Just days after I decided that one of my goals in 2012 would be to catch a large barbel from an Oxfordshire river, an article appears in the new issue of Course Angling Today entitled "The sad demise of the Oxfordshire barbel"! Typical, eh?
This suggests that the last decade has seen the virtual disappearance of barbel in all the rivers in the Upper Thames system, by which he means the Thames above Oxford, the Thame (which is actually below Oxford!), the Windrush, Cherwell and Seacourt Stream. Each river is considered in detail, with some comments about the Windrush below Witney really hitting home. One year - 1995 - I fished there maybe 30 nights after work in August and September, catching well over 100 barbel with a best of just over 9lbs. On several occasions I saw what was clearly a double figure fish, but failed to catch this one. Now, according to the article, otter and cormorant predation, plus signal crayfish have pretty much wiped out the species. That is really sad. I will still have a few trips this summer there I think.
I haven't fished the Cherwell since the mid 1990s either, and have just two barbel to my name, with a best of 8-08. Apparently locals fishing the main barbel stretches there have seen catches drop from 100 a year in 2004 to 2 in 2010.
Missing from the article was any discussion of the Evenlode, which had a huge barbel stocking about 8 years ago and which might be the dark horse. Access to the Evenlode is relatively restricted as one or two clubs control most of it. So maybe my summer barbel will be focused on the Evenlode instead. Hardly anyone fishes that for barbel (or indeed anything else) so maybe they have slipped through.
Also, there are some parts of the Thames where I suspect the barbel might hole up even with a general decline in numbers. So I shall be focusing on these spots in the summer too.
So where does that leave my 2012 target of a big barbel? Well perhaps it is just what I need to inspire me to fish the Kennet more. Again, one of the clubs I belong to have a stretch that is likely to be sparcely fished, especially during the week when I do most of my fishing. And apparently we can now night fish there provided we don't park near the farm and then drive off between 10:00pm and 6:00am. So I am planning a trip down one weekend to see if I can meet any other anglers there, then maybe a few trips in late Feb into the end of the season in March.
Will Part 2 next month, an interview with Oxford barbel expert John Everard, give any hope?