Season Opener

Ventured out for the first time this season yesterday. I went to the River Kennet near Newbury and got off to a good start when I found a fiver in the car park, but that’s where the good fortune ended. I made my way to a favourite swim that used to regularly produce a few barbel and chub every session, but that was before the marked decline in the fishing on the Kennet.

Kennet Fidlers 2016-06-19

The plan was to start with pellet on the hook, fished in conjunction with a pellet & groundbait feeder. However, that plan was cut short when opening my bait bucket, only to find that although there was a plentiful supply of pellets, there was no groundbait! Luckily I had some PVA stocking in the tackle bag, so I was able to use this to introduce some free offerings into the swim.

In days gone by, I would have expected the fish in this swim to respond quite quickly to my baits, often getting a fish in the first half hour, but on this occasion, my rod remained motionless throughout the session. A switch to boilies didn’t produce any action either.

The decline in the Kennet fishing has been noticeable for a few seasons now, particularly on once-prolific stretches, where it’s now a struggle to get a bite. It’s close to being terminal in my view. What’s to blame? Could be anything from otters, signal crayfish, increased turbidity, oestrogen from contraceptive pills, even the oils from anglers’ pellet bait. Most likely a combination of some or all of those producing a “perfect storm” that’s led to fish populations not being able to sustain themselves.

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

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.

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.

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.

All Quiet on the River Front

Out on the Kennet yesterday afternoon/evening. It was peaceful, so peaceful in fact that the fish decided not to disturb things by being so bold as to take my baits. There was an overall feeling that the river’s inhabitants were totally at rest. Nothing seemed to be stirring at all. No fish were topping anywhere and not even the crayfish were active, which is very unusual.

I suspect the barbel and chub may have other things on their minds at present. With the unusually cold spring we’ve just had, it’s likely that the fish are spawning late this year. That’s my excuse anyway!

The highlight of the day was hearing a cuckoo –  the first one I’ve heard for several years. Nice to hear, although not if you’re another bird that might get an egg chucked out of the nest to be replaced by the cuckoo’s one. Did you know that cuckoos have perfect pitch and usually sing in the key of C?

The Late Evening Sun Lights Up The Far Bank

The Late Evening Sun Lights Up The Far Bank

River Season Gets Underway

Out for the first trip of the new season  today. Nothing showing in the first couple of hours. Nobody else reporting anything either. Doesn’t look too promising.


Update: First fish of the season has fallen and it wasn’t what was expected. It was a fighting fit common carp weighing exactly 9.00.


It came from a very strange bite. The rod top started nodding gently, just an inch or so bend in the tip, and at first I put it down to the prolific crayfish population in this river. But it continued this nodding action and I began to think this was a bit odd, as normally the crays tend to pluck and snatch at the bait. On closer examination, I realised the line was coming back upstream towards me. This was definitely no cray! I struck, and all hell broke loose as the carp splashed at the surface then tore off across the river.

While I was playing it another – larger – carp was following it around for while. The one on the hook gave a very lively account of itself, taking several arm-aching minutes before coming to the net, during which time it made a number of short but powerful runs. What made it even more exciting was that I was using a centrepin.

There is a certain irony here, in that I’d had four trips to the canal prior to the start of the season specifically after carp, with only one small fish to show for it. Then when I set out to catch barbel, along comes this fish! Funny old world.

The capture was notable for me for a number of reasons…

Biggest river carp
Biggest fish on a centrepin
First fish caught using a centrepin for legering

Tales of Nelson the One-Eyed Barbel

Wow! Haven’t updated the blog for ages! Not a great deal to catch up on the angling front to be fair.

Main “event” since the last update was a week on the Severn with Andy back in September. It was a week with rather mixed results. We started on the Monday on the BAA Stanley water, where we’d both had a decent fish last year. However, although river conditions were very similar to the previous visit – a couple of feet up and carrying some colour – this time all we could manage was a single chub between us.

Tuesday saw us on the Eardington Brook section, with the river in the same condition as Monday – as it was to remain all week, with just some relatively minor fluctuations in levels. Weather was rather wet all day. Much of the stretch was boiling around the weed beds with the extra flow, but I found a nice looking smooth glide about a third of the way out. Casting a groundbait and pellet feeder with a pellet hookbait to the top end of the glide, it wasn’t long before I started to catch. I finished the day with 8 barbel, all in the 4-7 lb range.

One of the fish was notable for the fact that it appeared to have been in a lot of fights and lost them all. It had some healed battle scars down its flanks and was missing one eye. Apart from that, it seemed to be quite healthy and gave the sort of account of itself that you’d expect from a barbel of its size.

In the afternoon, Andy moved from his first unproductive swim to a spot some 40-50 yards downstream of me. He found some success in his new spot landing 2 barbel, but dropping 2 others. I was with him when he landed one of the fish. Now, rather strangely, it appeared to have been in a lot of fights and lost them all. It had some healed battle scars down its flanks and was missing one eye. Sounds familiar? Well, yes, it was indeed the same fish that I’d caught just a few hours earlier.

Wednesday saw us on Knowle Sands top end. I had a blank (I said BLANK!), but Andy managed to net a single 5lb barbel on his special sausage (?)

Thursday saw us take a look at the lower end of Knowle Sands, which was the first time we’d been there. Apart from the rather impressive sandstone cliff face that dropped sheer into the river on the opposite bank, the river didn’t look too impressive until further upstream. Unfortunately, the other bank was very busy, so there wasn’t really anywhere to fish at that end. We had a go opposite the cliff, but it just didn’t feel right, so we decided to up sticks after a couple of hours, and de-camped to Eardington.

For the first time, we tried the upstream swims. I fished a spot with overhanging willows at both the top and bottom of the swim, and a nice looking glide just out from the trees. I had 4 barbel out of there, up to 7lbs. I also nearly lost my rod to one of them. Having just cast out, I turned my back for a second to rearrange some gear, when I heard the rod clattering in the rests. I turned to see it being pulled out of the rear rest and shooting forwards on the front rest. Luckily, the reel caught in the rest and I managed to grab it before the rest also got dragged over. Unfortunately in my haste, I slipped on the muddy banks (it been raining a few minutes earlier), and landed on my arse in the river, with a resounding splash! That was the last of the bites for the day. Andy tried 2 swims, but couldn’t find a bite in either.

The final day of the holiday saw us back on Eardington again. Andy went upstream again while, after some hesitation, I ended up in the swim above the one I’d fished on Tuesday. The river level had dropped a few inches since then, and the glide started a bit further upstream as a result. Again, it wasn’t long before I started getting bites, but the first 2 fish I hooked got away as a result of the hooklink breaking about an inch below the swivel. As I was using identical tackle (literally the same feeder etc) apart from the actual hooklinks themselves as the day before, I couldn’t understand why this was happening, but switched to a heavier BS link and changed the feeder in case there was something on it fraying the line. The next 2 barbel were landed, but the next one hooked resulted in an identical breakage to the first two. I was really puzzled by this, so my next attempt to resolve the problem was to fit a small length of tubing down from the swivel.

This appeared to do the trick as all the next four fish I hooked during the day were all landed. While unhooking one of them, I was briefly puzzled by what appeared to be an excessive amount of my hooklink attached to the fish. A closer inspection revealed that it actually had 2 of my hooklinks in its mouth, and so was one of the fish I’d lost earlier.

It’s interesting to note that 2 fish in the week were recaptured later in the same day. It makes you wonder how often this must happen. In the case of the 2 fish we know about here, they were easily recognisable as recaptures, but if the fish were not so easily recognised, and you’re into a bunch of shoal fish and not particularly taking notice of the individual fish you catch, there could be recaptures that you don’t spot.

Hook Lets Me Down

22nd June, River Kennet
Weather: Fairly warm, sunny spells. River: Low, clear(ish)
Arrived: 16.00, Left: 23.00

Fished one of my favourite swims on this venue, using groundbait/pellet feeder & pellet on the hook. Unusually for the swim, it took a little while for a fish to show. I’d been there for about an hour, when I decided I needed a  drink. So I put the baitrunner on and round to get a drink from my bag. No sooner had I turned my back, than I heard a splash. Looking round, I saw that the rod had been pulled off the front rest (it was resting in the shallow water at the edge), but the rear “gripper” rest was doing its job. I grabbed the rod and found myself attached to a fish. It was a barbel of 4.02, and put up a surprisingly low key fight. In fact I thought it was a chub until I saw it. Next cast, almost the same thing happened. I thought I was safe to have my drink, and was in mid swallow when I saw the tip wrap round. Hurriedly putting down the bottle, I got the rod and was playing another barbel. This one went 6.02 and fought more like a barbel should.

I had to wait another couple of hours for my next bite, a full-blooded pull. Again a barbel was the culprit. There was a worrying moment when the fish went into some sort of snag and I could feel the line rubbing against it. However, the line held and the fish came out. A few minutes later it was in the net. It was a good fish of 9.08. Re-tackling to clear the line where it had been damaged in the snag, I re-cast, and was almost immediately in again. In a repeat of the last fish, it took me into the snag again, but as before the line held and the fish was pulled back out of it. When I saw it, I could see that it was a similar size as well. But when I was just about to get it in the net, it came off. I thought the hook must have pulled, but on examining the rig, I saw that the hook had actually broken, which was very annoying. I’d not noticed any sign of damage to it when I’d taken out of the previous fish. That proved to be the end of the action for the day.

Very pleased with the Torrix’s handling of the two bigger fish, and also pleased with the Daiwa Sensor line I’ve started using. I had 8lb BS on, which twice survived being run into a snag and still held, even though there were 9lb plus barbel on the end. Not so pleased with the broken hook, but this is a pattern that I’ve been using for quite a few years now, and have had some much bigger barbel on them, so hopefully this was a one-off.

Swifts – seems to be a lot of them this year. It was fascinating to watch them darting around, feeding on the many airborne insects. There was no respite for the insects when it got dark either, as the bats then appeared to carry on the feast.

Barbel 4.02 Pellet
Barbel 3.08 Pellet
Barbel 9.08 Pellet

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