As my local river the Bristol Avon continues to decline through Otter predation my hand has been forced to look elsewhere for specimen Barbel and Chub. I truly believe that catching a specimen fish from your local river cannot be beaten, however, with so few specimens about my patience has been exhausted to the maximum.
After a few great Barbel catch reports on the River Kennet from my good friend and specimen hunter Martin Hooper I thought it was about time that I had a go at one of these leviathans. The Barbel on the River Kennet are at their peak right now with double figure fish not uncommon and teen Barbel frequent. Martin is not one for reporting his big fish these days but what I will say is that he has caught an astronomical amount of big Barbel and in recent months gone by some huge fish. I will not say anymore about that however.
The time had come for me to head to the Kennet. I got to Martins at around 8am, after our usual chin wag, McDonalds Sausage and Egg McMuffin and a Tea we hit the road. I always get excited at the prospect of fishing a new piece of river, especially when there is the prospect of 15lb + fish swimming around in front of you!!! We unloaded our gear and walked toward the swims that Martin had decided would hold the fish of our dreams. As we arrived we were greeted by Martins friend Jem and also a friend of Jems. By now they had already had Barbel to 7lb and explained that the fish appeared to be feeding heavily on Maggots.
We walked on for another 50 yards or so and staked out our swims for the day. I was going to fish two Leger rods, both with pellets at the end of the line as tempting offerings to the monster Barbel. One was placed under an overhanging tree and second was placed to the left, three quarters of the way across and in a deep area full of silt.
The first thing I noticed once I had cast out was that although this river held giants among Barbel, it was no different really in appearance to the Bristol Avon. Fairly narrow, snaggy and also very picturesque. The banks perhaps were not as steep and if anything less worn.There are a couple of obvious key differences however, one the number of non indigenous Otters and two the Cray Fish. Cray fish have become a staple diet for many fish including Barbel, Chub and Perch to name a few. The fish gorged on this high protein diet with aplomb and they grew into super fish accordingly. More recently however, cray fish are being trapped, in fact one trapper over a period of a year had pulled out as much as 4 tonne of them so they were certainly there in numbers!!! Will this affect the Barbel growth, time will tell...
Out of the blue there was a shout from upstream, Jem had just equaled his PB Barbel with a stonking 13lb 10oz fish. A truly stunning Barbel in every sense of the word. Golden, muscular and in mint condition. I was envious but happy for him at the same time as he has fished this river for a few years now, I was fishing this stretch for my very first time. I was still confident though...
My method for Barbel fishing is not to keep moving from swim to swim, try picking a likely looking area and stick with it. The fish are moving all of the time as the same Barbel have been known to
have been caught miles apart. For that reason it is inevitable that
Barbel will eventually cross swords with the bait you have put out for
them, whether or not they take up your offer of a hook bait is another
question. Secondly, reeling in and casting out is a big fishing sin of many anglers. You see it and more than likely hear it all the time "Sploosh!!!" Its not just you the angler that is hearing it but the fish feel and hear the vibrations. Chucking a bait out into the river can only disturb the fish and it can take sometime to get the fishes confidence back. I tend to reel my bait in once every hour, sometimes 2 hours and put a fresh bait on along with a PVA bag of smaller pellets. If the initial cast spooks the fish, leaving your carefully positioned bait out for a longer period of time will often increase your catch rate.
The day progressed very quickly without a fish for either of us, I was beginning to think it was going to be a blank for me when my rod seemed to spring into life. First of all a nod, then the line slackened completely then it it went tight and kept going round. I struck and felt resistance, was this what I had came for? It plodded around for perhaps a minute or so, I shouted for Martin to come across and witness what was coming in, a head appeared not of a Barbel, but that of a big pair of rubbery lips, a specimen Chub nonetheless.
After another dive or two the fish rolled over and was duly scooped from the river by my Gillie for the day. It was certainly more than 5lbs, was it a new PB though? My PB stood at 5lb 4oz which I had caught from the BA earlier in the summer. I pulled a set of Avon 8lb scales from my bag for true accuracy. The sing was zeroed and the fish was placed ready for weighing. "It could go 6 mate" predicted Martin. 1,2,3,4,5,6 nope. 5lb 15 and 3/4 oz. Not a 6lber but a new PB and a beautiful Chub to boot.
There was still time for us to head back again as the season door slammed shut on us but to no fruition.
I have to recap on this season as my first true Specimen hunting season with Roach to 2lb 5oz, Pike to 19lb and Chub to 5lb 15 3/4oz. If anything I have actually fished less than previous seasons but caught more. This is down to concentration and treating each session with more care and thought. I mustn't forget my girlfriend who has been very supporting of my fishing habit and has even given me a few tips along the way...
Here's to next season and hopefully more big fish.
Vince Cater - The Fish Botherer