Top: The first barbel for a long, long time.
Bottom: The hair-rigged halibut pellet has become almost a cliche - chub fall for it every time, but it still fools the occasional barbel
After last week’s rant-inducing barbel expedition to the Teme, Barry R. Reef (it’s an alias) and I returned yesterday hoping to find the place deserted. The wind, rain and early start (I picked him up at 4 a.m.) saw to it that it was, apart from a solitary angler in the first swim on the stretch. Leaving my colleague to try a spot along the way, I continued upstream to where a favourite swim was calling.
I haven’t caught a barbel here for ages, but for some reason I felt sure I would catch. The conditions were perfect: slightly cooler than of late, overcast and unusually dark for the time of year, and the rain had lightened to a barely perceptible drizzle. Heavy rain in Wales the day before had seen to it that the river level was about six inches up on the previous week. Apart from the month being July, the hay bails awaiting collection in the fields, the head-high foliage lining the banks, the trees full of verdant foliage and the sand martens swooping up and down the water course – apart from all that - it felt like the river was flowing, perhaps via a time slip or some such, through a perfect autumnal barbelling day.
Determined not to compromise my chances in any way whatsoever, I tackled up in the middle of the field and approached my chosen spot with commando-like stealth. My over-caution backfired only slightly when, crawling on all fours down the steep bank, I was stung in the face by a bunch of springing stinging nettles – ouch.
Finally in position, I fed the intended line with hemp and some tiny halibut pellets. The hookbait was a 15mm halibut pellet – hair rigged. Although I say so myself my first cast was quite superb! It sailed on the intended trajectory through a narrow gap between the overhanging branches of a huge willow on the opposite bank and entered the water with the smallest splash it is possible for a 2oz lead to make. My bait was now barely a foot from the undercut beneath the willow, exactly where I wanted it.
Feeling a justifiable smugness about my cast I put the rod in the rest and wedged the butt under my arm while I furled a rollie and lit up. Smokers will be familiar with the phenomenon of ‘first fag of the day spinout’. It was as this destabilising effect took hold (and bear in mind that my senses were already numbed by the after-effects of popping out for ‘a pint’ the evening before) that the rod was wrenched violently around and I became all too suddenly aware that I had become connected to an agitated barbel.
I managed, while avoiding slipping down the mud chute that constituted the remaining bank between where I had concealed myself behind a large sprouting of foliage and the river, to scramble to my feet and bring the fish under control. I use the term loosely, as it was using every trick in the book to avoid coming to the net and was proving to be a bit of a handful. First, it careered off down stream before hunkering down on the bottom, midstream, in the fastest part of the flow. Next, having given that up as a bad job, it came back towards me and continued upstream, heading unerringly in the direction of a sunken fallen willow. I was able to apply enough side strain to stop it, however, and it came eventually to the net where, as so often happens with the barbel I catch, I was staggered by the relatively small size of the fish considering the violence of the fight. I didn’t weigh it, but I reckon it was about six and a half.
Neither of us had any more barbel during the day. I caught a chub of four pounds a little later on before going off to have another crack at grayling on the fly. I don’t know I managed it but I missed about 20 takes. I was happy, though, to have finally banked a barbel after so many blanks.