A planned work trip to Eastern Europe got me day dreaming about euro barbel. Gerald Penkler and I gathered some intel and decided Luxemburg would be the spot, once I’d completed my work in the east.
I’d packed my Vision Nymphomaniac, but knew one of the Adams fly rods guys was based in Lux. Adams is a rod I’d never have known about before Patrick Nagel mentioned it to be the best euro nymph blank around. He and I had had long conversations about feel, and he’d sold me onto the carbon grip story. It just made sense. If you need to transfer feel, cork is your worst enemy. It and your fly line are silencers. If you’re eliminating fly line with your euro rig, it’s the cork standing between you and feeling the nymph’s position in the water.
I’d taught myself enough about the worst kind of fishing to be effective on the Vaal, but I’d soon learn that every type of water requires a slightly different approach. I spent some time in Eastern Europe fishing to Grayling (and almost freezing to death), which was a great bit of euro practice, although even this didn’t suit what we’d find in Lux.
Gerald and I, being the Google Earth sleuths we were, had spotted a section we decided would be good water for us to fish (in truth the entire Sauer River probably holds Barbel), and Bob (Adams Rods) had agreed to meet us somewhere along the river, where we’d do a trunk Adams rod exchange. I’d tried to twist his arm to come and fish with us for a bit. In truth, I was hoping to learn a bit more about this particular flavour of euro nymphing.
I dropped him a pin and we met under an oak tree in a park on the Sauer.
“How you guys find out about the secret hole?” he said, referring to where we’d walked out of. We didn’t, but Gerald gave me a wry smile, we’d guessed right. While assembling the blank, I was shocked. I can’t say I had another rod anything like it in build. Sanded down, aggressive taper, and stripped of anything unnecessary or that will get in the way of feel. Bob also demo’d his line marker and some of his Slovenian flies. Gerald and I were in awe. Almost nothing here resembled anything of ours. Flies, markers, euro line, rods, the works, and yet it all made perfect sense.
We walked out with Bob and in the next 20 minutes I learnt more about euro nymphing than I had in a year. I still had my Vision rigged, and Bob handed me his rod after I’d done a few drifts and said “feel this”. It was a shocking contrast. I was blind, and now I could see. I could feel every rock, every pull, every bounce. And for the first time, euro seemed fun. Feedback. What a difference.
Bob fished long. Very long. Basically a cast away. He immediately said, they’ll be sitting in that hole right there. We were skeptical. But second drift he was on.
Bob headed downstream to fight that fish and I proceeded to emulate him into the same body of water, and also immediately hooked up. Barbel are incredibly strong fish. Not fast (although apparently this changes depending on time of year). We got the fish to hand and I was gutted to see I’d hooked it in the pectoral. A common occurrence with barbel, they feed very specifically and those enormous pectorals are like wings just waiting to catch a nymph rig.
It was still a chance to admire a magnificent fish with our new friend, but I left knowing I had to fix that and get a proper eat. Days later, faced with increasing pressure of the muddying of the system from unrelenting rain upstream, Gerald and I had yet to convert. Doubt crept in about the legitimacy of the eat. A scan on Instagram for flies-in-mouth pics got us even more paranoid, but a few messages to Nick and the Lux crew came back positive. They do eat. When the time is right.
That is where I just wish you could breed some smallmouth yellowfish into them. They’re kind of half way between a Mudfish and a yellow. And you begin to realize how spoilt we are to have a fish that will chase a nymph and smash a dry fly and react to a hatch. These guys are more passive. I’m told less so as you get to Spain, but in these parts, they’re a bottom dwelling fish
With every day came more ran and more mud, and the opportunity seemed to be sliding away. We made the call to terminate early. Gerald would head back to Holland, but I was adamant I had to get another barbel, in the mouth.
I lay in bed scouring Google Maps, it seemed like these systems originated in the mountains in Belgium, and with this rain I figured the higher up in the system I went, the better my chances were of some clear water.
I’d decided the only way to do this was to be able to judge the fishes body language, and so I needed that clarity.
I picked a little town called Aywaille for two reasons. It was small enough that I figured river access wouldn’t be an issue, and, most importantly, there was a series of YouTube videos of bait anglers fishing the banks. I figured I’d be able to work out the buildings in the background and immediately put myself on good water.
And so I left Luxembourg for Belgium.