John Bailey's Passion for Barbel

John Bailey

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Enoka in action and her son Krish came along to spectate!

Passion for Barbel. 18/09/2021

Well, the old Wye keeps rolling on! Despite real and well chronicled problems, the barbel that seemed gone AWOL through the high summer appear to be on the way back. Good stuff indeed.

A particular delight was taking Enoka out for a brief hour towards sunset in her new Orvis gear...

I’ll be writing more on the significance of this one, but I’ll let a couple of pictures suffice for now.

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John Bailey

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Passion for Barbel. 19/09/2021

Right, I know this is fanciful stuff, but in the low Wye water we have had, and helped by some sunshine, I have developed a bit of a passion for photographing barbel in the water as they come to the net. I emphasise that I am not on the rod, but holding the net and as we all know, that gives me the time to click away for a goodly while.

The pictures, I feel, show the grace of the fish in the water in a way that the normal trophy shot does not...

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John Bailey

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Passion for Barbel. 19/09/2021 (contd.)

...These shots also prove that boilies and three/four SSGs down the line, rather than leads and feeders, do work.

My horrendously untidy knot tying is also nakedly exposed. At least they’d be hard pushed to slip!

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Thanks John. This captures very well the best part in all fishing for me-the first sight of a good fish as it comes to the net.
 
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Passion for Barbel... Flood Thoughts

Life eh? All summer we have have been bemoaning river levels too low then, in a trice, the Wye is six feet up, running like a gravy train. WHAT, you think. Give me the chalk streams of gentle Wessex, please. But no, you get on with it. This is what real barbel fishing is all about… you’ve just got to think it through. So, flood thoughts as they come.

There are good floods and bad. Good floods are gentle and warm, bad floods cold and dirty, bringing in nasties off roads and fields. As this was the first flood for months, I was worried just what horrors would find their way downriver.





Would this flood provide a “good flush out” (as we like to say), or would it simply introduce more killers like phosphates?

To the fishing: traditionally, rising water is bad, dropping water good. Mostly. Tell that to the chub that follow the flood line up the meadows, eating grubs, worms and spiders as they go.

But, yes, this time round, the dropping water produced for Kate and Steve ALTHOUGH two barbel came at the peak of high water.


Kate playing a nice fish…

…there was some sense in the terminal arrangement, honest!

We lament the death of weed in the Wye. The only possible good thing I can find to say here is that fishing was possible through this flood as there was precious little weed to come down and clog the lines. A first for me on the Wye, and no mistake!

Meat has always done it for me in the past. This time round the fish came once again on Scopex boilies. Two on a hair out-fished the meat rod throughout.

Most of my flood barbel sessions have not seen me bait heavily. This time I did and it worked.


Ian, Kate, Barbel, Steve and Bailey the Spaniel

And away… Bailey looks on

I’m always amazed how quickly barbel lose their colours in flood water, and go from gold to a pale ivory. Masters of camouflage. Princes of survival.

Surprising how their fight is different too. Dogged. Deep. Slow. Few of those long runs that we so get off on! Is it simply that in no visibility water barbel can’t see, and don’t relish swimming full pelt into a rock or tree trunk?

Enough… let some pictures do the talking!


Steve with an “ivory” barbel

Steve with a big fish


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Passion for Barbel... Raising a Stink

I don’t think those of us in the London area will forget 2nd October for a while! Rain??!!! It began at 9.00am on the river Mole, and was still raining ten hours later. The river coloured and rose but there was worse...

On the 29th September I was pleased to see Fish Legal had issued a challenge to the Environment Agency saying, “The EA has just published an out-of-jail card for water companies. Their Regulatory Position Statement B2 tells water companies that they can discharge in breach of their permit because of a shortage of chemicals used for sewage treatment due to Brexit and Covid. Fish Legal thinks this RPS is unlawful as the EA can’t change the law or say what is or isn’t illegal.”

Back to the Mole. We were fishing in the Stink Swim and we could see why. By midday, there really was a tang of sewage in the air around us. 3.00pm and the sewer pipe was discharging just about anything and everything noxious you can think of. I won’t go there, but you can imagine.

It’s a shock. It’s one thing reading a bulletin from Fish Legal. It is entirely something else watching sewage vomiting into a wonderful river that eventually empties in to the Thames. This is happening. These discharges are coming to a river near you...
 

Keith M

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Discharging untreated sewerage in breach of their permit is too common these days and it’s great that fish legal are raising a challenge to the EA against rubber stamping it. Let’s just pray that it has an effect.

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A Wye Afternoon

I count myself very fortunate that I have a clutch of young fishing pals because I like to get down with the kids, if that expression is still remotely current? But it is undeniably good to fish with those your own age, if only because they are not always on their effin’ phones and know who you are you talking about if you mention Jimmy Greaves or Roger Hunt.

So it was that I was looking forward to a few hours with Richard Hewitt (he of Thomas Turner fame, amongst other accomplishments) and Simon Clark, well known slayer of monster fish. Both are grey-haired, and forget their mobile numbers, and I have wet lines with them for decades so I was anticipating a happy time.

We spent three hours talking (fishy) business, and that left two hours to actually fish for barbel on the middle Wye. Loving Richard and Simon as I do, I wanted to make the time count, which I think I did. The weather threatened the odd monumental shower, but what is that to hardened old guys?



Laugh at the weather is the motto of those born mid last century when Pak-A-Maks (or however they were spelt) and wafer-thin wellies were the height of luxury. As it turned out, happily, all the boxes for a splendid early October afternoon were ticked. Let’s look at those boxes perhaps?

The river looked perfect. High but steady, with a benign brown colour that was not chocolate and threatening, but warm and comforting. Moreover, judging by bankside branches, the level had dropped slightly too so I felt the Barbel Gods might just be smiling.

The swim I had in mind was empty of anglers and was large enough to accommodate both anglers, so conversation about Prime Ministers going back to Gladstone could continue. Moreover, though I had been away for a week, I had baited the big eddy hugely before leaving, and I banked on there being a few fish still looking for scraps.

It was a tad of a walk so we travelled light, like I always prefer to do. Two rods ready set up. Bucket of bait. Net. Pocket full of bits. Unhooking mat. A chair for Lord Richard. What else would you need?



The rigs were so simple Noddy would have no trouble with them. Size 10. Hair. Six SSGs spaced up the line approximately 8 inches apart. No splash to worry us or the fish. Weight enough to get the bait down and just hold it in position. Everything light, tight, and super-sensitive.

Nash Scopex boilies have changed barbelling life for me these last weeks. Two of them at 15mm fitted nicely on a long hair, and would be easy to find I reasoned.

I was right. I kept baiting heavily through the two hours, and first the chub succumbed and finally two barbel, an afternoon of perfect harmony. The three of us had agreed that a couple of fish would do us, and that to leave a swim unspooked is always the best thing for the fish and for the angler. You reach an age when a couple of barbel are enough, and more become greed.

Really, as we disappeared off our separate ways, I thought and hoped a short, sharp session could not have gone better. How nice to have firm friends and a river on fire again!


Story of a Wye afternoon!

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John Bailey

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Passion for Barbel. 10/10/2021

Well, they say a photograph is worth a thousand words so I’ll shut up, save to say we left home at 4.00pm, caught a single fish and drove back out of the valley as the sun began to set over the western hills.

Passion for Barbel? Passion for Life!

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Passion for Barbel. 12/10/2021

Well the glorious Wye autumn continues to give in bounteous fashion, and once again I’ll largely let the pictures speak for themselves. However, one issue might need to be addressed...

You might notice that one barbel was taken on a worm, when actually a perch was the target. But is that barbel enough to land me in trouble I ask? The question of bait in the Wye has always been a hot topic ever since I began to fish for anything other than salmon in 1986. There was a recent furore this spring, when worms were edging towards the banned list, but I had heard angling pressure had averted that.

I asked around before posting this photograph, and advice was very honestly hard to find. As the fish was caught Hereford way, I asked Paul at Woody’s Tackle, a man I’d trust with my life. His suggestion was that the use of maggots and worms is rather down to the rulings of the fishery owner. I guess this has to be right, as big perch are being taken in the area, and presumably they are not being caught on cauliflower cheese.

Obviously, worming for salmon is a dangerous game, and usually results in a dead fish, which no one wants. But I think I’d have to drown a vast amount of worms for perch before a salmon intervened. Still, a ruling would be appreciated, as I’m not by choice a law-breaker!

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A Question of Feeding​

I enjoyed the privilege of fishing alongside Dave Coster a couple of days last week, just before rain drove the Wye into a cauldron of chocolate-coloured chaos. When Dave was here, the river ran clear and only just over summer levels, perfect for the execution of his match angler’s art.

I liked his stick float set-up, and purred over the smoothness of his every move. How many swims has this man fished, how many fish has he caught? How deep is his experience and how profound his knowledge? I wholly agreed with his feeding of the swim for ten minutes before letting his perfectly controlled float wend its way down a long, gravel-bedded glide on the famous Red Lion stretch at Bredwardine. Piscatorial poetry in motion, you could call it.

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But I have to admit I went away wondering about his feed levels and I have been wondering ever since. I guess Dave used around three/four pints of casters and hemp that afternoon, and my doubts lie in how much bait was snaffled by minnows and dacelings and how much, if any, got to the deck where the barbel were looking for it? Indeed, he did contact a few very decent chub, but barbel really were the name of the game that day.

I put in a lot of bait – generally. If I feel conditions are right and that the river, or lake, holds a decent head of fish, then I load it in. I also like to think that this food gets quickly to the bottom, especially if we are talking about tench, say, or barbel for sure. Many years ago, I wrote about living in a mill house and watching a chub outside my living room window. It was during the Man Utd/Arsenal cup final of 1979(?), and I fed that fish an exact pound of cheese during the ninety minutes and it lapped up every morsel, including a few slices of bread after the cheddar ran out. So, if that fish weighed around 4 pounds at the start of the match, did it weigh 5 pounds plus at the final whistle, I have often wondered? So, if there are 40 plus chub in an average Wye shoal, with up to 50 barbel beneath them, what impact is half a gallon of particles going to have?

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The brilliant Dave Coster in action

Over many years I have conducted tench extravaganzas at the Kingfisher lake in Norfolk. The general plan is that I bait the Hide swim on the island there for a couple of days before four/five anglers appear, and we fish for around four days. Weather plays a part agreed, but the major influence on catches is the amount of bait introduced, and that is why I use a base of Vitalin to keep down costs. Still, this has to be mixed with goodies like corn, boilies, pellets and maggots. In short, the more bait goes in, all things being equal, the more tench and bream come out. To be completely honest, a rough guide would be £1 of bait for every fish caught. It’s not like I want to fish but in this scenario it is an approach that beats others hands down.

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I learned my own craft as a lad on the canals of Greater Manchester so I am aware of the dangers of overfeeding, believe me, but even on the Wensum, which is much smaller than the Wye, with far fewer fish, I would still feed more heavily than Dave did in our sessions.

Feeding is not an exact science, and every situation calls for a different approach. Dave is a far more accomplished angler than I will ever be, but I cannot help but feel that in this swim on this day more bait was called for. I have enjoyed fly fishing all my angling life, but it is one discipline where the art of feeding is not required. Yes, you have to get your fly right and match the hatch sometimes, but you are hardly going to throw in a box of Pheasant Tails before you begin. Perfect feeding is integral to the coarse fishing style, and I’m glad of that because it presents a perpetual puzzle. It is yet another ingredient that makes angling the magic sport that we all enjoy.

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Action at Kingfisher

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Passion for Barbel… In Wild Waters​


Yesterday, the 27th October, Enoka caught her first Wye double-figure barbel. She wouldn’t weigh it, but I’m guessing 11 pounds, give or take. The purist in me recognises that she has taken short cuts to barbel success by marrying me, but I’m sure the disadvantages of being Mrs Bailey far outweigh the nebulous advantages.

But it is important to understand how far back I go with Wye barbel, and to be honest I sometimes forget that myself. A glance at one of my early books, In Wild Waters, helps explain.

IWW came out in 1989, but the Wye chapter was largely written in the last week of October 1987 (I was teaching then and used the October half-term week for the quest), and that’s thirty four years ago exactly by my reckoning.

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The section on the Wye is in part made up of the correspondence between Chris Yates and myself, both of us dead set on a Wye fish at that time. We were part of a team comprising Roger Miller, Bob James, Pete ‘Spuddy’ Smith, and of course Chris and me.

At that time, I remarked to Miller, my angling companion back then, that Wye barbel might prove to be our most difficult challenge, and it pretty much was. Chris Y wrote, in one of the quoted letters, “Whenever I do a talk there is always great interest when I enthuse about the Wye and its potential. But I know that no one will actually go and fish for Wye barbel simply because no one really knows about them.” That was then, and that was how hard the Wye seemed to us then.

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The Avon in battle action

Certainly between 1985 and 1989, Wye barbel were all smoke and mirrors, whispers and wishes, but very little in actual physical evidence. They say it is better to travel than arrive, and certainly the barbel-less years were all drama and inspiration, but you can’t blame me for cashing in now, half a lifetime later. To see someone you love hold a fish that you love is a very special moment indeed.

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As any follower of these posts is aware, the last ten weeks have seen a serious turn round in my Wye barbel fortunes. My close mates and I have done hugely well, by Wye standards, for several reasons.

1. The weather. Less heat, and more rain and colour.

2. Baiting on a serious scale. No pussyfooting around, but kilos going into swims on a daily basis.

3. The stepped-up use of boilies. I cannot help but feel that boilies are superior to pellets, and I thank the Nash Group for helping me out with their Scopex/Squid baits that have proved revolutionary.

4. Continued use of SSGs spaced out above the hook, rather than the damaging big leads and feeders so common in barbel fishing.

5. A partial return to touch legering. I had largely abandoned this approach over ten years ago, but I am finding it supreme now. Perhaps the barbel are new fish unschooled in the method. Perhaps I now have what seems to be the perfect tool. Thomas Turner have produced a prototype of an Avon rod that would appear to be the touch legering rod we have always wanted to find. Ultra-light. Ultra-sensitive. Ultra-strong. I didn’t know such a rod existed, and I look forward to more attempts to find its flaws.

I leave you with some images, and with the dread of biblical rains to come tonight. Is this the end of our Wye autumn I wonder?

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The glorious Wye valley


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Passion For Barbel… The Winter Wolves are Howling​

The third frost in succession. 7 degrees air temperature at 4.00pm yesterday when I was baiting up. November ticking away remorselessly. The big questions… am I looking at the end of the barbel season? Is this a good thing, or bad?

First, do I/we want to catch barbel winter through, season round? What about river pike, the roach down towards Hereford way, and of course, the lure of seriously big perch? Isn’t it good to have variety in a fishing life?

Second, how viable is the desire to catch barbel every month of the year, especially on a river as volatile as the Wye where floods especially can scupper every plan? I would have to look back, but I believe it was the winter 1992/93 that I tried to catch a Wye barbel every month between November and March. From memory, I think February caught me out… but I might have been in India much of that month anyway.

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Third, whilst mild floods might be not too much of a damaging issue, water temperature surely is. The Wye comes down from the fastnesses of mountainous Wales and that feels cold, just typing it! Do I remember Tony Miles writing that barbel switch off at 43 degrees Fahrenheit? There must be weeks when Wye water is colder than this? Mind you, I do remember a January day at the Red Lion water at the bottom of Beat 5 when there had been nights of vicious frost and Pete Smith and I came across barbel feeding in three feet of water just out from the wooded bankside. They were silting up ferociously and we seduced them to feed on corn without much bother.

Fourth, I would suggest feeding is a part of it. Presumably/possibly, if I were to stick to two or three big, known swims that fish well in flood and low water alike, and if I were to keep the bait going in pretty much daily, then the barbel would respond by feeding there? Their activity might slow up. I might decide to fish mild periods. I might rely on dusk, early evening sessions, but I have strong hunches I’d pull barbel way after Christmas.

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Hmm… I guess the decision is in part up to me, in part up to the weather Gods. If we have floods of last season’s magnitude the decision is out of my hands. Perhaps the best plan might be to persevere as long as the conditions allow, and see how the barbel respond on a week to week basis? At least I’m out over the weekend in air temperatures of 12 degrees or more so I think I can let future plans take care of themselves!

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The Wye as the leaves turn… are the barbel still about?



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Passion for Barbel… Touch Legering Tweaks​

It is a joy to be using TL again, after a good few years of relying on the tip. The take, felt on the finger tips, is like nothing else. As all TL-ers know, just that electricity down the line is the thrill and it becomes addictive. Given Dominic’s schedule, he had no right to be back on the river, but he was so keen to feel that bolt down the line again, he juggled things successfully and three takes made the sacrifices seem all worth it.

For me, seeing a friend try the method, learn it, and adore it is a great feeling of satisfaction, and I thank Richard Walker for telling me about it through his works sixty years ago. (Point of interest… where would I have read Walker on TL? No Need To Lie? Walker’s Pitch?)

Then, of course, moving on, The Big Fish Scene and John Everard’s chapter on the technique made it super-cool from the later Seventies. In truth, much of what Everard wrote forty five years ago is still right up there.

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Complete comfort so you are on it – as the kids say. If you are fidgeting, trying to find the right position, then your patience will dwindle.

Complete contact. I’ll do anything to maintain as direct a line to the bait as I can. Casting a little upstream. Closing the bail arm quickly on impact. Feeling the bait down. Pointing the rod at where you think the bait to be lying. Keeping the tip low to the water. All these things help.

Complete concentration. There’s a photograph of Everard on page 67 of the book that shows exactly the type of focus I am talking about.

You know what, so inspired am I, I’ll read the chapter tonight before sleep. I’m on the river tomorrow, and with Everard’s words in my head, I’ll see if and where I can improve. So, watch this space!

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John Everard shows how it is done in The Big Fish Scene



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Keith M

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I’ve used touch legering ever since I caught my very first Barbel in 1985 on the river Kennet; and still use it in preference whenever I’m after Barbel (and Chub).

I remember one night when it was a bit slow I had started to doze off with my rod on my lap with my finger across my line touch legering in the very early hours of the morning before it had started to get light ; and I found that I had automatically lifted into the take and had started playing the Barbel before I was even fully awake. Of course I wouldn’t normally fall asleep when touch legering but I had just finished a 14 hour night watch in the Met office the night before and hadn’t had much sleep before we had gone fishing so I was absolutely knackered that night :sleep: :)

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Passion for Barbel… Touch Legering Thoughts​

A couple of days back I mentioned The Big Fish Scene compiled by Frank Guttfield back in 1978. I was especially interested in John Everard’s super chapter on Thames Barbel that explained touch legering in crystal detail, and which inspired so many of us young “speci” hunters to follow in his footsteps.

I did little but touch leger for barbel in the Nineties, and still adore the method, but once barbel wise up to it they can be the very devil to catch. On a hard fished swim, you experience the spooky feeling of a barbel picking up a bait, sensing your fingers, and gently putting that bait down again. You feel them, they feel you, and it all becomes a bit of a Mexican stand-off.

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John Everard wrote that, whilst he loved to touch leger, he still liked to watch a rod tip, and there is much sense in that. If the barbel are wised to the method, a soft tip can give you an early warning of a pick-up and allow you to strike early, or even give the taking fish a little line and build up confidence. Why not simply sit back and use the tip, rod secure in the rod rest, you ask? Of course you can, and very often so do I, but there are times when you can’t use a rest when you are wading, and equally there are swims where the fingers still tell you more than a visual take can.

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This afternoon, 9th November, the barbel were exceptionally finicky and bites minute, probably as the river was still cold. Fingers AND tips in tandem, Everard-like, worked better than anything else on the day. Chris waded and worked and deserved his near nine pound fish. I guess we have JE to thank for this fish… and I’d love to know what happened to John post-Big Fish Scene if anyone has a history of this great angler?

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The last sunset!

Passion for Barbel. 20/11/2021​


Saturday evening, 20th November and I’m with Richard and Alan, watching them reel in as the first stars appear. It has been a good day, with two good barbel and a fine chub, but as the light goes, there is no further sign of action. This is the first time for months that the setting sun has not triggered a last flurry of action, and I can’t help but wonder if this is not the sunset that sees the end of my barbel year. The temperature this morning reached a giddy 14 degrees but by 3.00pm it had dropped to 9 degrees and I’m guessing it is 7 or so now. The next week is forecast cold, and then we are into December, and the ever-present likelihood of floods to come. The Wye is volatile, the winter makes it more volatile still. I have two thoughts as we troop to the cars and I trundle away over the meadows.

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Richard with two barbel

Firstly, I might try to keep two, perhaps, three swims alive by baiting at least 4/5 times a week. I’d chose swims least affected by high water, and swims where the snags are, at present, not too ferocious. There’s no point sitting through a winter night wondering if your bait is in an underwater tree. I’d need to think this one through. What would be the best bait to keep introducing? I’m not up on the science of slow oil release and the like, and I have a feeling the marvellous maestro Mr Blair at Nash might be of help here? He will know for sure what carp keep guzzling in the cold, and he’ll know how much I might think of putting in. I don’t want to overfeed, but then I have to keep them keen.

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Alan with a chub

But my second thought is this. I call myself an all-rounder and I pity those who pin their hopes on a single species alone. Does my ‘Passion for Barbel’ become an ‘Obsession’, I wonder? What about Wye pike? I’ve never had a river “thirty”. Now, surely, is my chance? And those mighty Wye perch? And the two pound roach swimming down in Hereford town? Perhaps I let the autumn go and the delights I have enjoyed? I know there is more Wye magic to be experienced… I’ve not even mentioned the grayling up in the wilds of Wales. So, do I let my barbel go, to rest in peace through the winter months?

Whatever, I’ll brood and know the dilemma is a nice one one to have. And of course, if it comes to that, to finish off the season with two fine friends and three fine fish is no bad way to sign off a fine 2021!




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