July is almost over and the rivers are in fine form, time to concentrate on the barbel. Yes, I’ve had a few trips after them already but the start of the season is usually hit and miss as the fish are often still spawning which means that those you catch are in poor condition. I prefer to let them fatten up and get over their early summer exertions.
Having said that, this year the spring was exceptionally warm and I saw chub and barbel spawning in April. This does not mean that they won’t be at it again in late May or early June but, I have found on the Wye, that they do tend to be in better condition at the start of the season
During years like this I always have an early trip or two, fishing the fast water where the barbel are enjoying the extra oxygen and the bounty of food amongst the stones and gravel. I say ‘usually’, this year my back was giving me plenty of incentive to stay at home and moan a lot, but last season I recall, I had a couple of enjoyable outings.
When I fish these fast stretches I, and my bait, are constantly on the move. Rapids are always home to stones and rocks that will swallow a lead. To leger or feeder fish in the conventional manner will inevitably result in lots of lost quality fishing tackle and lost fish.
My set up is simple. I like to fish a low stretch line such as Shimano Technium. This is not as sensitive as braid but better than most mono’s. I don’t like braid especially when touch legering as a fast take from a barbel can cause it to cut, like a cheese wire, through the end of your finger – believe me, I know! I always attach the hooklink via a swivel that I cover with a tail rubber or anti-tangle sleeve. It just helps to keep everything straight and is also something to mould the plasticine around. Plasticine? You may well ask. Yes, in a rocky area it is your best option for avoiding snags as it simply falls off the line when it does occasionally get caught up. At the end of the link is your hook which may or may not have a hair attached, mine always has.
The process is simple enough, introduce some loose offerings, usually pellets or boilies and, if you can, observe. My favourite swim for this method has a high bank and it is usual that a few baits trundling through on the correct line, will have barbel flashing within minutes. Alternatively, it gives me the opportunity to feed closer in and watch the chub and barbel drift over the feed and get their heads down. Time for a cast.
I prefer to wear waders and wade in the edge, this allowes me to get right down to water level and allows perfect line control. My bait is usually two pellets glued to a short hair or a boilie. I don’t have too many problems with the hook catching bottom but, if you do, then paste covering the hook may be a better option. I do however, check my hook point regularly and sharpen it if it gets dulled or bent by the stones.
A cast is made to the head of the stream and a little line given so that the plasticine can bounce through the swim in a straight line rather than be pulled in an unnatural arc toward the bank. It may take a cast or two to get the amount of weight just right but you will be surprised at how little weight you need to keep your bait coming along the bottom. If you have it just right you will feel it bumping along through the line which you hold in your left hand. If the flow is harder than you can work with plasticine then a small lead can be used but, before re-tackling, try pushing some small stones into the plasticine, this often does the trick.
Bite indication takes a little getting used to but basically strike at anything that feels different. A pull a tightening at a speed other than the weight catching bottom, everything going slack is another as the fish swims downstream. You’ll soon pick it up. If the weight catches on the bottom then leave it for a minute or so, this is often a great time for a bite, to move it again just lift the rod slightly and pull with the left hand, this will dislodge the weight and off you go again.
Its a great way to learn about a river and when you ‘feel’ that contact with a fish and strike into your first barbel of the season, it becomes totally addictive.