First Barbel by Andy O'Shaughnessy

The scene is set several years ago when Comtel, now NTL came to town and dug up every street making total chaos and mess for weeks whilst laying this new cable thingy. Shortly afterwards the sales team arrived and did the rounds trying to sign up as many customers as possible.

Like the Barbel I was soon to catch, I too, was curious, interested, tempted and finally comfortably took the bait…. Cable TV brought the likes of Wilson, Hayes, Young and that Aussie guy Rex Hunt into my living room. I would watch avidly as these pioneers filled my head with entertainment, then aspirations and finally, desires.

The one that did it was a piece by Trefor West, on the Bristol Avon, in an episode of Total Fishing. There he was, lying in wait for a large Barbel, very close in, under an overhanging tree. I watched spellbound, riveted to the chair, as he struck, held hard and almost got pulled in as the Barbel fought. The combination of the soundtrack, plus the grunts from Trevor together with the creaking from his tackle was something I would never forget.

A chance meeting with an old friend revealed that Barbel were present in a local stretch of the Upper Thames, only twenty minutes from my home. An evening after work was chosen, hemp prepared, and my trusty Hardy Richard Walker Avon dusted off and matched with a Mitchell 411 fixed spool reel (I'm a right hand wind man).

The river was walked and using all the ideas learned from the programme, a swim was selected. A section of fast shallows slowed into a deep hole with rushes, on its middle edge with a overhanging bush on its bank-side, clean gravel could be seen, all scooped out by the action of the diverted current. A couple of handfuls of hemp were put in, and as I settled, the kettle was put on.

I used 8lb mono straight though to a size 6 hook, baited on the hair (separate in those days) with a large lump of Bacon grill. Just a single SSG shot was added to take the slightly buoyant bait down. I cast into the faster flowing middle river and, under a tight line, allowed the bait to trundle round in an arc towards the primed depression.

I allowed a further few loose coils of line off, allowing the bait to disappear down into the depths and out of sight. With bail arm closed, rod in a single rest I sat down enjoying the freshly brewed tea.

I sat enjoying the late evening sun; now much lower in the sky, listening to a distant Woodpecker and admiring the electric blue flash of the kingfisher.

Was that a knock? My eyes focusing on the tip of the rod…..again it went, and then kept on going!! I grabbed the rod, my right-hand knuckles being smacked repeatedly by the rapidly revolving bail arm, changing over to hold the now well bent Avon into my left-hand, gave me a chance to get the fish under control.

I began to gain line, only to have the fish take more off the clutch. I couldn't believe the power of this fish. Convinced it was a very large Chub, I scanned the surface, looking for the lines entry point, and whereabouts of the fish. To my horror, the fish had got caught up in the opposite bank-side vegetation.

Holding the rod high, over the bush to my right I was able to apply some pressure and this, together with the current, brought the fish back out into open water. Again it tried to seek sanctuary of the deep hole from were it came, but now I had the upper hand.

To see my first Barbel on the surface as my net slid underneath will stay with me to the grave, my heart was racing, yet I was so calm and in control. I wanted to admire my prize, but was all too aware that it should be returned as soon a possible, with my hook swiftly removed I held the fish, Amazed at its size, power, form and beauty.

Without thinking I walked straight onto the shallows, to the edge of the deeper water beyond. After lifting the creature from the net, I held it steady in the current and just watched as it recovered from the experience. Soon, with fins erect, and holding its own position in the flow, I relaxed my gentle hold, this magnificent creature swam away sideways, turned, and shot downstream with a single thrust of its tail.

Never before had I felt this way, totally relaxed, contented, yet buzzing with excitement. I didn't even consider casting in again, there simply was no need, so strong was the sense of euphoria.

More tea was prepared, and I just sat, taking in all that was around me. The evening sun as now very low in the sky, the kingfishers had had their last flight, their part of space being used to good effect by a couple of bats out for an evenings feast.

I just sat motionless for what seemed like hours, going over and over what had happened.

Something caught my eye, opposite a fox had appeared and was taking a drink from the shallows. Never had I been so at one with nature. Eventually, I gather up the few bits of tackle and headed back to the car.

At home I was greeted with the usual” did you catch anything?” “Only the one” I replied, “my first barbel”. “Well at least you got something” came the reply.

I did indeed get something, something very, very special indeed.

Andy O'Shaughnessy

re-generated Feb 2007