THE crazy spoils on offer for River Trent barbel anglers were highlighted again last month when a party of five shared an astonishing catch of 50 double-figure fish over one action-packed weekend.
Andy Walker, who lives in Scotland, made the 580-mile round trip to Collingham Weir for a weekend session with his brother-in-law, nephew and two others. The group enjoyed sport from the off, landing more than 80 fish to 13lb 15oz.
“It was mental! At times, we’d cast out and the rod would go off in our hands before we could put it on the rest. In the end we stopped weighing the fish, only putting the real monsters on the scales.Three of the lads beat their PBs, and it was a pleasure to enjoy such a session together!”
Big hauls have become increasingly common on the Trent in recent seasons. And the barbel are getting bigger, too, with several 20-pounders landed since the beginning of last year.
Yet, wind the clock back just 20 years, and double-figure Trent barbel were relatively rare, so what’s behind the river’s impressive rise through the ranks?
Alan Henshaw manages the Environment Agency’s Calverton Fish Farm in Notts, where he has worked for 37 years. Now 62, he’s fished the river all his life and watched its fortunes change first-hand.
“There have always been barbel in the Trent, even during the dark days of the 1950s and 1960s when pollution was rife – not many, but they were there,” he said.
“By the 1970s and 1980s, when the Trent was known for its roach fishing, it was essentially an artificial river. Its waters were dirty and warmed by power plants, perfect conditions for roach. But the clear-up of the river changed the fishing, making the Trent what it is today – a clean and cool waterway, and the perfect environment for chub and barbel. I believe the current barbel fishing here is better than anything we’ve ever witnessed in this country – nothing even comes close.”
Aside from the reduced pollution, another key element of the Trent’s success is the periodic stocking of juvenile barbel. Angling Times helped kickstart things 65 years ago when it put 102 small barbel into the waterway, but it’s been the ongoing efforts of Alan and his team that have provided the real impetus.
“We’ve put hundreds of thousands of hand-reared barbel into the Trent, and also returned the brood stock. The fish we put back are advanced reared larvae, which are far better able to defend themselves than the young of chub and bream, and so more of them survive,” said Alan.
“We haven’t put any one- or two-year-old fish in the Trent for years, so that shows how well these advanced larvae are doing, helping to fuel future year classes.”
Alan also revealed how, in his opinion, the Trent has an edge over many other rivers when it comes to withstanding predation.
“Cormorants don’t seem to have had an impact, and signal crayfish haven’t become established as they have elsewhere. I don’t know why, because they’re in some Trent tributaries. Perhaps the chub and barbel keep their numbers down? I’m convinced that the crays are behind the poor recruitment in some rivers. They’ll gorge on fish eggs.
“The Trent also has a lot of great spawning habitat for barbel – not just in the old, non-navigable river, which is just one long barbel spawning site – but also its tributaries such as the Rivers Dove, Derwent and Soar.”
Another man who’s witnessed the Trent’s changing fortunes is all-rounder Bob Roberts.
“The Trent barbel are a remarkable success story, one that has been sustained and supported by the great work of the EA,” he said.
“It’s easily the best barbel river in the country, even when you discount the huge numbers of fish that congregate at the busy Collingham and Gunthorpe weirs, which are a bit like Disneyworld for barbel anglers!
“But I’d urge all anglers to explore the rest of this magnificent river. A friend of mine had 44 barbel on the float recently, and he was nowhere near a weir. There are loads of 3lb-plus perch, near-20lb zander and 8lb chub too. The river is again teeming with roach of all sizes and I know of fish over 3lb that have been caught but not reported.”
So, can the Trent sustain its rich form, or will it fall prey to a boom-and-bust cycle? Bob is optimistic:
“I see no reason why it shouldn’t continue to be a haven for barbel for years to come,” he said.
“It’s perfect for them, and being a wide, powerful river, it can sustain otter predation well.”
Alan Henshaw agrees:
“The sheer biomass of fish the river is supporting is staggering. Whether it will remain so is hard to say, but the river is a far more natural venue than in the past, and completely different to when I used to fish it as a kid in the 1960s.
“I remember when a chub was first caught at Burton Joyce. We all headed down there to try to catch this mythical creature – it’s a very different story these days!”