John Bailey's Passion for Barbel

John Bailey

Well-known member
Feature Writer
Joined
Nov 16, 2020
Messages
199
Reaction score
393
Passion For Barbel. 9/08/2021

This cooler weather and decent rainfall seems to have taken the heat out of the vexed question of the Wye and its chicken/phosphate problems... but that would be a grave error. Just because barbel are coming out again, that does not mean all the problems have gone away. At the very best, they have been shelved for a few days or weeks if we are lucky. Just going down to the river (or any river) and whacking out a fish or two might raise our spirits, but should not take our eye off the issues facing us.

There are challenges everywhere in the countryside. For example, I now live in a peaceful, very rural part of Herefordshire. There are woods all around and it would seem to be a step back to a better time for me. HOWEVER! To the South of the small estate I live on, a very large orchard was planted seven years ago, and now the trees are well large enough to bear fruit for the cider business.

All well and good but so far, and it’s only early August, those forty acres have been sprayed nine times with herbicide and insecticide, and god knows what else as well. Sometimes, the farmer does not check the weather forecast, and all the chemical gets washed off by rain or blown long distances by wind. Worst of all, when the trees were planted, a whole system of drainage pipes was laid, and these take the chemical-laden rainwater 400 yards to a ditch that feeds a Wye tributary, and which then flows in to the main river around Hereford. So, the orchard looks nice and postcard England, but it is a killer.

This tiny story of abuse is repeated everywhere there is farmland of any type whatsoever that is not organic. It’s fine and dandy these middle-class Greens worrying about beavers and red squirrels, and everything else that is completely irrelevant. Why can’t we all focus on the everyday disasters that occur all over the countryside, and do something about them first? I guess humdrum pollution isn’t as sexy as talk of lynx and wolf, especially if you live in Westminster and know bugger all about anything!

Yes, this is a rant. But it is also called passion, a passion to see something done about this while there is some chance of change. But we won’t get things done if we catch a couple of barbel and go home thinking all is right with the world... because it is not!
 

John Bailey

Well-known member
Feature Writer
Joined
Nov 16, 2020
Messages
199
Reaction score
393
IMG_1008.jpg


The Barbel and the Buckleys. 14/08/2021

Wow, how did this happen? Happy to say James Buckley and Dad, Rob, were more than happy to indulge my passion to get back amongst fly-caught barbel. This fish cost us blood, sweat and tears, but you can see the result... we’ve got another crack today, so look out for a considered report on this tomorrow.

Talk about making an old man happy!
 

bullet

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 10, 2011
Messages
958
Reaction score
1,176
Location
Devon
Look forward to that, I'd like to know what you get them on.
 
J

John Bailey

Guest
Flies close-up.JPG


Passion for Barbel… On the Fly​


On one of the forums recently interest was raised about the practice of catching barbel on the fly, and its feasibility. Well, as many of us know, barbel are a very genuine target for the fly angler and have been for years, especially in Europe, where I first had my own eyes opened.

It was a trip to the Czech Republic in 1996 that did it for me! I had taken a group of English barbel anglers over to the country, and had found a lot of very big barbel in a river to the West of Prague. Unfortunately they were uncatchable until we discovered their greed for three or four caddis on a size 14 hook. But we need not have bothered grubbing around in the margins each morning, as guide Franta proved.




This was the first time I had seen the Czech nymph technique used, and I was completely staggered. I had been fishing a small weir for two hours with bait, without a strikeable take, when Franta wandered up with his rod and team of flies. He asked if he could work down the pool, and in six casts had two barbel, a bream, a trout , a grayling and lost a third barbel. He then reeled in, dismissed the place as having too many nuisance fish, and went off downriver.




I could have been humiliated. I chose to be educated. I took his teachings back home, and on the Wye in the summers of 1996 and 1997 had twenty seven barbel to around 11 pounds. Between 2001 and 2015 I also had well over two hundred Spanish barbel on the fly, many on dries, although they were made up of several different sub-species and not our own Barbus Barbus.


James in action

So, there I am with this, and that is my history. Let me tell you about the weekend just gone, down here on the Wye again. Part of the reason for leaving Norfolk and coming to Herefordshire was to re-engage with the Wye, and pick up the more mobile techniques of barbel fishing I had experimented with twenty five years ago. I am not knocking the usual methods of pursuing barbel, but I do know there are more tactile approaches, and happily Rob and James Buckley were happy to indulge me when they came to visit. James is, of course, an under-riverkeeper on the Test and at twenty, has the open-mindedness of the young. As a result, he was more than happy to pack fly gear along with his usual river kit.




In short, James and dad Rob both managed a barbel on the fly, just the one each. It was not easy by any means and we worked hard for the whole two and a bit days. We concentrated on the quicker, shallower runs, as you might expect, and largely used the now traditional Czech nymph approach, the only major difference being a single fly on the point rather than a team of three.




Now, I’m reluctant to go into detailed explanations here, at least as yet. Two barbel do not a thesis make! I emphasise that I am still finding my feet here, and picking up on where I left off all those years ago. However, the bit is between my teeth and I am out again in a couple of days time, perhaps with dear friend Paul Whitehouse for a few hours. PW is a far better fly man than I am so I have high hopes. Whatever, in a few days, I hope to be in a position to go into greater detail on the actual mechanics of the method.


…A fly sample

James gets his fish the second day on my lighter kit…

What I will say is that the thrill of hooking and playing a barbel on the fly is unmatched. Barbel are not known as the “British Bonefish” for nothing, and what they do not do is give up after the first run. I will also add that I am considering going cane for this. I’m going to ask John Stephenson at Thomas Turner if he can locate a 10ft rod with feel and steel both. I like the concept of an easy action with lots of feel, but with backbone enough for the battle that always ensues. Yes, it’s something of a whim, but why not? After all, we are doing this for fun, not to feed the family, and anything that enhances that fun has to be good in my book? But for now, I’ll say farewell for now with photos of the weekend for inspiration.

The post Passion for Barbel… On the Fly first appeared on FishingMagic Magazine.

Continue reading...
 
Last edited by a moderator:
J

John Bailey

Guest
Ian2.JPG


Passion for Barbel… On the Fly (Part 2)​

I had promised more news on my adventure for more barbel on fly, picking up on my trials back in the Nineties, but it’s been a week of conflicting commitments and I’m no further forward. Not quite right! I did receive a selection of Czech barbel flies from my old and valued friend Franta, my guide a quarter of a century ago who first gave me the taste for this quest.

These are as yet unused, and even not photographed, as I left them on the table of the Wye hut we have as a group been busy restoring. And that is one reason I have had restricted fishing time. Ian arrived from Surrey with a carload of flooring that between us (90% him) we had to lay. Delivered next was a consignment of flat-pack table and chairs that we laboured to assemble… or at least Ian did. Now the whole thing looks very IKEA, but that has not helped Bailey’s Barbel Progress, and for that I apologise. We still have a long way to go before said hut measures up to the beauties I witnessed on the Tyne and Eden a week or so ago, but a start has to be made somewhere.


Ian looking justifiably proud

Personally, I especially like photos of past successes on a hut wall, and whilst I’d like to think we might catch fish of our own, I’d love a few black and whites of Wye salmon from back in the days of its pomp. Anyone know where I could locate a few? Junk shops, I suppose? Antique emporiums? Car boots? Thomas Turner?!

Back to Norfolk news now. The great Olly Shepherd of Fly Fishing Yorkshire emailed me the other day from my old county where he was on holiday. Olly, of course, was my right-hand man on the Mortimer and Whitehouse Xmas special last year, and I’m happy to say we have not lost touch. But to the point!

Stopping at a coastal road bridge, Olly looked over as all anglers do… and saw a sea trout he put at 15 pounds plus!! He added it was bright silver and straight from the salt. Now, I’m not dreaming of revealing locations, as great mate Robbie Northman is mounting a sea trout campaign as I write, but the sighting is awesome from so many angles.


A hut on the Tyne

Personally, I’m so exonerated by this. Back between 1969 and 1974, I caught many sea trout from the North Norfolk coastal area, and many were big. Really big. My diaries show I had over twenty “doubles” up to a monster of 17! Of course, all this was way before I had any thought of buying a camera, and no visual evidence exists of these fish. My mother took a couple of snaps of fish being brought home for her legendary dinner parties, but she died a few years after, and pretty much everything belonging to my parents has been scattered to the winds. How do these things happen, I ask myself?

Those were the days, I had just so much time. Those mammoth Uni summer vacations, eh? Did we realise what we had then? I could stay all night if the tides were right, or get up at 3.00am to be ready for the first of the dawn. A rising sun and a flowing tide I remember as even better than a tide creeping in at dusk, though they gave me my biggest fish. Out of a hundred or so fish, perhaps twenty five were fly-caught, if I’m honest, with the rest on spinner, worm or fish bait. I’d like the percentages to be reversed, but I was a hunter then, and to hook a big sea trout on any gear was a thrill beyond compare.


A hut on the Eden… we have some way to go!

The belief then was that Norfolk fish were summer visitors from the North East, especially the Tweed region, and that they came South to profit from rich, shallow sea feeding in the warm months. Perhaps, but I did witness these fish spawning in at least two Norfolk rivers come late autumn, so I have never been exactly sure.

But Olly’s sighting has proved that these fish still exist half a century on, and I find that supremely exciting. A twelve pound sea trout on the fly or a twelve pound barbel? Which would I prefer today? It’s such a close thing. I’ll end by saying I hope Robbie catches the former, and I’ll settle for the latter. Wouldn’t that be a brace and a half!


The post Passion for Barbel… On the Fly (Part 2) first appeared on FishingMagic Magazine.

Continue reading...
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Mark Wintle

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 10, 2002
Messages
4,158
Reaction score
292
Location
Azide the Stour
West Bay in Dorset a few years ago, a truly massive (judged by a 12" fish as around 36" long) seatrout by the sluice:
IMG_8513a.jpg
 
J

John Bailey

Guest

Barbelreturncloseup2.jpg

Passion for Barbel… Random Thoughts​


Quite a few musings here, so I hope you’ll forgive my scattered thoughts. In fact, so scattered are they that I have to emphasise that their order is completely random. Pick from them what you might consider worthwhile… they are all heartfelt and based on decades of experience.

I truly believe that barbel are a sort of “crossover” species. By that I mean that on a river like the Wye, there are endless entertaining ways to catch barbel, just as there are game fish. Yes, you can sit behind a rod pointing at the stars and wait for the tip to go round, and nothing wrong in that. But you can catch them on fly, on float, and by freelining. Wading, sight fishing, and endless tactile methods are all part of the game. And of course, to me, barbel are as beautiful as any species on the planet and fight like the tigers they are. They offer so much, in so many ways, I feel they are tragically undervalued.


Fly caught… third on the fly this month

The heatwave has crashed, hopefully for the rest of 2021. The Wye is a slightly better colour than when sunlight, heat, and way high phosphate levels sickened it beyond belief. The salmon are looking happier, chub are on the move, and barbel are appearing once again. That’s all great to hear, but it should not detract from the fact that the Wye is in trouble, and that our help, all of us who love the river in whatever way that might be, is sorely needed.

My guys and I have been fishing hard these last two weeks and in eight sessions, we have landed eleven barbel. This is way down on what I would have expected ten, fifteen or twenty years ago, when that number of fish could be expected in a day. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Should we accept that a barbel a day is the right way? Should we view barbel as a fish as special and as precious as a salmon? This century a salmon a session would please anyone almost anywhere, and perhaps this is what we have to expect and treasure from our barbelling? I have found that each fish now I regard as a massive privilege just to see, to admire. I now respect each barbel in a way more profound than in past decades. I feel no loss in the fact numbers are down and might never recover. I’d say all of us have reached a sort of peace that we didn’t experience when we were younger. Pious claptrap? Fine. I can only write what I honestly believe and feel.





With that in mind, with each and every barbel meaning the world to me, I’m trying even harder to treat them with a TLC that’s more far-reaching than in my past. I have always been fastidious with barbel, any fish come to that, but now I’m trying so hard to get every fish back in less than a minute, and not a specimen has been weighed yet. All of us are trying to release in the water, without taking a fish to the bank… and certainly, they are going off so strongly it gladdens the heart.

I’ll admit to age and a slowing down of ambition, but I’m learning from my decrepitude. In some ways, my faltering steps are surer than the confident strides of my younger years. Pious claptrap? Perhaps, but I’m happy that five or six pounds of barbel are enough now to make my day one of complete contentment.

Enough, I know. Next time, for the serious barbel fishers, I’ll revisit my previous advice on the cheapest and best leger weights you’ll ever find anywhere. There’s still practical advice in the old dog yet, you’ll see!








The post Passion for Barbel… Random Thoughts first appeared on FishingMagic Magazine.

Continue reading...
 
Last edited by a moderator:

LPP

Active member
Joined
Feb 19, 2021
Messages
36
Reaction score
15
Location
Surrey
I used to be pretty happy with a salmon a week! and that was in the "better times" 30 years ago....
Certainly agree and am content with a barbel a day being sufficient and particularly as it would more often than not, be on a preferred method.
 

whitty

Well-known member
Joined
May 11, 2017
Messages
7,958
Reaction score
3,556
Location
Luton Bedfordshire.
Expectations on numbers of barbel you catch should be purely based on venues fished,even swims on said venues,catches on my old venues would have been great to average one every 3 or 4 trips,when I used to fish the H.Avon one a day was good,nowadays on the Stour you are lucky to get one at all,on the small river I fish,depending on swim choice and how you approach it the catches could be several a day...
 

theartist

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 27, 2010
Messages
3,867
Reaction score
1,345
Location
On another planet
Barbel shouldn't be compared to Salmon in regards numbers, the latter is a sea going fish that's also one of the most popular fish for the table.
 
Last edited:
J

John Bailey

Guest

AllStones.JPG

Passion for… Stones​


The photos say it all really. How to create a weight for river barbel and chub (and stillwater fish come to that) from nothing but snap links, glue, and the stones from the river bed or bank.

First, I have written about this before, but a good while ago so it bears repeating now. Second, it was the great Rob Olsen’s idea initially, way back in the mid-Nineties, but I and others like Phil Humm worked on adaptations.

The actual mechanics are hugely simple. You superglue the link to a flat side of a stone, and when it is dry and fixed, you can attach the line through the swivel in the same way as you would a feeder or lead. The advantages are enormous…




  1. These stone weights are all but free, just the cost of the snap links and the glue.
  2. Virtually 100% sustainable.
  3. In clear water, educated river fish shy away from feeders and leads, which are obvious to them and spell danger. What fish is going to be afraid of a stone, when it lives all its life above millions of them?
  4. If you are worried about the flash of the link glued to the stone, sprinkle sand on it as it dries, to hide it altogether.
  5. You can get away with a lighter stone than you can a lead or feeder. The stone has been moulded by the current for millennia even, and can hold bottom far easier than something made in a factory. It goes in with less splash as well.
  6. Perfect for the travelling, mobile angler. Don’t hamper yourself with leads. Take glue and snap links, and chose the stone you need at the swims you fish during the day.
  7. Most barbel especially are lost because they zig-zag along the bed, and the feeder or lead gets wedged in snags or between rocks. If a stone/weight gets caught, it breaks off the line with about two to three pounds pressure, so the fish can run free again and be played out safely. This makes the “free” stone weight a lot better than the “bought” Stonze, which cost a lot anyway.
  8. If a stone gets lost, so what? It’s not like leaving lumps of plastic or lead on the bed.
  9. The method is hugely adaptable. For example, glue the line and eye of the hook to a long stone, and let the bend of the hook with bait and hair remain free. An ultimate bolt rig when you get it right.
  10. A great idea to experiment with in stillwater as well as on rivers.
The post Passion for… Stones first appeared on FishingMagic Magazine.

Continue reading...
 

Keith M

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 1, 2002
Messages
4,972
Reaction score
1,879
Location
South of Watford Gap
I’ve had these type of leger weights in my bag for years, I first bought some ready made from a shop near Christchurch about 10 to 15 years ago. Only my swivels are glued into drilled holes in my stones.
I don’t use them very often because they are much larger than the equivalent weight in lead substitute and I’m a bit wary of making too many splashes when Barbel are already in my swim, however they are a very simple and effective idea.

Keith
 
Last edited:

markg

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 1, 2008
Messages
6,906
Reaction score
2,478
Location
South East England
I look for stones with holes in when I am fishing on the beach, they make good weights for those bigger sea floats or weights for casting, just tie tie them on the end in a loop, however as Keith said they are quite a bit lighter for size than lead and not necessarily aerodynamic but, for certain situations work well enough. I have never thought of using them for freshwater so I might adapt a few.
 

dorsetsteve

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 22, 2015
Messages
312
Reaction score
174
Expectations on numbers of barbel you catch should be purely based on venues fished,even swims on said venues,catches on my old venues would have been great to average one every 3 or 4 trips,when I used to fish the H.Avon one a day was good,nowadays on the Stour you are lucky to get one at all,on the small river I fish,depending on swim choice and how you approach it the catches could be several a day...
I’ve done approximately 60 hours this year of an average of 5 hours a session for no Barbel on the H.Avon this year. Last year I didn’t bank a single fish, loosing two in the same session… fish a session, I’d take fish a year is hard graft.
 

markg

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 1, 2008
Messages
6,906
Reaction score
2,478
Location
South East England
When I fished the H Avon back in the late 80's early 90's I might get 2 or 3 barbel in a day average, maybe just one and a few blanks in-between; there was quite a bit of talk about it declining back then, sounds pretty dire to me now.
 

markg

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 1, 2008
Messages
6,906
Reaction score
2,478
Location
South East England
Most rivers are dire...the EA seem to not care a jot,some venues now are virtually bereft of the species...
It seems a lot of of the big reputation rivers have gone that way down south; the EA have certainly failed them. Pollution, abstraction etc.. I cannot see it changing, we have been highlighting the problems for years and it does not seem to have made any difference. Its all the Governments of the last 50 years who don't care or care enough other than paying lip service to it; the EA might have been more proactive with the right support from any of these Governments.
I don't suppose we want to go on about it as we have been here so often before but that emphasizes the point in a way.
 
Last edited:

Steve King

Well-known member
Joined
Jul 2, 2009
Messages
5,099
Reaction score
1,657
Location
Near ye village of Tardebigge!!
I use dried silt on leger weights when the river is clear. Just take a scoop of two from the river and take it home, when dry just coat the weight in super glue and dunk it in the powdery silt! Simples!
 
J

John Bailey

Guest

IMG_1430.jpg

Passion for Barbel… Tactics​


I know I have been quiet for a while on this particular ‘Passion’ but I have been beavering away in the background – if we are allowed to talk about beavers in this strange day and age?

The problems of the Wye are well known and very real, and involving myself with them has become my main focus this summer, as is only right and proper. Make no mistake, these Wye issues are serious, and we’ll have to fight to make them go away. But isn’t that the challenge everywhere? Aren’t we all facing perils on the rivers we love? Perhaps you are sick of the attention the Wye receives, but if we can get things moving here, perhaps there is hope everywhere?

But to the fishing… I decided I either lie down under the problems of the Wye, or try to fish on and do my best, especially as I live hereabouts now. That alone confers huge benefits. Instead of fleeting trips now and again, I have been able to formulate plans and campaigns that have ultimately paid off. Of course, everything has been helped by the lowering of the temperatures, the periods of rain, and the approach of autumn, always a good season. Having said that, several approaches do seem to have paid dividends…

1 – Living close, I have been able to bait some fifteen swims on a daily basis. A terrific advantage.

2 – With the Wye at low levels, it has been possible to fish boilies/pellets with only 2 to 4 SSGs spaced up the line around nine inches to a foot apart. These hold bottom well, pin down the line, and go in with far less splash than a lead or feeder. In fact, I suspect they sound something like a catapult pouch of loose feed going into the swim? But whether the fish think that way, we’ll never know.

3 – I wear chest waders or waterproof pants, so can sit on the ground. A rod rest in a few swims, but mostly the rod lies on the reeds. A pocket of SSGs, baiting needle, bait stops, a couple of spare hooks, forceps. A bucket of bait. A net. That’s pretty much it. This means you can move, move again, and keep moving – space on the bank allowing.

4 – Catch a fish and move on. The first cast is always your best. And taking one barbel doesn’t freak out the shoal.

5 – The Wye is low, phosphate-rich and oxygen-poor. The barbel give their all, and I’m concentrating on shots of fish in the water or going back. I’m limiting the usual trophy shots to a minimum. My new camera is so quick, a couple of hand held/fish images take ten seconds.

6 – I appreciate that geography and time play a huge part in my good fortune, and if you are limited to odd days on far flung rivers, you’ll be thinking ‘lucky bugger’ or worse. But I never take this for granted, work my proverbials off, and have been doing this river stuff for sixty years, so have earned some privileges. Above all, perhaps take some ideas from these ‘Passion’ pieces and, as ever, contact me if I can help.

7 – Now I’ll let the pictures do the talking!



















































The post Passion for Barbel… Tactics first appeared on FishingMagic Magazine.

Continue reading...
 
Last edited by a moderator:
Top