1 August, 2019 |0 Comments
Barbel Fishing On The Tidal River Trent – Tony Gibson
The River Trent has become the go-to destination for big barbel fishing. Tony Gibson heads out on to the bank and gives his tips on tackling the mighty waterway..
With all the media attention and reports over the last few years of the barbel being caught from the Trent, especially the lower, tidal reaches below Cromwell Weir, it was inevitable that I’d end-up barbel fishing on “the tidal” at some stage.
I’m not a fan of barbel fishing during the warm summer months, preferring to fish for them later in the year when they tend to weigh a little heavier and be at their peak condition. However, the opportunity of an overnight session to try out the full range of Dynamite Bait’s new addition to the Big Fish River range, the “Meat-Furter”, ahead of my usual barbel and chub fishing later in autumn and winter months was an opportunity not to be missed.
It was still raining heavily when I arrived at the river early afternoon (and continued to do so frequently for the next few hours), but as I was walking the stretch, trying to decide where to start, I saw a guy suddenly grab a rod as a barbel took off with one of his hookbait.
Unfortunately, the fight was short lived, as the barbel fell off the hook half-way in, but it did help to indicate that there were a few fish in the area. This had also happened to be in one of the areas that the bailiff had indicated was a potential section to head for, so I elected to set up a few pegs upstream.
Two rods are allowed here and most people that barbel fish the Trent would probably make use of a two-rod set-up. It makes sense, with such a large, wide river, as it allows you to explore a bit more of the river itself and to also experiment with baits and presentation to see what the fish might prefer.
My rods for the trip were what would likely be classed as medium, through-action carp rods. They are Carp Spirit Magnum rods, with a 2.75lb test curve and my medium sized “big pit” style reels were loaded with a modern 15lb mono that is relatively thin for the stated breaking strain.
Go heavy or go home…
This may seem like overly heavy gear for barbel fishing, but the nature of the river and the weight of the feeders and leads required to effectively fish in the conditions presented mean that heavier gear is sometimes needed… and it’s always better to go ‘over gunned’ than to discover yourself compromised with too light a set-up and not able to fish properly or safely from a fishes welfare perspective.
My starting point was a heavy 4oz feeder on the upstream rod. This may seem like a heavy feeder to anglers used to fishing smaller, more intimate rivers, with less flow. However, the Trent in the lower reaches is a big river and with plenty of water pushing through, a lighter feeder simply wouldn’t hold bottom properly in the powerful current.
Effective feeder fishing requires the feeder to dispense the feed (and attraction from it) in the same consistent spot, rather than the feed being washed out of the feeder all over the place as the feeder is dragged about along the bottom if it isn’t heavy enough. Also, in the area I was fishing, there was no real opportunity to fish the slower paced flow right in the edge, as the side of the river was reinforced with large rocks and boulders that would quickly snag up a lead or feeder that was presented near the bank.
I attached my feeder to the type of plastic run ring that allows a quick change of feeders/leads, with the run ring itself able to be fished either semi-fixed or completely free-running by utilising one of the specially designed rubber swivel protection beads with a groove where the run ring sits when used in semi-fixed mode.
This was fished with a long 3 to 4ft hooklength constructed from 15lb Carp Spirit Kameleon coated braid, with the coating stripped off on the bottom third of the rig. A strong Razor size 8 hook, tied knotless knot style, completes the rig, with a hair long enough to present a hair-rigged boilie or pellet with a few mm between the hook and the bottom of the hookbait.
A long hooklength helps to fool any wary barbel that might be attracted to the flow of feed from the feeder but might be cautious of getting too close to the feeder itself.
The downstream rod was set up similarly, but with a 4oz flat-pear shaped lead rather than a feeder. Again, a long 3 to 4ft hooklength; but for this rod I opted to tie up a lighter mono hooklink to see if a slightly less conspicuous hooklength might make a difference. Following the theme of a less conspicuous end-rig, I tied this hooklength up with a smaller sized 12 hook and aimed to fish slightly smaller baits on this rod.
One up, one down…
The idea of using the feeder on the upstream rod, with the straight lead on the downstream rod was to hopefully introduce the bulk of the feed and attraction via the swimfeeder on the upstream rod, but with a slightly more less obvious set-up fishing downstream of it to try and fool the barbel that might be attracted upstream to the scents and smaller particles of feed being washed downstream, but weary of approaching the potentially dangerous area immediately adjacent to the source of the attraction.
In ideal conditions, when large groups of barbel were well on the feed and showing no fear of approaching the swimfeeder, switching to feeders on both rods and introducing more feed to keep the fish interested and hopefully hold them in the swim, would probably be a better option. However, on this occasion, reports were that the barbel fishing had been “moody”, so I felt a more conservative approach to start with was probably best.
With the full range of “Meat-Furter” goodies to play with, I decided to knock up a pungent groundbait mix to use in the swimfeeder, using the “Meat-Furter” groundbait wetted with roughly a 50/50 mix of river water and the “Meat-Furter” bait soak liquid.
I used the groundbait as plugs at either end of the swimfeeder, with a good helping of the “Meat-Furter” mixed sized pellets sandwiched in the middle of the feeder by the groundbait plugs. When using swimfeeders in such a deep, powerful river such as the tidal Trent, it’s important that the feed stays inside the feeder until it has reached and settled on the bottom. Therefore, the groundbait can be mixed quite stodgy and squeezed hard into both ends of the feeder prior to the cast.
Hookbait on the feeder rod was either the boilie style “Buster” hookbait, or the “Durable Hookers” in the “Meat-furter” flavour. For the downstream lead rod I experimented with a smaller hookbait in an attempt to fool more cautious fish that may be shying off the main feed and/or a larger hookbait, so here I used one of the “Durable Hookers”, but trimmed down a little with a pair of sharp scissors to make it smaller, or one of the “Buster” hookbaits, with about a third of one end cut away before mounting on the hair.
To add a little extra attraction near the hookbait on this rod I squeezed some of the matching paste around the top of the lead and tied up some small PVA mesh bags of pellets to simply nick onto the hook for each cast.
Getting the rods angled right…
Both rods were set up using long banksticks with bite alarms at the front, to help keep the rod tips pointed well up in the air. This meant that there was less mainline going through the water and therefore less pressure on the line making it easier to hold either the feeder or lead in position.
The alarms would help to signal a bite if I wasn’t paying close attention, but the early stages of most bites were initially signalled by knocks and rattles on the rod tips before something more positive occurred and the alarms sounded. To help bite detection during the dark hours of the session I also fitted isotopes to the rod tips that I could see once the light had disappeared.
Once I was ready to cast out, the swimfeeder rod was lobbed out upstream, between approximately a quarter and a third of the way out, with the lead rod cast out at approximately the same distance, but 5 or 6 yards further downstream. Trying to fish closer in meant that there was a danger of the end tackle ending snagged in the rocks, while trying to fish further out would have required heavier leads and feeders to effectively hold bottom in the flow.
The first few hours of the session were quite slow, with only a couple of bream succumbing to the downstream lead rod and the smaller hookbait. Both rods were regularly recast though, rather than just left to fish for themselves. It’s important to try and keep a regular supply of fresh feed going into the swim to try and attract the fish to you.
On a big, wide river like the Trent, the barbel shoals can be very mobile and may not be on the feed constantly thoughout the day. However, both the flow and smaller fish will soon deplete the feed that you’ve introduced into the swim and the barbel will soon pass you by if there’s no feed or attraction drawing them to your swim and towards the hookbaits when they do arrive.
The first fish…
Eventually, just after 6pm, the downstream rod signalled a more positive bite and the first barbel of the session was hooked; a fish of around 4lb. Even a relatively small barbel can give a good account of itself in a strong flow and the tidal Trent barbel certainly fit into this category. Obviously, with the strong tackle required to lob out the heavy feeders etc., the gear is more than adequate to deal with any barbel that might be hooked.
However, there’s no need to try and bully the fish to the net as there’s nothing to be gained by it… and it just increases the risk of a hook-pull. Carefully playing the fish, giving line when necessary, and gradually coaxing them towards the landing net in a calm controlled manner is the way to do it.
After the first barbel the frequency of bites increased over the next few hours, with barbel bites occurring approximately once an hour, with a good smattering of bream and even the occasional quality roach making an appearance. None of the barbel were any great size, with the majority being in the 3 to 7lb category. However, they all put up a good account for themselves and made for some great sport.
It was interesting to note that initially most bites occurred on the downstream rod with the smaller hookbait, as it seemed like all the goodies in the swimfeeder acted to draw the fish in, but they were either hanging back, or were encountering the downstream hookbait first.
After dark it was the hookbait on the swimfeeder rod that seemed to account for the majority of the bites. After dark it was also noticeable that the consistent rain from the previous day or two had now started to make its way into the river, as the flow gradually increased in strength and more bits of weed and other debris was being carried downstream. This meant that I had to add an extra ounce to the weight to the swimfeeders and leads in order to effectively hold stationary on the bottom for a reasonable length of time.
I was hoping that the action would continue through the night and into the early morning, but bites seemed to dry up in the very early hours and surprisingly the early morning period only resulted in a handful of greedy bream. Once it was passed breakfast time and through the day I experimented going smaller with the hookbaits, which did prompt a few more bites, but mainly from roach and the occasional bream and not the intended target species.
However, hanging on until later in the afternoon saw the barbel turn up once again and I enjoyed catching another handful of fish, including the best of the day weighing in at 8lb 4oz, before I ran out of time and I had to reluctantly bring my session to a close.
I’d really enjoyed only my second barbel session on the Trent; my first ever on “the tidal”. There’s a big contrast between the tackle and tactics required to tackle the big rivers like the Trent, as opposed to some of the smaller, more intimate rivers that I’ve been used to fishing.