With all those reports of barbel from the Sussex Ouse I was tempted to give it a try and did, but unsuccessfully, for while more barbel than ever before were caught from that river in 1998, it still only amounted to a tiny fraction of what gets caught from those famous rivers: Kennet, Severn and Avon. In fact, what was captured from the Ouse in a year. The same numbers have been taken by a single angler in a day on the Severn.
Never the less, the barbel fishing on the Ouse is improving and maybe one day we will be able to fish the river and reasonably expect to catch one or two in a days fishing. At present, unless one is lucky, it could take several sessions before a single fish &aces the nets. I shall no doubt fish the river again for them, but for the most part when I go barbel fishing it will be to one of the rivers I have mentioned above, even though this means travelling some distance.
It is possible to fish the Severn on a day trip and in fact my first two visits to the water were on day trips, but really it is too far away to travel to and from and fish all in one day from where I live in East Sussex. However, it is well worth fishing on a two-day trip and my most recent visit to the water was with Tony Fuller on such a trip. In actual fact we travelled up one afternoon, stayed over two nights and fished two days. The first day was spent fishing a short day ticket stretch near the town of Bridgnorth where we landed eleven barbel and one chub. Tony caught seven barbel to 71b and I landed four to 61b l2oz plus a small chub. Tony fished a swim where the deeper water suddenly shelved up to a shallow stretch heaving with streamer weed while I fished the next swim downstream which was a fairly fast shallow stretch.
Luncheon meat proved to be the successful bait recommended by the guy in the local tackle shop who suggested we fish it down the edge. It wasn't so much down the edge where we hooked the fish, but more in the centre to quarter the way across after casting over towards the far bank and allowing the current to roll the bait around. Sometimes the fish took as it was moving and other times after it had been stationary for five, or ten minutes. Rarely did we get a bite if we left the bait to fish itself. The river was running high and rising after heavy rain and was carrying some colour which is ideal for luncheon meat fishing for barbel, but it's the kiss of death for chub which is why we only caught the one. When the river is low and clear maggots can work well, but it is usually necessary to feed them in all the time and generally it takes at least half a gallon. By the end of that first day there was so much rubbish coming down the river that the rod tip was pulled around every cast by streamer weed and we decided to look for a different stretch the next day. We even thought that the river would be too flooded to fish.
However, when it actually arrived we were assured by the locals that we would still catch even though, it was now 4ft above normal level. But, by moving to a different stretch upstream we found that the rubbish problem didn't exist and we started to catch straight away. Again, we fished rolled luncheon meat and caught a dozen fish each; very few below 5lb and nothing above 71b.
Conditions over those two days, we found out later, were perfect, which is why we landed a total of 35 barbel between us. Unfortunately, we didn't catch any of the really big fish, but Tony hooked what was probably a double figured fish which he played for some time and couldn't get it off the bottom, before the hook pulled. I also hooked two fish which I thought were bigger than anything we had landed, but one proved to be another five pounder foul hooked in the anal fin and the other was almost certainly a very large bream which got off on a small shrub that formed an island in the flood water.
During the year I also made several trips to the Kennet, where the fishing was much more difficult and in fact got harder as the year progressed. My son Andrew stared fishing it before me and during the early season had had good sport with both chub and barbel, but as the weeks passed, catches started to drop off and, although he never experienced a blank, there were days when he only caught chub, or just one barbel. In fact, I experienced much the same and did have one blank and was only saved another by a 21b 40z perch.
The Kennet is not so heavily populated with barbel as the Severn and doesn't flow as fast. Like some stretches of the Severn it gets heavily fished, but because it is smaller it takes longer to recover. The fish soon become wary of bait, which is why it fishes well early season after it has been given a rest during the close season. There are probably areas where this doesn't apply, but Andrew and I were fishing a popular day ticket stretch which is heavily fished even mid week. From what I could make out after speaking to and watching other anglers, was that 90% of them were fishing with luncheon meat. Indeed, we had also been fishing mainly meat, but on our most recent trip it seemed that meat had well and truly blown. For the first couple of hours I decided to fish a side stream for chub and started off with meat on a size 4 hook with only a single swan shot to sink the bait I fished all the known spots where we had caught from before, but I only had one hittable bite and even then I was too slow. Previously Andrew had not only caught chub over 5Ib from this swim, but barbel as well.
It seemed a change of bait might be the answer so I baited the swim with a handful of sweetcorn and left it while I fished other swims, but with no success. I returned to the baited swim armed with corn and ten minutes after casting in watched the red tip flicker. This was followed 30 seconds later by a steady pull round, though it never went round more than three inches. I struck and was into my first fish, which proved to be a chub of 31b 12oz.
There were no more bites in that swim and I eventually moved onto the main river where Andrew had caught a barbel of 7lb 120z on sweetcorn. He was having to cast to the far bank in to a deep run under some overhanging trees and bushes. The problem was there was so much weed coming down the river it was catching on the line every few minutes giving a false bite and dragging the bait away from where he wanted it. He solved the problem by dipping his rod tip under the water and waiting for the bait runner to go. A short while after this he was into another barbel weighing 7lb 8oz.
were several other anglers fishing the water and none of them had caught anything worthwhile. One angler fishing with maggots had landed a few small dace and another had caught a 12oz perch. Luncheon meat hadn't produced a single fish. Never the less, the best was still to come, the hour before darkness often produced a good fish and, although it looked as though luncheon meat had blown, we thought it worth a try at that time. In the meantime I moved off downstream to a swim where I had caught from before and started to feed swectcorn, but after an hour I hadn't received a bite. A change brought a response and after baiting my hook with a bunch of lobworrns the rod was nearly snatched from my hand. Fighting hard, as all barbel do, I thought the fish was bigger than it was, but when I finally netted and weighed it, it went 7lb 10oz.
That was the only bite I had on worms and for some reason I couldn't get any more bites on sweetcorn either. As planned I changed to luncheon meat as the light started to fade, but they weren't having that either, though several times I felt a fish pick the bait up, but reject it again before I could strike. They could have been chub, but I do not think so somehow. When I could no longer see my rod tip, I packed in and went off to find Andrew who caught another 71b plus barbel on sweetcorn as he was packing up. He had also tried luncheon meat, but experienced the same as I, he could feel barbel picking the bait up only to reject it immediately. The fishery was deserted by the time we packed in, in fact all the other anglers had left an hour before dark and as far as I could tell hadn't caught any more fish. By being a little more versatile in our approach we had made what was a bad day into a reasonable one and landed four barbel and a chub between us.
Clearly the barbel were still interested in the meat, but for some reason were not willing to take it properly and I believe it was because they had been hooked on it before. Perhaps flavoured meat would have brought a response, but we didn't have any and were forced to try other baits.