Last Fish Pre-Lockdown
The barbel were nowhere to be seen over the course of the winter just gone. I had done around two sessions and another angler I know (Hector Rodriguez) had also done a few. Both of us found the river to be almost devoid of life, the only notable movement coming from the river’s population of carp.
It was the last day of the coarse fishing season (Saturday 14th March) and the weather had been steadily improving, both in temperature but also rainfall. For those reading this outside of the UK, we have just endured one of the wettest winters on record resulting in many anglers being unable to fish for significant periods of the colder months. Thankfully the week leading up to my session was fairly dry, although on this particular day there was very light drizzle.
The decision to go to the river was last minute, one reason being that my barbel fly selection was running very low. In fact, I only had two flies tied on 5.5mm beads which is the size I use for the deeper holding areas. One was a pink squirmy tied using Fulling Mill Original Squirmy and the other was a Peeping Caddis. The loss of both would lead to the premature end of my session!
I arrived at the river around 8am and unsurprisingly the water level was slightly up and sporting a healthy flow. In fact too healthy for the 4.6mm Black Slotted Fulling Mill beaded flies I initially began the session with. I attached my 5.5mm squirmy and lobbed the fly out into the first holding pool. There were no fish to be seen but that didn’t mean they weren’t there so I continued to systematically work the pool.
Whilst comprehensively working the swim I hit a snag which was a serious cause for alarm as I wasn’t even 30 minutes into the session, with around another seven plus holding pools to cover spread over three sections of river. I was left with no other option but to wade out to free the precious squirmy from the unseen snag. Thankfully the fly popped out before I reached the offending object detaining my fly. That was the cue to move to the next pool which is a shallow run with a fallen tree at the head.
On approaching the run I spotted the telltale golden flank of a barbel which sent my pulse racing as I knew that where there’s one there’s more! Using a bow and arrow cast I began to work the run. However, contrary to what I was expecting the fish weren’t paying any interest to the squirmy. In fact I ended up accidently hooking an overhanging branch – you have to deliver the fly under a large branch in quite a cramped space. Because I knew that this may be my only shot at a barbel for another three months I decided against wading out to unhook it from the branch. To do so would have disturbed the run and all but finished my chances of a hook up. Instead I pulled for a break, opting to retrieve the fly later either after a capture or in the event of no fish showing interest.
With the shallow run being too fast for anything smaller than 5.5mm tungsten I had to attach the Peeping Caddis, a pattern that up to that point I’d never used. This last fly was the sole remaining individual left of several I’ve tied for barbel, all the others had been subsequently cannibalised for their beads for use on my favoured squirmies. As I began to work the pool things began to look bad as I could see the fish slowly moving away from where they were holding previously. Just when I thought all was lost, I felt the characteristic gradual tightening of the line, disrupt the feeling of the fly trundling over the stony bottom. After a very short but dogged fight I wrestled a lean barbel into the net. Clearly they hadn’t fed much over the winter, but I was over the moon to have landed one before the end of the season.