John Bailey's Passion for Barbel

fishface1

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I suspect a couple of blanks and all this nonsense will start again!


The worst guess is that the fish just are not there. We have actually seen very, very few fish in the water, either flashing or rolling. I spent hours on the 18th scouting, and spotted exactly nothing. JG saw a BIG barbel upriver but that was a lone fish and a lone sighting. (BTW, I’m confident JG is experienced enough to know his barbel from his salmon. Of which there have been more in the river than for years past!) I have fretted about the effect of continuous big floods for a long while now, and whilst it is right to be proved right mostly, not so in this case. My dread that barbel have been pushed bit by bit downriver over the course of two biblical winters is a real one however.
 
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John Bailey

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Perhaps this should be better entitled The Barbel That Saved Me. My pike failure on the Wye that I mentioned is neither here nor there. Of course, there is no triumph without tears, and who wants a prize easily won? Achievement only comes from hard work.

No. In the big scheme of things life can just wear you down from time to time. I’m not alone. I’m not whining. I appreciate my good fortune. Yet, we are encouraged to “open up” these days, and for many of us the past two years have been tough and are getting tougher. It is hard for virtually all of us to shrug the endless setbacks aside, but there is an answer. Fishing.

December 16th. I had been at work, grinding words and thoughts out, feeling I was getting nowhere. I took a walk in the garden to refresh the bird feeders and I realised that at 1.00pm, the day was spring-like mild. The river? A December barbel? Why not, I wondered? Why don’t I do this barbel thing for myself I wondered? Why should I always guide, and why don’t I at least try for myself just for once, I asked myself? I even had a stab of guilt! At my age! Why on earth should I not enjoy a possible barbel session whilst there is breath in my body?



The river was fifteen minutes away, and the light and the peace and the seeping smell of water were enough to lift the clouds from my aching mind. Just to sit and watch and think were enough excitements for me but, lo and behold, the rod tip went round and I was fighting a silver-sided chub that ran me ragged, like only a five pounder can do. Such was the commotion that I felt any chance of a barbel had been lost but, hey, I mused, why rush back to the torment and stress life has become? No rush, I told myself. Let’s rewind the past thirty years of my life and go back to a more innocent self, a time when I could idle an afternoon away.

Now I am touch legering so that I can watch everything around me. There’s a gentle pressure on my finger tips that is easing that pressure on my mind that I desperately want and need to escape from. What a wonderful world I am thinking. A mouse scuttling past. Two buzzards catching the last light. Swans eating a crop on the far bank. A salmon crashing mid-stream and a violent pull on my finger. Has a seven pound barbel ever fought harder? Has success ever been sweeter?

I photograph the fish on the dead reeds, just a snap really. No posturing. No posing. Just a memento of a fish that has just saved me in a very real way. I’m actually laughing as I drive home. Can anyone who isn’t an angler understand a word of this? If there is a better medicine than a December barbel, then I have yet to be prescribed it.





The post Passion for Barbel first appeared on FishingMagic Magazine.

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John Bailey

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Passion for (Winter) Barbel

There are so many of us who would agree that barbel are just so addictive and that it is so hard to turn away from them, even when deep down you know you should. In my case, what I know is that my challenge this winter should be to accept the trials of catching, or at least pursuing, a big Wye pike, and move onto something completely different in what is left of my career. But as we all know, what we should do and what we want to do are not always an easy fit. At present, in my life, I’m unsure whether a hard road is the one to follow. I desire that big river pike, but perhaps it can wait ’till clearer, calmer times and, anyway, who says that winter, Wye barbel are the soft option?

I wrote a while back that it was in my mind to see if I could keep at least one swim “rocking” through a barbel winter, and it’s this experiment I am well embarked upon. My approach is based on regular, thoughtful baiting in a swim that is relatively flood-proof, or at least fishes to a degree in a river six to eight feet up. This swim I have located is one that is distant, remote and never fished, certainly come winter. It also has the benefit of being snag-free. I do not want to sit in near-freezing conditions, fretting my bait is in a submerged tree. I began baiting with Nash Squid/Scopex boilies two weeks ago, getting down to the swim at least two days out of three. During the late afternoon of 16th December, I had a barbel in the late afternoon when temperatures were in the 10-11 degree range. Nothing too remarkable there I guess but still, one of my first ever Wye winter barbel and a triumph of sorts at least.

Friday, 17th and though air temperatures were still good, I was too lost in life’s concerns to get out there. By Saturday, 18th, air temperatures had fallen to 7 degrees, but I was up to a three hour session. There was action. I missed a clunker, and several times the rod banged hard without any development. These violent, abortive pulls I generally put down to barbel, and they gave me the encouragement to presume barbel were still down there and moving freely. The procession of long tail tits and the constant companionship of a robin did much to mend my spirits, and I counted the session as a restorative success.



Sunday, 19th, Enoka and I braved temperatures of 3 degrees to spend at least two hours in the swim. In the event, we were there for four hours, experiencing a succession of violent knocks again, interspersed with tentative flicks and twitches. On the edge of darkness, however, the rod all but disappeared into the mist-filled gloom. What a scorcher in every way. The bite. The fight. The fish in the fog of the mid-winter Wye valley. One fish a visit is absolutely more than enough, and as we left the valley floor for higher ground, the car temperature gauge rose to 4 degrees giving me hope for a frost-free night and action come the Monday, work commitments willing.

Addictive, yes indeed. Sometimes, we all need a drug to pull us through and perhaps there are few as effective and as benign as barbel. I’d like to think there are more tales to be told…



The post Passion for (Winter) Barbel first appeared on FishingMagic Magazine.

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John Bailey

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Passion for (Winter) Barbel

20/12/2021

5 degrees and cold drizzle. Enoka and I arrived at around 3.00pm, in time for the so-called witching hour. At 3.45pm there was a nod on the tip but nothing to strike at. On the verge of darkness, around 4.25pm, we wound in to find the bait had been taken off the hair. For forty minutes we had been fishing without bait, and perhaps I had learned my lesson to always use a bait stop!

21/12/2021
4 degrees and again absolutely nothing. All the earlier action seems to have disappeared as the temperatures have fallen these small but critical amounts. It had seemed so easy, and now it seems just so hard. I hardly mind. That is the name of a winter campaign, but Enoka is not so sure. I tell her that my first three pound roach was preceded by thirty three blank sessions and she looks nonplussed. To relieve the cold and the tedium, we bait more swims, but I’m unsure of the wisdom of this. The fish are off, either because of the cold, or the increasing clarity, or both. As I sit on the bank an email comes through from my dear Alan Blair at Nash...

“Great to see you are catching those barbel – AWESOME! I’d probably stick with the Squid mate and use a Cultured Hookbait on your hair. Only other thing worth adding would be some of the actual Squid Powder – Dan will get a pot sent out to you. Don’t go mad with it because it is really strong but I certainly would be enhancing freebies, crumb and pellet with it... DEADLY”

So, what would I do without the Nash lads, I ask myself a zillion times? Partners in crime, who understand the glacial slowness that the winter can bring – unlike my dear wife!

22/12/2021
4 Degrees. Rain. On the river (alone) at 2.00pm and stick it 'till 4.45pm. Flocks of long tailed tits enliven a grey day, and I amuse myself feeding Nash boilies to a robin. If only the barbel were as keen.

There’s a complete absence of any movement whatsoever, which interests me. The tip is 100% immobile, without the tiniest twitch or shift or easing of pressure. A week ago, there were constant, even if tiny “fiddlings” on the rod tip to keep me alert. At the time I didn’t put them all down to fish by any means, but I rather do now. When a swim is dead, it is like a tomb, and the tip reflects that with complete inactivity. Tonight this swim is a fishless icebox.

Enoka unamused!

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John Bailey

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Passion for (Winter) Barbel

27th December...
steady, light rain and temperatures of 8 degrees kept the Wye high but not obviously rising. Fished 2.00-5.00pm, and a small chub caught at 3.00pm kept spirits motivated. Though I kept putting Nash boilies into the Number 1 swim, I also took time out to bait two more strong contenders nearby. I’m hopeful **** and Dave might be with me on Thursday, and options are all when you are guiding!

But it is a single event coming on the point of darkness, around 4.45pm, that I want to talk about. The rod gave that unmistakeable thwack round that nearly always says BARBEL! I’m not talking a strikeable bite here, because I don’t think the bait is being taken – or rarely so. No, after decades of barbel watching, I believe the split-second whack that does not develop is a barbel hitting the line and bolting. Perhaps the barbel sees the line, or feels the line, or something else alarms it, but the fish powers away, twanging the line as it does so. Chub can do this same thing but in my experience, rarely, and with not the same dramatic effect.

Of course, it is frustrating that a proper bite does not result, and I sat there a further fifteen minutes with no more action whatsoever. However, the event is not without an upside. It did prove to me that barbel were present and above all, they were moving, even if largely hesitant to feed. With absurdly mild weather on the way, and hopefully limited rainfall, their activity can only increase. I’ll be there later. More bait will go in. My spirits are high!

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John Bailey

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Passion for (Winter) Barbel

28/12/21
8 to 9 degrees, stunning sunsets over the Wye BUT I was disappointed that in the best swims, the river had developed ugly boils since the 27th. Despite there being little rain, and despite the levels being much the same to the naked eye, my best swim by some way was now a cauldron of conflicting currents. This is nothing new, of course. Anyone who has fished a river over long periods in many conditions will know what I am talking about. Very many times, I have arrived on the bank, expecting to find a placid swim only to be faced with a swirling, heaving morass of water.

Quite why these boils occur I have never quite understood. They can relate to underwater features like fallen branches or boulders, but sometimes it is more like a simple build-up of water the river cannot easily and serenely cope with. I hope that makes some sense at least.

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The kind of “boiling” water that I’ll do anything to avoid...

Why fish dislike extreme boils is more easy to guess at. Back in my diving days, I sometimes sat in these cauldron-like swims, and even I could be lifted bodily from the bed by sudden upsurges of water. Fish being smaller of course – oh to find a barbel that isn’t! – must experience such sensations even more dramatically and traumatically too, I guess. But of course, this is all guesswork in the end. All I would advise in high water conditions is to fish water that is as even-paced as you can find. Good luck!!!!

But at least a fish did fall yesterday... stepson Krishna had a respectable chub on the point of packing up, a catch that gave purpose to our trip in a satisfying type of way, and it still remains a mystery after so many years that any fish can come from such a swollen winter river.

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John Bailey

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Passion for (Winter) Barbel...

2/1/22
This is some sort of living agony. The temperatures have been April/May high, and yet the rain has never quite left the West alone. Over and over, a session has been rich with barbel promise, but rain overnight has seen levels creep up and my swim become ever more a cauldron of swirling water. Perhaps the worst day was the 30th December when I had with me my beloved Richard and Dave. Between 9.00am and 4.00pm the Wye rose two feet and only one good pull resulted.

I was so demoralised, the river on the 31st did not see me at all, apart from some baiting. Yesterday Enoka and I went for two hours and a super chub was the result. The river was falling fast and I had high hopes for this coming afternoon, the 2nd January. Then, last night, from 2.00am, the rain drilled on the tiles and this morning the Honey Brook, one of the river’s tributaries, was meadow-high and vivid brown. I have Pingers coming to share the day but my hopes, yet again, are crushed.

This is a hostile river, I am truly beginning to recognise. This, too, is my first full winter on it, and I am seeing what the Wye is all about. It’s good to be reminded of the full power of a natural force. It’s a salutary reminder that we cannot bend Nature to our will. The Wye has us at its mercy and that is how it should be. This winter the indignities that we have inflicted on her, in the shape of the countless chicken farms, seem to have been momentarily avenged. I know that six months on, when the rains falter, when the sun burns and the levels drop, we will once again be plunged into algal-tainted gloom. But for now, it is the Wye who calls the shots.

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John Bailey

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Passion for (Winter) Barbel

2/1/22
Well, there you go, eh? Only this morning I was writing about the Wye, and a winter barbel, like a man broken by his quest. Perhaps you need the stimulus of a great mate to urge that bit more out of you? Perhaps it was luck, or perhaps all the ingredients had aligned... bait gone in for over two weeks, a steady river, the back of a very mild spell, a tentative bite finally hit?

Just the introduction of a gas fire to the hut would have been enough joy in any winter’s day but the end-of-session barbel, my first ever January fish, held by the one and only Pingers, finished the holiday season off magically.

Strange. The day had been as dour as any preceding it. A bank of cloud appeared as 4.00pm closed in, and out of nowhere, seemingly, I experienced abortive plucks on the line for over a half hour. Twice the bait had been spirited away and on the next twitch of line, I struck. The bottom I thought? No. After a heartbeat, the clutch gave and a searing, do or die battle commenced. Had I have lost this fish, I would have sworn it to be a “twelve” or more. No matter. November saw many fish, December a couple, and now January has started in style. This fanciful quest for a barbel every winter month appears to be a possible one. Chances are, though, the really cruel stuff will blow from the Arctic before long.

“Gather thee barbel whilst thy may” goes the rhyme (almost) and I fear for us all that the coming weeks will echo that....

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Great scenic shots and what a glorious place to be in January?
 

John Bailey

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Passion for (Winter) Barbel

8/1/22
Last night I packed up at 4.45pm, when the air temperature had sunk to 1.5 degrees. Enoka was with me, and perhaps I used her as an excuse to leave the river comparatively early, but I don’t think so. The truth is that I had had enough myself and was happy to call it an evening. This was probably/certainly a big mistake.

My belief is that barbel and big river roach are not wildly different in their habits. If we agree with that, then all my big river roaching that took place between 1971 and 1989 (approximately) would suggest that the colder the weather, in general, the later the fish begin to feed. Obviously there are many exceptions to this, or any rule, but true darkness appeared to be by far the best time for serious roach in very harsh conditions throughout those years.

In my book Roach, The Gentle Giants, I wrote that in severe weather the best period for roach seemed to be between 5.00pm and 11.00pm. I added that often my only bite would occur at 10.00pm, especially those times when the ice was freezing in the rings.

Earlier, in my first book entitled In Visible Waters, I had stated that on nights of a big moon, the roach came on the feed later than on dark nights. Generally, when the moon was bright, you could expect roach to come on the feed after 8.00pm and rarely before.

So. What to do? Those books were written many years ago, and I fear the ageing flesh might be weakening... but, just perhaps, we’ll see...
 

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Seems like time to be a proper fisher (can we say fisherman...??) , kit up and don't stop until the cricket starts down under.??
 

John Bailey

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Passion for (Winter) Barbel

11/1/22
I guess we are around the halfway mark in this winter barbel quest, and so far the weather has been reasonably kind, at least kind enough to allow me out most days, albeit for only an hour or two. It might therefore be as good a time as any to ponder what if anything has been learnt these last weeks.

As you’d expect, I’d go with the traditional acceptance that a falling river is preferable to a rising one. I’ve hardly set the world on fire on either, but I find it hard to remember a single bite with the river coming up fast.

Air temperatures have again been critical. When I have driven to the river and seen the Welsh hills snow-dusted, my heart has sunk. I’d turn round were it not for the fact that I love to be by the river, fish or not. I’d say the critical temperature so far has proved to be 8 degrees. Below that, I struggle. Above that, I sit in hope, generally rewarded.

Water colour does play a part. Some tinge of colour is great. I have struggled when the river is high but visibility is more than three feet. Equally, zero vis appears as bad. I love to be able to see my bait around 10 to 12 inches beneath the surface.

Bait has alternated between meat and boilies, Nash Scopex, of course. Perhaps I should have been more adventurous, but you tend to stick to what you have faith in when conditions are harsh. I have not gone as big as I would in a summer flood, nor have I baited extensively. About a kilo of meat/boilie mix has gone in on a daily basis.

I have alternated between using my old 12ft, 2lb tc North Westerns and the brand new Thomas Turner 12ft tip rod, which I am trialing. I never thought I’d find an equal to the North Westerns but it seems I have. The TTS appear gentle when needed, full of power when the time comes.

I have yet to miss a bite on the TT tip rod and that has bred confidence, as you’d expect. A missed bite, like last night, is a crushing blow and I really work at making every one of them count.

Tonight promises a lot. The air temperature is high... around 9 degrees and the gauges seem to suggest levels are steady or falling a tad.

I will report back.
 

John Bailey

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Passion for (Winter) Barbel

12/1/22
So, yes, you can see the result of last night’s sortie (11/1/22). We had to wait 'till proper darkness, Enoka and I, for a barbel to come along, though a couple of chub made an earlier appearance. There are two issues of note, I think.

For forty minutes, the tip has frequently kicked and on occasion, a bite had tentatively developed, only for the bait to be hurriedly dropped. Rightly or wrongly, I put this down to the fact I was using the stiffer, carbon Thomas Turner quiver rod rather than my sloppy forty-year-old North Western jobbie. I cannot prove this one way or another of course, BUT after ten minutes touch legering I had a solid bite which I hit and Enoka played out expertly. A coincidence? Possibly.

More interesting perhaps was the definite fact that as long ago as the 5th January I had felt the night of the 11th would provide a top window for a barbel. By studying weather forecasts minutely, I had reckoned that river level, colour and temperature would all come together as perfectly as winter conditions on the Wye ever allow. I persuaded Enoka to stay later than she might have liked because there was activity and I felt it would be a matter of time only before we had this result. I am no way suggesting I have mastered the Wye and its vagaries because the best laid plans of mice and anglers will always come awry, but it is good to know that all things being equal (which they never are) some predictions can be made with some hope of success.

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