21 March, 2018 |3 Comments
In his latest column, bait expert Archie Braddock ends the river season targeting big barbel on the River Trent and discusses his way of fishing for them in winter including the best baits for barbel, the top tactics and how to locate them….
I’m fortunate in having several good angling friends who give me feedback on their own fishing sessions, including catches or lack of, but three of them are invaluable to me.
First, Steve. Although now sixty five he fishes a relentless six times a week, usually from about 3pm to 10pm. Only the snowfall and extremely sub-zero temperatures of this last bad winter stopped him, and then for no more than three days. I met him a few years ago, not long after he moved up to the Midlands from the south, looking to take up river fishing after years of carp fishing.(over 400 fish of 20lbs or more, no less) I was able to give him a few pointers on barbel and he immediately started catching doubles from the Dove, the Derwent, and especially the Trent. Most of these were caught with Source boilies or dumbells, which is one of the reasons I signed up with Dynamite.
Next, Roger. I’ve known him since the 1960’s, back in our carp fishing days, and we both moved onto Dove barbel in the 1970’s and later still onto Trent barbel. He’s from an advanced scientific background and goes to great lengths to test everything, line, hooks, swivels, knots, and much more. He was instrumental in helping me create the right density for pastes, which have since given me catches of specimen tench, bream, barbel and chub. He doesn’t fish as much as Steve (nobody does) or myself, but his technical input is essential.
Last, Danny. The youngest of the trio and still in his 30’s; that means he’s able to overnight it on the Trent regularly, even in the winter, which the rest of us oldies struggle with. He’s currently fishing a very tough stretch of the river, well known for its very large barbel and chub, and therefore subject to a lot of angling pressure. I fish it myself but only occasionally: a blank is the norm so I try to time my visits to coincide with the best conditions. I’ve been able to give Danny a lot of info, and supplied him with Barbus Xtra, the only new flavour I’ve produced since my ‘retirement’. Sorry, its not for sale yet, but its possible that Dynamite will release it sometime in the future. I originally had Barbel Magic Summer, and Winter, but eventually ran out of materials. Due to a client going bankrupt I found myself with a large amount of an unusual Essential Oil on my hands. A few random experiments rapidly proved that, with various added elements of my own, I had a really good barbel attractor, moreover one that worked in summer and winter. Danny took to it wholeheartedly, and recently caught his first 15lb barbel using it in one of my special pastes.
These three anglers, along with a few more, give me a blow by blow breakdown of their sessions, bites, (if any) conditions, levels, water temperatures, the lot. Added to my own experiences this does give me a head start, but last winter still ended as my grimmest for several years. Here’s how it went.
Big fish approach..
I’ve fished for Trent barbel for many years now, having caught over 2000 of them, and several years ago made the decision to mainly winter fish; usually after the clock change at the end of October. Barbel can suffer from the effects of capture in the summer months and often need a lot of nursing before being released. Also the fish themselves are much bigger later in the season, as most of their weight gain is made in the winter months, particularly February. After some ten years of this winter fishing, a couple of years ago I decided I just wanted to fish for the very biggest fish only, and that necessitated a significant change in tactics.
A study of Trent barbel had shown me that doubles can be caught anywhere on the river, usually peaking at around 13lbs, with a 14lber an outstanding fish. Areas that regularly produce barbel of 15lbs and over are much rarer, usually well known, and pressured. My belief is that the really big fish will seek out deeper, slower water, and may remain undetected for many years. Few in number, those that are accidentally hooked by pleasure anglers will easily break free with anglers assuming that they were briefly attached to a carp.
I finally settled on such an area, about a mile of slower water know for its bream, and was told by the locals “there aint no barbel along here mate” I knew different. A couple of years previously I’d tried a few sessions and managed a barbel of 14lbs 14oz, albeit my only barbel and indeed my only bite. I knew it was going to be hard and prepared myself for the blanks. Fortunately I had already started negotiations with Dynamite, who kindly agreed to supply me with any bait needed. This got me thinking again, as I believe that the exceptional growth of the fish in the ‘hot’ stretches is due to the regular bombardment of high nutritional value boilies the long stay specialists give these areas. One angler was quite unhappy to find me in ‘his’ swim, and told me that only that morning he had come down and baited up with five kilos of boilies and pellets. No wonder the tuffties were having a ball.
So, I would commence a heavy baiting of my chosen stretch with two aims in mind: get the barbel used to finding food in that area, and actually increase their growth rate by providing high quality easily available food. I settled on Source 15ml boilies, Complex T 15ml boilies, and 16ml Halibut pellets. With a lot of bream in the area anything smaller might be hoovered up. I kicked off the baiting in early October, putting in 3 kilos per week spread over two trips.
Steve and I first fished it towards the end of October immediately finding bream, good fish of 6 and 7 lbs, a few even bigger. I caught a chub of 4lb 2oz, another rarely seen specie in this un-favoured area. November arrived and so did we, around the middle of the month, having kept the bait going in. Bingo! At around 7.30pm a stack of three different pellets, super glued on a hair and covered in Barbus paste, was taken. Barbel, 15lbs 2oz. I was overjoyed. Barely six weeks in to the campaign and a quality fish already. We might rewrite barbel history if we kept the bait-up going all winter.
Some hope. Not another barbel did we get over the rest of November – and all of December. Steve, with all his extra weekly trips, proved they were feeding by catching doubles steadily over that time from different areas. His tactics were fairly simple: a 15ml hair-rigged Source boilie with a p.v.a. bag containing 3 or 4 broken boilies and a small amount of 4mm Source pellets. Mostly fish of 11-12 lbs, with an odd thirteen or fourteen also showing. Then came January, February, March, with the worst weather and river conditions for many a year. I tried elsewhere myself managing a couple of fish to 12¾ lbs, but barbel blanks in the baited area became the norm although we still often caught bream. Even Steve, with his regular six, was reduced to one bite per week – on a good week.
So the season petered out leaving me very frustrated, I knew the bait-up experiment would have succeeded, but not in such terrible conditions. I’d also developed a new paste which I felt in my bones would work, and devised a different way of presenting these pastes; creating a rig I’m very excited about.
Ah well, next season.
There was one session on the Trent, however, which will stay with me forever, even though it was yet another blank. Robins have always featured in my winter fishing, often landing on the rods or hopping about around my feet. I usually feed them maggots or perhaps biscuit crumbs, but one day this particular robin appeared as I set up my chair, looking very persistent. So, with my large bait bucket by my side, I broke up a bit of my sandwiches (thank you Shirley) scattered crumbs at my feet, and also on my bucket top. The robin soon cleared up the ground level food, then hopped up on my bucket. I stayed stock still while it cleared those bits up, then to my surprise it hopped up on my knee and cleared up a few crumbs I’d dropped there. I couldn’t believe it, so when it dropped down again I carefully spread more crumbs on the bucket, on my knee, and held a little piece between my thumb and forefinger with my hand in my lap. The robin cleaned off the bucket lid, cleaned off my knee, and then took the crumb from my very hand. And it did the same again minutes later!
Approaching seventy years on the bank, and yet another first. Even an eighteen pound barbel wouldn’t have over shadowed that.