From the Wye to the Channel

My old mate Rob came over for a few days fishing last week. We caught the Wye as it was starting to fine down and had a great couple of days on the river together, catching plenty of barbel and chub and even a few eels. We could have fished in separate swims and fished two rods each, but it wouldn’t have been half as much fun. I usually fish alone, but it’s always nice to sit with a mate and discuss everything and nothing while waiting for a bite.

A nice Wye barbel
My best barbel from our Wye trip
An immaculate Wye barbel at dusk for Rob

We both rigged up with the now standard heavy open end feeder tactics, using fishmeal groundbait, hemp and pellets. It’s interesting to see how this almost bastardised form of traditional bream fishing is now the norm when fishing for barbel on most UK rivers. It doesn’t seem like that long ago when ledgered meat over a bed of hemp that was the tactic for river beards.

The barbel certainly fight as ferociously as they ever did. Even with 12lbs line and two pound test curve rods, some of the scraps from these average sized barbel, especially if they made it into the main flow of the still high river, were breathtaking.

No real monsters graced our nets. Indeed a double from the Wye is still a very rare fish, but who cares about the size when the fishing is simply so much fun. And if there is a more unspoilt, peaceful and spectacular place to fish in the UK, I can’t think of it. We saw large birds of prey circling the woods opposite us and some mighty salmon crashing through the river. One particularly large silver tourist even head and shouldered right in front of us in the evening as it made its way upstream. The Wye reminds me of the beautiful river Dordogne in the south of France – the venue where I caught my very first barbel nearly 20 years ago.

The river Wye
The river Wye, just before sunset

For our last day, we decided to do something different and go out onto the Bristol Channel for a bit of sea fishing. As we left the impressive Penarth marina via the amazing Cardiff Bay entry system, the weather was placid and sunny. Of course by the time we started fishing a wind had whipped up and the previously flat-calm sea was now, as the skipper described it, ‘lumpy’.

Action was slow for the most part, with a few doggies and a couple of small thornback ray. Then Rob hit into a much bigger fish that turned out to be a superb conger eel of 16 pounds – the first conger either of us had ever seen. By then I’d forgotten about feeling green and was determined to get one of these monster eels. I loaded up my hook with a ghastly cocktail of mackerel and squid and when the rod started thumping soon after I’d lowered the bait into the murky depths , I began to imagine a 30 pound eel reacting in anger to the size 2/0 hidden in the bait. A wriggly 2 pound conger wasn’t quite what I expected!

Rob slugging it out with an angry conger eel
Rob’s big conger – quite a fish

Rob soon had another of around 5 pounds before the skipper took one of a similar size to Rob’s biggie. Right at the end of the day I finally hooked into a better conger of around 7 pounds that I was delighted with. It was a fitting end to a really enjoyable few days fishing. We’re already planning the autumn trip. As we returned to the freshwater of Cardiff Bay, the skipper mentioned the perch he’d been catching there while chucking a spinner around as he waited for a client one afternoon…

A lonely gull in the gloom
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