a cuckoo for the first time in many years.

River Kennet

River Kennet

Not a Good Start

For opening day, I went back to a stretch of the Kennet I haven’t fished for many years.

The day didn’t start too well, as I was half-way down the motorway, when it suddenly dawned on me that I’d left my lunch at home. Luckily, I hadn’t yet passed the service station, so was able to pop in and get a couple of large sausage rolls to keep me going.

Things didn’t get much better after that, as I failed to get a bite all day. Then got back to the car to find that some bird had kindly deposited three saucer-sized poos on the driver’s side of the windscreen, which had dried on and took me several minutes to scrape off.

So not a good start to the season.

Dismal Season Ends On High Note

The 2014/15 river season was without doubt the worst season I’ve ever experienced. My total return for the campaign was 6 barbel and 3 chub.

This was partly due to the devastation that’s been wrought on my favourite section of the Kennet, by the twin perils of otter predation and the exceptional floods of winter 2013/14 that have ripped out much of the cover that previously provided sanctuary for the fish. Until the last couple of years, the section was always reliable for a few barbel, mostly in the 4-7 pound range – it wouldn’t have been unusual to have taken this season’s total numbers of fish in a single session. These ones seem to have all but disappeared now.

However, the upside (if it can be called that), is that what fish remain are of a high average size – it’s good for now for the specimen hunter, but does not bode well for the future, and I fear that the river may take many years to recover, if indeed it ever does.

I had all but 2 of the fish by the end of July, and after that couldn’t buy a bite anywhere (Kennet, St Patrick’s Stream, Grand Union Canal), whether fishing for barbel, pike or carp. But the last outing of the season provided a welcome surprise in the form of a new P.B. barbel from the Kennet – the second time in the season that I’d achieved that mark.

I arrived at the river around 3 in the afternoon, to find the bankside quite busy, and all the swims I’d mentally earmarked to try were already occupied. I decided to have a try in a swim that had unknown provenance (to me anyway), and set up 2 rods. One with a boilie fished tight to a near bank overhanging tree, and the other with a pellet feeder rig fished about 3/4 of the way over into the main flow.

River Kennet

River Kennet

River Kennet

River Kennet

All was quiet until dusk was falling, when without warning, the boilie rod hooped round. Striking into the fish, I was immediately embroiled in a battle to prevent a powerful adversary from seeking its freedom under the overhanging tree. I thought I might have lost the battle when I felt the line rubbing on an underwater branch, and briefly all went solid. However, I gradually ramped up the pressure, the fish suddenly came free and I was able to get it into open water.

The rest of the fight was pretty straightforward and soon the fish was in the net. It was obvious that it was going to beat my previous Kennet best, but by how much. I wondered if it might tip the 12 lb mark, but the scales settled at 11-11, a full 3/4 of a pound heavier than my previous Kennet best, set just a few months earlier. The fish was in fin perfect condition.

New Kennet P.B, 11-11

New Kennet P.B, 11-11

After the fish was safely returned and the baits re-cast, all was quiet again until around 9 o’clock, when I had a take on the pellet rod. A lively fight ensued, during which the fish made several strong runs that took line off the clutch, before I  could slip the net under a fine seven-pounder.

That proved to be the final action of the day. So the last trip of the season was a good way to see it off, and at least provided some relief to an otherwise very disappointing term.

3 months to wait now until next season gets under way, and I’ll have to give some thought as to where I’ll be fishing, as the lack of bites on my previously reliable waters means I may have to look elsewhere. In the meantime, when the weather warms up, hopefully I’ll be out after some canal carp, and possibly a tench or two.

It’s Been a Long Time Coming

Sixteen years ago almost to the day, I caught my first Kennet double-figure barbel, a fish of 10-05. Since then, Kennet doubles have eluded me, with the exception of a solitary fish just an ounce over the ten-pound mark, caught in 2002. I’ve had my fair share of nine-pounders in that time, but couldn’t quite manage to top the ten pound mark.

But yesterday at last I managed to break that long-standing PB mark. To say it came as somewhat of a surprise is a bit of an understatement. Partly because the weather was hot and sunny, so I wasn’t expecting much action before twilight set in, and the fish came on the second cast at around half four in the afternoon, just twenty minutes into the session.

The bite was typically barbel, with the rod tip pulling sharply round. As soon as I hit it, I felt this was a good fish, as it headed downstream, not at pace, but with a power that took line steadily against the clutch. As it was heading towards a fallen tree, I leaned into it and stopped it from taking line, which put the BFW Torrix rod into its full fighting curve.

Just as I felt I was beginning to win this part of the battle and retrieve some line, it all went solid. This was not good! A steady pull didn’t seem to be making ground, and neither did the trick of letting out slack line. Getting worried now! Next trick was to walk downstream to see if a pull from a different direction would work. Having to hold the rod high to keep the line above the large bed of reeds that started immediately downstream of me, I manged to get just downstream of the fish, and luckily it came free and I could pull it away from the danger.

However, the battle had a way to go yet, and I was worried that the snag may have damaged the line. Manoeuvering my way back above the reeds to where I could land the fish, I got my first sight of the fish, which confirmed that it was indeed a very good fish. The adrenalin was pumping nicely now, with all the doubts about what could go wrong before netting it running through my mind. But there were no further serious alarms, and a few minutes later, the fish was in the net.

Letting it rest in the net for a few minutes, the mat, weigh-sling and scales were prepared. Then it was time to weigh the fish. I was reasonably sure it was a double, but would it be big enough to challenge my PB mark? It was, tipping the scales at 10-15.

Barbel, Kennet, 10-15, 2014-07-26 (2)

Barbel, Kennet, 10-15, 2014-07-26 (3)

The fish was rested again in the net while the camera was set up. Eventually the trophy shots were captured on film (well, pixels anyway), and the fish was returned after a further rest, to swim strongly away.

After this early action, the swim remained very quiet, apart from the actions of crayfish. I’d been fishing across and downstream towards the fallen tree I mentioned above. But a change of plan late in the session saw a bit of a hunch pay off. The river in front of the reeds down from me ran deep enough to think that fish could be drawn to feed there, so as the sun began to drop towards the horizon, I started to feed a few boilies and pellets down the inside line, just a few feet from the bank.

As it got dark, I changed from the pellet feeder tactics that had accounted for the “biggie”. Putting on a straight lead and a boilie hook-bait, I cast it gently into the swim along the line where the feed had been going in. For about thirty minutes, the rod remained motionless in the rests. I’d just checked my watch and decided it was time to call it a day, when the rod tip suddenly pulled ferociously round. Grabbing the rod, I found myself into a fish that was determined to get to Reading at a speed that Usain Bolt would have been proud of. Following a lively and spirited fight, a nice seven-pounder slid into the net. A second good fish to close the session, and a satisfying feeling due to the nature of its capture.

First Fish of the Season

Just had the first fish of the new river season, a fighting fit barbel of 8lbs. It was in very good condition and quite a stocky fish – unusual for this early in the season, when the fish are still normally quite lean after spawning.

First barbel of 2014-15 season

First barbel of 2014-15 season


On arrival, my initial plans were scuppered by a notice preventing access along the top section of the fishery, due to collapsed and undercut banks caused by the severe winter flooding. Curiosity got the better of me and I explored along the bank to see what had happened (taking care not to encroach too close to the river’s edge). The damage was quite severe, with a number of long-established trees and bushes having been ripped out, many of which were regular fish-holding features. In  one spot, sandbags had been piled up to prevent the river from flowing into a new course.

So off to the bottom car park it was. The lower end of the fishery didn’t seem to have suffered any great effects from the floods – at least not visibly, there may have been some changes to the gravels on the river bed – and looked in good nick. I chose a spot that I call my “falling-in swim”, because that’s exactly what I did there (fall in that is, not swim) a few years ago, while attempting to prevent a rod being dragged in by a barbel.

I was reasonably confident of a fish or two, but had to wait almost three hours for the first bite. It was worth the wait, though, as it resulted in the fish above. When first hooked, the fish did not put up much resistance, but once it was closer in, it suddenly seemed to realise that it was hooked and proceeded to put up a spirited and strong battle for its freedom. Its efforts were in vain though, as I eventually managed to slip the net under it.

Later, a much smaller barbel, of about a pound and a half, fell to the pellet bait. A lovely, pristine little fish and hopefully a sign that there’s a crop of younger fish coming through.

Despite the forecast of mostly sunshine with a possible quick shower later, some heavy clouds began to gather and thicken, and it started to rain. Lightly at first, but soon becoming heavier. Not having full waterproofs with me, and there being no sign of the “quick shower” moving on anytime soon, I decided to call it a day. A good decision it was too, as I’d barely got a mile up the road before hitting torrential rain that very quickly had the roads running with water, inches deep in places.

Common Cravings

The river season largely fizzled out, with only 2 trips to the banks after the September Wye holiday. The persistent floods put paid to a lot of the fishing. Andy & I had a couple of days on the middle Severn in March, which were somewhat unproductive, with only a couple of barbel and a jack pike to show for our efforts.

There were also a couple of trips attempting to lure a pike or perch from the canal. Apart from one very small pike (and I mean small!), this was a fruitless endeavour.

So, come the spring, and time to set sights on some carp and maybe some tincas. Off to the canal we went, and bloomin’ chilly it was too, with the spring sun yet to make its mark on the countryside. It seemed the fish were waiting for some warmth to bring them to life as Andy managed one carp, but I blanked.

Next on the agenda was an effort to catch a tench. We studied our club cards for a suitable venue and chose one, only to discover it was shut on the day we intended to fish due to a working party. So more research was done, and a second venue was chosen. There were two lakes on the site, but as one had a river running through it, it was shut for the close season. Typically, it looked the better of the two lakes, but the other one certainly looked good.

There's Tincas Out There Somewhere

There’s Tincas Out There Somewhere

Unfortunately the fish refused to come out to play, and our efforts came to nought.

Andy rests his eyes while waiting for the bite alarms to play a happy tune.

Andy rests his eyes while waiting for the bite alarms to play a happy tune.

Next up was a return to the canal in search of the elusive cyprio. The weather was at last showing some spring warmth, with temperatures moving into the low 20’s. Some warm sun on their backs seemed to improve the carps’ appetites, as at last I got some bites. I was keeping an ear on the commentary from the FA Cup Final (why does that have to kick-off at 5 o’clock? What was wrong with a 3 o’clock start?) Somewhere in between Hull’s second goal and Arse’s first, my swim sparked into action, and the bites came faster than those early goals at Wembley. First off, a common of 7lbs. Almost as soon as I’d returned the fish and put the rod out again, it was off, but somehow I failed to connect. Out went the bait again, and within a minute the alarm was bleeping furiously as a small common of about 3lbs tore off.

As with the football, the action slowed a bit after the hectic start. It was another 45 minutes before the next bite, yet another common, this one going around 6lbs and a further 30 minutes before a 5lb-er came to the net. All these bites had come to one rod, using a “Crave” boilie and pop-up, which stinks but the carp seem to like it.

The late spring sun shines on new life

The late spring sun shines on new life

It went quiet for a fair while then, and it wasn’t until the sun had nearly dropped over the horizon, before the next action. This time, it was the other rod that produced. This fish must have a sweet tooth, as it chose a white chocolate and coconut concoction. Finally, just as it got fully dark, the “Crave” rod took off again, but this time, after having played the fish for a couple of minutes, the hook pulled, much to my frustration, although I don’t think it was a particularly big fish.

So at last, the spring fishing has produced a few fish. Not big ones, but some excitement anyway.


Wet Week on the Wye

Late update this one, as it’s about the week on the Wye that Andy and me spent on the Wye back in September, trying to catch a few barbel.

The journey down kinda set the scene for the week, as it rained heavily throughout the journey. Having arrived in Ross, where we were staying for the week, we then spent ages trying to find the tackle shop in order to get info on day ticket waters. Eventually we found it tucked away behind the high street. Options for day ticket waters seemed limited, so we decided on fishing a stretch downstream of Ross. The sat-nav managed to confuse me, and we had a nightmare of a roundabout drive before eventually locating the venue. With the river being very low and clear anyway, this section was sluggish and not very barbel-looking. I suspect it would be better with a foot or two of water on it. We blanked.

Monday’s rain did nothing to add extra water to the river, so once again we had to contend with low, clear conditions on Tuesday. But we switched to a stretch upstream of Ross that we’d seen before, and looked more “barbelly”. Rather stupidly, we decided to ignore the “flyer” that we were aware of and try other swims. Andy found a few small chub, but I had nothing. In the afternoon, I decided it was time to give the flyer a go. This involved a long cast right across the river, and I began bombing a pellet/groundbait feeder out there. After an hour or so, the rod top nodded sharply down, then dropped back as a fish made off with the bait. A few minutes later I had a lively 6 pounder in the net.

6-07 River Wye Mordiford 10-09-13

First Barbel of the Week

This was shortly followed by another barbel, this one being a new Wye PB of 9.09. Strangely, it hardly fought at all, which slightly took the edge of the new PB. A third barbel followed later, this one going around 4lbs, but it did put up a spirited battle. I lost another fish after this to a line break.

New Wye PB, 9.09

New Wye PB, 9.09

Wednesday saw us a little downstream, where we located some interesting looking swims, where the all the flow and depth was in the nearside. Very quickly I was into a barbel, and very quickly I was out of a barbel as the hooklink unexpectedly parted. But at least it showed that the swim choice was good. Or did it? I remained biteless for the rest of the day, as did Andy. Because the main flow was being channelled down the inside, it also pulled a lot of floating weed through the swims, and even though we were fishing no more than a rod length or so out, this weed was a persistent nuisance. In the afternoon, it started to rain and didn’t lay off until after we’d returned to the lodgings, by which time we were nicely soaked.

Wye @ Lucksall

Wye @ Lucksall

On Thursday, we returned to the stretch that we fished on Tuesday. Andy fished in the flyer while I started a bit downstream of him. The morning passed uneventfully, so I switched to another swim in the afternoon. Things began to liven up then, as Andy started to catch. He started off with his first-ever Wye barbel – a feisty fish of 6.11.

Andy Loses His Wye Virginity With a Fish of 6.11

Andy Loses His Wye Virginity With a Fish of 6.11

I’d only just got back from photographic duties when another text arrived informing me that he’d had a much bigger fish. This one went 9.15 on Andy’s scales and 9.10 on mine, so we couldn’t quite make it a “double”, but nevertheless it was a fine fish. Andy said that it had hardly fought, which, given the proximity of weights, made us think it may be the same fish as the one I caught on Tuesday. However, having studied the photos, I think they are different fish. He had two more barbel after that, a 7.01 and an 8.10.

Andy Looks Pleased With His Wye PB, 9.10

Andy Looks Pleased With His Wye PB, 9.10

The Flyer

The Flyer

Meanwhile, my swim switched on in late afternoon, producing a 5 pound barbel, followed by two small chub and finally another barbel of 8.04. Annoyingly, it had started raining again by now, so just when we’d got all our gear dry from the previous day, it all got wet again. But overall the best day of the week, with six barbel between us.

Wye @ Mordiford

Wye @ Mordiford

Friday saw us both in the same swims again, but this time the flyer didn’t produce for Andy, although he did lose one. Once again, my swim didn’t switch on until the afternoon, when I had a couple of chub, and finally a last-cast barbel of 8.09. And just as we’d nicely dried out from the previous afternoon’s rain, it started raining again, so that everything was soaked for the journey home.

Strangely, despite all the rain we’d had, the river remained low and clear all week, which I think didn’t help the fishing. What also didn’t help was the lack of decent venues available on day-tickets without prior booking. I think if we are to go back there for another holiday, we will need to do a bit more research prior to the visit.

Signs of Life? Not Really

The arrival of the warmer seems to have done something to the river, as the margins were full of fry on Saturday, the first time I’ve seen that this season, and a welcome sight too. Then, when I cast a line into the water, there were signs of crayfish activity – not normally something I’d welcome, but coupled with the signs that the fish had been breeding I felt hopeful that things were returning to normal after the stuttering start to the season. But either things are not yet all right in the riverine environment, or I’m doing something badly wrong, as I failed to get a single bite. The feedback I’m getting from others on the bank suggests that I’m  not the only one struggling to find the fish, so it seems the problem could well be the river and its inhabitants. Worried 😦

God’s Own Bite Alarm…

…That’s the sound of a centrepin ratchet clicking furiously when a barbel takes the bait. It’s something I hadn’t experienced until yesterday. I’ve caught a few barbel over the years when trotting using a ‘pin, but until this season had never used one to leger with. Given the slow start to the barbel season that seems to be affecting rivers across the country, it probably wasn’t the best time to start out using one. Two leger sessions in the first week of the season saw just the one bite, from a carp, and that was a bite where the fish came upstream towards me, so no screaming ratchet for that one.

Things took a turn for the better yesterday, as at last I found feeding barbel. The first fish fell in the early evening, taking a pair of Teme Severn Sausage boilies, and weighed around 4 pounds. Although only a small fish, it was very welcome all the same and fun to play on the ‘pin. I did however have a problem getting it in, as my line managed to get caught up in some other line that was fixed fast to something. Eventually I managed to pull my own line free from the other line and land the fish. I’d reacted to the bite quickly enough that the fish had not started to take line off the reel before I’d hit it, so at this point had still not experienced that scream of the ratchet.

First Barbel Legering a Pin

First Barbel Caught Legering a Pin

Things went quiet after that, until dusk. I’d switched baits to a robin red boilie and a few minutes into the first cast, a fish made off with the bait so fast that the ratchet was chattering away before I had a chance to react. What a lovely sound! This fish was a bigger one at a few ounces short of 7 pounds.

Not sure how a tit got into the photo!

Not sure how a tit got into the photo!

So now my duck is broken, I’m hoping that the fishing can pick up from here. The warmer weather this weekend should help get the fish moving again. One thing was noticeable again though, which was that I had no interference on the baits from crayfish – very, very unusual for this stretch.