For the past few weeks I have been barbel fishing crazy! Itâ€™s been a few years since I did any serious fishing for big barbel but when my old friend Tony Miles sent me a copy of his excellent book â€˜Elite Barbelâ€™ I simply had to read it. I did so knowing full well that I would be bitten by the big barbel bug again and true to form I was! To be honest, great angling books have always had this effect on me and I think that books, above any other form of angling media (including dvd and television) have the ability to truly inspire and get under the skin.
I can remember the same passion gripping me over the years when I read other great angling books such as John Baileyâ€™s roach book, â€˜The Book of the Perchâ€™ by the Perchfishers and Rod Hutchinsonâ€™s â€˜Carp Strikes Back.â€™ When I read Hugh Falkusâ€™ definitive book â€˜Sea Trout Fishingâ€™ I became a sea trout, night fishing addict and perhaps my favourite fishing book of all time, Clive Gammonâ€™s â€˜I know a Good Placeâ€™ gave me the wanderlust to explore new places and experience new forms of angling in far flung corners of the globe.
So it was with Tonyâ€™s book. But where to fish? I thought about this long and hard. Whereas barbel are now relatively widespread, big barbel, despite the impression given by the angling media are still relatively rare and are confined to a handful of rivers â€“ the Kennet, Great Ouse and Wensum. Having helped to pioneer the big barbel fishing on the Great Ouse many years ago, I am still toying with the idea of going back to the river. But perhaps more appealing has been the thought of visiting one of the up and coming rivers where big barbel are becoming more commonplace and yet the fishing pressure is not as great as on some of the more infamous venues. After some debate I settled on the Warwickshire Avon, an up and coming barbel river where it is still possible to find some peace and quiet and to fish for big, uncaught barbel.
November, of course has been fantastic for barbel fishing â€“ unseasonably mild with enough rain to keep some colour in the water â€“ barbel enthusiasts have experienced the mother and father of all Novembers.
My biggest dilemma, in exploring new stretches of river was quite simply to find the barbel. In such fantastic conditions with warm, still nights, the fish are guaranteed to feed and I used this situation to my advantage. Knowing that if barbel are present in the swim they will take any decent, well-presented bait, I figured that I could explore several swims in a session and expect bites quickly.
Remarkably, fishing a new (to me anyhow!) stretch of river, I got a bite first cast in the three out of the first four swims I fished! This development, though not expected, was very welcome!
Of course, good bait and a winning technique are essential in any form of fishing and it has now got to the point after several nights spent on the river that I no longer worry about what bait I am using. Dynamiteâ€™s Spicy chicken boilies have worked spectacularly well and they seem to be getting better with every session. This may have something to do with the fact that every time I leave a swim I feed some whole and broken chicken boilies in so that the fish get really used to finding them. Yet, I know form past experience that this tactic only works with good bait. With other, inferior baits you will often catch fish on your first visit only to find that on future trips the fish refuse to feed. This is especially true with heavily flavoured baits that have a synthetic/chemical taste and especially with those that reek of preservatives. For this reason, I have always used freezer bait in the past, shunning shelf-life because the preservative levels are excessively high. Yet, I have been using Spicy Chicken Shelf-life with total confidence. Dynamite use preservatives at very low levels and the fish are responding to their shelf-life bait in the same way that they normally react to freezer boilies.
So how have I been getting on. Well, no monsters yet but I have enjoyed some cracking sessions. Three nines topped by a twelve-ten isnâ€™t too dusty and nor is the trip where myself and my girlfriend, the Viking Girl, shared a catch of seven fish with an eight, two nines and an eleven-two thrown in for good measure.
My usual routine is to arrive an hour before dark and settle into the swim. Most of the action has been coming well into the night, with the hours between six and nine providing the peak action. Being out there in the dark, rod resting across my knee, line crooked over my index finger and hearing the village church bells chime in the distance is addictive stuff. And so too is that delicious feeling when the rod top gives a subtle tap and then the line pulls across my finger moments before the rod hoops over and the reel begins to buzz.
PS â€“ Check out my new series on Discovery. Its called the Greater Rod Race and it features yours truly and my old pal the Duke of Market Deeping in a roller coaster fishing challenge that sees us travel from the West Coast of Ireland to the East coast of England. I think youâ€™ll like it.