Well since my week off at the end of October into the beginning of November we have had extra water following the rain we had all been waiting for.
I would like to tell you I have been searching out the slack water dropping in a piece of smelly meat and having the barbel climbing up my line but sadly this has not been the case. I have to confess floodwater fishing is my achilles heel and while I heard of a fish or two coming out here and there my baits remained untroubled by our whiskered friends on short sessions for both days on two successive weekends.
I tried the roving approach on the first weekend, dodging between swims every half-hour and on the second weekend I adopted a more static approach but fishing the full width of the river, from under my own bank, through the middle and under the far bank cover.
The conditions seemed right with a decent air temperature, water temperature holding up, extra water but I didn’t like the look of the turbidity.
Mark our club bailiff had a reasonable evening on the main river catching some chub on cheese but with the conditions as they were I just thought there was a chance of a barbel or two.
Nigel Bryans another club member and local angler of some notoriety (three 16lb plus barbel in a two hour session a couple of years back) had been posting a few photos on our Facebook group. Although we cannot night fish we do tend to make maximum use of the hours available and I noticed the absence of daylight in Nigel’s shots.
With us now being into the shortest days of the year coming off the river at dusk quite suited family life as I was getting back in time for us to all eat our evening meal together. So if I was to extend my fishing time to the maximum some negotiation with “Her Indoors” would be required.
In return for preparing the veg, preparing the main meal or putting the joint in the slow cooker I was to be allowed a further hour away from home on Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday came and I arrived at the river after lunch. The swim in the picture above is the first one you come to having crossed the Nene Valley Railway line and walked a hundred yards or so across a small field. It has been a good swim for me this year, having generally ignored it in past seasons apart from a couple of fruitless hours when I have dropped in on the way back to the car. The water was now lower but not down normal level and still carrying a fair amount of colour.
Below the bridge is a deep hole which slows the current making it the sort of swim that is likely to produce at this time of year. I gave it an hour but with no action decided to move on and seeing a couple of guys arriving with a barrow I made my way quickly to the next swim. This swim we call The Nursery as it is an ideal place to learn how to catch your first barbel, what you might call “a banker”. A fast gravel run drops into a deepish pool and a tight bend causes a back current with a shallow gravelly area much loved by the fry (and marauding pike) in the summer. If there were any barbel in residence and in a feeding mood I was confident I would not have to wait long so it was worth a shot for half an hour, maybe three quarters.
Again no action so a move to The Bakery, a swim named after Rob our new bailiff, and Morrisons Bakery Manager who successfully spent a good deal of time there last summer. Unfortunately this swim has changed in nature this year due to the removal of an established willow tree that had a large split in its trunk. Our landlords inspected the tree and must have come to the conclusion it was likely to fall obstructing the river because rather than perform surgery the whole tree was removed.
This was the swim that had to produce for me this evening.
I knew of two definite captures here the previous week and the week before that I spoke to some chaps who said they had lost two barbel there. We do have anglers arrive on day tickets that come inadequately prepared for what may take their bait.
It is deeper than average and runs off into an area of gravel which was deposited by the Environment Agency to form a spawning bed when they carried out an improvement scheme during the close season of 2012. Sadly the cover afforded by the willow tree is no more but given the still coloured water I was confident my presence would probably go un- noticed.
Despite my recent blanks I had confidence in my bait, cubed Spam kept in a freezer bag that has had a good spray of a sausage flavouring. I favour the garlic version but it is not always available in the Sainsburys closest to home.
I like the Pristex Splitstops to secure my bait as they’re so versatile and easy to use but when fishing into dark I prefer to use bait coils which I make by winding springy wire around a screwdriver shaft forming a small loop at one end which attaches to the hair. If I need to re-bait I can do it all by feel, simply screwing a new cube of meat onto the coil and re-casting without the need to switch a light on.
On the subject of cubed meat I have seen anglers elaborately sculpting their baits into near spherical shapes or using round punches to make cylinders. Personally I have never felt the need to do this and also think it may be harder for a fish to eject a cube than a sphere but I have no firm proof of this.
In winter I like to nail my bait to the bottom as my hunch is that the barbel won’t move far if a bait passes by them whereas in the summer I believe the fish will turn and grab a bait that passes their nose resulting in those rip it off the rod rest bites.
So with less flow than previous weeks an ounce of lead above a short hooklength was swung out around two thirds of the way across into the area that would have been under the cover of the willow branches a few months previously. I figured this to be the deepest area as well.
Almost as soon as the bait was on the bottom I was getting interest in the form of little taps and knocks but these were just small fish playing with the bait. A few minutes later a good pull but the tip sprang back just as quickly. Had to be a chub, but hey I am happy with a chub after the last couple of weekends. No more interest so after a couple of minutes I wound in to check the bait, still there so straight out again. No time to mess around with only minutes left before I had to leave.
Almost to the stage when seconds were ticking away and the glowing isotope moved as the rod tip trembled and my hand was already on the rod butt when it pulled round further and a fish was on. Immediately I knew this was a barbel and I flicked on my head torch to identify a safe place to net the fish as I was on the edge of a steep drop to the water. I netted the fish and let it rest in the margins while I scrabbled around in the bag for the camera, scales, tape measure and forceps. On to the unhooking mat and no need for the forceps as the hook had already come out in the net.
I have just started using Gardner Target Specimen Hooks in barbless, having found inconsistency in the quality of my normal pattern, and this was my first capture on them. I am still undecided on the barbed /micro barbed vs. barbless debate but I do see the argument from both sides. The convenience of not having to use forceps in the dark is a big plus though and I suspect I may have damaged hooklinks leading to lost fish on a few previous occasions.
7lbs 9oz and 66cm in length but looking a bit battered with damage to the right flanks as can be seen in the photo. I pondered why this might have happened as I returned slightly downstream to return the fish where it had been netted. Dark now so home for dinner.
So having ended the run of blanks and Sunday tomorrow I felt confident of repeating my success. No need to get to the river early so I decided to arrive around an hour before darkness came place my bet on just one swim and have faith in my method. I decided on Tommy’s Peg (named after the captain of Peterborough United F.C. a keen barbel angler now playing for Wolves). Deep water following a shallow fast run, lacking in bankside cover but given the colour of the water and diminishing light I was not too bothered. Bait
was the usual chunk of Spam and as the light went I broke up a few thumbnail sized cubes and introduced them via a baitdropper to ensure they would hit the bottom in the area my hook bait was lying. The clock ticked away towards the magical period and I began to
think “now is the time” when the tell tale tremble on the rod tip signalled interest followed by the tip slamming round. A fish had hooked itself and there was heavy resistance but not of the typical barbel variety and when my combatant buried itself in the ow dying marginal weed growth I realised it had to be a chub. On with the head torch and out with the net into which I scooped the fish before it decided to bury its head in the vegetation again. A rest in the margins while the unhooking gear was prepared and as I lifted the net I realised this was a big chub and once laid out on the mat it looked like a possible 6lb’er and PB. As the light from my head torch lit up the fish I could see it was in cracking condition unlike most specimen chub which tend to be somewhat battle scarred. It was a doddle to slip out the barbless hook (getting to like them) so straight on with the weighing process still thinking this might go to the magical six.
Like most big chub it saved a lot of its fight for when it was out of the water and for some time it flapped around sending the hand on the scales up and down the graduated markings. It settled at 5lb 11oz, not as much as I had initially hoped for but none the less a fine fish from the lower Nene, sixes being a pretty rare beast. My camera lens immediately misted up in the now cold evening air so a quick shot on the phone had to do as it was time to return the fish and off for Sunday roast dinner.
Last day of November so I wonder what will be waiting next month in the season of goodwill. Lets hope Santa and the fishing gods will be kind to us all.