In this installment of ‘Airflo stories’ we join former world champion Iain Barr on the banks of the famous river Itchen, where he re-discovers his love of fly fishing with light tackle for trout and grayling.
Iain also reveals many useful tricks and tips for river fishing, including those that helped him become WFFC champion in 2009.
Determined to get it right this time I set off again on the long walk, hauling my coarse fishing tackle to the swim I fished on my last visit. This time it was a morning session and I noticed that the river had dropped a little and was crystal clear. These are great fish spotting conditions but they are wary and feel vulnerable in such clear water.
At the swim I put in a little bait as before, some across to the gravels and some in close. I waited ……… and waited. Eventually, a couple of decent chub ventured out of their cover and began picking up my mixture of pellets. Once a few fish appear others usually follow so I kept a trickle of small pellets going onto the gravels but lobbed a few bigger Elips pellets in close.
I suppose it took an hour before I had any confident feeding underway. The low conditions and bright sunshine was making the fish uneasy but I slowly got their confidence, that is until I introduced my bait. I made a horrendous cast and sent everything scurrying back under the overhanging bushes. I wasn’t happy with myself but figured that I’d take the opportunity to position my bait exactly where I wanted it then ‘feed’ them out again.
It took some time but eventually I had both chub and barbel milling about over the loose feed. Nothing wanted to come to the nearside bait today, they were all staying across the far side of the river. Ah well, if the mountain won’t come to Mohammed and all that…… I put my bait across a bit further but it was a chub that took it. Again, I let the fish ‘feel’ the rig and it let go. I was using a long hair which always seems to put the chub off so, I was still in with a chance.
Exactly two hours after I started I had a decent pull and found myself attached to a barbel – at last! It took me all over the swim but I never allowed it to get amongst the overhanging branches so it was soon beaten. And there it was, after so many years – a Lugg barbel of maybe seven pounds or so. I felt very satisfied and decided to pack up there and then. I’ll come back again soon especially if we have a spot of rain and the water colours up.
Having walked about a mile from the car, I lowered my gear and collapsed in a sweaty heap next to a good looking swim.
Composing myself, I catapulted a small handful of mixed pellets across to a shallow gravel bed about ¾ across and lobbed a few just a yard or two out onto a clear patch of river bed above a dense weedbed. I sat back and started to assemble my 11′ fishing rod and centre pin reel, the ideal tools for small water fishing.
By the time I was sorted the fish were already mopping up my freebies. There were plenty of chub cruising back and forth but there, beneath them and moving in a slower, more positive way were the barbel. I counted four of them and, much to my delight, one of them was over the nearside bait.
There was no hurry to get my baited hook in the water; first I had to narrow the chances so that it would be a barbel rather than a chub that took the bait, despite the fact that some of those chub were 5 if not 6lbs in weight.
I used all of my tricks; it had been a while since I sight fished like this but my plans seemed to work quite well. I kept the bait going in on the far side and made sure that it was spread well to keep the chub occupied. Although the barbel joined the feeding frenzy over there, they would occasionally come inside and appear out of the weed and feed on my tightly baited spot. Unfortunately, some of the chub had found it too but the odds were far better there than across the river.
Chub can be a problem when fishing in tight spots. One fish caught will usually send everything back to their cover for a long time, so it’s important to get it right first time. To this end I tied a ‘bad rig’. This may sound confusing but I’ll explain. A standard hair rig is fine for barbel, they suck it in and won’t let go so they get hooked pretty much every time. Chub however, are a tad smarter and can eject a hook without getting pricked. I have been tinkering with rigs and have come up with one that nails chub just about every time which is great when chub fishing but not for today. I’ll cover this topic in more detail at some time in the future.
My rig comprised of a size 10 straight shank hook tied to a short length of braid. This is connected to about 15” – 20” of 10lb fluorocarbon which helps to keep it nailed to the bottom and out of sight to the fish. Using just enough lead to keep it in place, I then add a good lump of plasticine 3 or 4′ up the line to act as a back weight again, to keep the line out of the view of the fish.
To prove my rig decision was correct, three times my bait was taken by chub and three times, despite every nerve in my body screaming Strike! I held back and the fish dropped the bait.
Using this technique I was able to stay in with a good chance of getting my barbel but these fish had seen it all before. I watched as one of them saw where my line left the riverbed and spooked. Their visits to the nearside spot decreased and my chances dropped considerably.
Rain was approaching and I didn’t want a long, wet walk back to the car. I opted for the ‘all or nothing’ approach and cast to the nearside edge of the gravel bed where the barbel were still feeding albeit with less gusto than before. I didn’t have to wait long. The line tightened and the rod stabbed forward – but it was a chub. It fought well and was in pristine condition but it left behind an empty swim as every other fish bolted for cover.
Ah well, another lesson learned and another victory for this little river.
After about ten years leave of absence, I’ve decided this year to give the little river Lugg a go in an attempt at catching a few of its elusive barbel. It’s a beautiful little river winding through the Herefordshire countryside but one where the fish are as ‘spooky’ as can be and few are caught by casual means. I’ve watched shoals of chub drift away at the least disturbance and when the chub leave they usually take the barbel with them.
My fishing is usually done in short two to four hour sessions and the mobile ‘hit and run’ approach suits this river perfectly. On this trip I had a wander before taking my gear from the car and soon saw a barbel ‘ flash’ as it twisted in the currentover a gravel run, that’ll do for me. I set about introducing some feed then sorted my gear out. Despite my best efforts and keeping low amongst the thistles – ow! I only had a modest chub enter the baited area…… which then immediately left.
I gave up with that swim but put in some more pellets and a few broken TF Gear Yellow Peril boilies on a clear spot before I left. This makes it easy to check your swims later and see if they’ve been visited.
I tried a few more swims without a sign of a fish then wandered back downstream. On my way I looked in on the swims I’d been fishing for any signs of feeding fish, there were none until I reached the first spot – the Yellow Perils had gone!
I put more bait in and waited. I saw a puff of silt drift beyond a feeding fish, then – a flash! This continued for a while but still no bites until three swans started feeding in the shallows upstream. This had the effect of sending a ‘smoke trail’ of coloured water through my swim and, as it passed, my 11′ Avon rod bent forwards.
It was a barbel of at least eight pounds and looked impressive in such a tight swim. It fought well but I soon had it over the net which I extended from a difficult position on the high bank. In it went but then – splash – out it came again and the fight continued. Annoyed at myself, I played it back to the net and said to myself, ‘you won’t do that again’…… it did. This time however the lead caught in the mesh and the fish snapped my hook-link ……. Damn!
I haven’t lost a fish like this for ages, I was not happy, I had it all but landed and, either through bad luck or, much more likely bad angling, it was gone. I always claim that it’s the fish that we don’t catch that brings us back to a water and I shall certainly be giving the Lugg some more attention.
After nearly a week off work due to sickness, I couldn’t wait to get out of the house! There is only so many spaces in a fly box you can fill when you’re housebound! The dog looked on in anticipation, while I was at the vice, waiting to be taken for a walk Friday evening. So away with the scissors, and on with the harness, Jess and I went for a walk down the Taff trail from Abercynon towards Cilfynydd. The trail runs more or less parallel along the river for nearly a mile or so and at every opportunity we would go to the edge of the river to jump in… Well, the dog would. I’d be there trying to spot rising fish before any disturbance would seep across the pools!
Watching a few untouched glides, it was obvious throughout the day there must have been a good hatch of fly; Blue winged olives, brook duns, and sedge. The wind had calmed, the air temperature was warm and the spinners descended. That magical hour before dark the spinners were in abundance, the margins filled and the trout rising freely… If only I had a rod, not a lead! On the way back to the house, I had a text saying ‘ Where we going tomorrow?’ from my good friend Bish. My reply was ‘Fishing’ of course.
8:30 the following morning, Bish was outside, so in with the fishing rods, and off to pick Terry up. We decided in the morning we would fish the River Ebbw down near Bassaleg, Newport.The river Ebbw is much the same as the upper stretches of the Taff, small, fast with a few nice glides thrown in and an abundance of wild Trout. As there was three of us, we decided that we would go fish for fish. We set a few rules, the person who is fishing must fish all the water, not miss any part of a pool out to get to the best part. Each angler has 20 minutes fishing unless a fish is hook, lost, or caught. So they wouldn’t be waiting around for me all day!
We tackled up on the bottom of a slow glide, it was pretty early, and there wasn’t much in the way of fly life to be seen, just the odd sedge in the margins and a trout that rose once in the middle of the run. We took three rods, one set up with a dry fly, Duo and a french leader to hopefully cover all the possible situations.
The first run we came to looked perfect. A fast run through the middle, two creases and slack water ether side, with the odd bush for cover. Bish had the french leader rod, we decided he could catch the first fish as he had not been out for a while, so 3 very well placed casts left me 6 flies down within the first 5 minutes! ‘Those trees have an eye for something shiny’ he said!
Moving swiftly upstream, out of the way of any foliage what so ever we tried again. 20 minutes passed without Bish getting a take, so it was to Terry to prove it wasn’t going to be a long day ahead! Another 20 mins passed, no fish! What was going on?? Where are the fish, we wondered. I look over, I had two Jigs on the french leader, we was approaching a fairly deep run, with a nice flow, within the first few casts I was into a fish, which managed to come off as it jumped to free the hook. The rod was passed back to Jonathan, and within 5 minutes another trout was to hand! The fishing started to pick up steadily through the day with each person taking fish within a few minutes of starting their 20 minutes. We worked our way upstream covering good water taking many fish out of the runs.
It was probably around 1pm we’d entered a pool which looked pretty tranquil and inviting. A few olives started to pop about and the sun was breaking through the dark clouds which seemed to linger from the beginning of the day. This was probably one of the best pools I’d fished on the Ebbw, plenty of fish, and the best seat in the house – Fishing in comfort.
My french leader consists of a 9meter tapered camoufil leader, with a piece of Airflo braid as my indicator. The camoufil leaders are available in a few different lengths – 350cm 450cm and 900cm, I prefer the longer one as it allows me to cover more water with ease. Its presentation skills are brilliant at range, giving good turn over soft landing, catching you more fish in the slow runs.
As we moved upstream, the olives started hatching in good numbers and the fish started to pop. It was my turn again, after the boys had a few fish and Terry spotted a nice fish over 1 and a half pounds rising very confidently the pool we were in. A cast upstream to judge the distance, and then another to get the fly to drift properly and it was on. A few good head shakes, and it was obvious it was a better fish. The fight lasted nearly 5 minutes, but in that time Terry had just got his camera out to video the landing.
After the fish was released, we headed to the top of the run and into the eddies being caused by the obstructions. Bish’s first cast into the eddy, the indicator was holding there static, but then darted off to the left, he stuck and another good fish came out of the water and ran downstream. Both Terry and I turned our cameras on and was ready and waiting for the fish to be landed. Again another fish of around 1 – 1/4 -1/2 lb.
The River Ebbw is probably one of the most prolific trout rivers in the UK. The amount of fish the river holds is amazing, but the average size is even better! It’s very common to come away from the river catching and returning well into double figures of trout on a variety of methods. Average size of the rivers fish is probably just over half a pound, with many fish being captured up to 16-18 inches long.
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