Tony Gibson’s Angling Diary – Late Summer 2019
In his latest article, specimen ace, Tony Gibson does a spot of barbel fishing and banks a big cat..
I don’t usually fish for barbel during the warmer months of the year, but with the new season on the rivers having started only a week or so previous and some very interesting new additions to Dynamite’s Big Fish River range to try out for a feature it didn’t take much to ‘twist my arm’. This was also going to be an opportunity to have my first session on the tidal reaches of the Trent below Cromwell Weir, so by the time I’d got things arranged for an overnight session I was rather looking forward to it.
Not always easy pickings
Despite what impressions may be forthcoming from some of the press reports, not every session on the tidal Trent is a barbel every cast… and typically for me, when I’m trying to catch fish for the camera, the fishing was really slow and barbel were noticeable by their absence.
The odd small bream and decent roach put in an appearance during the main part of the day on the downstream rod fishing the smaller bait samples, but the first barbel didn’t decide to show up until after 6pm… when Mark with his cameras had just started their homeward journey.
That first 4lb’er heralded a steady series of barbel bites, about one an hour, interspersed with a few more bream and roach; with bites lasting until an hour or so after midnight when things slowed down again.
I was hoping for more barbel action around dawn, but it was yet more greedy bream that couldn’t resist either the “Meat-Furter” “Buster” or “Durable-Hookers” hookbaits.
The following day the pattern of bites was around the same, with an absence of barbel until late afternoon, when the barbel started slamming the tips over once more. Again, those barbel bites lasted through the evening period until it was time to pack up and head for home.
My biggest barbel of the session was ‘only’ 8lb odd, but I’d enjoyed the session and was looking forward to getting back on the river later in the year, when hopefully something a bit bigger might turn up.
As is often the case, my carping results started to slow down during the warmer, summer months, but as one July carping trip betrayed signs of some eel interference with the baits, I soon decided to switch target species and enjoyed a bit of bonus eel action for a welcome change.
Lobworms fished on low-resistance ledger rigs in the margins seemed to be the going bait and method, with the Dynamite Frenzied Worm groundbait mixed with a much worm extract as it could hold thrown around the area to draw the eels to the spots.
The eel fishing was never hectic, but a handful of fish turned up over a couple of trips, with the best from the first session weighing a pleasing 3lb 15oz and the heaviest eel overall, a splendid fish of 5lb 9oz, coming during the second trip. Unfortunately, I never managed to obtain a photo of the 5.09 due to a rather weird set of circumstances.
I’d caught it quite late one night and after a quick weigh I decided that as dawn wouldn’t be far off, rather than attempt the tricky task of night-time, self-takes with the slippery customer, I’d simply retain it in the landing net draped over some reeds in the margins and try to enlist some help early the following morning in order to try and get a decent photo or two.
Imagine my embarrassment a few hours later when, after finding a willing volunteer to do the photos and getting all the camera gear, mat etc. ready, I finally lifted out the landing net… and no eel! I’ve since heard some pretty impressive eel escapology stories, so I’m guessing that my eel simply climbed its way over the inch or two of net that was above the water and swam off. It was a shame not to get any photos, as it was my joint second-best ever eel.
Time for catfish
In past years catfish have provided a very welcome change of species during the warmest months of the year, so no great surprise that when August came around I couldn’t resist a couple of sessions targeting some big catfish that I had access to. Where they large quantities of carp baits such as boilie and pellet, these types of bait items eventually become part of the catfish’s general diet, especially when they present such an easy source of nourishment.
It makes sense therefore to look at ways of presenting the big pellets and suchlike for the catfish in these situations, especially on waters where the use of livebaits and other more traditional catfish baits are banned or discouraged. Using the big 21mm Dynamite Marine Halibut pellets as the basis of my baiting strategy helped to provide me with my previous best catfish weighing 104lb back in 2017… and I was hoping that similar tactics would work for me again when I embarked on a 2-night trip early in early August.
On arrival I baited two separate areas of the swim with roughly a kilo and a half of mixed sized Marine Halibut pellets, soaked in the Worm Liquid around each hookbait… and did the same again the following day. Hookbait was a single 21mm Dynamite Halibut pellet tipped with a Dynamite Crave Pop-up that had been soaked in the Crave concentrated hookbait liquid.
The first night was quiet, with no action on the rods or indications from the alarms. However the second night was very different and it was the close-in spot that produced the bite in the middle of the night after a 20-minute spell of liners had me convinced that there was a large catfish about hoovering up the pellets.
The fight with a big catfish is a brutal affair, and this fight was no different, even though I use heavy gear, suited to the job when I’m targeting the really big ones. I’m not afraid to use ‘strong-arm’ tactics to try and win the fight as quickly as possible and to try and avoid wiping out the lines of other anglers, which can be an all too frequent occurrence if you play the big ‘cats’ too softly and allow them the upper-hand too often.
Fortunately, despite the lake being quite busy, the only issue I had during the fight was getting wrapped in my other line half-way through the proceedings. This complicated things a little, but eventually I had what was obviously a huge catfish close enough in to try and ‘glove’ it. This all went relatively smoothly at the first attempt, leaving me with the muscle-straining task of dragging a very large expanse of fish over the edge of the groundsheet that I use as a ‘glide mat’ and up onto the bank.
I had thoughts of a possible “ton plus” during the fight and once I’d got the catfish on the bank and had a proper look, I was still thinking similar thoughts. Fortunately, I had help from a couple of other anglers who were fishing close by and I had some much-needed assistance to enable a quick, trouble free, weighing etc. The scales confirmed a weight of 109lb 8oz, so not only another “ton plus” UK catfish, but a new PB to really put the ‘icing on the cake’.
It’s an awkward, tiring job to photograph such a big fish, but she behaved well enough to get a few quick shots before the lads helped out again to safely manoeuvre the fish back into the shallow margins where I could hold on to it for another few moments before she gained her strength and swam gracefully away back into the inky depths.
For me, the sheer adrenaline rush and the physical effort involved in the arm-aching fight, followed by the anxiety for the fish during the weighing and photography tend to dull the sense of achievement for a while when I catch a big catfish. So it’s not until after the fish has been safely returned and I can finally sit back, re-run events and I can start to appreciate just what’s happened, when finally the excitement and sense of celebration start to kick-in properly. I was elated with the big catfish. Another new PB, and with the 142lb sturgeon back in January and the 7.11 chub in March, that made it 3 new UK PBs already this year!
Back to the barbel
With the PB catfish under my belt and the earlier success with the eels, I decided it was probably worth making a few return trips to the river Trent to see if I could catch something a bit bigger than I’ve caught on my previous trips.
The trip to the tidal stretch at the start of the season was only my second ever barbel trip to the river, and with a talk for Nottingham Piscatorial Society (NPS) scheduled for November, with the subject matter due to be about my experiences and impressions about fishing their stretches of the middle river, it was time I had a trip or two to the NPS Trent water to see was going on.
The NPS have so much river on their club book that it’s difficult to know where to start, so on the first visit to the river I made sure I had most of the day to simply drive around and explore a few different stretches, before deciding on somewhere to fish during what I hoped would be the more productive late afternoon and evening period.
On that first trip, everywhere I visited appeared inviting and I must have walked miles of very fishy looking river. Eventually, the final venue for that first visit to the NPS stretches was decided by where I’d ended up by the time I’d had enough exploring and the desire to fish became too strong; so I just walked back to the car, decided on a swim on the way and then collected my gear and walked back to where I’d decided to make a start.
My initial swim choice, like most on this particular stretch, looked to have been fished before, but not extensively. There was an overhanging tree just upstream of the swim, but a few casts with a bare lead revealed that the nearside ledge, including anywhere near the tree was rocky and too snaggy to try and fish properly without risking the loss of loads of end tackle. After a few casts around the swim I chose to rig up the rods properly.
I could use two rods and I initially setting up both to fish similar rigs, but with different baits to see if there might be a preference. Having caught so many barbel on CompleX-T I decided to use a 12mm Complex-T boilie with a plastic corn “topper” with a PVA mesh bag of broken boilies on one rod.
On the other rod I swapped around with the Big Fish river “Meat-Furter” boilie style “Buster” hookbait, or the softer pellet-shaped “Durable Hookers” as hookbaits, while squeezing some of the “Meat-furter” flavoured paste around the top of the lead and some small PVA mesh bags of the “Meat-furter” pellets tied up ready to nick onto the hook for each cast.
Actually I’m getting slightly ahead of myself here, as on that first trip, only moments after casting out the first rod and while still setting up the second, the tip on the first rod banged over and I was into my first barbel of the session! To me Trent barbel seem to be real battlers, and it was a while before this one allowed itself to be drawn over the landing net. It was a long fish but looked a good one… and the scales registered a weight of 12lb 4oz. My first Trent “double” and not a bad result for my first cast of the trip!
A hastily got both rods out and 20 minutes later I was attached to another Trent barbel… and another Trent “double” at a few ounces over 10lb+. This was looking to turn into a special session, but unfortunately it didn’t quite end up as a barbel a chuck, though I had a few more (singles) to add to the tally and finally left for home well impressed with things.
Another Trent trip
I managed to organise things so I could make a couple more long evening trips back to the middle Trent around the same area as that first visit and enjoyed some further barbel action, using similar tactics, on each session.
Most of the barbel were of the upper “single” stamp, with the odd low “double” and a few smaller ones as well. Average sized bream fell to the barbel tactics on a regular basis, catching loads on some sessions, while almost none on others. I thought I might catch a few chub, but I can only remember catching one rather small one during those barbel trips.
A go for the Trent zander
After a couple of trips just targeting the barbel, I decided to try and mix things up a bit and try and maximize the opportunity to catch a few zander, as the river has produced some big ones over the last few years and it would have been a shame to not bother exploring the possibilities while the opportunity was there. On the sections of river that I was fishing, the current was still quite strong, especially as fishing down the edge was almost impractical because of the rocky/snaggy nature of the inside shelf.
So, I was forced into fishing for the zander in a similar way to the barbel, with heavy leads, the rod tips up in the air and watching the isotopes on the tips (with alarms as a backup) for bites. I was using little roach for deadbaits and also sacrificed two of the smallest bream that I caught to use as fresh deadbait sections/chunks.
I actually caught a zander of about 5lb or so within about 30 minutes of the first time trying for them and caught at least a couple of them every session thereafter. I’m not sure that I was fishing in the stretches that held any big zander and I certainly never caught anything particularly big, 7lb+ was about the largest, but it was interesting fishing.
Not surprisingly, because of the way I was fishing, which doesn’t really encourage a resistance wary fish to ‘hang on’, I suffered a fair few dropped runs. I tried to hit a bite at the earliest indication and I’m guessing because of this I had a couple of zander fall off during the fight that I guess were very lightly hooked. It was something that I’d like to do more of in the future and I’m guessing that in future years Trent zander fishing will gain in popularity as the fish continue to grow in size.
Tight lines, Tony