Who said fishing was ever easy?
Not all plain-sailing for Martin Bowler this week, but he wouldn’t have it any other way...
CROUCHED with net in hand, I was helpless to prevent the huge silver flank from twisting and turning in the margins for fear of pulling the hook out. A small sliver of skin was all that connected me to my biggest roach in a long time.
Through the gin-clear water every inch of the pristine fish shone out. I held my breath and turned its head gently, teasing the mouth to the surface. Another dive followed, tempered by the carbon in my hand, and when it rose again and turned on its side, I took this as my cue to draw the rod over my right shoulder while stretching forwards with the submerged landing net. Lady Luck was thanked as the mesh swallowed a magnificent and huge roach.
Duel finally over, I took a few deep breaths before holding a prize that was truly breathtaking. It would have been impossible to create a better-looking example of the species and when the dial on the scales spun round to 2lb 15oz, I knew that today I had been a fortunate angler as well as a good one.
A big fish always builds confidence and I left for my next adventure a few days later brimming with it. The mighty River Trent was a very different proposition, as were the barbel that have proliferated the waterway, but I saw no reason why I wouldn’t catch and made the near three-hour journey in an expectant mood.
My arrival was met with clear skies, clear water and a very low river. Although my Trent experience is limited, I’ve done enough barbel fishing to know
immediately that it wouldn’t be easy. Why hadn’t I checked the river level on the computer before leaving home? This is a must when travelling any distance and was sheer stupidity on my part.
However, I was on the bank and would have to make the best of it.
My determination remained even when a couple of locals told me what I already suspected – that the stretch was fishing poorly. I always try to think like a fish in these situations and I knew that cover would offer them refuge. A huge snag a third of the way out provided this in spades, but such was the extent of it, fishing directly opposite would be suicide. Pitching 10 yards upstream would give me a fighting chance so it was here that I introduced six small balls of groundbait laced with pellets and crushed Krill boilies. When I’m targeting big fish on rivers I prefer a slow breakdown rate that prevents the attraction being washed away too quickly, so a fishmeal base was blended with Sticky Bait’s Active Mix to achieve this. I wanted a continuous stream of particles hitting the snag and drawing the barbel to me.
I would obviously need stout tackle, so I combined 18lb E-S-P Syncro XT mainline with two 2.5lb test-curve rods. The terminal arrangement was an E-S-P lead clip and a 5oz lead, and I opted for a 3ft hooklength of Tungsten Loaded, to a size 7 Cryogen Gripper hook. An SSG shot a few inches away would help the hookpoint pull into the bottom lip and the hair held a Krill dumbbell with a smearing of paste around it.
My intention was to fish late into the night so bite indication would come via an isotope on the rod tip and an alarm should I doze off. I never expected a barbel in daylight but as the sky darkened and the sun’s hue on the horizon
was replaced by that of the city lights, I expected one of my rod tips to soon crash over.
CHANGE OF ATTACK
It never did, and I didn’t even have the excuse that the barbel were off the feed because Paul, a friend fishing upstream, landed a double-figure fish. By 3am I needed some sleep, but an inquest would take place in the morning!
What were my mistakes? Paul’s fish came to a rod cast close to the far bank, showing the stupidity of putting all my eggs in the same basket with a swim I didn’t know well. In my swim, casting too far out would mean the barbel could kite straight into the snag, so I decided a move was the sensible choice, fishing a bait either side of the river. I also wondered if I had introduced too much bait, so for my second night I would use PVA mesh bags only. Lastly, was I fishing too crudely? Finesse and a big river like the Trent don’t really go together but I swapped the coated braid hooklink for a mono/ braid combi-rig, dropped a hook size and fished a small dumbbell; all proactive steps in trying to prevent a blank.
I went into night two with renewed enthusiasm and once again sat staring at isotopes expecting to witness a green neon arc at any second. Unfortunately nothing happened, not even a tap from a kamikaze chublet!
THE WYE BECKONS
Yes, the river was in a poor state but I had fished badly and the angling gods had put me in my place. I vowed to return soon to settle the score and made plans for a new adventure after barbel again, but this time in the Wye valley.
And do you know what? A couple of days later the rod tips continuously crashed over, and I used the exact same tactics that had failed me on the Trent. There is nothing as fickle as fish and that’s why I love ’em!
A brace of fine Wye barbel was the perfect tonic.
A lead clip set-up is vital if snags are present.
My terminal tackle on the first night.
I scaled down for night two... in vain!