Ring The Changes, Reap The Rewards

Ring The Changes, Reap The Rewards

By mid-August, I am usually well into my stride catching river fish, especially barbel. This year, however, I’ve struggled to even get a bite! The problem with becoming confident in certain methods, baits and even venues, is that it’s easy to become set in your ways with your approach. The old adage “If it aint broke, don’t fix it” springs to mind. But what happens when it is broke, and your tried and trusted methods fail you time and again?

It’s so easy to dwell on glories past, sticking with the same setup in the hope that it will work eventually. The truth is, conditions change, swims change, fish can become wary of certain rigs and baits. If you find yourself struggling, you must start ringing the changes until you find something else that works. Two chance meetings earlier in the month inspired me to get out of my recent rut, and I’m so relieved!

With very few bites, and a single measly 10 ounce chub to show for several after-work river sessions, I knew I had to change something. My initial focus, along with trying a variety of different swims, was to change my baits until I found one which caught. Starting with the common contemporary choices; pellets and boilies. Not a touch. I next tried luncheon meat and lobworms – still nothing. Then the first of my chance meetings happened. Whilst helping out at a National Fishing Week event held at Barlow Lakes, I started talking to Ray Stoner of Strike-One Baits (www.strikeonebait.net). He waxed lyrical about his range of baits and assured me his mini boilies were the business for barbel, and kindly gave me some samples to try. I tried them on my next session with no luck, but as they had fared no worse than any other bait this season, I thought I owed them another outing.

The next chance “meeting” was an unexpected phone call from Editor of Angling Star magazine, Jim Baxter. Upon hearing of my paltry results for the season so far, he suggested I try a longer hooklink. I had been using quite short hooklengths for a couple of seasons and had not experimented with longer ones, so I thought “Why not?”. I also switched from using leads accompanied by PVA bags full of mixed pellets, to using big groundbait swimfeeders – forcing the fish to seek out larger particles, and hopefully my hookbait!

The groundbait mix I use for barbel consists of: 30% crumb, 40% crushed hempseed or “Frenzied Hemp”, 10% crushed tiger nuts, 10% fishmeal or trout pellet powder and the rest a mixture of small pellets and PV1 binder to hold the mix together until it hits the river bed.

A short session on the Trent ensued. I set up in a swim I had fished last year. I had never heard of a barbel coming from there, and had only previously caught carp, chub and bream from this swim myself, but on this evening I just had a feeling. I quickly set up and fished worm & meat as bait, while I tied up the new, longer hooklengths. Then I switched from meat to two hair-rigged Strike-One mini-boilies on the first rod. Twenty minutes later I got a bite, but in a moment of madness I struck with one hand and forgot to disengage the baitrunner. This was an outrageous mistake! The resulting bird’s nest was so severe it locked the reel solid. Line could go neither in or out – and I had a fish on! Fearing the fish might be a barbel or carp, likely of making a surging run at any moment, I decided the only way I stood any chance of landing the fish would be to pull the line in by hand! This was surprisingly easy, and the fish came in with very little resistance, until it saw the landing net. A golden flash and a mighty splash was all I saw of my fish as it bolted and snapped the hooklength, right at my feet! It was dark, but to me the fish looked like a very big chub, but I shall never know for sure. Gutted.

I quickly reeled in my other rod and removed the worm from my long-shank Nailer hook, replacing it with 3 side-hooked boilies (the Strike-One boilies are very soft, so excellent for side-hooking). I have only recently started using the Nailer (made by Carp ‘R’ Us), but it has proven to be an excellent hook to mount worms on, due to it’s extremely long shank. Because it’s designed as a carp hook, it is extremely strong and sharp – perfect for barbel!

Within 3 minutes of re-casting the rig I had a very violent take! As I leaned into the fish, it made several surging runs towards some far-bank willows. Several nervous minutes later, my back-lead emerged from the river and to my relief, a few feet behind it was the long, bronze flank of a barbel! I eased it over the net and punched the air. My barbel season has started at last! The dial on my Avon scales told me that my first barbel of the season weighed 9lb 2oz – not too far off a PB, and a cracking first barbel.

A River Trent barbel taken after
This short, stocky 9lb+ barbel was the first fish to fall to my new tactics

So there we have it. A barbel campaign which was looking like a non-starter has finally sprung into life.  And all because I finally made the right changes.

Have you been experiencing more blanks than usual when barbel fishing in the summer of 2007?  Have you managed to break the deadlock? Did you stick it out with your usual methods and baits, or did you keep changing your setup until something worked?  Please email me any of your views, I’d be most interested to hear how your barbel fishing has been going.

Further information about the history, life cycle and biology of Barbus barbus – the Barbel – can be found on Wikipedia here: Barbel Wiki
And on Fishbase here: Barbel fish on Fishbase.org.

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