History of the Barbel Catchers Club

On Sunday 27 March 1977, approximately forty like-minded anglers gathered in the lodge at Packington trout reservoir near Coventry. Their collective aim was the formation of a national Barbel group to be known as the Barbel Catchers. The club was the brainchild of two keen Barbel men, Stuart Hamilton and Dave Thompson, though as their plans progressed that afternoon they could never have foreseen that more than thirty years later the BCC would still be going strong. Nor could they have predicted the club’s ongoing success as pioneers in the Barbel angling world; since the club’s formation the BCC has been at the forefront of virtually every breakthrough that Barbel angling has witnessed.

The club was originally formed as five regions based in the cities of Birmingham, Bristol, London, Nottingham and York. Over the years the regions have been continually reconstructed in line with the geographical spread of the membership, so that at the time of writing the club is based in the following eight regions; Chilterns, Midlands/Cotswold, South West, Northwest, Southdown, Southern, Wessex and Yorkshire.  Of those who attended that initial meeting, five are still members. The ‘Old Contemptibles’ being Stuart Hamilton, Tony Hart, Roger Middlecote, Pete Tillotson and Alan Slater.

Each region has regular meetings and fish-ins, which form the social basis of the club whilst also providing a boost in income for pub landlords up and down the country!  On a national level the highlights are the club’s AGM each spring and a national fish-in each autumn. The club thrives upon the involvement of its members, and an apt motto would be ‘the more you put in, the more you get out’.

At the end of the first season of the club’s activity (1977-78) the biggest Barbel award was won with the only double-figure Barbel caught that season; a fish of exactly 10lb taken by Alan Hayes from the Royalty. This one statistic alone demonstrates how Barbel fishing has changed since those early years, as the club now accounts for well over 100 doubles each season, and this figure is increasing rapidly.

The BCC was formed to provide a framework for the discussion and development of new ideas and the debating of key issues. Much of this information has been passed on to the general angling public by a variety of writers through the weekly press, monthly magazines, books and the Internet. In 1999 Andy Humphries developed the club’s own Website. Information is provided regarding the club’s activities together with a selection of articles from the club’s magazine ‘BARBUS’. All members write at least one article per year for the magazine, which also provides a medium for news and views; it is truly the life-blood of the club and its cover has been graced with superb artwork from the likes of Tony Hart and Mike Nicholls. The 100th edition of Barbus was printed in 2003. In 1988 the club produced its first book ‘BARBEL’ which at the time of publication provided a definitive guide to the county’s Barbel rivers – though it rapidly became outdated as a result of the amazing expansion of Barbel throughout English rivers.

The Barbel Catchers have been at the forefront of virtually every breakthrough in Barbel angling over the last quarter of a century, in terms of both innovative techniques and fish captures. That 10lb Royalty fish now seems such a long time ago, as through the late 1970s and into the 1980s the club’s collective knowledge and pioneering spirit began to pay dividends. In the 1979-80 season when Roger Baker set the Great Ouse record at 12lb 2oz, no-one could have predicted the current scene on that river, culminating in fish over 20lb. Even when Stan Sear set a new river record at 13lb 0oz in 1989, many of us thought that this was the Great Ouse at its zenith. It now seems ridiculous that people refused to believe Ray Woods’ unclaimed record of 16lb 5oz. In fact at that time, with Howard Maddocks having taken his 16lb 3oz fish from the Lower Severn, BCC members had accounted for the two biggest Barbel in the country.

Juring the 1982-83 season, Andy Orme’s immense fish of 13lb 7oz set the Wessex Barbel angling scene alight. Nowadays this would be viewed as just another wonderful fish. How important it is to keep our perspective of these historical captures. The following season Dave Plummer put the Wensum into the big league when he banked ‘Beau’ at her top weight of 13lb 6oz, a fish that became one of the country’s most famous Barbel. Beau appeared again and became a player in of one of angling’s greatest stories, taken by the rod of Trevor West as he fished through the great storm of 1987. Who but Trevor would have fished through hurricane Henry?

Even in Yorkshire where the top weights for Barbel would be several pounds below those of their southern brethren, the BCC has made an impact. Dave Mason recorded the club’s first Derwent double at 10lb exactly, but it was Jon Wolfe who set the Broad Acres buzzing with a stunning Swale fish of 11lb 4oz, the culmination of a determined campaign. Meanwhile from somewhere in Kent came another historic capture, and one that led the way to a national record, something which no-one in their wildest dreams ever envisaged would happen. Dave Magson, Guy Welfare, Steve Carden, Richard Storer and Ian Beadle had been quietly discovering the hidden secrets of the Medway, and it was Ian who recorded the first Medway double at 10lb 6oz. During the early 1990s the BCC dominated on this river, pioneering the use of HNV specials and producing a run of huge fish topped by one of 14lb 6oz to Dave Williams, and a then national record Barbel of 14lb 13oz to Dave Taylor.

The second half of the 1980s saw another famous Barbel grace the nets of BCC members. Pete Reading and Greg Buxton both recorded the Dorset Stour fish ‘Henry’ during her days as a fourteen pound fish, however new venues were soon stealing the headlines. Mike Stevens demonstrated the shape of things to come in the form of a 12lb 8oz Bristol Avon fish, a river subsequently ‘taken apart’ by Trefor West and eventually producing a 13lb 6oz fish for Tony Hart. Tony Miles caught a first Cherwell double at 10lb 3oz and during this period Tony landed some superb Barbel as he took the river from ‘interesting prospect’ to ‘major player’ with a top fish of 12lb 5oz.

In 1989 Jon Wolfe pushed back the parameters of Yorkshire Barbel fishing with a truly extraordinary fish of 12lb 6oz from the Yorkshire Derwent. The following season Mike Nicholls caught the mighty River Severn’s first real monster at 13lb 14oz. Into the 1990s and Mike Burdon, a veteran of the Lower Severn, took his dedicated approach across to the rivers Wye and Lugg, recording a string of doubles from both rivers. The London lads used their quiet, understated charm to tempt Barbel to 12lb 5oz from the River Lea, and Dave Williams used his HNV specials to take a string of huge fish to 14lb 6oz from the Hampshire Avon, the latter fish being another unclaimed record-equalling Barbel at the time.

Often it was not the size of the fish that mattered; catching a Barbel at all was a fine achievement. The Sussex Ouse and Rother, the Somerset Frome, the Churnet, Don, Tern, Vyrnwy and Holybrook all succumbed to the spirit of adventure. When our first book was published in 1988, BCC members had recorded fish from twenty-eight different rivers, with twelve of those having produced doubles. Nineteen years on and we have caught Barbel from fifty-eight rivers, with thirty-nine of them giving us fish of 10lb plus and had 14lb+ fish from fourteen of those.

It is without doubt during the last decade that the Barbel fishing scene has experienced its most dramatic period of change with many large fish being reported each season. BCC members have recorded the club’s first doubles from many more rivers and hold a number of national records for rivers around the country and along the way there have been many "milestone" catches; Dave Oakes on the Trent, Steve Chell on the Warwickshire Avon, Paul Starkey on the Mole, Iain Wood on the Wharfe, John McNulty on the Yorkshire Ouse and Alan Towers on the Ribble. The list goes on. Such captures together with the innovative techniques used, dominate the tales recounted in our 2nd book ‘Barbel Rivers and Captures’ where it can be seen that there is not one single Barbel river in the country where the Catchers have not made an impact, a fact that continues to this day. The BCC members endeavour to keep at the forefront of Barbel angling as can be seen seen in the club records that have kept falling since the 2nd books publication. For a small specialist group with a membership that freewheels around the fifty-five mark, we happen to think that we have done really well; in fact it is not unreasonable to suggest that our success is unparalleled!