Canterbury Tales Part One
Thu 27 November 14
A Tale Of Two Barbel
“The Long-Fish & the Scar-Fish”
Ian McDonald is a middle aged angler who has fished all of his life. Although he has done a bit of everything, he’s always enjoyed river fishing more than anything else. He was bought into angling by my father who was a dab hand at trotting a float and he introduced and educated Iain into the finer art of watercraft (a forgotten skill for many anglers these days) which has made him the successful angler he is today. With most of his angling time now being spent fishing the Kentish Stour in and around Canterbury, Iain’s accumulated years of knowledge and angling experiences make him a bit of an unknown local authority on this river and the fish that live in it. So the team at UKSA are delight to present part one of The Canterbury Tales, that over the coming months will describe the many successes and failure from this very experienced river anglers life.
A few years ago now the biggest known barbel on my local stretch of river was known as the Long Fish. As the name describes it was long but not that deep, a proper textbook shaped big barbel, long and powerful in appearance. I’d heard tales of the Long Fish’s capture by a couple of friends and her best recorded weight at the time was just over 13lb. Obviously I wanted to catch this stunning creature, so I decided to target an area of the river where I had spotted her on several occasions. I didn’t care about how much she weighed, but seeing her in the water along side the smaller fish made me want to catch her just that little bit more. As many of you reading this will know, trying to target one single fish can be enough to drive you crazy!! I spent summer and early autumn mainly fishing the same area catching and recapturing plenty of other smaller barbel but the Long Fish continued to elude me. On one occasion, after spotting her under a tiny overhanging bush on the bank I was fishing from bank. I swear she was the only fish there when I lowered my rig from above the bush into her area of sanctuary. So with my mate sat up the bank, watching her tail at the other end of the over hang, we sat and waited for hopefully the inevitable to happen.
Now it was a bright hot day and the river was running gin clear and shallow as ever. Then after nearly 3hrs of patient anticipation, the tip then slammed round without warning and briefly I was very happy having now contacted with my targeted beauty, only to hear my mate peeing himself laughing and uttering the words “don’t know what you’ve hooked mate but the long fish buggered off that way when you hooked it” and he pointed downstream. Eventually a barbel between 6 & 7lb was finally netted and yet again, it was time to pull some more of my hair out! Autumn had arrived and a rare state of flood occurred on the river after a lot of rain had recently fallen, it was now the end of October and I ventured to the river with glugged boilies intent on hopefully enjoying some better barbel sport than the clear water conditions of summer had offered with conditions for once now in my favour. I fished most of the day in the same area as I’d been seeing the Long-Fish during the summer months but only managed a small barbel so I walked a fair old way upstream for last drop of the day at about 6pm.
The river was very high and debris was a bit of a problem so I found a spot that allowed me to fish with the majority of my mainline out of the flow with just my end tackle etc in the main flow. After about 5 minutes in the new spot, the tip bounced round and I was playing a large barbel, after a long but unspectacular fight where the big fish just stuck to the bottom like Submarine, the waiting and hunting was finally over as the Long-Fish finally slid over the net and swung the scales round at 13lb exactly! So I was a very happy bunny, well for a short while at least! A week or so later I was back on the bank chatting to a friend who’d also previously caught the Long Fish and he congratulated me on my “little fish” and then told me of another fish he had caught in summer at 13-08 in the summer that was a little on the thin fin side and spawned out! So my happiness at having caught “the big un” had lasted one week and I already had another fish to chase. I briefly had that sinking feeling but after the initial thoughts of “here we go again” I realised another fish chase was on the cards.
This fish to my knowledge hadn’t been caught by any of the hardcore regulars on the stretches of the river that I fish, well not in some years anyway. It was described as a brute of a fish with a big cross shaped scar/blemish on its side. I was a bit surprised that an unknown fish had turned up on the stretch, obviously I wondered if it had made its way up from way downstream or it had just eluded capture and spent most of its time in a destination that wasn’t often fished. I now had only one thing on my mind, the capture of the “the Scar-Fish”. Winter had arrived and decided to be a very cold affair with lots of bright days, with no snow and very little rain so the river was running low clear and obviously cold. I’d managed a few barbel but if it had not been for my quest to catch the Scar Fish, I wouldn’t have put in so much time fishing for sure. Then reports that the beast had come out to two friends at 15lb 2oz and 15lb 3oz had knocked me back quite a bit. They both said the fish was a proper brute with explosive power and a habit of belting off up and down stream so my appetite had now been well and truly wet. March 14th came and sadly no Scar-Fish for me, the fish at the time was kept quiet for obvious reasons. A 15lber! Now that was simply a massive fish and would definitely have attracted a lot of attention so we kept our secret safe and sound for another season.
June the 16th came round and obviously to catch the Scar-Fish was my priority and I was now truly realising that chasing a single fish is mad mans game and at times I was unsure of my own sanity. The river season started very well, with lots of fish banked and numerous fish spotted but other than the Long Fish no truly oversized barbell were spotted or reported. The river was very weedy in many parts so lots of time was spent looking for fins or tails amongst the weed. Incidentally when I caught the Long Fish it became apparent that she had babules weren’t fully formed. By this I mean they were long enough but not thick and fleshy like on all barbel that I’d previous caught and Instead of hanging down they were tucked up along side her mouth. I’ve often thought this abnormality may give this very clever creature the ability to eject angler’s baits far easier. I’ve personally witnessed her over the years eject a fair few baits in low clear water conditions and this most annoying of habits has driving numerous anglers round the bend (myself included).
Anyway back to the Scar-Fish, September soon came and the level had now dropped a fair old bit as the powers that be had mechanically cut the weed (an annual ritual that does little for the wellbeing of the river or its residents in my opinion) so visibility was now easier but the fish were far more cautious and harder to catch. I’d walk the whole stretch almost daily introducing a little feed as I went and then watch and wait hoping to catch sight of the Scar-Fish, then one September afternoon I came across a shoal of 8 barbel, at least 3 were of them were doubles and one looked massive. They were in a deep area of sluggish water on the inside of a bend and I was looking down on them and I was in no doubt that the massive one was the Scar-Fish. I introduced some more small pellets and they cautiously started to feed, all except the Scar Fish. She detached herself from the others and instead circled them shaking her tail in a sort of agitated/angry manner, which I found absolutely fascinating to watch! Everyday I’d return to the spot and introduce some freebies and all the other 7 fish were there but the Scar-Fish after a couple of days had just disappeared.
I was now wondered if she’d been caught but the bank side vegetation was seemingly undisturbed and the other 7 fish would come out on to the feed quite happily, so I soon buried this thought. After a few days I then decided to fish for the other shoal members, and I soon found out the doubles were in fact fish I’ve previously caught before elsewhere on the stretch, well all bar one. By now I’d all but given up on my quest for the elusive Scar-Fish still being in the area, when one afternoon it turned back up in the swim and in front of me along with the Scar-Fish I had a couple of smaller barbel and a few bream. I once again introduced a few small pellets but this time the Scar-Fish started feeding furiously in an exaggerated and angry sort of fashion, was this to be my moment? I lowered in my rig and slackened off the line as much as I dare, just downstream of this deeper slack near where the river veers left and shallows off ,with a bank side tree to add to the drama. It was now clear if I didn’t have total control of her and manage to prevent her from bolting downstream it would be game over! So if she decided to fall for my trap, I needed to be in control of the fight from the first second!
Soon enough, she moved rapidly up to my baited rig but somehow had tagged my slackened off line and then to my amazement seemed to deliberately swim into my fluro mainline time and time again! (aaaaaaaah!!) She was no longer feeding over or anywhere near my rig, she gave this little area a wide berth. The finicky little sod fed from trickled in pellets a yard or two downstream and would then move up and deliberately beat my mainline with her tail, it was amazing to watch. By now the other two barbel had seen enough and left the swim as soon as this behaviour started leaving just her and a few bream. Well, I couldn’t really slacken my line any further and there was no real way of back leading so I reeled in and thought of a plan B whilst the Scar-Fish stayed in the swim furiously scoffing small pellets and knocking the bream about a bit!!
Plan b was to present an almost free lined small pellet glued to the back of a size 12 hook with only a large shot on the line to keep everything on the deck. I lowered it into the swim and found myself an angle where I could sort of lay my mainline down the riverbank and then hold a loop of line between my fingers. I introduced a few more small pellets and back she came. Instantly I felt the line tighten and struck, I instantly felt brief resistance and then nothing! She’d managed to spit it out, my head was now in my hands and I was properly berating myself. Not only had she spat it but instead of the spooking and clearing off like a missile as any normal barbel would, she simply moved back two yards or so and wallowed in fast flowing water, she was now truly lifted her middle finger to me! Over the next three to four weeks
I kept visiting the swim daily putting a little feed in the same spot. Only introducing a handful of pellets with a few chopped boilies and during this time the only barbel present now was the Scar-Fish. She now seemed quite contented to mix happily with about 10 bream. However, she wasn’t always there when I visited the spot but she was the only barbel I was now seeing regularly. I was presuming the other barbel had now dropped down to their favoured winter spots a couple of hundred yards away. I wanted to gain the confidence of the Scar-Fish but was also mindful she may soon too drop down from her present location. By mid October I couldn’t wait any longer, it was a dull sort of misty afternoon and I’d already had a small barbel out further up stream, so I decided to move right downstream and try to get my revenge on the now proving to be very illusive Scar- Fish.
I arrived at the swim peered down into the water and I could only see bream. So I lowered my rig with a boilie as bait into the swim, chucked in a handful of small pellet and crushed boilies, then crouched behind the nettles and foliage and watched. Literally within seconds of putting my rig in the water, the Scar-Fish entered the swim and the rod tip pulled round in determined fashion, at last it was game on! Well my friends were right, she was a bit of a battle crazy psycho, she bolted upstream which was fine by me moving away from any real danger but then she turned and bolted downstream. I had no choice but to stop her and she pirouetted and turned angrily in the water heading for every obstacle in her way trying to regain her freedom. She certainly gave me a good shaking before finally succumbing to the inevitable and eventually she slid into my net. Could this be my first 15lber I thought? I was on cloud 9 as she was mine after all that effort. I phoned a friend to come down to take photo’s and witness the weighing, “15 what?” he asked as the scales bounced under her weight but funnily enough she was just under at 14lbs 14oz. not that I cared!
I was over the moon to finally catch her, the distinctive scare that gave this stunning creature its name is large, dark blemish and god knows how she got it.
Since that day all those years ago, I’ve now caught her 5 further times and all by accident but what I’ve noticed from all my time spent watching the Scar-Fish is that she’s a very unique fish, with distinctive habits unlike any other barbel I have studied. Mainly a loner, she behaves differently in as far as always looking busy and is very agitated in her mannerisms. Her reaction to line in the water is definitely bizarre as she repeatedly and deliberately swimming into it, beating it with her tail as if to say “get out of my house” rather than steer clear and backing away from the potential danger as other large barbel would instinctively. And as for the fight, once hooked, the Scar-Fish runs as fast and mad as any 8-10lb fish, that as any barbel angler will tell you fight so aggressively but because of her added weight she really lets you know that you have been in a battle by near pulling your arm off.
So until the next time the Scar Fish or any other big specimen from this charismatic waterway cross paths,
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