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Autumn Harvest of Golden Barbel

Posted by Shaun Harrison on 19 October 2015 |
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I was up and about this morning far earlier than I needed or indeed, wanted to be. I had awoken in that comfortable snuggled state when you know you still have a good hour or so lounging time before the alarm clock will sound. But then my brain kicked in thinking back over this last week-end, for the gods of Sir Izaak had done so much more than smile upon me. They had rewarded me richly with a bumper crop of golden autumn barbel. I couldn’t turn my brain off so it was to be an early rise and soon the tea pot was mashing my favourite Assam/Earl Grey blend. I glanced at the pictures again and really couldn’t believe how incredibly fortunate I had been with my timing. If the truth be told it wasn’t really any sort of judged timing, it was pure fate and poor carp catching conditions mixed with a bit of idleness and lack of motivation that had me fishing for the barbel this weekend.

I guess really this story begins with a pre planned cane and centrepin afternoon with Bob Brookes last week. We had a wonderful time both hooking 3 barbel each, not monsters , the largest went just over 9lb but were all of a size to test the old tackle.

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Mk4 cane rod well into its fighting curve with a barbel stripping line from the pin

Friday came and I was really struggling to motivate myself for my usual week-end adventure. I had been busy with paperwork all week and taking an afternoon off hadn’t helped lessen the work load. I had been checking the weather in various regions to see which may offer me my best prospects of a carp but in all honesty I found myself totally uninspired and the thought of sorting bait and loading the motor for a week-end away wasn’t filling me with much joy at all.

My river gear was still in the Land Rover from the trip with Bob and looking at how low the river is running I realised it may be a rare opportunity for me to actually get away with a pin and cane on my local stretches of the Trent. Usually the river runs far too powerfully for the cane and after heavily handicapping myself too much in the past trying to use cane on a big river I now rarely bother as it isn’t fair on the rods or the pocket with too much snagged gear due to not being able to cast heavy enough weights to hold where the fish live. But now, well I could have another go.

I have been waiting for a good flush through of the river for a long time now. To me barbel angling is all about fishing in high water but this season I have never known the Midlands rivers so low for so long. I keep a daily record of the levels of the Trent, the Derwent, the Dove and the Border and these confirm that for me the rivers have had little barbel appeal but after some fine sport with Bob on his club stretch I thought, why not? After all I still had a bit of bait needing to be used up and it saved me sorting and swapping all my gear over. This week-end would be spent in bed at home which is a first since the end of the last river season.

So, this is how I found myself back down the Trent Friday afternoon after work with a Mk4 and centrepin. I purposely chose a swim where I thought I could just about get away with it and was soon feeding the swim ready for the first paste hook bait to swing around and hopefully appear more attractive than the other food morsels drifting down on the current laying a trail back to my hook bait.

It was a lovely time to be out and not a soul about. In fact the banks looked totally un-trodden. 

I sat there with the rod supported on a front rest and the but laying across my knee whilst holding the line to feel that first magical moment of an enquiry as the tackle comes to life. Well, that was what I was hoping for but instead the rod simply slammed around and the reel spun from under my thumb. No tentative plucking at the bait with this one. It had gone from a dead rod to a rod past its test curve faster than me answering when someone asks “would you like a drink”!

The line was stripped off at an alarming rate and despite putting as much finger and thumb pressure on the revolving pin as I dare I simply had to let it go. Fortunately when this first run ended the barbel changed direction and came charging back towards me whilst I would like the clappers thinking about repetitive strain injuries. Despite the river being so low and so clear I never saw the fish as it passed me by but soon it was charging off up river against the flow and against as much pressure as I could muster from the rod. I was starting to think to myself that I really shouldn’t be on this river with this tackle as there is always the possibility of a very large fish showing up and whatever I was into now, the tackle wasn’t really adequate. Had there been a few snags around then I wouldn’t have stood a chance. As it was I was hopeful that it wouldn’t bury its head in the rocks and fray me off. 

The fight continued and my first view of the fish I knew it would be my largest cane and pin barbel. The fight continued and I started to feel uneasy playing the fish for so long. It wasn’t really fair on the fish but I was giving it everything I could. Barbel end up totally exhausting themselves if played for too long which then gives issues in reviving them once landed.

Those last few agonising moments as it came towards the net will last in my minds eye for a long while but soon my bar of Autumn gold was kissing the mesh. I left the barbel there in the landing net for several minutes giving it time to gulp as much energy back as it could before I starved it further of breath whilst unhooking etc.

12.08

12 lb 8 oz and a great way to start the week-end

I set the camera up for a couple of self takes and wet the sling and mat, zeroed the scales and generally made sure everything was to hand before taking the weight of the fish for the first time and peeling back the mesh to reveal my prize. At 12 lb 8 oz I was more than satisfied with my hour down the river and after returning the fish I packed up vowing to either buy a more powerful cane rod or stop using cane as I had several years before whilst angling for big fish on big rivers. Quite simply I don’t have the right tools for the job. I had got away with it this time but more luck than judgement really if the truth be told.

My week-end had only just begun, Saturday I worked until mid afternoon, still catching up and then decided upon another trip down the river, but this time to a stretch I love so much but a stretch that has been attacked by otters. In 2013 I caught a lot of barbel from there but it was now 2 years since I had my last bite there. The sole reason I had continued to plug away on the stretch was down to one rather large fish I saw/heard one night last year. There was definitely one survivor on this long stretch and it had shown in a swim I knew well and by the amount of water the fish had moved it was a fish well worth spending some time for and with a good fish already under my belt this week-end I felt it a good time to possibly sacrifice another few hour in pursuit of what was seemingly becoming the impossible. I must have notched up 20 blanks over the past 2 years on this stretch but just could not accept that the otters had murdered all of the fish.

The only change from yesterdays approach was a swap of rods to cope with a much more powerful flow of water. Again the banks looked as though no-one had walked them for weeks and the swims were totally overgrown which is a fair indication that others had found that the fish now appeared to be gone and no-one seemed to be bothering with the stretch any more.

I sat there in total peace and solitude with the creatures of nature to keeping me company. These past couple of years of trying to find a fish in this stretch have by no means been that off putting, it really is a beautiful area to be and the hope and anticipation has still been there, especially after I had spotted that fish last year.

I sat through the end of the day and into the dark with the line over my finger feeling for signs, any sign whilst my senses were finely tuned in listening for fish. It was around 7.30 pm and I was starting to have a vision in my mind of my favourite chair at home and a glass of something relaxing when I was sure I had just felt a fish rub past the line. It was a feeling so hard to describe, it wasn’t a pluck or the tensioning felt as the drifting weed caught the line, more a type of vibration totally alien to anything else I’d felt transmitted through the line that trip.

My heart had raised a beat, was a fish down there moving about over the carpet of bait I had laid? There it was again, another strange sensation back up the line. My senses were on red hot alert when that first heavy pull came. The strike hit a total solid wall of resistance and then that oh so sweet stabbing of the rod as a fish shook its head to try and rid itself of its last mouthful of food. For a few moments we were in a stalemate before the fish started to swim upstream as I wound line back only to lose it again at a rapid rate of knots as the fish surged up against the current, always a good sign of a big fish. I pulled hard as I couldn’t afford to give too much line in this swim but the barbel powered on regardless. I knew at this stage my 2 year ordeal was being rewarded. To say I was nervous playing this fish is a total understatement. I knew all along it was a big fish but my first glimpse in the silvery water of night confirmed it was not only a big fish, it was huge! 

Time and time again that fish stripped line off me so incredibly powerfully. I felt as though I was hanging on rather than playing the fish but eventually those surges became shorter and the time was there for me to reach for the net not daring to risk spooking it by shining a torch. I could see its silhouette with my night adjusted eyesight and inch by precious inch it came over the rim of the net until kissing the spreader block I lifted and watched a huge tail fold in. 

I looked to the sky, clenched every muscle in my body and let out a huge built up feeling of emotion. A long yesssss! I’d done it, I’d proven there was a survivor and a big one at that.

I had to take a few moments to compose myself, to get my head in order. I trapped the landing net in place with my rod rest leaving the fish in the water for us both to regain our breath. 

Everything sorted and the moment of truth as I took the fish’s weight for the first time. I gaped in awe at its magnificence for here laid in front of me was probably the most impressive barbel I had ever set eyes upon. It’s condition was simply astounding and was a fish that could surely tell a horrifying tale of his lost shoal mates but here was a survivor, not only had it survived it had thrived and grown to become master of its domain. 

The scales reduced this magnificent fish to mere numbers which said 14 lb 11 oz. With a few self take photo’s completed I gently slipped it back to its watery home, gathered my tackle and returned to my Land Rover in a total daze. I’d achieved my aim to prove that a barbel had survived. The drive home was made with one great big enormous grin across my face, anyone peering through my window would have thought I’d lost the plot rather than gained an incredible memory.

14.11

2 years on the stretch and finally I found a survivor from the otters 14 lb 11 oz

I couldn’t stop looking at the pictures when I returned home and fell to sleep Saturday night one real contented angler. 

Sunday dawned and still that grin was stuck to my face, I thought I’d had a stroke when I looked in the mirror until that paralysed expression turned into a laugh. Boy, was I happy.

Sunday morning I got on with a bit more work but the river was again calling me. How could I ignore it whilst the conditions were so obviously suiting the barbel and with the cold NNE winds and dropping temperatures I felt I should be making the most of it before all the winter layers need to go back on.

I have a personal rule of never fishing any spot heavily and if I have caught from somewhere I don't return the next day. So for the 3rd trip on the trot, no signs of any other car in the car park. This stretch would do.

Now it is a swim I have caught a few barbel from and know it well so I was quietly confident something would take a shine to my Questrami boilie wrapped in paste. I went to work lacing the swim with bait in a tight line to draw the fish up to me from downstream.

I hadn’t been cast in long when the first bite came followed by the usual brilliant fight which culminated in my 3rd double in 3 trips falling into the net. At 11 lb 6 oz I was more than pleased with yet another great afternoons sport but little did I know what was to follow. 

 

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first fish went 11.06 which made it 3 doubles in 3 short trips

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An immaculate barbel of 13 lb followed on the next cast

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Then a fish of 10 lb 7 oz made an appearance

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My last feeder full of bait produced this 11 lb 4 oz fish my 4th double in a couple of hours

Every cast resulted in barbel as the 11 lb 6 oz was followed by fish of 9lb, 10 lb 7 oz, 13lb, 11 lb 4 oz and 8 lb 4 oz before running out of bait as the light dropped. I had spare bait in the Land Rover but to be honest after 6 more barbel under my belt I was more than content to end there yet I know they would have continued to come had I continued to feed. It is so rare things come together like they had but I like to think I made the most of it without totally raping it.

Trimmed and Glugged 15 mm Questrami with a paste wrap

Trimmed and Glugged 15 mm Questrami with a paste wrap

Perhaps I should buy an extra lottery ticket this week.

About the Author: Shaun Harrison

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Quest Baits boss Shaun Harrison has put over thirty five years of experience into developing his range of carp baits ” This bait range is the culmination of the bait knowledge I’ve gained throughout my carp fishing career, a journey which started in the 1970’s. It has truly been a long and winding road – frustrating at times, fascinating and rewarding at others….. Our range you’ll only find proven baits, ones I use myself 

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