For the last few days my main reading has been back issues of Course Angling Today magazine, mainly the chub and barbel articles by Tony Miles, Phil Smith and Stef Horaks. When you read loads of articles back to back, there is a slight tendency to become somewhat jaded with the constant big fish they seem to catch. This is especially true of Horaks, whose writing style and humour I really like, but who at times seems to arrive at more or less any stretch of river, bait up with loads of hemp and casters and proceed to catch a long sequence of chub and barbel all of which seem to be specimen sized fish. No doubt much effort has been put into fish location, but that doesn't come across so much in the articles.
My goal at the moment has been to catch a big Thames barbel in January. But the Thames is a huge river and the barbel could be anywhere from here to Oxford, so location is a problem. My initial chose of venue is Duxford Loop, in part because it is so close to home (less than a mile) but also because it has more features that the regular Thames below Shifford lock (where the loop re-attaches). There is another stretch further downstream where I have heard that barbel have been caught in the last year or so, but I have only managed a limited rece of this so far.
My walk last weekend noted a sequence of five or six possible fishibng locations marked by huge snaggy areas combined with steady glides above them. So my plan would be to bait these glides quite heavily just above the snags with something aromatic (in this case, hemp and halibut pellets), then leave these swims to settle, re-bait a couple of hours later, then fish each in rotation a couple of times between dusk at 4:30 and 7:00 or so. If the snags contained barbel, I thought the hemp and halibut would attract them out to feed, and hopefully I would intercept them there as it got dark.
Prior to 4:30, I fished another huge snag using the classic bait of two lobworms. My hope here was to possible get a decent chub or even a perch. Some taps on the rod tip did suggest that something was playing with the bait but when I eventually did strike and hook something it turned out to be a small roach of about 8oz. Still it is good to know that such small fish are still in the Thames, even if 8lb line and a size 6 hook is unusual to catch a roach on.
Eventually I settled back into the first of the baited swim as it got dark. I was very expectant that my first cast onto the bait would give an instant take, but all was very quiet. Re-baited with more hemp, then down to swim two, which produced a chub of about 3lbs and then went quiet. Finally, swim three, the huge raft swim. This produced two chub around 3lb each again. Back to swim one and nothing again, then nothing second time round swim two and three. A slightly longer stay in swim two also produced nothing more.
By this time, the sun had fully set. Owls were hooting, there was the constant rustle of pheasants roosting in the trees opposite, the call of three foxes in the fields opposite, and the gradual appearance of loads of stars. Of course my eyes were fully acclimatised to the low light, so the stars were very visible. But this also suggested that the temperature was dropping sharply. I gave it until just after 7:00 and then managed the long walk back to the car in the dark much better than I did the other night. A hint of frost on the car though.
So what did this achieve? The main issue is the location of barbel. This is very problematic on a river as big as the Thames, and where fish can't be seen. So the bait up approach seems right. After all, any barbel that were active would have probably located at least one of the free bait patches. But I suspect that quite a lot of patience is required with Thames barbel, so I am not unduly bothered by the lack of fish tonight. More problematic is the drop in temperature, which might stop any prospect of catching a barbel even if they were close to me in my chosen spots. So my next fishing trip might well be chub on the Evenlode - a classic crusting day.
Sunset at Duxford - from swim two