Steve Pope Barbel Fishing

Catch more barbel!


Part 1 – On The Up

What does this rather obtuse title refer to, I hear you say?

Well it can certainly mean moving towards a better state and if we add a ‘per (Up’per) or as in my case a purr then we’re talking about the two most important things going on in my home life right now, my beloved Birman cats and the rather special barbel that reside in the most upper reaches of the mighty River Severn, I’m talking way up, well into the land of our fathers – Afon Hafren!

Don’t worry, this article is fishing only, I’ve already written for the cat magazine, and this will focus on my time spent so far on the Severn here in Wales near Newtown, the proper upper Severn!! Grayling, chub and trout territory but if you’re ever so lucky you may find the place of sanctuary for a few nomadic barbel seeking out a quiet and peaceful existence in the wonderful land named Wales or Cymru to give it its real name.

Now that I hopefully have your attention we’ll revisit the very beginning of what I hope will be a very enjoyable journey for me and an interesting read for you.

I made the move to the Welsh Marches back in 2007, more than fifteen years ago and it was really by chance I found myself very close to the upper reaches of my favourite river, the Severn. I had always intended to be in the Malvern Hills rather than their equivalent on the Shropshire/Powys border, but I somehow mixed up my Newtown’s!

I quickly met up with fellow barbel enthusiast Rich Frampton and we became firm friends and lucky for me he knew the area where I now lived very well as his job took him to many of the farms in the area. We started fishing together and decided to give it a go around the Welshpool district and we actually located a few barbel, Rich eventually landing a ten pound fish. My guiding was taking me well away from this relatively local stretch and so I didn’t really put in the effort required only managing one small barbel and once the otters moved in we both left the venue never to return.

But life as we all know has many twists and turns and a couple of years ago I was made aware of barbel much closer to home, big ones as well and I managed to obtain access to the stretch in question.

Back in October I made my first serious fishing visit to the venue, I had been once before when I was given the opportunity to check it out. I knew that a couple of nice barbel had been caught during the season and so I headed for that vicinity to see if my luck was in. I was excited but not overly so as I had mentally prepared myself for the long haul and many biteless hours.

I chose a comfortable peg, much too old now to be climbing about like a mountain goat and fortunately for me this venue is very angler friendly with plenty of comfy spots to try. It’s well managed by a superbly run club.

The weather was fine, still very mild considering the time of year but the river was at normal level which wasn’t perfect, an extra foot or so would have helped but rainfall has been unusually absent especially in this part of the country, well Wales in fact and that’s a different country!

I always have a baitdropper rod made up and for this venue that meant a relatively light rod with a metal thamesley type dropper, and the first job was to introduce a dozen or so loads of hemp and half a dozen of small mixed Dynamite pellets. My thought process is always geared to attracting the barbel to me and in these situations hemp has always proved to be the best bet. I’ve never forgotten the words Fred Crouch always used to say, “If I’m good enough to bring along the dinner than the barbel will have to make the effort to visit my dining table.” It’s good advice; bring the barbel to you, not always wise to go directly to them, all about breaking down their instinctive defences and making them less cautious.

I should mention that I incorporate an Enterprise Plumbezee on the line of this rod; this is a sliding float that will lock when the lead/dropper reaches the bottom and it tells me the depth which I strongly believe is an important factor, especially where there might be a uniform depth of around four feet, an extra couple of feet may offer protection against predation and there are otters on this stretch, worth bearing in mind and so I now know that this part of the Severn has some nice long, deep runs and conveniently close to the nearside bank.

Bait is deposited a rod length out as I had already decided that my approach on this stretch would be centrepin based drawing on my lower Severn and Kennet experience and it is my preferred way to fish for barbel with rods horizontal or even pointing down, I’m no great fan of the tripod set up which gives me a neck ache!

This swim is actually quite deep, averaging six feet all the way across with no obvious features other than the overhanging vegetation on both sides and a sunken tree a bit further upstream but I knew barbel had shown in this particular spot.

My approach consisted of two rods, both Free Spirit Barbel Seekers coupled with Speedia centrepins loaded with 12lb line.

On one rod I set up a basic rig with a  two foot long hooklength with a size eight hook baited with a piece of meat on a hair. Bait size about an inch and a quarter cubed.

The other rod was similar but hook size was reduced to a twelve to take a small Dynamite pellet. A PVA swivel was also employed to which I attached a mesh bag of small mixed pellets.

Pretty standard stuff, I’m a firm believer in keeping things as simple as you possibly can especially on a venue that is very lightly fished and I didn’t believe the barbel would be too rig wary. I was embarking on a learning curve with no preconditions other than not to complicate matters.

Two underarm flicks put the baits in position, the meat on the downstream set up.

Within five minutes, certainly no more and the Speedia is turning, the rod top is alive and I’m reaching for the butt truly in a sense of shock, I hadn’t anticipated such a quick response, a fish had taken an immediate liking to the pellet and I was attached to a barbel!

It didn’t feel particularly big but it gave a great account of itself and in short time I had it in the net and I was over the moon.

Things had come together and I had a Welsh barbel that resides no more than twenty minutes from my cottage!

I didn’t weigh it, I seldom do for myself unless it’s a double and I’m much the same when I’m guiding unless it’s a first or a personal best. When you really think about it, does it really matter? Not after a lifetime of catching them and helping others as well.

But I did want a picture!

The barbel was rested in the net and a spare rodrest pinned the net frame to the bank and ensured that all was safe while I scurried back to the farm where I found a photographer!!

I do carry everything for self takes but this seemed to be the most efficient way and the chap was more than pleased to see a barbel.

I was more than happy myself, things had fallen into place and I had literally caught a barbel from what I was expecting to be a very difficult water on my very first meaningful cast.

I phoned Lawrence (Breakspear) to tell him and share my joy at catching from our favourite river but from an area that was completely new to me.

It was barely 2pm but after a couple more casts I decided to head back home, job pretty much done.

I returned the next day this time arriving around 2pm and decided on a different swim about a hundred yards downstream from where I was on the Tuesday, yesterday in fact. Nothing doing, no sign of fish so three hours later I was back indoors.

Went again on the Thursday, another different peg, this time heading further upstream, once again no sign of fish but I found out that a nine pounder had come out of the swim I had recently caught from, all useful information to store in my memory bank to help paint the picture of this fascinating fishery.

Friday afternoon and I was back again to find no one else there and what I thought were very favourable conditions, I set up in the original swim but once again nothing showed. I was only fishing very short sessions, three hours max but on each visit I was learning a little bit more.

The following week found me tied up with other matters and fishing was put on the back burner and it wasn’t until the Wednesday of the week after when I found myself back on the river.

During the time I wasn’t fishing the rains had come and the river had risen about three feet and it was well coloured and that meant I was full of confidence.

So much so that as I got out of the car in the farmyard I saw the farmer and said I’ll be back soon because I’m going to catch quickly today, it was around midday.

I made my way upstream and dropped into the swim just downstream of the one I had previously caught from, it was perfectly comfortable and I could put my chair on ground that wasn’t slippery.

I proceeded to put twenty droppers in no more than a rod length out, into about ten feet of water.

Dropped the baits in, meat on one, pellet on the other as before and sat back in my chair to await events, I didn’t have to wait long!

Within five minutes the pellet rod was pulled over as the Speedia started to sing my favourite tune and I sprang into action being very careful to keep off the slippery area!

Straight away I knew this wasn’t a five pounder, it kept low and was moving around in that slow purposeful manner the way that barbel do when the river is up and coloured and when they are let’s just say heavier!

The Seeker took on its wonderful fighting curve and I eased the fish towards the net ever mindful of the fact that the water was deep and the barbel could easily dive down, this is when a centrepin comes into its own because you have perfect control.

As the barbel rolled into the net I knew straight away it was a good one and to say I was euphoric would be an understatement of major proportions!

Up on the bank I could see it was a double and I was ecstatic. Once unhooked I rested the barbel in the net and phoned Lawrence, I simply had to share my excitement.

The fish weighed 10-12, by today’s standard hardly a size to be going bonkers about but to me this was the gold medal, the most important barbel I’ve caught since the 13-13 from the lower Severn back in 1992.

Fish can really only be measured by what they mean to the captor and this barbel meant the world to me because it ticked so many boxes.

I had caught it metaphorically on my doorstep.

It came from a venue I hardly know.

It came from my favourite river.

It was caught using my favourite method.

It fills me with the confidence to search out the hidden riches of the upper river.

A doorstep double was something I’ve been thinking about for the past fifteen years and after no more than twelve hours of fishing time fate played its hand and I had done it.

Once again I enlisted the help of the farmer to take some photos and he was amazed at the size of the fish, I told him this was just the start, that’s not me being arrogant, I truly believe that.

Size in terms of the numbers isn’t always the main criteria and yes I’m in search of my personal holy grail but this capture is the second stop on the yellow brick road that one day will lead to my own Emerald City where those monster barbel reside!

Back to reality now, ten days passed by before I managed to get back to the river but the three hour session I put in drew a complete blank.

The levels were going up and down like a yo yo and it wasn’t until the end of November when I decided the conditions were as good as they were going to get and so I found myself back in the swim I had the double from, mainly because it was the safest, the river was well up and the banks were like an ice rink.

Once again I set up in the usual manner, the baitdropper was put to its usual good use but the meat was slightly larger than before.

Within five minutes the meat rod sprang into action and I found myself attached to another heavy fish.

This one didn’t put up as much of a struggle but nevertheless when she went into the net I knew I had another really nice barbel.

And so it proved, bang on the ten pound mark.

I didn’t worry about self takes or looking for the farmer, a shot on the mat would suffice.

For now that’s it, the temperature has plummeted as I write this and I don’t expect to have another go for these wonderful barbel for quite a few weeks.

This for me now is the beginning of a journey that I hope will last for some time.

My mind is willing, my body is able but I don’t take it for granted, next season I’ll be seventy three and that’s why the convenience and layout of this fishery is so appealing especially when you factor in the possibilities, if a fourteen shows up I won’t be surprised.

My guiding keeps me busy and I love meeting people and sharing their own excitement but if I’m honest I had lost my own mojo, I was struggling to get that buzz.

I couldn’t see the point of repeating the same old thing, over the years I’ve caught enough and along with my guiding I’ve seen many hundreds of big barbel.

But what I have now is special, to me, and that’s all that counts. There is much to learn, I need to get an idea of how many barbel are actually here, I must try every swim to get some idea of holding areas, I can try different feeding techniques, different baits, the list is endless and the interesting bit it’s all on my terms, I’m on my own in this quest.

The years of experience will be put to good use and I’m going to love unlocking the secrets of the upper Severn for as long as I’m fit and able and as long as those barbel stay safe from predation.

Wish me luck!

P.S. There is a rather special finale to my first season on the upper but that will have to wait until next time, all I’ll say is I’ve reached the Emerald City and things are well and truly on the up!

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