By Geoff Dace
Over the years, several people have written articles in the Barbel Catchers Club magazine ‘Barbus’, concerning the part that luck plays in angling. Some believe that they catch the fish by angling skill and sheer hard work, while others think that luck plays an important part in their success. I definitely subscribe to the second school of thought. In fact, when I look back on the few specimen fish of the different species that I have caught, I feel that there was an element of luck attached in the capture of most of them and this makes them even more memorable. On the other hand there have been occasions when I believe that failure can be fairly put down to bad luck.
For much of last season, I felt that the luck was going against me. I was catching a reasonable number of barbel, but it was well in to September before I caught one over 8lbs.
Things finally came right during a Midcot fish-in on the Lower Severn on November 6th. I arrived at around 11 a.m., accompanied by my mate Pat, to find the river had risen a couple of feet over night to a level of around six feet above normal and was heavily coloured. I found that several members of the North West region were already there, former barbel record holder Howard Maddocks, Steve Kimpton and Brian Ridley. Howard had just caught a barbel of 8.07. It looked promising.
Pat and myself had been concentrating our efforts on two swims for the latter part of the previous season and on a few occasions this season. These swims had regularly produced barbel during the 1998-99 season and I had taken a few during the present campaign. We decided to stick to these swims, fish flavoured meat without putting any other bait in the swim.
Although the river looked spot on, there were huge quantities of leaves coming down and fishing was difficult. I opted for a hook length of about five feet and two fairly large pieces of meat on a No.2 hook. I started with a one-ounce lead, later changing to a three ounce in order to keep the bait in position. The rest of the Midcot lads were all fishing by mid-afternoon and as nothing was happening anywhere, I saw no point in moving. Following the overnight rise, the river level had remained steady during the day.
As dusk approached, I had two slices of luck. While clearing a pile of leaves from around the lead, the hooklength broke in my hands. It had obviously been weakened due to the continuous build-up of debris on the lead and swivel. I changed to a new hooklength, which I would not have done in normal circumstances. I shall always remember to regularly check my line when fishing in such conditions in the future. I then saw a fish roll on the inside about twenty yards downstream from where I was fishing. I could not say if the fish was a barbel and more in hope than expectation, I cast to the spot and left the bait there for the best part of an hour. At 6.15 p.m., the tip went round very slowly and just kept going. Although half expecting the ‘bite’ to be from a log, I struck in my usual Lower Severn fashion, which is to leap from my chair and hit it as hard as I possibly can.
It was a log alright, but it was swimming steadily towards the middle of the river. After a few minutes, the fish came to the surface in front of me and I saw a long white belly. I had not put on my head torch and although I could see that the fish was almost certainly a double, it was not until after I had netted it, put the net on the grass and opened the mesh that I realised how big it was. I quickly weighed the fish and immediately guessed it was the same one that fellow Midcot member John Costello had caught at the end of September. I had been shouting Pat for what seemed like an age before he appeared. After allowing the barbel time to recover in the landing net, Pat weighed it at 13.06 and took several photographs. The flash from the camera soon drew several of the other lads who were quick to offer their congratulations. John Costello confirmed that it was the same fish that he had caught and that he had taken it from roughly where Pat was fishing. Pat was really chuffed on hearing this news! I held the fish in the landing net for several minutes, before we watched it swim away. My regular fishing companion and ‘Barbus’ editor Stuart Wortley had gone to fish some way downstream and in all the excitement I had forgotten to ring him on his mobile, so I later apologised to him as he was the only one not to see the fish.
Geoff Dace with his barbel of 13lb 6oz
My next visit to the Severn was on Thursday November 25th. This was the day when the luck came in bundles. I had booked a day off work and was undecided whether to fish the Middle Severn, Lower Severn or Teme. As we planned to fish either the Lower Severn or the Teme on the Saturday and as I had a few places to visit before I set out, I made a last minute decision to try the Middle Severn, planning to fish until about 6 p.m. to let the rush hour traffic clear before returning home.
For the most part, the Middle Severn had been fishing poorly all season and I had not been there for well over two months. The previous two days had been mild with some rain on the Wednesday. This followed a cold spell of weather. The weather report gave a temperature of 7.4oC, a rise of 1.3 on the previous day’s reading, with the level steady at a few inches above normal. I called in at the tackle shop in Bridgnorth for some maggots and decided to fish a stretch which involves only a short walk to the river. I had fished this stretch seven times earlier in the season for just fourteen barbel, with the biggest only 6.04.
On arrival, I was a bit surprised to find the river carrying a nice tinge of colour from the previous days rain. The swim I was hoping to fish was already occupied by the only two anglers on the stretch. I don’t really know why, but something told me to fish a swim which I had tried a couple of times earlier in the season without so much as a bite.
I droppered in some maggots and began fishing on feedered maggots at 11.40 am, concentrating my feed just off a downstream bush. After an hour or so, I was surprised to see a chap called Phil turn up. I have fished with Phil (who is my mate Pat’s uncle) on a number of occasions and he dropped in a couple of swims above me. At about the same time, another angler I knew also arrived and went upstream. With no sign of a bite, I changed to flavoured meat at 1.15 p.m. Still biteless at 3 p.m., I droppered in a mixture of hemp, partiblend and maggots and went for a chat with the new arrival. He had caught two small barbel on meat and added another while we chatted. After half an hour, I returned to my swim and continued fishing on meat. With no bites forthcoming, I spent half an hour or so casting around but nothing was happening. Phil was also biteless.
At about 4.45 p.m., just as the light was beginning to fade, I recast to the baited area off the bush. After a couple of minutes, there was a slow comfortable pull on the tip and I struck into what was obviously a big barbel. After a determined fight, with the fish hugging the bottom, it eventually surfaced and I could see it was a good double. The barbel then made another plunge for freedom, and there followed a further anxious couple of minute
s before it was ready for netting. Panic then started to set in, as I first got the net stuck on the wooden staging built for the match anglers and then the net doubled over. I eventually got half of the barbel into the doubled up net, which I then grabbed and managed to manhandle the rest of the fish into it. When I finally sorted things out, I saw the barbel had a tremendous girth and I shouted to Phil that I had caught a monster.
Phil came and took a number of photographs, as did the other chap, who happened to be leaving the river at the time (some hope of keeping the location secret!). We weighed the fish at 13.04 • unbelievable. Before releasing it, we left the barbel to recover in the water between the bank and the wooden staging. It looked absolutely enormous.
And another barbel of 13lb 4oz
I carried on fishing in a daze until 6 p.m. without any more bites. The more I thought about it, the more a feeling of utter disbelief set in. In two trips to the Severn, one bite from the lower river and one bite from the middle had produced two thirteen’s. I would not care to venture a guess at the odds against this being done. How lucky can you get?
However, some of you may remember the quote from Gary Player, when following a win in a Major Golf Tournament, a reporter asked him if he thought he had been lucky. "Yes"-said Gary. "It’s amazing, the more I practise the luckier I get." Perhaps it’s the same with our barbel fishing. The more we fish, the luckier we get.
Just when Geoff thought he had used up his quota of luck, he went to another fish-in on the Bristol Avon earlier this season organised by the Wessex region. After wading through chub, perch, eels and bream to 6 ½ lb, he had another barbel of 13-4!
If you'd like to find out a bit more about The Barbel Catchers Club, please click here.