Although I caught my first barbel from the Trent and my second came from the Derwent, my third and probably the next forty-odd were all River Dove barbel. It’s the place I spent my most formative barbel angling years to date and it’s a river which, although a tough nut to crack at times, I will always hold dear when it comes to summer barbel fishing. The beauty of the river certainly helps; it abounds with wildlife and the combination of gravel runs, streamer weed, gnarled overhanging trees and numerous intriguing twists and turns, make the Dove constantly fascinating. It’s a special river.
I’ve held various tickets for stretches of the Dove and I’ve had varying results from them. Some stretches hold numbers of fish in the 4lb to 8lb bracket with the odd larger fish; others are more famed for elusive but hefty specimens. Due to struggling early-season on the Trent and Derwent in recent years, I decided to give the Dove a go at a narrow stretch, which happened to be the first I’d fished, back in 2003. This would “ease me in gently”, I thought, with plenty of medium-sized barbel on offer. After building up the session in my head and figuring out my tactics over the previous few days, I drove the 30 miles-or-so to the river with a huge sense of excitement and expectancy. As I pulled off the main road to drive the long track to the car park I spotted a sign proclaiming the fishing rights were now owned by another club! It took a call to the club (I won’t name names) secretary to confirm that they had indeed given up the rights of this gorgeous stretch of river! What a blow! Still, I had another ticket which started a few miles downstream, so I headed down there instead.
I had never fished this stretch before, and with the aforementioned debacle wasting the best part of an hour, I was quickly running out of daylight. I walked 500m or so down the stretch and only saw a couple of anglers, one of whom had wet trousers from having just gone in to return a good barbel! So, the prospects were looking good. I settled on a shallow fast-water swim and nipped back for my tackle. After three months of not barbel fishing my tackle was in disarray and I’d also decided on a few rig tweaks, so it was almost ten o’clock before I cast out, which only left me a couple of hours to fish.
For quite a few seasons now I’d fished for barbel with a leadcore leader, above which I used a heavy, safety back-lead (the sadly discontinued Anchor “Hang-Glider”). This year I’ve decided to remove the leadcore from my setup and instead use rubber float stops to act as a stop for my back-lead. When the back-lead is not in place, they also act as a means of keeping weed & debris away from the hook. To further enhance my set-up I’m now employing a clear mono hooklength of between 36 and 50 inches, which I pin to the riverbed by sliding two or three of Korda’s innovative new “Sinkers”. These resemble a rubber float stop, but they are made almost entirely out of tungsten, which Kryston use in their “Heavy Metal” putty. The only downside to these Sinkers is that they cannot be re-used on another hooklength and they are quite expensive. I have taken the step of making my hooklengths easy to swap by incorporating a quick-change swivel in place of a standard swivel. This way I can use smaller hooks in the daylight or alter my presentation without making my hooklengths shorter each time I re-attach them. I tie a small loop on the end of each hooklength and use an anti-tangle rig sleeve to prevent the hooklength accidentally detaching from the swivel and to tidy the whole thing up. I attach a large open-end swimfeeder to the rig by using a safety lead-clip (I’m currently using “King of the Pond” clips as these are great value and very reliable).
Having tried quite a few groundbait mixes over the years and with Bob Roberts’ negative findings about using PVA bags on rivers putting me off the method, I’ve decided on a good all-round groundbait mix and method for depositing a few pellets near to the hook. First, mix a 50:50 blend of Dynamite Baits’ Marine Halibut groundbait and “The Source” groundbait, mix in a few casters, small pellets & hemp, then use this mix as a plug for either end of your ‘feeder. Between the plugs, place a generous sprinkling of your favoured pellets and/or hemp and you’re ready to cast out.
Back to the fishing… Right from the first cast, it seemed like I was in for a busy evening; some rattles on the rod tip revealing the presence of chub in the swim. As the sun started to set I had a similar, jaggy bite and I connected with a fish which refused to dive and just floundered near the surface. Despite the fish not being huge, it was quite a struggle to bring it in across the top of the white water! With such a bizarre and unfamiliar fight I wasn’t too shocked to see a good rainbow trout slide into the net. The action continued later when I caught a chub but also lost two barbel through hook pulls. I thought my chance of a barbel was fading away when, almost on the stroke of midnight, the downstream rod – which up until that point had received no interest – was hooped over by what could only ever be a barbel! The fish powered downstream towards some overhanging trees – using the strong flow to its full advantage – but I was able to steer it back towards me, away from this danger and within a few adrenaline-pumping minutes, the fish approached the net. As it did, I got another huge shot of adrenaline from seeing the tell-tale white belly of a barbel; even in the darkness I could see that this fish was long!
I quickly unhooked the fish and left it to rest in the landing net, in the water, while I set up my camera and weighing gear. I always like to weigh my fish immediately before the photo, so if it’s a good fish it shows on my face! On this occasion I was not to be disappointed, as the digital readout confirmed that this fish was my first ever double-figure River Dove barbel, at a weight of 10lb 5oz. It was already time to go home when I returned the fish, so I decided on a return visit the following evening.
I arrived at the river the next day with much more time before darkness fell, so I decided to use this time to lay a bed of bait out. I could have opted for a bait dropper, but instead I thought I would use the same swimfeeders I would be fishing with, so that the barbel could get used to these landing in the swim and depositing food, without it giving them much cause for alarm later on. I mixed some groundbait for plugs, removed my hooklengths and re-cast with a feeder full of pellets, casters and hemp every two or three minutes for just over half an hour. In hindsight, I probably overdid the loosefeed, considering I had plenty of bites the previous evening with no bait put in prior to starting fishing. I had to wait hours – until almost exactly 11 o’clock – for my first bite, but when it came it was a good one! It was a barbel and it belted off downstream as soon as I picked up the rod. It took me so far downstream with its initial run that it crossed my other line, so I had to act out what must have looked like some bizarre dance involving me scaling the steep bank, going around and under my other rod and back down the bank again! The fish had more in store for me though; three or four times I drew it into the calmer margins where I had a chance of netting it and each time it kited sideward into the main current again and headed nose-first downstream. At least six or seven minutes passed before I finally had the fish subdued and I could see it was another big fish; what a relief to get it in the net!
After such a battle, I made sure I rested it for a good while before the weighing and photography routine took place. This fish was a real beauty; easily as long as the barbel from the previous night but with broader shoulders and back. I couldn’t believe it when the scales registered 10lb 10oz, meaning not only had the Dove had snatched my PB back from the Trent for the first time in 5 years, but in catching a double each night, I’d achieved twice in consecutive nights something which I’d previously failed to achieve in 7 Summers! With confidence boosted by this dream start, I’ve now set myself a target of catching a double from my 3 most local rivers (Dove, Trent and Derwent) in one season. It’s very achievable and may not be much of a challenge to the likes of Phil Smith, but for me it would mark a huge new precedent, so I’m giving it a go. I’m sure if all goes well, I’m sure you’ll be reading about it here!