So, the season is over almost as quickly as it started and whilst much enjoyment has been had, which has probably lead to the season flying by, I can still remember the warm June and July of 2018 sessions like it was yesterday. My journey is far from over, but after a special season for me and with March here, now seems as good a time as any to summarise some points, emphasise others and review my season.
I didn't wish to, and not sure you should ever, put too demanding targets on yourself and mine for the season was to catch on more trips than I blanked, I managed it at a 3 in 4 catch rate, ensuring that I worked at each and every session from the first cast to the last.
This is a key point; I don't think you can under estimate the importance of thinking and working at a session. A fair point in one of my books I return to regularly (see the book list the part 1 guide) and when feeder/lead fishing, is that you would think that an angler sitting behind their rods has all the time in the world to be thinking through the session, but this isn't always the case and it is actually very easy to start the session with good intentions, but then take in the scenery for too long, wind the rods in and go for a stroll (not to be confused with resting the swim which is actually a good thing sometimes), get the sarnies out etc. Don't get me wrong a Barbel session isn't about pushing yourself and not unwinding from life's stresses and much will depend on what you want to achieve of course, however I have been aiming the guide at those wishing to catch their first Barbel and then enjoy getting a few more and having undertaken a long journey myself, I do know that it would be all too easy to let your opening sessions defeat you, I have tried throughout to point out the realities of modern and largely day ticket Barbel fishing.
There are always examples that go against a point and there will be those that have got the info in advance, been put on a good stretch and caught well in session number one in their Barbel quest and fair play to them, being on a good stretch is one thing, catching the fish and getting them in safely is another of course, so no knocking or jealousy on my part there. This however wasn't my experience and knowledge was and continues to be gleaned slowly through, yes research, yes sharing info with other helpful Barbel anglers, but largely from realising that spending my early years and sessions tucking into those sarnies at 11 oclock after a fruitless four hours, wasn't going to help me! Learning through experiences.
In summary on confidence and working hard at a session and what makes Barbel fishing perfect for my mindset, is that output is generally proportional to input, I don't feel that I can say this applies to some other forms of angling, having done them for a good few years, in essence and if you are looking to get some Barbel success and with a good many Barbel anglers being converts from other forms of angling too, be prepared to have to work and think that bit harder than you may have needed to when tackling some of the other forms of angling that you may have had available to you. I have worded that as best as I can and it in no way is meant to gloss over the fantastic levels of skill of some anglers fishing in alternative venues nor is meant to of course, play into the hands of those who may feel Barbel anglers and to a degree river anglers too are somewhat elitist in their self-appraisal of 'their' fishing and environment. There will be thousands may be a hundred thousand anglers who are better than myself and across a wide range of disciplines, but my aim has been and will continue to be, that after 25 years or so of doing many forms of angling, I think I can say, and it is helpful for the newcomer to Barbel angling to know that it can be for the most part a longer learning curve than some other forms of angling can be and it may be fair to not expect the results to come as quickly, for me, though, that does make them all the more special when they do.
So, what has made this season such a special one, in essence every one and in keeping with the above, every session has contributed something to learning, even those 1 in 4s, but the highlights of course have be the days where I caught. The 1 in fours taught me something though as I suggest and for me, I am highly unlikely to be bothering with, without demeaning the humble and on occasion overall effectiveness of the baits, maggot or caster. I left out the hemp there as I feel on the Middle Severn it continues to be good addition to pellet feed. I can't help feeling that my opening sessions on the Trent last year were wasted by using these baits in warm and yes although, low and clear water. I'm not alone on that thought in terms of a chap I fish with who has had a great season on pellet all year and throughout a range of conditions. July conditions were equally un-inspiring, however, that month gave me my best day in 20 years of Barbelling, and on pellet. I started the session at 11am on a weekday, vital it was a weekday too on a day ticket stretch and starting that late! After arriving back from a float session on the Severn around 11pm, I woke and thought I'm not laying in bed and so headed up to the Trent. From 11am to 3pm, not a touch, at 3.15pm fish topped, from 3.30pm to 7pm I caught 10 Barbel. Would that have happened if had broke out the sarnies for an early tea in favour of staying alert, thus seeing the visual indication and keeping the feeder going in?
The biggest contributing factor though to my season numbers wise and a big aid to confidence keeping you working, is knowing you are in the right place. Severn wise and again through trial and error, I have found swims that I know contain Barbel, when not all swims do (on any river), the Trent has been a tougher nut to crack in that respect, and whilst we didn't just happen on a reliable stretch, this knowledge has been 50 or may be even 60% of the contributing factor to my results this season. I haven't gone from average to good all of a sudden, I have gone from no-where to average, with some good days thrown in. With that constituting half or just over of the factors needed and THE factor in ensuring you keep working, it for me is the biggest thing to get right. Again, if 60 or 70% of pegs on an alternative form of venue are good ones, it would seem that 30% of pegs on rivers are good ones Barbel wise, find them and find them quicker than I have taken and you will boost your results and subsequently confidence much quicker.
My annual weekend with the lads to the Severn last September, was a good one for me Friday wise, but strangely and rather than being pleased with my first day results I keep reflecting on what I felt was wasting of near on perfect floodwater conditions we experienced on the Saturday, in terms of how and where I fished. It may be a sign to me that indicates where I have got to, in that A Barbel would have been a success for me in many a good year on that weekend, so I shouldn't perhaps lose sight of things.
So, beyond altering the size of feeder/amount of feed throughout the varying temperatures of the season and to a degree the regularity of casting, what do I feel is 'working' at things? It is trying different colours of pellet and different sizes. When I started out, hair rigging limited me to 8mm and up hookbaits, since then and for the last few years I have banded my pellets, which opened up 6mm options. Yes, I used to worry and see such rivers as the Trent as mighty, daunting and have thoughts such as 'there is no chance they will find that bait in this expanse of water' or amongst my feed, well, they do and to date my pb at 12lb 14oz was caught on a 6mm coarse pellet, important to add however, that your feed, in my opinion should never be bigger than your hookbait, may be a tiny amount mixed in at most. My red letter day in July saw me keep varying the hooklength length (3ft/6ft) and bait size and colours to keep the fish coming, to prove this aspect conclusively though and following a season where overall 3ft alone has sufficed on the Trent and in clear water, I need (please) another day like that where I don't change things after a fish to see just how important this tactic is and whether or not I could work less at that aspect and perhaps grab a sarnie or two!
More and more I have observed too that the fish tend to come in spells and sometimes at a not to loosely set time, should I get a fish now, its usually a quick photo on the unhooking mat and back it goes, after resting it until its ready, if a fish takes a while to recover, then a good tally for the day of course gets put down the priority list in favour of fish welfare. So again, the need to find somewhere productive and to keep you going back, enables you to build up any patterns in feeding times. There wouldn't be enough years left in you if you jump from hot tipped venue to venue in the pursuit of Barbel, not because there are that many venues, but the time you would need in each peg in order to observe patterns, at least there is only just over 2 months to June.
A good write up as ever NL. Your 'red letter' day came despite the seemingly poor conditions. A lot of anglers, me included, didn't venture out much (to the rivers) in June/July/August due to the rivers being so low and clear. Reading about your exploits will make me think differently this coming season.
I wasn't able to get out on the rivers as much as I'd hoped last year, but with circumstances at home changing, it's looking more promising.
Well, where has that time gone?
Not complaining of course and although frustrating, yet without opening up the close season debate, these few months have been used wisely. Back to the books, re-watching the DVDs and prepping the odd bit of kit and bait. New bits of kit, although nothing new in design, more in updating and improving, have been purchased and that enjoyable good sort out I couldn't do between June and March has whetted the appetite, for a 4am journey start planned for the weekend.
So, new kit. Landing net, triangular type, old one was way too big, even for what should be large in keeping with guidance. The big one has gone into the carp kit and replaced with one that is the perfect size and still retaining its depth for resting Barbel. Tried the open design rod quiver approach for a couple of seasons now and its been awkward in ensuring that it is always on top of mine and my mates kit in the car and thus I don't feel it offered the protection to the rods or the reels for longer journeys in a packed car, despite being quick at allowing me access for that last hour of dark/first bit of daylight bite (sounds a cosy prediction but rarely that often it happens). So that has become the carp one, replaced for a zip up sealed two rod holdall. Now then, the unhooking mat, had a big, and again too big despite the need for a largish one previously and without fail the Velcro would undo, unroll itself and come off the bag on every trip back to the car, much to my mates enjoyment, with the smile getting bigger and his anticipation of it happening just as we get moving along the bank growing each time. That too has made its way into the carp gear and replaced with a nice fold flat one that sits nicely in the folded up lightweight chair, one bit of kit I will keep repairing until it needs a weld or two, which in fairness to it, has just been a couple of bolts that started to bend and weaken as they got older, or as I got older, or as I got larger is perhaps the crux of that one.
The Barbel days and ways DVD has kept me entertained and I did find the section about lines and fish spooking really interesting. With one theory being that they won't spook off something they can see but touches them, more something that they can't see that they then brush, makes sense and is one way of looking at things, something brushes you and you turn to see nothing there is what it could be likened too, then put down it being 'just' a ghost..............shortly before going cold and legging it. Balance that with fish seeing braid clearly and does that put them off at all?
Gone back through the books too and a chapter on baits particularly, coupled with some recent discussion with other Barbel anglers (Thanks Bez & Keith) I have got myself to a point where I am ready to write these thoughts. In keeping with the above paragraph to emphasise a point, a couple of my Barbel books in particular regularly use human experience to try and predict and diagnose, and I think successfully, Barbel behaviour. A phrase from one such book has stuck in my mind for a year or two now:
Barbel can only get addicted to particle baits.
My understanding is that this can occur after a period of weaning the Barbel onto it. Going back to the times before pellets, particles would have been wheat, hemp, caster, maggot, corn, small worms and lots of them, to name a few, with the vast majority of those too, still finding favour and do stand the test of time. However, the advent of pellets and how readily Barbel and all species switched onto them, for me has made those previous take a back seat, possibly the nutrient value made the weaning phase quicker too, I can only speculate on that point though, after starting the Barbel journey at the time when pellets had been successfully introduced already. So, anyway, that phrase now makes perfect sense and if you take 'addicted to' as will actively seek out, feed with wild abandon on and lower the guard significantly during, then it just re-enforces that sense and can be applied to human situations. I will happily, key point being happily, watch telly and scoff mixed nuts for example, varying sizes but with none being overly large or too different, varying colours, varying textures, but all easily edible together. Someone then during ,my feast shoves a coconut under my nose and I don't fancy it, but I might waste time looking at it and even entertaining a loose idea of how I would go about it, before deciding no, now where have those nuts gone. Or a bag of crisps, one flavour, various sizes within an easily eaten and digested range, similar textures, then stick a whole potato in the bag and you get the same effect. The point being that pellet for example is a particle bait and your hook bait may be shouldn't be too far off similar when introduced with pellets that you are hoping the Barbel will get their heads down on. More the size that makes pellet a particle it could be said in 1-6 mm sizes and you wouldn't toss load after load of 20mm pellets into a swim and expect a frenzy, you may trip up the odd fish by playing the same hookbait to feed game, which one has the hook in it is hard tell then granted. Exponents of boilie fishing for Barbel might feed say 8/10 mm and have a 12/15mm on the hook, this again fits the same thinking, it is appealing to the Barbels addictive nature.
So, here it comes, a meatball and as requested a long time back. Particle? No, Target bait to appeal to the other instinct of competitiveness needed for survival, yes. Looks nice, I better eat that before something else does Not loosefed in any great amounts, maybe a few tempters nearby, and with no heavy baiting of free offerings, a bait that will be cast I suspect into the right places, rather than trying to encourage fish up to your bait from downstream. A smaller meatball and fed with lots of smaller bits of meat/mince and you will have the pellet or boilie strategy, just in a different bait and one suiting conditions at times, better than a pellet might. All of this came to me today and on the back of some helpful advice from a couple of meat/meatball fans, but my need to understand fully got me needing to apply it something I have used.
Now, did I pack the camera? That's done it..........
Excellent write up as always Chris.
Personally I use a lot of particals for my "other" sprices fishing and yet now with Barbel have moved away from that approach."back in the day" even on the Teme I would get through a gallon or more of hemp and a few pints of casters every session. Four 25kg sacks one season.
It became noticeable though over time and with the amount going in that the fish did become pre-occupied on the feed and harder to catch or avoided it completely.
I even used to glue a couple of hemp to a hair on a size 16 when it became a "needs must"
Perhaps the same might be happening with pellets on the Middle now. Bubble burst as they say.
So to get around this we have tailored our Severn approach to now using plenty of feed such as meaty groundbait with a sprinking of pellets or maggots/casters and larger pellets/meat or bunches of casters/maggots on the hook.
This change to the "to good to miss" hook bait size has seen an improvement in Barbel catches and also strangely for other fish species as well.
Downstream of me there are certain stretches where "the Source" has become the goto boilie and No 1 bait yet even after a few concerted attempts we have always struggled.
Strange things are these fish but they have never changed their liking for meat.
Yes re the hemp, I have read about anglers using something they called bogey and they 'bogeyed' some hemp to the hook. Downside of particle feeding is for them, as you suggest, is they can get too pre-occupied of course, can work against you and for you, although I am still in favour of it working for you and with pellet on densely populated stretches, when a shoal feeds with that addiction and pre-occupation, a similar bait to the feed is soon picked up. Used to worry me that 'how will they find that pellet in amongst the hundreds with it' but they do and especially with consistently accurate casting. A single or target bait always worries me now to a degree and it has become clear that some of that worry can be alleviated by knowing you are in the right location.
Interesting also that your improvement has come on the lower by using particles on the hook, could be cyclic as you say, but re the pellet approach I don't see it blowing anytime soon here, may be linked to how other anglers may have many different approaches and in the terms of the Trent is a less intimate in terms of size.
You may have some of the books in my list in part one, if you haven't got it, Roger Millers book is a fantastic read. Strange fish yes, but biologically they have never changed. In his book particularly he goes through his thought process and how, upon encountering baits/tactics that had blown or in the case of the bait bans on the royalty, how he stayed one step ahead.
Inspiration for this part came from reading the Besthorpe thread of micks exploits (thanks mick) and a session I had the other day.
On the how far to cast matter, I can give a good example from the other day's session to add to @tipitinmick 's point. Pegs where you sit on the outside of a bend as mick said are ideal, in terms of the flow being closer to you. Scenario I faced the other day on a stretch where 'our' pegs are situated like that I will go through below. Not only that, but you will find that many Barbel hot spots for shoal fish on many rivers are situated around flows caused by bends, a look on google earth really brings home to you how much of a bend is in a section of river that you can't always appreciate from the ground.
At normal levels it is just a chuck a third of the way across maximum. We faced the pegs with about 1.5-2m of extra water on. Extra water does interesting things to any section of river and makes pegs that weren't necessarily productive in normal levels a hot spot and vice versa-productive pegs at normal levels either aren't fishable with water on or the fish seek other sanctuaries. Where we sat the other day-with fast water coming right out across us from the bend, drew criticism from some other anglers, along the lines of no way will you hold bottom up there- it isn't fishable? I think they were going to seek slacks and move on from they had started. Don't get me wrong, extra water brings new snags or may cause you to fish in a part of the river where the snags you avoid in normal conditions are situated, but unless fish are snagging, its a hazard that sometimes has to be tolerated.
Slack water in these conditions, in terms of slack water alone isn't what is needed in the peg. Fast/flow and slack in the peg-where the main flow meets the slack and this 'crease' being close in is ideal. The fish will be situated on the crease line. As mick suggested in such conditions you may be casting where you had sat in lower levels! I had always taken this and others saying they have caught a yard from the 'new' bank edge as a pinch of salt- coupled with my reading however and a Barbel topping in such a place the other day right in front of me, I fully agree now. Yes I lost some kit (feeders, leads and hooklengths), thankfully not on fish the other day, but I held bottom on a comfortable 3 ounce and had a decent day with 6 barbel. So much of it is confidence in what you are doing that makes you stick to it and trust your thinking. One of the books I read regularly for example, tells me that Barbel will feed in 18 inches of the right coloured water, I always believed that statement to apply only to more intimate rivers, but I suppose Barbel are Barbel regardless of the river.
Simply because it sounded too much like the ‘final details’ and anyone who has been reading throughout will know, that if I ever got to a point of suggesting that ‘right, that is everything you need to know’, I will stop writing the guide, not because it actually can ever be finished, Barbel fishing changes; but because I will have assessed my skills and knowledge as superior to anyone else’s, something I am ever keen, not to do……..I’m still negotiating that sweeping bend of the river in my journey, with my knowledge coming across the river to catch up with me at the near bank. After all, I cannot continue on without it.
Does a river actually end? Or just feed the sea, which then feeds other rivers…………….
I think about errors I have made in my early Barbelling, I don’t mind using them to highlight points or and in the process of reflection, use as a measure of personal progress when they become fewer, I will use a few of these in this section to highlight points.
In terms of feeder fishing, may be with a straight lead ‘thrown in’ for good measure, ok, poor pun…… or is it?…….accuracy and feeding/casting rate, cannot be under estimated, I think back to my early Barbel fishing on the feeder and on the back of largely fishing commercial venues…….this heavily influenced my perception of how a feeder works and fed my misconception of how it should therefore work on a river for Barbel. There is food in it, there is smell to it and there is colour to the feed-then surely the Barbel will come to it. Big mistake on my thinking back then and unless you are on fish from the off, or have got the fish arrived during your session, I am looking to see, actually, how I can get the feed to them, to then encourage them into the swim. It may result in a shoal coming for a look, or as is quite common, looking to eek out a fish or two as a typical reward for a day’s efforts. The need to get the fish in swim is paramount I feel and for the purpose of setting the scene, let’s say typical river conditions, normal levels and a fair amount of water clarity in keeping with what my target rivers tend to be, either over the normal bank or low and clear! Talking the latter of those two extremes here and for pressured day ticket Barbel, two things that remain consistent in my Barbel fishing.
The key for me is knowing if the fish are already in the swim and require triggering, or they need pulling into the swim, without knowing for sure 100% which is the case, easing into a session in terms of feeding rate hedges your bets somewhat, however the decision of the approach can be aided by knowing the swim well and also the ‘rules’ you may have observed about when or at what points of the day they feed. To draw on my previous failures and errors, I would always start a session with good intentions, casting the feeder in a regular routine for little or really no reward commonly, then tire of that approach and casting slowed up until I was hardly casting the ‘feeder’ at all, failing to grasp that the clue was in the name-‘feeder’. In my other fishing the feeder was just essentially a target and fish would come to it. When I started to appreciate in my Barbel fishing that the fish would sometimes do the exact opposite and back off the feeder-pressured fish in clear water, I turned a corner, the gentle corner just before the sweeping bend…. Combining this with appreciating that the fish do have their feeding times and routines, unlike my commercial fishing; the similarity being the pressure fish in both types of venue are under, the difference being that Barbel, due to their routines won’t always be feeding all day. Could it be taken into account if lots of feed has already gone in that day before or worse for the day time angler, the evening before? I think it can.
So, taking these thoughts, how could be they translated into the what and how, the mechanics of things and how to exploit the knowledge? Easing into the session, may be the use of a small feeder early on or even a straight lead, the latter can be a good option for searching the swim, without putting bait all over the river. In my early days it had to be a feeder, because of my misunderstanding of what it was and I would be casting all over the place in the search for fish to come to it, the search and subsequently the casting getting more desperate and spread out with every passing hour. The use of the feeder was perhaps the right choice approach wise, but not focussing on one part or the right part of the river, was perhaps the biggest mistake. With much hindsight and again on the accuracy matter, this doesn’t mean that as long as you keep the feeder going into the same spot, the Barbel will come, it will help, but largely it must be the part of the swim where the Barbel wish to feed.
Something shared between myself and others, when discussing swims and also from bailiffs, that is sound advice, is that when someone says, you need to be two thirds across for example, that is exactly what they mean and exactly where they mean; it matters. As does any feature of the river current or patterns visible in the surface of the river that are advised as an area to target. Don’t get me wrong, there may be sometimes the ‘advice’ that is actually a curveball, that only experience, character judging skills to spot the sort of person that may wish to deter your chances and sharing your findings with other Barbel fishing mates will establish, but largely, I would say that 90% of advice is sound advice and certainly on the where to cast aspect.
In clear water, fish ‘backing off’ the feeder is a phrase widely used and due to its wide use, is commonly, but perhaps also, too readily accepted. Recently I have been thinking about this and on the back of a September visit to a low clear Severn, where after some thought on this I became convinced of not the sight of the feeder being a factor, but the constant commotion of its hitting the water. In perfect conditions and with colour in the water, yes the sight of it may be reduced, but with those conditions, Barbel will feed more readily and take the sound as a dinner bell, rather than a warning siren and confirmed by sight. Is Barbel fishing about learning the fish or us learning? Tough one, but I think the successful angler is the one prevents the Barbel learning by not adhering to what it knows and has already learnt.
Linking the aspects of where to cast, casting accuracy and using a feeder, let’s assume a not too dangerous assumption to make. Where to cast-established-tick. Casting accuracy, using a far bank feature to line up on-tick. Learnt that one the hard way too, I would sometimes use the ‘see where that shadow comes along the river’, great for there and then, not so, given that shadows move with the light. Nor when fishing the Tidal and using the distance from the near bank in the lower corner of your eye to where your feeder lands as a gauge, where the water distance near you might vary by 2 metres with the tide! Like I said, knowing my errors and sharing them, I have no issue with at all, it’s only as I negotiate the sweeping bend of my journey can I now look back up the long straight and smile at my mistakes.
Got the feeder on-tick. Typically a black top kamasan, containing 1-4mm pellet mix (see bait section in guide 1), careful on the varying sizes of pellet classed as 4mm, too large and you will be boring out the holes of the feeder to allow them to escape, or sitting there as none can escape and your pellets turn to mush in the ‘feeder’, instead of the varying sizes, colours and even consistency leaving the feeder and making the bait trail and with varying breakdown times. On that point, whilst emphasis was given to how far across, your marker chosen should see you also hit the same spot in terms of how far down (or up) the river, again vital, imagine you have drawn the fish up and they are considering feeding, until your next cast lands right on top them! In the right mood they may return fairly quickly, in the wrong mood then you could be waiting until their next feed time, this may be when you have left for yours.
Coming back to the above aspects and completing the set up as it were, typically, the hook length in such conditions may be in excess of 4, 5,6ft. So, where is this heading? Actually the one place that may be all too readily thought that the Barbel won’t head to; the feeder. Why the long hooklength? Because the fish back off the feeder and because it works, the latter I am fine with, but I have to know why it works. The former, you may have detected, I doubt.
Consider if you will, the set-up: largish holes in the feeder, mix of pellets that can easily escape the feeder and long hooklength, whilst we can never tell the Barbel where to feed-true enough in any part of the river, I think within the right line of the right swim, this isn’t entirely true, and with the set up as it is, they are being encouraged to feed quite a way down the line, hence the long hook length works. Try it, next time you can spare one cast of a full feeder and somewhere in the river with a bit of flow and you don’t mind wasting a feeders worth of bait, cast it in and retrieve it immediately and before landing- see how many pellets are left in the feeder, may be a couple of the larger size at most is my guess and may be only then because they wedged in the feet of the clip on lead.
Some of the smallest, lightest and less dense pellets, may be still flowing down the river before coming to rest on the bottom even when you have the feeder back in your hand. It isn’t a bad thing when trying to form that trail, which suits perfectly how Barbel feed; working along it, before letting the current catch their flanks and glide them back to the start of the trail again, but it may be an issue once the fish have worked up to your main feed, after taking the tempters that flowed further down. It has moved onto at this point needing to hold the fish or at least not scare or force them away by the same feeding strategy. Smaller feeder or tape up some holes to slow the rate and distance of the trail and combined with a shorter hooklength may see another fish or two added, if it does great, if it did and then stops, back to plan A set up wise. If the strategy works and with the shorter hooklength, I wouldn’t therefore say that the fish are backing off the feeder, more a combination of how we are fishing-right for the conditions and how we are fishing is responding to how Barbel feed. There is some consideration too I feel, but not as much as the above, where Barbel anglers alter the length of the hooklength according to flow; how quickly the pellets exit the feeder being determined by the flow. Personally, I prefer to combat flow with enough weight to get the feeder down quickly and stay still, granted the hooklength length isn’t being used to combat flow, but the speed of the feeder getting down is dictated by its weight, therefore affected by that weight is how far the feed travels before then coming to rest. Due to this, I favour the explanation I have given above for why the combination of the feeder and long hook lengths work initially, but also then the need for changing it during a session, sometimes essential to keep fish coming. The flow rate may not alter all day, so therefore on the latter way of thinking, nor would you change your hooklength length if chosen due to flow alone. The need to think about how Barbel feed in any flow, largely convinces me. Depth of water however, then as previously mentioned restricting the feed rate by taping up some holes in deep water can work as can a shorter hooklength with no taping work in shallower water, may be a slight variation in flow created by different depths, but if anything, shallower usually means faster, which again cancels out the flow rate theory for the varying of hooklength length to a longer one.
The recent September trip as I mentioned, suggested to me it may be more sometimes the continued noise of the feeder hindering the encouraging of fish to feed. After a morning trying to make a method work that had worked previously for me in a swim with an excellent near bank run (loose feed, wait and fish with a straight lead over the feed), with no joy, noting that the level was down by 6 inches to last time when it did work, I then set about actively feeder fishing out in the main flow. By actively, I mean quickly and with the last session of the weekend passing as quickly as those last days do, I did the cast, retrieve, cast process, to get some bait into the main flow, casting every five minutes. Knowing that some fish had been caught and also recognising that one of the major dislikes of Barbel-the sun, was losing its battle to keep them in hiding with each passing minute, I started tidying and preparing for a blank. Then, lightbulb moment, after a busy weekend and my ability to function much longer let alone think, dwindling, I thought about the disturbance of the feeder. Out went a fresh pellet but on a straight lead over where I had been casting the feeder. Within 20 minutes I had my blank saving Barbel.
This was a situation where hooklengths of any length hadn’t worked on the feeder, but ceasing the regular casting of the feeder had and with no doubt in my mind, resulted in a fish. Importantly for learning and from what contributes a pattern or number of same observations worthy of basing a rule on, this wasn’t the first time a straight lead following countless casts of a feeder has paid off. The process of and need for casting the ‘feeder’ essential in that swim to get some bait trail in, the need to continue with it, very non-essential, perhaps the feeder was intrusive to the Barbel’s ‘ears’ which impacted on its appetite, until at least I had opened the dining room door, by closing the lid on my feeder box.
Readers who have gone through the guides as I produce each section, those who have got out and tried things and anyone who is far along from needing any advice I can offer, will appreciate there are really three categories of Barbel session outcomes; taking the assumption you are in Barbel pegs and you have got your location correct:
1. The Barbel were keen to feed and with favorable conditions
2. The Barbel were wary with not the best conditions
3. The Barbel weren't interested in the slightest coupled with poor conditions
The three possible outcomes are of course measured by what you catch and in the case of points one or two, they are outcomes over which you have some control and how well you have fished will impact upon them. Situation one, may require less thought and taking for granted that you have ticked the basics boxes well, as long the feeding regime is sufficient to keep fish coming, you could have your red letter day, without under estimating of course the skills still required, but they can be days where your target is in a fairly helpful mood.
With regards to outcome two, the one that I have tried throughout to instill as the most common on day ticket pressured waters, your reward and it should be seen as a respectable reward, may be anything from say one to perhaps three Barbel. The session will have required more thought as to what you can do to trigger the Barbel and their feeding, in terms of getting plenty of bait in, may have been the wrong thing to do in favor of setting up to release the feed slowly and coupled with a shorter hooklength. On any session now and by way of easing myself into a session in terms of feeding, if there have been no indications by midday, I have found little point in continuing to chuck out feeder after feeder full, instead, favoring packing some bait in tightly or plugging up some of the feeder holes if just using pellets (a bit of paste or electrical tape is useful here). If and as in the previous chapter, this doesn't result in something, no feed will go in at all for the last hour or so. Working for a small number of fish present or lots but with little appetite on the day, doesn't always rely on working for your fish, meaning physical exertion, quite the opposite in the case of adopting the cutting down or completely stopping the casting approach. There should never be however any fluctuations in thinking and mental exertion.
Confidence is key of course and having the confidence to stick to a plan or and coupled with the knowledge to adapt it if needed, right from having the will to go Barbelling, on the journey up and from the first cast to the last. A very vicious circle I have observed in some, is the catch rate declining to a run of continual blank sessions, the knock on effect on their confidence and the final stage of the impact it then has on how hard they work on the day for a bite, with confidence dropping with every passing hour. Barbel fishing has taught me the following and remembering from guide one that I took years and countless sessions to finally get my first one:
Output is proportional to input
A blank will only lead to more blanks if you let it- build knowledge in order to reflect on why it was a blank
Blanks are part and parcel of Barbel fishing throughout the year and on heavily fished areas
Turn a blank into a positive and on some days accept you could have done nothing but have tried, the chance of catching is always better being out trying, than not out at all-dwelling on a blank run sat at home won't make it better
My target in the last couple of years and fishing throughout the whole season for Barbel, has been to end the season with more sessions where I caught than in which I blanked. Linking the above to those 'point number three' days, I have had sessions in these couple of years, where had I not worked harder and thought things through during the session, I would have been mistakenly travelling home 'happy' that I could have done no more.
Therefore, it transpires that to catch more Barbel, is to reduce the number of day number three type days, where it sometimes is just too easy to lay the outcome at the fishes or conditions door, this mind-set of course needs you in the virtuous circle of belief, confidence and resolve. When having done everything and only then, if it hasn't worked, then fine, there will be days where nothing works. On the conditions front I have convinced myself that as these nowadays seem to be one or the other of extremes, the Barbel will still need to feed sometimes and as with any creature will adapt over the years, in a way like the Bream seem to have in being prepared to exploit faster water in some rivers, when their preferred slow and deep runs are shallow most of the year.
This all sounds well and good of course and if I left things here, all of my attempts at boosting people’s confidence, adding to people’s armoury in terms of tactics, would just leave readers thinking, great, but how can I slip one over the net on those difficult days? Well, in addition to some real tips above, in the previous section and throughout the guides, I will happily share some further aspects about the real business end of things, in my opinion right where it counts and can make the difference on days where previously I had felt under armed and in no control of the end outcome of a session.
I would love to start my journey again and with the knowledge I am gaining during it, but both of those are of course impossible, this is where my aim is to cut the time down for others. Going back to a time where I realised that the more regular blanks couldn't be learnt from without some learning away from the river bank to comprehend and then be able analyse sessions, I started researching things and although I cannot, nor will attempt to take any credit for one of the key things I came across (Thanks again Ricky24) and in books since, I have taken much encouragement from putting the findings into practice and with individual takes and set ups based around the key point- hookbait behaviour.
Before coming to that aspect I hint at above, yet linked to it, give consideration to your hook. What must your hook do?
I am predicting the answer to that is- to hook the Barbel and be strong enough to land it? It’s not a bad answer of course, yet a fairly easy question on the face of it. Now consider the question, what should your chosen hook not do? Took a little longer to think of the answer I am guessing, and the answer may just be the opposite of answer one-it must not fail to hook the fish and it must not come out, weaken or even break to the point of coming out during the fight.
How about the answer to question two being also- not hinder the appearance or movement of the bait?
Now, I am not in the habit of questioning anything by anyone I have full respect for in terms of authors of books, so I will be fair and suggest they are blameless and its more how I have interpreted what was written, but a point was suggested that you shouldn't worry about using large hooks. It didn't mean of course, go and use some of the ridiculously large sizes of hooks you might see, but it meant in terms of the minor effects of hooks size on hooking the fish as they mouth the bait, actually because they have to mouth the bait.
The point taken in context is a fair one, given that you are looking to hook the Barbel as it inspects the bait offering with its mouth, remembering that this is one way in which Barbel check out food, it doesn’t have the advantage that some other cyprinids do of being able to create a vacuum to suck up food then eject or filter it out, drop it however it can do. However, because the Barbel can choose to view food, smell food, detect chemicals within it or even waft it about to see how it responds before using the mouth it option, you are reliant on it using its mouth as its chosen method of inspection in order to hook it. For that reason, I always think that the Barbel will only ever use the mouth option first if it’s fairly confident from the outset that it will be proceeding to accepting it soon after or only after the food has passed its other tests first. On those day types number three, the Barbel remember aren’t in an ‘accept it straight away’ mood, as they may when feeding heavily and competitively. I am convinced that your bait and feed for that matter will be subjected to some preliminary tests first.
The makes the hook choice for me and particularly its effect on how the hook affects bait presentation vital. The Barbel doesn’t have to choose to use its mouth to inspect whilst it has choice in the matter and it certainly won’t if your hookbait behaves differently to the rest. Keep remembering that this is of course type of day number three, where there may be little (other) competition to influence any hastiness in decision making and feeding on its part.
Two options therefore present themselves in terms of restricting the ability of a hook to hinder the appearance and behaviour of a hookbait. My favoured hooks, the Drennan specialist and specimen ranges come in sizes right down to 16, perhaps lower. When you are next purchasing your Barbel hooks you will always find plenty of the smaller options in stock. Could it be that those travelling home with the 6s, 8s and 10s in their bag also travel home in a fresh smelling vehicle after a typical day type number 3? On the face of it and In terms of generic approaches to difficult days and un-co-operative fish, scaling down and in particular on hook size, isn’t a that difficult conclusion to come to, convincing yourself however, and when it comes to Barbel, to do it, is I would suggest has been the sticking point for some in following through with that think it do it moment. Peoples rightly placed reverence of the Barbel and respect of its fighting prowess particularly, is usually one of the first things people know of and very early on into their journey too, either through finding this out when they hook their first one or based on what they have been told, its perhaps the key point that got them going for Barbel. 100% respect for your quarry, is never a bad thing.
However, I can also assure you 100%, not to worry that a 16, 14 or 12 isn’t strong enough (in the pattern as described above), they are and are perfect in my opinion when also varied and matched to your size of bait. That's not a plug for them, nor a criticism of any others, its just I have used them long enough to comment and after the odd trial of others, I found myself quickly returning to them. Factoring in any concerns you should have always considered too, fish welfare, they are perfectly capable in hooking the fish on that inspection and therefore won’t be swallowed as long as the rules on always leaving the hook point clear are observed. Less a factor when hair rigging too, as if you have your hook matched to bait it should always hook the Barbel on that mouth inspection stage. Key matter is though, to ensure it gets to the mouth inspection stage.
So, there is also option number two on this theme, so why not combine scaling down on hooks and the following in conjunction, in order to reduce the Barbel's suspicions.
As said, Ricky24 got me onto the principle some years ago and this was also re-enforced in books I have read since and to some, may be even many it will be nothing new, apologies to those of course. Part of Ricky’s articles, suggested making baits waft, by counter acting the weight of the hook, what may be referred to as critically balancing, nothing new on the carp scene of course, but less widely used for Barbel I am thinking. Without confusing of course how and why it works slightly differently for say carp because of how they feed. Hopefully the above paragraphs may have emphasized the need for the bait to pass the other tests the Barbel may perform on it and making a bait waft may see it accepted a lot more readily, at least to reduce day type number threes anyway to a confidence boosting minimum. The why it helps factor and specifically being able to have a theory as to why it works, has been a good few years in the making, from reading the point a good few years back to now, with much reading on Barbel behaviour and of course sessions on the bank in between.
To come away from this for a second, but to think about a very related point, imagine the Barbel performing one of those tests- wafting bait around, not to be confused necessarily with ‘flashing’ which is one thing all of my reading tells me is largely not fully understood as to why they do it. I am convinced when they turn on their side and beat their tail over a baited area or even when near natural food, yes they are looking to dislodge it from the river bed gravels, but I am further (now) convinced they are seeing how it responds. Feed, un-attached to hooks (or a rig) wafts more readily under water.
Another ‘rule’ I have also learnt is whilst there is no set number of times you have to have the same experience before you can accept something as a relevant pattern for the memory bank, it’s the more the better. I have only included and will only continue to include, aspects I am happy to accept as relevant, after fishing for Barbel plenty now and reading about them for just as many hours as I have fished. Because foul hooking of Barbel is rare, there are therefore very limited occasions to make the following link, but on the few occasions I have witnessed Barbel being foul hooked, it has always been on difficult conditions days- days where the Barbel are ultra-wary- clear water and bright skies on every of those occasions, the foul hooking has been along the back, just into the side and in the area between the dorsal fin and tail fin, enough to convince me they were using a flap of the tail to check out bait by wafting it up, prior to deciding whether or not to mouth it. The clear water aspect being a factor too as they will combine sight into their tests.
So, how does all of this translate into taking advantage of this behaviour? I don’t mean of course intentionally foul hooking a fish, an obvious point but one I had to say, the set up is for hooking Barbel where you will hook them 99.9% of the time. I mean for your, by now, hopefully smaller hook (and bait), to be made to pass this test the Barbel may give it and cause them to then mouth it.
Rig foam and to a degree fake baits are your friend, yet key point one is to always remember that we are trying as best we can to be a friend of the Barbel we respect too and if I felt that there was even a small chance of a Barbel ingesting something potentially un-digestible, I would resign myself and happily too to day types one and two. The following can all be set up safely to remove completely the likelihood of the above happening.
Boilies from 12mm and up and pellets from 10mm and up, can all be drilled and plugged with carefully cut to the right length, sections of the strips of cylindrical rig foam available. I say carefully cut to length, as it is critical, excuse the pun, that you don't over do the foam and end up with it causing the bait to sit right up off bottom, regardless of how much you think the water flow (less along the bottom anyway) would push the lot down. For the first bit you use and it will be the only bit you use during the session (unless it starts to damage or tear-then replace it), start long and trim it back a little until a test in the margin sees it just slowly sink down. Assuming your baits are all at least roughly a uniform size, then the foam will be right for the session (unless of course altering bait sizes).
To safely assemble the bait to the rig, be assured that passing the hair through the length of the foam section will see the bait stay on, be assured it does and don't be tempted to go through the bait and across the width of the foam, with the whole length of the foam threaded onto the hair, there is zero chance of the foam becoming ripped off the hair (fish welfare first) or the bait coming off the foam where you may have needed to go right through the bait, depending on the density of the bait-the buoyancy required (priority two). Drill your bait with a drill just smaller than the diameter of the foam, then plug your bait with your foam section, put the needle through the length of foam, pull through and insert bait stop as you normally would. On the pellet option pre-drilled pellets have two advantages- the 'pilot' hole already present reduces the chances of splitting it when drilling the foam plug hole and secondly your needle will pass through easily when needing to go through, catch the loop, then back out. If you need re-assurance the bait will stay on through just friction of the foam plug, cast it out, leave it a minute or two then retrieve it, it will be on still. Covering point here though, remember pellets break down and go soft after while, so don't leave it in hours then come back and tell me I was lying! Likewise and especially for Boilies and also a pellet in fairness, ensure the drilling was smooth and didn't cause any cracks in the bait, this of course won't help. If ever a doubt creeps into my mind about a crack in a bait, I start again immediately, rather than have the doubt, cast it anyway, then get restless and have to retrieve it anyway due to my nagging doubts, especially in conditions where the regular disturbance may not help matters.
Fake baits speak for themselves, but again and on the welfare front, don't just band them on, secure them on a hair rig, I am thinking the buoyant fake pellets here largely, but some are so buoyant that you then need to weigh them down with additional weight, which is why I prefer my foam set up above and below.........
The rig foam strips also have another possible use and on this theme, the strips I use and in brown, when trimmed to short sections can be made to look like a nice little 6mm pellet, cut one off to size and thread it centrally over the point of your chosen hook, and up the shank to just below the eye. Again there is no chance of it coming off or back round and over the barb and the friction and slight swelling of the foam, keeps it well in place. This has caught me fish when feeding pellets in hard conditions. An added advantage also of the foam (in either application) is that it holds any liquid flavours well that you wish to give it, which lends itself well to passing any of the other tests (in addition to passing the sight and bait behaviour tests the buoyancy assists with) the Barbel may give the hookbait.
Fishing for Barbel has taught me how vital the first two of those are and by learning them, has in turn resulted in improving my skills, which when results come, helps to feed optimism. I maintain the levels of the latter after every cast, and to sit back into the chair alert and thinking that what i have done or may be changed at that point could result in a fish is how i try to think, to slouch back into the chair and feel that this isn't happening today are thoughts i try and avoid, no matter how hard this can be sometimes. When to change something and when not to is of the course the key and is a direct indicator of knowledge, perhaps deepening to knowledge of the peg/stretch.
I do try and emphasise in this guide, how it is largely aimed at the visiting angler and despite now a good many years targeting the typical venues, i still don't profess to know rivers, stretches and to a degree pegs well enough to allow them to always tell me what to do and when throughout their various guises over a season, this i do try to underpin however with knowledge of Barbel and what their surroundings or various conditions might tell them however, this is something i feel that can be built through say occasional trips and also re-enforced by reading. I do favor reading personally, with some occasional viewing of the wealth of internet based info and videos etc, in a time where i do feel and with many taking up angling, that merely watching someone catch is good entertainment, perhaps helpful and will feed optimism and anticipation, but unless we are talking a 'real' situation-warts and all and on a stretch your typical visiting angler can access, patience and then commitment can soon dwindle if they were unable to recreate the situation they saw, sometimes recreating the setting can be impossible to them. This point isn't to knock or diminish the good work of a good many, i just feel that with some info out there, pinch of salt and grasping the reality of the setting is sometimes needed, if results are to follow the anticipation that was fueled. To clarify and i am sure many in many forms of angling will appreciate, there is sometimes a need to filter out if there is more emphasis on tackle/brand, whilst there is lots of very good and dedicated kit out there, and something also that can be harder to know, is this info on a stretch i can access and/or able to recreate the setting of, without being a martyr, more a visiting angler who has learnt the hard way, we are anglers who are unable to command conditions that some may be able to have in place for their session. Finally on this point, and conversely, you are unlikely to find a source of info out there, that says, this peg and cast here, nor should it be expected in open forum, which is where other helpful Barbel anglers come into the equation and your own experiences in location based info. My inspiration, as i have eluded to before, for being happy to be in the band of what i feel is the former and to share the latter, is purely and simply knowledge of how hard it can be to keep fueling the commitment needed, Barbel angling wouldn't be in my calendar if let my early experiences of it deter me and when i finally hooked and landed that first one, it gave me the energy to keep putting the hours in.
In these times and to emphasise the patience needed, your chosen stretch of river is unlikely to be quiet enough, at weekends especially, to allow you the freedom of flexible timings, nor to be able to adopt a roving approach around the favored pegs, more recently, these stretches are likely to increase in footfall and in turn angling pressure, something again, that a feature or source of info is unlikely to get over to its audience. This then really dictates your approach, early starts and long days working a peg is where i have been at for a few years now and to risk arriving late or moving pegs, whilst a luxury on some venues and a good tactic on others, simply is to risk sitting in not so good pegs. Should this happen however, it is by the same token, occasionally the case that you happen on something surprising, either way however and during your whole day Barbelling, you have found something out for the future, whether or not it goes into your book of never again pegs, or your book of that peg when book, you have learn't something by dedicating time and commitment.
Some who read this, may, like me, keep similar hours, whether it be through other equal commitments pending or shear tiredness, but after that early start, a mid to late afternoon end to the session is a fair commitment in my book, i do feel that ten or so hours working that peg is sufficient to learn, whether its via positive or negative outcomes to the session and there is debate sometimes as to whether you learn more after a good or not so good session, debate aside though, to learn something is the vital aspect, no matter what lead to its gleaning. It may be about the peg, the river, the Barbel response to something you did, or a combination of these. I say this, to again, emphasise that no matter what your preferred way of learning or getting info is, for time on the bank, there can be little substitute and going to the bank armed with knowledge of the modern realities of Barbel fishing is even better.
I write this particular piece with typical early season conditions prevailing and summarising outcomes so far across a range of sources, typical early season results and whilst also observing the business of venues. It is this latter aspect i am convinced, that lead to me blowing my chances in session one of the season, whereby with hindsight, i am convinced the Barbel that were showing on our arrival were conducting their last hour of dawn feed, their obvious presence and activity too, must only have been sparked by what had gone in the previous day. I could have saved myself some bait and more quietly exploited the situation and abated my eagerness to bait the swim, i am sure i am going to need to factor this in, more and more for future. Fast forward to session two of the season and on that same peg, i was able with it being a weekday, to arrive later, missing the potential early morning Barbel activity, but then being able to firmly set out my stall from there, with no signs of activity on arrival. Something that can never be explained using hard and fast rules is how a session may pan out and what you may have to base your approach around, it varies and changes, but it does help to have a basis for decision making and i am very much, in order for me to comprehend it, yes or no, do or don't, anything in the middle of that confuses me and leads to indecision, which can let the session just tick along with a slouch in the chair increasing with every 'do i or don't i' thought. So on this session and also number three too, which was an early start, but with little activity greeting me, i felt i could start afresh with building the sessions. Session two, with a good number fish starting to show five hours in, became about keeping them there and then catching them. Session three as the day went on, after five hours, became solely about trying not to blank and just to trigger one bite, in the knowledge that it would be likely to then switch the swim off completely, it hadn't turned on after all.
To succeed on both of these sessions, the optimism was fueled by two very different things; one to believe, having got the location factor right, that the Barbel are rarely very far away, it does have to be believed to maintain optimism and secondly in the case of session two, fish activity, the former is one necessity to keep going at it, the second a more obvious and proved belief. To dwindle in believing the former is just going eat away at optimism.
In both sessions, i knew i had got bait down, but at the five hour mark, each session then took a very different path. Session two became about maintaining feeding, but less regularly, session three saw me cease feeding completely, both actions dictated by the Barbels response, with it being clear that in session two they were feeding confidently, in session 3 they weren't feeding at all or at least in any numbers that cause them to feed confidently. The resulting actions were nothing complicated in achieving, but certainly weren't achieved by sitting thoughtless. Both sessions started with a cage feeder to give a longer trail and over a downstream lead rod too, the sessions then went their separate ways in terms of tactics.
Regarding session two and on clear arrival of the fish into the end of the swim, the cage got swapped for small open end packed loose and the downstream rod the same, but packed tighter, now trying to draw the fish nearer to me. Looser packed bait sees a longer hooklength and tighter sees a shorter one, re-assurance of my tactics came when the downstream rod produced, this lead to a decision needed: leave this rod in at risk of pushing the fish back away or take it out now they have arrived. My decision was founded on what the fish were telling me, i left it in, which then saw two further fish caught, and on the upstream rod, given the numbers showing i opted to give them some space and a bit more feed, a decision that could sometimes have equally gone against me.
Picking up session 3 now, again, enough bait had gone in with a cage feeder, and was maintained on the cage, until a point where i felt i may be keeping the fish away from where i wanted them, however, the downstream lead rod hadn't suggested this presence and the bait i concluded wasn't being eaten and i was needing to stave off a blank. Although the low water conditions did permit the use of a small lead, the clarity of the water still suggested, that no matter how well disguised the lead was in its coloration and design, i suspected the fish could still detect the lot, so to double my chances of going home happy, the lead rod got moved out of the way to the inside line as a throw away chance and the feeder on the upstream rod substituted for a lead and lone pellet over the baited area, but further downstream of where i had been casting the cage, in knowledge of, again, the spread a cage gives. Twenty minutes later the decision got rewarded as this rod arched over, a bite i had seen develop and one i needed to believe would occur as i sat lightly, optimistically on the edge of the chair following the cast..............
Whilst i'm not Barbelling during the enforced lockdowns, reading and watching has naturally intensified and subsequently mulling over the Barbel scene more than ever.
I remember back to starting the first half of the guide and emphasising that there are very few hard and fast rules and contradictions that can be viewed either way sometimes and equally then work for you or against you on occasions, driven much by the variables.
Reading and contributing to some threads recently and about fishing in general, but then input driven by applying it to Barbel has also prompted something i have always felt and that is the thought of how and why tactics cannot ever be decided upon by some form of flow chart, with taking all of the variables, inter weaving them to then lead you to a firm strategy on a given day. Even if possible, which of course it isn't, then fishing would lose much of its appeal. For how many is the session about the thought beforehand, the planning and the prep? For me it adds to the eagerness and is possibly 40% of the overall session, with always proportionally more actually being out there and doing it.
In the early part of the part one guide, i tried to cover all bases and do all i could to ensure someone got to experience their first Barbel and as a basis for inspiring them onto more. Again and in relation to that aim, and thinking back to some of the threads i refer to, i believe fully that fishing the same way regardless over a season and through the variables will see some success. I also feel that conversely, adapting approaches and being influenced by the variables in conditions and sometimes location, may see a more improved results tally, if numbers of fish and analysis of it, is a driving force.
Firm rules i think can only be ones that derive from logic and where there are only two possible outcomes; are their fish there- yes or no, or ones that stem from science, for example oily baits being least effective in colder water. It's such aspects of these where i come back to an angler who always glugs their baits for example and it getting results in say 4 in 10 sessions. Or the angler always fishing the same spot and each to their own of course, but again getting similar results, the 6 sessions being when the fish simply weren't there and knowledge of where they go and when needed or may be conditions so diverse, that even a down the middle of the two extremes and 'my normal' approach being equally too far from what may have been needed.
So, whilst i can never of course, say 'right factoring in these conditions it must be this approach' i have been in the last few years an advocate of not letting the ease of prep for Barbelling generally, which it is grab and go, luring you into always doing the same- tub of pellets, kit, away we go, but more giving thought to what conditions will be like. The direction i have to go in and whilst presently not looking to deviate to a specimen based target, still numbers of Barbel for me, and the direction the guide has to take at this point is one now of taking stock of where the scene is at and one of thinking how do i go about each in individual and potentially different session. To always strive to improve and catch more Barbel can't be achieved by a set and standard set up for every session, unless conditions and the fishes behaviour and preferences stay the same for 9 months of the year, which of course they don't. In terms of conditions, look at how these favoured rivers are up and down more and more in recent years.
So, the two things that impact on Barbel, their changing environment, both over the months of a season, but bigger picture trends too in ever changing weather patterns in today's world. The other impact on them is? Anglers......
This latter factor is currently seeing the biggest change for me, as inferred previously in terms of numbers of anglers on the bank, but importantly the Barbel have to adapt, at some point they will need to eat still in conditions now that they didn't need to years ago, but in terms of the angling pressure factor, there lies their decision, exploit the increase in bait or avoid it in an ever growing knowledge of the dangers associated with exploiting it.
It may be that the two factors can actually work for us. Conditions wise and bigger picture for example, Barbel do seem to be becoming more widespread and that Barbel zone of a given river becoming less clear in where it starts and ends, a point emphasised by a recent stocking in the more upper 'boundary' reaches of the Severn, a traditionally cooler water zone that wouldn't be termed the middle of the rivers coarse. There are no physical boundaries of course and upper, middle and lower, exist as a geographical term, but one that suits the 'where do you find the fish' overall gauge, with the middle being THE traditionally more targeted zone.
In this piece too the use and reference to traditionality, i feel is based on trends and what is and what is a rule and what is a trend, almost fashionable like factor. In the case of the Severn in the boom days, you would see very short hooklengths in association with a feeder, in time however to target Barbel in a feeder approach with nothing less than a 3 foot hooklength has been the norm, and was possibly, in following the new 'rule' was one of the biggest impacts i feel in my upturn in results, bearing in mind of course i started Barbelling when the boom was firmly back in history. However, what did read recently, short hooklength with a feeder.......
In terms of the watching i have done recently, i watched a good video as recently as yesterday and others in less recent times, where this changing scene does seem to be emphasised, the numbers now Barbelling evident from the number of sessions being documented, may be a degree here of now that sessions can be documented in these digital times, but increases in numbers nonetheless. If joined in my watching of the array on offer, by my ever keen lad, whose eagerness has been founded on, hooked one lost one to date, then lockdown came.....he invariably points out, ' i notice they didn't say exactly where they are fishing?' The explanation of why has been given to him by me and why it should be appreciated that someone may have put a lot of effort into finding and nurturing a peg/stretch and how they couldn't then be expected to give everything away, but importantly adding that, you don't actually need to know. Although in terms of character, some of these rivers are vastly different in size and also character, a Barbel swim is a Barbel swim and features and conditions to look out for are shared and where significant depth variations exist, then looking at the visible water features and you see the crease being the area given focus to more often than not.
So looking across a variety of videos i have made some interesting observations that serve to reduce the thickness futher of the Barbel fishing book of hard and fast rules to follow. One video with something noted, doesn't make a pattern, as equally as one instance doesn't make a norm, as i say though, several of either do. Just as important too is not to discount any offering where a blank has occurred and this is where we have to be grateful for warts and all sessions documented, with plenty now and pleasing to see also, taking something from the session, productive or not.
So, what form have these observations taken? Mainly that of extremes of conditions being successfully exploited by anglers, with the important aspect of safety good to see when in the higher water of those extremes too, but also in the use of bait and again in those extremes. Maggots producing in coloured and high water and paste wrapped baits producing in low clear conditions, being just two, but importantly a big two in going against the rule book. In analysis of these, water temperature, significantly cold at the time, whilst coloured, along with a need to be on the fish when shoaled and bordering on inactive in such temperatures, may well have seen this smaller and particle offering greeted by enthusiasm, enhanced by the river colour impacting on keenness perhaps. A paste wrapped bait however in clear and low water, and we aren't of course talking warm water still, making establishing any trail from the paste or perpetuated by any good breakdown of it, meaning that a location based factor comes into play and an opportunist take on behalf of the Barbel. We wouldn't be mistaken for thinking that previously water temperatures and specifically the trend of them was a hard and fast rule, or at the least the most vital to observe but in terms of this latter bait option, the colour of the water may have overtaken the temperature factor, in a recent feature where i saw this also, the takes at a point of the day, where water temperature would be on the dropping trend in this time of year, in just getting to dusk.
So, if you are looking to vary your approach, i think it fair to say that the options are out there and also factors are coming into play, that broaden the opportunity for their use beyond the previously established boundaries.
Well, as I add this piece to the guide a few days under two weeks from one of the highlights of the calendar, I can now bring together some thoughts that have been mulling around my mind since the last piece on the what’s and when’s of bait choice.
‘Barbel will eat anything’
‘If they are there, they will have it’
‘Triggering them to feed is key’
‘Barbel are easy to catch’
Four statements that although aren’t direct quotes from any one or particular source, are all phrases familiar to many a Barbel angler who read up on them, research their pursuit of Barbel or hear other anglers. In the case of the title of this piece, the first aspect is aimed at the angler and the second aspect is giving consideration to the third quote above.
The first quote on that list, is potentially the most factual and whilst I could have added the word ‘largely’ before the word ‘anything’, but, in doing so, could have lost some of the impact of the statement, but to include the word ‘largely’ would be perhaps doing the Barbel a bit more credit than to just suggest they spend all day eating anything and are feeding machines, which they don’t and aren’t, despite like any animal are designed to be able to feed in their environment. I wouldn’t ever want to add fuel to the thoughts of those who feel that Barbel are easy to catch either.
When I read the Barbel books in my growing collection and particularly the introductions to them, I am inspired by authors and anglers who state their credentials in the forward pages by pointing out in cases, the thousands of numbers of Barbel they have caught. Reading the whole of the books however, soon makes you appreciate that Barbel are from easy to catch and it is more their dedication, research on and off the river bank and time spent pursuing them, not just over a number of years, but the number of days over a week given to their pursuit of them that results in the impressive numbers. Personally speaking I have now passed a milestone of a hundred Barbel to date, with that tally trend increasing on a steeper upward trend each season in the last 5 years, but before anyone does a numbers comparison and can be any larger critic than I am on myself at times, I take pride in that milestone when averaged across the one may be two Barbel sessions per month I have generally undertaken since I started fishing for them. I still maintain the caveat of not being able to wander out of door and be on my favoured rivers in a matter of minutes.
Time well spent....reading.
Hence, no, in my opinion they aren’t easy to catch and to move onto statement one on the subject of what they will eat or sometimes exploit when opportunity presents itself; fly hatches, other fish, snails, shrimps, worms all feature at times in a Barbel’s more natural based diet. This is before of course considering the less natural offering’s we have at our disposal to offer them. I will at this point and on the matter of baits us anglers use and to counter the Barbel will eat anything statement, ask a Barbel angler to consider if they have a preferred bait, that has got them better results than other baits, whether it’s a particular, size, colour, flavour, type or even brand or one particular hookbait that has all of those criteria, I would guess that anyone considering the question, will be thinking yes I have my go to bait/s and (insert here) rarely lets me down. I do too, and don’t mind adding that in recent years, it has been a red pellet, the size however will vary according to conditions or application in terms of a larger target bait tactic or when looking to match to feed on occasions. So, will they eat anything? Is it more a state of mind and a confidence thing on our part? It was suggested in a recent video I watched that you fish better with a bait you have confidence in, true enough and a belief it leads to patience on the bank, so I am in agreement really, confidence is certainly founded on the back of results I would say.
One of six Barbel taken on a day where a large pellet was chosen- high warm floodwater.
I have come to appreciate that statement two is perhaps the most in-accurate, but to split it up and consider ‘if they are there’, returns us back to rule number one; location, whether it’s a location that Barbel are usually present in for long periods of time offering all what they need and when, or a location that knowledge tells you they will frequent in certain seasonal conditions or a location during the course of a day’s fishing you know they will frequent at some point. Readers may be far enough along their journey now to perhaps be able to think of the places they fish and when, that fit location descriptions. Where I fish, personally speaking, I tend to have to rely on location factor three, derived from not having the convenience of being able to adopt a ‘where and when’ approach. If ‘they are there’ you could sometimes think, what is stopping them having it? Whilst we cannot control fish state of mind, nor ever know what is going on inside the fish’s brain for certain, it really comes down what can be assumed the fish is thinking based on what clues it gives you and from that ensure you do control aspects that are controllable. To deviate briefly from bait thinking, the next thing for me is the hook choice and I can still maintain it is still hook strength over size, with the strongest you can get in the smallest size possible for that given strength and size of bait. We must keep remembering that we aren’t fishing for something that will always readily eat and a more tactical, considered approach is the order of the day.
One of the fish from one of my best ever sessions numbers wise, that saw far from ideal 'traditional' conditions; bright sunshine, very hot temperatures-a day to match the hatch with a 6mm pellet hook bait.
So, it can be seen now, that really, statement two leads into number three and an area that I have been researching more and more as I consider my own baits. Now sometimes and it may be the same for others, but when I eat certain fast foods, I am hungry again almost soon afterwards. I am no scientist but I wonder if, during that returning hunger, if it is my stomach or my brain telling me I’m still hungry or merely that something was so nice, I want more of it. The brain plays a big part I feel and just as it can turn off an appetite like a switch if something puts us off eating, I suppose with the right stimuli it can equally generate an apparent hunger beyond the body’s actual needs. To apply this to fishing, is it something in that bait favoured by the fish and thus favoured by an angler? Visual recognition triggers or scent based triggers must come first I would say in the fish, as determined by water clarity and flow rate. The recognition aspect, coming from the Barbel associating the bait with it simply being something they have had before and enjoyed, which of course then makes you realise that new baits, or at least baits that are as new as a bait can ever be in terms of contents, needs the Barbel to be weaned onto it, at least in terms of colours, flavours and to a lesser degree size. Like any other species and my reading of other species does tell me that some species will switch onto certain baits quicker or slower than other ones. It also explains equally why over time Barbel will cease to accept a bait, based on it being associated with being caught, i.e when a bait has blown. Again, this seems to happen quicker or slower with certain baits, so whilst a Barbel doesn’t take a bait based on any knowledge of its dietry need requirement, there are some baits that they will willingly overcome any angler induced suspicion of in terms of the baits popularity and thus widespread use and still take it more often than not; your favoured bait perhaps?
Anglers will have their favoured colours, sizes and even flavours, all of which can be deduced on purchasing in a matter of seconds, but like us and what we may sometimes crave lots of, thought could be given to a baits other ingredients; feed inducing oils, soluble ingredients and stimulants. In terms of my baits and my thoughts for the coming season, it will be centred on experimenting, trying to deviate from the norm and to try and be ready for when my favourite recent baits lose their impact. I have now over time built some location knowledge I am happy enough with to know when and when not to factor into results, but have more recently observed the one growing factor that nature didn’t intend to place on those locations, us and our impact on them. I may on occasion return to that favoured bait and not consider why it works, just know it works, but not knowing why it has worked, won’t be of use to me when it stops working.
One of the coming seasons additional targets, to help him get the one to date that got away. Time still to nurture the thinking and instill the need for 'why'.
Just like the contents of proven baits, none of this is revolutionary thinking of course and anglers with good results and ones that far exceed my expectations will have had these thoughts long ago, but I also suspect that their need to know the ‘why’ has impacted on their results, so whether that Barbel is your first or one hundred and first, always try and think and why you succeeded.