With bream dominating the last few canal sorties it was with no little excitement that a long-planned trip to the River Wye with some of The Stillwater regulars crept up on us
The other three went down a day earlier and I was able to join them on the Wednesday for three days' barbel hunting
To give this some context, from my own personal perspective this trip was neither my first barbel hunt nor was it my first to the Wye but those previous excursions were as a young teenager after a barbel on the River Severn (managing one of just one pound four ounces) and the one to the Wye was on a baking hot day, with the river gin clear and consequently only a handful of salmon parr to show for it.
To all effects this was to be my first barbel trip to the Wye.
HonGenSec had arranged Wye & Usk Foundation tickets to different beats each day, together with b&b accommodation. All we had to do was turn-up, cough-up and attempt to bag-up.
The scenery was always likely to be spectacular between Hereford and Ross-on-Wye and, apart from being a couple of weeks early to catch the autumn trees in their fully multi-coloured splendour, it didn't disappoint.
On the first day, with the river conveniently up, a few barbel were taken to nine pounds plus and, when I arrived the following day the higher water had become coloured and chances seemed high.
We chose swims under the advice of the landowner but, it being my first visit, I misread the water and fished it badly. I also lost three fish due to hooks coming-off, not being used to their power I had to seek the knot advice (and a degree of emotional counselling) of the others over lamb and mint pie that evening, but contented myself with a couple of run of the mill chub. The river fell around seven inches while we fished.
Next day the river had dropped further and much of the colour dropped-out too. One or two more interesting birds were about - nuthatch, little grebe, goosander - but nothing really unusual apart from the sheer numbers of pheasant on the land. Clearly a shooting party or two were due.
The river was generally shallower than I anticipated and, in the absence of noteworthy features, went for the edge of the main flow putting down a bed of hemp and small pellets over the top with two 8mm red pellets on a size 12. As the water cleared I eased-off the groundbait feeder and swapped to straight lead and loose feed.
Late afternoon the tip whacked over with little warning and we were in. The new 1.75lbs t.c. 'barbel rod' was doing its business and, giving the fish very little opportunity to get started, it was soon in the net. HonGenSec had pointed-out that it couldn't be called a barbel rod until it had caught one, against which there is no counter-argument, and it was now true to its name.
The bruiser went 7lbs 8ounces on the scales (a p.b. by 6.4!) which caused a yahoo of delight to ripple across the stream, landed and unhooked, rested, photographed, rested again and gently returned, this was quite the beauty I expected it to be, albeit there was some historical damage to the scale pattern on the left shoulder. The surprising feature of the fish, for me, was the relative size of the barbules and the clearly visible sense organs in and around its mouth. I can't imagine a barbels eyes have much to do with its feeding habits.
A chub of 3lbs then fell to bread which I had been feeding down the inside under a small willow (you didn't think I could fail to take any did you?!) before, right at the death, the tip was wrenched into activity again and a second hard-fighting barbel was dealt with. This one just 3.2.
It had been hard fishing although four other barbel and four chub completed the gang's catch.
More pie that evening, this time chicken and leek, left us somewhat bloated leading into day four (or three for me), especially those of us who couldn't resist pudding after the entertaining lady-lady subliminally messaged us whispering "Sticky toffee pudding" in HonGenSec's ear. It would have been offensive not to.
Apart from achieving the aim of the trip in landing a proper barbel from a river that would struggle to be more different to my local River Leam the day had passed without any lost hooks. Things were starting to fall into place...or so I thought.
On the final day the water was clearer still, in fact tantamount to clearasil without a spot of colour evident, and groundbait was out of the question as hemp and pellets came to the fore.
We had a false start at one stretch which, being little fished, couldn't accommodate four of us on its available pegs and so returning to different pegs on the venue of day three we went about tackling the inhabitants. Big fish were evident with numerous surface crashes which soon became i.d'd as salmon. I dread to think how many but clearly they could make sport difficult in those numbers, and they did.
I was fortunate enough to hook a barbel early afternoon that I lost to another weak knot and then endured similar misfortune when I had to tighten the clutch to keep a fish out of the nearside bank but failed to re-adjust quickly enough as it headed back upstream and the hook pulled. None of us had anything in the clearing water that day.
We did however enjoy that disconcerting feeling of a river-keeper on the far bank with a shotgun eyeing-up a mink on our bank but we survived without injury, and so did the mink.
A lovely few days, great company, target achieved, even if the fishing was, I am told, below par; picturesque, exclusive access venues; a cracking b&b; great pub food and a chance to borrow The Lady Burton's land rover which was 'necessary' for the visit. What more could an angler want!
Not on a Trip.
Back with feet on towpath this was the last weekend of late early starts before the clocks help us out by donating that extra hour and as always the canal is a risk. Sunday morning it lasted all of 20 minutes before Earl E Riser entered the lock just 70 yards away, cranked the gears with impeccable passion and washed all life through Leamington Spa and into Warwick.
Definitely not a Trip.
Hydrologically blasted from the cut the Leam took on a certain appeal, and in search of more bread from Sainsbury's, the deeper previously neglected sections above Newbold Comyn sprang to mind.
Great idea that was. Four pegs later - not a sniff on bread and so plan C was hatched.
Almost a Trip.
My usual streamier haunt, unaffected by those romantic Victorians in search of the grand public realm and causing falsely deep water, subsequently unnaturally coloured by canal overflow, thought about playing ball. A roach of seven ounces first cast promised much but no more. The third swim ejected 2 roach, 2 dace and a gudgeon and that was that.
Staying in bed was a better option in hindsight. Though I would not have made the cashier's day when explaining that I'd been fishing and ran out of bread, quite why that was so funny I've no idea. Nothing that day was funny.
A Trip to The Hilton
Midweek offered a few opportunities for early visits to canals before work and on the first of those I met up with Russell Hilton of, the now very sadly defunct, 'Tales of the Towpath' blog. He was up from Devon for a few days' and wanted to have stab at some big canal roach and hybrids.
We headed for an area that occasionally produces the odd very big roach and hybrids up to 3lbs but it was very poor. Russell though did hit the bottom half of the target with a hybrid of 1.14 and a skimmer. For my part I had to content myself with a 2lb zander and 1lb perch on small dead boats ('dead boats' indeed, now there's an idea!)
The big roach may have eluded us but at least Russ could go home with a bit more confidence in the canal lift method having achieved half of his aims persevering with it
A Confirmed Trip
Next morning, having heard he words 'North Oxford Canal' emerge from Russell's lips it was inevitable that they would filter through the cranial planning process and be granted consent
At the extreme east end of that very cut I felt the chances of the target roach to cut through the building angling gloom was possible, if not likely
'Mild' is hardly the word for this current spell of weather. 'Silly' is more accurate. 10 degrees C when I landed on the towpath and tip-toed past the boats. Water visibility was around 5 or 6 inches and I had two hours to play with.
Two hours was far too long as it transpired. A good lift bite and solid resistance after twenty minutes fishing, with various crow species announcing the arrival of the day, was all it needed to confirm the plan had worked. No bream fight this one and the eventual glimpse of red brought an irresistible urgency to the pursuit such that no other catch can match.
The line and tightly held stomach could relax with it aquaplaning over the rim of the net and into meshed safety.
1.9.11 of wondrous beauty, that sits proudly second among what is already becoming a really satisfying campaign-list of pound plus canal fish, was the result.
I had a meeting to attend at 09.30 on Thursday and so, it being right next to the Grand Union on my old match fishing stamping ground, I couldn't decide what to do beforehand. So I resolved to go fishing.
Not expecting much on what I see as the GUC 'proper' (i.e. from south of Whilton Locks to London), as I was not certain of the impact zander had yet had that far down, I set-up in an area I once had the pleasure of watching the great (no misuse of that word here) canal angler Billy Makin and former world champion Ian Heaps have a little post-match competition on some bream pegs opposite trees. Those trees are now replaced with concrete and boats and increased width. In fact it looked more breamy than back in the '80's. (Bill won by the way but that was never in doubt frankly)
Bream did not for a change dominate proceedings this time and two nice roach, just creeping into the challenge by dint of magnitude, and absolutely immaculately presented, brightened that cloudy morn.
Two further visits to that long neglected part of the world were dominated by bream to two and half pounds however and shall remain largely of no more note other than to say that The Old Duffer once again graced the Grand Union with his now rare, but no less skilful, presence to take two of the slimy blighters from my swim
The Long Trip
Current 2016/17 big canal roach campaign - Top Ten:
(All GUC except *NOXC)