At around 4pm Martin entered with his very close friend and accomplished Barbel angler David Foster. With Martin on standby doing pictures for a magazine feature, David was to be my guide for the trip and the plan was to help me catch my first river Barbel. As soon as we all sat down and looked through the menu, Martin and I were at it talking about fishing’s past, Dick Walker, Jack Hilton and all manner of other Carping history. We hit the ground running and could see straight away that this was going to be a session of adventure and lots of chit chat. We had a meal and left at 6pm for the river.
We arrived at the river Kennet, it was the Wasing stretch, a private syndicate where Martin could gain guest tickets. When we got there Will Cater was there to see the prototype of Martin’s new book “At The Waters Edge”, David and I looked on in awe as Will turned the pages of what was obviously a book destined to be a classic, everything about it looked quality and the content was unreal. I really can’t wait to get my copy!!!
Will, Martin and David
The plan for the evening was just for me to get a rod out, no prebaiting had occurred so to get a feel for the river and trickle a little in was the order of the day. I began fishing at around 7pm, it was dark and a torch on a tripod lit up the rod tip so that bite indication was clearly visible. Tackle was so simple consisting of a size 4 barbless palatrax hook tied straight onto 10lb mainline and 5 LG shot pinched around 6 inches above. The reel was a small Shimano and the rod a 1.75tc Barbel rod. With everything set up I was ready to talk baits. Martin and David told me that Barbel fishing, much the same as Carp fishing, had gotten too complicated, this rig, that rig, this bait, that bait. All Martin had was bread and sausage meat. “If they won’t take either of those they’re not hungry” was his motto.
I was set and ready to go with a baited hook, David told me to flick just off a branch that was leaning over the water, the flow wasn’t too strong and the bread flake was flicked out onto the spot, I paid off a little line until the rig settled nicely where the crease was. I sat back, watched the illuminated rod tip and awaited events. After ten or so minutes I had a small pluck on the rod tip. I wound in to find the bread had gone. David then said to try some sausage meat so a nice walnut size piece of meat was tossed in the direction of the branch once again.
Another ten or so minutes went by and again I felt a tap on the rod tip, followed by another, then it arched over and instinct told me to strike. Strike I did and the rod arched over as a hard fighting barbel tried to take off in the opposite direction. I had hooked my first ever barbel. The fight was great in the fast flowing water, although not a large Barbel (8lb is a good fish for the Kennet), I was still as happy as I could possibly be, I wanted to catch one and doing it so early just showed how much my two companions knew about this sport. The net was slipped under a nice 4 - 5lb fish and Martin obliged with the pictures.
My first Barbel
After this I carried on fishing with a huge smile on my face, I was on cloud 9 and was chatting like a lunatic!! Martin made the tea whilst David and I tried for another fish. I only had to wait another half an hour or so until I had another violent pull round on the rod tip. I hooked the fish but unfortunately the hook pulled soon after. I cast back and within another 20 minutes I was in again. This fish felt much bigger and was pulling even harder, surely a bigger fish. I steered the fish away from the snags and guided it into David’s awaiting net. It was amazing, like a bar of solid gold. I can’t really describe how I felt but I remember thinking that that fish was perfect, strong, beautiful, elegant, majestic, all those things and more. It weighed 7lb 14oz and I was thrilled at the fact that not only had I caught my first one; I had bettered that and broken the PB set just an hour previous!!!
The fish was released and we decided that the evening had been kind to us and that to get back to the lodge, have some supper and a drink and get some relaxation ready for the next day was a good plan. We left the river and arrived back at the lodge around 10pm. David opened a bottle of red wine whilst Martin made Cheese toasties. We sat, raised our glasses to a wonderful evening and after supper got some much needed rest.
It was nice to see the river during daylight, the night times seemed to be the most productive but the days can be spent watching all around. We set the rods up, David and I fishing this time, and David gave me some more advice on baits, when to use certain ones, what sizes for what situations and so on.
It got a little frustrating and after a while Martin took the rod to feel if they were Crayfish attacking the baits. He said he didn’t think they were and handed the rod back to me. Next cast and this time the rod tip went over nicely and I pulled into a good fish. I had to apply a fair amount of pressure to this one as it charged down the pool in the fast flow towards the danger of some submerged trees. I finally managed to steer it back upstream and into open water, there it cruised around almost as if it didn’t know it was hooked. I saw the fish for the first time and saw that it was again bigger than the last one I had.
David expertly netted the fish, a handsome specimen which was to weigh 8lb 10oz. I was made up, this session had exceeded expectations already and it wasn’t even over. Martin once again took some amazing pictures and showed why he has done so well with his photography over the years, a true professional.
3pm came and it was time to return to the lodge for lunch, a nice bowl of Martin’s wife Kate’s hot pot, and very special it was too, I even phoned her and told her!!! This was washed down with tea and at 5 pm we returned back to the river for the last night.
Back at the river Martin told us to bait the area we’d be fishing but not to cast out yet, just leave the area quiet and let them get down to feeding in peace. It started getting dusky at 7pm just as the Bats and Owls started to get busy and we promptly cast our baits on to our pre-baited spots. David was first into a Barbel of around 3-4 lbs. After that the bits slowed up a bit and things were looking rather quiet. The cold easterly wind made things feel decidedly cold but I was still happy and determined to catch another of those wonderful creatures. I had to wait until around 10pm until I felt a twitch of my rod tip, this was followed by a good arching and the strike told me I had connected with yet another Barbel. Again a smallish one and it weighed about the same as David’s last one although I could honestly catch them all day long!!!!
At somewhere after midnight Martin decided to move swims and I fancied a go in the spot I was in the previous night. I got to the swim and David said that there could be some Chub feeding as there has been a guy in there all day feeding a lot of bait. We attached a nice lump of bread flake and flicked it downstream. Within a couple of minutes I felt a good bite, struck but only pricked the fish and it was gone, I repeated this 3 or 4 times until I changed bait to the sausage meat. Next cast produced and more smooth bite and I bent into another fairly powerful fish. This time I netted the fish by myself as David had gone to help Martin pack away. By the time the fish was in the landing net, Martin and David arrived to congratulate me, it weighed around 3-4 lbs again and was retuned to the fabulous river.
5 Barbel was a dream and the whole session was one I’ll remember forever. Whilst at the lodge Martin did an interview with me which will go on the radio show “At the Waters Edge” on BBC Radio Lancashire on Thursday evenings. He’ll also let me know what magazine the feature will be going into and when. Very exciting stuff.
All in all, Martin was, indeed, the legend I pictured him to be, you name it, he’s done it. And a more generous man you’ll never meet. The guiding on the river he offers free of charge, help with tackle, putting you in the right spot, sorting the bait and even feeding you and making the tea not to mention buying the guest ticket. All he asks is that you make a donation to his charity “The Army Benevolent Fund”
It was a couple of days I enjoyed more than any other, and something I could get quite used to. I have a feeling I’ll be visiting that river again, maybe over the winter…watch this space!!!