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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


Blizzards, Gale Force Winds and a Low Dirty River Kennet - Didn't Stop Us Catching The Barbel

Imagine saying to your non angling friends, "The other day my mate Mike Osborne travelled by car down the M6 from Carlisle in a blizzard at 3 o'clock in the morning to go fishing on the Wasing Estate fishery a 400 mile trip. Around 5 o'clock he picked up his mate Martin James from his Lancashire home, and still the blizzard raged. Quickly loading the car, they headed off for the M6 some twenty miles away. With a bit of skilful driving by Mike, plus some slipping on the hills and corners, a few muttered oaths the pair made it to the A59. . No doubt your non angling friends would have said "You anglers must be daft"
A thought that passed through my mind as we slithered through Chatburn. I can tell you this, another ten minutes at my house and we would have been stranded. But we had a birthday party bash to attend and a few days fishing the River Kennet, and the weather forecast was for mild weather down south. Once on the M6 motorway it was OK, though the hard shoulder and fields had a thick covering of snow. Clearing Cheshire we noticed the temperature slowly creeping upwards. At Birmingham and it was 5 degrees C.
Driving down the M5 conditions continued to improve as did the air temperature, we were making good time. At the second service station we stopped for a brew. Non of your rubbish tea or coffee at inflated prices. Which we two pensioners couldn't afford. It was out with the stove and on with the kettle. Soon Mike and me were having a mug of Yorkshire Gold tea. It tasted good. Then it was back in the car, as we approached the Air Balloon public house on the A417 we joined a huge queue of traffic moving at 10 mph. An hour and a half later we drove into John Avery's B&B Telephone 01635 869098. If your looking for a comfortable B&B this is a suitable place to stay. After dropping off our bags and picking up our plastic key, it was off to the River Kennet.
After parking up, I checked the water temperature. It was 42 degrees F. Meanwhile Mike sorted out the tea making. As usual on our recent visits, the river was low but a bit dirty. In fact within an hour the river changed to a very dirty colour with leaves weed and other rubbish. It looked horrid. No doubt it was water coming in from the canal. Its time the B.W.B acted responsibly and fitted filters. After all, its our money which funds the B.W.B. In my book its another money wasting quangoe. After chatting about the prospects and where we planned to fish. We sorted out our kit. Mike like me wears chest high waders and a top quality waterproof jacket, no need for an umbrella. We both decided to go roving, chucking baits into every likely looking spot. Being diabetic I needed to exercise. As we walked downstream I dropped in a few hooks bait samples of sausage meat paste made by my local butcher into five areas where I thought I could catch a barbel after dark. Of course, I wanted to catch in the day light, but I felt conditions were better for chub catching.
Lost Chub
After walking the Warren beat for some distance, trying a few likely looking spots, we arrived at 'Pipe Swim' Those of you who fish Wasing Estate will know the area. Its where thousands of gallons of water pour into the river through a concrete pipe. upstream were some branches in the water. An ideal spot for perch and chub. The week previously I had a chub of 5-6-0. I suggested Mike should fish this spot. I went downstream a few yards to fish another interesting spot. A green woodpecker was hammering hell out of a dead tree, robins, wrens, great tits and long tailed tits were about in profusion. In two cases robins had paired up. It was great to be alive. Creeping close to the water on hands and knees, I baited a size 4 hook with a big chunk of crust, deciding 2 LG shot would be the required weight An under hand cast was made, dropping the bait upstream where some branches trailed in the water. Then by controlling the centre pin reel with my thumb, I eased the crust down the current. A minute later the rod tip pulled over. I connected with a powerful and angry fish. After some thirty seconds it kited in towards the bank, then got tangled up in some vegetation and rubbish. The 6lb bs line broke like rotten cotton. I've caught enough chub to know it was one of those fish.I was gutted. That was a good fish. The rest of the day passed without incident. At 4 o'clock in the afternoon, Mike and me stopped for dinner. We dined on venison stew. it was delightful. I suggested Mike should fish one of my banker swims for the next couple of hours in the dark. While I was going roving, I intended to fish my baited swims.
Barbel Put A Bend In The Rod
Walking off downstream I stopped off a swim where the river twists to the right, opposite the cottage. Baiting with a walnut size bit of sausage meat paste I rolled it down the swim for a few yards, then as the bait started to swing into my bank I struck it off. I rebaited, then repeated the process . On my fifth cast I had a good steady pull, striking I connected with a good barbel. After the usual give and take struggle my 10lb line and Avon rod soon had the fish under control. As I netted the fish. I said to myself " Could it be a double" The answer was no it weighed 9-12-0 In the next twenty minutes I had three more fish all around the 5 - 6lb mark but great fun to catch. Fifteen minutes without any interest, it was time to move. I decided on a swim downstream to a spot just upstream of the second foot bridge. It was a wise choice, though walking down river through the trees did cause the odd problems, line catching on protruding branches etc. Eventually I negotiated all the obstacles. Though I did frighten the life out of another member, when I suddenly appeared. He was visibly shaken. Asking "How could I couldn't walk along the bank without a light" In my second swim I caught 3 more barbel 2 about 4lbs the other fish around the 6lb mark. I then crossed the bridge and headed off upstream to the swim where I had lost the chub in the morning session. First cast with a chunk of crust and I was quickly into a good fish. It was a chub weighing 5-2-0.It didn't really stand much chance on 10lb line. It wasn't the chub I lost morning session. It didn't show any signs of having been hooked. Meanwhile Mike had called me to say he had two barbel about six pound and lost a couple. Thankfully we had both caught. Back in the car park we had a mug of tea, then headed off for the Barbel Playground website birthday party in the Rowbarge public house.
Barbel Feed In Ernest.
On our second day, Mike went off upstream to fish the weir pool. I again chucked out a few hooks bait samples of sausage meat paste into my chosen swims. I desperately wanted to catch the barbel in the day light, but again felt conditions were better for chub. I chose the latter. The week before I had fished a swim where I had caught 14 chub to 5-9-0 two small barbel and a perch. Six of the chub were over 5lbs. Hopefully the Anglers Mail will use one of the pictures of me with a brace of fives on the front cover in the not too distant future. I fished that chub swim for about four hours without a touch. After lunch I went off roving. In the first swim, I quickly had three small barbel then a quiet period of some thirty minutes. It was time to move. I usually give most of my chosen spots half to three quarters of an hour. Of course you cannot make hard and fast rules for every occasion.
Late afternoon I went back to the car, where we cooked dinner, As we chatted Mike told me about the barbel and the big carp he had lost. I felt sorry for him losing both fish. The hook had opened as Mike was playing the carp. I gave him a few of my size 4 Partridge barbless hooks. After a mug of tea. We were ready for a long evening session. Mike was going to fish the same swim he had the previous evening. I headed off downstream. As I sat in my first baited spot rolling a chunk of sausage meat downstream. I watched and heard the pheasants going to roost, a wren chattered away in a nearby hawthorn bush. Just as the light started to disappear, the rod tip pulled over savagely I was connected with the first barbel of the evening session. After a brief struggle it was netted, probably weighed 3lbs. This was followed by two other fish averaging perhaps five pounds. Half an hour without a bite I moved downstream. In the next spot I had another fish about 8lbs which really did put up a good fight. Fifteen minutes later I had another fish about six pounds. Again a quiet spell without any signs of a fish. Time to move. In my third spot I didn't get a touch. Half an hour I moved off further downstream towards the black hut. Having run out of sausage meat. I baited with a Waitrose cocktail sausage, within a minute I was hooked up to a big powerful fish. For some fifteen minutes I fought it out with this fish, then lost it within feet of the landing net. To say I was gutted. Would be an understatement. That fish would certainly have been a personal best. I fished on, more in hope than expectation. Half an hour later I moved. Fifty yards or so upstream, I fished another baited spot, not really caring if I caught or not. I was still angry with myself for bullying the fish upstream when I could have waded out and probably netted the fish.
A Double Figure Fish
With nothing doing I moved well upstream to my next swim. Baiting with a Waitrose cocktail sausage on a size 2 hook tied direct to 10lb line, I spent some twenty minutes rolling these baits down the swim. I don't know how many casts I had before I got hooked into a good fish. After several minutes and a few heart stopping moments. I had the fish a few feet from the net. It looked a nice fish, but then all fish are nice. I eventually pulled a the fish over the net. It's mine" I shouted to know one in particular. It felt heavy in the net. Out with the scales and weigh net which were then zeroed The needle went round to 10-12-0. I punched the air saying "Yes" My fifteenth double since I caught my first one in March 2003. I called Mike to ask him if he could bring my Nikon Digital S.L.R and Speedlight. "What have you got" he asked "A low double" I answered. I then said "Have you caught" he said "Yes five barbel lost three and one chub." Fifteen minute Mike arrived having risked life and limb walking the river bank in the dark. We weighed the fish again, then shot some pictures.Releasing the fish I said to Mike I need just one fish to make it ten today. I'm going to try the bridge swim After ten minutes I had a fish about six pounds. At ten o'clock it was time to call it a day.
We Were Full Of Expectations
Thursday we were full of expectation it was over cast very mild with a water temperature of 45 degrees F On the way to the river, we had stopped off at Waitrose for another pack of cocktail sausages. As I walked down river I stopped off at the chub swim, which I baited with some mashed bread then headed off further down river. My first swim was in an area of over hanging trees. Baiting with a sausage I rolled it down the swim, repeating it for a dozen times or more without success. Then my wife called, to say I was due to go into hospital the following week to have my two hernias done. I asked her to cancel saying tell them I am in the United States. I will be free after March 16th. As we chatted, I felt a pluck on the line. Striking I connected with a heavy fish. "Got to go" I said "I think I have a good barbel". I stuffed the phone back in my pocket. I then had to pull a heavy fish upstream against the fairly fast current. At first I thought it must be a big chub. Then I changed my mind to 'Its a big barbel' the way it was hugging the bottom. I slowly walked upstream pulling the fish . I find this will often work against a heavy fish. Suddenly it boiled on the surface. It looked like a good double. Slowly I continued to work it upstream. I then got my first look at the fish, then realised it was a pike. Eventually I got it in the net, it was hooked in the top lip. It weighed 12-8-0. Not a barbel, but I enjoyed the fun in catching it. An hour later Mike called "Are we going to have dinner? Yes" I said. Then I spotted a barbel between two bunches of water crowfoot. I chuck a sausage bait, which the fish grabbed straight away. As I was trying to net the fish Mike appeared. It was a fish about 8lbs We both said "What a lovely looking fish it was".
We cooked dinner then sat chatting and drinking tea. The fishing had been hard. Mike hadn't had a touch. I suppose an hour had passed when Mike said we better get back to fishing. The afternoon session was tough I had one pull just on dusk netting a barbel about 6lbs. We fished on until about 6-30pm when it was time to pack up and head off home. The three days had there, ups and downs, but we both agreed it had been a great three days fishing on the Wasing Estate fishery. With a temperature rise on the last day, why didn't the fish feed better? I can't answer that question, but that's what makes this great sport or pastime so good. One where we can really be like over grown boys with big boys toys have a lot of fun and meet some nice people. You never get a dull day at the waterside.Back home I had a good look at the weather charts with Arctic conditions forecast I feel the fish could sense what was coming and they decided to have a good feed on the Wednesday,our second day of fishing. I don't think I will be missing much while I am away at the Somerset New Jersey fly fishing show with Thomas and Thomas

Martin James Fishing