Steve Pope Barbel Fishing

Catch more barbel!

The Ties That Bind


I want you to just sit back, relax and allow your mind to take you back a few years. Well quite a few years in fact, to a time before Bobby Moore cheered a nation by lifting the World Cup, when Geoff Boycott was actually playing cricket (He seems to have been around forever). The Beatles had taken over the world, but at this moment in time they were looking for some Help. Mick and Keith were well on their way to a lifetime of satisfaction while the Mods and Rockers were causing mayhem in Margate and Brighton.

mods rockers

Twiggy was the face for a new generation and not Marks and Spencer’s. The weekend always started on Friday around tea time to the sound of Paul Jones belting out 54321 as we all jumped around the room while watching Cathy McGowan on Ready Steady Go, happy days!

 The Sixties

Ok, the Saga crowd are now well and truly in the zone and all you younger readers out there will just have to use your imagination, I’m sure you’ve seen the documentaries on TV and watched Quadrophenia and have a good idea of how it was back in 1965 because that’s the year we all should be in. The summer of sixty-five to be exact and I had yet to catch a barbel but It would only be a few weeks before I put that right and embarked on a lifetime’s adventure. I was only a fresh-faced lad, barely into his teens, who definitely spent far too much time fishing; at least that’s what it says in my school report.

Living at home in North London, my fishing at the start of that season centred on the River Lea Navigation, at places like Tottenham Hale and Picketts Lock. It was a relatively short bike ride from my house to the river and in those days parents had no worries about their kids going off on their own for a spot of fishing. There was hardly any traffic on the roads and young minds were not full of all the dark side of life that the youngsters unfortunately have to take on board today.

My cousin Brian, who was a few years younger than me, lived even closer to the river than I and although still at junior school he had just developed an interest in fishing and was desperate to go. His dad was not a fisherman and Brian knew that I was the one in the family with the keenest appetite for the riverbank. So we made plans to go together.

On a warm summer’s morning just as the season had begun I cycled to his house in Edmonton, rod strapped to the crossbar and rucksack on my back. On arrival Brian was ready with cycle and tackle all set up like me, and the pair of us set off on the short journey to Picketts Lock. At the rivers edge we quickly tackled up and he cast a line for the very first time.

We caught lots of bleak and gudgeon. We also caught dace and perch and the occasional roach that just stretched to eight inches, a goer, and the measure by which we judged our prowess as anglers.

It was a London thing. We were brought up on the Challenge Shield and I recall standing in awe in my local tackle shop as members of the Broadwater Team talked of catches I could only dream of. So we all had the steel rule with the names of the fish painted on at the required distance, the more goers you caught the more you could brag in school on Monday!

You could say that nothing really changes, goers just became doubles!

We had a fantastic day, catching fish, eating sandwiches lost in the secret world that only young aspiring anglers know.

And that was how I introduced my young cousin to the art of fishing……..little did I realise back then the impact that day would have on our lives.

 Now I’m going to ask you to let your mind become a time machine, fast forward to last year, the best part of forty-three years later, practically a lifetime.

 Fate has a strange way of entering our lives when we least expect it and that is exactly what has happened to us.

Last October I found myself looking at the computer screen and there in my Inbox was an email from Brian Pope titled Hi Steve!

I knew instantly that it was from my long lost cousin and was amazed when I opened it up and read the content, which straight away confirmed my initial thoughts.

 This is a bit of a bolt from the blue as they say but could you possibly be my cousin that the family has lost touch with? You may remember me if that is the case! You introduced me to fishing when I was 10 when we went to the river Lea at Picketts Lock……………………………

 Brian had seen my picture in Angling Times and recognising the name and likeness to his dad and how he remembered my dad, made the connection. The scary bit was that Brian too was now an avid barbel fisher having picked up the rods once again in the past few years after an extended sabbatical. He had caught some good fish as well including a thirteen from the lea where it all began a lifetime ago.

I was shell-shocked and after I read the last sentence, which contained an apology if I was not who he thought I was, my fingers started to type a response immediately.

 At this juncture I need to make you aware how we had lost contact. In those intervening years we grew apart and lost touch as many families do.

At the start of the seventies I moved from North London to Essex which back in those days seemed miles away and Brian went further North to Hertfordshire and apart from the odd funeral we never saw each other again. It’s hard enough keeping in touch with everyone you know and as we grew up and had our own families the years just passed by.

 We arranged to meet up at a restaurant in Woodford, not too far away from my old stamping ground. This contact with my cousin had led to other long lost relatives getting in touch and there was a lot to talk about as we took over a large table for quite a few hours. You know how you always have an image in your mind of those you have not seen for a while and it can be quite a shock to the system when your memories of someone as a child is rudely smashed when you meet up forty odd years later! It somehow didn’t seem to matter though as four or five of us whizzed through all the details of our lives since we last met!

 Before we said our goodbye’s I invited Brian to come along to a fishing meeting being held the following week, not that far from his home. Trefor West, Pete Reading, Fred Crouch and myself were all giving talks about barbel fishing and it seemed the perfect way to rekindle our fishing acquaintance.

I was still getting over the incredible co-incidence that Brian was now a barbel angler and a pretty good one as well.

I’ve already mentioned the Lea but Brian had also caught big fish from the Ouse so he was eager to find out why barbel fishing has this ability to take over our lives and become all-consuming.

 The meeting went very well, so well that Brian booked a days fishing with Trefor on the Teme for the following summer, this was the opportunity for us to meet up on the bank.

 The weather and other commitments made it difficult to meet up before then.

 So we are now coming right up to date and back in July we met on the banks of the river Teme for a days fishing, for the first time since 1965.

Brian on the Teme.

Brian had enjoyed a great session with Trefor on the day before we fished together, catching a few barbel while taking on board the wealth of knowledge that the great man imparts on those who have tuition days with him. The previous evening, along with Brian, I had a good time in Tref’s company at the Admiral Rodney in Martley, putting the world to rights while being reminded once again of Tref’s voracious appetite! Mind you he takes things a bit easier these days, I’ll never forget a momentous night out a few years back when he astounded some famous names by putting away three knickerbocker glories and was still asking for more!


 We decided to fish on the Barbel Society stretch at Bransford and arrive there around midday. The idea being to fish Westy style and put some of Brian’s new found skills to the test, he had a new rod to christen as well. Trefor is no mean salesman either!

 We ran lots of sequences, spending just thirty minutes at each swim after putting a dozen or so pellets in, we covered a lot of ground. You are probably all aware of the banks on the Teme, all I’ll say is I had aches and pains all over by the following morning, I don’t know how Trefor does it!

Anyway I managed to catch a couple of small ones that took off like missiles bringing back fond memories of the happy times I had spent on this river in the past. The Teme truly is a wonderful little river and no matter what you may have heard there are still plenty of barbel around, perhaps not as many as there were but still enough in places to please any barbel angler.

Despite all his best efforts Brian’s rod remained motionless as the barbel refused to play the game.

Catching fish wasn’t really the point of the afternoon though, we had fished together once more and it was a hugely enjoyable experience; we vowed not to leave it another forty years before we did it again! I told Brian to put the new rod to one side and wait till we met up on the banks of the Kennet in a few weeks time, the rod would be christened then for sure, of that I was certain.

 The last Friday in August and there we were in the car park at the train station, 5.30 am. It’s always an early start for me when fishing the Kennet especially when I wanted to show Brian the devastating caster method that I love to use when finances allow. Stef has a lot to answer for but together with John Found he sure convinced me some time ago that in the right conditions casters and hemp are the baits for barbel par excellence. As long as you do it right!

It doesn’t take long to get down to the river from our meeting place and Brian is soon in what I considered to be the best swim, raring to go.

I ran through the method pointing out all the key points and left Brian to put some bait in as I wandered off to find a swim close by. I had a good feeling that it was going to be an eventful day, this stretch and method has never let me down when the stakes are high.

Brian had invested in six pints of casters plus a gallon of hemp, a minimum requirement at this time of year. Just to be on the safe side I had a gallon of casters as well for my own fishing and to be sure Brian wouldn’t run out. A dozen or so droppers (Thamesley size) of caster went into the head of the swim followed by three or four of hemp to lay the trail to the caster banquet. Everything in place to ensure the barbel would have no choice than to come out and play.

It was then just a matter of leaving the swim alone for an hour or so as the pair of us walked the fishery taking in the early morning riverbank sights and sounds, it was a lovely bright morn and there was no one else to be seen, perfect.

Back at the swim and the first cast, I say cast but in reality it’s just a nice underarm swing to lay the line no more than four feet from the bank into six feet of water. Simplicity itself.

The dropper rod was immediately to hand and I had impressed on Brian the importance of regular top ups and to be extra vigilant if the bait is still in the water while the dropper goes in, the third one almost always results in a take. I exaggerate slightly but it happens so often that it’s as near to a given as is possible in barbel fishing!

Back at my swim two hours pass by and then the bleeps start on the mobile, it’s a text from Brian, he has a nice fish resting in the landing net. As I made my way back through the undergrowth to see him I’m thinking to myself what a result, less than two hours and he’s cracked it, yes!

 Oh my, it’s a big fish all right, Brian thinks it may go thirteen, it has the girth for sure but perhaps not quite the length. The scales tell the story, 12.5 lbs, what a start!


Brian’s first fish from the Kennet, first on the new rod, it doesn’t get any better, the casters do the trick yet again.

The fish put up a great fight and the rod stood up to it beautifully, we get some good shots then make sure the fish goes back safely.

On my way back to my swim I’m really pleased with how it has worked out, what’s that they say about plans coming together? Someone up there likes us; eat your heart out Tref!

 Just before midday a familiar face appears in the distance and there’s no mistaking who it is. My greatest mate in barbel fishing and one of the finest barbel fishers there has ever been, Mr. Barbel himself Fred Crouch.

These days I don’t see Fred as much as I used to so every opportunity to catch up with him is taken and when he knew I was here today he had no hesitation in making the journey around the M25. Believe me that is still one horrendous journey, the road is always being worked on, this time they are adding an extra lane but it also adds a good half hour and much stress on to a one hour journey. Anyway apart from moaning about that, which we did, we spent the next couple of hours putting everything to right and having a good laugh as well as Fred held court in true Jethro stroke Ronnie Barker style!

There’s no doubting the fact that Stef is The Caster Master but in my book Fred is The Man!

 As the day progressed more fish came to the net including another nice double weighing in at 10.4 for Brian and one exactly the same for me.


On some stretches I believe the caster method can out fish pellets by five to one at least, Stef is always saying it and he’s right. The big problem is cost, if they were half the price and sold in bright shiny packs off the shelf we probably wouldn’t be hearing so much doom and gloom about the amount of barbel there are out there!

I’m well aware that a number of venues across the country have witnessed a reduction in barbel numbers but I truly believe there is an element of over reaction and simplification as to why. I take the pragmatic view and look to keep things in perspective, even in the good old days you had to be in the right swim to catch, it was never that easy.

All creatures live and die, the circle of life and there’s nothing we can do unfortunately. Big fish are old fish, their loss is very apparent especially when a venue’s reputation is built around their residence. Years will have to pass before the next generations fill the gap. Biomass, like the law of physics and you can’t get around it. Fortunately for us all as one river or venue is on the “downward” curve another is on the up. But I still believe that if anglers, and I include myself here, showed more vision and adapted to any apparent transition on favourite venues we may see better results. A big subject I know, one that will see many thousands of words written but I’m always optimistic and am sure the future is bright for barbel fishers, just a little different. One things certain, we won’t win any battles if we make too much of a song and dance about otters, I learnt many years ago, probably as a child, that it’s never worth taking on an opponent if you cannot win.

The one thing we all know but often have difficulty in accepting is that nothing ever stays the same, as years go by those words unfortunately haunt us more and more.

 At close of play we were indeed happy with the result, Brian had experienced a days fishing to remember and I was just happy to be there and share it with him.


There will be other days, make no mistake. The years apart have not dampened our spirit, quite the opposite in fact, there’s a lot of time to make up though!

 That’s it then, a fishing tale that has its roots way back in the swinging sixties and then resurfaces four decades later bringing us bang up to date. A story that shows the hold fishing has over us all, the subliminal influence exerted by the press, the fantastic ease of communication brought to us via the Internet and ultimately the unique enduring bond of family………………….the ties that bind.

 Steve Pope.

First published in Coarse Angling Today 2009.

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