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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


A Brace of Double Figure Barbel

I've fished for barbel on and off for some forty odd years, In that time I must have caught hundreds of barbel, but it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I caught my first double, a fish of 11-14-0 from a syndicate water on the River Kennet when fishing with David Hallett and Mike Osborne. I was made up, at long last I had broken through another of anglings barriers. It was something I didn't think I would achieve. During the past twenty years I suppose I have guided many anglers to their first double. I well remember helping Phil Bettley catch his first double from the River Severn. During a two day trip with Phil who is one of the nicest guys one could wish to meet, I caught barbel and chub, but Phil struggled even when we both fished the same swim.

A Friends First Double

During the afternoon of the second day Phil said "Can I use your rig" Yes, no problem. Lets sort out your tackle and get you a good barbel" Off with the running leger and hook. On went a size 4 barbless hook with three LG shot lightly pinched on the line some fifteen inches from the hook. Bait was two lobworms. Walking downstream I spotted a fallen tree in the water, where the flow had created an undercut. "Chuck your bait out there so it swings under the tree". I said. Within seconds Phil is hooked up to a good fish, after a couple of minutes I got a glimpse of a good barbel definitely a double. "Take it easy Phil that's a good fish" I said. The next minute he was broken off.

Sorting out his tackle, we moved off downstream to another fishy looking spot. Baiting with two lobworms I said "Chuck it out in that fast water and leave to settle in a quiet spot". We sat there for about five minutes, before Phil's rod tip whacked round. After a few anxious minutes I netted a double figure barbel for Phil, then shot some good pictures. We were both happy, but still a double eluded me. I have lost count of the number of 9-14- and 9-15-0 barbel I have caught, its was still good fun catching then even when they grab a bait intended for a big chub. Now that's what I want, a seven pound chub to grace my landing net.

A Good Drive South

The forecast for my next trip south was for cold weather and night frosts, I had planned four days fishing on a River Kennet Wasing Syndicate water. Poor weather forecast or not, I was going. I left home at 4 am for the 231 mile drive to the river Kennet near Thatcham. At that time in the morning I didn't have any problems with traffic jams or road works, I did pull off at a service station to report a truck and trailer driver who was all over three lanes and the hard shoulder. I got the distinct impression he was falling asleep at the wheel. It was to say the least a bit frightening tying to get past him. Just after 8 am I pulled into the Wasing Fisheries car park at Brimpton.

I could see the river flowing low and clear, not surprising when I think we have had the driest November I can remember for a very long time. I have also heard a rumour that a new bore hole has been drilled in the Kennet valley. If this is true, its a disgrace. Those in power are bleeding our rivers dry. When I see the billions of gallons of water gushing to sea and not into reservoirs I get rather angry. A cock pheasant called from across the river, the countryside looked magnificent in its autumn colours of various shades of browns and greens. There was the occasional spot of orange from the few leaves which hung defiantly to the odd branch of a tree. A blackbird settled in a nearby hawthorn, a group of fieldfare were feeding on some ivy berries. It was great to be back.

On with the kettle for a fresh brew, while I waited for it to boil, I checked the water temperature it was 46 degrees F. Sorry I am not into Celsius readings, I still talk about feet and inches, pounds and ounces. At 68 I don't think I will change. With a mug of tea and a bowl of porridge oats. I sat in my car enjoying breakfast, listening to the robins and wrens chattering away. My mind kept drifting towards the fishing. Would I find some perch? We all know how the Kennet holds some big perch and I had a 100 big lobs.

After breakfast I walked the Warren length, on reaching the point swim opposite the house where the river makes a right hand sweep, I noticed a blue coloured pipe discharging water into a side stream. On closer inspection I could see it was waste water from either a dish washer, washing machine or hot tub. All illegal. I notified the fishery manager, then shot a couple of pictures to send off to the EA. We must all be vigilant when at the waterside. If you see anything amiss call the EA. on 0800 80 70 60 its a free phone call. Take the name of the operator, then ask them to let you know what action is taken. I dropped some mashed bread in a few swims where I expected to find chub, scattered some bait size bits of sausage meat paste where one would expected to find barbel.

Just after passing the green bridge, I spotted a pair of kingfishers. Their bright colours standing out against the drab brown background. On an ivy clad tree trunk which had crashed down many years ago, a wren was looking for insects. A robin chattered loudly from a nearby willow bush. The silence was only broken by the bird song and the crowing of a pheasant. Remember I am writing about November, a flower looking like Red campion brightened the dull hedgerow. There were Tufted forget-me-not, Hedge bindweed and White dead-nettle in flower. It was a cold day with the odd rain shower, but it was great to be alive.

My Tackle Choice is Simple

We anglers are so fortunate, while others become couch potatoes. We see the beauty of all the seasons in the countryside. I digress. Lets get back to the fishing. I tackled up three rods For fishing Brimpton Weir pool I chose a powerful 12 foot rod to handle lines between 10 and 15lbs bs. Barbel are a powerful fish and even more so in weir pools. My reel choice was a Mitchell 300 which was of 1953 vintage, but still going strong filled with 12lb line to which I attached a size 2 Partridge F7 barbless hook. My other rod for barbel fishing was a 12 foot three piece Avon action rod for lines between 8 and 12lbs I attached a centre pin with 10lb bs strain line and a size 4 Partridge F7 barbless hook. My other rod was a light Avon model designed for lines between 4 and 8lb bs. I attached a centre pin with 6lb line and the usual Partridge hooks in a size 6. My bait bucket contained a pound of sausage meat produced by my local butcher, a pound or more of soft cheese paste, a tub of lobworms and a loaf of extra thick sliced bread

A Brace Of Chub On Bread

I started off fishing the Bridge Pool, trundling a chunk of crust on the light outfit, some fifteen minutes later I had a cracking chub in the net weighing 5-4-0. It was now time to move on. This swim from previous experience only ever produces one fish. Chucking in some hook size bits of bread flake, I fished my way downstream to the Black Hut without any more bites. I then fished my way back upstream on the opposite bank failing miserably in my quest for more chub. Back at the Bridge Pool I had another chub which was exceedingly fat weighing in at 4-2-0. As I returned the fish my mate John arrived from Sussex.

After John parked up, I put the kettle on while John sorted out his tackle he was going to fish the platforms and me the weir pool. The rain was falling quite steady with a cold northerly wind. Very wintery. After an hour and not getting any bites in the weir pool I decided to fish a swim just downstream of the green footbridge. It was 6pm when I moved. John had hooked a good fish which was lost in a snag, he decided to stay put. In the next hour I had two barbel probably around the 6lb mark on sausage meat. I decided to see if John was catching, if not he could have my swim. As I arrived at the gate, John was crossing the road. "Any bites I asked" the reply was in the negative. Come with me and fish my swim I've had two barbel. You fish and I will make the tea. An hour later John had caught three barbel and a chub the best at 8-10-0. I was very pleased he had caught. After a hot stew we sat chatting until about eleven p.m. then we crawled into our sleeping bags.

It was around ten o'clock on Monday morning before we crawled from the warmth of our sleeping bags, after a quick wash in cold water, we had breakfast or early lunch of porridge, toast and tea. We had decided to fish for perch until about 4pm then switch our attention to barbel. The water temperature was 44 degrees F During the day we float fished with lobworms, in half a dozen spots without success except for some crayfish. During our travels, we had seen green woodpeckers, fieldfare, wrens, robins, goldfinches, chaffinches, a tree creeper, a nuthatch, kingfishers and a heron. But no sign of a perch. It was about 3-30pm when we arrived back at the van after a quick cup of tea we moved off downstream to fish our chosen spots for barbel, John chose the swim where a big tree trunk is in the river laying alongside the bank. I chose to fish some shallow weedy water. Early in the day I had said to John I reckon these barbel move out from cover and work the shallows in search of bullheads loaches crayfish and nymphs. Early in the day I had chucked in a dozen chunks of sausage meat.

Hooked Into A Big One

As the light faded I was seated in my swim, in fact that's a wrong statement I was kneeling on a bit of sponge, rolling a bait down through the water crowfoot, a dozen or so casts later I had a savage pull, then hooked a fish which moved off downstream slowly but determined. I suppose it had gone some twenty yards, perhaps more, when it moved purposely across the river towards a large tree which had crashed in the river. It had to be stopped at all costs. I cramped on all the pressure I felt the rod could take, it bent as it had never bent before. I could feel the rod bending down in the butt and the cork handle. It was now or never. A boil appeared on the surface then the 10lb line parted. In the calm quiet air, it sounded like a pistol shot. I had been well and truly busted off. I was gutted.

A Double Figure Barbel

Ten minutes later after getting over the trauma of losing a big fish, I was ready to fish again. Same bait same style on the third cast I felt a slight pull on the rod tip, striking I connected with a good fish, the reel made that sound which is so delightful to hear. Gradually I slowed down the rate of line being taken, then turned the head of the fish before slowly pumping it upstream. Suddenly the fish had other ideas, then kited into my bank. I pushed the rod out over the water as far as I possible could. As I was getting ready to slide down the bank in to the water, the power of the well balanced tackle pulled the fish out toward the centre of the river, where I could conduct the battle in safety. A few minutes later I had the fish in the net.

On the scales it weighed in at 10-6-0. Chucking in a few free hook baits I walked upstream to John. After giving him the good news I said "Shall we go and have dinner" He agreed. After washing up, we cooked steak, onions, potatoes, peas and carrots. For desert we had some fresh fruit. Then we sat chatting about the days events over a mug of tea. Sometime later "I said lets go fishing". It was just before eight p.m.. Opening the door I was dazzled by the bright light from the full moon, saying to John "We have a full moon, bright clear sky full of stars looking like diamonds, fog enveloping some trees, everything is white, even my car looks like a block of ice. My green coloured rods are now white. Its bloody cold out there. We have all the wrong conditions for catching. So are we going fishing" He answered in the affirmative by saying. "Lets go for it". I shivered, then pulled on a thick fleece and a pair of mittens. Walking downstream the frost covered grass crunched underfoot. John stopped of at his swim while I continued to fish the same area I had done before dinner.

It's A Personal Best

There was nothing special about my chosen swim. It was a shallow area of water with lots of crowfoot, there were a couple of half alive, half dead bushes, which were half in, half out of the water. Offering sanctuary and cover for the fish during daytime. I cast out an egg size chunk of meat rolling it down stream by lifting and lowering the rod. Now and again it would come to rest where I would leave it for a minute or so, before lifting the rod to help get the bait rolling again On my second cast I had a slight tap, the rod tip pulled down as if a lot of weed had gathered on the line. I new differently. It was a fish slowly drawing the bait away, I struck and set the hook into a very wild angry fish. It boiled on the surface, fifteen twenty yards below me. I could feel the weight of the fish then realised I had hooked a good one.

The fish decided it wanted to move away but remembering the big one I had lost, I decided to keep on as much pressure as possible. Despite all my efforts in stopping the fish taking any line I still had to grudgingly give in. I suppose the fish moved a few yards downstream when it boiled on the surface, then went to the bottom. Slowly I walked upstream a few feet dragging the fish with me. I find this practise when its possible to do so, is better than taking line back on the reel. A tree stopped me from moving further upstream, slowly moving downstream I was able to take in some line. The fish once more boiled on the surface, then went back on the bottom. Getting closer to the fish I cramped on more pressure, then started to slowly pump the fish towards the bank and up on the surface. The pressure was telling. Soon I had it coming towards the net. Then it was illuminated in my head lamp. It looked huge I remember saying to myself The line is good, the hook is sharp, I've tied and tested the knot. I was confident. Suddenly the fish dived forcing me to give line. It was the last chance for this barbel. I lowered the rod slowly taking in line, then I pulled the fish up on the surface, slowly dragging it across the water into the landing net and lifted. I shouted to no one in particular "Yes, Its mine"

I couldn't lift the net it was tangled in some brambles. Quickly cutting the line I laid the rod down then slid down the bank so I could grip the frame and net. As I tried to crawl up the bank it gave way causing me to slip into the water. Thankfully I was wearing chest high waders.. I moved upstream dragging the fish with me to where the bank wasn't so steep and crawled out. Further upstream I found a spot where I could peg my net in the water while I went off and collected my cameras from the van.

With cameras, weigh bag and scales, I met up with John who after winding in his gear joined me to weight the fish and shoot the pictures. Not easy in the dark. I was using a Cannon IXUS V and a Nikon digital SLR. The Cannon camera battery gave a low reading due to the icy cold conditions , but I had no such problem with my Nikon. After weighing in the fish in at 12-7-0 John shot a couple of pictures on both cameras. We shook hands. I said to John "You chuck a bait in my swim". He declined saying "I think its time for a mug of tea" I agreed. As we sat in the van drinking tea I called a few special friends to tell them of my good news. At 12-7-0 it was a personal best. The moral is However bad the conditions look, if we don't have a bait fly or lure in the water we can't catch the fish.

Martin James Fishing