Steve Pope Barbel Fishing

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FLOODWATER FOURTEEN    by   Mark Nicolaides



In some ways, floodwater is often the best time to target barbel. They feed well in coloured water; the water temperature increases during these times more often than not, there are fewer anglers on the bank and the fish become more localised, but not necessarily easier to find!

Not everyone likes floodwater fishing, though. A good friend of mine, Richard Graham, who has caught loads of big barbel, hates these conditions. He prefers it when the river is low and clear. 

It was for those reasons that he decided to give this particular session a miss. It had been raining stair-rods for the last few days and it was for this reason he decided to go to the football match instead of coming down the river with me.

Football match?

Forget that! The Stour had burst its banks and I was raring to get down there. There would be no other anglers about, the river was flowing through the fields, it would be dark when I’d get there and the barbel would be feeding, guaranteed. Absolutely guaranteed!

What more could you ask for… if ever there was a time, this was it… I couldn’t wait.

The stretch was a well known length on the middle reaches of the Dorset Stour and held a reasonable number of barbel up to a venue record of 14lb, although, the barbel were never really that numerous. Richard and I had been fishing the stretch most days for the last few weeks and had only caught a few barbel up to about 7lb or so. Most of the fish we caught were bootlace eels!

When I arrived there were no anglers about, brilliant! It was also really mild and it had stopped raining, at last. The swim was around half a mile away, which would normally take about twenty minutes to walk to, but this time I reckon it took me a good three quarters of an hour because the water was all over the fields, and I had to be careful not to suddenly plunge into the river as you couldn’t actually see the river bank. Madness really – the dangers were obvious. It was the sort of thing you tell other people not to do… but when you’re on a mission…

Anyway, I eventually made it to the swim.

Well… I say ‘swim’. It looked more like a lake, with a loads of little rivers running through it, however, one of these flows was the actual river and that’s where I cast my cheese and hemp paste hook-bait into.

The area I was fishing was a bit slacker than the raging torrent a few metres way and only a few feet from the ‘bank’.

After about fifteen minutes the isotope on the quiver indicated a good bite, which took me completely by surprise and I duly struck into thin air. Out went the bait again and this time I was ready. But not ready enough! A few minutes later, I’d missed another decent pull.

So, out went the bait again but this time I was like a coiled spring, poised and ready for action. Five minutes or so later, the chance came…bang… I was in! At first, whatever was on the end just hung there in the flow. There were no annoying little wriggling sensations coming down the line, this was no eel, great. 

Barbel? Surely, it’s got to be in these conditions.

The fish glided over into the main flow and swam off downstream, picking up speed. I started back winding, faster and faster. After it had taken about ten metres I started to get a bit worried because there was a bush it seemed to be heading for, and of course I had to stop it!

I sort of slowed the fish down a bit but, lucky for me, the fish just went roaring past and continued on its downstream sprint. It was at this point that I thought I’d hooked a carp, since there are a few of these along the stretch, and whatever I was attached to, was very strong.

Eventually the fish slowed up and I somehow started to make some head way on it. Finally I got the fish to virtually where I’d hooked it in the first place, the fish just stayed deep and swam around the slacker water for about five minutes or so.

Even though it was fighting like a carp (staying deep in the margins and plodding slowly around), I had this feeling that is was a barbel after all. 

At this point I started to think about landing the fish.

I knew I had to draw the fish into shallower water where I could land it easily.

The fish was now definitely starting to tire and after it had splashed on the surface a couple of times, I could see that it was barbel – and a big one at that. It was at this time when I started to think about Richard at the football match. I imagined what I’d be telling him if, for some reason, I lost it. He’d probably torment me by dismissing it as just another one of those bootlace eels or a pike or something like that… never a decent barbel! I chuckled to myself for a few seconds before I got back to the business in hand.

The fish came to top again and, like so many big fish, it didn’t actually roll on it’s side and show its white belly, instead in the very faint light, I could just make out its broad back sticking out of the surface, ready to be led into the shallower water.

It looked huge… not particularly long but very broad. I recognised it as the fish that had been out the year before at 14lb exactly.

As you can imagine, I hastily got the scales out and recorded a weight of 14lb 4oz.

Yes! The feeling was incredible – a personal best and at the time, a record for that stretch of river. All I needed to do now was to rest it up in a safe place and photograph it.

Richard is the best man I know with a camera but he was at the football. So, I had to call on another friend to do the job. When I mentioned where I was and the treacherous route needed to get to the swim, he seemed a bit less enthusiastic, but still came out and did a great job. The fish behaved perfectly for the camera and swam off strongly.

We all remember certain fish for various reasons and I think the extreme conditions in which that fish was caught really indelibly printed that floodwater fourteen on my mind.

Mark Nicolaides

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