Barbel Fishing Starting Out

Northantslad

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1. Introduction.
River Barbel fishing, more than any other discipline of fishing I do, gives me by far the most enjoyment, exhilaration and feelings of achievement whenever I am fortunate enough to catch my whiskered quarry.



I have decided to write this guide because I enjoy writing about angling and helping other anglers or would be anglers. Regarding my reference to it being a guide, rather than a tutorial;there are but a few facts when it comes to Barbel and these are usually physiological and biological, beyond that, they can be as unpredictable as any other fish, can take you by surprise or give you a wake up call in equal measure and there are contradictions out there in abundance.

Secondly, despite building my skills and knowledge over a good few years now, I don't have any doubt that there are other anglers out there, possibly local to and 'living' on the rivers I visit, countless angling authors and purely and simply better anglers than me around, hence a 'tutorial' would give me a feeling of having over estimated the albeit precious skills and knowledge I have gained, in some cases gained, courtesy of authors and other anglers.

So, if I do help anyone who is starting out, thinking of giving it a try or in the early part of their journey, then I will have gained almost as much satisfaction as when it comes together and I get one in the landing net. I mulled over how perhaps the satisfaction should be equal, but you will hopefully get to know why it can't possibly be the case; when authors, magazines or other anglers talk about 'that' feeling and that you will never look back, this is one piece of information that is fact, yet needs to be experienced to be appreciated thus.

Having defined who I feel may be the target audience for this guide, that I will post in sections, readers do need to know what type of Barbel angler I am, if this also fits your plans or what type you are, then I am sure you could pick up some useful tips. I fish day ticket stretches on the Severn and Trent and am what may be referred to as a visiting angler, commonly fishing from dawn until dusk with feeder/lead tactics and when 'it's right', the float. Target for me is simply Barbel of any size and although some may purposely set up to avoid Chub, I am rarely disappointed to catch them too; as they can frequent similar habitats and parts of the river as Barbel, their presence can sometimes be an asset to you in knowing your aren't far off the right place. On such rivers you do need to take advantage of any clues or information you can get. I won't be numbering the tips, but if I were and prioritising, then number one is location, location, location, ranging from the stretch of river right down to where, sometimes talking metres, of where you need to be casting on the stretch or in the peg. In essence, the wider the river, the more room for error. Yes, you are aiming to pull the fish in or more accurately up the river, so being on that right line as in distance across is vital, be aware that the word distance has been used as a measure and not an indication that you must always be as far as you can cast.

A penultimate note does need to be for me to point out that whilst I may mention tackle or kit, I have no affiliation or links to brands, I use practical kit across various manufacturers that I find reliable, fitting my budget/expected usage and fit for purpose as proven to me during my time on the bank. In terms of reading, there are books I have found very useful and I will possibly include in section at the end.

In this, the final thoughts on the introduction, I must be open and give what I feel is an honest appraisal of where things are in terms of Barbel fishing on the rivers I frequent and when. Having fished for them in the last fifteen years or so, I can confirm that the much publicised Barbel boom of the 1980s ended over two decades ago and you shouldn't be expecting nor planning for 100lb of Barbel in a session. Whether this is due to less Barbel or just a lot more wiser pressured Barbel is a debate for another day. In the latest book I am reading, it also talks about a pinch of salt being needed when hearing of sizes of Barbel quoted by some anglers some twenty five years ago, I can only take the authors word for that, but what I can say is nowadays twenty five years on, Barbel do seem to be getting larger and catching a double can be anticipated and prepared for. The pinch of salt does still have its place though in today's Barbel fishing and you may need it should you hear other anglers or the less helpful type of bailiff you might encounter questioning your tactics or abilities, whereby they advise that they regularly have fifteen Barbel off 'that' peg, take some comfort in knowing that, that just doesn't happen anymore or at least is rare if I had to come down on the fence. Nor should you let a magazine sometimes have you believing that in order to catch your first Barbel you just need to turn up at one of the likely stretches of river, chuck in the right place and hey presto land your first one, Barbel in my opinion will test your resolve and challenge what you thought you knew, more than any other fish. Remembering that we, the we being the similar type of angler reading this and the few I sometimes go with, are the visiting angler and go when we can, not necessarily when it's right; blanks should be prepared for in advance and reflected on but not to an extent where it knocks you down, blanks can be used to gauge your progress when they become less often than the good days occur. If all I describe above is you, then I can summarise the approach as fishing as you would for a specimen sized fish in terms of numbers, yet catching anything from juvenile fish to specimen sized fish, using a hybridisation of specimen and match tackle and tactics and a good day can be managing one fish or putting a handful together, with a special day being defined using the time available to you as above, as more than a handful Barbel.
 
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Northantslad

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2.Tackle and Luggage

Following on from the introduction, my rationale when buying tackle and luggage for Barbel fishing is:

Budget as balanced with how expensive something needs to be in order to not let me down and given how often I will be using it; essentially a good handful of trips up the Trent per year and may be an equal number of trips to the Severn, which includes an annual weekender. Worth knowing that also, these fish and the environments they live in and the banks that line them are a good test of tackle and kit. Of course, when it comes to cost of kit, each to their own and anglers spend whatever they like, this is just my way of looking at things, for example, for rods, I just couldn't have hundreds of pounds worth of rod sitting around to come out for what is no more than ten sessions per year. I would of course much prefer to be living on the river, popping out regular and enjoying the feel of an expensive custom built rod, but that just isn't my situation.

If you do read articles and dedicated books on Barbel angling, which I suggest you should, then you will come across a range of differing viewpoints, attitudes and opinions when it comes to tactics and the tackle that will be required. The common place of a rod or two pointed skywards, with baitrunner reels set in place isn't always viewed favourably by some, the latest comment on this way of fishing I read quite recently in a magazine, penned by a well known angler in his diary section, suggested that it lacks skill and just isn't fishing. Again, each to their own, personally, myself, and I have to say almost every angler I see on my trips does fish this way and I will continue to also. When reading some of the older dedicated Barbel books, you can start to separate tactics and tackle between river types and although for example ledgering with a centre pin must be a lovely way to fish, it just isn't suited to the rivers I fish and is clearly referring to some of the smaller more intimate rivers.

In terms of rods, there are choices in abundance, in order to thin this choice down for you, I would say that quiver tip rods aren't required and that you are really looking at dedicated Barbel rods between the 1.5lb test curve through to 2.5lb, this higher end of the rating does sometimes find Carp rods fitting the bill. Although it may be fair to say that many Barbel anglers are either converted or also Carp anglers, this will be the first and last time I mention the word Carp, not because I have anything against them, but it will benefit you to not think of the Barbel as a Carp, it also may benefit the Barbel too on occasion. Although related through the cyprinid family, that represents the only similarity. You will find rods by Greys, JW Young, Fox, Drennan, in fact many of the tackle manufacturers, without forgetting Korum, which is my choice of rod, that fits my rationale above, finding that a pair of 1.75/2.25lb test curve 'twin top' rods enable me to fish the rivers I do, including when the rivers are in their more aggressive moods with extra and or flood water on. Two rods isn't essential, but can be useful on the some of the wider pegs or 'beach' pegs on the inside of bends, merely to hedge your bets with tactics or differing baits. It can also be useful at times to have your upstream rod on a feeder, with a straight lead downstream of it. I used the term wider pegs, as personally, I find it a struggle to fish two rods in some pegs and can be a recipe for disaster in terms of getting in a mess and sometimes caused by a rampaging Barbel. On some days and in the right peg, both on a feeder can be good too, but prepare to be active, as you usually do need to be keeping those 'feeders' going in. In fact, one criticism a purist may have of fishing this way and an observation they make is of the lazy angler slumped in a chair behind two motionless rods, the assumption being that the angler isn't thinking nor being visibly active, how this observation is delivered will vary, but one fact is that you do need to be thinking and constantly trying to trigger the Barbel to feed and get a bite. Something I read that has stuck in my mind is that you treat feeder fishing as if you were float fishing and keeping a steady amount going in on each 'run through' would be undertaken on the float and the need is no different when on the feeder.

Whilst holding your rod and touch ledgering (feeling the line for indications) is something that is used and to good effect by some, it just isn't practical for this particular style of fishing and given the potential for busy stretches of day ticket river meaning that you may be in a peg all day, you need to be comfortable and have your hands free for prepping rigs and hookbaits. Due to this a baitrunner reel is essential and one where the freespool tension can be adjusted to suit the flow, so as to prevent the flow pulling line off. When it comes to reels I rarely deviate from Shimano and a pair of STRB 6000s loaded to the lip with 10lb line (or one of course if you go for one rod initially) will fit the bill perfectly.

Given the unmistakable and savage nature of a Barbel bite, hence the lack of need for a quiver tip rod, even a reel with a baitrunner function needs to be set up right, not just the reel itself, but your rod rest arrangement. Even a quality reel such as a Shimano won't always give line immediately on a sharp take if just mounted on one rod rest. For the line to 'give', then the rod butt does need to be fixed also, otherwise the rod butt is the part that 'gives' as the rod pivots on the fulcrum created by the first and higher rod rest, in that situation you are looking at a desperate grab for your rod. Korum/Preston do a cup type rest that can be screwed into a standard (shorter) bank stick, I have found that these anchor the butt of the rod perfectly, yet allow easy removal when you need to pick the rod up. Hence for two rods, I carry two long height adjustable banksticks for the front and two short with the cups on for the back/butt. For the front rest/s I use Korum rests with the angle tilt mechanism and for the bankstick, the ones with clip lock rather than wing nut fitting. Your alternative to this rest arrangement is a river pod, which is efficient in set up, has all the above mentioned features in one unit and overcomes the problems with rocky banks, where getting a bankstick in can be difficult.

The need to travel light is founded on two main reasons, you may be able to adopt a roving approach sometimes, although don't bank on this on busy day ticket sections, yet even beyond this, it can be a walk required to a peg you are planning on spending a day in, sometimes through several fields or 'meadows'. You do get some relief from this on some sections of the Trent and to an extent the Severn, whereby your car can be parked quite close to where you are planning on fishing. Word of caution though, both of these Rivers can rise quickly and the 'roads' are simply grass or mud, the potential for stuck vehicles is one that is present. Even if you do get a bonus of convenient parking, this doesn't then mean you have to bring your entire tackle collection, for Barbel fishing there is no need:

In a made up rod holdall or quiver:
Made up rod/s
Rod rests
Landing net handle and folded up net*
Brolly

Chair**
With rolled up unhooking mat and weigh sling velcro'd to it for ease of transportation
Sarnies and drink inside the folded up chair

Carryall/rucksack/Ruckbag:
Bait
Terminal tackle
Camera
Scales
Artery forceps for unhooking***

The above essentially makes 3 items to carry, on days where I may be taking several pints of maggots or hemp, I put these in a bucket and hook the handle over the chair leg to carry them.

* A deep triangular net (where the frame detaches) has several advantages other than ease of transportation: you can rest a Barbel immediately in it (important), you aren't trying to turn the whole net and handle with a steep bank behind you, you can simply unclip your hooklength and just take the netted fish to your unhooking mat rather than a rod and net handle too.

** A chair with four height adjustable legs is essential on the banks you will encounter. I have seen anglers also cope just as well with the fold frame type legs and just leave the back leg frame up, although this doesn't work too well on all banks. Some may ditch the chair all together to become lighter and sit on the unhooking mat, each to their own, I just find the afore mentioned chair the best and I do need to be comfortable in order to fish effectively.

*** A small pair of forceps is fine, you have the length if you need it to unhook a deeper hooked fish, although hooking (and landing) a Barbel in anywhere but the thick, strong and rubbery lips is rare. The strength of the metal forceps required is really due to the tough lips and the strong hooks used (section on terminal tackle and rigs to come).

Again, when it comes to much of the above, I personally feel that Korum have really nailed this aspect of fishing when it comes to specific tackle/luggage and you may well find them suiting your needs, other manufacturers also produce similar items. A bit of research and looking around will pay off. My rod quiver is a 30plus, my chair is a Korum lightweight, the original and still going strong and my carry all is a Wychwood Solace, although I would aim for a holdall that is flatter than it is tall, although on steep banks, I get around its unstability by sticking a bankstick in the ground and putting the shoulder strap around it so it sits stable and upright.

A final note worth mentioning is that no matter what kit you do decide on, consider the points above about practicalities, you shouldn't ever feel that investing any more of your hard earned will translate into catching more Barbel, when it comes to the above items, it doesn't.
 

Phoenixicus

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Great piece NL and you know I love your enthusiasm.
Only thing to consider when writing something like this is be aware of the quantity of words you are using and the size of the paragraphs.
Volume can be your enemy as it can also serve to only turn people off -less is more,so to speak.

I write technical reports and work instructions for very varied audiences and the advice always given to me was:
Precise,concise and informative - always the way to go.

Please don't take this as a criticism as I always appreciate those that take the trouble,and we share the same passion.

Look forward to your next instalment.
[:T]
 
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Phoenixicus

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It was a good read NL
Astounded coach wrote some good articles a few years ago but sadly doesn't post anymore.

Look forward to your next one.(and hope that others find this)
[:T]
 

Northantslad

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3. The Barbel

The Barbel as with any other fish, doesn't use logic, but does learn and does respond with associated behaviours. When considering the angling pressure that some of the Barbel on day ticket stretches are under, they do get many 'lessons' and on a regular basis, thus I imagine they learn quite quickly (that the unnatural thing with food coming out spells danger etc etc). That may read that we the angler are teaching them a lesson, we are, but not in the way that phrase may be commonly used, we are teaching them to our disadvantage sometimes.





In my attempts to understand Barbel, I did initially have some misunderstandings, more assumptions really, that my reading did correct. None more so than why the Barbel is a bottom dwelling species, or to be accurate, a largely bottom feeding fish. It has at times been a common misconception that it is the water pressure that holds the Barbel down, the reality is that the opposite is physically accurate. The Barbel's shape does resemble that of a cross section through an aircrafts wing, an aircraft achieving lift by utilising the difference in pressure that occurs above and below the wing. The curved top causes an increase in air speed and a corresponding drop in pressure above the wing, with slower air speed below, giving a pressure higher than that above.

Applying that to the Barbel, the water pressure is trying to lift the fish upwards from the bottom, hence the Barbel seeks the part of the river where water speed and pressure is at its least-near the bottom. When you stand and look at the river, sometimes in awe of it's power, don't be deceived into thinking that the water is moving along with the same force from top to bottom, the friction caused by the water moving against the bottom does slow it down in that area. The Barbel seeks the place where its body design enables it to best survive. Due to this the Barbel will also seek areas behind obstructions and move into slacks.

Understanding that above fact not only pleased me due to correcting my incorrect assumption, but also due to it giving me confidence that my feed was actually initially staying where I wanted it and then only moving along in steady trail. Sometimes I would look at the river and think no chance, my bait will be down to the Bristol channel before I could say confidence lost, gladly not the case.

I will draw on a practical working example of the above that I now understand why it happened. On a float session on the Severn, I was fishing a waggler over some bait dropped pellets and hemp, in what was quite a pacey looking far side channel. After setting my box in the river as a marker in the near shallows*, I waded out and bait dropped directly on a line in front of my box, my thinking being that the 'flow' would take the bait trail to a one or two oclock starting position with my box being twelve oclock. My plan, as always was to cast the float just downstream of my box line and loose feed each run upstream of that line. Leaving my setting up until after, in order to give the fish some time to settle, I then set about fishing the run, being patient for another hour, yet also being prepared for a bite.

After a couple of small Chub and another hour of still trying to maintain my patience, I did a tired feeling cast well up stream, the minute the float arrived at where I had bait dropped (dead opposite my box) it buried, repeating that cast saw me get two Barbel and a good Chub in 5 casts. My baitdropped feed hadn't been swept downstream in a way I had assumed it would. Applying that to feeder fishing, as long as your feeder (feed) is getting down, it should trundle nicely along the bottom forming the necessary trail.

I can now picture the Barbel working their way up to the spot, I nearly said hoovering up the feed as they went, but that would be inferring yet another sometimes misunderstood point. Barbel don't hoover up food by creating a vacuum in their mouths like some other members of the cyprinid family, the term hoover has maybe been applied loosely to infer the mere efficiency with which they can search out and clean up when in the mood. Barbel pick up food and items they believe to be food with their lips by way of inspecting it, prior to centralising it in order to then swallow if they are happy with the item. It is at the pick up point where you are looking for the hook point to catch their lips. In baits where it would be possible to completely bury the hook, it must be avoided and the point must be exposed for the safety of the fish and to enable you to then get the then unmistakeable bite as the Barbel bolts at the shock of feeling the point, thus sinking the hook in the process. I am not fishing the purists way and feeling for bites, hence I am not expecting to have to strike.

I mentioned earlier in this section that the Barbel is suited to being a bottom dweller-where nature intended it and designed it to be. The under slung mouth being the biggest clue of this and the four Barbules (the whiskers) that adorn it. The barbules are sensitive to touch and can also detect chemical difference, however they cannot be moved by the Barbel independently, only moved with movement of the head itself when using them to detect food.

As with any fish, there will be times when it will be more reliant on sight (clearer water) and times where that sense decreases in use and smell takes over (coloured water). This can help to inform you of bait choice in certain conditions. On the subject of sight, the Barbel's eyes are vulnerable to bright light, an advantage to us in knowing that the sun behind you is best if we have to have sun at all (not ideal generally)as the Barbel will have it vision focussed away from the sunlight and therefore you. A potential disadvantage to the fish if we neglect this knowledge of their eye vulnerability when photographing them with flash photography. As this fish gives us countless hours of enjoyment and thought both on and off the bank, I will take every opportunity to mention aspects where we can assist in it's welfare.

* Exercise caution when 'sitting' in the river or wading in it, if at any point it doesn't feel safe, then take that cue that it isn't. No matter how strong the allure of Barbel it isn't worth paying the ultimate price for.
 

Northantslad

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4. Baits and Conditions

Both the rivers I fish can present completely different propositions, dependent on time of year, water clarity, water temperature and water levels. It is when discussing the above between ourselves that some interesting viewpoints are given. One of my fishing colleagues prefers it low and clear, as in his opinion it takes the guess work out of bait choice. This statement is in reflection of a very traditional viewpoint that small traditional baits are proven when the river is down to its bones, with an approach using maggots, casters and or hemp being the better bet.





When there is a bit more water on and added colour, then some will move from the more traditional baits and onto pellets, boilies and meat. These two 'rules' for bait selection are a good starting point and as I hinted in my introduction, who am I to disagree with this long and largely well established 'rules'?

I will share my opinion though, based on a good few years fishing for Barbel in these times since the Barbel fishing heydays and it is an opinion shared by some others I fish with in these current and very different times. Nowadays I think much depends on where (what river) you are fishing, what is now classed as it's 'usual' conditions and water temperature, rather than water clarity. Some of the older books mention having to wean Barbel onto certain baits and that river x isn't a boilie or a pellet river. Taking all of this information and applying it to the day ticket stretches of the rivers I fish in today's Barbel world and adding to this the fact that rivers nowadays seem to be low and clear as much as they are up and coloured, then you may benefit from being a little less rigid in bait approach and deviating from the basic rules I mentioned at the very start of this section could be advisable when it comes to rivers and their most common conditions.



There are all sorts of baits going in and varying species being sought on these day ticket stretches, emphasised by the fact that many species will happily take a pellet and a maggot will still catch everything, including of course Barbel. Back in the introduction I mentioned that location and where to cast is possibly the key factor, so for me, I much prefer plenty of water on and perhaps in flood, where finding close in slacks is more straightforward than finding the right line across sometimes hundreds of yards of width of river in normal or low conditions, it takes the guess work out of what is for me the biggest factor to get right. Find the Barbel and the bait choice sometimes becomes one of the least important factors. I don't push my luck too much on this though and presenting a 'lump' of luncheon meat for example in a low clear cold river would feel just wrong; it may give off as much warning to a Barbel in clear conditions as its smell may be appealing in coloured conditions. Altering the size of meat and using very small bits for feed may well lead to something however, but I just not to take that risk on a precious and long travelled day trip.

Water temperature affects the Barbel's digestion and lower temperatures prolong the digestion process, which may be the time to go for smaller baits/feed. In essence, the river can be up and coloured yet cold, as much as it can be up and coloured and 'warm'. The same variations too when low and clear, although granted, if in the height of summer then the likelihood of warm water is high, unless cold water has been released upstream.

We started Barbel fishing on the Severn some fifteen years ago and those early years we would stand in amazement looking at the water lapping high up the bridge buttresses at our base in Bridgnorth, but gradually since then those water levels are witnessed less and less, whether it be due to modern water management, global warming or extraction, the fact is that the fish are experiencing lower clearer and cleaner water more and more. However, the Barbel still love pellets and on the Severn we have found that they don't resist them for too long, regardless of conditions.



On a trip up the Severn a couple of years back, many of us observed that the river looked quite clear and adopted a traditional bait approach, which simply didn't work, a switch to pellets brought near on instant results. A chat to the bailiff found that 'oh, no the river is actually quite coloured'. Coloured to us was what we had seen in those early years with an inch or two clarity, however 'coloured' to someone on the river everyday who will have witnessed this change in conditions that has happened over recent years now means about a foot or may be more clarity. It is worth noting that anymore clarity than that, coupled with suitably safe levels, will see me adopt a float approach.

You will see from the illustrations, that whether it is maggots or pellets, I will always mix colours in my feed. My pure and simple reasoning for this is that on day trip, time is precious and the need to give myself every chance of having a good day is vital. So if conditions are causing the Barbel to use sight, smell or a mixture of both, I feel I am accommodating all of its senses, including by flavouring maggots with flavoured powders or a quirt or two of oil based flavouring. The mixed sizes of feed pellets from 1mm to 4mm is to ensure a range of breakdown time and achieve a range in distance they will feed down the line of the swim, these will also escape the holes of a kamasan black cap feeder well too.

You can alter the rate by taping up some of the holes if you feel that feed is being released too quickly or bore out the holes if you feel that feed rate is too slow. On too many occasions now, I have found that after doing a regular routine and finding things slow, a little change like that does bring quite instant results. Important though to keep the casting regular and alter the bait amount or feed rate instead of casting less or more to alter rate. I have faith in the black cap feeders, but on a couple of occasions now, I have cast in and felt the rig hadn't landed right and immediately retrieved it, only to find that the feeder had emptied, at the point I taped up some of the holes. Although this has been mental note time, it has only been in certain flows and depths, but worth bearing in mind none the less. Sometimes I feel that with Barbel fishing, trying to get everything right, isn't as important as ensuring that you don't get certain things wrong, as with any fishing, when it comes to feed/feeding related aspects, these are high on the important list.

Float fishing for Barbel has you constantly thinking, especialy about feed/feed rate and it has taught me much about feeder/lead fishing for them and caused me to sit and think more about what might be happening when feeder/lead fishing. However, possibly my biggest learning curve taken from float fishing for them is to always use and feed some hemp when using the feeder/lead, mixed in with pellets in the feeder (keep in separate tubs though) or also loose fed over the top, I am convinced that some of my recent successes have been due to hemp triggering them and then holding them. Buy it in bulk bags and prep some as required: Soak for 24hrs in water, then put it in a flask, pour in boiling water-leaving a gap for expansion-leave for 24hrs in the sealed flask, sieve it off under cold water and freeze in one pint batches. Stick as much as you want in the fridge a day before you go to ensure that it thaws thoroughly yet stays fresh and it will be ready for your session.





In terms of using groundbait/feeder, it is another option and again many use this to good effect. It is something I have done, especially after chomping at the bit after watching Matt Hayes and Mick Brown combine pellets and groundbait on 'that episode' of the rod race! However it isn't something I have done for any length to be able to feel competent to comment on, aside from reading that it can be great for establishing that trail of bait and conversely when mixed stiff and packed tight it can be used to give a slow release 'bait and wait' approach. People do use a mix either made from ground pellet (matching the hook bait type)or method mixes or a bit of both. I have seen the slow release work on the Trent at Collingham, whereby an angler upstream of me had a fantastic afternoon of Barbel after Barbel, albeit after a slow night and morning. Was this the method being used, it's application switching them on or the fact that they just turned up and fed? Either way it worked when my regular casts of pellet feeder didn't. There lies another contradiction, when using a standard block end feeder it is important to be casting regular and getting the bait running through, although does that regular casting spook the fish?

I am trying to not leave more questions than answers for you, but sometimes only getting out there, seeing and doing these things will give you the answers you need to the questions your personal angling and experiences raises.

In this section I have tried to get across what I feel is a changing face of things and how a day trip angler can give themselves the best chance of a success or two. People will always fish with what they feel the most confident with and I do feel that the river itself and what is going in it regularly must have a part to play in that decision. It then gives you a choice, do you follow the crowd or give the Barbel something different, either approach may work and this is just one of the possible contradictions of Barbel fishing: are they thinking hello here we go again and shying off until later when they mop it up, or are they going to think lovely, we like this food and here comes some more? On some stretches of the Trent for example it is pellet and boilie all the way for some, for others they may be fishing with traditional baits and catching just as well, each to their own, may be it isn't always what is being used, so much as where and how it is being fed and presented...........
 

Northantslad

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5. Terminal Tackle and Rigs

In the section on tackle and luggage I mentioned the need for travelling light and this becomes ever more important when you consider terminal tackle and rig components, remembering that the majority of weight in this respect is made up of leads, feeders and additional attachable/detachable leads-sometimes referred to as 'dead cow leads'.

You do need to balance this aspect and be prepared though with plenty, a good Barbel peg will invariably be a good peg due to nearby snags and many a good Barbel river will have these in abundance and can eat tackle up all day. If however I start to lose kit after kit and I suspect a fish welfare issue is present I will move.




These handy add on weights, designed to be attached to feeders, are perfect for getting your weighting just right to just hold bottom. I do prefer the design in the top right, as it is a perfect fit over the existing lead on black cap feeder. The rounded bottom dead cows fit over the opposite side of the feeder and although works, isn't my first choice, as I feel it may make the feeder unstable and could encourage it to roll. I get my preferred ones from Browns Angling centre, although I am sure they are available elsewhere too. You will need the dead cows in 1 to 4oz, although I do try and get the heavier black top feeders in the first instance (40g). 1oz = 28g. On some days you do get a break from casting such weight and the feeder alone at 1.5oz will suffice.

On the rivers I fish and of course conditions dependent you generally find that on the Severn, anything from a total weighting of 1-3oz is required, with a few more ounces if in flood (depending where you are casting). The Trent can be and generally is a little of a different 'animal' and I have had to use 6oz at times. In the image below the top left 'gripper type' lead is a 6oz.



I look to generally match the lead colour and texture to what may be on the bottom and there are some that take this aspect even further with some very cunningly disguised leads, my thoughts on both these points is that every little helps when it comes to wary and equally cunning Barbel. The gripper type lead, as the name suggests utilises small feet to aid holding, the hole in the centre has it's uses too; paste or wetted pellet can be plugged into it to give extra attraction and I also find that when using a PVA bag, the lead nestles better in the bag of pellets as they fit around the lead and in the hole.

For PVA work I use ESP mesh and after looking at some of the Barbel Days and Ways footage, stumbled across the need for the bag to be positioned at the lead instead of down by the hook/hooked onto the hook. Prior to this I always used to pull the hooklength through the bag instead of hooking it as I just imagined the weight on sinking ripping the hook out.I will use PVA when I am not looking to cast often and in a tight near bank swim where the chance of spooking by regular casting is amplified. Although I sink my lead into the bag, there are available also swivels to clip the bag onto, I just like neat parcel approach.

In terms of feeders you we are really spoilt for choice nowadays and each have their uses.




Top right is a recent addition from Korum, whereby wetted pellets can be plugged into the single open end. The top middle two can be for wetted pellets, groundbait or a mixture of both, applying the usual rule for feeders as cage for shallower water and open end for deeper or to create a slow release. Left is a large open end that can be used when plenty of feed is needed or even for baiting up. Front three are a Drennan 'maggot' feeder (left) used when plenty of particles are being fed and then middle and right the ever reliable and versatile black caps in large and small sizes.

When it comes to constructing the rigs, I always use a free running set up, you can use fixed but I choose not to as in my experience the next place a hooked Barbel will seek out, after firstly shooting across the current is a snag and therefore for fish safety reasons I avoid fixed rigs, even though I appreciate they can be constructed to be 'safe'. Secondly when it comes to Barbel feeder/lead rigs there is no need for anything except simplicity. There are generally three free running options, I find at the heart of these is a very handy swivel with a crook at one end to attach the looped end (figure of eight) of your hooklength and a standard end to join your mainline using your favoured knot, mine is a tucked blood knot of seven turns.




In all cases you are trying to create a rig that prevents the hooklength wrapping itself around the feeder/lead swivel connection, making a boom effect that kicks the hooklength out. You will know it has happened as firstly you may see it and find yourself untwizzling it or you will see signs of kinked line on the first few centimetres of the hooklength. Using a tailrubber on the hooklength will start to create the necessary boom and it also secures the loop in the crook for all of the options below. In the images, mainline is always from the left and hooklength to the right.

The first option below is possibly the simplest as it uses the fewest rig components a tail rubber on each side of the swivel, this design does also create a slight bolt effect given the increased friction between rubber and swivel eye, yet remains safe and free running.



The next design is by using a buffer bead or a similar bead is an alternative yet similar design, the one pictured below is a Drennan one.




The final design is a little more complicated, yet still simple, but of the three does give me the best results I have found, in reducing those tangles. The attachment for the feeder/lead enabling you to switch feeder/s or to a lead, is relatively short, an important factor in reducing tangling. The previous two designs, if you are wanting to be flexible (sometimes you may want to swap from feeder to lead), relies on you attaching an additional quick change swivel to the lead/feeder, which increases the length dramatically, which increases the risk of tangles. Unless you are dead certain that you won't be changing during a session then the Korum run rig kit below is my choice.



I have found that by using the above, ensuring that I feather the line on landing (dabbing the spool as the rig lands to straighten out the hooklength) and by casting downstream I have all but eliminated the hooklength tangling issue. You would all but eliminate the issue by just attaching your lead or feeder direct to the mainline, but I wouldn't advise this, as precious time is wasted in breaking down the rig if you did want to change feeder/lead. Also and hopefully you will find this too, that a quick change from a feeder to lead is sometimes the type of tweak that brings instant results, due to doing something to your feeding/feed rate. If it isn't happening, then you will be amazed at the number of times a change rewards you, you the thinking angler, not the one all but asleep behind your rods.

There will be times where you have had a long journey, not relishing the equally long journey back and are simply tired and may be after 6 hours fishless, seriously losing your motivation, in those situations, then do something, try something (not necessarily filling in a load of bait-may be the opposite-cutting it right back). A move may also help to refresh you and this does pay off sometimes, there will be some that advocate moving after an hour or two, however on these day ticket stretches, ensure you have somewhere to move to first. Whatever you try or choose to alter, that journey back feels so much better having got a fish. On the matter of moving or even initial peg selection, unless you have first agreed upon having a social and sitting close together, then I generally try and avoid other anglers out of politeness and due to the fact that you are then not competing for the same fish sometimes.



Moving down to the hooklength brings firstly another aspect you can alter during a session and that is its length and making a switch can sometimes bring instant results. After a tip from our B&B landlord some years ago, we found our results improve dramatically by using hooklengths in excess of 3ft in length. We regularly go up to 6ft with some going longer than that, I personally generally stop at 6ft due to the invariably high banks and the casting issue, although some get around this when going longer by placing the coiled up hooklength in a bucket prior to casting to prevent it snagging up.

Never walk straight past that big stinging nettle or clump of Himalayan balsam on your way down, without trimming it first, if you see it, then you can guarantee that at some point during the session, you will snag on it on the back swing!

I have prepared numerous hooklengths that can be stored on those handy foam spools above, to suit the differing baits and sizes I use. My reading tells me that in all cases the bait does need to be close to the bend of the hook and if possible near to a bit of the shank of the hook. For that reason I use bait bands in a hair rig for pellets from 6mm to 11mm. I did used to tie a standard hair, but found that I was needing to then tie a hair of varying lengths for each bait and when trying to get the bait and then a pellet stop through made things awkward in achieving the right bait position once it was pushed down onto the stop. I know some use a long hair to avoid hooking Chub and thus disrupting the swim (Chub peck at baits), but as I advised, I don't mind the sizeable Chub you are likely to catch and my priority is a set up suiting hooking Barbel first.

If I am for instance using an 8mm pellet I will have a 3ft and 6ft hooklength premade ready to go (the Korum rod rests have a handy little hole that I use to hang a hooklength in ready). I will start with one and then switch after a few casts and this will bring you a bite, it keeps the Barbel guessing and ultimately trips them up. On some days you will find that you get regular little taps and knocks after the feeder has landed and in that situation, the fish clearly aren't being spooked by the feeder and are feeding near it, so my 3ft hooklength gets shortened in that situation to 18inches.

In terms of hooklength material, I use fluorocarbon due to its self sinking properties and its clarity, I have found that 10lb guru pure fluorocarbon works well. Some do avoid 'flouro' as given the geology of such rivers and rocks etc, its abrasion resistance qualities aren't the best, I have found no issues however and I would say if I had. Braid is an option for the entire hooklength, although, despite contemplating it at one point for the whole length, I was put off it's use by reading an account by a well respected Severn angler who advised he had seen it literally fillet the flank of Barbel. Monofilament 'mono' is another option in 8/9/10lb or so and plenty of anglers use it, I have too in the past, finding that Preston reflo was/is a good option. Some will also combine flouro and braid or mono and braid into a combi-rig, again, as with any other materials, this also has its place in favour by some.

On the final matter of hooks, I find the ever popular Drennan Barbel Specialist a good choice and also the Korum Expert Power having a slightly larger gape for boilie fishing. Size of hooks is much debated and my reading tells me that you shouldn't worry about size (large hooks) too much due to the way Barbel feed. However, and in keeping with one of the key aspects I am trying emphasise through this guide, is that times change and the Barbel we are targeting a more wary, if I can limit their waryness by avoiding an overly large and therefore heavy hook, then I have removed another potential for error, even a more subtle size will still prick them when they pick up the bait. You cannot sacrifice strength though, so the above brands and design in size 12s down to 16 are generally my norm, only deviating from this for may be large pieces of meat.
 

JohnLondon

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Very good read & will no doubt be of benefit to most of us
 

Captain Pugwash

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To a newcomer to barbel fishing this is a great insight and answers many questions I needed answers to.
Thanks for taking the time to help others succseed in their quest.
 

Northantslad

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Welcome[:T]

Being the visiting angler, the little I do know has taken a good few years to understand, so if I cut that time down for anyone, then happy days.
 

Phoenixicus

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On the point of long hook lengths making a difference this is something that has become more apparent in recent years,especially on clear rivers such as the Teme.
The high banks and prolific balsam follage on the Teme have made using this method a real problem.
To get around this I loosely coil the hook link and tie a loose knot with pva string.

We trialled/watched it over quite a few casts and never experienced any tangles.
Not something I like to do everytime as I like to keep my angling simple-it is though an easy solution and helps achieve results.
 

Northantslad

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6. The Rivers

The information I have provided so far can be utilised and even adapted to suit the River you are planning to or do fish, in terms of my location it has evolved that both a Trent and Severn day trip is viable, in the case of the lovely surroundings of the middle Severn, this is our weekender venue. Other Rivers such as the Ouse and Wye to name a couple of many more are also recognised Barbel rivers.

One of the reasons I return to my Barbel books regularly and cannot rate them highly enough for, is that regardless of location, the Barbel, biologically and physiologically doesn't change and the books I will recommend at the end of the guide have information in abundance on the fish itself, invaluable regardless of where you plan to target them, whilst also giving some relevant location related information.

There are rivers throughout the country containing Barbel, some where the species are indigenous and some where they were stocked, such as is the case with my beloved Severn, at over 200 miles in length being Britain's longest river.

The Severn's source in the Welsh mountains is at Plynlimon, running through Powys and after flowing in a North Easterly direction to Shrewsbury, then through Ironbridge, it then turns in an all but Southerly direction into Shropshire, through Bridgnorth and down to Bewdley. Taking in Worcestershire and then finally Gloucestershire, where it empties into the Bristol Channel.

Rivers are commonly divided up into three sections; The Upper, Middle and Lower. In the case of the Upper Severn, as the water comes from the mountains, the colder water temperatures generally don't support all aspects of Barbel breeding and habitation and whilst Barbel may be found more upstream than Shrewsbury, it isn't until you get there and downstream of there, where you are approaching the recognised 'Barbel Zone'. The generally warmer water temperatures and the widening river at this point leading to some ideal locations for breeding, feeding and habitation. The Middle Severn (Bridgnorth to Bewdley) containing its alternating shallows and deeper glides, is sometimes referred to as 'Barbel Alley'.

If you have had a particularly late night, early start to either your journey or when sampling the nightlife, then the Steam Trains of the Middle Severn running nearby to the river on some stretches will keep you awake if the fishing hasn't! It is a sound adding to the serenity though and not one that ever puts you off.

Before looking at in detail the Middle Severn, it is worth giving some thoughts on when you should be fishing this stretch. An observation a local angler sometimes makes in jest of visiting anglers, is that they fish the wrong times, shaking their head when they disappear to the pub at 5 oclock in the height of summer into autumn. You will often see the 'wise' angler along the bank in later afternoon coming to fish the 'primetime'. These will tend to be anglers with enough local and current knowledge and skills to catch in four hours what the visiting angler might catch all day.

To counter that viewpoint, you are sometimes on a weekender combining your trip with an opportunity to enjoy yourself in the pubs and I will again, come back to the point also that on some of these stretches you do need to be getting a peg asap. Sitting for a day taking in scenery I don't get to see too often also sways it for me. I can picture now the local angler shaking that head again at this statement, that is fair, but If I was fortunate enough to be living on the river I would be doing exactly that too, to the point of giving up all other forms of fishing I do.

In some recent years and across various locations, we (we being sometimes around 6 anglers) have gone into dusk and first dark and can honestly say that between all those rods, the number of Barbel caught in that time has been very minimal compared with daytime captures. You could look at that in terms of well 8 fish in 8 hours of daytime, is the same rate as 1 fish in 1 hour of dark. True, but we just haven't had the indications or feelings that the all anticipated witching hour will provide some upturn in catches.

In terms of day ticket sections, you will find plenty in and around Bridgnorth, such as the Golf Course and Caravan Park at Danesford (tickets and parking ticket from tackle shop in Bridgnorth in advance).

Downstream takes you to possibly one of the most famous Barbel stretches on the Severn, that of Hampton Loade (day ticket on bank and pay parking in box in car park), moving down brings you to Highley (day ticket on bank), then Bewdley (ticket in advance in tackle shop).

Arley however, between Bewdley and Highley a Birmingham Anglers Association (BAA) section has now gone from a day ticket bought in advance stretch to full BAA membership now being required. A BAA membership will give you plenty of other areas too if you have plenty time on your hands to fish them. I am hoping that this change has eliminated the sort of issues we can only suspect they must have been experiencing, but also wonder if it has resulted in less anglers on the bank on the membership sections? (both an advantage and disadvantage depending on your opinion of what attracts ands keeps Barbel keen). We have certainly noticed it being much busier on the day ticket sections since the switch.

The Barbel angling available doesn't by any means stop after Bewdley, although I have yet to venture any further downstream of there at present, so don't profess to being knowledgeable about it.

In terms of a stark contrast, the Trent on the stretches I frequent, represents a vastly different river. Its sheer size and power can be daunting, but, when compared with the Severn, it will give you your better chance of a double figure fish. Plenty do fish through the night and be prepared to often find a handful of overnight anglers present on your arrival, this likelihood of a double, I have found however isn't limited to night fishing. To give you some indication of this likelihood and when coupled with tactics a day angler may choose to employ, of my several Trent doubles, my current pb was on a 6mm pellet and prior to that it was a fish caught on double maggot.

You have plenty of day ticket water to go at, yet after one of our favourites-Farndon, went over to Newark membership our recent plans currently surround Winthorpe (Non tidal) with its deep areas lending itself to colder month fishing and Collingham (tidal) for the remaining times of the year. The divide between the tidal and non tidal stretches being Cromwell Weir and a gauge when fishing the tidal sections is that tide at Collingham will be four hours after it occurs at Hull.


Although the tides will vary in height, it can be useful to bait heavily as it is rising, then ease on this aspect as starts to run off. It is certainly sometimes a strange and bizarre experience to see the river flowing left to right from the Collingham side bank, to seeing it change and then stop briefly. Due to the variance in tides and whatever existing water levels there may be, it is worth researching both in advance, if only to know where to sit and to prevent constantly shifting up the bank on high one. (water levels and tide times are available on the net).

Throughout the year this will vary from times where you barely notice, to times where it falls as quickly as it rises and on occasion where a fast rise takes the remainder of the day to fall.

I find it fascinating that the Barbel record has held since the Ouse fish in 2006, looking at the fish that are coming out of the Trent, there shouldn't be any reason why the next record doesn't come from the Trent. Although I do worry why, after regular record pushing and beating of record fish occurred in the time up to 2006, now twelve years on the record hasn't been beaten.
 

paulstep

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Thank you for an excellent write up.
I'm a complete novice when it comes to river fishing.
Catching a Barbel is a dream but at this moment in time catching anything from the river is my target.

Can you give us some advice about swims?

I have read many times the phrase "feed up your swim", how do I know what a swim is?

Do you simply look at a promising/fishy looking stretch of water and feed it up or is it more in-depth?

The river that I am learning to fish is very fast flowing with a stony/rocky bottom and very little in the way of weed. It's depth varies from 1m to 6m. It has a good head of fish from A to Z (no Salmoniden).

Thanks.
Paul.
 

Northantslad

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Hi Paul,

Thanks.

A 'swim' is a term that is used to describe part of the peg in which you are fishing. On a river, depending on its size, you may have one swim on a smallish river (to avoid spreading bait everywhere) or several on a larger river, hence a swim is the part of the river in which you are fishing and will therefore be feeding. I am applying this first bit to a general approach and when targeting mixed species.

The river itself and the features in certain sections will determine what species are present:

Bream/Tench will generally be found in the wider/slower/deeper sections.

Chub are a good target as they will generally feed year round and can be found in pacey water or anywhere with some overhanging tree cover, you may find Dace also in the Chubby areas. Maggots and 'feeding your swim regularly' is a good way to go for Chub, by fishing a float. I am going to do a section on float fishing for Barbel in this guide and although pellets will catch sizeable Chub, you could for a start adopt the same tactics, but use maggots instead of pellets.

Roach like a bit of flow, although are a little more conditions sensitive.

Perch can be targeted with worm in near bank cover or around bridges/structures.

Bleak can be caught quite shallow, again on maggot.

Barbel, dependent on water temperatures and time of year can be found in many of the features I describe below.


In terms of where to fish or what constitutes a swim, then aside from the type of features mentioned above, the river itself and the bottom contours will give you some clues to fish holding places.

Looking across the width of a river, you will sometimes see that not all of the water is moving at the same pace, you could have a tree causing the water downstream of it to be slower (slacker/ a slack) behind it for example. In many cases fish can be found where bends or double bends- 's bends' cause a different in flow. The water on the outside of a bend, moving faster will have and will be carving out a deeper channel than on the inside of bend. You will find what we term beach pegs on the inside of bends, where the slower water deposits gravel and doesn't disturb the existing bank or sediments as much. In all cases, a variation in flow will cause the faster water to act like a conveyor for food and fish will sit just into the slack water and move into the faster water to feed. Where fast water meets slow, this is known as a crease, sometimes very visible, sometimes needing a good look to see what the river is doing.

Outsides of bends may also have their banks undercut by the fast water and these can he fish holding spots, be careful though and fish these from the opposite bank though or from a safe position, don't sit on top of an undercut bank.

Interesting that you mention a variation in depth on your river, try and find the points where the bottom drops off flowing down into deeper water or where a deep run then starts to shallow up, fish do like these features.

If you a starting out and looking to fish the river, then you also have two further options to help you. Walk the river trying to spot such features, don't take any kit or you will be too keen to fish it it! You can also talk to anglers you find on the bank and take note of where they are sitting and see what they are targetting, do people tend to be fishing the same areas? Are there any pegs that always seem busier than others? Taking time in summer when water levels are lower, can also be a good time to see features that may not be obvious when the water levels are up.

With rivers you will also need to find out what the ticket/day ticket arrangements are for fishing. Local tackle shops or people on here can be really helpful and for finding out what fish are present in your river.

Hope this helps you Paul and feel free to ask again in future.[:T]
 

paulstep

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Thank you for the clarity that you have just given me.
I guess I'll be walking the banks of the river for a bit.
 

Northantslad

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7. Float Fishing for Barbel-Introduction.

Fishing for Barbel this way for me, came about really for several reasons. Although float fishing has got me thinking a lot more when I am fishing the feeder and made me better at a feeder approach, there were times and still are times where my need to be active and feeling I am 'doing something' to affect things takes over. In a self-aware way I am happy to call that the point at which my feeder fishing ability has been stretched to it's limit, somewhat earlier than it may occur for other and better feeder anglers.

In the just over two years I have fished the float for them intermingled with feeder sessions still and not at the expense of feeder fishing, my catches on the float have been getting steadily better. I have personally found my success rates have come quicker than the near on ten times that spent at getting my feeder fishing to a point where confidence accompanies me on my journeys up and more regularly than they don't, happy memories come home with me.

Yes, I love being out and enjoying the surroundings and sitting watching my rods in anticipation, but a point was reached for me a few years back during a slow feeder session, where, after experiencing several slow sessions in far from ideal feeder conditions, catching nothing but the sun, I felt I needed to add another tactic to my armoury. If I come away from a Barbeless float session, having felt I have utilised the options that float fishing gives; exploring the peg fully and having made every tactical change float fishing enables, then I am much happier than when coming away fishless having explored the sometimes limited options I can personally muster up when feeder fishing.

To date and comparing sessions where I have fished with others and also sessions on my own, I wouldn't say at present that float fishing has caught me any more Barbel than those fishing the feeder. Whilst I'm not in competition with anyone, I do use everyone's results as a gauge. What I am 100% sure of though is that times where I have opted for a float approach and caught Barbel has seen me not catch any less than most who were on a feeder. I would even go as far as to say that I am also sure that had I opted for a feeder on some of those occasions I would have been risking the dreaded blank on places where there are numerous educated wise Barbel, yet only a small handful of reliable feeder pegs where they will oblige.

The point about wise Barbel and pegs lending themselves to differing tactics, was part of my self-reasoning to go for it and sometimes and in some places, a moving bait, presented well, will be viewed with less caution than a static one. Add to this that the general rule of when to go for a float approach; water clarity of around 2 feet or more, then I have all the persuasion I need. Again though, don't be too rigid in your factoring that you apply when deciding which approach to adopt. Remembering that in my case I am usually a day tripper, I can't load up into my relatively small car both float and feeder gear and after having researched conditions in advance, will then see me choose a tactic. Sometimes my wish to 'fish the float this time', coupled with safe conditions to do so is all I need if I fancy a change.

On my most recent float session on the Severn, I knew in advance that water levels were up ever so slightly for summer and would be right on the safe limit for me to not only wade out to bait drop, but also to fish from the near bank water on my box. I also knew that the water would be coloured more than usual for the time of year. Due to my mate taking his van I was able to experiment somewhat. I fished the float in the morning catching Chub to 3lb and a couple of Barbel to 4lb. Fishing the feeder in the afternoon in a different peg saw me complete my experiment, catching two Barbel to 7lb. My mates fishing the feeder all day also caught well.

Even though my day trips are limited as much as they are precious too me, learning does have to incorporate an element of experimentation sometimes and that session not only paid off in terms of end results leading to conclusions, but also taught me about knowing when to float fish, the boundaries for those conditions may be more wider ranging than I first thought. Although in my mind I am hearing the cautionary 'don't accept one event as the norm' phrase, I do have to take successes as a step in the right direction, and my Northants based steps take time, oh to live on that river........

I have gone into my reasoning for float fishing for Barbel in quite some depth and the most recent session detailed above really emphasises that you do have options and that you shouldn't always follow the rules 'dictating' tactics based on conditions too rigidly.

If you needed any further encouragement to have a go at float fishing for Barbel, then take the feeling you got of playing and catching one on a feeder/lead, a feeling which is second to one and one only..........catching one on a float rod. Both are thrilling and unlike anything else, but when that float dips from view and you strike, your first thought at the solid feeling, is snag, but when that 'snag' starts moving across the current and then lunging, your nerves may be in tatters, but the excitement is beyond any words I can write.
 

Northantslad

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8. Float Fishing Set up and Application (waggler).

If you have float fished before on running water, then possibly the best way to think about float fishing for Barbel, is to just consider that everything increases a stage or two in size, whether it be the floats and tackle you are looking to use, through to the flow of the river itself in places. Whilst also one of the advantages of a float approach means you can fish lighter lines in comparison with feeder fishing, the tackle does still need to be a step up from regular float fishing so you can control the fight and be efficient in getting the Barbel in. Barbel, as much as they are strong, are also prone to giving everything in the fight and the last thing anyone wants to see is a fish played out to a point where recovery is prolonged or worse, unlikely.





In this section and in keeping with aiming the guide at a newcomer, I will be writing it so that someone could go straight into it, may be not having float fished before, people have to start somewhere, yet also containing info that may help an existing float angler have a go at adapting their approach to go for Barbel.

After looking at what you are looking to achieve and where to try and achieve it, I will run through how a typical session starts off.

When float fishing rivers, generally you are looking for a swim that provides a visible surface flow strength similar to a walking pace, this can be good for Barbel, as can a flow likened to a brisk walking pace. Although I am looking for around 6 to 8ft in depth, with the right floats and set up, you can target shallower more pacey runs. My experiences have revolved around the steady flow in that 6 to 8ft depth range, so that is where I am basing this part of the guide.

Fishing this way you are looking for a set up that allows you to present the bait moving/dragging along the bottom by fishing over depth and running the float through at a pace matching or just slower than what is visible on the surface.

I favour stretches of river where I have a gradual gravel bank under my feet (look for insides of bends) with a deeper section on the far side of the river. To fish this deeper far side, I have stood on the gravel and in shallow water if it is covered slightly, utilising two rod rests and having my bait and a few essentials-split shot, scissors, forceps, disgorger in a pouch around my waist. Catapult/s hang on a rod rest and taking spares is advisable, as the last thing you want is to get going in a session and then find your catty breaks. Considering though that you are constantly active with feeding and casting, it can be tiring on the feet and body, but ok for a few hours.



Shakespeare chest waders, purchased from go outdoors at a reasonable price.


I much prefer setting up my box and footplate (longer/extendable legs are a must) and sitting on that for longer sessions. With a small side tray and wedging your landing net pole down the side of the box, it is more than comfortable. As previous though, the deepest I will do this in for safety reasons is around 2 ft maximum. Try and keep the landing pole from sticking out too far behind you or the water can soon sweep it round, using a wide mesh landing net will also enable water to pass through it with less resistance and also make netting fish easier in what is still sometimes surprisingly strong current in the near bank shallows. Rod rest box attachments for the rod and its butt complete this set up.





As I am looking to fish well beyond rod length into the far side flow from the nearside, I am looking to fish a waggler set up. Sometimes it can be nice to wade out and fish a stick float off the end of the rid tip down the far channel, it can sometimes actually pay off to try a stick float presentation or vice versa if one isn't working. I cannot emphasise enough though safety when wading out on these rivers and take every step carefully and plant a foot firmly before lifting the other. Turning sideways slightly and facing the flow as you move out also helps with stability and awareness. My limit is when the water is touching the bottom of my pouch, bodily wise that is just below where your belt would sit. Seriously, do not underestimate the power of these rivers, even in the shallows.

If you are new to float fishing a river, then regarding the above part about fishing a stick or waggler; much depends where you are running your rig through. If it is close in or when wading, on a line near to the rod tip then a stick float is a good choice, if having to cast the rig beyond/well beyond the rod tip, then a waggler is the right choice. In essence it is all about being able to keep the line straight behind the float and not having the line pulling the float and therefore bait unnaturally across the river. When anglers talk about 'mending' the line, they are flicking the rod tip over in a rolling type motion to get the line back behind the float after casting or during the run. A natural presentation and run through is much helped when the wind/breeze is travelling upstream/in the opposite direction to the flow. A downstream wind can challenge the best of anglers when float fishing.

So, I have my box/fishing position established, facing downstream slightly, the first thing to do is to wade out and plumb the depth of where I am looking to fish. This is achieved far easier and more accurately by just putting a stick float (I will be waggler fishing) on the line, no weights and by tying a 2oz lead on the bottom, keeping the rod high and lowering the float carefully in will help to avoid the current dragging on the float and line and give a better indication of depths. Conscious that I am wading in fairly close proximity to the swim, trying to establish depths in the run and possibly scaring every fish in sight, I try and minimise my movements of course, but this first stage is essential in getting your set up right, your whole setup and float choice will be based partly on the depth.

Having established an idea of depth/s, I will place the lead at the rod butt, line tight and mark on the rod with tip ex or make a mental note (two rings from the join etc) where the tip of the float is. Don't be keen to get set up and fishing at this point, as that can be done after some initial feeding, thus giving any keen fish some time to move in.

Feeding, as is the case with much of angling, is key and whilst you can rely purely on loosefeeding with your catapult on the waggler, ensuring you feed well upstream of where your float starts its run to account for depth/flow, I much prefer starting off by wading out and bait dropping some feed at the start of the line (the point just downstream of where you float lands on casting) and importantly for me, down on the bottom where a bait dropper will get it.

After casting and if the set up is correct, the float and rig should settle down and be 'fishing' after around a metre or so of travel, as the weights pull the float and line down. You should bear this in mind for where you bait drop, you are looking to create a point or zone of the run through where you are looking to catch, hence also the consideration of where you loosefeed with your catapult; essentially your a looking for your feed to meet your hookbait at a point downstream of where you casted to.


Tipping a pint of hemp into my waist pouch and a good handful of mixed pellets (same as my feeder mix), I then wade out and bait drop, lowering it down on a tight line. A tip when using a bait dropper is to not assume that it has emptied completely on landing, as sometimes is the case, it fully empties as you lift/wind it back up. I think the current sometimes causes it to land not on the weight, but lid side down, being over keen to retrieve it will see you deposit bait across the swim or not have it open at all. I like to feel it land, then give it a short sharp vertical lift and bump down, then I will retrieve it and repeat until I have fed the pellets and hemp mix.




Rod for my bait dropper is one of my Barbel feeder rods with 10lb line on, they handle the modest size of bait dropper I use. I avoid using the large size dropper, due to noise and if I have an inaccurate placing, then I haven't put most of my bait in the wrong place. You will also notice it Is black in colour and will avoid flashing and potentially spooking.

With the swim and feed settling, you can start to assemble your rod. To give me control over the float and line I use a 15ft power float rod. Reel is a 5000 size (shimano again for me) spooled with 6lb mainline. The reel may seem a little large, but you can then trot through and explore at some length (nearby anglers permitting), also there is quite some pressure on the reel when retrieving the bulky and weighty float against strong currents.

First thing to go on the line is a quick change float adapter as experimenting with float size during a session and subsequently the pace at which it runs through can sometimes make the difference. Remember, what we see in terms of pace on the surface, isn't what is going on down where the bait and fish are. You can buy the adapters, but I also recycle old swivels and old trimmed down tail rubbers and make my own.




Personally when it comes to river fishing I rarely look beyond the advice and guidance Dave Harrel gives. I have found his floats, as you might expect when he designed the 'speci-waggler' range specifically, perfect for the job. After researching prior to buying, then actually using them, you realise exactly the buoyancy, whilst still enabling responsiveness (to a bite) is key to them.




When it comes to float choice on the day, I have found all of the following points from a range of sources useful too and it has aided me in correcting errors I have made in the past:

Don't have a favourite or go to float because you will go to it when it may be the wrong choice on the day.

Choose a float that bosses the swim and not one that causes the opposite to happen.

For Barbel float fishing consider the float you think is up to the job and then choose the next size up.

When thinking of the weight of the float to use, don't just think this is based on how far you need to cast, but also the weight you need to include down the line.

The speci-wagglers pictured, range in weighting from 5AAA to 6SSG (4g to 9.6g) and you can aim for a starting point on the day of a 1g per foot of depth rule, remembering that you can easily change floats and thus go up or down on the 'rule'. The only shot I use for this fishing are tubs of SSG, AAA, No'4s and No'6s. The larger being used for the main bulk loading around the float, perhaps using a few 4s around the float too on the 'hookside' of the float, so you can alter the pattern/spread down the line if a change to presentation is needed. In pacier water you can even do away with No6 shot if you feel that they (being relatively small) aren't achieving anything, but I do favour doubled up 6s to a single 4 sometimes. As is the quality of these floats though, you can observe even the effect of a No6 shot or two just easing the float down as it settles on its travel after casting.

Locking the float in place with SSGs/AAAs/No4s a foot over the depth I plumbed and marked off on the rod, I will then place a small bulk of shot 4s/6s at two thirds depth, with a single dropper 4/6 placed just above the hooklength loop to loop join. (hooklength is approx a) ft). I use hooks to nylon straight from the packet in size/breaking strains typically as below.





Attaching a bait band for the pellet Is simple and gives an effective presentation too. For hook baits I use 4 or 6mm pellets in the coarse (light coloured) and halibut (dark) varieties and again, as with much of Barbelling a change in size or colour during a session can bring results. If you are making up your baitdropping feeding mix, then ensure you put in some the same as your hookbaits. For loosefeed with the catapult, this is simply a mix of the hookbaits, as loosefeeding 1mm to 4mm pellets would see the spread too wide.











So, all ready to go......

It is strange sometimes how the order in which you cast/feed or feed/cast can make a difference, but I have found that feeding then casting works for me, so I can mend the line immediately, rather than put the rod down after casting to feed. I can't however explain all the possible variables and this aspect is something you need try on the day, the possibilities, due to where and how much the fish are feeding should see you suss out what is working. Honestly, the options are limitless with the catapulted feed aspect; single feeding, double feeding, feeding again during the run or/and again at the end, feeding alternate casts....

A few points I can endorse though experiences are that it is important to get into a comfortable rhythm, don't worry about putting the rod down to feed during the run (quickly) as these floats will continue happily down (bail arm open of course). Do experiment to find what is working and finally on this aspect, my better results have come when I have bait dropped initially and also loosefed each run through. Just doing the latter can bring fish, but I have found it gives less prolonged periods of action and has seemed to take longer to get action.



(I never could draw people, let alone in plan view-that is an alert angler and not one who is laying down sunbathing)[:)]



After casting just slightly downstream and observing the run through, if you feel that your float is moving too quickly, you can increase the depth to drag more line on the bottom or go up a size in float (weight), but although I advocate making changes in much of my Barbel angling, don't be too hasty in condemning something as not working, give things a fair/sometimes set amount of time. Ultimately, you need a fish/indication to help you make your mind up, if you chop and change all too readily during a session, then getting into a routine and catching fish may be unlikely. Barbel will also sometimes turn up out of the blue and you can't always predict when during you float session, but be prepared for a bite on any run through from first to last.

Some of the 'what to do and when' comes with trying and having a go and I am glad I decided to have a go at this type of fishing for Barbel, as it very quickly found its way to the top of my favourite list.
 

Northantslad

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9. Float Fishing (Stick Float -'Top and Bottom Float')

Well, as I write this piece, with just under a couple of weeks to go now before the closed season and amidst the annual closed season debates;I on the one hand feel that it is difficult to have a fixed close season date, when the breeding and spawning of particularly Barbel is so variable and conditions sensitive. Yet, I hope so far I have enthused you enough to appreciate that catching a Barbel, especially on the float, is for me, the biggest thrill in fishing, so if ever evidence is proved that the closed season protects, ensures and maximises fish numbers in our rivers, then I would be in full agreement of it.

At present I will give benefit of doubt to the fish welfare argument and if it means I have a few months dreaming and making that first day back on the river extra special then so be it.

The key to and one of the advantages of stick float fishing, is the direct control you have of the run through and due to direct control, the variations you can give to float running down the swim.

To be able to maximise the advantage that a stick can give you, you are looking for a peg/depth of water that enables you to fish the near bank run from the bank or the conditions/type of swim that allows you to wade out and fish runs that are further out. In essence you are needing to fish the stick float off the end of the rod tip or may be just a little more. Ideally, you are laying the rig in, may be a little flick out at most. If you find that you are having to cast the rig out to access the required part of the swim, then you should be using a waggler approach.

My advice in the previous chapter about ensuring your safety if choosing/'needing' to wade out, still applies, I cannot emphasise this enough.

Feeding techniques and how you feed are fairly much the same as described previously and can apply to bank fishing or being in the river. So having prepared the swim with baitdropped or loose fed baits and allowing the swim the all important rest, you can think about setting up.

Whilst there are 'long' rods going well beyond 15ft, these are generally used for a bolo float approach and I believe that if you have got your swim well chosen and suited for a stick float approach, then a 15ft rod will suffice. In some cases a 13ft rod is fine, especially if wading out-you have accessed the swim by wading. Overall on this decision you are looking to comfortably run the float down where you feel the fish will be. Generally I have found this to be between 4ft in ideal conditions to 8ft in clearer water, with variances in between. So in summary use the length of rod that reaches your swim, a long rod may help if you are wading out and the river bed drops off sharply or there are obstructions causing you to be well back.

In all cases and in terms of rod strength a standard match rod isn't up to the task, nor is in my opinion an overly powerful rod/top. Spliced tip rods can be a joy due to their specific design for enabling effective 'mending' of the line, a medium power rod in all cases is the best balance for getting the Barbel in quickly and working your float.

Reel choice brings in a decision:more modern fixed spool, a well favoured by some closed face or more traditional centre pin reels. Having caught Barbel on options one and three respectively, the centre pin felt the best and lends itself well to the guiding, cajoling and sometimes holding playing style you need with BarbeL in float fishing situations. In their promotion, I would also say that you feel in more control and can effect the run better, by easily braking the spool to hold the float back at any required amount.

On a waggler, you are using the river bed and weight of float to get the pace right, with a stick you have the added advantage of imparting the right pace by braking the spool.

Fixed spool reels will do the job, but you need a decent quality one with a reliable bail arm return mechanism, it can be tedious having to continually bring the arm back manually as opposed to dabbing the line, then striking and reeling automatically.



Remembering that my predicted usage is my basis for prices I pay, then I have found the Marco Cortesi centrepin above very good and my usual Shimano for my fixed spool reels, the only downside with some Shimano's being the supply of one spool only, it can be useful to have two centrepins (one with 4lb and one with 6lb line on) and 2 spools for your fixed spool reel with those same breaking strains of lines on. I favour 6lb mainline generally, but sometimes you may feel the need to try and effect things by scaling down a bit. With a centrepin avoid putting too much line on, as bedding in (the line sticking in) greatly affects that smooth run and lifts the float and subsequently the bait. Do, of course though ensure enough line loading to be able to run through the length of swim.

You are trying to make your hookbait (usually pellet) look natural as it trundles, rises, drops and creeps along the river bed. Any un-natural movements of your bait will result in it being ignored, whilst float fishing for them is giving you a big edge in providing a moving bait, Barbel aren't daft.







In terms of floats, the same rules apply as wagglers; these will be larger than typical stick floats as you are looking to present a largish bait (4,6, sometimes 8mm pellet)by dragging bottom and sometimes 'holding it back' which results in the bait 'naturally' fluttering up.



Never have a favourite float he says........I have had success in my favoured swim, of 6ft depth, using the above float, it is a Drennan 'big stick' of 3.5g (7 1/2bb). This weighting gives you an idea of typical weight floats you may need, this is of course approximately .5g per ft and the usual starting rule of a no'4 shot per foot rule for stick floats in general use, wont usually apply here.



For holding back and in more turbulent water, then the wire stemmed floats above, that incorporate a shoulder are of use. Again and in keeping with my 100% faith I have in Dave Harrell's floats, they are from his range.

In steadier swims, again in the 3 to 5g range you may find an Avon or Woody's float suffices and again, the shoulder gives you holding back capabilities, whilst being very buoyant and having longer tips for riding the swim and for visual purposes.

You can buy decent latex nowadays for retaining your float on the line and I like to keep it in as much air tight conditions as possible to reduce perishing/deterioration. I like the zip up compartments on the 'box' above and also keep my bait bands like that too, further insulating my rubbers in those handy little sealable tupperware boxes. The thin brown rubber comes with the slide on olivettes.

You don't want to get all the major preparations right, only to get on the bank and find these things have perished.




I find these strips (above) best and just trim off what I need for a float, always preferring fixings at the top, middle and bottom of the float. A good tip for the bottom one is, just like on a pole float, to make it longer and have a bit sticking off the bottom of the float to reduce the line getting up and over the top of the float.


Shotting couldn't be simpler, I use an olivette, set at 18 inches above the hooklength and that's it. There is simply no need to consider stringing out shot or considering alternative shotting patterns for this particular way of fishing for Barbel. I do prefer inline olivettes, secured with no'6 weights, for the neatness of it all and will go for these when I am dead certain I won't be changing floats or trying out different things. The easily removable sleeve on type of olivette do have their place though and if it is a new swim or you are considering an experimentation session, then these are great for ease of changing (you don't have to cut the rig). One word of caution is with these though, is given the work you put the rig through and in some of the more snaggy environments, they can, even with care putting them on, slip off sometimes.



Hooklength is loop to looped to the mainline and hooks are the same as the waggler set up, as is the banded pellet. There are plenty who will advocate fishing 'straight through'-no hooklength and hook tied direct to your mainline, I am sure this has its benefits, such as no weak links. However for me, it is important to have this weak link a hooklength provides, not of course to break off with fish on, if you have selected the right strengths this of course shouldn't happen, but simply to give if I get snagged, I don't want to lose the lot; floats are pricey and it wastes time setting up again and disrupts your feeding routine whilst setting up again.

Snags and Barbel go hand in hand, so for me the hooklength is essential. It has been a brilliant time in the last few years learning this way of fishing for them and I feel that float fishing, especially the stick, really puts you in touch with the Barbel and their environment. Float fishing gives you the option to bait and draw the fish up or take your hookbait to them, which during their more wary of moods can be just as good.

I remember some time ago, reading that Barbel sit behind obstructions; large rocks, weed beds, so when on two different sessions now I have ran the float passed such obstructions and got fish, the feeling of putting my reading into practice is a close second to the feeling through the rod as this beautiful fish powers across the river.

[:T]
 

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