11. Had this chapter mulling over in my head for the last few months, with the inspiration for it being a combination of thinking about just what it is that triggers Barbel to feed, what they will eat and whether it is the feed that triggers them. Although I am of course aiming for this to be useful, it may leave more un-answered questions than answers to them, but its the thinking that takes place that leads to ideas sometimes....................
The term trigger is one widely used in Barbel fishing and during those times when things are slow-something I can certainly vouch for........a Barbel bite sometimes seems to come out of no-where on occasions. It really is fascinating when I sit and think about those times when some activity occurs, I do mean times too, as on some stretches it has become apparent that in day time there are patterns emerging, that have happened too often for it not be accepted as something.
One thing I know I cannot do and it is something that no-one can do, that being to know what the Barbel is thinking, all therefore that can be done is to try and analyse in order to try and predict. Taking the aspects away that we have no control over, other than choosing to go or not; i.e. largely conditions, then I am sure that bait/feed must be high up there in playing a part in this triggering, in other words, the conditions do play a part, that of the river and the weather must be favourable, but bait surely has an influence.
I recall a session on the Trent some years ago and prior to this session I had obtained a brand of pellets that had very good reviews. Arrived in my peg, set up, cast out, turned round and sat down, just in time to see my rod tip nodding away, this bait had been in a minute at most........
If at this point you are expecting me to say that bait is everything and there are wonder baits, I am afraid that I will disappoint, at the time and although I said to myself something along the lines of 'blimey these are good' I had to take into account the remainder of the session to judge; no more Barbel in 5 hours. If you have read from the start or are some way into your Barbel journey, you will know that yes location is important, right down to pegs and where in the peg you cast, but there are other factors from this occurrence to take into account. With it being the first cast of my day, it represented for the Barbel their last bit of the dark hours, a time when night anglers will know they feed, with it generally being accepted that the first hour of darkness, the middle of darkness and the last hour of darkness being times when they do feed. So, in essence I got lucky with the time of the cast, with the only bit I will credit myself for, that of where I sat and where I cast. The feeder went in regular all day, same spot and containing the 'new' pellets, but I couldn't trigger a feed after that first cast action, it may have been the worst thing that could have happened in all honesty and could have spooked them for the rest of the day. The fish was a typical shoal sized fish too of around 3-4lb.
Fast forward a good few years to now and I do believe that if Barbel get their bibs on, then as long as you have bait out there that is palatable, where they wish to feed and is of at least a half decent quality and are presenting it correctly then action is likely to follow. I write that as respectfully as I can in reflection of the opinion that Barbel aren't easy to catch and as I have said before are the most condition sensitive fish there is, hence those five factors I mention, simply bear that out. If location is right then can they be that far away, likely they aren't.
So, this trigger, is it the volume of bait that has gone in during a session, that reaches a point where the Barbel can't ignore it, that next feeder load being the one to tempt them? Is it the bait itself as in what bait? Is the attention the bait receives from other species that makes the Barbel feel the need to compete? I can only at this stage answer one of those questions and it is the what bait question, this, does need to be right for the river and the conditions. I used to put those two the other way around, but now and after realising that for my favoured rivers they respond to different tactics, the tactics aren't too dissimilar in terms of what bait, just bait size and how it is presented.
If it was down to volume of bait, then instead of say using a typical black cap and triggering them by lunchtime, a thinking angler would soon think to use a larger feeder from the off and trigger them much sooner in the session, things just don't turn out like that. I have had a couple of sessions now in the same peg and in similar conditions, where in session one I eased in with an average sized feeder....the fish turned up just before 4pm, in session two I went for it (as an experiment) with large feeders from the off........the fish turned up at 4pm.
Either way, you have to have some bait out there for when they do arrive and in using varying sizes of feed can form that trail to lead them up. It is vital to be confident that the fish will turn up, if your confidence wains, then so does your effort and I think you just don't fish with any conviction in trying to make something happen.
There aren't wonder baits, but there is a train of thought that says keep on top of the game and don't follow the crowd, especially on stretches where the Barbel are pressured and see this pellet or that boilie every day. I hold with that thought to a certain extent, where I have recently been making my own concoctions, more on that in a minute, but by the same token, 'everyone' is using this pellet or that boilie, simply because they do and continue to catch fish. Again I come back to bait, amount, sizes and presentation being perhaps more critical. I never for example leave for the Severn without hempseed, but I would hazard a guess that as this bait must have been used by the tonne since the 80s up there, that sticking a good few pints of it down and on some pressured stretches could send the Barbel away in fear.
I still keep plenty of it frozen into one pint session packs and I usually use a couple of pints in a Severn feeder session, mixed with the pellet mix. A freezer can be a god send for the Barbel angler and another member of the household willing to let you use it, is an even bigger bonus.
Coloured water baits.
Larger and smelly can be the way to go in the hope that the smell draws the Barbel in and then when they get there, they have a sizeable reward for that energy used. I do wonder though, when they get there and in the case of luncheon meat (Bacon Grill proves to be the firmest), if they see/feel a neatly cut one inch and plain pink piece of meat do they ever think hello ere we go again........
Recently I have taken to preparing meat like this and in terms of flavouring it is certainly not something I have come up with:
On opening the bacon grill (all done at home-no tins taken to the river), cut it in one inch cubes.
Grate the edges and corners to make a rough non symmetrical shape-keep the shavings; mixed with mashed potato and cheese it makes a lovely patty so we can eat as well as our Barbel do, don't do this if the meat you bought isn't produced for human consumption!
Place the pieces (enough for a session) in a sealable freezer bag, add any powered and or liquid flavours*, blow into the bag and inflate it, holding the inflated bag, shake it to coat all the pieces.
Release the air, push any remaining air out and seal the bag.
Put it in the freezer and the day before the session, let it thaw slowly in the fridge, thawing slowly helps with the meat absorbing the flavours more effectively.
* Spicy, hot and/or meaty flavours tend to be well favoured
Reading through some of the angling weeklies and accounts where the bait is specified I wondered recently about not so widely used Boilies, in terms of flavours.
As a trial I have made some of my own boilies, well half of the mix frozen as a paste (for wrapping baits) and the other half boiled to make boilies and dumbells. Taking this basic recipe, the variations and flavours you can create are limitless:
12oz of base mix, readily available from shops selling carp baits
12oz of powdered/blitzed flavour (I blitzed up some of my favoured pellets, you could split this amount into two different but complementing powders)
2 tbl spoons of liquid flavouring (one tbl spoon if a high concentrate)
7 beaten eggs
Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl and whisk in the liquid flavouring. After mixing the dry powdered ingredients thoroughly, slowly add them to the egg mix whilst mixing, bring it all together to form a paste. If needs be add a little water to achieve a mix that doesn't stick to your fingers when handling.
Take half of the mixed paste and split it into two freezer bags-this gives you two sessions worth of paste.
Take the other half of the mix and shape into desired shapes (I did boilies and dumbells by rolling into thin lengths, cutting and then shaping by hand), boil in small batches for 2 minutes and place on kitchen paper to air dry. Can be handy to keep shuffling them to stop them sticking to the paper. Once dry to the touch and cool, freezer bag them up into session packs, label and put them in the freezer, again, pop in the fridge the day before the session to thaw slowly.
I enjoy making these concoctions and whilst there are plenty of shop bought baits to choose from that will catch fish, you just never know if ever they approach a bait and just turn slowly away again.
Nice read Northants very thought provoking! All those unanswered questions and theories are the stuff that keeps us going! I’m on the Severn Monday and Tuesday and the weather looks dire that’s after cancelling the last trip due to the levels!
Way I look at things is, we plan a trip a few weeks in advance and go regardless, unless its going to be unsafe or at risk of punishing ourselves in very bad weather. Last couple of years have taught me a lot about where Barbel will reside, even in normal levels as much as when it's up, especially on the Severn, now realising that I spent a good few years thinking I had to chuck as far as I could......well over the heads of a good few fish I suspect.
Hope you make it out and tight lines. Let us know in the Severn thread how it goes if you want to.
Yesterday....worked my way through pellet sizes (6 to 11mm) and colours (brown, red and plain/coarse), plus varying hooklength lengths, eventually a Barbel tripped itself up on an 8mm red pellet and a 3ft hooklength, bite came within 2 minutes of the cast.......reward for sitting it out in a cold wind and rain. Couldn't keep them coming though after that, my mate did and caught four, including two over 10lb, cracking looking fish
We are just sorting our dates now to take us up to March, fishing through winter.