Steve Pope Barbel Fishing

Catch more barbel!

Three Days on The Kennet

Since relocating to the beautiful countryside known simply as the Marches, my trips down to the Kennet have become less frequent and have to be meticulously planned. No more quick ninety-minute jaunts round the M25, then a short hop up the M4. Did I just say quick and M25 in the same sentence? Well you know what I mean!

These days I have to put two or preferably three-day trips together, in order to make it cost effective, but that often makes it fishing effective too. I’m a great believer in putting a few days together to get the best from your barbel fishing.

There is much to investigate in my new locality and I mean to make the most of it over the next few years. The relatively unexplored upper reaches of the mighty Severn offer a huge challenge, the Wye is opening up more and more to the barbel angler and the Teme is a river I’ve long had affection for.

But the Kennet is dear to my heart and is one of those rivers which has seen a lot of change in recent times, once the premier place to go to hone your rolling skills and measure the day in terms of numbers, not size. Today though, the expectation is very different. Double figure barbel are relatively common and you don’t have to catch too many fish before a double is nestling safely in the folds of your landing net.

It’s a long old haul for me now to get down to Berkshire, so I tend to split the journey. I’m fortunate to have a caravan on the banks of the Severn near Worcester and I use this as a convenient stop over, from there the drive down to the Kennet is not a lot more than the journey before I moved.

So after little more than two hours on the road, I arrived bright and early at the fishery car park just as the autumn dawn was breaking. Full of optimism and looking forward to three days of fishing fun.

It felt rather cold and crisp as I stepped out of the car; the first real signs of winter had appeared in earnest.

First job on arrival, take four pints of caster from the cool box, deposit them in the large Realtree bucket, cover them with defrosted hemp juice (A little trick I picked up from Stef), put six pints of hemp into another bucket, grab the dropper rod and set off on the short walk down to the swim.

As I made my way down the track the mist started to rise from the river creating an eerie vision in the half-light of dawn. Crossing the grass area that was dressed in a white overcoat, the crackle as I took each step and the tell tale imprint left me in no doubt that winter’s first frost had taken a firm hold. Fishing was not going to be easy.

My favoured swim is textbook barbel, at times there are as many as thirty of my whiskered friends in residence, packed tightly, very close to the bank. With a reasonable depth of water and a canopy of overhanging branches from the bank side trees which extend downstream for forty feet or more, this swim is as good as it gets.

The question this morning is how many barbel are there now? How much feed should I put in to stimulate them into action and how long should I wait before actually fishing?
Three key conundrums that can make or break a day’s barbel fishing.

Decision made, six Thamesley droppers filled with caster go straight in at the head of the swim, far enough away from the cover in order to entice them out rather than push them further back into their safe refuge. This is immediately followed by four droppers of hemp deposited slightly downstream, with the intention of drawing the fish up to the caster bed. Hemp to attract, caster to feed and hold.

Job done, back to the car to collect the rest of the gear and leave plenty of time for the swim to settle. I have company;  Dave and Marilyn Brown have just arrived, all the way from Lancashire. Like me they have the benefit of a caravan stopover as well, and they too are down for the three days. If you have ever attended a Barbel Society Show, this couple will not be strangers to you. Over the years they have been true stalwarts and Marilyn has probably sold more raffle tickets than your local lottery store. Lovely people and no mean anglers either.

We spend some time discussing tactics and prospects for the day, and agree that the sudden drop in temperature and arrival of the first severe frost is not going to do us any favours but we’re here now and will give it our best shot.

Back at the swim in daylight now, I can see that the rushes on the far bank have turned golden brown but are still defiantly upright, the leaves which have yet to fall have taken on their autumn hue and their colour warms the senses if not the feet. The river is running nine inches or so above normal summer level and has that murky colour that doesn’t actually inspire. To cap it all there’s a substantial amount of weed coming down and that can hamper presentation, but shouldn’t be too much of an issue as I’m fishing really close in to the bank.

It’s just past nine o’ clock when I make my first cast, or to be precise, gently lower and feather the rig into the hot zone.

I fish Powerpro straight through to the size twelve hook. Attached via a short mono hair to the business end are three casters super glued cigar fashion. Eighteen inches up the line holding back the ounce and a half bomb is an adjustable Enterprise stop and completing the set up is a Stonze running stone as a back lead held back by a float stop some five-foot from the bait.

The sun is up and the sky is blue, the air feels pleasantly mild but the barbel do not want to play. Sparse feeding and judicious attraction is the order of the day but four hours pass by before the first sign of any barbel action.

I love using centre pin reels for small river barbel fishing, indeed I use them most of the time on big rivers too, can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t agree! When the Rapidex plays my favourite tune, it’s music to my ears, and as the rod top takes on a startling curve I’m on the case, attached to the object of today’s desire!

The take is what its all about, the fight comes next and then the ultimate satisfaction as the fish lies safely in your net. You place the rod down and sit back to consume the moment. Barbel fishing, you just can’t beat it.

Eight pounds and a bit, nice start but I’m beginning to wonder if the big fish will decide to make an appearance. Time’s flying by and we have to be off at dark but as the song goes, it only takes a minute!

I don’t know why the swans are so active today, there are more in my swim than live at the Royal parks! To make matters worse they seem to think my little bit of river makes a perfect runway and they are practicing their take off and landing manoeuvres. Never mind, swans are majestic creatures if a little daft at times, but life would be that much poorer if they were not around to allow us to share what after all is their home.

At another venue I fish there’s a swan that thinks its my personal pet, comes up on to the bank and lies down next to my chair, passers by are amazed, I like swans!

Looking at my watch I see it’s getting close to four o’clock and on the water’s surface the weed problem is getting worse.

Decide to move the rod so that the tip is at water level, and only just sticking out past the edge of the bank, wham! The top bends around alarmingly and the reel starts to sing, we’re in again and it’s about time!

The fish goes off like a rocket but is soon subdued and at six pounds or so is more than welcome as it certainly hasn’t been easy today. Unless I think the fish is going to make double figures I tend not to go through the rigmarole of weighing, much preferring to get the fish back as quickly as possible after ensuring it has recovered fully.

The sun drops behind the tree line and this heralds a distinct chill to the air. A brace of chub make a welcome appearance, one a five plusser and the other just under but no more barbel show, despite me hanging on till the death.

Back at the car park Dave and Marilyn confirm how hard it has been, not a bite between them. They make tracks to John’s house I decide to have a bite to eat at the pub before bedding down…………in the front seat of my car!

What is it that people in the pub find strange about one man, sitting quietly on his own, ordering and tucking into the dish of the day? There I was minding my own business contemplating how I was going to get a decent nights kip, had to be the head to toe Realtree gear I suppose! Thought it was fashionable in Berkshire.

Sleeping in the car, now that’s a task in itself, we’ve all done it, but I have to say I’m getting a bit long in the tooth for it these days but needs must. When your going through all kinds of contortion the thought of a Bushtucker trial is almost appealing but eventually your body gives up the fight and you start to punch out the zed’s!

Essential requirements as follows, two sleeping bags, three soft pillows, thermals and a fully reclining seat, oh, and a safe place where you’re not going to get an unwelcome bang on the windscreen at an unearthly hour!

Yesterday was my fishing day, today believe it or not has an official title, Gentlemen’s Day. This is the day when all the guys who fish the stretch spend a day on the river, try to catch a few fish while pulling each others legs and generally enjoying the kind of banter only fisher folk know. Then, to round off the day, the evening spent in the pub enjoying a rather nice dinner. Quite a distinguished bunch they are as well, although you might think that League of Gentlemen may be a more apt title!

Back at the car park just before first light and Tim is already there, keen as mustard is our Tim, catches lots of barbel as well. First job today, ablutions and a shave, can’t afford to let appearances drop. Then it’s a case of going through the same routine as yesterday, this time introducing a little more bait as the temperature is on the up and there’s no sign of Jack Frost, so the barbel ought to show.

Eight o’ clock and just about everyone’s in the car park. The meatball king Kevin has the stove on, and rashers of prime back are sizzling away, filling the air with a fine aroma. Bacon rolls al fresco at this time of the morning take some beating. Kev says there’s one extra roll going and no guesses for who gets in first, Mr. Found! John loves his grub and is quickest off the mark by far munching away before anyone else could say “me please”!

Fishing underway and it didn’t take Tim long, an hour or so into the day and the first double was on the bank.  Tim is a one bait man, maggots, and boy does he put them to good use. Half an hour later and my rod buckles over as a lively eight pounder gives a great account of itself. Unusual fight, hanging deep and doggedly resistant. I thought for a few seconds that I was in to one of the big ones.

Confidence was high now, less weed coming down and a mild feel in the air, today could produce the goods.

An hour flies by and we’re in once again. Just as I’m about to net the fish a familiar face appears through the bushes, Mr. Barbel himself, the inimitable Fred Crouch.
Pretty much identical in size to the first one but as Fred is on hand a couple of quick shots are taken.

What a guy Fred is, made the effort to get down to the river today even though the chesty cough had taken hold. I’ve known Fred for many years and I’ve never known him let his mates down and I knew they would all be pleased as punch to see him here today.

As if by some form of telepathy Fred’s arrival sparked a mass invasion of my pitch and fishing ceased as the jokes and banter took over. Mr.Tarrant had arrived and he and Fred held court for the next hour, telling corny jokes and reliving fishy tales from far and wide.

Eventually they all went back to their fishing, Fred went off downstream to see the rest of the gang and I proceeded to land yet another identical sized barbel. Three eight pounders is a good result but today isn’t about catching its about camaraderie and that was in huge abundance.

Fred left for home around three thirty to miss the motorway traffic, he felt far too rough to attend the evening shindig but he had turned up to see his mates and that’s good enough, a special man our Fred.

I put the rest of the casters into the swim in a last ditch effort to tempt a double but it wasn’t to be and I returned to the car park with just the three barbel to my name. The fishing had been hard for everyone and just half a dozen fish had been caught but as I said previously today was about something else, something far more important, friendship.

Quick tidy up, change of clothes and off we all went to a rather nice pub for a slap up meal.

Have to say I’m mightily impressed with how Chris Tarrant just becomes one of the lads when he’s out fishing, it can be quite surreal when you’re sitting at home watching him on TV chatting to everyone from the biggest names in entertainment, politics, even Royalty. On the bank he’s just Mr. T and he’s no different to any one else, top bloke!

Another night in the car, up once again bright and early, same routine, same swim, today is Peter’s day. Dave and Marilyn turn up for their third day, so far there hasn’t been a lot to show for two days fishing and Dave said he was going to try another swim. Without hesitation I told him that would be a big mistake, the only place to be is where the last two days have drawn a blank. That may sound daft to the less experienced but Dave had been steadily building the swim, at some point the barbel would move in and you have to be there. Today could be that day.

Dave took it on board and I just hoped my words wouldn’t come back to haunt me later in the day.

Peter then pulled into the car park, full of eager anticipation; we had both waited a long time to be able to get this together.

Peter had successfully bid for a day with me on this stretch in the Barbel Society Research and Conservation Auction, and now the pressure was on to ensure he had a day to remember.
The BS has raised thousands of pounds through the generosity of its members and the tackle trade. This money is used to fund conservation projects countrywide, and has allowed a really positive working relationship to develop with the Environment Agency. Pete Reading, who was here yesterday, oversees this work on the Societies behalf and a damn fine job he does too.
Conditions were now the best they had been since I had first arrived, overnight rain, temperature on the up. The barbel were not exactly hammered yesterday and there was unlikely to be too much bank side disturbance today. Everything in the garden was looking decidedly rosy!

Tactics stayed just the same as for the previous two days and it didn’t take long before Peter’s ‘pin started to scream and we were in to the first barbel. Within seconds though disaster struck, the line fell slack and the rod returned to its normal state and we looked at each other and let out a few choice words!

No time to mope, these things happen and you just have to get on with it. Back to business straight away. Get a few more droppers down, rest the swim as we gather our thoughts, ready for the next chance.

Within the hour Pete was in once more and blow me, after a minute or so of tense battling with a good fish, it happened again and barbel number two was gone.

The situation was not looking good, two missed chances and the strong likelihood that the fish would be very nervous now. So it turned out, the weed coming down became a lot worse and no matter how hard we worked and tried the barbel steadfastly refused to co-operate.

To make matters worse for the pair of us, Dave was enjoying a red-letter day as I had a hunch he would. He ended up with half a dozen barbel including an eleven, a ten and a couple of good nines, he was understandably on cloud nine!

Later in the afternoon Peter did land a decent chub just a couple of ounces shy of six pounds so all was not lost and we had both enjoyed our day together. At the end of it all, we wondered just where the time had gone. It had literally flown by.

We said our goodbyes and that was it, all over. Three completely different days, each one memorable in its own way and that is why I am so addicted to barbel fishing. It’s not all about catching; most of the time it is or should be but every now and then other priorities take precedence.

The long drive home somehow didn’t seem quite so far.




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