Thomas Orme tames the Teme

6 fishing on the River Wensum middle of Norwich

Thomas Orme is up against it. He’s decided fish the River Teme on a murky day in March, and things look distinctly unpromising.

There’s been a lot of rain — and snow — recently. The normally tame Teme is doing a good imitation of Niagara. It’s a lot deeper than normal, and so much of the river bank has been washed in that the water is a dingy brown colour.

Thomas is widely respected for his skills as a barbel beater – but even his ability looks like being cruelly stretched today. However, if he’s at all worried by the torrential Teme he isn’t going to show it. ‘It’s no good for chub, but barbel quite like these condi- tions,’ he says coolly.

Clearly Thomas has his work cut out, but he’s brought along a secret weapon… a water thermometer. It’s 7°C (44.6°F) at the moment, which he normally wouldn’t regard as particularly good. But it’s been colder than this recently – so he’s not too concerned.

Thomas works for a tackle company, so needless to say he comes provided with the latest equipment for landing big barbel. He’s keen to get cracking, and it’s a bit chilly to start tying fancy rigs, so he has arrived with his rod already set up.

It’s a 10ft (3m) multitip rod with a fixed-spool reel. Because of the very fast flow he’s decided to use a 2/2OZ TC quiver. He fishes 6lb (2.7kg) line and a size 10 carp hook with a flattened barb. The rig incorporates a %oz (21g) weight to hold bottom against the strong flow.

Interestingly, between his hooklength and the main line Thomas incorporates a 13cm (5in) length of 12lb (5.4kg) line, attached by brass rings. His feeling is that if any line is going to kink, it is often this sec- tion. The extra strength of the 12lb (5.4kg) line prevents snapping if kinking occurs during casting.

The fast flow dispenses any ideas of loose feeding maggots downstream. Fish just wouldn’t see the maggots zip past them in these conditions. The water is so cloudy that Thomas concentrates on a big, smelly leg-ered bait – chopped ham and pork. Within a few minutes of reaching the bank his hook is in the water; he’s not wasting any valuable fishing time.

The first spot he chooses is a swim 1.5-1.8m (5-6ft) deep, pretty close into the bank and out of the way of the main flow. There’s a strong wind and the current is stronger still. The quivertip lives up to its name and quivers.

If you aren’t used to barbel bites you may well wonder how Thomas is going to tell a real fish from the general movement of the quiver.

When it comes, though, there’s no doubt what makes a real bite. The tip suddenly whams down. Something big has wolfed the bait. For two or three minutes he wrestles with what is obviously a good sized fish. It threatens to get into the main flow and if it sticks out its fins there will be no stopping it in this current.

Fortunately Thomas manages to get it to the bank. It turns out to be a rather nice barbel at 6lb 14oz (3kg). This is a big one for this stretch of the Teme. Barbel are sleek, powerful fish, yet there’s something almost primitive about their appearance.

This one eyes us with some contempt as it is weighed, and swims off strongly as soon as Thomas releases it. In common with many other specimen hunters, Thomas doesn’t use a keep-net. ‘Barbel have a serrated spine in their dorsal fin that gets caught in the net,’ he says.

With a big barbel under his belt, Thomas relaxes, pleased to have caught despite the fact that the water is looking like a cup of murky tea.

He has a feeling we could be in for a decent day. All the recent rain has washed a lot of earthworms and other food into the river – awakening the barbels’ appetite.

Thomas’s a born rover and he soon transfers to a new swim. This time it’s about 2.4-3m (8-10ft) deep and features some slack water away from the main flow.

He prefers to leger with the rod in his hand, rather than in a rest, as he is then ready for every bite.

After each cast Thomas always strikes the bait off his hook before he winds in. ‘I like to leave it there, so it doesn’t confuse the fish by whizzing back past their heads on retrieve.’ ‘I’m feeling the line – after a while the different bumps enable you almost to see what is going on under the water,’ he explains. ‘I’m used to the surface of the river bed. The finer and more tinkly the bumps, the finer the bottom. Big bumps indicate more stony, pebbly ground.’

There’s another bite. This fish has more go than the last one. There’s quite a bend in the rod as it streaks for the main channel. ‘I think it’s a smaller barbel, but it’s livelier.’ It fights in bursts, with jagged runs.

Eventually Thomas coaxes it to the net – it’s smaller, around 4lb (1.8kg) and is quickly returned. Deciding that he will have scared everything else from the swim, he sets off for pastures new.

We settle into a swim which features some shelter from the strong flow behind a drowned bush which Thomas likes the look of.

Thomas actually dives into the Teme at night. No, it’s not the effect of a full moon that causes him to do this; he has a PhD in freshwater biology and is very interested in fish behaviour and in taking photographs of them underwater.

Thomas makes his dives in winter when there’s been no rain and the water’s clear.

He really is a born roamer!

There’s a good bite and then nothing. Something’s made off with a free helping of Spam! Next cast he lands a small barbel with someone else’s hook still in its mouth. This angers even Thomas’s calm nature. ‘People fish with too light a hooklength; you have to take care with barbel.’

Talking of hooks, Thomas won’t use hair rigs: ‘I think they are cheating a bit.

Once, diving in the River Wye, he was carried away by the current and swept on to some rocks. Sooner him than us!

Not a lot happens in this swim so we move to another, and after a while another still. He even tries a frighteningly mature cheese. But things have gone very quiet for the moment.

Thomas has time to tell of one of his favourite fishing moments, catching a 13lb 7oz (6kg) barbel from the Hampshire Avon – one of the biggest of the past 20 years.

Time marches on. We try another peg. ‘I’m out to find the fish, not wait for the fish to come to me. Travel as light as possible, then you are not tied to one swim,’ Thomas declares.

Fishing is about getting fish to take a bait with a hook in it. But, there again, other anglers won’t use fish detectors and I do, so it takes all sorts.’

We move to an interesting swim where a small stream joins the main water. It’s also handily near the cars and our sandwiches! A kingfisher darts up the stream bringing a splash of colour to the increasingly murky day.

Thomas hooks into another barbel. This looks like fun. It powers into the main flow and there are a lot of snags in this swim. It’s a hard-fighting fish. But we needn’t worry; Thomas reels it in. It’s only around 4lb (1.8kg) but it’s a mean one!

Now, the next barbel is nearer the 5lb (2.3kg) mark. We’re beginning to get a little casual about it all. And to think we worried at the beginning of the day that we wouldn’t catch any!

Thomas is pleased. ‘I didn’t expect to do so well in these conditions.’ he says, attributing it to luck. But some anglers make their own luck, and Thomas’s one of them.

Thomas lands a small barbel in the gathering gloom. He calls it a ‘widdler’. It’s so misty and dull that the photographer has to call it a day. Of course, as soon as he goes Thomas lands a barbel of comfortably over 6lb (2.7kg)! It is a lovely looking fish that puts up quite a fight.

Next cast he misses what seems suspiciously like a chub. As fog, rain and night descend he lands a good 6lb (2.7kg) barbel and for a finale a 3lb (1.4kg) chub.

He’s caught nine fish and the total day’s catch was well over 35lb (16kg). Not bad on a day when the water was so cloudy and the weather so dull that the odds were on a complete blank!

If we didn’t know better we’d think Thomas had taken a dive the day before and arranged things with a few barbel friends!