Steve Pope Barbel Fishing

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The Lower Severn, a Sensitive Approach by Lol Breakspear

Those that know me will have heard me go on about sensitivity in barbel fishing, what do I really mean regarding this? What I don’t mean is fine hooks and fine line.

First and foremost though once again we have to have a mind set, if we don’t think right we won’t fish right. Being automaton’s will not get us more or bigger fish on the bank. The latest rig in the weekly’s or the newest rod only takes away our thinking process and ultimately makes us reliant on others for our success, yes take inspiration but lets not go down the imitation route, be a thinking angler.

We must also not put human values or behaviour on the barbel we seek, yes we have a lot in common eat, breed then die, but we are totally different as you know, but some of us think only of our world and its physics.

The most important thing we need to understand is the barbel’s environment in which they live, our world is a world of gravity and all things solid, their world is a world of suspension and balance and to a degree, a world of weightlessness.

Remember, in water objects only weigh the amount of the water they displace, however it is all relative to the barbel, but almost a surreal world to our own.

We all know the principles of upstream ledgering, this method has been well documented in various articles, books etc. and what a superb method it is. Small river fishing casting to the opposite bank and searching out holding areas, and giving the angler a sense of control as you edge the bait in a downstream motion on the lifting of the rod, imitating a natural action of a bait coming towards the fish, but what I think is significant is the type of bite you get, this is the slackening of the line between you and the rig generally, this is because the barbel creates an imbalance and the whole thing moves towards it and you when the fish takes the bait, and not the arm wrenching pull of a spooked barbel once it feels the resistance of a downstream fished bait.

As a lot of you know I have done a fair bit of Lower Severn fishing, and there is a difference in catching barbel here than say the Teme or the Cherwell, pretty obvious really you are thinking, two of them being small rivers and the other one being slow deep and wide, but how many people would adopt the same rigs, tackle, thought process to fish all three, a a lot of anglers believe me, I have seen them.

Once again there are similarities but all are fundamentally different, and this is the first mind set that has to be adopted for lower Severn success, the difference in your approach.

When the fishing becomes tough on the lower Severn we assume that there are no fish, the place is ruined, overfished, too low, too bright, too much muck in the water et tal. What we may not take into account is the need for a totally different approach.

We have all seen, I am sure, underwater videos of barbel feasting on pellets and magically leaving the one with the hook in it, well this isnt just in barbel fishing it happens with all species. I have seen Carp leave one boilie when they had gorged on freebies, I have seen floating dog biscuits mopped up, with the the hooked one just swirled at and abandoned, chub engulfing maggots, but not the one on the hook….I could go on.

Simply what this tells us is that our hook bait isnt behaving as the others, this is because it has a hook attached to it, the hook is attached to the line, on the line there is a lead etc. and the fish are sensitive to this.

In their world of suspension, little gravity and world of things moving slowing with waft ability of all food items, fish soon spot the bait behavioural differences.

I want to return to Upstream ledgering lower Severn style now, there is a difference to the accepted method, I consider any bait placed up stream of my sitting position in the swim to be up stream 4ft, 8ft or 20ft….it doesnt matter.

Lets imagine we are in your favourite swim, that is not only fished by you but other barbel fishers as well and the downstream flow is to your right, as it goes underneath the over hanging branches of that lovely tree, the most obvious thing on this approach is that all barbel anglers before and all after will probably place their hookbait and free offerings in the same spot, and will receive the same type of indications as the same fish will reject the hook bait and that approach, this will be due to previous captures etc.

It can become a no go zone for the bigger singular barbel we are after, and the moment they mouth and /or approach the hookbait they will see how it behaves differently to the free offerings you have introduced, the bait becomes a no no.

I will accept that the swim may well hold a number of barbel but to get the best out of the holding area we have to do things differently, our presentation has to change. Can the hot spot be fished into via a down stream position is the first question, but the critical question is how we can make the bait behave as near as we can to the free offerings.

If you watch the underwater footage of feeding barbel you will see they are no difference to other cyprinid species, they take food in and then blow stuff back out and they create a situation of baits wafting around, being blown in and out etc. The carp boys are way ahead of barbel anglers in this field in how they have got over this problem, with balanced rigs and pop ups etc. The difference of our situation is that we have to contend with the flow and this can be used to our advantage.

With out a doubt certain baits on the Lower Severn stay where they are placed and will only move significantly if they are interfered with by the angler raising the rod top or the fish if it attempts to take the bait, it is the latter I will concentrate on.

So going back to our standard set up of fishing under the tree from a normal upstream position, there is little we can do with this set up to increase its sensitivity and bait take ability, we will have to use excessive weight to hold position and because of this the barbel on its approach to the bait both mouthing and touch will detect danger because of the abnormal characteristics of the hook bait compared to the free offerings, so how do we replicate the free offerings?

What we do is sensitise the rig by fishing slightly upstream of our sitting position, if you threw an AA shot or an half ounce bomb into the river they would both sink to the bottom and stay there for ever, it isnt about how much weight to use, it is about balance and in low summer conditions you will be surprised how little weight you need to hold the bottom upstream from your position.

When you are going through the trial and error process to ascertain how much weight is required by this balanced approached, ensure you do it with your bait on on the hook, because remember it is the bait you are trying make behave normally, as a free offering, with the most important characteristic being, is that the bait moves towards the fish when the barbel mouths or touches the bait.

Going back to our carp fishing mates now, not only have they developed the rigs, bolt rigs, hair rigs, zig rigs, stiff rigs all sorts of rigs, but they have an understanding of and continually develop baits to complement their quest for their perfect presentation.

Again we have, boilies in all colours, pop ups in all colours, washed out boilies, wafters, a multitude of sizes. The thing that inspired me a few years ago was the use of pop ups on the lower Severn, I was convinced the perfect way to emulate the freebie was to counter balance my bait with cork balls, and what a difference it made, this process has been improved by the commercially available pop up boilies to match the standard issue ones, the stuff you can do with these is infinite, half baits, double baits, snowmen (pop up and sinker combined) for a thinking angler like myself I have been revitalised and enthused for the quest for the perfect presentation.

I have popped up baits 3 to 4 inches on the lower Severn now, generally I start with an inch or so, this can be altered as the day or night progresses, if I am getting liners because of Barbel being in the swim but not taking, I immediately lengthen the pop up so it sits up 3 to 4 inches and the results have been fantastic with instant takes occurring, SBS M1 boilies with M1 pop ups are a devastating combination and the Lower Severn fish respond well to them, but I think it is more down to the presentation.

When fished in the short upstream position as described above, bites come either as a complete slackening off between rod tip and rig, or a run reminiscent of a scream from hell as the Centre pin gives line.

To summarise, the big barbel of the lower Severn do respond to a more thoughtful sensitive approach in a truly balanced rig and balanced bait, and large pieces of meat balanced by cork ball insertions are another approach, try them this season, you will see what I mean.

LOL BREAKSPEAR Copyright June 2010

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