I had been waiting in anticipation for Friday 23rd February to arrive as I had planned a day on the Great Ouse in search of monster Perch. The rivers had been fining down nicely since the previous weeks rains and by Tuesday a short session on the River Arun had produced a couple of decent Pike up to 17lb. The weather unfortunately (or fortunately) by Thursday had taken a turn for the worse. Over Thursday night it rained constantly with some really heavy downpours. Friday morning came and it was clear that the Perch trip would be a waste of a Journey. The Arun completely unfishable for Pike so with the temperature into double figures and rivers in flood, there is only one option, that is to go Barbel fishing. Avoiding the continuing heavy showers in the morning I set off to fish the Rother at around 1pm.
As I drove down the valley towards the river I could see the floodwater across the fields and on reaching the river, confronted by a raging torrent of water. I tried to reach parts of the river I wanted to fish by wading through the flooded fields, however having got halfway towards the main river, the water level now over my knees and the river still rising I reluctantly decided to turn back for safety reasons. Reaching the more accessible banks, where the river was still brimming to the top, I proceeded to search out suitable spots along the reach. Using a 3oz flat lead and fishing the inside crease I was just about able to hold bottom. Keeping on the move I tried a variety of spots without so much as a knock on the rod tip.
Around 5.30pm I moved into a swim with fast flow near and far bank, but due to an obstruction in mid stream, the flow a rod length out was much slower. Casting just inside the fast water the bait settled nicely and the rod tip just took on a gentle curve. Ten minutes after casting out, the rod tip in one motion knocked and then wrenched around, I hit the take and connected with a solid lump. For a split second I thought the fish had shed the hook until it took off on an unstoppable slow but powerful run, the sign of a very big fish.
My immediate thought was, ‘I hope this isn’t a carp’ luckily it wasn’t. A battle of wits ensued with the fish taking line and then me gaining some back, a really slow fight with the floodwater always adding an extra hazard should the fish decide to run into the fast current. Eventually I managed to bring the fish near to the surface and could see that it was indeed a Barbel. The next challenge was the netting.
Due to the fast water, near bank, netting under my feet was impossible. I noticed some slack water (where the field was flooded) 20 yards downstream and decided to net the fish there. The difficulty was then to steer the fish through the near bank current to this position. Fortunately, getting downstream of the fish I managed to steer it back through the fast water, and first time into the waiting landing net.
My first reaction was relief, it’s a Barbel and it looks a good double. In the landing net amongst the murky water I could see that the girth was colossal, but it was when I lifted the net out of the water that the weight of the fish really hit home. Having landed Barbel to 13-11 previously, I could see that this was indeed a real monster and proceeded to unhook and weigh the fish.
After adjusting the scales for the weigh net, the needle on the Reubon Heatons swung immediately round to well over 15lb. I then put the fish back into the landing net and held it in the water. Luckily I had seen Peter Foster on the bank earlier in the day so called him on his mobile and asked him to come and witness the fish. We then proceed to weigh the fish for a second time and after deducting the weigh net, the confirmed weight was 15lb 3oz. A few photos later and the fish was returned to the slack water where it swam off strongly.
Special thanks to Peter for witnessing the fish and also for the excellent photos.