Not every trip to the Wandle requires a journey to the tackle shop, as I found out on a session on the Wandle last month, where I had a clear vision of catching a Barbel from the middle reaches.

The first part of the trip, however, was set to be the on the upper Wandle, a length I still haven’t quite got to grips with. Internet research a few years ago coupled with a Wandle Trust clean up accompanied by local MP Tom Brake led me to a section of the river that’s lightly fished, with a deeper far bank channel and one guaranteed to spot some natural wildlife to boot.

Access demands long trousers due to an overabundance of nettles and brambles but there are a handful of picturesque tree-lined swims, hidden by willows on both banks, with the river hemmed in by thick beds of reeds, where the river slows and deepens, with greatest and darker depths on the Eastern bank.

This is a section with plenty of trout, true, but previous anglers have landed good chub and carp so I was keen to start the day with a decent ‘rubber lipped’ specimen or two.

Upon settling in, I knew that this would, at least, provide some grand sights from the natural world, as a kingfisher flashed by, followed by the ungainly arrival of a cumbersome grey heron that swooped down the centre of the river. I then heard the ungodly cries of a hawk attacking some weaker prey high up in the trees on the opposite bank.

My float sailed nicely down the far channel and dipped not once, but twice. A strike! And then nothing. Another dip and a brief tussle and a flash of a trout’s side, before hook pulled out. Carefully introducing loose feed down the deeper channel, more bites followed, but with no connection being made I suspected that the coarse fish were not playing ball – it looked as if I was just in a swim with small trout toying with the bait.

I then headed downstream to a swim, where the Wandle flows deep. Mysterious, slow and enigmatic. I’d had a clear picture of catching a Barbel here for several years and was a swim I’d targeted before with meat – without a single bite – so I mulled over an alternative. Maybe a boilie on this section? I had some old Dynamite Baits Source boilies that I’d kept in the shed, in airproof box away from mice for over a year, so as the light faded I carefully filled a PVA sausage with them and nicked the little package onto the baited hook. A gentle feathered cast saw the bait plop over on the far bank, just downstream of a thick bed of waving eelgrass.

With everything shrouded in darkness, Polish voices sounded in the distance, an argument over something or other, but I went unnoticed and settled down once more to concentrate on my glowing Starlight. Nothing stirred, no hawks or herons here. Twenty minutes or so passed, but I was keen to sit it out, keeping the bait close to the freebies. The Barbel would find the bait, the sensitive whiskers would do their best to find my free offerings, of that I was sure.

Isn’t it always surprising to find yourself being surprised when you finally get a bite? Well, just for a second I asked myself ‘why is my rod suddenly bent double?’ before I jumped up and felt the distinctive thump of a hooked Barbel. A couple of strong surges tested the rod, but I pumped the fish towards me with confidence and under the narrow pool of light from my head torch eased the net under a stunning specimen. Discounting the weight of the net, I made it 9lb 8oz – just under a double, but one that left me pleased as punch!

The moral of this one – don’t be too hasty to throw bait out – (unless it’s clearly mouldy!) And sit on your hands if you are feeling impatient – sometimes spooking fish with repeated casting is not the way forward. That’s something I learnt years ago from reading barbel tips from John Bailey.

And, finally, if you mind’s imagination sees you catching fish from a particular swim, well, you’ve simply got to go for it! As Einstein once said, “A great thought begins by seeing something differently, with a shift of the mind’s eye”…

Thank you to Piscator Jason Hill for this article!

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