Barbel Fishing Continuing the Journey

Northantslad

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So, the season is over almost as quickly as it started and whilst much enjoyment has been had, which has probably lead to the season flying by, I can still remember the warm June and July of 2018 sessions like it was yesterday. My journey is far from over, but after a special season for me and with March here, now seems as good a time as any to summarise some points, emphasise others and review my season.

I didn't wish to, and not sure you should ever, put too demanding targets on yourself and mine for the season was to catch on more trips than I blanked, I managed it at a 3 in 4 catch rate, ensuring that I worked at each and every session from the first cast to the last.

This is a key point; I don't think you can under estimate the importance of thinking and working at a session. A fair point in one of my books I return to regularly (see the book list the part 1 guide) and when feeder/lead fishing, is that you would think that an angler sitting behind their rods has all the time in the world to be thinking through the session, but this isn't always the case and it is actually very easy to start the session with good intentions, but then take in the scenery for too long, wind the rods in and go for a stroll (not to be confused with resting the swim which is actually a good thing sometimes), get the sarnies out etc. Don't get me wrong a Barbel session isn't about pushing yourself and not unwinding from life's stresses and much will depend on what you want to achieve of course, however I have been aiming the guide at those wishing to catch their first Barbel and then enjoy getting a few more and having undertaken a long journey myself, I do know that it would be all too easy to let your opening sessions defeat you, I have tried throughout to point out the realities of modern and largely day ticket Barbel fishing.

There are always examples that go against a point and there will be those that have got the info in advance, been put on a good stretch and caught well in session number one in their Barbel quest and fair play to them, being on a good stretch is one thing, catching the fish and getting them in safely is another of course, so no knocking or jealousy on my part there. This however wasn't my experience and knowledge was and continues to be gleaned slowly through, yes research, yes sharing info with other helpful Barbel anglers, but largely from realising that spending my early years and sessions tucking into those sarnies at 11 oclock after a fruitless four hours, wasn't going to help me! Learning through experiences.

In summary on confidence and working hard at a session and what makes Barbel fishing perfect for my mindset, is that output is generally proportional to input, I don't feel that I can say this applies to some other forms of angling, having done them for a good few years, in essence and if you are looking to get some Barbel success and with a good many Barbel anglers being converts from other forms of angling too, be prepared to have to work and think that bit harder than you may have needed to when tackling some of the other forms of angling that you may have had available to you. I have worded that as best as I can and it in no way is meant to gloss over the fantastic levels of skill of some anglers fishing in alternative venues nor is meant to of course, play into the hands of those who may feel Barbel anglers and to a degree river anglers too are somewhat elitist in their self-appraisal of 'their' fishing and environment. There will be thousands may be a hundred thousand anglers who are better than myself and across a wide range of disciplines, but my aim has been and will continue to be, that after 25 years or so of doing many forms of angling, I think I can say, and it is helpful for the newcomer to Barbel angling to know that it can be for the most part a longer learning curve than some other forms of angling can be and it may be fair to not expect the results to come as quickly, for me, though, that does make them all the more special when they do.

So, what has made this season such a special one, in essence every one and in keeping with the above, every session has contributed something to learning, even those 1 in 4s, but the highlights of course have be the days where I caught. The 1 in fours taught me something though as I suggest and for me, I am highly unlikely to be bothering with, without demeaning the humble and on occasion overall effectiveness of the baits, maggot or caster. I left out the hemp there as I feel on the Middle Severn it continues to be good addition to pellet feed. I can't help feeling that my opening sessions on the Trent last year were wasted by using these baits in warm and yes although, low and clear water. I'm not alone on that thought in terms of a chap I fish with who has had a great season on pellet all year and throughout a range of conditions. July conditions were equally un-inspiring, however, that month gave me my best day in 20 years of Barbelling, and on pellet. I started the session at 11am on a weekday, vital it was a weekday too on a day ticket stretch and starting that late! After arriving back from a float session on the Severn around 11pm, I woke and thought I'm not laying in bed and so headed up to the Trent. From 11am to 3pm, not a touch, at 3.15pm fish topped, from 3.30pm to 7pm I caught 10 Barbel. Would that have happened if had broke out the sarnies for an early tea in favour of staying alert, thus seeing the visual indication and keeping the feeder going in?

The biggest contributing factor though to my season numbers wise and a big aid to confidence keeping you working, is knowing you are in the right place. Severn wise and again through trial and error, I have found swims that I know contain Barbel, when not all swims do (on any river), the Trent has been a tougher nut to crack in that respect, and whilst we didn't just happen on a reliable stretch, this knowledge has been 50 or may be even 60% of the contributing factor to my results this season. I haven't gone from average to good all of a sudden, I have gone from no-where to average, with some good days thrown in. With that constituting half or just over of the factors needed and THE factor in ensuring you keep working, it for me is the biggest thing to get right. Again, if 60 or 70% of pegs on an alternative form of venue are good ones, it would seem that 30% of pegs on rivers are good ones Barbel wise, find them and find them quicker than I have taken and you will boost your results and subsequently confidence much quicker.

My annual weekend with the lads to the Severn last September, was a good one for me Friday wise, but strangely and rather than being pleased with my first day results I keep reflecting on what I felt was wasting of near on perfect floodwater conditions we experienced on the Saturday, in terms of how and where I fished. It may be a sign to me that indicates where I have got to, in that A Barbel would have been a success for me in many a good year on that weekend, so I shouldn't perhaps lose sight of things.

So, beyond altering the size of feeder/amount of feed throughout the varying temperatures of the season and to a degree the regularity of casting, what do I feel is 'working' at things? It is trying different colours of pellet and different sizes. When I started out, hair rigging limited me to 8mm and up hookbaits, since then and for the last few years I have banded my pellets, which opened up 6mm options. Yes, I used to worry and see such rivers as the Trent as mighty, daunting and have thoughts such as 'there is no chance they will find that bait in this expanse of water' or amongst my feed, well, they do and to date my pb at 12lb 14oz was caught on a 6mm coarse pellet, important to add however, that your feed, in my opinion should never be bigger than your hookbait, may be a tiny amount mixed in at most. My red letter day in July saw me keep varying the hooklength length (3ft/6ft) and bait size and colours to keep the fish coming, to prove this aspect conclusively though and following a season where overall 3ft alone has sufficed on the Trent and in clear water, I need (please) another day like that where I don't change things after a fish to see just how important this tactic is and whether or not I could work less at that aspect and perhaps grab a sarnie or two!

More and more I have observed too that the fish tend to come in spells and sometimes at a not to loosely set time, should I get a fish now, its usually a quick photo on the unhooking mat and back it goes, after resting it until its ready, if a fish takes a while to recover, then a good tally for the day of course gets put down the priority list in favour of fish welfare. So again, the need to find somewhere productive and to keep you going back, enables you to build up any patterns in feeding times. There wouldn't be enough years left in you if you jump from hot tipped venue to venue in the pursuit of Barbel, not because there are that many venues, but the time you would need in each peg in order to observe patterns, at least there is only just over 2 months to June.
 

bezzer

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A good write up as ever NL. Your 'red letter' day came despite the seemingly poor conditions. A lot of anglers, me included, didn't venture out much (to the rivers) in June/July/August due to the rivers being so low and clear. Reading about your exploits will make me think differently this coming season.

I wasn't able to get out on the rivers as much as I'd hoped last year, but with circumstances at home changing, it's looking more promising.
 

Northantslad

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Well, where has that time gone?
Not complaining of course and although frustrating, yet without opening up the close season debate, these few months have been used wisely. Back to the books, re-watching the DVDs and prepping the odd bit of kit and bait. New bits of kit, although nothing new in design, more in updating and improving, have been purchased and that enjoyable good sort out I couldn't do between June and March has whetted the appetite, for a 4am journey start planned for the weekend.

So, new kit. Landing net, triangular type, old one was way too big, even for what should be large in keeping with guidance. The big one has gone into the carp kit and replaced with one that is the perfect size and still retaining its depth for resting Barbel. Tried the open design rod quiver approach for a couple of seasons now and its been awkward in ensuring that it is always on top of mine and my mates kit in the car and thus I don't feel it offered the protection to the rods or the reels for longer journeys in a packed car, despite being quick at allowing me access for that last hour of dark/first bit of daylight bite (sounds a cosy prediction but rarely that often it happens). So that has become the carp one, replaced for a zip up sealed two rod holdall. Now then, the unhooking mat, had a big, and again too big despite the need for a largish one previously and without fail the Velcro would undo, unroll itself and come off the bag on every trip back to the car, much to my mates enjoyment, with the smile getting bigger and his anticipation of it happening just as we get moving along the bank growing each time. That too has made its way into the carp gear and replaced with a nice fold flat one that sits nicely in the folded up lightweight chair, one bit of kit I will keep repairing until it needs a weld or two, which in fairness to it, has just been a couple of bolts that started to bend and weaken as they got older, or as I got older, or as I got larger is perhaps the crux of that one.

The Barbel days and ways DVD has kept me entertained and I did find the section about lines and fish spooking really interesting. With one theory being that they won't spook off something they can see but touches them, more something that they can't see that they then brush, makes sense and is one way of looking at things, something brushes you and you turn to see nothing there is what it could be likened too, then put down it being 'just' a ghost..............shortly before going cold and legging it. Balance that with fish seeing braid clearly and does that put them off at all?

Gone back through the books too and a chapter on baits particularly, coupled with some recent discussion with other Barbel anglers (Thanks Bez & Keith) I have got myself to a point where I am ready to write these thoughts. In keeping with the above paragraph to emphasise a point, a couple of my Barbel books in particular regularly use human experience to try and predict and diagnose, and I think successfully, Barbel behaviour. A phrase from one such book has stuck in my mind for a year or two now:

Barbel can only get addicted to particle baits.

My understanding is that this can occur after a period of weaning the Barbel onto it. Going back to the times before pellets, particles would have been wheat, hemp, caster, maggot, corn, small worms and lots of them, to name a few, with the vast majority of those too, still finding favour and do stand the test of time. However, the advent of pellets and how readily Barbel and all species switched onto them, for me has made those previous take a back seat, possibly the nutrient value made the weaning phase quicker too, I can only speculate on that point though, after starting the Barbel journey at the time when pellets had been successfully introduced already. So, anyway, that phrase now makes perfect sense and if you take 'addicted to' as will actively seek out, feed with wild abandon on and lower the guard significantly during, then it just re-enforces that sense and can be applied to human situations. I will happily, key point being happily, watch telly and scoff mixed nuts for example, varying sizes but with none being overly large or too different, varying colours, varying textures, but all easily edible together. Someone then during ,my feast shoves a coconut under my nose and I don't fancy it, but I might waste time looking at it and even entertaining a loose idea of how I would go about it, before deciding no, now where have those nuts gone. Or a bag of crisps, one flavour, various sizes within an easily eaten and digested range, similar textures, then stick a whole potato in the bag and you get the same effect. The point being that pellet for example is a particle bait and your hook bait may be shouldn't be too far off similar when introduced with pellets that you are hoping the Barbel will get their heads down on. More the size that makes pellet a particle it could be said in 1-6 mm sizes and you wouldn't toss load after load of 20mm pellets into a swim and expect a frenzy, you may trip up the odd fish by playing the same hookbait to feed game, which one has the hook in it is hard tell then granted. Exponents of boilie fishing for Barbel might feed say 8/10 mm and have a 12/15mm on the hook, this again fits the same thinking, it is appealing to the Barbels addictive nature.

So, here it comes, a meatball and as requested a long time back. Particle? No, Target bait to appeal to the other instinct of competitiveness needed for survival, yes. Looks nice, I better eat that before something else does Not loosefed in any great amounts, maybe a few tempters nearby, and with no heavy baiting of free offerings, a bait that will be cast I suspect into the right places, rather than trying to encourage fish up to your bait from downstream. A smaller meatball and fed with lots of smaller bits of meat/mince and you will have the pellet or boilie strategy, just in a different bait and one suiting conditions at times, better than a pellet might. All of this came to me today and on the back of some helpful advice from a couple of meat/meatball fans, but my need to understand fully got me needing to apply it something I have used.

Now, did I pack the camera? That's done it..........
 

Lee Richards

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Excellent write up as always Chris.
Personally I use a lot of particals for my "other" sprices fishing and yet now with Barbel have moved away from that approach."back in the day" even on the Teme I would get through a gallon or more of hemp and a few pints of casters every session. Four 25kg sacks one season.
It became noticeable though over time and with the amount going in that the fish did become pre-occupied on the feed and harder to catch or avoided it completely.
I even used to glue a couple of hemp to a hair on a size 16 when it became a "needs must"
Perhaps the same might be happening with pellets on the Middle now. Bubble burst as they say.

So to get around this we have tailored our Severn approach to now using plenty of feed such as meaty groundbait with a sprinking of pellets or maggots/casters and larger pellets/meat or bunches of casters/maggots on the hook.
This change to the "to good to miss" hook bait size has seen an improvement in Barbel catches and also strangely for other fish species as well.

Downstream of me there are certain stretches where "the Source" has become the goto boilie and No 1 bait yet even after a few concerted attempts we have always struggled.

Strange things are these fish but they have never changed their liking for meat.
 

Northantslad

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Cheers mate.
Yes re the hemp, I have read about anglers using something they called bogey and they 'bogeyed' some hemp to the hook. Downside of particle feeding is for them, as you suggest, is they can get too pre-occupied of course, can work against you and for you, although I am still in favour of it working for you and with pellet on densely populated stretches, when a shoal feeds with that addiction and pre-occupation, a similar bait to the feed is soon picked up. Used to worry me that 'how will they find that pellet in amongst the hundreds with it' but they do and especially with consistently accurate casting. A single or target bait always worries me now to a degree and it has become clear that some of that worry can be alleviated by knowing you are in the right location.
Interesting also that your improvement has come on the lower by using particles on the hook, could be cyclic as you say, but re the pellet approach I don't see it blowing anytime soon here, may be linked to how other anglers may have many different approaches and in the terms of the Trent is a less intimate in terms of size.

You may have some of the books in my list in part one, if you haven't got it, Roger Millers book is a fantastic read. Strange fish yes, but biologically they have never changed. In his book particularly he goes through his thought process and how, upon encountering baits/tactics that had blown or in the case of the bait bans on the royalty, how he stayed one step ahead.
 

Northantslad

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I had packed the camera..........and that did it. Always next time.
 

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