Thursday, 15 February 2018

Imperfect Conditions - Beggars can't be choosers

With life keeping me busy, it'd somehow been nearly 3 months since I'd managed to get out on the river.  With a new rod in the quiver and conditions improving week on week, I was all but foaming at the mouth to get out fishing.  A spike in river 24hrs previously had started to fall, so I felt pretty confident when booking a ticket on the Whitehouse beat of the River Wye through the Wye & Usk Foundation.  

I'd planned to get out early to catch sunrise on the river, but a bad night's sleep and a warm bed had conspired against me.  Still, a warm pink sky silhouetted by the Malvern Hills wasn't the worst view in the world as I journeyed the hour south to How Capel.

 I'd been hoping to fish this beat in winter for a while, having caught plenty of long lean 8lb barbel throughout the summer.  I couldn't help but feel that at a different time of year, many of these fish could have nudged into that magical double figure that still eludes me.

The right fish at the wrong time -
lean summer barbel pile on the pounds over winter

Arriving on the bank, my heart sank.  Optimum conditions would have seen the Ross level gauge at 0.6 - 0.9m.  1.2m was only an extra foot on top, but I'd failed to account for Ross being far shallower in the first place.  A 50% increase from normal conditions was a lot of extra water indeed.  Heavy rain upstream in the night had also sent a second wave of floodwater, driving down the river temperature, and changing it's dynamic from slowly falling to rapidly rising to now double its normal levels.  A few speculative casts on arrival revealed that 4oz wouldn't hold even with a bow in the line, and that the water was loaded with debris.  The infrequent site of trees, sheep and even a motorbike wheel throughout the day all sought to confirm that today would need a marginal approach.

Influxes of cold water and a rapidly rising river
- put barbel off feeding
Given the scarcity of fishable bankside cover on this particular beat, I decided to adopt a 'bait and wait' approach in each of two pegs.  Both offered shelter behind bankside trees and a relatively deep margin.  I wasn't feeling overly confident and hoped an early barbel might banish the seeds of doubt.  Alas, the first peg failed to produce so much as a pluck on the rod-tip and at midday I moved on.  I took a gentler approach to feeding the second peg, with an initial ball of halibut'n'hemp groundbait, followed by pellets little and often.

Beat for the day - a high river loaded with debris
A couple of hours produced nothing, before the characteristic bounce of an angry chub shaking its head woke my rod tip from slumber.  A brassy flank flashed in the margins as I lifted into the fish and it took off into the flow.  For a moment I thought it may have been a barbel after all, but that initial run quickly turned bankward and headed doggedly for snag-ridden cover.  A lovely scrap on my new 11ft Torrix 1.75, light and sensitive in the tip but with more than enough beef to bully the chub from trouble.  The scales rounded to 4'3 and a personal best chub from this beat. 

Beggars can't be choosers -
Greedy chub will feed in even the worst conditions
With the greedy chub returned downstream and no further action from the swim, I decided to take a mobile approach for the last few hours.  I baited half a dozen likely looking swims before loading the car with all but the essentials.  Twenty minutes was given to each, but to no avail.
Wildlife spot of the day - Reed Bunting
I'd planned to fish an hour into darkness.  But as dusk approached, an ominous black cloud akin to the Nothing from the Never Ending Story appeared on the horizon behind me.  The ensuing snow blizzard descended as I got half way across the field and I just about managed to find my way to the car and away onto the main road before the snow would render my BMW entirely useless.

A hard day, but the new rod christened and a blank avoided.  It's always a pleasure to spend a day on the river and there's always something to learn.  Here's hoping those long fat barbel come on the feed in the last few weeks before the closed season...   

Thursday, 1 February 2018


I couldn’t write this blog without taking the opportunity to pay tribute to someone who would have taken immense pleasure in reading it, my late father-in-law John. I suspect he’d have rather heard about it – preferably over that nostalgic Birmingham delicacy ‘a pint of mild’. Even better if he could have been out on the bank with me. Those opportunities were too few, and I wish I’d taken more of them; to have shared a river bank, a beer, an anything really. John was one of those rare individuals whose huge smile and infectious full-throated laugh could light up a room. He’d an enthusiasm for just about anything, especially when it involved family.

John Dennis Bateman
John would fish with traditional tactics and seemingly to me artisan gear, always targeting a mixed bag - usually whilst I blanked trying to catch barbel on a clear sunny day. He had a calming influence on the bank. I’m fiercely competitive, and even when pleasure fishing can get a little bit lost in an eagerness to catch. Conversely, John was utterly content just to be out fishing, a generational thing perhaps. We millennial's have grown up with commercials and angling publications largely intent on promoting bagging up with your next 100lb. I’m trying to learn that calmness from John even now, to enjoy being immersed in the romance and nostalgia of angling rather than just the catching. It’s in part why I’ve started this blog.

John with his Personal Best fish - a 13 lb carp

I’ve a lot to thank you for John, not least your beautiful daughter – whose Teme barbel p.b. eclipses even our own. You’d be proud as punch, and I can just see you telling the gents down at the Landrover all about it with that great big bloody smile.



I wish I could tell you all about the next barbel capture, instead I’ll raise a glass. Whiskey’s a bit more portable than mild, and it’ll be a special occasion – a toast to the best father-in-law I could have wished for. Tight lines.