Fishing on the Upper Warks Avon

Fishing on the Upper Warks Avon

With my wife Fran still not very mobile, I just had one short session again this week on the upper Warks Avon near my home. These upper stretches are by no means easy for barbel and several blanks before finding the fish are quite common. This season, before this latest session, I’d managed three good barbel in eight day sessions to 12lb 4ozs, actually quite a good strike rate. Several anglers I’ve spoken to are still awaiting their first bite. In fact the river is not prolific for anything at present and you really have to wait a fair while between bites. The only species of any size there in numbers is the bream, and I’ve had quite a few of them to over 7lbs while awaiting a barbel bite.

When I arrived just after midday, the new swim I’d created last week was occupied. Typical! The only other angler in about two miles of river and he had to be where I’d planned to fish. Obviously, I’ve made the swim too attractive. He packed up about an hour after dark and when he passed me informed me that he’d had a complete blank. So I didn’t feel so bad about being forced to change my plans.

My session did not start well. I’d picked a swim where there is only a narrow strip of firm ground between the river and a wide low lying boggy area behind me. To avoid the bog necessitates making a 400 yard detour and then coming back along the river bank, so I thought I’d carefully pick my way across the bog, going from exposed tussock to tussock. What a bad mistake that was! Only about ten yards in, I sank to my knees in mud and in the struggle to extricate myself my boots pulled off as well as my socks, and then I lost my balance and fell flat on my face with all the gear. I possibly swore at that moment!! When I eventually managed to struggle back to solid ground I was plastered in mud. Luckily I’d had the foresight to wear my one piece bib and brace so at least my clothes underneath were still warm and dry. Then I had to make the long detour after all and eventually lowered my gear in the swim.

The swim itself looks a classic, but then many do on the Avon that prove to be barren. This one is just below a sweeping left hand bend, where the river flows quite fast through a narrow neck before widening out, throwing a sexy looking crease into mid river. A little casting around with a light lead detected a definite deeper area as the crease petered out and that is where I deposited two handfuls of 14mm Meat Beast squabs. Then it was time for a sandwich and a cup of tea while the swim settled.

I eventually cast my first bait at about 1.00pm, a 14mm Meat Beast Squab smothered in paste and glugged, accompanied by a PVA stocking mesh bag of broken squabs, bits of paste and tiny halibut pellets. All afternoon and for the first two hours of darkness I could have been forgiven for thinking there was not a fish in the river. It looked absolutely dead, with no fish rolling, no bite of any description. Even the bream were having a day off. At about 7.30pm, with a bright full moon in the sky, I went to pick up my flask for a cup of tea when, out of the blue and totally without warning, the rod literally crashed round. If I hadn’t been holding it, as I always do when after barbel, it would have flown into the river. As it was it merely flattened the rod rest and something powerful and angry went whistling downstream with the clutch howling.

The first few minutes of the fight went to script but then the barbel adopted a tactic more akin to a big chub. It suddenly shot towards me and buried itself deep in a tangled mass of rushes and cabbages, where there is a steep drop off into about six feet of water in the margins. I was fishing over perhaps six feet of very boggy ground with my landing net at full extension and it soon became apparent that I had a real problem. For a good ten minutes I pulled from every direction to no avail, then I waited with the rod well bent for another ten, hoping that the fish would find its own way out. But that was also useless. I could see the problem. The barbel was under a huge mound of rushes, through which the line ran, and I realised that there was no way I was going to land that fish by trying any longer to pull it through the debris. My next attempt was to try and get the mass of rushes and the fish in the net mesh together but this was soon doomed to failure. So great was the weight of weed that, as I started to pull it all towards me, the net head simply dragged off the handle and I nearly lost it. It was teetering precariously on the edge of the drop off. Quickly dropping the rod on to the rushes to my right, still well bent, I sat down on the bank and eased myself over the boggy morass where I could just reach and retrieve the net mesh. As quickly as I could I re-attached it to the handle.

I now knew that I had no choice but to leave the rod alone and pull as much of the mound of rushes clear as I could by hand. As each clump was pulled away the barbel gave another frantic lunge and all the time I was worried that it would suddenly shoot away and I’d lose the rod. Soon, though, enough of the weed had been cleared for me to see the barbel just under the surface, still tethered tightly to cabbage roots. With the fish now only a couple of feet away from where I lay in the mud, I slowly manoeuvred the net mesh under it, grabbed the mesh tightly and dragged it towards me. To my intense relief I was able to lift the lot out, one huge barbel and what felt like half a ton of weed.

As I scrambled back on to the bank, both my hands went deeply through a bed of nettles, resulting in the worst nettle rash I’ve ever had in my angling career. At the time, though, I hardly noticed that as I was so elated to have won that traumatic battle. What a lovely fish too. My first guess was possibly 13lbs but when I confirmed 12lb 10ozs I was delighted enough.

After the fish had been returned I couldn’t fish on, although I had another two hours. I was knackered, plastered in mud and my hands were on fire. Despite that, I was one happy angler. The day had proved that, while you have a bait in the water, there is always that chance of a big fish, no matter how dour things appear.

Tony Miles



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