Explosive action on the float! Sit back and enjoy a brilliant barbel adventure on the River Wye
You might catch more fish on the lead, but this is a lot more fun
“Floatfishing for barbel in such a beautiful location is impossible to beat”
LIMESTONE pillars form the backbone of Symonds Yat and the deep valley where the Wye carves its way through the border counties.
Here peregrine falcons hunt and raise their young, while down on the forest floor wild boar root up the earth in their search for food.
This is a special place, and every visiting angler is captivated by the Wye. She is a magnetic river that you can’t help being drawn to, seemingly unchanged since mammoths and sabre-toothed cats roamed the valley 12,000 years ago.
In winter there are magic moments as a pike bung bobs on the surface before plunging away… while spring brings the silver salmon, the king of all fish, heeding the call of fresh water.
A little later shad and lampreys follow suit, and while they are not fished for they all have their place in this watery kingdom.
When summer arrives and the king has lost his appetite, the prince succeeds to the throne. Barbel will rip your rod off its rests and make your arms ache.
After these early catches we move into the dreamy dog days of summer, when there is a better way to enjoy this area of outstanding natural beauty and the barbel that live between the rocks and boulders.
My companion was Adam Fisher, an angling guide and fishery owner. Donning chest waders, we slipped into clear water the colour of very weak tea with no milk. The river had finally lost its murkiness, the result of trickle irrigation runoff from farmers’ crops close to the Wye.
Confidently we pushed on against the flow, crunching gravel underfoot. We were heading for mid-river, maggots stowed in pouches hanging from our waists. This would be barbel fishing without a bolt rig in sight.
I rigged up a Drennan Series 7 1½lb test curve rod with a Daiwa Theory 3000 loaded with the no-nonsense 6lb Maxima. My float was a 4g Crystal Loafer fixed top-and-botton. Bulk shotting at three-quarter depth was followed by a micro swivel connecting a
hooklength of the same Maxima. Adam recommended a size 12 Guru MWGB hook with five large white maggots impaled on it.
The skill would lie in guiding the float down the far bank where the barbel would not pause to question why it was there.
Pouchfuls of of grubs were despatched downstream. Fry were first to investigate, but they were too small to halt the progress of our floats. Dace and chub came next and then, after five minutes of regular feeding, it was the turn of the barbel.
These were smaller than the Wye fish you catch on pellets or boilies, perhaps barbel choose to spend their youth in the shallows.
More maggots were the answer, drawing up their bigger relations from a snag 50 yards below us. Their orange fins betrayed their presence as they worked their way up to us, and once they were within trotting distance our session could really take off.
Bites from small fish tailed off, and with every trot our loafer floats made it further down the flow. Adam, knowing that something much better was on the cards, mended his line and the float travelled over a depression in the gravelly river bed.
As the hook skimmed bottom, a set of rubbery white lips sucked it off track, the float dipped and Adam struck confidently.
The rod hooped over and he was battling the strength of both the fish and the Wye itself. For a time he could gain no line back as the clutch whirred to avert a parting of the ways.
Yes, a bolt rig would have produced a quicker bite but I can assure you one hundred per cent that it would have only have been half as much fun. For five minutes Adam was never sure of victory,
and even when the landing net came into play, fearsome tail slaps left the outcome in doubt. Eventually, though, the barbel was safely in the mesh and Adam’s smile said it all.
Now it was my turn. The rod bent right down to the cork and I marvelled at the power of what I had hooked. On fairly light, balanced tackle there was no way I could bring the fight to a swift conclusion. My quarry would dictate mattters and test my line and knots to the limit.
Floatfishing for barbel in such a beautiful location is impossible to beat – true, I might have caught more here with a lead, or bigger fish on another river, but this had been a day to remember.
Incidentally, on the water we fished there was a dispensation from the EA, allowing us to use maggots. Please check before doing the same, or wait until the season, which begins in midSeptember, when general use of this bait is permitted.
Adam Fisher gets a shower from a lively Wye barbel.
Drennan Crystal Loafers, floats of choice.
Strong hooks are crucial for this tactic.
Back goes Adam’s big Wye barbel.