Return to the River Wye – Richard Howland

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Return to the River Wye – Richard Howland

On Saturday at 5am Pete parked outside my house, ready to load all my barbel fishing gear in the van. It was the start of a week that we had been waiting for all year: our annual trip to the wonderful Ingestone Fishery, in Foy, Ross on Wye. If you read last year’s post then you’ll know that normally Pete Scott, Ashley Mount, Jason Hodge, and I all make the trip down but with Ashley unable to make it due to work commitment it was decided that we would cover the cost of his place between us and just the three of us go.

With the van loaded and Muskett in the front with us it was time to set off and meet Jason and Pip (his dog) at Clacket Lane services. We wanted to hit the M25 early to avoid of all the holiday traffic. After a faultless drive we arrived at our cottage at 9am, far too early to move all our gear in but as we had been looking forward to getting back here it didn't matter. At least we weren’t stuck on some motorway! We decided to get all the food shopping out the way so we could concentrate on catching barbel later and not have to pack up while the barbel were feeding and, with all the unpacking and shopping done, it was time to visit the river and to see what the conditions were like.


The levels were quite low, but that was to be expected since we had just experienced one of the hottest weeks of the year so far. Having fished in these conditions before on this stretch of the Wye I had a good idea where the fish might be held up. I also knew that it wasn't really worth fishing for them until the early evening when the sun started to lose some of its heat. It was agreed that we would put some bait out in the areas we fancied and head back to the cottage to prepare our gear. The three of us had decided that we were only going to fish with boilies, as last year they seemed to out-catch the pellet. With this in mind I had opted for the 15mm Advanta Bloodworm and Krill Shelf Life Boilies, as I had been using the Advanta Pineapple and Coconut Boilies with great success for my carp fishing and I knew that the barbel loved both the bloodworm and krill flavours. These were attached to a longest hair, with a size six or eight Korda Krank hook (depending whether it had one or two boilies on the hair) as we found these gave great hook holds when playing a hard fighting barbel. For hook lengths we used ESP Ghost in 10lb.


Around 4.30pm we made our way down to the river as you can drive the car along the whole two miles. On our way we stopped here and there to take in the sights and sounds that only a river can give you. I never tire of the screech from the buzzards as they fly high in the sky above your head before landing in some tree the other side of the river, or watching a fly hatch as the late afternoon sun hits the water turning it golden.

But that's enough of that. We were there to catch barbel, and I had a good idea where they would be. The areas we headed for were near the top end of our stretch, known as Cobley’s Point and Trust Pool. Pete set up in Cobley’s, Jason in the Trust Pool, and I set up on a beached area between the two.

With the temperature dropping we hoped that the barbel would be in the mood for a boilie or two. Opposite me were some large bushy trees that over hung into the river and I knew that if I could get as close as I could to them I had a better chance of a bite. I opted for the right hand rod to be fished with two 15mm Bloodworm and Krill Boilies and a large Korum River Feeder, to get the smell going down stream, and the left hand rod with one boilie and a Korum 4oz Gripper Lead. I could have used a 3oz lead but I knew there were lots of rocks and if the weight gets dragged out by the current or weed on the line then nine times out of 10 it goes straight behind a rock and you lose the lot.


With both rods out and Muskett by my side I sat back in the chair and reminded myself how much I had been looking forward to this moment. I had waited a whole year and was finally back barbel fishing on the Wye.

As I was fishing in the middle of Pete and Jason I could see what was going on with them. After about 15 minutes I looked round to my left to see Pete into his first fish, which he unfortunately lost. Later on that evening while he was reflecting on the day, he said that, because it had been a while since he'd caught a barbel, he had completely forgotten how violent the takes can be and was not prepared for that first take so it got behind a rock before he knew what was happening. Luckily he was soon in again on the other rod and this time was ready to give no quarter. After a battle between man and fish our first River Wye barbel was in the net.

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I spent a short while watching the other two catch barbel both sides of me, which I was pleased about, anxious to get one of my own. We've all spent time looking at the rods, willing one of them to go, then the moment you take your eyes off them, all hell breaks loose! And so it was for my first take. I had my head in the rucksack looking for God knows what, when I heard the reel on the right hand rod spinning. I looked up to see the rod doing its very best to release its self from the tripod and head for the river. I only just got to it in time before it took everything else with it. Barbel on!!

It's true that you forget how hard they fight when it's been a year since you last hooked one. Some customers in the shop look at me strangely, when I tell them that I use 2lb test curve rods, 12lb mainline, and 10lb hooklink to catch a 7lb fish. But, believe me, you need every bit of it when a barbel has been hooked and is heading for the rocks. Sometimes it’s all you can do to hang on and hope you can turn them before they make it. This time I (luckily) managed to make the turn, not giving an inch more line than that which the barbel had already taken while I wasn't watching the rods.

Once clear of the rocks and into open water I could let the fish tire itself out and then wade out to land my first River Wye barbel of the year. What a start to the week! It was my first fish and it tipped the scales at 8lb 1oz. The double 15mm Bloodworm and Krill Boilies had worked; it's always nice to catch a good size fish on a new bait. I had been right in my location, too, as no sooner had I recast I was in again. Yet again it felt like a good fish and went at 8lb 15oz.

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I was nearing my rods after letting the fish recover in the deeper water when the left hand rod bent over and was trying to drag everything into the water. Making it back before the fish could pull the chair and tripod in I was once again attached to a golden powerhouse. This time (because I was not on the fish straight away) the barbel made it behind some rocks. This is when the strong line I had opted to use came into play, giving me time to change the angle by walking out into the river to free the snagged fish. The fish was soon out in open water so I could relax a little and, after a short fight, it was in the net. Once again it was a big fish. The scales stopped at 9lb 2oz – I couldn't believe it! Three fish, all over 8lb!

And so it continued – it was just as if someone had turned on a switch! When we packed up at around 9pm I had caught 11 barbel – six over 8lb and one over 9lb. Jason had caught seven and Pete five, plus an eel, and lost two. What a way to start the week!!

As there was a match on most of the river the following day, we decided to get up at 4.30am and put that day's tea in the slow cooker (thanks to Pete's brainwave we could get up and be fishing while tea was being cooked for us – brilliant!). This meant that we could be the first ones on the river – away from where the match was taking place and where we hoped the fish were still laid up feeding on the bait we had left them before heading home the night before. The dogs were raring to go, too. I love the way they are asleep one minute then in a moment are 100 percent ready for action. We headed back to our chosen swims, hoping to catch the barbel before the canoes with holidaymakers descended upon us. Saying that, most of the holidaymakers are as good as gold and stay well clear of the lines. In fact, some even give information as to where the fish are laying up as they go past!


By 5.30am the traps were set with the same set up as before. Pete had no time to sit back and enjoy the early morning sun like Jason and I as no sooner had he cast his rods out than both rods were away. Watching a grown man stumble about not knowing which rod to strike first is very funny, especially as I couldn't help him because no sooner had I shouted down to Jason to have a look at Pete two on at once than my left rod was bent over and I was in. While playing my fish and listening to Pete regaining his composure, now just playing the one fish, I looked to my right and couldn't believe it. Jason was also playing a fish! Oh my God could it get any better than this? Three friends, with four barbel hooked, laughing as one at the madness of it. Moments like this are why we come back to this wonderful place time and time again.

Having landed our fish, we watched as Pete played and netted his first fish then picked up his second rod, only to find the fish still on. On the mat lying side by side were two 8lb plus barbel and grinning from ear to ear was one very happy angler. We packed up around 11.30am, having caught some good fish, and headed back to the cottage for a barbeque on the patio and to tie more rigs ready for the evening session and more of the same.

One of the things we had tried this year was using alarms on the tripod instead of just rests as in previous years we knew there was a chance we would nod off while relaxing in the sun watching the rods for hours. Due to the early mornings and late nights, the longer the week went on the more chance there was of this happening. I must say they worked brilliantly; just one bleep was enough for you spring into action.


One morning we were up fishing early as usual and had caught a few when, nearing time to pack up around 11am, one of the salmon anglers who regularly frequents these waters waded out into the river just up from where Pete was fishing. I sat there watching him for a while before reeling in, grabbing the camera and walking up nearer to get some shots of the two fishing: Pete watching his rods and the salmon angler casting his fly. While I was clicking away Pete had bite on his right hand rod. This was a stroke of luck, I thought, what better than to be there with the camera while someone is playing a fish. I waded out into the river with the camera while Pete battled with a decent fish.

After a while, Pete was still struggling to make any ground on it. I thought he was milking it for the camera but, as it came up near the net, I was wrong – this was a good fish. At 11lb 12oz not only was it a double, which I had caught on camera, but a PB for Pete as well. Yet again Pete was grinning like the Cheshire Cat and, with the photos done, it was time to wade out into the deeper water to let the fish recover before watching it swim off strongly.

Richard-Howland-River-Wye-11Richard-Howland-River-Wye-12 With barbel being caught regularly on the feeder, it's always nice to try something different. One of the things on that list was to catch on rolling meat – well, more like a 20mm boilie actually! Jason was eager to try this method out, as we had all watched anglers on TV doing it but never with a big boilie on a hair. We were intrigued to see if it would work. 20mm boilie, size four Krank hook, 2ft ESP Ghost hooklink, and a good lump of plasticine round the swivel and he was ready.

Casting across to underneath bushes takes some doing and I take my hat off to Jason for achieving it consistently until, after a lot of casting and guesswork as to whether the boilie was actually moving, a barbel finally took the bait. To prove it wasn't a fluke, he caught another one straight off the bounce, too!


In the past I had trotted a float down river from the bank to try and catch barbel, but never had I waded out to my waist and trotted a float down. That all changed one evening as I put the waders and my river apron on and waded out with maggots, pellets and sweetcorn. I was armed with a Drennan Acolyte rod and Pete's Daiwa Ninja reel, as I had unfortunately left the centrepin at home. What a fantastic way to fish! To all the people that have done it, I now know what I've been missing and to all that have never, get your waders out and spend a few hours out in the flow.

That first evening trotting was more trial and error, trying to get the depth right and avoiding the big rocks under the surface. But I did catch some cracking roach, dace and chub on the maggots. The next day I was eager to get back into the river and thought a change of hook bait might entice the bigger fish to feed. After catching some lovely chub on sweetcorn, I still hadn't had a sniff of a barbel. On went a 6mm pellet to see if this would get through to them. About an hour later the change paid off as I hooked into my first ever barbel on the float. It wasn’t the biggest one of the week by a long way but it was really worth the hours standing in the river for.


Having never seen a salmon caught on a fly from a river before, we couldn't believe our luck when one morning, after having a well earned lay in, we were driving past Gilbert's on our way to Cobley’s and there was one of the salmon anglers, Dave Slade, playing a fish. We stood there watching in awe at the sheer power of this fish being played on a 15ft rod. The fish was fighting with all its might. Imagine my surprise and horror, when he asked me if I would wade out and land it for him. Now, I wouldn't normally be worried about netting someone's fish but this was a bit different. As you can imagine they don't catch many so I really didn't want to mess it up. Luckily the fish went into the net first time of asking and I looked down at a truly magnificent beast of about 13lb. Even though I hadn't caught this fish, it made my day just to have been a small part in it.


With the week drawing to a close, I was sitting in my chair reflecting on the week’s events, talking to Dave, and I had made a cast across the river that landed perfectly into a small hole in the bush that had barbel written all over it. While chatting away to Dave the rod that I had put into the hole bent over and I was on it in a flash. Clamping down on the reel and not giving an inch, the rod kept bending as the fish tried to make in into the rocks. This was one powerful fish, but if I gave any line at all, it would have been game over; I just held on and prayed the line was up to it. With Dave watching on, now in silence, as he could see I was struggling to stop this fish, I knew had to change the angle. I began to start wading out to my right, reeling as I went. This worked and the fish changed direction and headed out into the main river, giving me a chance.

The fish made some powerful runs up and down in front of me, before I was able to slip the net under what I could see was the biggest barbel I'd ever caught. With the help of Dave we zeroed the scales and weighed this creature at 12lb 8oz, beating my PB by around 2lb. I was over the moon, this was a big fish for the Wye, and with the photos done, I took this lovely creature back out into the river to regain its strength, and watch it swim off to fight another day.


The total for the week were as follows: Richard – 47 barbel, six chub, four lost. Pete – 45 barbel, 18 chub, eight lost. Jason – 25 barbel, 14 chub, 10 lost.

Thanks to all at Ingestone Fishery, Ross on Wye, for a fantastic week’s barbel fishing.

The Tackle and Bait Box Korum 2lb Barbel Rods Shimano Reels Korum Tripod  Korum Chair Advanta Rucksack ESP Ghost Line Korda Krank Hooks Korum River Feeders Advanta Bloodworm and Krill Boilies

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