By Lewis Gaukrodger
The Tidal Trent in appearance can be daunting- from is bleak sand bank stretches to its boulder lined rugged bends. It can have the most competent anglers questioning their sanity in angling with 6oz leads rolling up stream as the water comes back up the river on the turn of the tide. In certain conditions an eerie, droning siren can be heard that will appear to get closer overlapping with other sirens as the village flood warnings are triggered. Picturing the scene I was sat on the outside of a sweeping Tidal bend last summer as sirens echoed for miles around, thinking the world was coming to an end or the Russians had done something really stupid the sirens were drowned out with a roar of noise as the water pulled away from the bank…the aegar wave rolled powerfully around the bend and upstream filling the river by another 3 feet as it crashed into the banks on either side.
Moody at the best of times the river and it’s features can be a real tackle cruncher but with selective swim choice, watercraft and knowledge of certain stretches there is something about the Tidal Trent which gets under your skin and becomes ever more addictive. What is certain about the Tidal Trent its potential to nurture some of the best barbel in the country and year on year the number of doubles caught seems increase ten fold. This could be due to the rise of social media with catch reports being more widely available though I doubt this and truly believe the river is flourishing in ever improving conditions. Salmon runs now feature alongside most weirs and their numbers are also ever increasing.
With such a volume of water especially if she is up a few foot up and heavily coloured a planned approach is crucial and this equally applies to lower water levels during summer. I don’t want this article to come across as though I am teaching people to suck eggs, this is simply the approach that works for me.
It terms of swim choice I limit the number of swims I fish to enable me to begin to understand the area I am targeting much better. Personally I now solely sit in swims that others don’t usually target and try to get to know the swim and map a picture in my head of the area I am fishing. There are too many questions to note when selecting swims – When do the fish move into this area? What time suits feeding habits? Does the tide effect feeding? Can the swim be fished in flood and in low clear conditions? Does the swim produce early season/ back end of the season? What features are there to fish to? Does the river bed vary? Are there gravel runs? Is the swim boiling with bream?……you get the idea, make sure you ask such questions though. Using short sessions at different times of the day, lead around and find the answers. Of course if you have one of these all singing all dancing castable fish finders it will give you a lovely picture on your phone of the swim your fishing which may help.
Another benefit of focusing on a select few swims is that you can build the confidence of the resident fish on a certain bait/flavour. I personally over the last 3 season have select 2 flavours of boilie to use, this season I have cut down to just one. Doing this also rules out the tendency to chop and change baits when a session doesn’t produce the expected results, but if you have confidence in the bait such as what I do with the Hookbait Co there should be no reason to doubt it.
The main spear head of my approach is to get a lot of scent in the chosen swim with little free offerings. With hemp being the base of my groundbait this is blended to a pulp allowing a milky cloud to work its way downstream and avoids barbel getting obsessed with rooting for whole hemp seeds. To this I add basic crushed trout pellets, this allows the scent of a full bag of pellets to be release on the river bed with no solid freebies. Additionally I also mix in matching flavoured Hookbait Co groundbait to get relevant scent in the swim that relates to the flavour of boilie hookbait. To bind this mix together bread crumb and a very generous glug of CSL allow the mix to be balled together using a Nash Deliverance Ball Maker and catapulted into the swim.
Catapulting the balls of groundbait upstream of the area I am targeting, I try to keep all the feed within a 5 meters square area. One rule I do abide by is that when you feel you have over fed the swim, feed the same amount again- this is possible due to the mix being scent based with no freebies.
The only free bait that I want available is a large hookbait that has been soaked in matching glug or gloop to enhance it flavour longevity and appeal. This season I am currently using a fishy flavoured test bait that Darren- founder and owner of the Hookbait Company is developing. I prefer this bait to be around 20mm therefore hopefully ruling out smaller fish and bream; however with buckets mouths even the smallest barbel is quite happy to engulf a 20mm bait.
Being meticulous and anal about my approach I purposefully check several things each cast. The first being my main line specifically the length that my lead clip runs on and also the area just above the buffer bead. I find this area is the most likely area to attain any abrasion simply because it’s the line closest to the river bed. Moving down to the business end of the setup I also will check the braid hook length to make sure this has not rubbed up as it makes contact with the river bed. To finish I also check the sharpness of the hook and keep a sharpening stone to hand to ensure they remain razor sharp. With some ruthless snags and features a simple nik or roughed up mainline, hook length or blunt hook could cost you the fish of a lifetime; and with that in the back of my mind I check these 3 areas every cast (day and night).
Taking this to another level I also use high viz pole elastic to mark the distance I am fishing, this does 2 things; firstly it ensures I am casting back onto the same line therefore the feed in am catapulting upstream of my top rod benefits both rods I am fishing. Secondly it allows me to fish tight up to snags (within reason) for example if I am aware that a snag is 2 rod lengths further away from the distance I am fishing and my line marker after casting in is at the top eye on my rod I know I only have 1 rod length to play with. This would then result in my tightening up the drag to avoid the fish easily making its way to the snag if hooked.
As I mentioned previously this is the approach that works for me and is still developing session on session- as I blank, get snagged up and watch fish crash all over my swim. As long as I learn something from each blank session whether it be that an area I thought was a snaggy unfishable swim is actually fishable or I find a new feature then a blank is a success. With success comes confidence; If you can find confidence in your approach the results will not be far behind and the hand on the scales will no doubt spin and settle that little bit further!