Words by Ron Key:
I’ve just returned from my annual trip to the River Wye in Herefordshire. Every year for the last eight or nine years I’ve stayed at the Red Lion at Bredwardine and took advantage of the four miles of fabulous river they run. A few days away certainly seemed like an ideal opportunity to continue my Quest for this seasons barbel bait.
The week before our trip I contacted Shaun and ordered a selection of baits including 10 and 15mm boilies with matching glugs and pastes. Special Crab was definitely on the list as it’s a proven barbel catcher and
had succeeded on my recent trip to the Trent. Next was Rahja Spice again a bait with a history of catching big barbel and finally just because I had never caught a barbel on a fruity bait I included Squid Berry.
Preparation for our trip had been meticulous but one thing you cannot plan for is the weather. The Wye is a spate river fed from the Brecon’s and with the wet year we have had the levels had been high for a long time. The week before our visit the levels had been up to 1.7 metres on the EA website. We had watched day by day as the levels crept slowly downwards. At one metre things were definitely looking good, then the night before we were due to leave there was a deluge on the mountains feeding the river and within a very few hours the level was back up to 2.14 metres. I knew from experience what that meant, chocolate brown water raging through the swims. This was going to be some tough bait test.
On Thursday evening I arrived early and walked the beats with my mate Phil Calloway. It was his first trip to the Wye and his first barbel trip since the nineteen seventies. Access was limited with no cars allowed on the banks because of the mud, and it came as no surprise that many of my favourite swims were unfishable. The river did however look stunning. One thing that rain does do is ensure everything around you is lush and green. The lack of bankside activity had kept that new unspoilt look on the banks, I was so glad to be back.
Back at the Red Lion it was Curry Night and Shaun had now arrived; so we retired to the bar for a meal and a few welcome pints of Batty Bach and finalised plans for the next day.
Before breakfast we were all frantically sorting and repacking our gear. Everything we needed for the day had to be carried so a strategic strip down of our gear to the bare essentials was needed. A “Full English” to
get us started and we were off. We yomped from the car park to the river and Shaun quickly elected to fish a tasty looking swim on Beat 4 with a bay on the far side with a big area of slack water created by a back eddy. Phil moved further upstream and found some deep fast flowing water, with high banks and deep undercuts, and I set up on what must have been the muddiest swim on the river. I was determined to fish one of my favourite parts of the river and this sodden waterlogged bank was the only way to reach it.
After battling with this swamp and the river for a couple of hours I looked like I’d been mud wrestling and surrendered. I worked my way upstream fishing a few pools on the way with no success and finally ended up on a pool called the Cocks Comb. The pool is one of the largest and deepest on the stretch and there was a fair amount of powerful coloured water pushing through. I elected to cast upstream to hold bottom, and quickly swung out a couple of 4oz open ended feeders packed with goodies. I like to fish fairly simple running rigs with long hook links and also use breakaway clips try and improve the safety of the tackle in the rocky and snaggy water. On my first day I stuck with a winning bait formula and selected a 15mm Special Crab hook bait wrapped in boilie paste. The feeder was plugged with my own concoction of halibut and hemp groundbait and filled with a mixture of 10mm boilies and
boilie crumb. My close in rod was fish only a rod length out on what was normally a small beach at the edge of the pool. The side of the pool sloped away very steeply and although the other bait was not cast much further out it was in very deep water. Fishing upstream was working well with the feeders holding and at last I was relaxed and feeling confident.
There are disadvantages fishing this way, usually when you get a take the rod springs back and the line goes slack and for a few seconds the fish is in control. On my first bite this happened. By the time I’d reeled in the line the fish had roared downstream in the current and reached a bend in the bank which caused the water to accelerate to a terrific speed. I had no idea what was on the line, the rod took on a serious curve almost locked up and I just held on. Eventually it tired and I eased it out of the accelerated flow. The current was still strong but at least I gained some control. A pair of large white lips finally broke the surface and I slipped a four pound chub into the net. What an incredible fight. Minutes later I had a call from Shaun to say he landed an 8 1/2lb barbel, things were definitely looking up.
My day just got better and better with the shallow and deep water rods producing chub. The next bite produced a 5lb 12oz fish my best Wye chub and a 5lb 6oz quickly followed it into the net. Every fish fought harder than the one before; with the flood water putting immense pressure on the line. How would I manage if I hooked a barbel? The pool produced five chub with the smallest almost four pounds. The Wye fish were really loving Special Crab.
Back at the hotel that night we analysed the day’s events over yet more Batty Bach and large plates of venison. Shaun had netted two barbel and some chub and Phil was no longer a Wye virgin having extracted two chub from his deep pool. We were all satisfied with our captures under what were very difficult conditions.
The next morning found us heading way upstream to the top of Beat 2. Our plan was to work back downstream through Beats 2, 3 and 4 checking out the swims on the way. Initially we spread our way around a bend opposite the salmon hut. I had a chub of about four pounds but bites were thin on the ground and one by one we headed off downstream. One my next stop I picked off a small chub but the current was so strong and the floods had deposited a few new snags. I was uncomfortable with the conditions and didn’t think I could safely land a barbel and moved on.
Around the next bend I met up with Phil and Shaun who had come armed with a quiche and a pecan nut cake freshly baked by Shaun’s girlfriend Carol. It would have been bad manners not to have stopped and socialise for a while. As we
relaxed new tactics were discussed and Shaun and I traded our successful swims from the day before and Phil was keen to explore yesterdays swim again. Good decision by everyone as it turned out
In my new swim downstream tactics seemed to be the way forward and one rod was cast about of third of the way across armed with Squid Berry and the other baited with Special Crab down the margin in a
depression washed out by the flood water . Very quickly I was into a barbel and soon realising my old 1 1/2lb barbel rods softened by years of hard use were no longer up to the job. When I finally eased it out of the flow it weighed just over six pounds and on my locked up rod felt like twelve. A succession of chub fell to both baits and finally the margin rod produced a barbel. As usual after hours of concentration you are distracted and the inevitable happens. As I worked at retrieving a pork pie from my bag zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz; the clutch burst into life and I turned to see the rod balanced on the rest with the reel in mid air. Battle commenced and much later I weighed in 6lb 12oz barbel. I was happy and as we compared notes in the bar later that evening it seemed everyone else was too. Shaun had landed a good haul of chub to 5lb 5oz and Phil got off the mark with his first Wye barbel. Today was a great day. Peaceful, relaxed and productive, and its not as if we need a lot of excuses to celebrate!!!
On our last day the river conditions were starting to look really good. The water was clearing and at a manageable level and our confidence was high. Phil was really getting the hang of it now and landed three more barbel, Shaun had another barbel and more chub and I lost a couple of barbel with cut hook links. I’ve got to admit by the third day I wasn’t trying too hard. The Wye ambience was getting to me and after more of Carol’s cake and a couple of bottles of shandy I was so relaxed I was almost horizontal. Mid afternoon and Phil headed for home; Shaun and I sat it out until eight that evening, and then a couple of tired but very contented anglers headed cross country for the motorway.
Due to the flood water the conditions on the Wye were difficult to say the least with many anglers struggling for bites. Monster barbel were not on the agenda this trip but there were some special chub and Phil is now a river convert. The Wye is a superb venue and we all agreed it was a successful and enjoyable weekends fishing.
Returning briefly to the theme of this blog it also seems that in Squid Berry we have another successful chub and barbel bait. All I need to do now is select another Quest bait for the next trip