A Week on the Wye – Carl & Alex Smith

For the past three years, since reading an article in Anglers Mail, I have been desperate to catch my first barbel. When asked what I would like to do for my 16th birthday, a trip to the River Wye in pursuit of a barbel was top of my list!

We decided to make a holiday out of it and so on the 21st October we left home. As a result of heavy traffic we arrived later than planned and did not have time to fish. However, we managed a small amount of filming before it became dark. That night as we slept in our cottage, situated between Hereford and Hay On Wye, both my brother and I dreamt of catching a barbel in the morning!

Day One
We woke early at about 6.00am. It was still dark as we collected up our fishing gear; two rods, net, mat, and a rucksack. It was only a short walk down to the river where I decided to roll a large lump of Bait-Tech Polony (luncheon meat) through some deeper channels and near to snags, whereas Alex tried some spinning for the pike.

We fished 2 swims without a bite, then moved on to a spot where the majority of the water flowed close to the far bank and was rumoured to be one of the deepest swims on the stretch. I cast my luncheon meat across the river and landed it (very luckily) right next to the overhanging trees on the far bank. I felt the bait bounce along the bottom and then stop momentarily before the line was pulled from between my fingers. I closed the bale arm, struck the hook through the meat and connected with a big fish. The unseen fish moved extremely slowly upstream until I could just make out a gold flank beneath the surface. Yes! I had my first river barbel within netting distance. Then, as I lowered my net into the water, the fish turned and went on a hard, fast run. Disaster struck and the hook pulled. I was terribly disappointed, especially as the fish looked as if it could have been over 7 or 8lb.

Roughly 5 hours later we returned to our first swim which was in the garden of the house where we were staying. There was deep water close in here, about 6ft in places. We also spotted some streamer weed which we reckoned may hide a barbel or chub. I set up a static bait rig with a 1.5oz flat lead, a 3ft hooklength with a size 14 hook and an 8mm pre-drilled halibut pellet. I wrapped the lead in some sticky ground bait, pellet and hemp mix, then cast out. The bait was probably a meter from the bank but 10 yards downstream. From the second the bait reached the bottom I received taps and knocks on the rod tip. I was using the IQ barbel twin tip from 30Plus. After three minutes the tip pulled round. For a while I thought I had a chub but then when the fish reached the surface I noticed the bronze flank of a small barbel. Lifting the net around the fish, I was still a little disappointed about losing a large barbel previously, but this little beauty made up for it. With fins of almost purple, and golden scales I was over the moon. My parents, on the far bank, watched me jumping for joy as I released my first ever river barbel!

Later that day after stopping for lunch and to meet up with some friends, we returned to explore further upstream to a place no one had fished for years. When we arrived there were chub lining the bank; in one foot of water beneath the overhanging trees lay chub of proportions I had never witnessed before. I’m not one for telling a fishes weight before getting the scales out, but I estimated some of these chub to be 5lb plus. Wow! Alex lowered a freelined lump of white bread onto the surface presented on a size 10 and 6lb mainline. The chub were a little wary at first, but second cast a small chub came up and engulfed the bread. After a short fight I netted the fish for Alex and we unhooked his new PB chub, 1lb precisely. And the smallest of the shoal. We would be back to this swim for sure!

Day 2
We met up with Dr Paul Garner on day two, with the hope that in his company we would learn more about fishing the Wye for barbel and chub. We were not disappointed. We first walked the stretch with Paul, chose three swims to prebait and then bait dropped or catapulted out: hemp, 6mm halibut pellets and some bigger 8mm pellets as well. We hoped the barbel would get their heads down and feed confidently before we fished for them. Rigs were similar to the day before with the exception that when we fished the slower, deeper swim, Paul recommended a large feeder rather than a lead.

After 4 hours without a fish, Alex’s rod suddenly fell off the rest. When he picked the rod up of the floor he felt a tap and then the fight commenced! The fish surged upstream, slowly but powerfully. He explained that it felt as if he had hooked the bottom of the river but it was moving! When the fish was closer in Paul held the net ready, and after a number of fast runs the fish gave up and a long lean River Wye barbel slid into the waiting net.

”Looks about 7.5lb pounds,” Paul remarked. What we had not seen was the width of the fish. When Alex placed it on the mat we all realised it might be even bigger than 7lb! The scales shot down to 9lb 12oz minus the sling. Incredible! Alexís first river barbel and it nearly reached double figures! I took some photos and then we released the fish. It swam gracefully back into the depths, this was definitely a good swim.

Later that day we fished in the first swim again where I had landed the barbel the day before. I set up a loafer float with a bulk of shot one foot from the hook. Alex bait dropped maggots and hemp at the top of the swim. After a few runs through, Paul recommended that I make the rig deeper as we wanted the bait to be tripping across the bottom. We continued making the rig deeper until the float started dipping beneath the surface, showing the bait was dragging along the bottom. At this point the rig was about 6ft deep. Just as Paul left to get his longer float rod, my float dipped, I struck and connected with a fish which went a little mad! We shouted to Paul and he came back to help me land it. At about 2lb it was another small barbel but I was very pleased to catch one on the float. It’s so much fun!

Later we fished upstream with Paul and landed some bleak, chublets and dace, before it started raining and we decided to head back to the cottage. It was time for Paul to head home, he is a lovely guy, immensely knowledgeable and it was great to spend the day with him and to catch some barbel! Thanks a lot Paul!

Day 3
We did not fish this day. After all, man cannot live by fishing alone!

Day 4
We woke up to a misty morning. It was about 7o’clock and the sun was slowly rising over the Wye. There seemed to be more colour in the river, this was due to the rain upstream yesterday. I fancied my chances and fished a new swim we had not yet tried. It was mainly slow flowing but it increased in depth towards the far bank. I filled my feeder with some hemp, pellet and ground bait (see bottom of page for more information), and hair rigged an 8mm Bait-Tech pre-drilled halibut pellet. It took about an hour and a half before the tip tapped twice and then dragged round. Lifting the rod, all I could feel was a solid weight on the line; I pulled hard away from the snags. Slowly but surely, the barbel lifted from the bottom and glided towards my waiting net. This was not the time to make a mistake, the hour or so before was as relaxing as it gets, but now my heart was thumping. After another run the fish lay on its side, beaten. Once in the net, I let the fish recover from the fight, then we took some photos and some film. The barbel was a new PB for me of 8lb 14oz! We returned for a cooked breakfast, and then went out with our parents to look at old buildings. Yay.

Day 5
No fishing but we prepared our gear and baits for the next day; there was plenty of rain and the river was coloured and rising.

Day 6
”The early bird catches the worm” Well, in our case the early fisherman catches the fish! We woke even earlier as it was to be our last proper day fishing. We started in a new swim but after 2 hours we had not even had a nibble, even though we had baited the swim with a can of hemp the previous day. Never mind, we decided it was time to move to the swim where I had my 8lb barbel from a couple of days before. The same rigs (see bottom of page for rigs and baits) were cast out by Alex. Both hair rigs wielding a big Bait-Tech drilled halibut pellet, he was hopeful!

After 30 minutes, our Dad came to see how we were doing. Alex was just telling him that nothing was biting when Dad, who is not a fisherman, said that his rod was moving. Alex turned round to see his quiver tip whack round! He lifted the rod and the fish made a run for the sea! After gaining back all the line, Alex strained to get the fish up towards the surface. Eventually, after about 10 minutes the fish ended up in the net. Our Dad who knows so little about fish reckoned it was a double figure barbel, but Alex was not so sure. It’s hard to tell how big a fish is before it’s lifted from the water. Once on the mat, we realised that the mouth could almost engulf a tennis ball! On the scales it reached 10lb 12oz! A new PB for Alex and a double figure barbel! Could it get much better? This week was turning out to be a holiday of a lifetime.

It was time to go out again with our parents. After admiring more old buildings, we found a tea room and enjoyed some tasty food. On returning, it was straight back to the river with the hope of another barbel or even a chub. We had spoken to another angler a few days ago and he recommended the swim near the end of the stretch. So we walked about half a mile or so down to the last couple of swims. The river here looked fantastic, deep slow water shallowing up to some rapids at the end of the swim. We cast our rods out towards the fallen trees on the far bank.

Not more that 3 minutes later, Alex’s rod pulled over and he tightened up to another barbel. This one however, shook its head a bit and was not fighting as much as his 10 pounder. After a short scrappy fight the fish gave up and let us take some photos. At 5lb 6oz it was not huge but a good looking fish all the same. Shortly after, my rod also knocked, but rather than a barbel I played in a chub of 2lb 15oz, the biggest chub of the trip. Later that evening I lost a barbel, and a pike grabbed Alex’s feeder as he reeled in! What a great day.

Day 7
We fished very early in the morning before we had to leave. Alex managed a chub of 3lb 6oz, a new PB, and he also lost a barbel. I did not have a single bite, but was I disappointed? No. One blank session out of the week did not bother me, I had achieved my target. I had come to the Wye and caught a barbel.

Words by Carl Smith



How we caught our barbel and chub by Alex Smith
For most of the fishing we used the following feeder rig: We used a 3oz 30Plus tunnel barbel feeder, a bead, then a quick change swivel. Looped onto the swivel was a 2 to 4ft hooklength of 10lb line to a size 14 hook and a Bait-Tech pre-drilled pellet on the hair.
This is how we made our groundbait: We tipped a can of Super Seed Hemp into a bait bucket and added some 2mm pellets to soak up the hemp juices. Then we poured in some Bait-Tech 6mm and 8mm halibut pellets. Finally, we sprinkled some ground bait over the mix to stiffen it slightly. The result is a pellet based mix which will gradually tumble out of the feeder, bringing barbel and chub upstream.
Photos by Carl and Alex Smith

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