• Clearwater Angling

How To Catch Barbel

Barbel have long been a favourite target of mine, from seeing them in the river through to getting them feeding, the bite and the sheer power of the fight.

Whilst my first Barbel came from the River Thames at Hampton Court, most of my fishing for them in recent years has been on the Hampshire Avon and Dorset Stour with the occasional trip the River Wye.



Seeing barbel feeding in clear water is a fascinating sight and the chaos that ensues when a fish makes a mistake is equally as addictive!

Barbel fit very well with my normal short session approach and almost all of my barbel have been daylight captures. An opportunity for a bite can be created, particularly in the summer or in the winter months when a trip can be combined with the best conditions.

A typical summer barbel fishing trip may be as little as two hours with most of that spent walking the river, introducing a small amount of bait into areas I feel the fish will be willing to feed in. Polaroids are an essential piece of kit as is comfortable footwear!

Sometimes the fish will appear and other times they will be less obliging!

Once a feeding fish has been found its then a case of presenting a hookbait in front of it without arousing their suspicion, often bites can come very quickly.

A winter session on the other hand can involve fishing a number of likely looking swims as opposed to baiting and watching, inside slacks or overhanging trees, any areas of the river out of the main flow where natural food items congregate are a target area.

My Barbel fishing methods very much work around a pellet/boilie approach, luncheon meat (static or trundled) or using maggots, either on the float or feeder.

Favoured winter conditions for short session barbel fishing for me are when the river is up and coloured and most importantly when river temperatures are increasing or at their peak. Finding a temperature gauge on your chosen river can be a real asset when planning trips and trying to combine them with the best conditions.

Lifes commitments don’t always allow fishing trips to coincide with the ‘best’ fishing conditions and fishing time can fall at less than ideal times. It may be that river temperatures are low or theres a lack of colour in the water. Times like this will see me adopt a maggot approach and a bucket of red maggots can normally wind up the most lethargic of fish. Using a size 12 or 14 hook and fishing a long hooklink with 4 or 5 maggots directly on the hook Chub bites are reduced so you can effectively target Barbel.

A daytime barbel fishing trip in winter using maggots and building a swim through the course of the session can involve introducing 3-6 pints of maggots into a swim, either via a large feeder, bait dropper or by hand if the swim allows.

Even in the coldest conditions maggots can provoke a feeding response from Barbel and an opportunity can be created.

A maggot feeder fished on stretches of river that see a lot of pellet and boilie can produce some fantastic results and often a bag of fish can be put together.

When feeder fishing for barbel it can take some time to build the swim so I’ll normally combine this approach with a slightly longer session.

My tackle for feeder fishing for barbel will very much depend on the swim, any snags present and what other species I’m likely to come across. Given that I normally restrict my maggot fishing to the winter months, ‘nuisance fish’ such as dace and minnows tend to be less of a problem.

I’ll also step up the tackle to manage any barbel hooked, a relatively clear swim would see me fishing with 10lb mainline and an 8lb mono hooklength of around two feet in length and a size 12 or 14 specialist hook. Bites are normally a typical barbel wrap round so the need for light feeder rods and quiver tips is rare but the rod needs to be forgiving enough to cope with landing a specimen barbel on a small hook and reasonably light tackle.

Catching barbel on the float can also be a productive method and under used on some rivers. Maggots will be my bait of choice for the float, coupled with a large float, 6lb mainline and a 5lb hooklength target fish can be landed. I will restrict this method to snag free areas of the river and I like to be able to get below any fish if necessary to save bring them back up against the current.

When conditions are considered to be best, a rising coloured river with temperatures increasing I’ll look towards a static approach with a boilie or meat being my bait of choice.

Luncheon meat plays a part in my Barbel fishing, particularly in the winter months when rivers are up and you can explore several swims trying to find a feeding fish. When rivers are up and coloured the fish will normally head for steadier water but often they’ll spend time in the main flow as this is where the majority of natural food will come from. A fish in the flow on a swollen river is more often than not a feeding fish and a large lump of meat can produce bites when other methods would be less successful. It also allows you to cover a lot of water in a short period of time so goes back to maximising your chances of a fish in short sessions.

Its not just trundling meat through a swim that can produce a bite, fishing a large lump of meat static will induce a fish to feed, when fishing like this I don’t introduce any free offerings and rely on the attraction of the meat alone. I want to make sure that the only food item in the swim has my hook in it.

When preparing meat for fishing I’ll roughly cut a tin into large strips and take to the bank in a bag adding some curry powder for additional attraction and break off the meat to the desired size. I’ll normally fish a size 4 hook and have the bait mounted directly on the hook. Any bites are met with a firm strike to ensure the hook comes through the bait.

If time allows and conditions are right I am happy to sit behind a rod with a big bait in a slack out of the main flow. In this case I’ll still be using a large inline lead and the same mono hooklength as my summer fishing but the hookbait will be a high attract boilie, normally wrapped in past and dipped in a liquid flavour for maximum attraction. Again there’ll be a PVA bag attached to the hook but kept very small to reduce the amount of bait going into the swim. I want to make sure that the hookbait draws fish in and a feeding fish picks up the hookbait rather than anything else.

Whether summer or winter Barbel Fishing I’ll try and find fishable areas on my near bank as this allows for better line lay and presentation. I much prefer to draw fish across the river to my bait rather than fish a bait tight to far bank snags with a tight line running across the river.

I’ll fish my rod on two rests, normally with the rod tip deep under water relying on the baitrunner to alert me to take! This has several benefits, it keeps line close to the bottom of the river without the need for a back lead, it minimises any rubbish collecting on the line and means the lead isn’t pulled out of position because of anything collecting on the line.

Fishing in this way any rubbish coming downstream slides down the line and collects on the lead rather than masking the hookbait or pulling the bait out of position. This is really useful when fishing for pressured fish as it reduces disturbance in the swim and allows any fish to feed confidently. I’ll still be watching the rod butt as fish in the swim can give themselves away bumping into the line causing the rod butt to ‘shake’. When this happens I’m on edge waiting for the rod to wrap round!

On a larger river like the Thames, I’m happy to fish further out but would use a backlead to make sure I could keep the bait in the water for long enough for a fish to find it.

Also a river like the Wye where I’d be expecting a number of fish in a swim I’m happy to fish rods with tips in the air to keep line away for the river beds and any rocks that may damage the mainline. In this case I’m less concerned about disturbing the swim with recasting due to the number of fish and I’ll also approach a Wye swim differently, normally using more bait and to create a competitive feeding environment. Bites can normally be very quick and a bag of fish can be put together.

My summer fishing will revolve around a pellet and or boilie approach, dependant on the swim and river I’m fishing. I’ve found a 4mm pellet provokes a competitive feeding response and tend to fish a lager boilie or pellet on the hair. I’ll use pellet as opposed to hemp to draw fish into the swim as I’ve found it breaks down faster and makes sure that theres no bait left in the swim the following day. I’ve seen barbel continually visit a swim where hemp has been introduced and become completely pre occupied. This is a feeding response I don’t want when limited time is available!

When fishing a pellet or boilie my end tackle will be very similar to my summer chub fishing but slightly heavier, dependant on the swim I’ll use an inline lead of at least 2oz, normally 12lb mainline, a 10lb mono hooklink and a wide gaped size 12 hook. Its important to use a hook with an inturned point as this reduces the amount of times the point ‘turns over’ on the gravel. My hooklink is often up to 6ft in length to make sure the bait is as far away from the lead and tight mainline as possible. I’ll always have a small pva bag of pellets attached to the hook when fishing long hooklenths as by stopping the lead before it hits the water the PVA bag will prevent any tangles and make sure the rig and bait lands behind the lead using the current to swing the bait into position. This also allows you to position the hookbait under any streamer weed or overhanging trees where the fish will feed more confidently.

As the season progresses and fish see more pressure the hookbait can be viewed with more caution and I’ll adopt a slightly different approach by using the free offerings as a hookbait. I’ll still be using the 4mm loose feed but will superglue 2-4 pellets onto a piece of elastic band which can then be hooked in place of a hair. This can fool pressured fish and bring an extra bite or two, again giving an added advantage when short sessions are all that can be managed.

With the season drawing towards a close barbel will be at their largest weights and looking to feed, any of the approaches mentioned will produce at the right time, maximise your time by covering several swims and areas of the river and the rewards can be had!

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