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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


A Red Letter Session with Barbel

Friday 23rd November I was the MC at a fund raising event at Stockport in aid of the ABF the Soldiers Charity, barbel hunter Jerry Gleeson done an excellent job in getting raffle and auction prizes. The evening raised £1500. Not from the number of anglers who attended, which was disappointing? Thankfully the venue was full of clubbers who joined in the festivities and helped swell the funds. I arrived back home around one o'clock Saturday morning. After a couple of hours sleep I was off to the BBC Radio Lancashire studio for a six o'clock start.

250 Mile Drive in Heavy Rain

After completing my work, I headed off to the River Kennet a drive of around 250 miles. My first stop was Tadley Angling where I arrived around one o'clock in the afternoon. The sky was leaden grey, the rain sheeting down. As I walked into the shop, Kevin said "Hello Martin you can't fish the river is over the banks" my reply was "That's what I was hoping you would say" After a chat and a mug of tea. I headed off to the River Kennet, checking the water temperature I got a reading of 47 degrees F. The water was the colour of khaki; I smiled to myself thinking good chance of some barbel. After walking about 2 miles of the river bank, putting a few bait samples into several good looking spots. I put half a dozen bits of cheese paste in some spots, sausage meat in others. In two spots I fed in some Pallatrax paste bait which I had soften up with cooking oil to make it less resistant. I like to use very soft paste baits on the hook. In its normal form it needs to be used on a cork ball fixed to a hair. Not my first choice way of fishing a bait.

Tackle set up

Back in the car park on the Wasing syndicate, I heated up my evening meal, a hotpot with plenty of green beans. My microwave oven which is powered by the car battery is excellent, though it takes longer than the one used in the home. Then whatís an extra ten minutes. If youíre going to fish long sessions in winter you need a decent meal. My plans were to be on the river until gone midnight. Having finished dinner followed by a mug of tea, I put together an 11'6" soft action rod, fixed spool reel with 15lb braid. I firmly believe you can tire a big fish better on a soft action rod rather than a broom handle job,I have no reason to use a rod with a 2.5lb T/C rod when my 1.5LB T/C soft action rods do the job nicely, I have no problem in getting fish in the net in double quick time. Chris Green watching me hook and land a barbel said "Iíve never seen a fish netted so quickly then immediately returned to the water fighting fit".

Rig and Hook Link

A lot has been written about rigs and hook link material over the years, I canít say I take much notice I try to keep everything simple. Today Iím using braid to which I attach a small swivel with a Palomar knot then attach 3 feet of 10lb fluorocarbon line. Then I tied on a size 4 Pallatrax barbless hook. Lightly pinch on the line are 3 LG shot 15 inches from the hook, which completes my tackle set up. During the course of my fishing session I will use from 1 to 6 LG shot depending on the swim to be fished. Chucking sausage and cheese paste baits, along with a chunk of flavoured paste from Pallatrax in my shoulder bag, along with a head torch and small tripod lamp with a swivelled head which I use to illuminate the rod top. Iím ready for the off. Slinging my chair and bag over my shoulder, I picked up rod, landing net and rod rest before heading off upstream to a slack just upstream of the Bailey Bridge at the Dalston end of the fishery.

Catching Barbel

Having set up everything as I wanted I put in half a dozen bits of sausage meat paste, and then sat back for 30 minutes enjoying the peace after my hectic time on Friday evening and the long 4 hour drive in horrendous weather conditions. It was a delightful mild evening with just the relentless rain, that wasn't going to stop me fishing. After finishing a mug of tea I baited with a large piece of soft cheese paste, dropping it tight to the bank where I know from previous experience I had a clean gravel bottom. As I sat holding the rod in the fading light I watched a robin feeding on some gentles which I had got for the birds, then I felt a light pluck followed by a steady pull. Some people would say perhaps it was rubbish on the line. This was no rubbish as I set the hook into a nice fish, a few minutes later it was in the net about 8lbs.

Baiting with another bit of paste I dropped the baited hook back into the same spot, then laying the rod in the rest I checked the water temperature, It was still 47 degrees F, The river had risen about 4 inches since I arrived. Still the rain continued though it was a warm evening, just at the back of me I heard a Munjac deer bark, and then a pheasant called, followed a few minutes later by an owl. Suddenly the rod pulled round 2 inches, striking I connected with another barbel about 6lbs. I fished on until about 11 o'clock in what can only best be described as ideal barbel fishing conditions. Though in the past hour the wind increased quite dramatically, in the distance I heard a tree crash to earth, I was getting concerned about my safety as I watched the trees on the opposite bank swaying to and fro. Having had 10 barbel including 3 doubles 10-2-0 10-6-0 and 10-8-0 I chose to leave. No way did I want a heavy branch to crash down on my car or myself. Commonsense had to prevail

More Barbels

The next day Sunday the water temperature was still 47 degrees F, today I would be on the river until late in the evening. It was a roving day, though I twice I filled my waders stepping into some deep water. After changing into some dry cloths I was soon back to fishing. I certainly enjoyed catching barbel from just 2 feet of water in a couple of swims on a free lined paste bait, when hooked these fish boiled on the surface before heading out into the faster deeper water. It was great fun fishing. I just love roving from swim to swim, then finding the fish willing to take free lined paste bait. Apart from stopping around dusk to cook some tea I was on the move all day long and into the darkness. It was certainly a successful day, as I caught 12 barbel including 2 doubles best at 11-4-0. I caught my fish on three different baits cheese paste, sausage paste and a reddish brown coloured paste from Pallatrax.

On the Monday the water temperature was 47 degrees F, I wouldn't fish until the evening, I had a guest Chris Green a 60 year old plumber from Didcot to look after, though before we started fishing I got him to help me remove a 30 foot tree that had crashed across the road. Knowing the fishery and shoot manager would be busy I chose to do my best with Chris's help in removing the obstruction. Getting the bow saw from my vehicle we set to work. An hour later the road was clear.

I then got Chris to put together his gear an 11 foot bamboo rod fixed spool reel 10lb BS line to which I tied on a size 4 Pallatrax barbless hook. In the first swim I pinched on 4 LG shot then baited his hook with sausage meat paste. Half an hour later we are on the move, We fished dozen's of ideal looking spots but for some reason the fish didn't want to feed, I suppose this was understandable as the barbel I had caught Saturday and Sunday all had big fat bellies. Occasionally I could see Chris getting a bit worried about not catching, but I had lots of faith and didn't for one moment think I wouldnít get him a personal best. If he had an 8 pounder then he would go home happy. Though the target was a double figure fish.

I was more than happy with my experience on flooded rivers going back to the 1940's that I wasn't concerned. Eventually we come to a spot where itís normally 18 inches deep over clean gravel, today there was 5 feet of water. A tree had crashed in the water last year creating a delightful crease with steady water close in. Using just 2 LG shot to allow the baited hook to swing slowly into the bank, I baited up with some reddish brown paste then dropped the bait into the swim. Handing the rod to Chris I said "Don't worry about any leaves, they want get down the line to cover the hook bait as Iíve added a shot 3 feet up the line. A few minutes later Chris had a light pluck. "I said thatís a fish" a minute or so later his tip slowly pulled round, as if weed had caused the problem. I just said "That's a good bite" his strike connected with a heavy fish which I new immediately was a good barbel as it hugged the bottom. After telling Chris what to do. "Move upstream, lower the rod a bit, come down this way. Mind those branches in the water, keep its head up. I've got it" as the fish went in the net. I then went off to borrow from Mike Petch his scales and weight sling. Back in the swim I zeroed the scales with the weigh net. Then we gently eased the fish from landing net, to weigh net, hoisting it on the scales. We got a reading of 12-2-0 for Chris a personal best by a long way. An hour later with no more fish Chris went off home a very happy angler.

For me it was time to eat, so I went off to a local carvery, within an hour I am back, this time its me who was going to fish, despite the darkness I decided to rove down one side of the river then up the other bank. I used my soft action rod, fixed spool reel, 15lb braid with a size 4 Pallatrax hook. Baits were either cheese paste, sausage meat paste or the soft Pallatrax bait. It was a long evening session I suppose it was around midnight when I left the river having caught 8 barbel best at 9-14-0.

Tuesday the water temperature dropped 2 degrees, the fish were hard to tempt, all my previous fish had a big gut where they had been avidly feeding. So I suppose they didn't need to feed. I had just one bite, one fish about 5lbs. Wednesday I fished a dozen or more spots, just one bite which I missed. For the first time in a very long time I packed up before it was dark, knowing I wasn't likely to catch. I had planned to fish until Saturday, but when looking out of the bedroom window on Thursday morning and seeing the countryside covered in frost, I decided to drive back home.
See picture of Chris Green's barbel and other pics

Martin James Fishing