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Archive for August, 2011


This is far from being just a barbel fishing blog, but big barbel have been somewhat elusive so far this season.  I think my best to date has been 10lb 1oz from the Trent.  The Kennet doubles have proven to be even harder to come by.  We normally take plenty of big fish from the Kennet. I think my best day was 3 ’12’s’ two seasons ago.  A season where I managed 14 doubles from the Kennet.  This season has been the hardest start on the Kennet I’ve had in 5 years.  It’s strange because everywhere else I go I seem to catch plenty of barbel.  I’ve had the best part of 140 fish this season and only 15 have been from the Kennet.  Still hopefully it will get better…….!

So it was that Geoff, Kevin and I packed up the tents and moved to Aldermaston.  We know this stretch well and in past seasons have fared well here during daylight hours.  Rather than fish during the day on the other beats, this week we had swapped around a bit.  Fishing the evening and night at Dalston and today here at Aldermaston.  We hoped that this change in tactics might just produce some fish.

Base Camp

The water was still quite coloured and the river an inch or two up, maybe.  The river looked good.  We each headed off up river in search of some likely spots.  I ventured in to a very boggy swim.  Luckily I was armed (or legged) with my Simms waders.  So if I did have to wade into a few boggy spots, I could.  There is a lovely deep gully in this swim.  It’s flanked on one side by beautiful, flowing ranunculus and on the other by lots of overhanging trees and bushes.  It looks perfect.

I started off by putting out about 3 pints of hemp and caster.  Leaving the swim to rest for half an hour whilst I got organized.  The swim was certainly boggy, but I managed to find a firm spot for the chair.  Once that was all sorted a cup of coffee was in order and then I tied up a new rig.  The previous week I had fished casters on the hair, but due the the colour this week I opted for pellets for bait.  Hoping that the additional smell might make it easier for the fish to locate them.  A 3 foot braided hooklink was tied up with a 12 hook and 2 large elips pellets superglued to the hair.  The feeder was a 3 ounce Andrew Witham cage feeder.  This was packed with a mixture of pellets and Hinders ‘barbel bomb’ groundbait.

The bait was swung out into the gully and I sat back to await events.  I took this opportunity to nose through the weekly fishing papers.  A 4lb 10oz crucian carp had been caught from a Verulam AC water.  The picture looked good.  The fish, at a casual glance, looked like a true crucian.  They are not easy fish to identify.  The colour looked pretty good: dark bronze and orange tints to the fins.  The mouth didn’t look quite right, but it was open and extended, so nothing conclusive there.  I didn’t do a scale count, I think I’ll leave that to the experts.   I hope it is genuine and well done to the angler that caught this beautiful fish.

Anyway back to the barbel.  At last I had what looked like a persistent chub bite, so decided to hit it.  It was a chub, about 3 1/2lbs.  Then  a little later, another persistent chub bite, so I hit this one as well.  This time though it was a chub on steroids, 3 shredded wheat and a tin of Popeye’s spinach.  What is technically known in fishing circles as a barbel.  Not a big fish, but a really good fight.  A fish of about 6-7lbs.  Later on I had the full on 3 foot twitch.  It felt like a good fish on the other end.  It stayed deep and thumped around for a few seconds before snagging me on some unseen obstruction.  Steady pressure from numerous angles and plenty of swear words usually does the trick.  Sadly though everything went slack and the hook had pulled out.  At least I got all of the tackle back and the fish had escaped safely.

The rare Wasing lesser spotted Kookaburra

The warm weather was having a soporific effect on me and I kept drifting off into a world of naked women and British record barbel.  What a combination! Luckily, this was interrupted by the phone going and an excited Kevin on the other end informing me of a very good barbel in his landing net.  Assuming it hadn’t swam in there of its own accord, I hurried down ready to do the David Bailey impression, although I was sober!

Kevin lifted the fish out of the water and we were confronted by a very big, fat barbel.  It looked about 12lbs and this was confirmed on the scales, as she went 12lb 2oz.  A new PB for Kevin and the smile said everything.  Well done buddy, great result.  It was nice to see a big fish on the bank at long last.

Kev's PB Barbel 12lb 2oz

Despite a move, on Geoff and my parts, we couldn’t muster any further action.  So we ended the day with 2 barbel, plus the 5 from the previous day. 7 barbel and a new PB isn’t a bad couple of days fishing.  Oh and we also stopped by the road side to watch 2 Red Kites and 2 Buzzards sharing the same air space.  Lovely to watch such impressive birds glide and swoop just overhead.  Ah well, until next time. As Arnie would say “I’ll be back”

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The lure of Kennet roach drew me back to the Wasing beats of this beautiful river this week.  The Kennet was once famed for its red finned inhabitants and it had a reputation for holding some very big specimens.  Well I’m pleased to say that in certain stretches, they are still there.  They crop up from time to time, mainly to barbel fishermen.  I have targeted these roach on just a few occasions recently, having taken them to 1lb 12oz in the past.   I’m certain that with some perseverance the larger specimens will eventually succumb.

So the set-up was fairly straight forward.  I balanced my superb light ‘river and stream’ quiver rod (a TFG rod that is sadly no longer available) with a Drennan reel loaded with 5lb line.  A running ledger link and a 3 foot mono hooklink coupled with a 16 Pallatrax ‘The Hook’ completed the set-up.  The bait was a small hair rigged Hinders Elips pellet, attached by incorporating a small bait band tied to the hair.  This is a nice simple rig, where little can go wrong.  I do like to use a 3 inch length of silicone tubing on the hooklink which pulls onto the swivel.  This just pushes the hooklink away from the feeder, which is then attached to the running ledger link.  It just helps to prevent tangles.

I targeted an area that I know has produced some decent roach in the past and still regularly throws up some decent specimens over a pound.  There is a lovely long glide here and a fallen tree at the end of the run.  On the opposite bank are more bushes and trees in the water, which create a lovely crease.  It screams roach, especially as it has an excellent average depth.

Ah, I can smell roach...or is that my aftershave!

After setting up base camp (where’s Sherpa Tenzing when you need him?) I baited my chosen swim with a little hemp to get the fish interested.  The water was a little higher than of late after recent heavy rains and the river was carrying a little more colour too.  Perfect roach conditions.  First cast out with the hemp and caster feeder, produced instant results.  The tip yanked round from a cracking bite and the strike met with that jagged resistence of what felt like a good roach.  Then, sadly it was off.  Things went a little quiet from there.  It was a lovely warm evening.  As dusk approached the tip pulled round again and this time the culprit found the folds of the landing net.  A fine Kennet roach of about a pound. It was fin perfect and in immaculate condition.  Hopefully this was to be the start of some decent action.

Hemp and Caster - Irresistible!

Well sadly by 10pm, not an awful lot had happened.  Kevin had taken a couple of nice barbel further upstream, the biggest going 8lb 10oz and Geoff had caught a small fish of about 4-5lbs. Then at last another bite came my way.  The dogged, zig-zag fight indicated a roach and so it was.  Another fish of about a pound.  Sadly tiredness was beginning to get the better of me (that’s old age for you) so I decided to have one more cast whilst packing away all of the usual paraphernalia that us anglers take but never seem to use (please tell me it’s not just me!).  Once all that was done, it was time to reel in.  Moments before doing so the rod top dragged round violently and a hard fighting fish ripped line from the reel.  The clutch screamed as the fish headed for the fallen tree.  Steady pressure won the day (a good balanced set-up, even using lightish lines, can subdue big fish) and the fish was drawn over the cord of the landing net.  Well it was obvious by now that this was a roach of the bearded variety. Yes, a barbel. Certainly not a monster, but about 6lbs.

A bearded roach

I popped over to see Geoff and as I stood there his rod whacked round and a feisty barbel of around 4-5lbs was later unhooked and slipped back to fight another day.  I headed back to camp and got the kettle going.  Kevin surrendered to the Barbel Gods but Geoff was made of tougher stuff and after his cuppa, carried on fishing for a couple of hours.  Sadly nothing more came his way and even he eventually succumbed to tiredness.

Not a bad session all in all.

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Kevin and I decided to have another crack at the Kennet this week.  Geoff had gone AWOL, using some sort of family holiday as an excuse. Mind you when I spoke to him on Wednesday he was trying to catch roach at Britford.  Hmm, family holiday? My foot!

Anyway the real anglers headed to Aldermaston and were taught a very valuable lesson.  Don’t pretend to be real anglers when you can’t catch fish! Unfortunately it was another tough session here.  One or two fish rolled, just to prove there was some life down there.  I was fortunate to catch a barbel of around 7-8lbs and that was my only bite.

I did change tactics this week.  I dropped the pellets (they went everywhere!) in favour of a more traditional approach.  I cooked up some hemp (peace, man) and mixed in a good helping of casters.  I superglued 4 casters onto a hair and masked the size 14 Pallatrax ‘The Hook’ with another one.  I then coupled this with a longish hooklink and a 2.5 ounce Preston blockend feeder.  This was then filled with the hemp and caster mixture.  First part of the attack was to bait dropper 10 loads into the swim.  Leave it for 45-60 minutes and then fish over the top.

It did produce some interest early on when a really nice dace pulled the rod top round and then a little while later a barbel  did an impression of  Usain Bolt and ripped the tip round whilst tearing off down stream.  The fish put up a good fight and looked around the 7-8lb mark. It was an awkward swim to fish and I decided as dusk was approaching, I would move into an easier swim.

Kennet Barbel

I adopted the same tactics but this time nothing was forthcoming.  I decided to call it a day about 10.30pm as I was totally cream crackered.  Kevin was happy to turn in for the night as his rods had remained motionless since arrival.

The next day we decided to move to one of the other beats.  Again, adopting the tactics of the night before I decided to be a little more patient and move a few times into baited swims.  The first swim which is a really nice shady spot only produced a few dace and a roach.  The next move proved more productive.  Just as I opened a packet of crisps and took a bite out of my Tuna and sweetcorn sandwich (and you thought I was unhealthy) the rod tip slammed round and my lunch went about 7 feet into the air! The result was a small barbel of about 2.5-3lbs.  Nice result and I moved on feeling a little more pleased with myself.

The 3rd swim had a lovely big bush opposite.  This time I decided not to use the bait droppers.  This was a small, narrow section and I thought it may cause too much disturbance.  So I kept recasting a smaller feeder out at regular intervals, to keep some bait going in.  This seemed to work, as over the next couple of hours I had 3 more barbel to about 5.5lbs.  Then the swim died.  I would have moved but the heavens had opened and it was tipping it down.  So at around 8pm we decided enough was enough and we packed up and headed back to Kent.

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The Association of Barbel Fishers

Some time ago a group of like minded anglers formed the Association of Barbel Fishers.  It was formed because the people involved wanted a democratic group that put its members first.  The other great emphasis was on having fun.  Something anglers seem to forget sometimes.  It’s really a social group that goes fishing.  However, to be fair, that sells the group a bit short.  They also intend to do a great deal of fund raising  and eventually would love to involve themselves in more complex research and conservation projects.

Still it’s early days.  The Association has already managed to raise £500 for the MacMillan charity and will be following this up with numerous fund raising events along the lines of fish-ins.  They have also managed to produce an Association magazine named ‘Riffle’ .  This is an on-line or e-magazine available for the membership.  Its not a single species magazine and offers articles across a wide spectrum  of angling subjects. They have also acquired the fishing rights on three separate waters; 2 on the Trent and the other is the famous Downton fishery on the Hampshire Avon.

They have an on-line forum where members can chat about fishing or life generally.  You can expect a bit of light hearted pi…. taking er I mean banter, from a really great bunch of guys.  Help and advice are always on hand for anyone needing it.  Quite a few of the current crop of members are from north of the border i.e. The Midlands and up and in particular Yorkshire. So you will need to study the local lingo and remember water is pronounced without the invisible ‘R’ between a and t! Oh and remember to say “mi duck”

The group have also just had their inaugural AGM.  The Association now have a strong team in place have have outlined their plans for how the group will be run.  Elections will be put in place and a full financial report was presented to the membership in attendance and then replicated for viewing on the Barbel Fishers website.

I wish the group well and hope that they can continue their good work and for their great Raison d’etre – having fun.

Check out their website: The Association of Barbel Fishers.

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The three musketeers arrived at the Kennet Tuesday afternoon full of anticipation.  We have found it tough going so far this season.  In 8 sessions I have only managed 5 barbel and lost 4.  Geoff and Kevin have taken 5 between them.  So not the best of starts.  I have tried altering my approach slightly this season and so far my results have been slightly better than the other two guys, but its only a very small difference.

The Kennet

Tuesday night saw me fishing 2 areas.  I opted for a open-end cage feeder (Andy Witham’s feeders) stuffed with barbel bomb and small pellets, all mixed in together.  I then used 2 of the medium sized elips pellets superglued to a hair on a size 12 hook.  Usual hooklink: 3 feet of Suffix camfusion.  I also incorporated a flying backlead a further 2 feet up the line from the feeder.  Its been difficult to use backleads this season on some parts of our Kennet, due to the amount of weed in the river this year.  There is more weed than I have seen over the past 5 years.  I suspect it was due to low river levels and the unseasonably high temperatures through April and May, which were obviously perfect for weed growth.  Its good to see it in the river in such abundance but we’re just not used to seeing on this part of the Kennet.

The only barbel during this part of the session came to me about 7.30pm, in a nice deep run over a thick ranunculus weed bed.  A spirited fight resulted in a barbel of around 5lbs.  I was just putting a few bits into my rucksack, as I was just preparing to move, when I turned around on my chair to check the rod and see the butt right up in the air and almost heading off into the river!  Luckily I fish with the rod often resting on my chair, but if not very, very close to me.  I managed to get my hand on the rod before it disappeared.  Never take your eye off the rod for a second.  I would normally put the bait runner on if I am going to be distracted for a few moments.  Anyway disaster averted.

A move proved futile as no further action came, nether did Kev or Geoff have any success.  Another tough day.

The following day saw us move beats. We headed to the Warren and Dalston sections.  I had decided to knock the barbel fishing on the head for today and concentrate on the quality dace and roach fishing to be had on these sections.  I set up a light quiver tip rod with 5lbs mainline and a small blockend feeder.  I used a 2 1/2 foot hooklink with a 16 hook and tied a small bait band to the hair rig.  I was using single small elips pellets as a bait, which I know these roach and dace love.  I filled the feeder with some large pellets (these are for flavour leakage) and some small micro pellets.

Action was steady.  A few nice dace took the bait but no sign of any roach.  I moved to a lovely shallow gravel run, with a deeper glide on the inside of a crease.  A few knocks resulted and then the tip pulled round.  The strike met with solid resistance followed by the steady pull of a decent fish.  This was either the biggest dace ever recorded or a barbel.  After a lovely fight on the lighter tackle a barbel going 7lb 6oz was returned to the river.  A little while later another barbel took the pellet and this time it went 7lb 7oz.  Like peas in a pod.  Maybe the smaller baits and lighter set-up made the difference with the barbel.  Both Geoff and Kev sadly blanked barbel wise although Kevin lost a fish in a snag.  Food for thought.

A very big dace!

I have certainly been toying with the idea of returning next time armed with hemp and casters.  Certainly the larger baits, perhaps in particular pellets, don’t appear to be working.  It’s time to re-think and change tactics again.

The roach sadly failed to materialise.  Another time perhaps.

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I fished a gin clear river recently for barbel.  I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who do this week in week out and so will already know what observations and opinions I am about to express.

Firstly I am often surprised how much feeding fish will tolerate from an angler before finally giving up and spooking out of the swim.  Providing an angler is sensible in his concealment (or not as the case maybe), feeding barbel will continue to do so despite the obvious presence of an angler.  Slow, deliberate movements don’t seem to cause too much alarm.  I would still put a great deal of importance on stealth of course, but not to the extremes that some may think.

What I think is far more important is how the bait and tackle is presented in the fishes environment.  Let me quantify that.  I have seen on several occasions barbel moving into the baited area and then suddenly spooking off.  Now its fairly obvious to me that this was due to the mainline being either visible or coming into contact with a fish.  When one spooks, it does tend to spook the others.  The fish then tend to retreat, but will often return to the swim to continue foraging for the food that they know is present. However the more spooky those fish become the less confidently they seem to feed.

How can we overcome this problem? My set-up has evolved over many years of fishing for barbel.  It works for me although not 100% of the time.  I doubt anything works 100% of the time and there will be many occasions where you have to think about what you are doing and alter it to suit on any given day.  Keep ringing the changes as they say.  However I like to use a long, coated hooklink.  I particularly like the ones made by Suffix.  The one I use, is a fast sinking one and lays on the riverbed very nicely.  I also like it because it is available in lower breaking strains, which is unusual for this type of line.  I don’t like the idea of using 15lb hooklink with say a 10lb mainline. Anyway, above this 3 foot hooklink I will use a backlead.  Sometimes a standard flying backlead sometimes though, depending on the river and flow, a standard in-line lead of an ounce.  This is an important addition to the set-up.  Why?  Because it pins your mainline down on the deck so the barbel can’t see it as easily and more importantly can’t swim into it.  Nothing seems to spook barbel more than touching a tight mainline, that is often not actually visible to them, in the case of a flourocarbon mainline.

They are occasions when adding a further backlead would be beneficial, I think.  Sliding one off of the rod tip, so it pins the line down from the rod tip.  What you have to remember though is what the riverbed is like.  If there is quite a bit of weed, this becomes a bit pointless.  But its worth playing with the set-up to see what works.   I also like to keep the rod tip as low as possible.  What I won’t use is leadcore.  I don’t like the idea of large lengths of leadcore being possibly tethered to a fish.  The thought of leaving a long hooklink attached to a fish is bad enough, but heavy leadcore leaders as well is just too much for me, so I won’t contemplate using them.

Anyway the end result of this is less spooking of fish.  Perhaps not entirely but a significant improvement.  But of course this is geared towards people fishing a static bait with either a lead weight or a swimfeeder.  We all know that there is more than one way to skin a cat.  Float tactics, rolling meat, free-lining etc.etc all work well on their day too.  That’s what makes fishing so enjoyable.

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I have recently received some absolutely superb feeders from Andrew Witham.

I have used them a few times recently and they are first class.  Probably the best, well made feeders I have yet come across.   They are exceptionally robust and I like the coating the feeder has on it.  Its a sort of gravel/sand coating similar to the type found on some ledger weights.

Andy Witham's Feeders

The ones I really liked were the large diameter ones that are perfect for the bigger rivers.  I used mine up on the Wye and they worked a treat.  They also do smaller diameter ones which I’ve been using on the Kennet and in the Lea Valley.  The weights vary from 1 1/4 oz up to 4oz, but Andrew does them in even bigger sizes on his website, up to an incredible 10oz I believe. 😮

Take a look at his site:  www.cagefeeders.com

Prices are very competitive and his service, help and advice is excellent.

Thanks Andrew.

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