Thursday, 28 January 2016

Entering Unknown Territory…Part one
Duncan Charman & Chris Petter

Approaching a campaign on a completely new venue can be daunting, however adopting a new tactical approach as well as using a new bait could be classified as a recipe for disaster yet that’s exactly what we decided to do in our quest to track down a barbel of monstrous proportions!

First problem was deciding on a venue, one that was capable of producing barbel in excess of fifteen pounds as well as being un-pressured! Impossible you may say but even in the south of England there are still the odd stretch of river that offers both. Once access was granted it was a case of getting to know the venue intimately and the only way of learning how the venue ticked and getting completely in-tune with it was to create a game plan, one that was to start in June and end hopefully in success March 14th the following year.

Bait and prebaiting…
Confidence in a bait is paramount and we were fortunate to get our hands on some Nash ‘The Key’ bait when it was in its testing stages. Initial sessions, in the depth of winter, targeting a difficult stretch of river with a very low stock of big fish instantly proved successful. This instant success came somewhat as a shock as we thought that it would take time for fish to switch on to a HNV (High Nutritional Value) bait, how wrong we were and a good stock of 10x15mm Dumbbells and 15mm boilies as well as Stick Mix, Frozen Paste, Pellets and Liquid Bait dip were ordered to kick-start the campaign come June.
Eager to get started we decided not to wait till June the 16th but to take a stroll at the start of the month. This was to pinpoint six potential swims as well as baiting these lightly with a handful of bait. This baiting-up was carried out three times a week allowing a couple of days for the fish to find the free offerings and hopefully over time wean the barbel on to wanting these, and these only.
Swims had been chosen carefully as well, two were what we call ‘hit and hold’ swims with fish holding snags downstream, two were drop-offs into deep water and the other two fast gravely runs in around four feet of water.

Setting goals and targets...
We both knew that results wouldn’t happen overnight and had already agreed that a barbel in June or July would be a bonus. This may seem strange, especially after going to all the trouble of baiting up on a regular basis, but the first six weeks of the season can often be tough what with low levels, lack of oxygen and of course spawning. What we wanted to do was to give ourselves the best possible chance of unlocking the rivers secrets and if this meant feeding other species throughout the summer and then gradually drawing the barbel in over time then so be it.  
            Late August we assumed would be the month that the barbel were once again settled and feeding in a methodical manner and come September and October, well the flood gates should open.
            Our personal bests vary somewhat, mine is 16lb 10oz and Chris 11lb 10oz so although we hoped that both would be beaten we settled for a target weight of 15lb, anything bigger would just be the icing on the cake.

Tackle and tactics…
Being an all-out barbel campaign and knowing that potentially a fish of a lifetime could grace our nets nothing was left chance. Two rods can be problematic and knowing that we wouldn’t increase our chances of hooking a fish by placing two baits on one spot decided that only one rod would be used with two maybe coming into use later in the year when the hazardous weed and marginal cover died back.
Having used Scope rods for the last year or more and absolutely loving them it was agreed that 10ft 2.25lb T/C would be our choice with reels loaded with 12lb NXT D-CAM mono mainline. Rigs were to be kept very simple and although Chris decided on using a 2oz running Tractor lead my choice was to go with a 1.5oz inline flat pear with the hooklink quick change rig swivel pushed in creating a bolt effect. Hooklinks were made from 15lb Combi-link in the weed green colour with barbless Fang Gaper size 8 hooks attached knotless knot style. I had also placed a couple of tungsten Clingers above the lead with some Cling-on putty moulded around just to pin everything down and keep things as stealthy as possible without over complicating thing.

Hookbait and swim approach…
            With the river weed in abundance we needed to guarantee that our hook points weren’t masked so both used quick change rig swivels so that narrow PVA sticks filled with The Key Stick Mix could be threaded down and the hook point pushed within. On the hair would be either a 15mm boilie or a 10x15mm dumbbell, both being covered in paste and then this and the bottom of the PVA bag dipped quickly in Liquid Bait Soak.
            Trying not to spook any resident fish within our swims we tried to make just one cast and as long as the lead was felt down and a satisfying thud felt when it landed left for ninety minutes. If a fish came within this time then brilliant and maybe a second cast made, however if nothing happened then it would simply be a case of moving to the next primed swim. By adopting this roving approach we felt that we could learn quickly what swims were attracting fish, what species they held as well as covering all in a short period of time. Obviously if one started to produce barbel then more time would be spent in this one, but until this revealed itself it was all about being active and covering as much ground as possible.

Early days…
Since the traditional rivers season opened we’ve continued to bait the swims three times a weeks, sometimes after fishing. The first two visits produced just one bream of 7lb 10oz along with a hook pull from what felt like another. The odd fish has been spotted rolling over the spots, probably bream again but these will keep the spots clear of weed and all the time they are feeding then other species will come and investigate.  
We’ve just returned from an evening trip and it looks like the baiting is working as Chris managed a 7lb 2oz bream and myself a 10lb 14oz barbel which showed signs that it had just finished spawning. I also had a couple of big fish roll right over the baited spot in another swim so it certainly looks like the plan is coming together and maybe those flood gates will open sooner than later. 

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