Saturday, 18 October 2008

Underwater with Barbel

To this day I haven't had my anglers dreams of barbel fulfilled, having only caught one, but I have been blessed with beginners luck on my first serious attempt at diving with them. This was in the Hampshire Avon where I shared a classic overhanging willow swim with a group of large barbel, many into double figures. Andy Brown of Avon Angling, who knows the river well, had kindly baited up a swim for me over a period of a few days so when we arrived we found the water alive with barbel, drifting in and out of the shadow of a large willow, the occasional fish performing a feeding roll right over the baited area. Rarely have I kitted up in such a state of feverish anticipation and it was all I could do to stay calm enough to double-check my diving and camera kit before entering the water. When I finally did I was shocked at how cold the water was, but this was soon forgotten as the visibility was good and the prospects for great photographs very promising. I worked my was as slowly as I could bear towards the willow, trying to stay calm, keeping my breath steady so as not to send all the fish scattering up-river. Watching from the bank, Andy saw that at least half the shoal had done just that, but the remainder, as he has predicted, had sought the sanctuary of the willow.
The first I saw, clearly, spotlighted in the beam of my strobe light, was a brace of large fish, looking as shocked at my arrival as I was amazed at them. When I say large, they actually looked enormous - they were clearly ‘doubles’, and when you bear in mind that everything viewed underwater appears magnified by 30% and that these fish were only a couple of feet away, you can imagine how impressive they appeared. The fish were not quite as relaxed as barbel apparently can be, perhaps due to the relatively shallow water, and the bulk of the shoal had pushed their way into heavy cover. This was amongst the tangle of willow roots and branches which made photography difficult, as did the silt stirred up by such a concentration of big fish. It was simply awesome to view these beautiful creatures as such close quarters. At times, as I squeezed further under the cover, I had the flanks of double-figure fish within touching distance. After some time the fish began to settle to my presence and I chuckled into my regulator as a double-figure Hampshire Avon barbel, a fish of childhood dreams, started to feed within a foot of where I lay.
I have yet to return, but I hope that this is merely the first of many such encounters. The experience, probably the best of my dives with coarse fish, meant as much to me as catching a good barbel ever could, and somehow made up for my poor efforts with the species as an angler.

No comments: