Written by John Newman
There comes a time in the summer when the barbel are in obliging mood and most of the regular swims will produce a fish or two on any evening I happen to wander down. I can drive to the river in around fifteen minutes so consider myself very fortunate to be so close and have an understanding family that let me disappear for a few hours most summer evenings.
One evening for the sake of doing something different I decided to dig out an old centre pin I bought over forty years ago, load up some fresh line and put it on the rod, except the reel foot was to long to fit the reel seat of my modern rod! I have a collection of old Hardy fibreglass rods from the seventies, their Fibalite range, and so I selected my 10ft Hardy Swimfeeder which has sliding reel fittings that amply accommodated the ‘pin. Amazing what a lightweight outfit that made. That evening proved a blank but one thing I did realise was that a bit more rod length would be an advantage should I hook a barbel and need to keep it away from the marginal weed growth.
The next time out I had arranged to meet, Nigel, a friend I don’t see much of and on arrival at the river we found Rob the bailiff on his evening patrol. He told us it was a busy evening and if we wanted a double swim we had better walk all the way up to the weir at the top of the backwater.
On arrival I gave Nigel the choice of position as he is unable to fish as regularly as me and he chose the upstream swim where the water is still foaming from its journey over the weir sill. Having blanked on my first outing with the ‘pin I had decided to cover my options and take a fixed spool set up as well as the ‘pin which I mounted to an old 11ft self built fibreglass rod.
The fixed spool outfit was cast to the far side a short distance downstream from some enticing overhanging willow branches. The centre pin outfit was cast into the slacker water where it would be out of the way should I get a fish on either rod. After a bit of catching up and general banter the bait on the far side was taken with a pretty impressive bite and the other rod was shoved out of the way to prevent lines getting crossed. Shortly afterwards the barbel below had been landed, weighed at 9lb 9oz, photographed and returned. At
this point of the season I was still waiting for my first double and this one came up just seven ounces short.
Both rods were re-cast and as my last capture had come pretty close to getting around my other line I swung the terminal tackle attached to the centre pin rod just a yard or two out from a small reed bed just downstream from me. The other outfit was recast in the general area that had just been successful but became stuck fast in a solid snag which I had to break out of. I had the rod across my lap setting up a new rig when the now forgotten centre pin screamed into life.
Fish on! and by the bend in the rod a good one although fibreglass does transmit a different feel. This one was determined to make its way downstream quickly and there was not a great deal I could do about it. The noise from the check on the reel was communicating this to me and I was now having to follow it with rod held high over a nettle bed at which point it buried itself in a weed bed. Steady pressure was applied and it slowly yielded, with me now below it I found a convenient place where it could be netted.
While all this was going on the last remnants of daylight were disappearing and while the fish was resting in the net I gathered up the unhooking mat, tape measure and put on my head torch. Once safely on the mat and in the beam of my torch I recognised this fish straight away. “It’s Arfur” I said to a puzzled Nigel. I then explained that “Arfur” is a fish I had caught the previous October at 11lb 14oz (P.B.) when it had a fresh wound on its tail which we believe to be the result of an otter attack resulting in the loss of the upper part of the tail fin. In the interim period there had been two reported recaptures in December (11lb 8oz) and June (10lb 8oz).
My trusty Avon scales confirmed the weight at 10lb 14oz, my first double of the season and a gain on its last reported capture but still well below the top weight at which I had caught it. Unfortunately the photo below is not very well posed but the tail damage can just be made out.
So, first fish on the ‘pin and a double plus a back up near double, my only regret was that my companion had only a small chub to show for his evenings efforts. Darkness had now fallen and to comply with to club rules we had to leave the fishery and a pint in the village pub which always keeps a good selection of real ales topped the evening off.
The following evening was Friday and all the family were off out to the theatre so dinner was on the table early giving me the opportunity to get out a bit sooner than normal. The only downside to this was rain was forecast and so unusually for me I dug out my umbrella and deposited my rod, rod rest and net handle along with the brolly in a quiver (normally I travel as light as possible).
There is a spot halfway up the fishery where a large tree overhangs the river stretching at least half the distance to the far bank. It is known as The Mink Tree although I have never found out why other than assuming a mink has been seen there regularly. It is a shallow swim at the end of a glide with a slight deviation to the right as you look downstream and dropping a bait under the overhanging branches had caught me a few fish thus far this season.
I rarely fish two rods and it is certainly not a two rod swim but I had this swim in mind when I left home so with just the one rod I set up well away from the edge and stabbed the umbrella pole in the ground. I swung the bait in place put the rod on the rest and settled back in my chair with one eye on the developing rain clouds and the other on my mobile phone. I had just started to compose a text to Mark a fellow Barbel Society member and club Bailiff when the ‘pin sang to me and line peeled of the spool. The phone was dropped to the ground and my thumb gripped the spool rim to slow down the rate at which line was being taken. I have lost a good fish in this swim by allowing it to get too far downstream so I bent the rod hard into the fish which thankfully decided to change direction and take the upstream route. By the time it had thrashed its tail on the surface at the sign of the net a few times the rain had started as a gentle drizzle.
I carried out the post capture formalities then searched for my my dropped phone in the grass, took a photo on the unhooking mat and returned the fish. The umbrella was opened and I sat back satisfied with an early catch and sent this photo and message to Mark.
“Hi Mark. The best way to catch barbel. First chuck, after 5 mins! 6.04/64cm”
Those of you who have read my previous ramblings will have come across my “Five Minute Rule” and this one held true to the rule by being good enough to pick up my bait within the stated time.
The light rain had turned into a fairly heavy down pour and the only way I could keep it off me was to keep hold of the umbrella pole in a vertical position. I figured the swim would benefit from a rest as the fish I had just landed had done a good job of beating the surface to a foam with its tail.
The picture below shows how tight this swim is and the hotspot is under the tree close in to the bank.
Rainy Outlook! Waiting for the weather to clear
I am not sure how to describe the sound as the line leaves the reel when centre pin fishing but I do know it is the best sound in angling. No electronic alarm system will ever compare.
An hour or so had passed, the rain had slackened to a light drizzle so I re-baited and plopped another bait in just where the foliage touches the water and allowed the light lead to get taken by the current under the shade of the tree.
I am not a big fan of sitting under an umbrella and as I could no longer hear rain hitting the fabric above my head it was removed from the now softened ground. My bottom had hardly made contact with my chair when the rod tip went over accompanied by that wonderful indescribable sound.
This fish meant business and the spool hit maximum revs and sound levels as it took off downstream. With a soft fibreglass rod it was difficult to put as much pressure on as I would have liked but with the rod tip lowered almost to water level it slowed down and line began to be gained. Once I got the fish level with me I saw it for the first time realising it was another good one and wondered if this could be a double like the previous evening’s fish. I would have to wait a little while to find out because it had seen the thick bed of bullrushes slightly upstream and had every intention of getting its nose in between the thick stems that were at full summer height and strength.
From my downstream position I was able to guide it clear and after a couple more dives for the river bed I positioned the net and allowed the fish to drift downstream into the billowing mesh.
As the bank has a steep drop off I had to put my chair over the net handle while it rested in the margins and I gathered the unhooking paraphernalia. I needed no telling this was another double! Two on consecutive evenings and this one went an ounce under 11lb.
Two tens in two days convinced me in no time there was something in this centre pin lark and with confidence high I felt the change in method was adding a new dimension to an already enjoyable experience.
It also encouraged me to take a look at some swims that had not been productive for me in the past so on subsequent outings I would take both fixed spool and centre pin outfits but as the light diminished I would invariably wind in the fixed spool and concentrate on the
‘pin. The fish generally came in that period I call “Barbel o’clock” which is the last half an hour of daylight when your rod tip becomes hard to see, the bats come out of their daytime roost and an isotope is needed to confirm movement of the rod tip. To be honest this was superfluous as I could have closed my eyes and just waited for the reel to sing to me.
The ‘pin was proving so successful that I adopted this as a single rod approach and concentrated my efforts around “barbel o’clock”. Most evenings I tried a different spot and once my swim selection had been made I would introduce a few free offerings, make sure my tackle was all tidily arranged, swing the bait into position, usually close in and wait expectantly.
For the next few weeks I caught consistently with only a couple of blanks and could almost set my watch by the bites. I was noting the times and two consecutive evenings I had captures separated by three minutes from one day to the next.
Nigel, who had been my lucky mascot previously joined me one evening at the end of August and found me doing my best to hide in an area we call The Reed Bed for obvious reasons that can be seen below.
This was not a swim I had caught in before so I suggested to Nigel that we wander downstream a little and fish a short stretch that had been successful the last few evenings. The Willows as the name infers has a couple of willow trees overhanging the far bank and while in previous seasons I had been successful with chub from there it remained a bogey area as far as barbel were concerned until recently. As I have more opportunity to fish I let Nigel take the pick of the three Willows swims and he chose the upstream one so I
dropped in the one below. I was really wishing for a fish for Nigel so kept my eye on what he was doing and probably spent more time looking at his rod tips than my own. I didn’t need to see my rod tip because the moment Barbel o’clock arrived the check on my reel sang to me (still struggling to find a more descriptive word) and this cracking nine pounder was soon being weighed, measured and photographed.
9lb 4oz taken bang on Barbel o’clock
It was pretty much dark by this time and I packed away while Nigel pressed on until we were in danger of breaking the night fishing rule, sadly he finished the evening fishless.
A week later and another friend sent a text to say he was going out and was I going to be
fishing that evening? As it happened I was, so I duly met up with David on the bank and by the time I arrived he had already had one barbel around five pounds. We chatted for a while and I recounted how I had lost a very powerful fish in the same swim two weeks previously when fishing the opposite bank.
I went upstream a short distance and settled into my chosen swim. Within a few minutes my mobile phone rang and David’s number was shown on the display.
“I have just landed a rather nice double, are you far away?” “On my way”
David was, in fact, less than a hundred yards downstream and I was with him by the time he had rested the fish and removed the hook. David trusted me to do the photography on his camera and below is his fish, weighed at 11lbs 4oz.
We have a closed group on Facebook which enables us to share information, do a bit of bragging and some light hearted leg pulling. Once this picture was posted it became recognised as a fish that had been caught on numerous occasions over a period of a few years and was recognisable. At one time the tail fin was split and the healed damage is evident in this photograph as well as a black spot below the right eye along with another just outside the lip on the same side.
Moving on five days and once again I was on the bank late in the evening at Tommy’s Peg under a clear sky and a full moon. This gave me the opportunity of staying a little bit later and for some reason I always feel confident at this stage of the lunar cycle. The farmer was gathering bales of hay with spotlights blazing on his tractor and making very informal stacks. I was a bit concerned about the noise and disturbance but need not have worried because shortly after he had moved to the far side of the river off went the centre pin and I was into a good fish.
I needed the head torch once I had the fish on the mat and as soon as I looked it over realised I was not long since I had seen the same fish. The same evidence of a split tail and tell tale black spots made me realise this was the fish David has caught just those few days back. I weighed it at 11lb 6oz and I took a measurement of 75cm.
Tell tale features confirming identity
Over the course of this season I have studied a lot of photographs of barbel caught from our club water and have noticed the prevalence of black spots which appear around the fish’s eyes and gill covers. Because these appear to be relatively common I would not accept a single black spot as a positive identifying feature but where they appear as multiples I would suggest they can be used to identify individuals. Further correlation as in the photos above where other features are present would give a very high, if not certain, confirmation of identity.
Some days I just get the feeling I need to be on the riverbank fishing due to one of those hard to quantify feelings you are going to be successful. I don’t know if it is something to do with the weather, water conditions (I drive over the river every day on my journey to and from work) recent catches or just a sixth sense.
Whatever it is I found myself with just a small window of time a couple of evenings later and due to the shortening days I would only get an hour at the most but I had to get out there. Although I had not fished it for a while I was drawn back to The Mink Tree swim and I noted the time to be 7.26pm as I put my rod into the rest following the first cast under the inviting foliage which brushed the water surface. As the light went I instinctively reached for my bait bag, broke up a few pieces and dropped them under my rod tip figuring they would hit the bottom around where my bait was lying. A rattle on the rod tip followed by another more persistent one produced a good sized dace. Back in with another bait and a small sprinkling of freebies and at 8.05pm the rod tip hooped over and line came off the reel accompanied by the now familiar noise.
Five minutes later and following a spirited fight in which the fish was well downstream of me for a short time I was staring at an old friend. It was “Arfur” who I had last seen five weeks previously but amazingly (and I double checked) now weighing 11lbs 15oz, so becoming my new P.B.
“Arfur” the third time we had met and back up to top weight.
Back she went and I started packing away my gear. Then just as I was about to set off Rob the bailiff came by and I related the capture to him now regretting it had not occurred a few minutes later when I could have asked him to take a trophy shot of me holding the fish.
I must, perhaps, get into the habit of mounting my camera on a bank stick in readiness for taking selfies but most often my roving style does not suit this.
This has been a reflective catch up from the summer when I was fortunate enough to be able to be out fishing on evenings during the working week. The remainder of September and up to mid October were fairly quiet on the barbel front when we had a decent flush of water through. The next period of significant activity is covered in my Oktober Fest article.
So I am now truly converted to the centre pin and always consider if I can use a ‘pin as my first method of attack when gathering my gear to load in the car.
2015 has just arrived as I write and looking to the future I want to try some trotting, initially for chub which are more likely than barbel to take a moving bait in the colder months. So barbel on the float is a plan for next summer.
I have just missed the first weekend since the season started last June as reports coming in to me indicated nothing being caught and daytime temperatures were not rising above freezing point.
We shall see what the remainder of the season throws at us but hopefully I will have something to write about.
After that we have the river close season to suffer but I will be out fluff chucking for trout from April 1st possibly trying for tench on a still water as spring gives way to early summer.