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An individual, of no great importance, who is unable to the see the natural world as a place for competition, that was until Covid-19 intervened!. I catch fish, watch birds, derive immense pleasure from simply looking at butterflies, moths, bumble-bees, etc - without the need for rules! I am Dylan and this is my blog - if my opinions offend? Don't bother logging on again - simple!


Thursday, 2 April 2015

Barbel - my story so far.

My rather ragged copy of Top Ten. Still an interesting read, but
not in the same class as The Big Fish Scene.
In 1983, Beekay Publishing released a book entitled Top Ten which was, in reality, an up-dated version of The Big Fish Scene of five years previous. In this compilation of species accounts; how to catch them, the author of the chapter on barbel was Roger Baker, who, at that time, was a very successful angler with seven doubles to his name. To get this into some type of perspective, I was fishing for barbel during this period under the guidance of Fred Crouch. We'd fish The Compound on the Royalty Fishery (Hampshire Avon) and King's Weir on the Hertfordshire Lea, accompanied by Chris Scott on the majority of sessions. I caught, and saw caught, a good number of fish. A six pounder was a nice fish, a seven always worthy of a photo whilst anything over eight pounds was a right result. In all my time with these two fine anglers I only ever saw one double - Chris Scott's 10 lbs 2 oz fish from the Royalty.

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.
By September 1985 my PB had reached a very respectable 9 lbs 2 oz - I'd taken two fish of this weight. One from The Avon the other from The Thames at Mapledurham, Berkshire. Both fish fell to swimfeeder/maggot tactics fished using my Match Aerial centre-pin - just as Fred had taught me. Happy with my results I left barbel fishing and went off in search of other angling challenges, particularly the Wels Catfish of the Leighton Buzzard AC waters, whilst also continuing to Tench fish at Wilstone on a regular basis.
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.
However, it is this heady combination of factors which has seen barbel angling become the second most popular form of specimen hunting - behind carp fishing. Roger Baker and his seven doubles now look ridiculous. Shaun Harrison tells of taking twenty doubles between mid-June and September from a single river, Lawrence Breakspear recalls the capture of his 200th double whilst my brother, Simon, bumped into an angler, on St. Patrick's Stream, who claimed to only take photos of fish over 16 lbs! Whatever the science behind this, there can be no denying the fact that there has never been a better time, than now, to go barbel fishing in the UK.
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.
We returned home, buoyed by our success and within a week Benno hit the jackpot with his first Stour barbel of the season - 11 lbs 6 oz of pure hard-earned joy. The biggest barbel I'd ever seen and man, did I want one of those! We were both keen as mustard to add to our tally, but also to learn about the fish in this lovely little river. It proved to be painfully slow going, my first fish coming six weeks into the new season. At 7 lbs 14 oz it was a nice fish, but it wasn't what I was hoping for, the campaign continued. It was a couple of sessions later when, from the same swim, I took my second fish. This time it was a beauty, weighing in at 11 lbs 9 oz - cracked it? A new PB and everything I hoped for was beginning to come together. Five crazy days in August 2013 was to see me discover a new swim and beat my PB twice with two magnificent fish of 13 lbs 5 oz then 13 lbs 14 oz - I was living in a dream. The reality slap came when we only had two more fish by November, mine 6 lbs 2 oz and Benno taking his second double at 10 lbs 4 oz.

Benno gazes down on his second double of the season - 10 lbs 4 oz
We ended the season with a combined total of eleven fish (including Bunny and Tom's fish) - five doubles. Encouraging enough to already be making plans for 2014. It was whilst we were away in Scotland that Luke decided to join the fray - he'd not caught a barbel ever! By choosing to start on the Stour it was quite possible that he would remain that way! Our original section of the river had been decimated by the flooding of the previous winter and we were forced to start looking elsewhere. We were back to square one!
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!
Benno and Luke had enough and went off in search of lure caught chub, I became increasingly frustrated and, by the end of August, finally threw in the towel. These fish really are very difficult to locate.
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?


  1. A fascinating post Dyl. Much food for thought. My only worry is that you're using up all of the good bits from your book!!!

  2. Steve - fret ye not!
    This drivel is simply my way of keeping the blog moving - that book is still taking shape, rather slowly. It has far more detail, pertaining to specific incidents, than the generalised piffle which passes for a post. Still haven't seen a wheatear in 2015 - such is life? Hoping all is well - Dyl

  3. That really isn't drivel Dylan, your writing gets better and better and would grace any book.

    1. Derek - you really flatter, and I am not worthy! Yes, I have a tale to tell which is slowly being assembled in the cyber memory of my lap-top. I love the art of written English, as much as others derive pleasure from reading this same stuff! Maybe drivel isn't the correct terminology, although I struggle for a better definition in this particular situation.
      I find myself in a surreal position - my own perspective and that of others; the vast majority of whom I have no chance of meeting? Cyber space - an arena where anything is possible - friendships formed without the need for personal contact. I am grateful for your encouragement - all the best Dyl

  4. Excellent piece Dylan, it certainly is a tough river, its licking my backside this last months! But I have seen good fish so I will keep it going ! Do you still venture down there ?

    1. Hi James,
      It was six and a half years ago when I posted this piece and I have to admit that I've never gone back to that section of this lovely river. Some of the undesirables who frequented the banks we had targeted were best steered clear of. Having caught my target, and some, I was happy to walk away and seek adventures in other, equally challenging, scenarios. Wild Carp, winter Eels, Perch, Pike and Tench have all provided challenges since the Barbel project. Wishing you all the best with your own "Forty rivers challenge" if there's anything I can do to assist please feel free to get in touch. Tight lines - Dylan

    2. Time does not wait for no man! (I just read my comment...kicking - not licking and a few months too, thought I read it, clearly I didn't!

      I have fished around Canterbury a few times and have found it challenging just finding fish, I managed one fish in 7 visits to the river (6lb 1oz Chub) apart from that I've had no action. Living near Biggin Hill in Kent its one of my local rivers so I will look to continue fishing it until I catch that rare beast of a Great Stour Barbel. I have found the banks largely quiet when i've been fishing and not quite sure if that is a reflection of how tough the river is or if its got even harder. Guess I've got to keep plugging away and hope one day I get lucky!

      ...And yes, the challenge is going well so far, with a couple of really tough rivers chalked off and plenty more on the horizon over the next few years it looks to be exciting (plus too many blanks as expected).

      Be lucky, James.