With the fluctuating river levels and a generally unreliable Summer once again, I found that river sport started fairy slowly and has been very inconsistent since. I have been experimenting with new venues and stretches of river I hadn’t fished before, and despite my catch rates being disappointing, I’ve learnt about features I didn’t know existed and found some promising areas which I’m sure will come into their own during the colder months. One evening, I even spotted a shoal of around 20 good barbel moving in very shallow water, but seemingly not feeding. Opting to take the “fish where the fish are” approach, I stealthily crept up to the river and cast a lobworm a little upstream of three individuals I could see. They did not appear to be spooked by the bait entering the water, so I slowly backed away from the skyline, and touch-legered expectantly for a good half-hour, without a nibble. As darkness approached I put out a second rod and opted for more conventional barbel tactics using pellets and boilies, but still no success! It had been quite a spectacle and privilege to watch these fish in the clear rapids, but despite my best efforts using both natural and not-so-natural baits, I could not entice them to eat anything!
I finally drew inspiration from a most unlikely source… I had been set up for only half an hour on a stretch of the River Wharfe which I had neither seen nor fished before. I had found a perfect swim with many varied features. I had just cast out my second rod, when three men who I can only politely describe as ignoramuses – turned up and set-up immediately below me – no further than 10 metres downstream! My instinct was to say something to them, but there were three of them, so I bit my tongue. I left them to set up, seemingly blissfully unaware that they were doing anything wrong. My baits were both positioned in a near-margin run (I had been planning to cast across river later on if nothing happened), and my lines entered the water downstream of where the first guy was putting his banksticks in! When he launched his baits to the middle of the river, crossing my lines in the process, I knew it was time for me to find another swim. As I was packing away my gear, I noticed that the angler I was now moving away from was using huge chunks of luncheon meat as bait, a bait which I had not used for several years. Somehow, I had completely overlooked the classic barbel bait (and one which had caught me plenty of barbel in seasons past), and I decided it was time for a renaissance.
I never stopped to ask if the “angler” had caught any barbel when I left, but my mind had already been made up that I would use luncheon meat next time out, and I would fish a little closer to home, on a smaller river I had neglected in recent seasons in favour of the Trent.
Despite deciding to fish with luncheon meat, I still wanted to give myself an edge by giving the fish something they hadn’t quite tasted before. Using my knowledge of proven barbel-catching flavours, I decided to combine a few together to give the fish a scent which was familiar, but not identifiable. To make my hookbaits more resistant to pecking by nuisance fish and help them stay on a hair rig, I decided to lightly fry the chunks of meat, to give them a “crust”. The flavourings I used were as follows (per tin of Spam/luncheon meat): 2 teaspoons Medium Curry Powder, ½ teaspoon Mild Chilli Powder, and my two “secret” weapons – 2 teaspoons OXO liquid Beef concentrate and a good squirt of Trout Pellet Oil. I first mixed the spices and flavours into the oil and added a little vegetable oil, then added the meat, ensuring I gave each side of each chunk a the meat a good covering of flavour. Then the chunks were lightly fried for about five minutes, by which point the meat became quite firm and golden brown on the outside. After leaving the meat to cool for a few minutes, I sealed the pieces in bags using my “JML” vacuum-sealer (a worthy investment for any long-term bait storing!) – after adding just a touch more spice and oil into the bag itself – then popped them in the freezer for future use.
I couldn’t wait to get out on the river for my first session using this boosted meat. I opted to fish a swim which was upstream of a large snag and downstream of a shallow run. This kind of place gives the barbel everything they need in Summer – oxygen, shelter and food – so I felt it was a good bet for a fish or two. To give my baits further protection against the age old problem of hair rigs slicing meat baits in half, I decided to use Fox Meat Props as hair stops. These combine a silicone sheath which goes over the hair, and a specially-shaped hair stop which when combined, do an admirable job of keeping luncheon meat on your hair. This gives me extra peace of mind that a shoal of minnows hasn’t relieved me of my bait within seconds of casting out!
Around an hour after I first cast out, my near-margin rod jolted into life. As soon as I felt the power of the fish trying to pull me downstream towards the snag, I knew I was connected to a barbel. t is easy to forget just how well barbel fight, and this fish tested my tackle to the limit. When I unhooked the fish I found that the superglue on my knotless-knot had dissolved, and the knot was unravelling! At 8lb 6oz, it was a good barbel for my first of the season.
“My first barbel of the season was a good fish at 8lb 6oz “
I later had 2 chub up to three and-a-half pounds, and followed these up the next evening with a 5lb barbel and my largest chub for a couple of seasons, at 4lb 9oz. Not a bad result from half an hour’s bait making, and I’d made enough for at least 8 sessions. I’m confident that the combination of spicy and fishy flavours will make this meat a consistent catcher right through into the colder months.
“This 4lb 9oz Chub, my largest for 2 years, also fell to my spice-boosted luncheon meat”
More recently, my friend Matt Liston has been experimenting with making his own boilies and paste. Despite him not letting on what has gone into these baits, he’s assured me of a steady supply of them, so I’ve been testing them with highly satisfactory results. Right from the first session using these baits I have caught with them. Fishing one rod baited with my flavoured meat and one rod with Matt’s boilies wrapped in matching paste, I have yet to encounter a blank. The pick of the captures on these home-made boilies have been a barbel of 8lb+ on my first visit to a stretch of the Trent, and a 4lb chub which came within seconds of making my first cast. So try giving the “off-the-shelf” baits a miss for a while. Experiment with your own creations and let the results speak for themselves. On heavily fished venues, using a new bait can give you quite an edge, and much satisfaction can be gained from taking a fish on a bait you (or a friend!) came up with.
“This 8lb+ Barbel was the first of the species to fall for Matt’s home-made boilies”
“Chub such as this 4lb+ example can be the reward for conjuring up a new, tasty bait”