Third Time Lucky

Third Time Lucky

Alan Towers

Last season I was fortunate to have a session where the river was low and so clear that it was possible to observe the behaviour of the fish and their reaction to bait. We all like to speculate what happens when we bait swims and try to interpret any bites or knocks we get but nothing quite compares to actually watching the fish.

The day was chosen to coincide with a mate having a day off and so I took him to the Dove as my guest. It was early October and the high pressure was still with us, the weather being very settled over the previous week with very little rain. We arrived at the river at about eleven thirty after having stopped for breakfast at a local café. The river still seemed at normal summer level though it did have a tinge of colour. We stopped at a favourite swim and it wasn’t long before with the aid of the Polaroid’s we spotted two or three barbel. I left Ian to his own devices and moved off down river to another swim where it is sometimes possible to spot fish. The swim in question is basically a depression in the riverbed no more than a few inches deeper than the surrounding but with a nice gravel bottom. Fish move here from under an adjacent willow where they live before patrolling along the nearside of the bank before drifting out to mid river dropping back and starting again. As I crawled forward to the edge of the overhanging bank, the river being low was approx five feet below me. There were no fish showing at the moment so I introduced a couple of handfuls of mini salmon pellets just upstream so they would drift down and settle in the dip. Chub as per usual appeared as if by magic and quickly started hoovering pellets there were about ten of them going mad.

I quickly introduced some more; they disappeared momentarily then reappeared just as hungry. After a few more minutes observing the chub, I added some more pellets. Two barbel appeared at the tail of the swim, both were about eight pounds and they seemed rather nervous at first but then started actively searching out the pellets. I kept introducing more pellets; the fish were not bothered by this at all and were joined by a smaller barbel of about five pounds. As soon as I introduced anything heavier than a mini pellet the fish would scatter in all directions, re-introducing mini pellets soon had them back again.

I noticed that the chub were feeding everywhere and anywhere but the barbel fed on the same line EVERY time churning up the silt and turning over pebbles as they searched for the mini pellets. Over the next couple of hours, I gradually introduced different baits and watched the reaction of the barbel and the chub, all the time keeping the minis going in. The baits I introduced were 11mm halibut pellets, 10 mm Trigga boillies, and some small balls of home made paste. The reaction to the baits was interesting, the chub instantly gobbled up the halibut pellets wherever they were, the boillies were sucked in then spat out before being picked up by another fish or the same one! The paste fared the same. The force at which the boillies were ejected surprised me, they were eventually eaten but only when the halibut pellets had gone. The barbel on the other hand were totally different. They continued to seek out the mini pellets on a straight line of attack, ignoring other baits that were adjacent to them. If a bait was on the line they were traveling, then they picked it up and ate it. That was the same for the halibut pellet, boilies or paste but they did not want to forage away from their particular line, baits close by were completely ignored.

By this time I was champing at the bit to try and catch one of the barbel. The usual way to fish this swim is from slightly further along with a light ledger just flicked out and allowed to roll into the depression. However I quickly decided that with about ten chub and three barbel in the swim, the odds were stacked against me catching a barbel so I decided to fish from where I was, right over the top lying on my belly. I tackled up away from the swim placing a small ½ oz bomb on a link stopped about four foot from a size ten Drennan, a small split shot was placed about six inches from the hook just to help keep the line flat. The idea being to lower the weight down vertically down the bank and allow the four foot tail to swing down into the depression, this would also keep the main line close to the bank away from the fish.

I banded two 11mm halibut pellets back to back on the hook hopefully to try and deter the chub. A few pellets were thrown in to disperse the fish while I positioned the hook bait and more mini pellets and the trap was set. The chub were back in no time, I could clearly see my hook bait as one of them homed in on it. I twitched the line which put it off. The bait was right on the barbel’s line of feed and within a minute or so the lead fish of 8lb was hoovering up minis. It was right over the hook bait now, there were silt trails being made as the fish dug after the pellets and although I couldn’t see the hook bait, I just knew the fish would take it. The fish suddenly shot off to the right towards open water practically followed by my rod.

Picture this, I am lay on my side with a rod that was practically bent double with a barbel doing its best to now get under the downstream willow. By now I am on my knees exerting maximum pressure then bang, the line had parted. On examination it looked like it had gone in the vicinity of the shot. I was well gutted.

I introduced some more minis, tied a new hook on away from the swim and went for a walk for ten minutes. On my return all the fish except that barbel were quite happily feeding, a smaller barbel of about 6lb had joined the party. So the same approach as previous, bait was one halibut pellet this time. I had to twitch the bait away from chub a couple of times but it did not frighten the barbel who were still foraging away making clouds of silt lift up from the bottom.

One chub then beat me to it and sucked in the bait and turned away. I deliberately did not strike but watched as the line tightened and the tip pulled over. It was at this point the chub must have realised all was not well and suddenly stopped in mid water and proceeded to shake its head before ejecting the bait. This in turn was picked up by another chub which did exactly the same thing. It could be one explanation for those little taps we all experience while fishing. I just lay on the floor watching them do this as long as I didn’t strike they could quite easily eject the bait.

I repositioned the bait on the barbel line and waited for them to drift back, again it was the other 8lb fish that was over the bait and suddenly turned away quickly followed by my rod. I heaved into the fish and almost immediately the rod sprung back. I had somehow failed to get a hook hold. I threw the rod back over my shoulder and stomped off cursing myself, two chances and two failures, they couldn’t possibly come back for a third time could they . . . . .

On my return I tied a new hook on and rebaited with more minis and a few hook bait samples again. Within about five minutes the chub were back in force seemingly as hungry as ever. How much easier barbel fishing would be without these buggers scoffing all the bait! A different barbel entered the swim, cautiously at first; this fish looked a certain 10lb, the biggest fish I had seen in that stretch. It was flanked by two smaller fish of about 5lb each. As quickly as they appeared, they disappeared to be replaced by two more barbel of about 7lb each at the tail of the swim just picking up odd pellets as they drifted along. I had positioned my hook bait (the single halibut pellet on the feeding line used by the previous barbel), th
ese two at the rear of the swim slowly started to feed and move onto the bait trail. My hook bait was then picked up by yet another chub who thankfully ejected it again, with the bait coming to rest on a stone directly on the feeding line of the barbel. The lead fish was very close now right over the stone then, wham! It turned and shot off. I am lay on my side exerting as much side strain as I can while I try to get up on my knees, this time there are no mistakes and I quickly had the fish under control. I had my net extended to its maximum to enable me to net the fish, which I quickly did before using both hands to haul it up and onto the bank.

The fish weighed 7lb 2oz but that’s immaterial really. It was now five O’clock I had been feeding and observing those fish all afternoon but it was one of the most enjoyable and satisfying sessions that I have ever had and it really was third time lucky for me.

Alan Towers

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