|My rather ragged copy of Top Ten. Still an interesting read, but|
not in the same class as The Big Fish Scene.
|My 9 lbs 2 oz fish from The Thames - a capture of which I'm rather proud.|
Taken from a swim I'd identified after reading a match report in The Angling Times.
Well that was it - my angling came to an abrupt halt in August 1993 when I moved, with my job, to Kent and all things birds and birding dominated my leisure time.
I have to fast forward to May 2011 before I pick up a fishing rod again - there'd been an awful lot of change whilst I've been on my sabbatical. My brother Simon and his friends had been fishing throughout my abstinence and caught a number of double figure barbel from several different rivers. They were using hair rigs and trout pellets; all very alien to me. The barbel record had risen from 13 lbs 12 oz to over 18 lbs in this same period, something very dodgy was happening to our rivers to enable such a massive increase to occur in such a short period. Whatever it was, it wasn't natural! As I attempt to catch up with what is current in modern angling, a barbel of 20 lbs+ is reported and a Bream of 23 lbs! There is an ecological catastrophe taking place before our very eyes, but myopic big fish anglers are completely oblivious. For species to attain such weights there has to be a glut of food. In a balanced environment this will not happen, thus something very major must be impacting on the situation to enable this phenomenon. I believe it was Jim Gibbinson who first raised the subject of eutrophication, within an angling context - the artificial enrichment of a habitat due to agricultural fertilizer run-off. A direct consequence of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) of EU origins. He used it to explain the exceptional growth of "cyprinid" species (Carp, Tench and Bream) which were flourishing in the newly created gravel pits of the 1980's.
So there I was, in 2011, faced with a situation which, on balance, was very similar to that which had occurred on Wilstone thirty years before. Fish growing to extraordinary sizes because of man-made intervention. In the still waters it is easy to use modern farming practices to explain the situation, in running water the answer is a little more complex. Not only do the agri-chemicals play a part, but so do the effluent levels (including the female birth control hormones - as administered by the NHS) which our water providers are legally pumping back into the various river systems. This is a chemistry lesson on a mammoth scale! Nutrient rich water with high levels of pollutants - obviously there will be winners and losers. Our favoured cyprinids will have no problem with these environmental conditions, although the birth control hormone might impact on spawning success, the fish which survive will have almost limitless food supplies and, therefore, growth potential. The "Specimen Hunters" dream scenario - not too many fish, but every ones a good'n! These same conditions will be the cause of the demise of our native crayfish, minnows, stone loach, bullheads and so many other aquatic life forms.
It was the summer of 2012 when I began to think about the barbel that were present in The Kentish Stour, stocked, with the full backing of The Environment Agency, by The Canterbury & District AC. The river record is an incredible 17 lbs 1 oz and Benno knew a guy who'd taken a double from a section that we'd been chub fishing. The seeds were set - Benno took two very small fish that first season (not session!), I totally blanked. So it was in June of 2013 that I was to finally relive the thrill of playing a feisty barbel. Sadly, it was not the Stour but, the River Severn at Hampton Lode. Benno and I had a two day-er up there, he finished with four fish I landed just two, but I was off the mark!
|My first barbel in twenty eight years. Gazing down on that fish is one of the most treasured angling|
moments I can recall. Size was completely irrelevant, I'd, once again, caught a barbel.
|Benno gazes down on his second double of the season - 10 lbs 4 oz|
The new season got off to slow start and it was six weeks in before anyone had a fish. I got lucky, exactly a year after my first fish when I took a superb specimen of 12 lbs 10 oz from a new swim, Luke was quickly off the mark, ending up with four fish, two doubles 10 lbs 4 oz & 10 lbs 6 oz. I stuck with it and was finally rewarded with a second fish which, at 11 lbs 4 oz, was some reward for my perseverance
|Benno returns my first Stour double. Chest waders are an essential part of our gear. Not only do they allow the|
safe return of the barbel we occasionally capture, but they also provide an impenetrable layer
against the bloody mossies!
So why am I going back again? All I will say is that Benno and I stumbled across a group of four feeding fish, very late one night. If someone takes a twenty from this river, I have already seen it. One of those fish was truly monstrous - Benno has nightmares about it, they were on his bait!
With one, very notable, exception (a guy who claims to have taken over 1,000 barbel from this river!), everyone I've spoken with speaks of how hard these fish are. The guy in Fatfish, a tackle shop in Thannington, told me of other anglers who have experienced the same type of frustration that I've endured. Basically, the fish have been taken from swims where the angler "feels" barbel should feed - not swims where barbel have been seen. You put down a bed of particles and place your hook bait on top - and then you wait! If the angling gods are in favour - you'll get a fish, but it doesn't happen that often?
Barbel are magnificent fish, they fight with a tenacity which few other species can consistently match. The fish which inhabit the water of The Kentish Stour are the most challenging angling project I've ever undertaken. They have caused me more anguish than any other fishing situation I have ever experienced. Looking at the basic figures, nine doubles from seventeen fish, suggests that this particular river is capable of something very special in the next few years. As the saying goes "You gotta be in it to win it!" That fish which Benno and I saw might just be the one?