Entering Unknown Territory…Part three.
Duncan Charman & Chris Petter
The barbel I never thought would grace my landing net was now resting in the bottom of it. Now I have landed a few barbel over 15lb, however it’s been quite a few years since Id crossed paths withsuch a huge fish and believe me, when you haven’t seen one for a while they are in a league of their own, simply humungous! The width across her back was unreal and the size of her belly told me that she hadn’t gone hungry over the past few months, probably moving into the swim from the snags downstream and having her fill. Yet I was wondering if this was the case why it had taken so long for her to slip up. On lifting the net I guessed a weight nearer twenty pounds than fifteen and was certain it would easily eclipse my previous personal best of 16lb 10z caught many years before. On the mat I quickly inspected her mouth and apart from where my hook hold had taken place no others were present, not even old ones which made me think this could have been her first visit to the bank. Zeroing the scales to the dampened sling I carefully slipped her within its folds then with shaking hands lifted her of the ground. I was amazed when the needle refused to pass the 17lb mark and after a couple of attempts finally accepted a weight of 16lb 11oz. A personal best is a personal best even if it’s only by an ounce and after resting her once again to get her breath she powered off from my grip, back into the depths of her home.
Enthused by the capture myself and Chris stepped up the assault in the hope that an even bigger barbel would show. Tactics were rethought and it was decided that as Chris was arriving, in most cases after dark, around 7pm, that he should concentrate in the swim where the big girl was caught. Fishing often till midnight this would mean he was there at what we had discovered was bite time, 10pm – 11pm. I continued to rove around the swims, ignoring his, at different times of the day but more often at a time I consider to be the most productive in angling as a whole, dusk. The next four and a half months were gruelling and extremely frustrating and come the end of the river season no further barbel had made an appearance. It wasn’t just barbel that were few and far between as the bream which were regular visitors to the bank disappeared and although a few chub did start to appear these too weren’t regular.
Although catching such a magnificent fish has to be considered a successful, I still feel for Chris who had put so much effort in, gone the distance yet wasn’t lucky to have dropped a bait in the right swim at the right time. I have always thought that effort equals reward, however now I know this is not always the case in angling. At the start of the season, way back in June when we decided to take on this new challenge I had thoughts of a dozen barbel gracing my net and Chris a more reserved six, yet just three turned up. The other possible fish that could have shown were chub to seven pounds yet our biggest was a modest 5lb 9oz sample and carp to 30lb yet not a single carp was spotted et alone caught. We knew that a double figured bream was on the cards and in most cases, when caught these averaged 8lb but the 11lb 2oz specimen was way bigger than what we had expected.
So why was the campaign such a tough one? Well these are my thoughts.
Safe havens – The stretch of river is neglected far beyond repair and many yards of river, throughout its two mile length, is completely unfishable. These areas of numerous fallen trees are safe havens for the fish who can happily lead a carefree life feeding on naturals.
Flood alert – One thing that we both missed when looking at the river in the summer was access when the river was in flood. The bottom end is accessed across a couple of fields, a flood plain and when it rains and the river flood this approach is cut off. The top end is accesses up a path, however a few hundred yards upstream we had failed to realise that the dip in the path was also liable to flooding. On one occasion towards the end of the season we did consider taking off our boots rolling up the trousers and wading through it but no fish is worth your life and we adhered to sensibility.
Otters on the prowl – Why we couldn’t localise any numbers of fish to frequent a swim was something we couldn’t understand, and then all was revealed when an otter pocked its head up in one of the swims at the back end of the season. Think about it, if you were a barbel when would you feed? When the river was in flood, up and coloured, a time we couldn’t access the river or the otters feed as effectively.
Bad year – Every now and again a winter arrives (or in this case doesn’t) and although just like the last one which felt so good with mild conditions prevailing right up to the turn of the New Year, it doesn’t fish well. Many of the other barbel anglers we spoke too were also struggling on other rivers and on stretches they knew well, yet here we were fishing a rock-hard stretch throughout a very difficult winter.
Looking at these four factors we finally realised why the fishing was so tough and both agreed that in the circumstances we had given it our best shot. This season will be back barbel fishing on the same river? No, well certainly not on such a full-on assault, yet knowing that a there’s a barbel that could easily weigh in excess of 18lb swimming around, it’s always worth the odd visit when conditions look right.
Duncan Charman is sponsored by Nash Tackle and Bait and has his own website www.duncancharman.co.uk He regularly contributes to top weekly, Anglers Mail magazine.
He is also an angling guide and can be booked on a daily basis for most species including carp, pike, perch, chub, catfish, barbel, bream, grass carp, crucians, roach, rudd, grayling, tench and golden orfe. For more information and prices email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or give him a call 07928 617006 / 01252 315271.
He’s also written a book called Evolution of an Angler which is available from www.calmproductions.com