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.

Season Closes With New PB Chub


My final outing of the river season was to the Upper Benyons stretch of the Kennet, in search of a last-gasp barbel. The river was running high, coloured and was flowing quite fast following recent heavy rains, though it had apparently dropped levels a bit since the day before.

My tactic was to rove the fishery, using large, flavoured meat baits, spending 10-15 minutes in each swim. Where practical, I was upstreaming the bait, working it down the swim.

The first swim I tried produced a decent bite which I failed to connect with. My suspicions at the time were that it was more likely to have been a chub bite than a barbel. More of that later.

The day had started cool and foggy, but by around 11 o’clock, the sun broke through the fog, and the rest of the day was fished in glorious sunshine.

I covered the entire length of the fishery and back, with only one other bite to show for it – a rapid drop-back on an upstreamed line – which again I missed. This time, I was more certain that a barbel was responsible, so was annoyed at missing the chance.

Eventually I returned to the first swim. The bait had been dropped into some steady flow close to the bank and had been there for a few minutes, when the rod tip was jerked round. This time I made contact, and the fish took off like a scalded cat. After a short but very lively battle, I slipped the net under a very large chub.

Chub PB, 6.00

Chub PB, 6.00

The scales settled on a weight of exactly 6lbs – a new PB chub, beating my previous best by 3 ounces. After resting the fish in the net, the trophy pics were taken and the fish returned. I used a new camera for the first time – an Olympus Tough TG-3, which is a waterproof camera designed to take a few knocks, so ideal for fishing purposes. It also can be wi-fi’d to a smartphone, which can then be used as a remote viewer to frame the shots and as a remote shutter release. Picture quality seems fine for trophy shots viewed on the PC.

I fished a few more swims after that, but with no luck, so, reluctantly, I decided to call an end to the session and the season.

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

Update:

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.

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.

Not So Hot To Trot


Got the float rod out for today’s session on the Kennet, and a spent a few hours trotting the stream. Yet again though, the river seemed almost lifeless. In previous years on this stretch of the river, trotting maggots would see you catching plenty of dace, minnows and other small fish, not to mention the odd chub. But this time, the small fish were almost absent. However, I did briefly hook a couple of big fish (probably barbel, but I didn’t have them on long enough to be certain), but both times the hook pulled. I suspect I’d not struck hard enough, as both fish took the bait 30+ yards down the trot, so a good strike was needed to set the hook properly. Only myself to blame here I think, but very frustrating all the same.

At Least The Weather Was Nice

I can’t recall the last time I went 3 river sessions at the start of the season without landing a barbel. However, I can take some solace in that other anglers on the stretch are reporting the same lack of success. I only hope this is a short-term malaise caused by the unusually cold spring we’ve had, rather than signs of a more serious issue, and that things will pick up with some warmer weather.

Video best viewed in full-screen HD
http://youtu.be/H_bpEqEMoos

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

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.

Catches
Barbel 4.02 Pellet
Barbel 3.08 Pellet
Barbel 9.08 Pellet

River Season Kicks Off


18th June, River Kennet.
Weather: On the cool side, mostly overcast, windy. River: Low, clear(ish)
Arrived: 16.00, Left: 23.00

First trip of the new season, great to be back on the rivers again after the unsuccessful attempts to catch a canal carp, and a chance to test out my new custom-built Torrix rod. The river showed no signs of having benefitted from the rain of recent days, with it being as low as I’ve seen it at this stage of the season, and as clear as it ever gets these days.

I was mildly surprised to find only two other anglers on the stretch – a sign of the times perhaps? When I first had a ticket for this stretch back in 2000, there would always be quite a few people during the first few weeks of the season, but that has tailed off and it is not unusual for me to have the venue to myself, even on a weekend.

Before settling in to a swim that was quite good to me last season, I dropped a few boily and pellet samples in to a couple of other swims. I started off using a groundbait/pellet feeder with pellet on the hook. On the second cast, the feeder had hardly settled, when the rod top was yanked sharply round and I was into my first barbel of the season. After a lively but fairly brief scrap, I had a nice barbel on the unhooking mat. Putting it on the scales (I always weigh the first barbel of the season – it helps to get my eye in!), I settled for a weight of 6.15.

Next cast was almost a repeat of the previous one, as another barbel was hooked very quickly. This one was smaller though, going about three and a half pounds. I was beginning to think this might be the start of a red-letter day, but it was not to be, as – apart from a chublet that snatched my bait – there was no more action in this swim.

About eight o’clock, I decided to try one of the other swims that I’d previously baited (I’d also repeated the baitings about an hour earlier), and switched tactics to a straight lead and a boily on the hook. I did get one pull there, but missed it. It may have been a line bite. Because of the sign of fish being present I stayed in the swim probably longer than I should have and didn’t get round to trying the other swim I’d baited, which was probably a mistake. The only “bites” I had for the rest of the evening were from bats hitting the line.

So slightly disappointing that the session didn’t fulfill its early promise, but no complaints as even catching one barbel per session sends me home happy. New rod christened – and it handled the fish very nicely, though obviously I would like to test it on bigger fish. And the predicted heavy showers didn’t materialise, which was a bonus.

Catches
Barbel 6.15 Pellet
Barbel 3.08 Pellet

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