Fancy having a go for barbel on a river that’s running lower and clearer than ever, with temperatures that have dropped like a stone in under a week and a freezing northwesterly wind?
Wye not! (See what I did there?)
Organised a few months ago, John McGough and myself were invited up to Herefordshire to enjoy some barbel fishing on a simply stunning and usually prolific stretch of the River Wye.
Arriving the afternoon before, we were welcomed and shown around by our host Graham (an excellent angler and great guy) This ‘inside’ information ultimately proved vital as the conditions were to be very challenging!
John and myself needed some quality time to ‘consider’ all of Graham’s expert insight ahead of the 8.15am draw for swims. So we decided to partake in a conference (supported by several pints of local beer) and take in some of the sights (Albeit through masked faces) of the local town. With bars shutting at 10pm (sigh) the plan was made swiftly and with surprisingly clear heads we returned to the hotel to rest before two days fishing.
The temperature dropped further overnight, and when we opened the gates ahead of the draw we were met with a dusting of frost across the whole fishery. It certainly painted a beautiful picture but also added a further mark in the ‘not ideal conditions’ column
John pulled out a low number and headed to his first choice swim, I drew 9 (out of ten) but still found a beautiful spot that looked perfect for a fish or two! The day, predictably, was very tricky, one with next to no chances for all of the anglers on the stretch.
John however was off to a quick start, with two Wye barbel under his belt in the first couple of hours. A mixture of Graham’s expert local knowledge, John’s continuing form from the Hampshire Avon and the Trent and of course our strategy meeting the evening before saw him catch where the brutal conditions scuppered the chances of some very capable anglers!
As the day drifted towards sunset and the curry house called, John managed to entice two more barbel to his net before we called time on the day. An incredible result especially in the face of such bleak conditions.
After packing up from fishing at 7.15pm we almost eclipsed John’s remarkable angling efforts by completing an evening of cobra beer, curry, scampi ‘n’ chips and wine by 9.45pm! It was a great evening nevertheless, a great mixture of lads, some brilliant stories as always with anglers and finally getting to meet some ‘social media pals’! As the night drew to a close it seemed most of the lads had plans to fish the faster shallower water at the top of the stretch to hopefully change their fortunes.
John and I were hopeful the change and drop in wind would gently lift the temperature and defibrillate the bottom end of the stretch! This is where most of the bait has gone in the day before so I was hopefully with so few catches this ‘free meal’ would spike appetite and the barbel would get their heads down!
We were the first on the stretch in the morning and although there was frost on the ground it felt milder. The lads had travelled to the faster shallower water as they planned and with no draw I managed to grab the top swim vacated by John the day before.
I was super confident as I tied fresh rigs and made 4 PVA bags, this however was a false dawn!! The day before involved a cast of around 55yrds into the wind toward the far bank, with the rig landing tight behind a small bush. Today’s cast was at least 10yrds shorter and wind assisted, but also needed to be punched under some overhanging tree limbs to an undercut ‘bay’.
With the previous days cast still in my muscle memory my first cast clattered high into the trees. Hook link ruined and line damaged I had to start again! Second cast predictably landed short. But the 3rd cast was absolutely perfect, I literally couldn’t have dropped it in there by hand any better. I soon found my rhythm, dropping bag after bag on the spot.
With 6 casts completed, I knew there was a good bed of loose feed and a perfectly placed hook bait tucked tight under the snags. I sat back satisfied that despite the conditions I had done everything I could to level the playing field. It was easy to just sit in the sunshine out of the wind and admire the surroundings, the scenery was breathtaking!
And mother nature had decided to pull out the big guns and put on a full private show for me too, with a pair of kingfishers busily fishing, buzzards gliding high above the fields and even a peregrine falcon making a speedy quest appearance!
The stretches’ resident swans glided gracefully up and down looking to be fed, one in particular sat with me for most of the day. However, it was this bird watching that proved to be an extreme sport. As admiring a swan as it began it’s take off 80 yards downstream from me was to be my downfall! Instead of thinking about my high rod tip, I sat back and watched, blissfully unaware that the swans flight path was on a direct collision course with my line.
In mid flight She crashed into the line pulling my rod out of its rest sending my clutch into meltdown. She landed 50 yards upstream and although more pigeon like in her gracefulness, she fortunately was not tangled or harmed. She soon regained her composure and after a few second of pruning her elegance was restored
I reeled in and checked everything over, luckily a quick rig change was all that was needed as the hook point has turned in all the excitement. After a quick refocus I recast and again the rig landed absolutely perfectly, I set the rod and decided it was time to fire up the kettle to have a well deserved brew, some biscuits and a cherry bakewell! The kettle had barely had time to boil when my fortune changed!
After a previous day of motionless tips, having a full blooded take that almost pulled the rod into the river was just what the doctor ordered! An incredible scrap from a muscular fish resulted in my first River Wye barbel! An absolute stunner too!
What a result, with some beautiful photos taken, I carefully returned her to the calm crystal clear water, she majestically swam over the rocks into the flow. I took a moment to soak it all in and to be honest thought with the conditions being so difficult this might be it for me for the day.
I re-fired the kettle up and while the water simmered to a boil I punched three casts loaded with bags back under the snag. The forth cast again landed beautifully, fishing a boilie wrapped in paste allowed me more time between casts to enjoy mother nature’s show (Trimmed Pellets demanded a far more frequent routine to keep things presented perfectly and I didn't want to miss the show)
Unbelievably it didn’t take too long before another ferocious take had me frantically searching for a flat rock to put my coffee and biscuits down before grabbing the cork handle of the rod before it was dragged in!
This fish put up just as strong a fight. Even in the shallow crystal clear water it took a good 5 or 6 minutes before she showed herself.
Just as the last fish had done, as she approached the boulder covered ricer bed of the near bank, she dived and forced the clutch scream into action more than once. The strength of these Wye Barbel is staggering. It took a full ten minutes before her golden flank glided across the surface in the sunlight into my waiting net.
As the day went by I was lucky enough to entice three more barbel to my net using the same tactics. A steady flow of bags, accurately presented under the far bank snag was the key. A size 12 hook with a foot and a half hook link, and mixture of wrapped boilies and trimmed pellets was the combination that proved irresistible.
John managed to add another barbel to his already impressive tally late on. Which resulted in both of us finishing the trip on 5 beautiful Wye Barbel each!
What a couple of days, fishing is not just about catching fish, for me it’s about making memories. The location, scenery, wildlife, great company and a curry were all the tasty ingredients needed to leave a flavour that will long last in my memory
A huge thank you to our host for the two days Graham and our small (socially distanced) merry band of fellow anglers who’s company really make the trip a special one.