John Bailey's Passion for Barbel

Keith M

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I fish a small river where catching up to 25 barbel in a day is possible on some days, and some do'; but I'm in agreement with you John.

Apart from the middle of winter I only fish late afternoon and evening sessions and after I've caught a few decent barbel I often just put my rod down and go for a walk or just sit back and Soak in everything around me.

I think it's probably an age thing where theres no longer a need to prove anything to yourself or anybody else, and you are just relaxing and enjoying just being there. 🙂

Keith
 

LPP

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think it's probably an age thing where theres no longer a need to prove anything to yourself or anybody else, and you are just relaxing and enjoying just being there. 🙂

Keith
Keith,
Yup, reckon you've nailed it there, with John; I do love being there beside the water / brewing the kelly etc.....just good to see a barbel or maybe even 2 on the bank from a couple of swims, just to know they're there and okay.
 

whitty

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Sadly,in my lifetime i've seen the steady demise of barbel on many rivers in England,the list is long,I cannot see a return in what is left of my life,if ever,sorry for my pessimistic view,but I can remember seeing sights like the shoals of barbel flashing,in fact on one two week holiday on the H.Avon,when I shut my eyes at night that was all I could see😪

If my old haunts on the Ouse and Ivel still fished like they did I would not go to the small river Keith speaks of,and even then a barbel every three trips was pretty good...
 

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Small but perfectly formed!

Passion for Barbel. 11/07/2021... Small But Perfectly Formed

Got One!!! At last, the Wye has delivered! The fish might have struggled to make three pounds, but I played it like it was thirteen! Best mates Pingers and Ratters were there too, so the day was made complete.

I’ll accept a bit of rain had coloured the river a tad and made life easier, but we had gone back to basics. Sound. Resistance. Baiting. Three keys to Wye success in all my years guiding there.

Baiting. We fed a quick run at 9.00am, 10.00am, 11.00am and fished it at noon. The fish came first cast.

Sound. A lead or feeder can kill a swim like you would not believe, unless you have experience of years of barbel watching. Rather than a lead going in with a sploosh, for weight I placed four SSGs up the line from the hook, with six inches between each. To me, those shot go in with no more disturbance than four pellets landing.

Resistance. Heavy leads/feeders can produce a bolt effect we know, but wary barbel pose different challenges. If they pick up a bait and feel the slightest resistance, that bait is dropped and ignored thereafter. I used a retro, glass quiver tip rod straight out of the Seventies and the bite kept going.

The Wye! It’s good to be back, but what I’m finding is that I have to relearn knowledge I took for granted a quarter of a century ago. It’s not a case of old dog, new tricks, but old dog, old tricks revisited.

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Pingers and Ratters move in!
 

John Bailey

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The Mole just upstream of Barbel Alley... daren’t show the actual swim out of respect for my host, of course...

Passion For Barbel. 12/07/2021

Confession time. I have never fished the Mole, though I might be doing so in a couple of days' time. I just might have dallied with it for an hour or two a few years back when I was filming a strange programme for BBC4, and was required to fish around Hampton Court. I had a cast or two in the river entering the Thames there, and it might just have been the Mole, I seem to remember. Shockingly vague, I know.

“My” intended stretch is further upstream, of course, where it has something of a reputation, but I guess can be hard. That’s why I have baited “Barbel Alley” today, and will do tomorrow before an attempt on Wednesday... though, as I write this on Monday evening, Dorking is in the midst of a monsoon to make a Himalayan downpour look tame, and I can’t predict what the river will be doing by then. Good or bad!

I have been told that Barbel Alley is a one-bite wonder. By that I mean, get things right and you’ll get a chance within twenty minutes of the cast, and if you miss that one, well, forget it and go elsewhere. It’s exactly like I have been saying I approach the Wye, a massive river by comparison of course. Make that first cast count and nail any fish that remains unspooked. My hope is that a load of bait before my own first cast will even the odds up and let me get my nose in front. But I realise it will be tight, and the barbel might well win on a penalty shoot out..! (Oops!)

I am not being dogmatic on how you approach your barbel. There are some fish in some swims, in some conditions, that fall pell-mell for a massive, all-out feeder attack. I know, I have been there, but all I am saying is do not always assume the barbel will go for it... especially on a stream like the Mole, where one false cast will spell disaster for the whole day perhaps!
 

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The flood water cracker...

Passion for Barbel. 16/07/2021. Barbel After The Storm

On Monday, 12th July, the skies in the South East opened, and a monsoon-like rain fell all over London and the surrounding area. Flooding was reported, including serious damage to the house of Queen member, Brian May.

Far less problematic, my plans for a barbel from a small Thames tributary looked shot. I’d seen the stream on Monday at 4.00pm and it looked tiny, running clear. Tuesday morning and it was five feet up, the colour of oxtail soup. The deluge had done its worst.

Yet, twenty four hours after, on Wednesday morning, this amazing barbel was landed, fat as butter, weighing 11 pounds, or even a tad more. It was an extraordinary capture in my experience, for reasons perhaps worth looking at.

First, the serious stuff. On my visit on the Tuesday, the stench from the river was gross. My host showed me where sewage overspills regularly take place, and where this one had vomited unspeakable refuse into the river. We hear about the way that our rivers are treated on a daily basis, but seeing it firsthand remains a shock, a wake-up call. You could say, the capture of a notable barbel suggests these spills are not damaging. I’d reply, the complete absence of weed, the lack of small fish, and the slime coating the river bed tell a different story.

On to the fishing, there is a moment when a river settles after a flood that can be dynamic. That tipping point had been reached on Wednesday, about 42 hours after the rain had fallen, and some 37 hours after the river had risen. Experienced barbel anglers recognise when the window is at its widest. The colour is less putrid. The flow has eased, the level is visibly dropping, and the barbel, you know, are on the prowl! (and in this case, the smell of sewage has receded).

We all know a smelly bait works in a flood, but sometimes we don’t realise how large a bait can be. In this case, the barbel in question took two golf ball-sized pieces of Spam threaded up the line from a size 6 hook. There are occasions when four or even five pieces have produced fish. How the barbel suck in half a can of meat I do not know, but the fact is that they can. I’m not a great fan of bait droppers as a rule, but in this case, an old, rusted example had undoubtedly worked its magic and got the prebait down to the bed in flood conditions.

Prebaiting? Of course, you cannot beat this. I was fortunate in being able to introduce the equivalent of two Spam cans of meat over a forty eight hour period. And that was into a small, tight swim where I was told a handful of barbel were to be found. The bait dropper had undoubtedly delivered that meat into the very parlour of those barbel, and prepared the way for the eventual fishing session.

The bite came in almost exactly twenty minutes. Once again, the first cast on smaller rivers had proved to be the killer cast. Any further casts would have simply increased commotion and decreased chances – hence my complete abhorrence of two rods, in tight situations especially.

And, of course, respect for the fish. What a life in a small stream, constantly threatened by devastating pollution. What a battle in that snag-infested swim? And the ivory colour all fish so quickly adopt in flood conditions. Will I ever forget the sight of that colossal, spookily pale fish eventually breaking surface in my tiny river?

Never. The power and the passion of the barbel indeed!
 

John Bailey

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Something to cheer about!!

Passion For Barbel. 18/07/2021

Well, the heat after the storm, eh? Back on the Wye to find it low and NOT clear. The whole world knows now about the constant stream of chicken poo infecting our glorious river and I’m afraid, yesterday at least, it was running rusty brown. We anglers are ever worried about canoeists and free swimmers, but how is all this larking about in water halfway to becoming a sewer affecting them? Isn’t there a health time bomb there? Angela Jones, aka 'The Wild Woman of The Wye', reports the stink every time she enters the water to swim and, certainly, where I had my investigation the stones in the margins were coated in slime and gunge.

So, we all know the problem, but what if anything is anyone doing about it? It’s lamentable that at the very top, Boris Johnson is surrounded by Westminster Greens, including his wife. Why are they not on cases like this, rather than fretting about the return of beavers I ask? I suspect what is fashionable and fun in London circles does not include chicken shit.

The rumour is that the Wye & Usk Foundation is closing salmon fishing along the two rivers, in light of the soaring temperatures, and is considering the same course for barbel. Obviously, heat and chicken pollutants are a toxic cocktail, and I guess this is a sensible move – especially as there STILL anglers who retain barbel in keepnets. Want to see a dead barbel? Put it in a net, in the baking shallows where oxygen levels are minimal, and where the bed is coated in sewage, and where there is no shade.

Given all these hideous considerations, Enoka and I decided to start work on our newly acquired hut/railway carriage, which has seen no TLC since it left the rails, probably in Beeching’s day. Despite baking heat, the car thermometer got to 30 plus, we persevered and the back of the job is broken... along with ours. This morning, what bits of my body that are not sunburnt are stiff and sore beyond measure. No pleasure without pain I know, but sometimes these words seem less wise than bloody infuriating!
 

john step

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Blimey I bet that is like an oven in these temperatures. Regarding pollution. I reckon its way down the list of things to do at the moment.
Shame but that I feel is the reality.
 

John Bailey

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Passion For Barbel. 7.00pm. 18/07/2021

Sunday 18th July, and we’re back from a baking river Wye. Fishless again, but interesting stuff nonetheless.

In VERY shallow, quick water, I espied a large number of barbel flashing from time to time. From a high bank I could look down right on top of them: not large fish, I didn’t think, but frankly that was not an issue on a burning day.

I put out bait, a mix of corn and a pellet selection, and continued to watch. The fish reacted. Soon I was seeing four, even five flashes to the minute. I eased down the steep bank and decided to touch leger, in part to get an idea of their reaction. I couldn’t sit, the rocks were like a pizza oven, but standing at least allowed me to see the odd fish coming in close.

In just five minutes, first cast, I had couple of tentative pick-ups, and then a brief, savage tug that was too quick to hit. That was it, nothing else whatsoever. After half an hour, I climbed back to my viewing point. Now, after fifteen minutes of scrutiny, I was seeing one flash every ninety seconds. The inescapable conclusion was that only the very lightest of fishing had put those barbel down. Okay, I was standing and the fish were close to me, but I don’t think that was it. Bright light. Broiling temperatures. Milky warm water, low in oxygen. Throw in a length of 8 pound line through the swim, and you have a recipe for failure.

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I gave up, donned waders, and went for watery stroll. I found dips and runs invisible from the bank, and stumbled upon four big barbel under a tree in two feet of water that frightened me as much as I did them.

I was out for only three hours or so, but I came close to fish and learned something about them and their river. These short, sharp sessions can teach you a lot and, put together, they build up like a jigsaw. But of course, our picture of wild fish on an untamed river will always have some vital pieces missing...

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John Bailey

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Passion For Barbel. 23/07/2021. Return Of The Warrior

Keith Hutchings has to be as brave as any angler I have known. I first met him over ten years ago when he was starting his life with Parkinson’s disease and tomorrow, his son Robin is bringing him down to the Wye. The photographs show our time together last summer at Kingfisher in Norfolk when Keith took the place apart, with the help of Robin and Enoka, of course. But the Wye is a different animal, and I fear for the banks, and especially about access, as rain is being forecast.

I have done what I can. I have beaten down nettles and hacked out footholds. I baited yesterday, and again today, with pellets, hemp and boilies. Now I can only hope the Wye is kinder than it has been this year so far, and that we can get Keith into position to profit.

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We have fine Wye memories, made in each other’s company. Fish missed, landed, occasionally grabbed by pike, and even sometimes landed. It has never been an easy ride and often a painful one, but Keith has never given up and stuck with it to the very last cast of every session. I would love him to land his dream this weekend, a beloved barbel, but we all know it will not be an easy ask. Keith will suffer. The river is as hard as I have ever known it. I cannot even begin to forecast what the result might be, and know it is on a knife-edge.

If there is any justice whatsoever, this courageous man, who has spent so many years fighting his disease, will be fighting a big barbel too, and I will do everything in my power to make it happen. Watch out tomorrow for a report on day one of the quest!

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Passion for Barbel. 24/07/2021

I promised to keep you up to date on the day with Keith and son Robin and so I will, bad and good.

Good? Well, we got our hero to the waterside, and that is not easy on the Wye with its precipitous banks and a brave man who has Parkinson’s. Bless him. The pain he must have endured as Robin and I half-carried and half-lugged him to the swim. Never, ever, take your health or your mobility for granted. Never, ever, whinge about set backs that barely deserve the name. Look at the photograph and Keith’s face. That is man just happy to be out.

The bad news? This is a swim that has produced hundreds of barbel for us over fifteen years. This season, not a barbel has been caught or seen there. Today, we had a sprinkling of chub to three pounds, and not a hint of anything fearsome down there at all. Oh, just to see a rolling barbel would have been enough.

The worse news? Two sets of canoeists reported seeing rafts of dead fish up river. They weren’t sure of the species, but their outstretched hands indicated fish between five and ten pounds.

Again I ask, HAVE YOU SEEN GEORGE MONBIOT’S FILM ON YOUTUBE CALLED RIVERCIDE??? If you care about rivers, you simply must, and I promise you the hour it is on will have you gripped every second. Part of the time you will weep. For the rest, you’ll want to see heads roll.

Back tomorrow with my brave man, and I still pray for a barbel for him. Who knows when he will have chance of another?
 

John Bailey

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Passion for Barbel. 25/07/2021

Well, Day 2 of my Wye adventure with Keith and Robin went pretty much like Day 1, to be honest. I kept raining in 4mm and 10mm pellets, and we fished lightly and sensitively over the top. Plenty of chublets and a few 3 and 4 pounders came our way, but nothing remotely to make us think that barbel were around any corner. We’ve all had sessions when barbel are tough cookies, but you generally see some barbel action, even if only a fish rolling. Yesterday and today, not a sighting of Mr Barbel anywhere.

This is serious. Five of us, at least, have fished this middle section beat relatively hard since the Sixteenth without a barbel being landed, and although there have been a couple of suspected hook-ups, these do remain unproven and smack of wishful thinking. That’s all but forty days barbel-less, way over any previous record set in bad conditions. Either the barbel are not in the river, for whatever reason, or they are simply refusing to feed outside complete darkness... though Bradley did try an all-nighter with no reward. My impression has to be that there are far fewer barbel along this beat, at least, than we have ever known there to be, and that is worrying. Failing to catch barbel is one thing: failing to catch barbel that are not there is something else whatsoever.

Still, Keith had a fine time, and simply appreciated being there... after all he has not fished since our trip to Kingi 13 months ago. Doesn’t that simple sad fact make the rest of us realise our blessings? For Keith, there is no certainty when his next outing might be, and he looked like he was drinking in every moment. And how easily he might not have been on the Wye’s banks at all. Robin and I looked at the truly horrendous Met Office forecast and nearly cancelled, given the waves of rain coming the river’s way. The banks are steep and difficult dry, but wet, for Keith, they could be lethal. Literally. In the event we decided to suck it and see, and despite the dire warnings of deluges, we didn’t have enough rain to fill an egg cup. Keith could so easily have missed out on one of his precious trips because of horrendous errors by the Met people. But how often does that happen? Because I guide and film and photograph, I pay great heed to the forecasts, but repeatedly they are out, sometimes waaay out, like this weekend. Do the Met Office apologise, EVER?? Do workers there get sacked? Does gross inefficiency even merit a ticking-off there? Who monitors their performance, and decides if there are questions to be answered? I guess there is a shrug-of-the-shoulders attitude, and no-one gives a damn about the inconvenience/distress/danger even being caused. Does anyone know? I really believe we anglers deserve answers to this one, or like so many things, does the truth just lie endlessly buried and ignored?

The blisteringly good news is that we just might have found the way to get Keith (and perhaps more Parkinson’s sufferers) more mobile in the future. We devised the technique of 'Doing The Locomotion' with him, a dance that some of you might remember from Little Eva’s heydays. I, or Robin, lead, Keith tucks in behind with his arms around the leader's chest, and the third party follows up behind, supporting Keith with arms around his back. In the photographs, John Gilman takes my place effortlessly, as you can see, and we got Keith fifty yards up the steep bank and back to the car in a comparative trice. No sweat, no tears, and of course, the technique gets Keith’s leg muscles working too.

Keith, you remain my star, my hero, my inspiration. God go with you 'till we meet next time.

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whitty

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Sadly John its a case of welcome to UK rivers,most rivers have already gone through the stage the Wye appears to be going through,unless however it is just low clear river conditions putting them off,along with the oppressive heat,maybe a return when conditions improve may prove one way or the other the demise of the barbus...
 

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A duck and her brood pictured on the Wye a week ago... look at the colour of that water!
Anglers, birders, canoeists, nature lovers... can any of us allow this disgrace to go unchecked???

Passion For Barbel. 26/07/2021... Wye Shut Down?

Well, it looks rather like my effort with Keith and Robin last weekend will be the last for a while. Quite obviously, the continued heat and the lack of rain has meant that the Wye, like many waters, is truly suffering in these almost unprecedented conditions, and that to fish is irresponsible. Accordingly, I have told several friends this week to hold hard, and that we will rearrange when conditions allow. The fish must always come first.

I have made it clear many times in the past that I don’t think much of the Met Office’s forecasts, but there are two important considerations that spring to my mind at least... perhaps even three!

First, is the situation here on the Wye a result both of hot weather AND the chicken farm problem? I have fished the Wye for 59 years, and I do not remember coarse fishing being put on hold 'till now – but enlighten me, of course, if I am wrong. IF chicken shit is a fundamental part of the problem, is it not even more vital that we rise up and actually DO something? I’m not thinking selfishly about the fishing here but, once again, about the fish.

Second, if anglers voluntarily pull off (or are made to do so), then surely the canoeists absolutely MUST do the same? Who is going to tell canoe operators of this new situation? The EA????

Thirdly, IF the dangers facing the Wye are in large part a result of unregulated chicken operations, is there not an imperative that ALL those interested in, and in love with, the Wye unite to do something positively and quickly? An alliance of anglers, birders, canoeists, walkers and environmentalists might be harder to resist than if we all act individually?

Perhaps, just perhaps, out of this monumental harm, good might just emerge?
 

whitty

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As per usual,this just so happens to be the lovely Wye,what about the rest of the barbel rivers across the country that have died a death,nobody gave a toss about them,in fact people on this site said that as barbel weren't natural on the Ouse and Ivel and couldn't breed well enough to sustain the population so there shouldn't be restockings,yet they bred well enough in the first twenty years,along with that the more iconic Hampshire Avon and Dorset Stour are far more historic for barbel than the Wye,both rivers are just about staying afloat numbers wise,nobody gives a toss,only those that fish there,what do we do John have a petition to save the Wye and not the entire river network in the UK,in my opinion angling has lost out to paddle boarders,canoeists,wild swimmers etc and yet they pay bugger all into the river,just barefaced profit for the rental companies,the do gooders who think they care about wildlife because they watch Springwatch for three weeks and hang a few nut feeders out think we are satan incarnate because the people behind the scenes at the BBC are fundamentally anti-angling,which has been seen during the recent campaigns to save our chalk streams,where they mentioned every unheard of organisation under the sun that supposedly helped chalkstreams,apart from angling clubs,who have seeked advice from the EA and put time and money to implement said advice,we are just the bad guys,the ones who ring the EA if weirs are broken,or dead fish are seen,or pollution is suspected,like I have several times....

Just to add,i'm not in any way saying that a beautiful river like the Wye shouldn't be looked after,just that nobody cared about the Ouse or Ivel,one held the record,the other was about to eclipse it,now both are mere shadows of their former selves....
 
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It sickens me to read about the environmental cost to a river like the Wye of the cheap chicken sold in supermarket's value range and the tarted up shyte sold in high street fast food outlets. But I've noticed that even in angling circles, if you urge attention to eg environmental cost or sustainability you're liable to get knocked back with some coarse tree-hugger remarks or a cheap joke about Greta Thunberg or something similar.
The Wye was a beacon of a river in this country. Having survived, thanks to its geography, the industrial pollution that degraded so many rivers, to become our most prolific and beautiful, it's now threatened by the chicken shit effluent of the worst kind of food farming that aims to make meat as cheap as bread. We saw chicken once or twice a year when I was a kid. Why is it the staple of the cheapest fast food dross now?
 

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The profit margin of fruit and veg is less than 2% Kev, I bet it’s a damn sight healthier on Chicken. If you think about the way agriculture makes profit, it’s a profit of scale and poor margin. How much investment has been put into fruit picking for example? We’re relying in the same method as we were prewar, pay some poor sap sixpence to work like a dog. We can create a vaccine in less than 12 months but we can’t make a machine to pick strawberries? I recall a programme about how food represents the smallest proportion of our income it ever has. We pay subsidies for doing nothing, we import goods at huge Carbon cost across a continent. Our food system is broken, in part this is because a political club has worked as a capitalist market to ensure that business profits and food prices are suppressed. It sounds good at first glance but it’s a key stone of that the rich get richer issue.

A slight tangent I know but it’s about what we prioritise and over the recent decades we care more about getting Strawberries in January for tuppence than we do about the cost of it to us all. It’s not about what we want, what’s good for us or our environment, it’s about how Asda/Tesco/Sainsbury’s can make as much money as possible.
 

tigger

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Farming has gone industrial nowadays!
I was actually brought up on a dairy and chicken farm. The farm was small in comparison to most these days, my grandads actual herd of milkas was only about 70 cows. Obviously he had up and coming calves, and heifers also.
Back then the shippans were cleaned out after milking (twice a day) by hand with a shovel and wheel barrow. The cow muck was wheeled to a middin where it was left to rot down for months. It was spread on the fields via a shyte spreader which had a revolving bar with chains or metal spikes or similar which rotated and flicked out chunks. The fields were then raked and it was broken up and soon munched on by worms etc fertilising the ground. Even with heavy rainfall the muck was not washed into the ditches and streams as the sloppy disgusting smelling slurry they make the cow muck into today does.
The chickens were genuine free range, no fences, they just roamed across the fields and ate gras, insects etc and were supplimented with pellets in the sheds. Each shed held 500 birds and there were six sheds and the birds all returned to their own sheds at dusk and were locked in. The birds looked like pet birds in perfect feather. Their muck was mostly done in the cow pastures/fields and not really noticeable. The stuff out of the sheds went on the middin every few months, that was a nasty job!
The farm had several old mines which had filled with water and were stuffed with fish. There was a stream which always ran crystal clear and again, it was full of fish, watervoles and a multitude of amphibians, insects etc.
So, what i'm saying is, the old style farming had very little ill effect on the wildlife, unlike modern farming practices where maximum profit is all anyone is bothered about!
 
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