Tag: barbel

Some painful fishing lessons in the sun

Naturally-born fish in clear waters under a bright sun can be a nightmare to catch. No. Make that impossible.

No 1 – the carp

It’s last Wednesday and Steve and I have crept into position on the carp lake. We are out of the northerly wind, facing a pocket of calm, warm water. Sweat is on our foreheads. Horseflies are playing around our arms and our ankles. We are watching two very large carp looking suspiciously at our piece of floating crust.

I’ve made sure that the hook is hidden and that the line close to the bread is buried under the surface film and nigh-on invisible, but the carp aren’t liking it. One, the bigger of the two, comes so, so close and simply noses it, almost letting the bait rest on its forehead. Suddenly, as though a secret word has passed between them, they swirl and power off into the depths of the lake. That’s it. The end. How on earth had those carp divined our presence?

No 2 – the chub

On the Friday, I have dressed myself up to look just like Davey Crockett and I’m pushing through the riverbank undergrowth as invisible as a man can be. I’m watching my footfall and keeping my eye on my shadow so that it never falls on the water. I haven’t even got a rod with me and I’m simply watching for chub, plotting their future downfall. Hah! Not a chance. Within the hour, I have found 10 chub, five of them I would say are pretty large. I know I have not disturbed them because I have looked at them all in detail, noting their scale patterns and any possible blemish or old wound. The point is this. I have thrown pieces of slowly-sinking flake to each one of those chub and all 10 have scattered in terrified haste. Nine barrelled off downstream and just one fled up. Catchable? Not a chance!

No 3 -the trout

It’s the weekend now and I’m with Robbie Northman. Robbie is drop-shotting expertly for big perch in a secluded mill pool. You can see his tiny, silver lure glinting about four feet down, perhaps, attracting shoals of minnows and the odd baby perch. Then, from the lilies, a massive, colossal brown trout emerges. Robbie says it’s seven pounds, I am thinking eight. The fish, spotted like a leopard, roars into the attack, its mouth agape. It’s a heart-stopping sight but the fish stops short and, in a boil of angry water, disappears. What a fish. What a dream shattered. How on earth did the alarm bells ring for it at the very last moment?

No 4 – the tench

It’s last Thursday morning, very early and I have a tench swim, all weed dragged out and heavily-baited on the previous night. It’s a cool dawn but the swim is a cauldron of bubbles produced by feeding tench. I have fed hard with boilies, chopped worm and corn so these are the baits that I am advising Anthony uses on the hook. We fish each bait in turn, but the float never dips or wavers. Calm confidence is giving way to vocalised desperation. The sun climbs higher in the sky and in the crystal water we begin to see a legion of dark shapes, tench coming in to feed and going down over the bait. We can even see their mouths working as they drift back to mid-water, munching on the food. They are balletic in their poise, their effortless elegance and completely baffling in their brain power. Our conservative guess is that there are 50 fish there in the swim and yet, we are hopelessly outfoxed. Right at the end of the session the float dips and one fish comes to the net. We suppose it is a triumph but one of sorts.

No 5 – the barbel

Finally, after two years of working on a particular barbel swim, perhaps one of the last to hold Wensum fish, I achieve my aim and actually hook one. I’m tooled up, I think, to cope with a bus. But not with a barbel of furious magnitude. My clutch is screwed spanner-tight. My 10lb line seems impossible to break, the rod, though, is my weak point. Its give, its softness is my undoing. The fish powers towards sanctuary and I face oblivion. I pile on every ounce of pressure that I can muster, almost holding the rod straight at the fleeing fish. It’s to no avail. I’d woefully underestimated the sheer, roar brutality of an enraged double-figure barbel. In previous days, I’ve been done by the brain power of my fish, this time by their athleticism.

Carp, chub, trout, tench and barbel. I’m sunburnt, crestfallen and battered by them all. Still, what on earth would I rather be doing this glorious Norfolk summer of ours?

John Bailey

What next for our Barbel?

It’s just over a week ago since my talk at the Barbel Society conference and I have been overwhelmed by the response on social media, on email and by phone. I thank each and every one of you who has taken the trouble to weigh into this debate. The fact that you support my views means the world to me, especially at a time when I was doubting if I had got things right in fact.

The decline is real!

What has emerged from this affair is that most of us who love our natural fishing feel the same. We have all witnessed a decline in wild fish stocks year upon year and we are all losing faith in the statuary powers that be to do anything to reverse this trend. In fact, many of us believe that various bodies wilfully refuse to see the issues that we recognise as being paramount. I guess in the face of a catastrophic situation in so many of our natural waters many of us are feeling desperate, let down and powerless to act.
Of course action is what we all want to see, not just more empty talking. I believe that the excellent Anglers Mail are planning a story on the issue and I hope to use one of my columns to explaining why I feel so passionately cormorants must be tackled. A great friend Justin Whitfield who is owner of fisheries in both Gloucestershire and the south east  said to me yesterday “this is a war and one we cannot afford to lose.”

What can we do?

But what am I doing personally? I am thinking it might be a step forward if all of us help compile a list of our waters where we know cormorants have been a destructive factor. I am arranging a face to face meeting with Martin Salter, hopefully on the banks of the Wensum where I hope to put in place a proper plan of action by the time the cormorants reappear in the late autumn. I am meeting John Wilson on saturday 16th June ( how apt is that?) before he returns to Thailand. John was the first to recognise the impact cormorants would have on our sport and lives and it would be good to have his words of wisdom to guide us now. I am also renewing my own shot gun licence. I am also in constant touch with Trevor Harrop of the Avon Roach Project. He is the greatest of allies and if anyone has followed the route of action not words, it is Trevor. I hope we can all learn from each other-but do that FAST! By November, when our skies darken again with birds from the east, I want us all to be in a position to deal with them better than we have done in the past.”

Churchillian words from my heart gentlemen!

John Bailey

 

 

The future of our Barbel

I always relish the Barbel Society get togethers and I always feel humbled when I am asked to speak at them. And intimidated to a degree. After all, what do I have to add to the body of barbel catching knowledge when faced by an audience bristling with barbel brilliance? Still, I fumbled through my speech and was overwhelmed by the response on the day and by the wonderful things said since on social media. To those of you who who have made such kind comments, yes, I AM passionate about the future of our rivers and the barbel stocks that are swimming in them..just!

Of course, it’s good to talk about how to catch barbel but only if there are barbel there to be caught. Sadly, it seems there are fewer and fewer fish present in so many of our rivers today, a downward trend we have seen increasingly over this century. I made the point that I am in general a fairly mellow sort of bloke and I try to see all sides of any argument but enough is enough and I feel the need to state the case as I see it whilst there is still time.

Habitat is not the issue!

I made the point at the conference that I only feel confident about talking about rivers I know inside out and in this instance I restricted my comments to my beloved river Wensum. Two summers ago, I watched numerous shoals of barbel between 4 and 12 ounces or so feeding happily on the river’s gravels. There were several hundreds of them in total and they were just the ones I saw myself remember. The presence of these young, home bred fish indicated to me that there is nothing amiss with the spawning beds. It said to me that the river has the food supplies to support seemingly healthy fast growing fish. Habitat therefore is NOT the issue as every fishery scientist would have us believe.
Today, two years down the line, those fish are gone. The hope they offered is gone with them. There is only one single explanation and that is predation.

Cormorants are the issue!

I know this because I have seen it with my own eyes. Over two winters, returning European cormorants have annihilated those young fish. An alien bird population has completely destroyed the river’s hopes for the future. The fact is that the more fishery experts we have, the fewer fish we have. I am done with the habitat mantra. We have the habitat today, we now need the protection that even a river strewn with woody debris cannot provide.

Who will act before it is too late?

This is a nettle that must be grasped. The media? Well the Angler’s Mail is intelligent and responsible and I have high hopes there. The Environment Agency? Despite charging us a licence to fish, forget it. The EA is mired in red tape and bureaucratic gobbledegook. The various river trusts and alliances that are paid to look after the Wensum, including Natural England? Forget them. Fishery scientists exist from one project to another and are dependent on so called river improvement schemes. If they admitted that cormorants are the root of the problem, they are effectively doing themselves out of work. The Angling Trust? Well the whole of the angling jury remains out on the Trust which still needs to show positive leadership if it is to win over hearts and minds.

I am told repeatedly there “is no silver bullet” solution to the problem of disappearing river fish of all species. The phrase is well chosen and spookily apt. Sadly, it is a licence to kill that will bring back life to our river systems. It is not too late but the proverbial clock is ticking loudly.