Its Not All Wine And Sixty Pounders…
If you are reading this in the hope of discovering a shortcut to success on the French river scene than I am sorry to disappoint you, I am a long way from unlocking the mysteries but I may be able to help guide you around some of the obstacles that have so far barred my way.
You may, like me, have trawled the web looking for articles that shed some light on the subject and you may also have come away frustrated at the difficulty in finding useful information. But surely that is exactly why we have chosen to fish the great rivers of France, they are one of the few unknowns in carp fishing and any fish caught is worth ten, no a hundred ‘named’ fish from a lake where most of the specimens will bear the scars of previous captures. When I travel abroad it is for a new experience and that is why I avoid still waters.
The first decision is location and that is entirely down to how far you are prepared to travel, generally speaking the further south you travel the better the weather but fishing in extreme heat can be more difficult than facing a little rain. The record river carp in France of over 81lb was taken from the Yonne south of Paris so that may tempt you there but before you visit any river over there try to do a little homework. The grapevine of information in the UK will give you some clues as to what to expect in as much as many of the rivers around the up and coming industry of holiday lakes and ‘Drive and Survive’ deals has put extreme pressure on the rivers. It would seem, so I have heard from numerous sources, that anglers have plundered the once bountiful rivers and removed many of the fish only for them to end up in their lakes. This behaviour has blighted carp angling at home and abroad for years and the French have now legislated for it with a mighty fine for those caught but, on my last trip earlier this year I heard of a lake I fished years ago that had suffered a total wipe out of its stocks because diseased fish had been introduced from the nearby river.
The upshot of this is that there are some areas that used to produce relatively easy fishing but nowadays are proving difficult due to the lack of fish. If you choose to fish where the reports of good catches in the past have been made then you may well go home disappointed. This then leads to my first tip to the would be river carper – don’t set your hopes too high. There are still plenty of fish and some absolute beasts in amongst them but the chances of that big fish taking your bait whilst you spend a relatively short time on the banks is, to say the least, slim. If a section of river has done a sixty pounder I suggest you aim for a thirty and take anything bigger as a bonus.
The rivers I’ve fished include the Yonne, Seine and Lot, I have struggled on all of them and my pain may help you reach success. First let’s look at the Seine where my homework said ‘big fish below Paris but slower sport, lot’s of fish above Paris with the odd lump thrown in’. What could be better? Three of us took a fortnight break and fished the lower Seine for most of the first week, we found a night fishing section (more of which later), and fished hard but were constantly being ‘done’ by enormous barges and we are talking in excess of 110yards long! When these monsters approached from upstream your bobbins would all drop to the ground when it was still over a hundred yards away such was the pressure wave of water ahead of it. How can you fish in that? Answer, not very well. We tried hard but were forced to move having not seen a carp between us, yes we caught chub, barbel and bream but they were not what we wanted.
The Yonne is similar in that the barges are a pain but we found a location that just screamed carp with islands, lilies and shelter. Whether we were too close to their spawning time ( when many of the fish migrate to lakes that are joined to the main river), or what I am not sure but again we blanked. The next stop was the Upper Seine and we found an area where the 350 yard wide river was dissected by long islands, this allowed us to avoid most of the boat traffic that went up the other side. A week later and despite a couple of small catfish and a plague of roach/bream hybrids that, at about five pounds each, gave screaming runs, still no carp. Two weeks between three of us, including I might add a well known and accomplished carper – no names We were all at our lowest as we packed, I put the last of my kit in the car and returned to the swim to say my goodbye’s to the others when, right over my bait rolled a big carp – sometimes you just can’t win.
The Lot was another heart breaker. I had done a lot of homework on this place and was told by one that had previously fished there of its potential and moods. The Lot is controlled by a series of weirs or barrages as they are locally known. When the river was broken up into a series of short sections controlled by the aforementioned weirs, it was stocked with a variety of species and some areas hold predominantly common carp whereas the one we were to target held mainly mirrors. Apparently the barrage on this section was opened every evening for an hour or two causing the current to go from placid to torrent and to cause the angler to wind in, take it steady and have his meal etc. This sounded quite civilized and I was ready for the trip. Well, information is only good if it’s accurate and yes, five years ago in those conditions at that time of year the barrage would indeed have been regular but, when I was there it was all over the place and the debris coming down with the flow had to be seen to be believed. On the first night I was woken by a buzzer telling me that a clump of weed weighing about fifty pounds had taken my distance rods out. I wound them in, had a leak around the back of the bivvy and had to jump to it when my nearside rod screamed off. The fight was not a classic but the size of the flank as the fish rolled into the net was satisfying and I had a river carp at 30.11, just the job. What could possibly go wrong now?
Two weeks later I was waiting for my next bite! My son had yet to register a fish and my other two mates had just one between them, alright, it was a 40.8 but I’m not jealous – much. My son and I had just a couple of days left so we decided to move to a small tributary I know as I thought it would give him a chance of changing his fortune. The other two, for some reason, moved into our swims and would you believe it, the next day it switched on and they had three fish between 15 and 21lbs from it. Tip two, if you travel with friends make sure that are true friends or they can end up off your Christmas card list come the end of a difficult session. Fortunately our move worked out and Neil got a fish and lost a lump that made him vow to return. I had loads of bites, all from mozzies and I was pickled in itchy red marks for days! Tip three – take mozzie repellent and buy anti-mozzie candles and burners in the local supermarket, they are a bloody nuisance. At one location we visited the hedgerow was brown with resting mozzies, the smell of fresh blood as we arrived caused a food frenzy and we were all bitten to death. One party member strolled up in his shorts and announced, “They never seem to bother me”, I told him to check out his legs where a dozen mosquito’s gorged on his blood. I wish I’d filmed the little dance he did back to his bivvy flicking insects off as he ran.
Of course, having visited a venue you are far better equipped on your return so this Spring Neil and I went back to the Lot where we would put right all that had gone wrong before. Wrong! We arrived after heavy rain in the mountains and the barrages throughout the river were all fully open. The river zoomed past and was full of trees and debris. Tip number four – have a plan B, or C or D even.
We had booked a chalet in a nearby campsite, it meant that we had a good fridge, a shower and somewhere dry in the event of a wash out. It seemed like a good idea and would have been except we were physically unable to fish seriously the venue of our choice. Deciding to remain near the chalet and its last vestige of civility in a wet environment, we headed for a nearby (one hour away) lake but again, found it to be completely unproductive due to the amount of snow melt entering it, driving the level up by four metres in a week. That was plan B gone for a burton. We had a night in a proper bed (after a good meal and copious red wine), then decided to ditch the chalet and we headed West for about a hundred and fifty miles to where the weather was still wet but considerably warmer.
I had a contact in this area (if you can find anybody local then bleed them for information, it is invaluable) and he put us on to a couple of likely waters. At the first, a hundred and fifty acre gravel pit, I had a thirty pounder after about forty five minutes but the conditions quickly changed, the wind veered around by 180 degrees and there was nowhere on that side of the lake left to fish. So, here’s another tip; check out the local Public Holidays because all of the shops will be shut and all of the fisheries will be busy.
Wanting to fish the rivers we moved again but the big rivers such as the Dordogne and the Gironde, are not fishable for weeks after heavy rain, we were back to square one. We went again to the tributary, a narrow, deep river that never runs fast. It looks like it would hold nothing but a few roach and bream but the potential is amazing, there are large pike, zander and plenty of carp that patrol the river in shoals, all you have to do is either find them or draw them to you.
Over the next few days we were visited by fish and, although we didn’t quite break the twenty pound barrier, we at least rescued the trip and recorded a few fish. Neil would have landed more but for a couple of unmoving snags in his swim and dodgy tackle. Who do you know that would be playing a carp in the middle of the night only to find that the handle had inexplicably broken off and he has no control over a hard fighting common. He tried in vane to hand-line the fish and had a cheese-wire cut on his finger to prove it. The very next bite some three hours later and – yes, he did it again. The second handle broke and he again tried to hand-line the fish (with his other hand) and again had a deep cut for his efforts. Two good fish lost and two reels out of action. We were only using two carp fishing rods each due to the tight swims we fished so I let him have one of mine and Neil used his beloved centre pin on the other but, there’s a lesson for us all – Tip 5, check your gear before you go and take spare everything.
That pretty much sums up the trials and tribulations of my pathetic attempts to catch a river monster but, it is a work in progress and I shall succeed. The little river we fished has produced commons to nearly fifty pounds and the thought of landing one of those from a narrow, snaggy river keeps me awake at night. I now have more experience and a few leads to more places to try so, one day I may write an account of a victory ….. one day.
For those of you that are thinking about giving it a go here are a few suggestions. The web site http://www.unpf.fr/ is a mine of information. I have downloaded a translator onto my Web Browser and it makes navigation around the site much easier than trying it with a French dictionary.
Do buy a license when you are fishing, at the time of writing it costs €30 or €35 for a carte de vacances (holiday license) which lasts a fortnight, €65 for an annual license for the area where you buy it or €85 for a licence that covers the vast majority of France should you decide to go more than once or to cross District boarders. France has a Garde de Peche or Fishing Police and they can be quite humourless when confronted with poachers, you have been warned.
Each district had allocated night fishing areas which are mostly shown on the above web page and on the pamphlet you will get when you buy your license. These areas are subject to change and have rules concerning your behaviour. Of course, if you are fishing where everybody else can night fish, you are chasing more pressured fish. The temptation to go ‘off piste’ as it were is very strong but rural France is very parochial and not much goes unnoticed by the locals which in turn will be passed to others. I don’t think that discrete and well behaved anglers are too much trouble but I still advise you to stick to the permitted venues and maybe go exploring during the day when fish can still be taken especially from unpressurised areas.
The French people, despite the stereotype portrayed by many, are friendly and helpful providing you are polite to them and at least make an attempt at the language. My French is awful but I splutter along with much arm waving and have been given loads of help, I can honestly say I have never been treated badly or rudely by a French person.
Tackle for France is whatever you have at home but with fresh line, sharp hooks and plenty of spares as buying quality gear is getting easier but is still a hassle trying to find a decent tackle shop. I spool up with 15lb line, anything that has a high abrasion resistance will do. Take a spare spool and preferably a spool or two of braid for marker float work, spodding or should conditions require a finer line such as heavy flow etc. I did make the mistake this year of only putting 150 yards of line on each spool. This is more than ample on a river but one of the lakes we were forced to try would have been better fished had I been able to get a bait out to extreme range with a boat, I shan’t make that mistake again.
I use Solar longshanks and Gardner Mugga hooks for the vast majority of my fishing with size 4 and 6 coping with most situations, I like to use a hook that will not tear as I am aiming for big fish that may need to be bullied away from snags.
Leads between the 1oz and 4oz will cope with most situations, flat pear leads with the bobbly edges will help keep everything settled in a flow. Take plenty and a few backleads as they will keep your line out of the way of boats, pedalo’s (anywhere near a campsite can be mayhem), and passing debris. As for the rest of your terminal gear, just take what you normally use but lots of it.
Bait is a difficult one to judge. I have read of many anglers that get though tons of bait on a trip but I don’t know that it is necessary. If you have found your fish it may work against you to fill it in as it will doubtless attract every bream and chub for miles, whereas if you are trying to attract a carp or two, too much bait will limit the chances of that fish picking up your bait. I tend to take lots of boilies and fifty kilo’s is a lot in my book. But I feed moderately and can always build it up when the fish are on the feed but I have brought back a lot of my bait each time I’ve been. I do stick to boilies though as particles can also attract unwanted species and I have seen river carp over here avoiding shoals of bream, barbel or chub. Having given that advice, my efforts have been modest so far and humping in the bait may work better but I am convinced that it would not have improved any of the situations I have found myself in so far. Take a few extra hard boilies as crayfish can be a nuisance and they are very keen on fishmeal so go easy on the pellets if you insist on using them.
Make sure your car is serviced and have a breakdown insurance in place before you go. I have had car problems in France, thankfully only fairly minor stuff but your average garage owner is rarely fluent in English so be prepared for a game of charades when trying to explain a strange noise or where it is coming from. I once tried to describe a hissing sound coming from my turbo which subsequently proved to be a leaking air hose but all I could get from the three people trying to decipher the mad Englishman’s babbling was each of them checking my tyres for a puncture.
My last word of advice, enjoy the ride, expect at least as many ‘downs’ as ‘ups’ and try to maintain your sense of humour. France is a beautiful country, there are thousands of miles of rivers rarely if ever fished and plenty of unmarked fish waiting for you to pay them a visit. Good luck.
Like it or not, we have a three month lay off from the rivers every Spring and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. For many of us anglers who go coarse fishing this merely gives us either a chance to catch up with domestic chores or, for the sensible and luckier ones amongst our numbers, it means a change of species as we move to the lakes and canals. However, don’t ignore the river just because you can’t fish it.
Before I go any farther please check with your angling club whether or not you are allowed on the banks during the lay off, some permit it some don’t. If you do want to go for a look around then a phone call to the club secretary in advance may well be worthwhile to either gain permission or to at least let him know who is wandering along the banks whilst fishing is prohibited.
That out of the way, my first recommendation is to make certain that you have a decent pair of polarized sunglasses, they are imperative.
Without them you will just see reflections on the water but with the you will see through most of the glare and be able to make out fish and just as important, features.
Knowledge of the features on your section of river is just as important as spotting fish for several reasons, not least that the fish will move yet the features tend to remain for many seasons. If you have an idea of the make up of the river bed then you are half way to deducing where the next bite may come from.
I find April and May the best months for feature finding as the algae and weed that tends to colour the water and obscure our view is yet to form. If we have a period of dry weather with a bit of sunshine to assist with visibility a whole underwater world can be on display and whilst the rivers banks are quiet, the fish are generally quite easy to locate. A few pellets dropped into likely spots will often bring hungry fish out within seconds.
So what are you looking for? My simple answer to that is ‘anything out of the ordinary’. If you consider your river bed to be fairly even, consisting of gravel, stones and a few scattered rocks then you find an area as shown in it is worth investigation.
What had happened here was that a tree just upstream and out of camera shot, had caused a shift in the current and a swirling crease had scoured the river bed clean of algae etc. This may look like a good spot to fish however, that scouring action will have also torn many invertebrates from their homes within the stones and, for the fish, pickings may well be better elsewhere. There is also the bright, pale river bed that is left and fish will stand out against that making them feel insecure. This was all driven home to me as I was looking at the feature and I saw a couple of barbel happily feeding over the darker, untouched river bed yet they stopped short of the cleaned area only to drop back and have another feeding run over the dark area. This colour change on the river bed was invisible at the start of the season but, when I fished there I was confident and found that a bait farther down the swim worked very well indeed.
Above, there’s another feature that isn’t obvious for much of the year but a walk in the Spring revealed this dramatic drop off close to the near bank. Subsequent fishing sessions found that barbel loved to tuck in against the almost sheer drop off whilst big chub were content to bask and feed along the crease that it caused on the outer edge. It has been a real hot spot at times whilst being walked past by the majority of anglers.
This is just a glimpse into a vast area of intrigue and exploration and I guarantee that you will find plenty of areas that you may have missed before and it will fill your head full of plans for the new season. Some years the fish are less easy to spot but when you do find one just sit back and watch what it does in its unpressurised state, then give it some food and again just observe, you’ll have nine months in which to try and catch it.
Occasionally you will come across a shoal of fish like here. I suspect that they were in that spot as a prelude to spawning but, interestingly, the one feature they gathered around was a modest boulder that just pushed the current up a little and caused a boil on the surface. They were milling about up and down the area but that was the focus of their attention.
Again, come the new season, although I never saw this many fish gathered at one time, I caught plenty of barbel from this spot proving just how invaluable a little bit of homework can be.
If during your wanderings you find evidence of anglers poaching during the close season then please report it to your club secretary and the Environment Agency, don’t let the few spoil it for the rest of us.
Varying light conditions may deem some shades of polarised glasses useless, when the sun tips low and daylight is fading a lighter shade lens is usually more productive on cutting out glare and lightening your view. The yellow also helps pick out dark objects such as shadows on the river bed, giving you better indication of fish and structure. Instead of carrying many different pairs of glasses to the river I opted for a pair of Airflo Interchangeable polarised glasses a while back, these have interchangeable lenses which can be swapped in varying light conditions.
As we reach the last few days of the season there is no better time to be out with a fishing rods, trotting the odd red maggot into an unwary shoal of Grayling or Roach. As winter slips into spring the rivers become slightly warmer and the days that little bit longer which provokes a strong feeding urge in most of our fish species. There is no better time of the year to target roach especially as they are fighting fit in readiness for their spawning activities in a month or so’s time.
I have been fortunate to fish a couple of exclusive sections of two of the Southern Chalk rivers, the Test and the Wylye but returned for a very pleasant trip on a small river much closer to home, the Lugg. Each river is very different from the rest and my approach had to reflect those changes in the methods used, here is how I went about it.
The Test was my first port of call, its a trip I make most years and I know that the fishing will be relatively easy but you still get more out of it the harder you work. I used a 13′ float rod with a very soft tip as I was predominantly fishing for the grayling that swim there in large numbers and they have an uncanny knack of shedding hooks due to their twisting action during the fight. My ‘secret weapon’ when grayling fishing is the Guru QM1 hook, its circular design helps to secure a firm hook-hold and I find that more fish are landed as a result. They are barbless and easy to remove from landed fish indeed often the hook falls out in the net. I tied a size 16 or 14 to a 4lb hooklink attached to 6lb mainline which may sound strong but, it was low visibility fluorocarbon and, as the river is very fast, the fish have little time to decide whether to take the bait or ignore it, so there is no point in going ultra fine. The other factor in choosing line strength was the presence of numerous large brown trout which ignore the fact that they are out of season and gorge on the bait, fish up to 15lbs have been landed and their toothy mouths and powerful fight makes short work of light tackle.
Although the river was only 3 to 4 feet deep I put most of the bulk shot about 15′ from the hook with a no4 dropper 10” below that to get the bait to run deep and I was immediately into a shoal of grayling taking several over a pound in the first hour.
Fishing with my mate Tony, we leapfrogged down the fishery trying several glorious runs and pools catching more grayling, numerous trout to about 4lbs (I lost one much bigger!) and a few roach albeit mine only went to 12oz whereas Tony had one knocking the door of 2lbs and another almost as big. We both scored best with red maggot as bait whereas on some days its sweetcorn that sorts out the better fish. I did find that sweetcorn attracted the attentions of too many trout so I baited with corn to keep them chasing the yellow grains whilst I trotted maggots beneath, it seemed to work well on the day and it shows that experimenting with bait is always worthwhile.
The next day saw us fishing a tiny tributary of the Wylye where you could almost touch the opposite bank with the rod tip. A smaller float shotted ‘shirt button’ style was called for. This means spreading the shot evenly spaced down the line (like shirt buttins) which allows the bait to drop slowly through the shallow water and also enables the angler to hold back and get the bait to rise up off the bottom so, by holding back, you can get your gear to negotiate depth changes and weedbeds along the run. Also, holding back and letting the bait rise is an enticing movement often irresistible to fish.
For such a small river the fish stocks are astounding and we caught countless grayling from a number of different features, my best, which must have been very close if not over the magic two pound mark, came from a slightly deeper bend where I had bites from just one small area beneath an overhanging branch.
The last swim we stopped at was in the main river and is renowned for it’s abundance of grayling and Tony had the privilege of fishing it. He had switched to his old split cane float rod and had countless grayling testing its soft action. I borrowed it and had a few myself, it reminded me of the rods I used as a kid but I was also struck by the forgiving nature of the cane and how it absorbed every lunge of the grayling, the old rod and the new hooks meant that every fish hooked was landed in that pool and that, for those of you that grayling fish, is food for thought.
Back on home soil I was after chub on a narrow, overgrown river, time for a tackle change. I have a Drennan float rod designed for carp fishing, it is however, perfect for chub and barbel and can be used as an 11 or 13 footer. I opted for the 11′ version and set about trotting any likely looking swim. I was using a 3 AAA balsa and can float which was shotted fairly well down with a single no4 shot between the bulk and the hook as the current was quite fast and I wanted to get my bait down quickly. I had a 5lb hooklength and was again using the wonderful Guru QM1 in a size 16.
I had my first bite by slowing the float right down and letting the bait waft up a little off the bottom at the end of the swim, a 2lb chub couldn’t resist the two red maggots and it fought hard in the tight swim seeking sanctuary amongst the overhanging branches of a willow tree. I have always found that balanced tackle will stand a lot of pressure and have landed much bigger chub on much lighter gear albeit in far less snaggy waters but, as long as you move smoothly and let the rod absorb the lunges, you can steer hard fighting fish with relative ease. This point was proved with the biggest fish of the day, a chub not far short of 4lbs that got stuck around a branch but, by walking down to point opposite it, my constant pressure slowly brought it back into the current and eventually to the waiting net.
In these days of our obsession with bigger fish the humble float gear seems to be ignored by many anglers which is a pity, it really is a great way to learn about the contours of the river and the art of presenting a bait on the float will bring guaranteed pleasure. The other benefit of trying it nowadays is that so few are actually doing it, its a method that is unknown to many of the fish. Go back a few years and everybody float fished to a point where it was often necessary to go ultra-fine to entice the wisest fish but nowadays they are as green as grass so you can get away with quite robust gear on many rivers so it is still a viable method for chub and barbel but with the possibility of having some wonderful sport out coarse fishing. Give it a go.
When you approach the river and opt for a particular swim, how careful is your entrance? What is your thought process as you descend the bank to your chosen spot and what effect has your arrival and on the resident fish population? I put it to you that the first five minutes in a swim has the strongest bearing on your overall day success rate.
Let us first look at how to do it wrong. You struggle up to your peg, stand bolt upright in your white T shirt as you have a quick look around for the best place to sit then drop your heavy load of fishing tackle and bait before slumping into your chair. In the modern parlance – epic fail!
First there is the visibility factor. I am not one for wearing Realtree or second hand clothes from the armed forces as I feel they are unnecessary but wearing subdued colours such as greens and browns will help you to blend into the surrounding foliage. More important is to remain below the skyline if possible as any movement against the bright background of the sky is easily visible to all fish and, if they see you they may well spook. I know that at this point some of you may well be thinking that barbel are a bit more tolerant than chub and are less prone to spooking from noise and movement, and I’d have to agree however, we are talking about the first moments in the swim and you have yet to get the fish’s heads down and onto bait. Should you spook the ultra wary chub they will quickly leave and take the barbel with them, from then on you are playing catch up and hoping that the fish will recover their nerve and come back. So, lesson one is to approach as quietly as possible whilst keeping a low profile. Put your gear down quietly and, very importantly, watch where your feet are landing; on the Wye, where I mainly fish, there is a lot of loose stone and gravel which is very difficult to creep over, in swims where you can view the fish, it is possible to see just how disastrous a few heavy footfalls and kicked stones can be as the tails of fish disappear downstream.
Our thoughtless angler is now on his feet and noisily sorting his gear and thinking about giving the barbel a meal. Very often this is a fatal mistake as the temptation to lob out a big feeder, bait dropper or handful of bait overcomes his need to have a think about it first. Before you put any bait in you have to ask yourself a few questions the first being location. Where are you going to position your bait? Is that the best spot or just the easiest spot? If it looks good, can you hold out there or is the current going to push your bait away from your loose feed? It doesn’t take a minute to have a test cast and see of the spot you want to fish can be done so with the gear you have with you, much better to do that and maybe decide to fish a little closer in where the current is less powerful or where there are less snags.
Another ‘location’ factor is to ask yourself ‘where does everybody else fish?’ If the fish are used to getting caught from the obvious part of a swim then, by simply fishing above or below that point you may find the fish less wary of your gear.
Once you have made the decision you can think about bait. Throwing or catapulting free offerings is fine when you know the depth and pace of the river but I see so many anglers doing it without any thought it beggars belief. To start with, different baits have different densities so they will fly from the hand or catapult differently and will not reach the same distance for the effort used. Mix hemp and corn and give it the full elastic and you will see the hemp run out of steam and land in a shower whilst the corn tends to go beyond it. This is the same when you mix different sized pellets or pellets with dense boilies, your baited area has a very uneven spread of bait. This is further exacerbated when your baits hit the water as the dense items will sink quickly, especially if they are spherical boilies whereas the smaller and lighter objects will be carried farther downstream. It is worth reminding you that the Elips pellet is so shaped to make it fall slowly through the water to give captive salmon a better chance of eating them before they land on the bottom and foul the bed of the lake where they are farmed. You may be dropping your lead where you think your bait is landing whilst the fish are feeding merrily on your free offerings well downstream of your hooked sample.
Of course, the differences in bait densities can be used to our advantage as the lighter offerings will travel further downstream and pull fish to feed in front of you but make sure that this is done on your terms and that you understand what is happening beneath the surface.
So far, by just a little extra thought, we have hopefully turned a hit and miss approach into a considered and accurate one which is far more likely to get you a bite. I would however, suggest that long before you get to introducing bait into the swim you spend some time just watching the river. In a turbulent river the current can change from moment to moment, the crease that looked ideal as you first arrived can swing or pulsate and move by quite some distance, a nearside current can become a back eddy. This phenomenon does not occur on all rivers but the Wye is a wild and fast flowing river with many moods. To put all your eggs in one basket and bait the so-called ‘hotspot’ then find that it has moved can frustrate your efforts and yourself. Time spent in observation is rarely wasted.
Likewise, when you do eventually introduce your first bait samples, have a look see. Can you see the bottom? Maybe you can see some way into the water, is it enough to see the tell tale flash of a turning barbel? To see your chosen species in your swim is a huge lift to confidence but do you then follow immediately with your end rig or do you wait a little longer? I suggest that if you see signs of feeding fish in the swim the longer you leave it before actually fishing for them can be a major advantage as the fish, if fed correctly, will gain confidence and will feed much harder making a multiple catch or the capture of the biggest shoal member much more likely. If you doubt this then consider the number of times when you have arrived at a swim and caught a barbel within ten or twenty minutes causing you to sit back and think ‘this is going to be easy’ only for the swim to die for a long period, maybe the rest of the day. The fish you caught may well have been a modest size and almost certainly was accompanied by several or many similar fish yet you were unable to tempt them, the reason? You caught too soon and they spooked.
If I catch a very quick fish from a swim I am in no hurry to get my bait back out there, if I do have another cast and get a second barbel I will add a little bait and go for a stroll or just sit and watch for 30 minutes to an hour. This may seem excessive but, if I have chosen to stay in that swim all day then I want it to produce fish all day and by catching and resting it gives the fish a chance to return to their feeding and regain their confidence after each capture. Get the timing right and the fish will keep coming regularly, get it wrong and you will get bored waiting.
So remember the rule – get the first five minutes right and the rest of the day should fall nicely into place.
Despite the unseasonally warm autumn, winter is fast approaching and the bankside vegetation is thinning fast. This allows access to many places that are impossible to reach during high summer, swims that have had no angling pressure. With so much river to explore a roving approach is called for and for that I needed to be able to change the amount of weight on my rig and the bait used with minimum fuss. The easier you make this the more likely you are to fish effectively all day rather than getting lazy and ‘making do’.
As chub are the prime target I opted for a free running rig so a link leger is the first item on my 8lb main line. Below this go a couple of rubber beads as they help to separate the link from the trace and minimise tangles. These stop at a small swivel to which I attach the 6lb fluorocarbon hooklink and a hair rig tied to a size 10 or 8 hook. At the sharp end is the clever bit; I thread onto the hair a rubber bead and hold that in place with one of those ‘V’ shaped extender hair stops. This gives you something to wrap your paste around and it will give it purchase keeping it on longer. I do not favour burying the hook in paste as it is less effective when hitting bites and, during the cold winter months, any bite is a bonus and too valuable to miss. The rig I use comes into its own if I decide to try another bait such as a boilie or lump of meat, it is simplicity itself to remove the bead and then simply hair rig another bait either with the same hair stop or, if its a piece of meat, with a bit of grass stalk.
Instead of lead weights I tend to use Plasticine or modelling clay wrapped around the link leger leaving the run ring free to slide up the line. Plasticine goes hard when cold and will hang on to a link with no problem but, if you find it slips, a bead threaded onto the link will give it more purchase. If the swim requires you fish static in a heavy flow it takes just a second to remove the Plasticine and replace it with a lead.
My first few swims are smooth glides so I decide to explore them with a rolling bait. The amount of Plasticine is judged and cast to the upstream end with a lump of cheese past on the hook. I’ve put a few free offerings in and now I bounce the bait though the swim, paying out sufficient line ahead of the rig to give a controlled run across the gravel. If you have it all set up just right you will feel the weight bouncing over the stones where it will catch and hold every now and then before the pressure on the line makes it trundle on for a bit farther. If it catches on a stone and hangs up for a while then it is your choice, you can leave it there and fish it static for a while or you can lift the rod and pull a little line with your left hand to shift the weight and continue with your run through the swim. Keep hold of the line with your left hand and bites are ‘felt’ for rather than seen, don’t worry, you will know the difference between a false bite and the real thing when it happens but, if in doubt – strike!
On my trip, probably due to the bright conditions, the fish were not actively feeding on the gravel so I changed tactics and dropped into a swim where a crease ended at an overhanging bush which had collected a raft of debris – a classic chub swim. Here I put a lead on the link with just enough weight to hold bottom. In the next 45 minutes I had a few chub but they were all small, not the size I hoped for but fun to catch in any case.
The temperature dropped, I zipped up my TFGear Thermo-Tex Extreme jacket and immediately felt the warmth. If you are looking for a winter outfit I suggest you look no further than this range as it is excellent. The sun was dropping so I went for my ‘banker’ swim. I’d previously dropped a few marble sized freebies into a swim where two creases met and gave a steady glide again, just above an overhanging bush, it just had to hold a few fish. I was proved correct as the sun dropped and it became difficult to see the rod tip. This wasn’t a problem as I was touch legering and the strong pull followed by a slack line told me that a chub had picked up my bait, hooked itself and was travelling across the river toward a nearside snag – it didn’t get there, I leaned into it and steered it upstream to the net, a plump three pounder.
Very often you will find that chub swims are only good for one fish but quite often a second can be tempted and I decided to hang on for a second bite. When it came it was a hefty pull and the chub fought strong in the current. This one was over four pounds and in mint condition, it may have never been caught before.
Despite the wealth of swims available and the fish feeding, I decided to pack up. There’s no need to catch them all on the first trip, I’ll be exploring this bit of river many times over the coming months and I just know that there are bigger fish to catch.
When your rod rings are full of ice and your landing net frozen firmly to the ground how are you really feeling? I would expect that, like I have been many times in the past, either too cold to fish effectively or too wrapped in mountainous layers of clothing to be able to move. As the sun dips and that one chance of a big fish approaches, it is often the cold rather than the prospects of success that drives us home early. Not any-more. The TFGear Thermo-Tex Extreme jacket and trousers are made for just such occasions and the days of near hypothermia each time we venture out in the winter are behind us.
The clothing is made from a lightweight, breathable, waterproof material that is padded and gives you instant warmth when worn. It really is like getting into a snug sleeping bag but with the advantage that you still have excellent mobility.
The jacket is a simple but effective design with two deep pockets (ideal for hand warming), on the outside and has a single breast pocket and two large mesh poacher’s pockets on the inside. It is very warm, a sensible length and the high collar and hood mean you can get full protection whatever the weather, if only I’d had this coat during last year’s record breaking winter! Although it is designed for extreme temperature use, it is not too warm for general use and, of course, your under garments can be adjusted accordingly to meet temperature demands.
The trousers show that great care and attention has gone into their design. Made from the same excellent material they are high backed to keep your lower back warm being held up with braces. The usual struggle to don over trousers is minimised by the long side zips at the top and bottom of the legs, all of these are double secured with Velcro strips. There is also a long front zip that allows easy access for those calls of nature, something that some other manufacturers have annoyingly ignored. There are two very effective lined hand-warmer pockets and a couple of smaller breast pockets for your odds and ends. Like the jacket it can be summed up in one word – toasty!
When you are not hunkered down against snow, ice or driving rain, and let’s be honest, not many of us head out coarse fishing in such conditions, the jacket and trousers come with their own surprisingly small bags and can be folded, or stuffed into them for carriage or storage.
Either of these items will enhance your cold weather fishing and, as a pair, they mean that you can face whatever the conditions throw at you, I highly recommend both articles.
Click Thermo-Tex Clothing to view
There are few articles written about barbel rigs because, let’s face it, they aren’t usually that difficult to hook. But there are considerations to be made and some of the dog’s dinners I’ve seen anglers using or have found on the river bank have made me shudder.
Let’s get one thing straight from the off – barbel are not carp. Most Coarse fishing tackle is fine, It does what it says on the tin. If you use carp tackle, especially lead clips, you are risking damage or death to fish in the event of a break off. I have recovered rigs with lead clips that I have had difficulty pulling apart with my hands so a tired, tethered barbel would have no chance.
Over the years I have tried numerous adaptations on a theme and have made all the mistakes that everybody else makes but, I have kept experimenting. I now have a rig that I haven’t changed for two or three seasons which means that I am quite happy with it. It ticks all the boxes and I believe that it is just about perfect – the only one I and hopefully you, will ever need.
The hook and leader are adaptable to conditions, more of that later. The important part for me is where the lead connects to the hooklink. This area is where we have to place most consideration to the fish’s welfare as a fish towing a lead is in severe danger. Also, and of great concern to me, was the number of times I lost a fish when the leader wrapped around the lead link. A barbel in full panic flight will make short work of most leader materials if they are tangled around a lead or link swivel, recovering a short, broken hooklink is usually a sign that this has happened. I tried beads, sometimes two or three in a row between the swivel and link swivel to create a stand off effect and this usually worked but not always, the same is true of tail rubbers. Using a link swivel is always liable to create a tangle just by virtue of the amount of drop from the main line. Any movement of your lead as it rolls along the bottom, something we often do to provoke a take, is likely to tie the whole lot into a knot.
So, let’s get to the point – Korda anti tangle sleeves (Kats), the answer to the barbel angler’s prayer. The pictures will show what I am on about. Immediately it is apparent that the stand off effect is exaggerated which helps us no end. But the clever bit comes when we eliminate the swivel from the link to the lead. By taking the swivel out of the equation we remove most of the problems associated with tangles.
By using just the link and attaching it directly onto the Kats we create a semi-fixed, self-hooking rig that is generally what we are looking for when barbel angling. The taper of the sleeve allows us to fine tune the amount of tension on the link and, in the event of the fish snapping you off and by carefully attaching the link at the correct point on the Kats, the lead will easily slip off and the fish will not become tethered. It really is simplicity itself and works with leads and feeders.
But, I hear you ask, what about when I want to use a running lead? Easy, just slide the link off the Kats and away you go, a running lead.
If you want to be cute and, in true Boy Scout manner, prepared, simply add a bead above the Kats when you set up. Now, if you are roving and altering your approach in different swims, you simply reattach the link above the bead which will stop it from riding up the Kats and give you a perfect running rig. You can even tease the bead over the end of the Kats for a neater set up.
You can even do away with the swivel at the end of your mainline and use a quick-change link. This allows you to switch and swap your terminal gear as well as going from fixed to running lead with the absolute minimum of fuss.
My last bit of fine tuning is to cover anything shiny (usually the link which can become shiny when its been on gravel for a while), with bits of modelling clay which will stay in place as there are no moving parts such as you have when using a link and swivel.
For the bit between the Kats and the hook, well that’s a whole article in itself. I am certain that many of you have your own opinions of hooklinks and I have tried them all. For the record, I generally start off with a length of Fluorocarbon which gives me a hooklink that will sink and sit well on the bottom. This may go directly to the hook or, when I feel it is necessary, I will form a combi-rig by attaching a short braided hooklink to the fluoro via a mini swivel.
There you have it, a simple rig with minimal bits and pieces needed to construct it which means less odds and ends to carry with you. If you stick to this simple set up you will find it efficient and adaptable to all of your barbel fishing needs.
Written by Dave Burr
I keep all of my fishing gear in a single carryall which gets stowed in the corner of my bivvy and dipped into whenever necessary – and that’s where it all goes wrong. I can never find what I am looking for within the folds of material and the mess that is my tackle. I end up with various bags and items of kit all strewn about my swim and its a mess.
I decided to find a better bag but which one? Rucksacks are too deep, soft bags will cause the same problems as before and many are just too small. Then I stumbled on the TF Gear Force 8 Heavy Duty Carryall/Barrow Bag – at last, just what I’ve been looking for.
This bag suits me down to the ground. The main recess at 65cm long by 30cm wide and about the same deep (my measurements),is big enough to take all of your weekend or session needs. Around the main body are zip-up pockets to the front and sides as well as mesh zip-up pockets outside of them. The pocket theme continues inside the bag with numerous places to store individual items around the bag.
The general build standard is excellent. The bag is free standing with rigid strips to keep its shape which in turn helps to protect the contents and will make finding items within it much easier – a Godsend in my book. The zips are rugged and look made to last as is the heavily padded shoulder strap and the metal connecters at each end.
Nowadays many companies are producing their luggage with moulded bases for protection and rigidity, well TF Gear has gone one better and also put a protective lid on this carryall which makes it a very sturdy unit that can even be used as a makeshift bivvy table. All in all I cannot praise the construction of this bag highly enough and I can see me getting years of quality use from it.
Reviewed by Dave Burr
I love these conditions. Low, clear water, the fish are hiding in the most out of the way places and are reluctant to move far to feed. Conditions like this can be really challenging whilst coarse fishing but, with a little thought and flexibility in your approach, you can still find consistent sport.
Take a session I had last week. I arrived at the river to find it quite busy with people in the usual swims but all catching very little. I took some time to wander and soon found a spot where a few elips pellets tossed into the margins from a high bank, were taken on the drop by a group of chub. I kept the feeding going in little and often and soon those chub were preoccupied and joined by others from downstream. Inevitably they were then joined by a couple of barbel, looking pale compared to the chub and blending in with the gravel as they drifted across it. Now was the time to plot their downfall.
My fishing rod was already rigged with 10lb line, a 2′ long coated braid hooklink with the last couple of inches peeled back and a size 10 hook at the business end. I’ve gone over to coated braid for the time being as there is some evidence that barbel will spook to fluorocarbon if they touch it whereas they tolerate brushing against the more visible braid. Whether its a fact or not I don’t really know for sure but I’m catching on braid so it’ll do for now.
The lead is coated to blend in with gravel and a lump of plasticine is wrapped 3′ or so above it to act as a back weight. Pinning the line down is essential in fooling wary fish in shallow, clear water. To this end I also put a couple of rig putty blobs on the leader, I don’t want it wafting up in the current. The bait is a single elips pellet, broken in two then glued together over the hair.
I waited, the fish left the area having eaten every item of loose feed. I lowered the rig exactly where I wanted it, close to a nearside ledge. Here the line up to my rod would be less visible against the stone than it would in open water, another bonus in this stealth war. Having got everything where I wanted it, I recommenced loose feeding and immediately the fish returned. I kept the free pellets falling through the swim as the chub were taking mostly on the drop, this increases the chances of it being a barbel that takes the bait – and it worked. The barbel headed straight for open water and I was quickly on top of it, guiding it to the waiting net.
Having spent my time building this swim up I thought I’d get a bait straight back in and await the fish’s return in the hope of a second success. I figured it would take half an hour or so to settle and sat back playing with my new camera but was surprised when, after just a couple of minutes, the rod jolted down and a chub headed for a sunken bush. I was too slow, the fish went into the snag and the hookhold failed. Damn! My fault, sometimes the fish don’t respond in the usual manner and I had spooked the swim.
Not to worry, there’s plenty more water to explore. I found a couple more ‘flashing’ barbel but could not induce a take so ended the day at an old favourite swim of mine. Its been largely ignored for most of the summer mainly due to the distance from a car park but that suits me just fine. Here I put my lead into a pva bag of pellets and broken boilies and cast it into a deep run. Having the lead inside the pva bag ensures that it hits the bottom before breaking up rather than wafting in the current and spreading your bait far and wide as often happens when you simply put it on your hook.
I was joined by my old mate Tommo who declined the offer to share my swim and headed off to a spot that has given him some good results in the past. It was another deep run of well oxygenated water and close to an overhanging tree. As we chatted my rod sprang into life and I landed a barbel. I followed this with another fish of a similar size, about seven pounds or so, and a couple of chub. But it was Tommo’s excited whistle and shout that signalled the high point of the day. As I got to him he was just netting a beautiful barbel that turned the scales to 10.4 and was in mint condition.
Not bad for a difficult day.
Written by Dave Burr
The advertisment says “This is without doubt the most efficient and practical all round carryall ever designed.” A bold statement and, for an old cynic like me, one that I was prepared to take with a pinch of salt.
But, on receiving the TF Gear Carryall I was immediately impressed by the build quality with its rugged zips and strap connectors, they certainly look like they will give years of good service. The bag is made of a waterproof material, again a big plus for the roaming angler who may not take a brolly with him, and the carry straps are well padded.
Looking inside I have found the main pocket to be capacious enough for all of my needs including room for my flask, something that many smaller bags don’t allow. There is even a plastic pocket in the lid for your licences etc. The side pockets are just right for a camera, scales and anything else you may want to find quickly and there are net pockets outside of them that will take a tin of drink or your phone. The large front pocket opens to reveal the free TFG Lokbox which is a real bonus and will come in very useful. Mine is now full of lures.
This carryall is exactly what I’ve been looking for, larger than most of the bait bags I’ve looked at yet small enough to be comfortably carried all day. Is it the “most efficient and practical all round carryall ever designed?” Well, I have yet to find one better so I cannot argue with the statement and at a price of just £29.99 why look any further?
Thanks to Dave Burr for this Review.