It is interesting to read a book entitled 'Quest for barbel' first penned in the early nineties,and note that , a double figure barbel was a special fish indeed.There is a whole chapter devoted to the capture of such a fish.
Nowadays of course, things are a bit different.Those Hampshire fisheries have somewhat lost their exclusivity,and barbel seem to be flourishing in many of our river systems.A ten pound fish, despite still being spectacular in my eyes, doesn't even get a mention in the angling press.There are even huge fish caught my local river, the tidal Arun- a more unlikely haunt of barbel in the traditional sense, you'd be hard pressed to find, though I understand it may take a season of trying to winkle one out....if you're lucky.(Postscript-I've just found out that an 18lb barbel has been caught at Watersfield)
In 1982/83..I'm not entirely sure which,I walked out of a tackle shop in Norbury,South London armed with the Information I needed to catch my first barbel .The proprietor had told me all,the exact swim location,method to use, bait etc.From memory, I just turned up at the Walton-on- Thames swim and nabbed one of about 6lb, simple.....and that was the last time I caught a barbel by design.
I did once,I think, catch a tiny one on an occasional visit to a 'commercial' in my doldrum years.Quite who's bright idea it was to put such a noble river dweller in a 'puddle' is beyond me.And...a couple of years ago whilst on holiday in The Mayenne river region of France, one happened to attach itself to my sweetcorn bait Intended for bream and carp-a rather tatty example of about a pound, if I remember rightly, though at least it came from a suitable aquatic environment.
Piking buddy Dave and me have had a couple of unproductive sessions on the Royalty fishery in recent years, but neither of us were particularly keen on the place,despite it's heritage.Too busy.
A brief fling trying to extract one from the Rother one past winter using home made garlic meatballs as bait, only amounted to a few eels , although Jan caught a nice chub on Christmas day.So..........,it was high time I tangled with another barbel..........and Dave agreed.
Now Dave Is a man of means. And, using the funds he raises(policeman's salary) by catching the country's villains to good effect, he has secured a very limited season ticket to fish the River Kennet on The Wasing Estate in Berkshire.Not cheap I can tell you.Being a good mate, he asked me along on a guest ticket,as long as I did the driving.Not a problem.
We headed for a stretch near the village of Brimpton and on walking the beat, my first Impression of this stunningly beautiful, Mr. Crabtree type river,was that it was devoid of fish.It was that clear and shallow. How wrong could I have been. It was just that my eyes were tuned for spotting mullet,not barbel .
Weather conditions were 'classic coarse fishing'- a mild, cloudy day with relatively low light levels and a gentle breeze, and more importantly,we had the whole stretch to ourselves.
Our first likely spots were mere yards from the van, mine underneath a red berry bush( I've never been good with plant life), and Dave's close to a bridge with an overhanging tree that was later to reveal hidden jewels.
Tactics were plain running leger on standard mullet feeder rod and reel,8lb main straight through to a barbless size 4 loaded with a cube of luncheon meat.
First bite came to me around mid morning but, it wasn't so much a 'bite' as whatever was on the other end tried to 'yank' the rod clear from the rest.No problems hooking these bad boys.The battle was, to be honest, a little disappointing and the fish came to Dave's waiting net 'relatively' easily, but the result was a stunner.My first barbel by design for 27 years and a fish of 8lb.. what a result.
It was only when releasing the fish that I noticed how flat bellied, and 'pear shaped' in cross section barbel are.Obviously, these beautiful fish are streamlined to hold position, hugging the river bed, in strong currents.I didn't spot it at the time, but my fish looks a bit 'hump backed' in the picture, and a bit lean in the hind quarters which may account for the rather lack lustre fight.
We continued up the river for the remainder of the morning and early afternoon fishing all the likely looking spots, but were troubled by no more fish until we reached a mill pool at the extent of the beat.Here Dave had small chub and perch on worms and I played with some equally diminutive dace on float fished bread flake.
Following a hearty bacon and sausage roll back at the van for lunch, we gave the pool another hour , then returned to our original swims with the Intention of feeding them up with hemp and pellet, and fishing Into the darkness- the recommended ' banker' time.This is when things started to get interesting again.
Dave had spotted a fish in his 'tree' swim, and I decided to sneak up to the bridge and take a proper gander.It took some minutes to get my eyes 'sorted', but after a while the fish appeared as If by magic.A dark shape barely visible,hovering over the river bed,cruising in a circling motion, one moment in the open river, the next, tucking itself away back under the overhanging tree- the whole movement covering an area about ten yards long,with an occasional delayed stop a yard or so further upstream, settling for a few seconds behind an obvious depression marked by a light grey stone.
It soon became apparent to me,that there wasn't just one fish, but several under that tree, seemingly taking it in turns to head out and 'patrol' the swim and following a regular path with each sortie.I estimated that there were maybe four fish in the group, but we later learned from a visiting regular, that there may have been as many as ten or more hidden there, waiting for the light to go and the signal to begin to feed.
What a sight for sore eyes.
Having allowed plenty of time for the two swims to settle, we resumed fishing again in the early evening and I think there was an air of expectation,if not tension, coming from Dave's locale.He would catch one of those barbel.
It took about an hour and just before dusk.The first I knew about it was the ratchet scream on Dave's Kingpin and glancing at the bend in his rod, I sensed that he might be 'in'.The fight was far more exciting than my fish, and a real treat for me visually watching the whole thing unfold in the clear water. I think we were both relieved when the fish finally slid into the net and it turned out to be another cracker at 8-10.Dave's first barbel for ten years.We'd both scored..... perfect.
Yet, the show was not yet over.Soon the river was shrouded In near complete darkness,the moon masked completely by thick cloud cover. Numerous fluttering bats gorged themselves on flying insects, using their devastatingly efficient radar to good effect,scampering rodents rustled along the bankside vegetation, and a shrieking owl somewhere in the nearby woodland defined the boundaries of it's territory through its haunting call.I'd forgotten just how atmospheric night time coarse fishing could be..especially on a river.The sense of expectation within me again began to build.Was another on the cards, I wondered.
I couldn't even see the white of my quivertip but, that was Irrelevant,as before long, once again the rod attempted to leap out of it's rests , I Immediately struck into something solid and, for a split second,the fish was Immobile.Then all hell let loose.Even with our headlights on, flooding the river with unnatural light, the job of subduing the fish was tricky, as it just went wherever it wanted to go and I struggled to detect whether it was to the right, or left of me.A much better fight this time not perhaps, as fast as a mullet, but strong and determined.
Both Dave and I commented that it would be a awkward operation to land one of these solo at night and once again,I experienced true relief when the fish finally slid into the net.I think we both thought it would creep into double figures but it turned out to be just six ounces short of the magic mark.Who am I to be fussy- it was still ,by my standards, a great capture, fantastic looking and In pristine condition. .
I managed to slide down the bank and stand in the shallows to return the fish which rather than shoot off back into the main river, decided amusingly,to skulk a yard or two from my boots for a couple of minutes,hidden in an undercut with just it tail visible in my headlight beam.
We called it a day at around 9-45 and arrived home just before midnight-a great introduction to the delights of The Kennet, and Its barbel.