AS I lifted the net from the water my jaw dropped, and lost for words I just managed to mutter: “I can’t believe it.”
You know those sessions where everything just goes right? It was one of those, a red letter day. One that I know I will be remembering until the rest of my days I am sure. It was my last session of the season, and I knew I had to make the most of it. One barbel would do, just one to finish off my best season yet would put the icing on the cake, but little did I know what was to come.
To maximise my chances of catching, I knew pre-baiting an hour or so was likely to pay dividends, so with pre-tied PVA bags of Bait Factory’s new krill and crab groundbait – coupled with lashings of mixed flavour pellets – I added a stone to the bottom of the PVA bags, underarm throwing them as accurately as possible to an overhanging bush. The main advantage of this baiting style is there is minimal disturbance, in my opinion the downfall of a baitdropper on small rivers. Not to mention, its accuracy as accurate as your throwing is.
Around an hour and a half later I was back down the river, not brimming with confidence to say the least, the result of a long string of blank sessions starting in late 2012. However, I had done all in my power to maximise my chances, including a lot of pondering over rigs, eventually deciding to take a leaf out the carp angler’s book. The combi-rig is simply a section of stiffer fluorocarbon connected to a short section of supple braid (my choice being 12lb Drennan gravel braid). In addition to this, I had ‘kicked’ the hook with some shrink tubing to create a really aggressive angle of the hook, sure to nail any takes, which in the current fluctuating conditions are few and far between. A large blob of rig putty over the connecting rig ring ensures the rig sticks to the bottom, with a supple section of braid to allow free movement of the bait, ensuring it looks as natural as physically possible. Hair-rigged fairly close to the size 8 hook shank were two 8mm Bait Factory halibut pellets, renowned barbel bait.
Tackle-wise I had spooled up my Shimano Aero 5010 with 15lb ESP Syncro XT line. You cannot afford to tackle up lightly in faster flows, and with big abrasive snags in the way too, you have to be ready to bully fish away and often out of these obstructions. To hold bottom I had threaded an Avid Carp 2.5oz inline lead onto the mainline. This in some angler’s eyes is a light lead; heavy enough to hold bottom however.
I had just one chance of making a decent cast. Anymore casts and I thought it would spook the fish, which I hoped would now be confidently on the feed following my pre-baiting. With the hook buried into a small PVA of groundbait to minimise the chance of snagging on debris, I delicately flicked the rig to the baited spot, landing just short of where I had planned, however it would do I hoped. It was now just a waiting game.
In the dim light I waited in anticipation, but in reality catching wasn’t the be all and end all. I reflected upon my best ever season, whilst a haze of mist floated downstream, my thoughts soon going with it as my alarm let out a single ‘beep.’ But it was nothing to get excited about, most likely just debris caught on the line, or so I thought. Fifteen minutes passed, and as I stared at the stark rod outline against the darkening sky, the alarm sounded again. Twice in fact, but this time I managed to make out the rod tip twitching. This continued for several minutes, and I was adamant it was a bream as it was all too familiar. I expected that within the next few minutes the rod tip would start to rattle from a typical bream take, but amazingly it didn’t, instead it stayed motionless. Not to worry, plenty of time left yet!
Ten minutes later the tranquil setting was turned upside down though. Three sharp, hard taps were immediately followed by three single beeps, where after the rod steadily began to winch over. It was a positive take if I ever saw one!
As the fight progressed I couldn’t help but think I was into a bream or a carp, as the fish didn’t go on any powerful runs into the snags, unusual of barbel. Soon enough I had the fish into the main flow and the fight transformed. I looked up to see my Dave Mason barbel rod – built by Andy Sliwa – genuinely bent double, but coping with such power. Despite balanced and strong tackle, it was no contester to this fish, the clutch slowly ticking away as it went on long slow runs. Slowly but surely it started to become obvious that this was a good fish – it was simply a dead weight, like no other fight I have experienced before. Each run resulted in me clenching my teeth, hoping it wouldn’t snag me up. In the dim torch light the fish finally gave up the fight and I guided it towards my awaiting net, where my witness scooped up my prize (thank you, sir). It looked around 9lb as I brought it over the net cord, but how wrong could I be...
I looked down at the fish laying on the mat, beyond disbelief at what I had just caught. This was a genuine fish of a lifetime, and one that I had worked bloomin’ hard for too. Five years of fishing the Sussex Ouse, and all the hours and blanks had certainly paid off. With shaking hands and adrenaline pumping through my veins, I just about managed to wet the weigh sling, allowing the water to thoroughly drain, then zero it to my scales ensuring completely accurate weighing. I was adamant it was a double, but what I didn’t expect was the dial to spin round to nearly 16lb, 15lb 11oz to be precise!
The law of sod was at work, and as I attempted to turn on my camera, it flashed to indicate low battery – typical! A camera phone would have to do, but I was not going to let this ruin my genuine excitement.
A few snaps later I faced the fish into the flow to force water through its gills, waiting until it started to kick, indicating it had recovered fully. The next bit was very special indeed. The big whisker slowly kicked out of my grasp, gliding back to its depths none the worse for our encounter, other than a dented ego.
It soon dawned on me that the fish is a potential river record, and after a few weeks of verifying the capture, I am over the moon to be able to say my claim has been accepted. What a way to end to end my season!
Tight lines… Michael Wickens