I’ve never really done any barbel fishing on the River Lea. I had a bit of a go towards the end of last season on Kings Weir but to be fair that was a bit of a baptism of fire. The stock levels are low and the fish are very tricky indeed. In August of 2017 I decided that I needed to target a part of the river that offered me a better chance of a fish or two – before then returning to Kings Weir or Fishers Green once I’ve gained a bit more experience with this awesome creature.
The Upper Lea and the Lower Lea are like two different rivers. The Upper Lea, particularly for barbel, is much more prolific with many more fish, however what the Lower Lea lacked in quantity it certainly made up for in terms of quality – throwing up the odd monster (16lb+ barbel and 8lb+ chub are caught pretty much each year). I spent ages researching and wandering the Upper Lea to find spots which I eventually did and decided to target those.
Above: Initially I decided to feed 6mm and 8mm pellets and fish a pre-drilled pellet on the hair
My first couple of trips were a disaster. A steady stream of pellets were being fed and I could see barbel in my swim. They weren’t big, maybe 4 or 5lb and so I went in with what I thought was balanced tackle given what was in front of me. I sat on the floor behind my rod. The rod tip hooped round at lightening speed, I grabbed the rod as a fish powered off down the river. The power of this thing was extraordinary! The rod sprang back as the line parted – I was left in complete disbelief. I was fishing an 8lb hook length and a size 8 Drennon hook – it clearly wasn’t up to the job.
So, I beefed up the hook length and within an hour the rod hooped round again. I grabbed the rod and was able to apply a bit more power now that I’d stepped up to a 12lb hook length but again the rod sprang back! Jeez! This time it had straighten the hook! It was then that I’d learnt my first lesson – these fish are immensely quick and powerful for their size. You can’t mess about when it comes to fishing fairly tight swims like this – I went away and returned a few days later with the right gear for the job.
Above: Tough gear and immediate success. My first barbel from the upper.
Above: Proper barbel hooks. Thick, strong, size 8 hooks – no more messing about!
Once I’d got the rigs right the fish started coming regularly. Still only small but they were fantastic fun. The speed of them was crazy, especially these smaller ones – they were like rockets. Another change I had made was to touch ledger. They were so fast. They were going too far down river by the time I’d picked up the rod when fishing in the conventional manner and so touch ledgering meant that I could react so much more quickly.
Above: Another stunning little barbel from the river lea.
Above: Was catching a few each session by now. Not bad considering my sessions were never more than a few hours long.
The odd bigger fish started to visit the swim. Occasionally one appeared that was twice the size of the others, which got the old heart racing.
Above: Getting bigger – still only about 5lb but starting to see the odd biggie.
Above: The business end of a barbel of around 6lb – 7lb.
By now I’d switched to fishing with Krill dumbell boilies for no reason really. They stayed on the hair better and I could wrap them in paste.
Above: The – built for power.
The pellet hook baits were picking up quite a few chub along the way and so I switched to dumbell boilies which helped catch fewer chub.
Above: Plenty of chub along the way.
It was coming towards the end of August. I knew that would be switching my attention to something else at the end of the month. I felt that I was getting closer to something a bit bigger. My target was a double figured fish which would be awesome.
Above: Another 7lb+ fish which I saw pick up the hook bait!
Above: Back she goes.
Towards the end of August I was standing in the bushes as usual – barbel fishing on the River Lea, touch ledgering, when a much bigger fish entered the swim. It was definitely twice the size of anything else and it looked to be a double figured fish. The fish was feeding very confidently and I was tracking it’s path. It was not as tight to the trees as the other fish which comes as a surprise, so I placed my bait where I think I had the best chance.
Bang! The rod was almost ripped out my hands. I immediately saw the fish roll and I could see it was the big one. Whilst it was more powerful it was not actually as fast as the smaller fish. It headed off under the trees but from previous fish I know it’s quite clear under there – you’re OK as long as you keep your rod tip very low whilst playing the fish. After a few more powerful runs I manage to pull the fish from out of the tree. It looks big in the clear, shallow water. I pull it over the net and it goes in first time – buzzing!
Above: Was so please with this. What a fish. Not my double at 8lb 2oz but I couldn’t care less.
Above: At last, my first ‘proper barbel’.
A couple more sessions were squeezed in before the month ended. On one of these I hooked a really nice carp but simple couldn’t stop it which I was gutted about. September started and as was going to try and get a decent carp from the river and maybe start to pester a few perch.
I was barbel fishing on the River Lea on a series of short sessions throughout August and had a great time. I didn’t get my double but I do feel much more prepared to take on the Lower Lea. Watch this space.