Barbel Fishing Starting Out

Northantslad

'Any indications?
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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.
 

drw

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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!
 

Northantslad

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Cheers drw(y)
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.
 

Northantslad

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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(y)

We are just sorting our dates now to take us up to March, fishing through winter.
 

drw

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Well done NL was a horrible day yesterday
 

JAMESH

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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.
As a beginner, I thought this was great advice and a thoroughly enjoyable read. Thanks.
 

The Bongo

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Jun 4, 2017
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I had a whole list of questions about barbel fishing. I think that you have answered about 25 out of 10 of them. Thanks very much. My daughter has just moved to the Midlands, and as a stillwater angler, I was stumped when she asked me about barbel fishing.
 

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