A reflection of time – barbel of over 10lbsPallatrax Angling
I still consider a barbel of over 10lbs to be a specimen but these days it has to be said that a barbel has to exceed 15lbs to enter the extra special category. At 16lbs, they are becoming rarer and, to my mind, once the 17lb barrier is breached the fish really are few and far between and truly are monstrous fish. I’ve been lucky enough to have taken eleven barbel over 16lbs with five of them over 17lbs and I’d like to relate the stories of those five fish in the order in which they were taken, starting with a stunning fish of 17lb 8ozs taken in September 2001.
One of the more substantial depressions at Kickles Farm on the Great Ouse is a classic looking swim. A midriver rush bed contains a downstream bay where the riverbed dives off from around two feet in summer to over four feet. The upstream drop into the depression is sudden, whereas the downstream end features a gentler rise into shallower water again. That morning, the river was clearing after the first autumn flood and I felt that the barbel could favour the downstream upward slope, and that is where my eight free offerings were positioned.
My first hook bait was lowered in place at around 5.00pm. I was sitting well upstream of the depression, so that my line made a shallow angle, thus minimising the possibility of line bites, I also incorporated a small back lead about eight feet above the terminal tackle. With the rod positioned on a rest so that the tip was only a foot off the water surface, and the rod butt on my knee, I sat back to wait. As is my habit, the line at the reel was held over the index finger of my right hand. If my attention wandered for a moment, any tightening of the line would immediately bring me back to red alert.
After taking a terrific chub of 5lb 15ozs thirty minutes later, it was a further hour or so before the rod lunged round suddenly and savagely. I struck, there was a horrible crack, and the line parted at the rod rest. I must have inadvertently cast a loop of line around it. To say I was distraught is a gross understatement. Barbel bites were rare occurrences at Kickles, and it was criminal to have missed such an opportunity through sheer carelessness.
Over previous seasons I had found that Kickles barbel normally moved around in small tight groups, so I decided to remain in the same swim. Possibly one spooked fish might not be too damaging. Exactly two hours later, as darkness approached, there was another savage lunge on the rod, which heralded a tremendous scrap that ebbed and flowed through the rushes for the best part of fifteen minutes. It was a truly memorable battle, played out under the most glorious scarlet sky. Eventually, though, the barbel was engulfed in the landing net. Elated, I hoisted my prize ashore and reverently placed it on the waiting unhooking mat. Soon, I had recorded a stunning 17lb 8ozs, a new personal best by ten ounces. Only one year previously that would have been a new British record.
When I arrived on the banks of the Ouse in mid February 2002 the river was bursting its banks with at least six feet of floodwater. In those conditions, one particular cattle drink area became an interesting swim, with four feet of steadily flowing water over what was normally dry sloping gravel. A really pronounced crease separated that steady flow from the raging torrent of midriver. At midday on my first day of a two day session, I introduced a few freebies of my HNV boilies, intending that I would not actually fish the swim until dusk on the second day. A few more freebies went in that evening before I turned in for the night.
I eventually moved into the swim about an hour after dark on the second day, after taking several nice chub in the daylight hours, and gently lowered my bait on to the crease and sat back to wait. With the wind howling, cold rain slanting down and the night as black as pitch, it was an eerie, bleak environment. In the event, I didn’t have long to wait, certainly less than a minute, before I had a spectacularly savage lunge on the rod. I had the line over my right index finger as usual and the bite actually resulted in the line cutting into the flesh and drawing blood. That barbel gave an unforgettable battle in the heavy floodwater and by the time it eventually folded into the net my arm was really aching. As I knelt alongside the fish in the torrential rain, I immediately recognised the famous barbel named The Pope, which I had first caught at 14lb 2oz in 1997 and which had recently held the record at 19lb 1oz after being banked by Tony Gibson. Moments later, my scales had registered another personal best of 18lb 4ozs.
Only a week later, the river was still high in flood; although now the water was such a thick, filthy brown I knew that a barbel would be my only hope of action. The conditions would be hopeless for the big chub also resident on the stretch. In the event, one solitary bite was all that I managed in two days, in the middle of the first afternoon, but what a fish it proved to be! I’d lowered a bait on to a near bank small crease, where a water-level bush protected the line from the piles of drifting debris, and moments later the rod crashed round. For fifteen minutes I played that leviathan barbel, to the sounds of a clutch buzzing like an angry hornet and the line singing in the strong wind. Several times the fish approached the net cord, only to surge off fifteen, twenty yards again and I let out a long sigh of relief when, at long last, I hauled my prize onto the bank. I’ll never forget my emotions as I first looked at that awesome barbel. It was a new fish to me and I was trembling as I lifted it on to the scales. I must admit to feeling almost numb as I confirmed 19lb 2ozs. An hour later, Adrian Busby had joined me, and confirmed the fish as one known as Traveller. After that, of course, that fish went on to become the new record of 21lb 1oz before falling victim to an otter. A sad end indeed for a truly magnificent creature.
The most magnificently proportioned barbel I’ve ever seen is an Ouse fish known as Stumpy. I’d never seen that fish on the bank until November 2002, when I decided on my second barbel trip of the season as the first floods of the year saw the Ouse bank high. On my first trip the previous week, I’d had a fabulous result with barbel of 16lb 3ozs and 16lb 7ozs, together with a cracking chub of 6lb 7oz.
Just as with my capture of Traveller in February, I just had one bite on my second session, in the afternoon of the second day. I’d settled into a nondescript looking swim I’d never fished before, where there was a tiny near bank bay offering some shelter from the strong current and drifting debris. I hadn’t prebaited the swim and sat patiently for over an hour, periodically flicking flattened pieces of my paste into the flow. I was rewarded in late afternoon by a sudden, crashing take. The battle wasn’t that spectacular, as I was forced to play the fish quite hard to keep it away from a little sunken bush. It was in the net within five minutes.
When I peeled the folds of the net back, I was convinced I had a twenty pounder, but what the fish had in depth and girth it lacked in length. In fact it weighed in at 18lb 9ozs, my second biggest barbel ever and without doubt one of the most unforgettable fish of my angling career.
In early March 2009, I arrived on the Great Ouse for what was to turn out to be a truly memorable session. My target was a big chub, the conditions looking far from ideal for barbel, with clear, cold water and a river at normal height. Not long after my first cast at around midday, persistent rain set in, accompanied by an ever increasing wind. Despite the uncomfortable conditions, the day produced an amazing run of six chub, with five over 5lbs and the icing on the cake in the shape of my then personal best of 7lb 5ozs. As you may imagine, I went to bed in the van that night a happy man.
The next day, the heavy rain of the previous day had done its work well, with the river running very coloured, rising steadily, and carrying lots of annoying flotsam. Despite that, I did manage a chub of 5lb 6ozs in early afternoon. Before long, the drifting rubbish was cutting my options right down as to what few swims were actually fishable, and I moved into a wide, sweeping bend where the set of near bank willows threw the main flow into midstream. Even with the rising river, there was a gentle, near bank glide, mercifully carrying minimal debris.
After four quiet hours presenting a large boilie alongside overhanging branches twenty yards downstream, the rod suddenly arched over and the clutch screamed almost before I could react. As I struck, there was a huge boil and a strong fish rocketed downstream. There was a noise like an angry hornet as line whistled off the clutch and I knew that I was attached to one serious barbel. I lost count of the times that barbel was brought to the rim of the net, before charging off again, but it must have been at least a dozen. My first good look at the fish under the surface led me to estimate 14lbs, but then I amended that to 15lb plus when the fish eventually lay on its side to be netted. But, when I started to lift, I knew it was much, much bigger than that. It was an absolute dead weight, deep in the chest, absolutely solid and with an astonishing thickness across the shoulders. I admit to trembling as I carried out the weighing, before confirming 17lb 2ozs, my biggest barbel by far since the 2002 heyday at Kickles Farm. It was a barbel that has certainly never seen the inside of my landing net before.