Steve Pope Barbel Fishing

Catch more barbel!

A Day on the Kennet with Mr. Barbel


It’s a wonderful summer’s morning and I’m here on the banks of the River Kennet in Royal Berkshire with my great friend Mr Barbel himself, Fred Crouch. It’s the first time we’ve been on the riverbank together for some while and I’m really looking forward to it, time in the company of Fred is time to be treasured as many of you will already know. Fred hasn’t brought his tackle along with him today so we’re going to find a comfortable swim where I will hopefully catch a few barbel in between the important business which is to get inside Fred’s head for a couple of hours and give you all an insight into what really makes this unique man tick.


So here we are then, settled into a prime Kennet swim, the hemp has been deposited with the dropper and I’m going to take the opportunity to get the ball rolling while we let the swim settle down and allow the barbel time to gain confidence, we know they are there and we are sitting far enough away from the feeding area to make sure they don’t realise that we’re here too!

Now Fred, it really has been a lifetime’s journey for you, take me back to the very beginning and tell us how this lifelong love affair with barbel actually began. 

My very first barbel arrived quite by chance, from a tiny sluice pool upstream of Kings Weir on the River Lee in Hertfordshire.   I must point out before any confusion arises that historically the river has been called both Lea and Lee.   As Lee seems to be currently preferred by most agencies I will use that name.   It was early September 1956 and I was no stranger to the area but in the main fished the navigation canal.   That was to change most dramatically as a result of my tossing a hook bait of compressed bread flake into the seemingly irrelevant little area of swirling water that tumbled from the canal.

I had been pulling creatures out of water since I was big enough to hold a rod made from a twig and line of cotton.   I got my first old car at the age of seventeen and that opened up the angling options that had hitherto been restricted to my very local waters.   Having become accustomed to filling a keepnet with small roach, bream and the like I was staggered to hook something that defied my best efforts to control it only to reveal itself as a fish of just about three pounds.

I would never claim that I made the decision there and then to dedicate my fishing future solely to barbel but I did recognise my only immediate angling desire was to catch another one.


 Time to make the first cast of the day, a couple of elips pellets should prove irresistible to these Kennet barbel.

Now when I say cast I really mean lower the bait oh so carefully and pay out the line so that the backlead does it’s job, don’t want any liners, I know they are here so the key is not to spook them.

So tell me Fred, having had your first encounter with a barbel, what did that experience lead to? 

It is almost impossible to believe that was virtually fifty years ago and who could have imagined such a seemingly insignificant little fish would be the catalyst that triggered a lifetime of never ending pleasure and deep, deep interest?  

Seeking out our much-respected bottom feeder and so many of its habitats has taken me the length and breadth of this country not to mention a few forays into foreign lands.   It must be remembered that the fish is far more widespread now than it was all those years ago but even in the early days I was prepared to make any necessary sacrifices to satisfy my yearning to fish for them.

It was the unexpected capture of my first barbel that caused my attention to switch to the huge bowl of water that was Kings Weir.   Standing on the wooden walkway and staring down into the maelstrom below conjured up all sorts of exciting thoughts.   One of them was that I desperately wanted to know if it held barbel.   Not only did I find out that it did but in time it would become my second home.  

To me the pool took on legendary proportions and just to sit and watch my rod top elevated me to what I could only describe as another world.   Just a line bite would send my pulse racing and the tip flying round would produce a bigger rush of adrenalin than all of Hitler’s bombs that fell around me during his murderous, war time aerial assaults.

I was fortunate enough to have Kings Weir all to myself for a couple of seasons and by the time I moved on to pastures new I had barbel in my blood.     

You had success at another weir close by, Dobbs Weir, not the easiest of barbel venues back then or even today.

As the desire for some changes began to affect me I moved up the River Lee two weirs to Dobbs Weir.   After much investigation I couldn’t find any evidence to support my belief that there must be barbel resident there.   I had already ascertained they were present on most of the existing old river as opposed to the canalised sections.

My secret campaign required severe self-discipline if I was to succeed.   I felt it essential to fish only while I was alone at the pool and would tell nobody about any captures I might make.   This was really against the grain for me as my natural exuberance with regard to barbel made it difficult to keep quiet.   The key concern was that if I was going to put in the work I wanted to be the beneficiary – at least until I had satisfied my curiosity.

My plan was to be on the bank and ready to cast at first light.   I decided to go only on weekdays, before work when there would be less chance of other anglers being there.  

In spite of the first few trips producing nothing I persevered.   Then one magical early morning when a dawn mist hung in the still air my rod shook and a screaming ratchet signalled a reward for my patience and determination.   It wasn’t a big fish but it was a barbel and as has often been the case the size was really unimportant.

I enjoyed a number of lone early morning spells sometimes catching and sometimes not.   I never caught more than two in any session.   This was because I was never there for more than a couple of hours and I honestly thought the number of barbel there was small.  

Unfortunately my enjoyable short trips came to an abrupt end the very first time I took a mate with me.  After giving me his word that he would keep any success I had to himself did just the opposite.   And it couldn’t have happened at a worse time.   I had just landed the biggest fish and first ever double which was 10lbs 3ozs.   In those days it was a very big specimen.   My hopeless pal betrayed my trust, the word got round and the pool became hammered and I have not returned there to this day.  

Not just a very big specimen Fred, that really was a huge fish back in those days, still is to be fair, but back then it would have sent out shock waves.   

Hold on a mo, the rod top just moved, it’s going to go, yes! ,zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, here we go first barbel of the day. Keep the rod low, maximum side strain, that’s ok; the strong gear has stopped the fish going too far and now she’s darting about in front of us. Not huge but who cares, Fred does the business with the net and she’s ours. Rest in the net still in the water for a few minutes, then its up on the bank, too dangerous to unhook in the water, no worries, on the mat she goes, hook out, quick check over and a few seconds to admire and she returns back down to water level in the net while I hold her upright in the river making sure all strength has returned before she swims powerfully away. Could have been seven perhaps eight pounds, the scales come out rarely these days. Catch our breath, and on with the questions.

The Ouse has really come to the fore during the past decade but you had experience of what this river could produce long before, tell me about your success on this river back in the sixties.                  

In 1965 something occurred that really had its roots a decade earlier.   In the mid-fifties and for just three or four times each season, before I got into barbel fishing, a small group of us used to go to the Cambridgeshire area and fish the Great Ouse.   It was on one of these forays that – while legering some bread paste – I had my line stripped completely from my reel in an instant.   Admittedly because of the type of fishing I normally did I only kept about thirty yards on the reel.   Nevertheless I was dumbstruck at the speed it was taken.

We all offered opinions as to the culprit with the consensus it was either a pike or a carp.   It soon became just a remark in my diary and rarely mentioned.   Ten years and hundreds of barbel later that I recalled the event and combined it with the fact that barbel did reside in some areas of the Ouse and had done for a very long time.       

       I clearly remember thinking to myself, could it have been a barbel?   Such a long shot but I rounded up a couple of mates and we soon found ourselves on the bank.   It was at Godmanchester.   To cut a long story down it took only a couple of trips before I actually caught a barbel.   That was reward in itself but even more astonishing it weighed 10lbs 3ozs.   The odds of my first two double figure fish being identical in weight were indeed huge and I wouldn’t blame anybody for being perhaps a little sceptical.   But facts are facts and many times through the years I surprised even myself.

Forty years ago and there you were catching a double from what has now become the number one river for the big barbel, you were there right at the beginning!

I’ll just put three droppers of hemp in again Fred, you know what they say, catching barbel number two is the important one of the day.


OK, you had now gained some great experience and were ready to tackle what really was the Mecca back then, the fishery that most only heard or read about, the Royalty on the Hampshire Avon. Tell me how it felt when you first set foot on this fishery.

   It was inevitable that the intensity with which I pursued my burgeoning interest in barbel that I would find myself on the banks of the renowned Royalty fishery.   I say that in spite of the fact that it would demand a round trip of seven hours by road and a huge cost.   What made it so certain were the constant descriptions in the angling press of barbel captures.   There was no dispute as it gained the reputation as the Mecca of barbel fishing.

  My very first visit was in 1959 during which I enjoyed an unforgettable week.   It truly was the stuff of dreams.   Events changed the face of the hallowed stretch of river forever.   It is a long and complex story and clearly not suitable for this type of feature.   I will however describe just how I found things in those years that are now long gone.

      It was a very busy fishery and the banks were lined with anglers.   There was hardly a fisherman of note that hadn’t directed their great skills at the legendary population of specimen fish.   It was regularly described as the finest mixed fishery in the world and that wasn’t an exaggeration.   The place had a certain reverence about it, no doubt due to its history and the great characters that have long since passed on.

I have to admit feeling somewhat out of my depth when I first walked the banks.   I didn’t question my ability but I experienced a tangible and spellbinding grandeur that challenged my normally irrepressible confidence.   Maybe there would have been less of a psychological impact if I had been with a companion but I had journeyed there alone with only my own thoughts to contemplate.

Share some of your Royalty memories with us Fred, and I’ll just lower the bait close to that overhanging tree.

My abiding memories of the Royalty are numerous and everlasting.   Even to select a few is difficult but here are a couple.   On Saturday 9th of October 1971 while fishing in the top weir-pool I landed 23 barbel.   The following morning I was talking to Bill Pardy – assistant bailiff and unfortunately no longer with us.   I mentioned the huge catch and Bill remarked that to his knowledge it was one of the biggest hauls of fish from the water.   I wasn’t to know that during the rest of that day I was to land even more fish.   I banked 28.   A two-day total of 51 barbel.   All from the same swim and amazingly there was not one fish over 7lbs.  

And now a tale that figures high in my list of priceless recollections.   Before he retired from his position as editor of Angler’s Mail, John Ingham expressed a desire to spend a day on the fishery.   His successor with the paper, Roy Westwood, drove John down and I met them at the weir with a view to helping John catch his first barbel.  

I had already been there for a few days and before they arrived I had watched a tale of horror unfold.   A huge crane had been manoeuvred onto the weir apron and removed a number of great iron sheet piles by swinging them across and just above the surface of the pool from the compound side to the other bank ready for transporting away.   These were left over from repairs to the weir structure.

I called it a tale of horror for good reason.   I watched from the compound bank as wave after wave of barbel, terrified by the clattering steel passing over their heads fled the scene via the shallow water beside the island.   There were so many fish that I feared very few were left.   It was however worse than that.   Every barbel had left the pool.   I say that with a degree of confidence because try as I might I didn’t a get a single bite during the rest of that day or the following one whereas prior to the site clearance I was catching with the normal regularity.

Despite my description of events and the lack of barbel in the pool I just could not convince John that fishing the pool would prove fruitless.   As he spread his gear out, including a smart white tablecloth ready for lunch, he assured me that just being there gave him all the pleasure he sought.

I left him pointlessly legering in the pool and took my gear downstream to where there was access to a short stretch of bank.   The barbel that had decamped were packed in large groups against the bulrushes close to the bank.   In four hours I caught eighteen of them and transported each one in a water-filled carrier back to the pool.   John caught his first ever barbel and described the circumstances later in radio programme presented by contemporary carp ace Gerry Savage.

John said.   “At about six o’clock in the evening I caught my first barbel which Fred had kindly put in the pool for me.”          

The fish weighed a little over five pounds and an enlarged photograph of it adorned John’s office wall until he retired.   It really was one of the fish I had replaced.

I have an absolute wealth of stories on just the Royalty alone and many will be covered in my book that I hope to have ready in the spring of next year.   It is to be titled ‘Skies of Fire, Rivers of Gold.’   That is reference to my early years during the 39/45 war and half a century of dedicated barbel fishing to the exclusion of all other species.

Well I tell you what Fred, I for one can’t wait for your new book, just listening to the stories this morning brings back so many thoughts of days gone by, and what a great title as well.


Tell me how the Association of Barbel Enthusiasts came about, along with many others I was a member but I bet there are many who are relatively new to barbel fishing who do not know about this barbel organisation that was the forerunner to the Barbel Society.

My eldest brother has been blind for many years and derived great enjoyment from a regularly delivered audiotape.   The contents were current topics, stories, sport and just about anything that a news journal would contain.   This included contributions from other sight impaired people.   The thought struck me that the same principle could be applied to barbel anglers as a way to maintain contact and exchange views.

I chatted to a mate, Pete Henwood – now well known for his company, Specialist Tackle.   How I came to meet Pete is an amusing story in its own right and will come later in this piece.  

We agreed the idea was sound and decided to give it a go.   It would only become really viable if members, once having listened to and absorbed the tapes contents found the time and inclination to put something of interest on the tape before returning it.   We allowed a month for this process.  

The idea gradually came to an end as less and less members submitted articles that of course were vital for compiling the next tape.   At the end of the day it just could not sustain peoples interest as the constant shortage of material resulted in the tapes being late and contents sparse.   Eventually after a decade of existence we called time on the idea.

The great pleasing outcome was that many A.B.E. members crossed over to the newly formed Barbel Society and a large number of them are still members to this day.

The tape idea was a brilliant one Fred, and quite unique, it used to take me hours sometimes to understand some of the broad accents from the members, seems like only yesterday as well, the way time flies is pretty scary.

Going back to the Royalty for a moment, bearing in mind the considerable impact it had on you was it a wrench when you decided to move on?

In 1985 and after twenty-five years of fabulous times on the Royalty I decided to accept that I had seen the best times and that it was about to change again into something different to what I had become used to.   There probably wouldn’t have been a better time to close my book on the historical fishery so with a certain amount of regret I did.   I have only made a handful of visits since and they were really just to relive old and treasured memories.

I didn’t abandon my cherished Hampshire Avon on leaving the Royalty.   There were and still are some wonderful stretches of river higher up although it must be said that in many areas barbel are a little less numerous than they once were.

Let’s relive some of the tales from when we used to fish regularly up on the Teme And Severn, hang on though the rods going over zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, oh yes this is a good fish! I’m not going to give an inch though, the tackle is sound and the rod is doing just what it should and is acting as a shock absorber as she desperately tries to take me further downstream and into her sanctuary! She realises that it’s a battle that can’t be won that way so quickly she turns and runs back upstream as I reel in furiously to keep in touch. Out in the open water now and as long as the hook holds there will only be one outcome, my faith in my tackle is total and after three minutes or so she comes to the net. Fred makes a perfect job at the first attempt. She’s big all right, certainly a double. The scales come out this time and they record this beautiful barbel at two ounces under twelve pounds. What was already a special day has now slipped into the realms of fantasy. I’ve shared many magical moments with Fred and here was yet another, the biggest barbel Fred has actually seen from this venue, as she swam strongly away I said a little prayer to the Angling gods offering thanks and asking that when she is a little heavier she makes sure she picks up Fred’s bait next time!

 Sorry about that Fred, lets get back to the question, the Severn and Teme!

These two rivers had a huge impact on my barbel angling for many different reasons.   The Severn, especially the lower, came as a bit of a culture shock but the middle reaches were made for me and I’ve had great times there.   The very first time I fished Hampton it was on a day ticket stretch, I landed fourteen fish.   These were all hooked from under my rod top despite being advised by a local angler that the only way to catch fish there was by feeder fishing in the middle of the river. 

I still find it staggering that in the same year as I was catching my first ever barbel on the Lee the Severn was receiving its first implant of the fish.   Where there had never previously been a single barbel it is now the dominant species.

Although night fishing has always come second best to me there have been many times when no other options were available if regular trips were to be justified.   Work commitments only left weekends for lengthy sessions.   Steve, you’ll remember our early expeditions of discovery around the Worcester area and our frustration on finding so many river beats set aside for Saturday and Sunday matches. 

Our only option was to travel up after work on Fridays, fish through the night and pack up early Saturday morning.   This was within the rules with regard to night fishing on the Worcester and District waters.

The great thing about those early days was gradually discovering the true potential of any given water.   Waiting for the rod to arch over and then honestly never knowing just what size the hooked fish might turn out to be.   Although I have never felt the size of the capture was the most important aspect I certainly understand how impressive big specimens are.

Of course I could never think of the lower Severn without immediately recalling the circumstances of the fish you caught one night that came close to setting a new record.   When you called me on the walkie-talkie to say you had a decent fish on we weren’t to know just what a cracker it was.   With the record then 14lbs 6ozs as it had been for around a hundred years your fish came within 9ozs of smashing it.   We were both unable to fish for a couple of hours due to the excitement.   If ever any angler deserved such a tremendous capture, you did.  

You analysed the situation with dogged determination as your record on the mighty river shows.   There was no chuck and chance it approach but a sound understanding of what was going on in the murky depths of a water that finds many anglers perplexed.

They were brilliant times Fred, I still spend a lot of time up there now especially on the Severn but no matter what comes my way, those first days will always be the most memorable.


Now I know you returned to Kings Weir after many years away, tell me what your thoughts were, it’s often said that it isn’t the same when you go back.

In late summer of 1980 I returned to Kings Weir for what I had intended to be just a day to see if and how things had changed.   It had been over twenty years since I last fished there and the most obvious difference was that bank fishing had been stopped and angling was permitted only from three punts that could be tied up at strategic points in the pool.

Fishing hard up against the weir sill I was soon into the fish and within a couple of hours it seemed like I had never been away.   I was using an open-ended feeder to keep a supply of maggots going in with the barbel, once pre-occupied, hooking themselves regularly.   I suppose the first thing that struck me was a noticeable increase in the individual size of the fish.   It wasn’t a mystery however, just the effect of greater amounts of food compared to the earlier years.

I mentioned earlier an incident involving Peter Henwood which I said I would touch on.   For the sake of space I will keep it to the bare facts.   At the end October of 1980 I fished the pool with Anglers Mail covering the session with text and pics.   The successful spell was carried in the paper and a day or two after publication a letter arrived at the paper’s headquarters.   It came from Peter.

It described a number of fishless days he’d had at the weir and had just a suggestion of scepticism as to how fish could be caught for the camera with such ease.   Although never having met I called him up to ask when his next visit was planned.   I agreed to pop down to the weir – less than fifteen minutes from my home – while he was there.

This is the specific advice I gave him.   Face the punt towards the sill, put plenty of maggots down with a dropper and fish with a maggot feeder tight into the foaming cascade.   That sounded to me quite simple and easy to follow.   The best laid plans and all that.

When I arrived I took the spare punt and paddled out to the far side where another containing a lone figure was tied up.   The first thing I noticed as I approached was that this character was facing down the pool instead of up and to make matters worse he was fast asleep.   I didn’t try to stop my boat as I drifted gently towards the sill carried by the backwash.   I crashed into his craft and he woke with a startled gaze.

“Peter Henwood?”   I asked politely.   He only nodded, probably because his mouth had yet to obey orders from his brain.   I asked why he was doing just the opposite to my advice and also why asleep.   His response was that he wasn’t getting any bites.   I told him the reason he wasn’t getting bites, first he was asleep and second he was fishing in the wrong place.

I told him in no uncertain terms that I was trying to help him overcome a problem and the least I would expect in return was a little co-operation.   I put him back on the rails with a promise.   I assured him that providing he stuck to my guidance he was guaranteed to catch.

A couple of days later, I received an excited phone call from Peter confirming the validity of my confident predictions.   He’d had one of his best days fishing and had already booked a number of days stretching ahead.   He and his family became firm friends of mine and I helped them all over the seasons to come to terms with the barbel and its ways.       

Punt fishing ceased when the late Bill Newton was moved to other duties on the canal due to the old hand operated sluice gates being removed and the flow controlled with the help of a fixed crest weir.   Not prepared to risk mishaps while he was not on site he reverted to bank fishing.  

I am sure you will remember me catching a 7lbs fish off the top of the huge boulder close into the bank.   The water was only a foot deep on that stone and at twilight barbel would come up through five feet of water to clear up any bits of food that had settled there.   It will always stir up memories for me as a couple of seasons later I tempted a personal best of 12lbs 4ozs from the very same spot and I maintain that very few anglers would have even remotely considered placing a bait there let alone that a fish as huge as that would have come and locate it.

Wait till I see Peter again, I’ll remind him of that story!

I certainly recall that barbel from close in, couldn’t believe it at the time, no one else would have thought of that and look what it lead to!

Time for another three droppers of hemp I think.

Now the Kennet is a river that has always held a spell on you Fred, what is it that draws you here?

The very first time I saw the river I fell in love with it.   It had a faint resemblance to the Lee where it flows through Fishers Green with its prolific beds of Crowfoot and golden gravels.   The main difference was the greater number of deep pools and the crystal clear water that you expect on a chalk stream.

 I can honestly say that when fishing it I felt I couldn’t put a foot wrong.   It lent itself to my nature-based approach by virtue of its prolific populations of barbel.   I had already had a profound grasp of their instinctive behaviour and my knowledge of their learned behaviour was catching it up.  

My attitude of understanding the fish first and tackle second is as firmly entrenched today as it ever was.   The finest tackle on offer combined with a restricted knowledge of the quarry will always be the poor relation of the alternative.

Sadly the Kennet is a shadow of its former self, especially in its middle and lower reaches.   The barbel stocks are thriving but the in-stream plant life is fighting a losing battle that in turn leads directly to lower levels.   I live in hope that the authorities who are charged with task of safeguarding our precious river heritage can be made to respond in a positive way before the battle is lost.   I will be doing my bit to help.

Let’s hope the river can return to its former glory, I know the barbel are much bigger these days but their habitat is not as it should be.

I’ll just make sure this barbel goes back safely before we carry on Fred, they seem to be having it today, that’s half a dozen already.

Lets talk about your Tuition Days, something that has taken up a large part of your time these past few years 

There are many good anglers on the riverbanks today that have benefited from a days tuition from more experienced anglers.   It is not a short cut to becoming a good angler but a day of learning the basics is, in my opinion, the way to go.   Even if it gives fifty per cent more confidence it would have been money well spent.

I have had times of great pleasure as I have watched a customer drop his bait in, set the rod down and then become a quivering heap as I explain that at any time the rod top will take off with the speed of light.   The more excited they get the greater chance they will remember the lessons of the day.   I have stayed in touch with many such people who are now highly confident and competent anglers.

Unfortunately the years take their toll of us all and I am now at a stage that have to accept my energies and general fitness are telling me that my days of active coaching are coming to an end but I never will be able to walk past a novice barbel angler without offering a little advice if I consider they are not getting the best out of a situation.     

There are many happy anglers out there who have benefited not only from the practical side of things that you would have shown them but from your sense of humour as well, take the fishing seriously but whatever you do have fun and plenty of laughs as well.

I know the new book will be with us soon but tell me a little about the first one and also your love of the centre pin.

If you are referring to ‘Understanding Barbel’ I can honestly say I still feel proud of much of its contents.   I purposely kept the subject of catching the fish confined to one chapter because I only wrote the book to try to impart what I had learnt about the fish itself.   Catching barbel has only ever been part of the process of learning everything possible.

Everyone who has read through it couldn’t fail to notice my confidence in the centre pin reel.   I really could never see the point of using a fixed spool for my fishing.   I can cast as far as I ever need or want to and for playing fish they have no equal.   I formed such a strong bond with the Match Aerial decades ago that made a number starting in the late seventies because manufacture of them had ceased and the thought of not being able to get hold of them really worried me.

My tackle bag would never be complete without my trusty ‘pin’ and my advice has always been if you haven’t used one give it a go, even if you have to borrow one.   Once mastered they really are a true joy.              

What of the future?

My piece earlier really covers this subject but I would like to state what my hopes are.   I have been to many rivers and met many smashing folk on my travels.   It was decades ago, in fact long before the barbel was so widespread; I forecast it was destined to become the most sought after fish in our waters.   It is only the still water carp that stands in the way of that prediction.  

However, it has become the major target on our rivers and even that was rubbished when I first made the claim in the mid-seventies on the banks of the Royalty.

My wish would be that our highly respected battling bottom feeder will continue gaining in popularity and giving sublime pleasure to all who seek it.   I have never put a barbel on the bank without being truly grateful of the huge delight gained from a few pounds of muscle and bone.   While that is there for the taking it will never be such a bad world.   

Now I can’t finish this without touching on some of your hobbyhorses, you know where I’m coming from Fred!

Everybody who knows me will be fully aware of how deep my interest in barbel has been over the years.   Without wanting to sound disrespectful in any way and despite me holding the fish in such high regard I have always based my studies on one undeniable fact.   It is just one species of thousands that are brainless in the way we think of brains and live their simple lives to a rigid and unchanging discipline.

Other than humans all animal life has but three purposes on earth.   To feed, breed and avoid danger.  It is only their ability to learn by trial and error that, in most cases saves, them from extinction.   They will never develop grey matter to challenge ours and the main reason I have had such tremendous success over half a century is accepting that and not for one minute considering there are mind games going on between me and the quarry.

 Points of debate and interest do arise from time to time and of course its not surprising that where I feel I have the experience to offer a point of view I take it.   Some members may recall during the late seventies when the barbel on the Royalty suddenly began sprouting extra barbules.   I’m sorry I use that spelling but it really helps avoid confusion.   

Together with Ray Walton I felt something was grossly wrong.   We got together and after much research and investigation we reached the conclusion that the culprit was luncheon meat.   To explain our reasoning briefly we learned from a university that many synthetic hormones did not break down in the animals system and thereby could still be effective in the pork.   One of these regularly fed to pigs was a growth hormone.

For over a decade until 1972 most barbel caught on the royalty fell for maggot bait.   Then the maggot ban was introduced and virtually everybody switched to luncheon meat.   We knew for a fact that the extra barbel phenomenon was not evident before 1972 and with Ray’s tireless logging of caught fish it was soon established that within a few seasons a majority of fish were affected to varying degrees.   

As our beliefs circulated the media picked up on it.   It made national radio and press.   Convinced we had a good case I sent a tin of the most popular meat to the relevant ministry.   After many weeks I received a reply stating that after testing four different hormones no trace could be found in it. 

I trusted the government then about as much as I trust them now but we seemed to have reached the end of the road.   Then came a sensation.   Luncheon meat strangely disappeared from the shops.   We made telephone calls to many outlets, shops, supermarkets, wholesalers and even importers and the story was the same.   There was no luncheon meat, they didn’t know when it would be available and were unaware as to why it had gone missing from the food supply system.

When it did finally re-appear most brands had changed their labelling and one word was missing from the lists of ingredients.   The word was offal.   Up until then it had been on almost every make.   Did that make sense in our campaign to find the truth?   Yes, for this reason.  

My contact at university, a professor, had already told me the place that the hormone are most likely to lodge is the organs that all come under the heading of offal!   What makes it even more intriguing is that the appearance of extra barbules had all but gone even though luncheon meat was still being used on a large scale.   The only difference is it was without offal and probably without growth hormone.   I was never in doubt that between us Ray and I had caused the government some hairy times.    

I have never made any claim or response to a claim without first researching, testing and feeling sure as possible my remarks are worthy at least of consideration.   Just a summary of some of my more controversial reactions will help explain how my mind works for those who don’t already know.

First of all catching animals of any kind is never too difficult.   Allowing for the fact that trial and error helps them to learn from their mistakes catching fish is not rocket science.   If anglers were to belief too much of what they read they would probably decide its hardly worth going out in the morning.  

Some months ago I read, from the pen of a well known angler that if you fail to wash your hands after touching a hooked fish the smell of fear will be transferred to the bait thus causing rejection.   Excuse me while I laugh.   The same angler said if you return captured fish into the vicinity of your swim it will rejoin the others and its fear pheromone will scare the others from feeding.   I have put back fish after fish into my swim.   I have even looked on as they have rejoined their mates and carried on feeding.   In fact I have caught the same fish again in less than an hour.

The point I am trying to make is that you really shouldn’t believe all you read in the angling press.   Weren’t we all told, years ago, to make sure we covered the hook so that the fish wouldn’t recognise it?   Today many anglers have a completely bare hook on display.

I had to take sharp intake of breath when I read an article claiming that barbel had a sense of smell many thousands of times more powerful than ours.   Here we go again I thought.   Without going through my mountain of scientific papers one question came immediately to mind.   How can a truly, smelly bait sit for hours on a riverbed at night without being detected when we know for certain that barbel are foraging in the area.

My dog, that scientists suggest has an olfactory system some 80 times more acute than mine, would locate it in seconds, even if it were hidden in long grass.   The plain truth is that we don’t know what barbel can smell or how far away they can smell it, if at all.   I challenge anyone to prove that statement wrong with good evidence.  

In leaving this particular subject I ask the reader to ponder this.   How and more importantly why would the fish have developed such a supposedly fantastic olfactory system bearing in mind that the senses develop over millions of years and always in response to need?   That’s what evolution is.   Before coming up with an answer bear in mind we are told they have the capability to detect by smell hundreds of odours they had never encountered before we started introducing them!

Many times I have been taken to task over my explanation of the causes of population decline on many rivers.   It is no secret for I mentioned it in ‘Understanding Barbel’ and that was twenty years ago.   It soon became clear to me that where barbel numbers are substantial, growing popularity saw to it that they would be the main beneficiaries of the extra food introduced by anglers.   This was an exponentially increasing phenomenon the like of which our rivers had never seen.   Remember that even the hallowed Royalty was perceived for many years as a truly mixed fishery with each species having its followers.   This situation quickly changes as the favoured barbel are almost nurtured by anglers who target their offerings solely to them.   To cut a long story short smaller fish species come under pressure and the population mix changes.

The end result is barbel become the dominant species but within the process, because the biomass has to remain reasonable constant, as big fish get much bigger the sustainable number has to go down and as you will find on most popular barbel fisheries today there is a large number of heavyweights and not much else.   If your local and busy barbel fishery is not like that then just give it time.   

     I came in for criticism when I proposed that barbel consume hempseed more as a digestive aid than for nutrition.   I stick by that today just as robustly.   Again to keep things short I know, as well as anybody else who has taken the trouble to examine what comes out of the vent after capture, that virtually all of the hemp ingested leaves the fish almost as it went in.

    I argued passionately that stories of twenty-pound barbel in decades past were highly exaggerated.   I think its safe to say that was also right for we all now accept, at least we should do, that it is solely the introduction of high nutrition feed that has resulted in the present big fish phenomena.   And please, if anybody suggests there are other contributory factors they must also explain why all species of freshwater fish haven’t shown massive weight gains.   I am talking about roach, dace, gudgeon, pike and perch.   It is quite clear that only those eating high nutrition feed are affected.

          The final word must be this.   The reason I have been very successful is down to my simplistic attitude to catching fish.   If you even begin to believe claims that your hands must be kept scrupulously clean, you mustn’t put fish back in your swim – I wouldn’t advise you to put them back in someone else’s – or you have to mix your paste bait to a certain recipe (I read in one article how to make paste for big chub) I am not sure what’s in it that stops small chub eating it.

    If you honestly believe what phase the moon is in has any bearing at all on your catches or that there is a special flavour that fish will ignore all other baits for but you can’t find out what it is, you are truly doing yourself a disservice.   How ever will you plan your day?   With hand on heart I swear to you that I have fished fourteen consecutive days and had blinding results on all of them.   Just grab some bait, sling your tackle in the car and go fishing

 There are still many subjects I could bring into this heading but there I will call it a day.   If it’s considered there is a demand for more I will do my best to answer it.   I would just like to say the vast majority of controversial matters have ended up being proven in my favour.   I have never initiated an argument for arguments sake.   It is just that if people approach their barbel fishing as if the fish are so clever you need a miracle to catch it will always seem daunting.  

Please adopt my way of thinking.   I go to the river to give a load of brainless creatures the great pleasure of a self-service banquet.   The least I expect is for them to show their appreciation by hanging on my hook now and again.

Well I knew that last question would get you going, great stuff and as always much food for thought.

Many thanks for sharing some of your vast array of anecdotes, I could sit and listen all day. I’m sure the members will really enjoy this insight into the man who has spent half a century in pursuit of and studying, the barbel. Thanks Fred.


Let’s see if we can tempt another fish before we call it a day……………………..






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