Steve Pope Barbel Fishing

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The Teme…… Can Give the Warmest of Feelings on the Coldest of Days.


Any winter fishing can be difficult whatever the species, perch can literally disappear, chub can become lethargic, bream and tench can be complete no no’s, however we know old adages can be reversed such as winter carp fishing, so are we saying that winter carp could always be caught, well yes I suppose, and with increased stocking densities of carp over the last forty years it means that somewhere in the lake a carp is feeding, and location is more important.

I have always said the River Teme can be the harshest of places for a fish to live, especially during the winter months, and barbel being very susceptible to the prevailing conditions of the River, this works on the plus side and the down side.

The Teme can be very intimidating in any conditions, even in the summer. I can you hear you saying, ”The summer, on the Teme, intimidating…..?” Well for some yes. The brightest of days can expose the river to be what appears to be fishless, many times over the years I have seen anglers become totally bemused on what to do when wandering along the rivers banks when not one barbel can be spotted, my simple advice in that situation is this, if you can’t see the bottom of the river because of the depth of the swim, a deep hole or pool, or a deep tree canopy, then that is where the barbel will be, and more often than not in considerable numbers. So location is paramount at all times, never more so than in the depths of winter.

As a barbel fisherman of some experience, even I have felt that feeling of turning up to a chosen stretch and stood there and gawped at the raging torrent before me, and thought oh dear where do I start, so I am not oblivious to those feelings of desperation.

Winter Teme Barbel

Over the years I have limited my choice of stretches for winter barbeling to those that I have become intimate with during the summer months, I would never advise to fish a stretch in flooded bank high conditions where you are not familiar with.

Whilst water temperatures are important to the barbel’s behaviour and could affect its location, in other words it could make the barbel more mobile, it’s not important to me, as I will fish in any conditions. The only exception is when the river bursts its banks and becomes unsafe (more about that later) and the conditions do not allow me to fish the natural course of the river, this point is very important on the location issue.

So our day is in the middle of January at Broadwas with the river between six and eight feet above summer level, with the tops of bushes and trees protruding and playing peek-a-boo, as the river charges through. My tackle needs to be able to cope with these conditions and the style I intend to fish, remember I am going to locate the fish, I have no intention of trying to draw barbel to me, a lot of modern barbel rods are designed for rod rest, sit back type fishing and are often too long in the butt and seem to be lacking in power, however a rod of 11ft, with a 24’’short handle and a test curve of 1.75IB is ideal for me, this coupled with a good well made fixed spool reel, and not one of the large 5000 or 6000 size, these I find are much too big, the 4000 size being ideal.

Fun in the Mud!

During the summer and autumn I fish with lightly ratcheted centre pins one hundred percent, but in these conditions it is a fixed spool that excels, as I am going to be holding the rod and touch ledgering at all times. I still find that 10 lb Maxima as a main line fulfils my needs, but this is a personal choice, braid is a disaster for me when feeling for bites as it can result in some nasty line cuts to my trigger finger grip and detection method. One thing I do advocate in these conditions is a shortish braided hook length, I sometimes go up to 18inches in the summer months, but the last thing I want is the bait to be fluttering about in the turbulent flow, I find that six to eight inches is more controllable and can be bumped around with a greater feel. My bait is most likelier to be heavily flavoured luncheon meat, I like to be able to smell my bait from 20ft away, I really don’t think you can over dose on a bank high River Teme.

As usual I would use fairly largish baits though not as large as the summer months, again an over sized bait can affect the behaviour and presentation of the rig, so my advise again is no larger than an England’s Glory matchbox. More important I have found is the shape of the bait, and a triangle half inch shaped bait is my favourite with the top of the pyramid (the point) being the bit the fish mouths first and it is more likely to allow a small piece to be nibbled off by the barbel as a taster. I’m not dogmatic on lead size either, I fit a link so ledgers can be changed quickly, but the current trend for leads of above 3 ounces has no place in my bag for this type of fishing, I still believe that an anchored bait that can be moved by the raising of a rod top and by the mouthing’s of an inquisitive barbel are what is required. Most of my winter Teme fishing is done with no more than 1.5 to 2.5 ounces, this acts as a measure anyway. If I can manoeuvre my bait and hold with this weight in deep water, my confidence reaches new highs, as this is a good indicator to where the barbel will be, hair rigs in these conditions do not work for me and are prone to snagging up as the bait is bumped around into position. I bury a short-shanked size 2 hook into the bait and turn it out of the side of the triangle.

As I said earlier location is paramount and this isn’t as difficult as it may seem and the knowledge gained from summer visits will help. Whilst hard gravel bottomed swims may be believed to be the place to try and could be the best, remember and ask yourself why is gravel there, generally it’s because of continual scouring in the summer by faster shallow water. Whilst barbel are capable of swimming and travelling in the fiercest of flows, my belief at this time of year is they prefer more steady and sheltered flows, not rubbish strewn slacks however, or mid river torrents. High banked summer deep swims and the outside of high-banked bends are my favourite, what I am after is undercut banks. It is imperative that your bait is fished on the existing riverbed; just like the Severn I find fishing on the existing on the original riverbed a must.  

I said earlier in floodwater winter fishing that I touch ledger, just because we have something like the rivers of hell before us doesn’t mean my desire for sensitivity and the best presentation I can achieve is forgotten. A lot of the initial indications I feel will be the barbel mouthing the bait and causing the rig to move, therefore the rod will be pointed at the bait from an upstream position with the rod top low. I liken this type of fishing as it is similar to, Stillwater nymph fishing for trout, where the angler engages his senses to touch and feel and where he and the rod, the line and the reel become one. It’s a wonderful feeling when this is achieved, that I just cannot describe by words. Bites generally are signalled by your senses telling you there is movement, there is vibration, there is life being felt by your first finger. Bites can be the classic ‘’donk donk….’’ as the barbel shifts the lead, or a steady build up of pressure, akin to a heavy feeling, bites can also be induced by the light raising of the rod top to move the lead.

I am often asked if I put free offerings in during these harsh conditions, you bet I do! Though mainly hook samples via a bait dropper slightly upstream from where my bait position will be, it’s not so much that I wish to feed the barbel; its main purpose is to let the free offerings become a vehicle for the flavour. The free offering size and type I use is grated flavoured luncheon meat, it’s just like grated cheese. This goes in as a mass and slowly breaks up and sends tantalising morsels into the holding area without the risk of over feeding or becoming harder in the cold water, a couple of small droppers of this is more than adequate to get the barbel interested and more importantly expectant of what is to come.

A Cracking Teme Barbel!

I touched earlier on the safety issues surrounding this type of fishing, the river can be treacherous and once I nearly drowned. A few years ago at Brockamin I was fishing very similar conditions as those I’ve previously described. An air temp of 2.8 and a water temp of 3.5, with eight feet on. By adopting the methods and thoughts in the previous paragraphs I hooked what I thought was a very large barbel, the fish fought hard and long and became snagged under a tree. Though still attached, I reasoned that if I could get below the fish I might be able to pull it free; I was convinced it was another double. To get into position I slid down the bank and negotiated my way around the snagged fish, slid being the operative word here, trouble is I just didn’t stop, in I went into 12ft of the angry Teme! Oh dear I thought, is this it ?!!

I remembered quickly that twenty feet downstream was a large over hanging willow, so with waders and full winter gear I decided to swim downstream, to the only point I could get out. May I add at this point I was totally alone; no another angler was on the stretch. I really thought that this was it; I was a gonner. I got to the Willow and hauled myself onto the overhanging bow. To cut a long story short, as you can see I did manage to get out, but I reckon I came as close to death that Saturday as it is possible to be. The experience shook me to my soul and scared me, so much so I had to go back the next day because I feared if I didn’t, my relationship with my beloved Teme would be ruined forever. The next day was even colder than the day before with cat ice in the margins now, but I had a different feeling now, I was tentative and fearful in my approach. I swung the bait out gently and manoeuvred it by gentle bounces into position, instantly the rod pulled me around as the take was that savage, the fight that followed was sheer power and brute force.

When the massive flank of the barbel slid over landing net I knew she was a big fish, I knelt before her and there imbedded in her top lip were two short shanked size 2 hooks, tied to 15lb Kryston Supernova, one was attached to my line the other was dangling free other than a tail of 10lb Maxima. You see in my moment of desperation the day before, I eventually pulled for a break having recovered my rod in my hour of utter shock. I thought sod the barbel, in fact sod all barbel!

She looked at me as she lay in the net, I was dumbfounded, she was undoubtedly thinking next time my son, next time I will have you….! I phoned Jill Orme to come and photograph the fish and at 12lb 6oz, she was my second biggest fish from the Teme. Somehow the effect of nearly drowning the day before had been temporarily put aside, though never forgotten.

Two things became evident that Saturday and Sunday, the first being, no barbel is worth your life, so risk assess every swim before committing to fish it. Ask yourself where will I land the fish from, can I reach with the net, have I a flat area to fish from etc. Secondly it also proved as with many others that came my way that big barbel can be caught in the most dreadful winter conditions, but to start with you just have to be there!     

Lol Breakspear

Copyright Lawrence Breakspear

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