Beginners Guide to Barbel Fishing

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Astounded Coach

Regular member
Dec 12, 2003
A Beginners Guide to Barbel Fishing Part One

As a longstanding member of this forum I have noticed that a lot of questions relate to barbel fishing.
Some of you will know I am a fulltime professional barbel guide working on the River Teme near Worcester. I have been fishing for barbel for over 30 years and I thought it might be helpful if I collate this information into a `beginners guide
So here goes!!!

Lets look at tackle first
The rod for barbel needs to have 2 main attributes, it needs to have the power to land the fish, but it also needs to be soft enough to cushion those savage last minute dives without pulling the hook out.
Most manufacturers produce a specialist barbel rod but I would suggest you look for a 12ft model with 1.75lb TC as an all round rod. Wychwood produced an excellent rod called the `Double Top which was supplied with 2 tops, a 1.75lb and 2lb TC.
In my opinion there is absolutely no need for a barbel rod to have a quivertip.if your rig is right (and Ill show you a few later) the only bite you will get will be a 3ft twitch!!

Fixed Spool for the majority of fishing situations. Rear Drag with a baitrunner facility, not too big. Shimano, Wychwood, Okuma , TFG all make good examples. Something that holds a good amount of 10lb or 12lb line. I use Wychwood Extremis RD 40 which I have found to be excellent.

Dont go below 10lb for your mainline. Use a reputable brand that you have confidence in. For my recommendation use Daiwa Sensor clear or Kryston Krystonite. 10lb bs is fine for open water but dont be afraid to fish 12lb near snags.

Again use what you have confidence in, although if your background is in the match world do not use one of the so called `carp patterns. The hook needs to be strong and very sharp. Drennan Super Specialists have always been very popular but I have had them straighten under pressure. Korda Wide Gapes are good BUT..the points are VERY soft and I have noticed that the hook only has to hit a piece of gravel and there is a danger it will `turn over. The heavy wire version of Gamakatsu G Point is brilliant as are the range of Camo hooks from Anchor Tackle/
As far as barbed or barbless goes I think its down to you. I use barbed for various reasons on the river but again its personal choice and preference/

Sundry items

Do not go barbel fishing without an unhooking mat
A light weight chair
Rod Rests, make sure the front rest is a V design which allows the line to `run, Enterprise tackle do some really good versions with luminous material built in which you just charge up with a torch ready for the night.

Landing Net
A good size 36 is a must as you will not only use it to land the fish but also to allow the fish to recover after the fight and a match style pan or spoon net is of little use for this.

Leave your keepnet AT HOMEthey kill barbel! In the summer the oxygen requirement of the barbel is extremely high and they need to be cared for properly and returned straight away. They also have a serrated edge to the first ray of the dorsal fin which is like a magnet to keepnet mesh.

A SMALL rucksack is a must to carry all your gear and food etc for a day, but make it a small one the most effective barbel angler moves around a lot and lugging unnecessary gear will take its toll on a hot summers day

Polarised Sunglasses
These are an absolute must in the summer for fish spotting. These days they dont have to cost a fortune either, the best pair I have ever had were made by `Sixth Sense and were about 17.

Get a good quality LED headtorch. A lot of fishing is done in the dark and a headtorch makes things a lot easier.

Right..youre kitted up so how are you going to go about catching your first barbel?

There are several ways, you could go it alone or enlist the help of an experienced guide (hey you could even book a day with me on the Teme!!! LOL) , the choice is yours.
Let me take you through the next steps, location, rigs, baits, bait application, playing and landing barbel and how to make sure they go back alive and well.

They are in the water!! Only Joking!
Many anglers say to look for smooth water that is about walking pace and as a rule of thumb this isnt bad advice. However, on the River Teme if you take this advice totally to heart you will walk past some of the best swims on the river! Use your instinct, think that the barbel is built for fast water, its whole shape is designed for it to hold station and feed in the flow///if it looks good it probably is!
Overhanging trees on the outside of bends where the flow is are always a good bet and those trees that cause a `raft of flotsam to gather are always worth attention.
Cattle drinks seem to attract barbell for some reason, often on shallow beach type sections they can produce consistently.
As with any other fish mid river snags hold fish all year, just make sure your gear is up to the job.
If you are on a big river like the Lower Severn location can be a little more difficult. Here it is important to speak to other anglers and gather information from the angling press. If no information is forthcoming then pick a stretch and fish each swim systematically for about an hour and keep moving, you will find the fish eventually.


Luncheon Meat
An all time classic, cut into cubes and fished either direct on the hook or on a hair. On big rivers like the Severn we even use half tins as a hookbait!!!

Halibut / Elips Pellets
These are taking over barbel fishing, they offer the ultimate in convenience giving feed and hookbait options.

Barbel love the stuff, A few anglers will tell you it `blows and that the fish become afraid of it. In all my years barbel fishing I have never known this to happen. As with most other fish the yellow peril is a really good option.

Again an all time classic and barbel really do respond to a good bed of hemp laid down with either a bait dropper or feeder

In clear water maggots can be devastating, dont be afraid to use them in really large amounts, usually you have to feed off the small fish first.

Fast becoming the first hookbait choice for a lot of rivers, flavours like Monster Crab and Halibut reign supreme but try to be different ..a lot of fish are quietly being caught on fruit flavours.

So now youve got your tackle, have found a swim, prepared your bait and are ready to swing the whole lot in.But wait what about rigs?

For the majority of the fishing a simple leadclip arrangement with the lead fished semi fixed is all you need. Hooklengths can be mono or braid which ultimately will be personal choice.
I fish a hair 95% of the time and tie this with a simple knotless knot configuration.

I NEVER use leadcore. I just dont think it can possibly work in fast water, the line would have to be fished totally slack and in my mind as soon as you raised the rod to put it in the rest it would lift off the bottom.
When I feel the line does need to pin down I use the backleads that I designed for Anchor Tackle, the Pebble Backlead, these are fished `flying style and are heavy enough to hold bottom even when you raise the rod.

PVA bags and sticks are very popular and a cracking if not expensive way of getting some freebies in your area. However, dont neglect the humble (and now classed as old fashioned) swimfeeder.


In part one we looked at the very basic tackle requirements to effectively and responsibly fish for this fantastic species. I digress slightly from my original plan of part two as only when I have sat here to write this have I realised that there is so much to barbel fishing and much that I suppose Id o almost automatically.

In this part we will look at several very important aspects of barbel fishing. Correct swim preparation is vital If you are to be consistently successful and not just catch the `odd fish. We will also have a closer look at the rigs which will give you the best chance of securing a good hook hold in the fish, and finally in this part we will look at how to play a barbel correctly.


The importance of correct swim preparation cannot be stressed enough, it is this that sets a good barbel angler from an average one. The majority of anglers are far too eager to cast a line over fish that are interested but not avidly feeding. The result will often be a `one fish hit where a fish is hooked quickly but then the shoal melts away and become frustratingly difficult to tempt again.
So, we have arrived on our selected stretch , lets take it that we are on a small to medium river like the River Teme, I will suggest some alternative tactics for large rivers like the Lower Severn later. As we have been here before we have some idea in our minds of where the fish may is where a lot of anglers go many of us have decided where we are going to fish BEFORE we even get out of the car?...................
Walk the whole stretch first..even if it takes an hour. Don your polarised glasses and spend some time actually looking for fish. Once you have a practiced eye barbel are not difficult to see and a sparse scattering of halibut pellets will often see fish materialise as if out of nowhere.
Watch their reaction to the small sprinkly of pellets. You will notice that in certain places they really get their heads down and start digging the bottom up to get at the pellets. In others they will hardly make any effort to move for them. This should get you thinking. There are places and times where the barbel feed and there are holding areas where they rest up. Finding the feeding swims is the key to being successful.
So having spent a little time just looking you will now have an even better idea as to where to best `have a go.
Now comes for the magic, and that magic comes in the shape of a small black seed..HEMP.
In each of your chosen swims either catapult or baitdropper (preferred) a pint or so of hemp followed by a couple of droppers of small (4-6mm) pellets.
Now for the IMPORTANT bitWAITOBSERVEand REPEATwhat you are looking for is the barbel to be actively competing for the loosefeed. Believe me when these fish are actively on the feed it is VERY obvious!
When the fish have reached this stage, sometimes it may take an hour or so, sometimes literally minutes then it is time to think about how best to present our bait.


The rig you choose will depend on your bait to a certain extent . Lets look at some basic rigs which will see you through 90% of your fishing.

The best way to fish a pellet (14mm or bigger) is on a simple knotless knot hair configuration using either a reputable braid (I like ESP sinklink) or a straight forward mono.
To fish pellets like this they either need drilling or there are several versions available predrilled although I sometimes find the holes on these a little too large making presentation difficult and allowing too much water into the inside of the pellet.
Alternatively you can use a pellet band or `O ring tied to the hair but I am never confident that the hookbait is actually there so I much prefer drilling.
I tend to use one of those pots that boilie popups come in and sit and drill a few pot fulls in the comfort of the kitchen table rather than fiddling about and wasting fishing time on the bank. I also then soak these hookers in a combination of Salmon Oil and Monster Crab flavour. This extends their effective life and slows down the breakdown in water.
To fish smaller pellets the best way is to superglue 2 back to back to the hair again using the knotless knot configuration.

Dare I say but carp fishing has come to barbel fishing!!! (thats all the purists upset!!) Again the knotless knot reigns supreme. Just follow the rule..KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Luncheon Meat.
There are two main ways to fish meat, on the hook or on the hair. Both have there problems due to the soft nature of this magnificent barbel catcher.
To fish on the hook, push your hook all the way through the meat , turn through 90 degrees and pop a small blade of grass under the bend to secure. The humble blade of grass is far more effective than a boilie stop as it spreads the load of the bait and stops the hook pulling through.
To fish meat on the hair there is a little trick! Tie your hair as normal and then thread on a piece of rigid tubing. Mount the meat as usual with a piece of spaghetti as a stop (again better than any boilie stop) the tubing will stop the cheese wire effect of the hair cutting through the meat.

Hemp Hookbaits
A massive edge..BUTIm not saying anything nowyoull have to keep your eyes on Improve Your Coarse Fishing magazine over the next couple of months as Im doing a feature showing a couple of little tricks!!

Not a lot needs to be said but a big punch of maggots can be a killer.

Not rocket science this one just take your knotless knot hair rig and replace your pellet/boilie hookbait with 3 or 4 grains.

I use the semi fixed setup for 80% of my barbeling. Ill take you through how to setup my preferred end tackle. I make no excuses for naming specific manufacturers products as they are the ones I have confidence in.
First take a variable release leadclip and thread up your line. Then tie on a size 8 swivel. To this then tie on your hair rig as above. Attach a lead which will hold bottom and aid the `bolt effect.
Variable release leadclips are part of the Anchor Tackle Barbel Expert Range, this range also has camo swivels, hooks and pebble backleads. If you have difficulty in getting hold of any of the range try (Shameless plug!!![:D][;)])

So there you have it, your swim is prepared and your trap is set.

With the rigs described you will see that there really is no need for a quivertip. I am not interested in knowing when a fish is NEAR my bait.I NEED to know when a fish is hooked. You will find that 95% of bites will be a quick tap on the rod top followed by the rod top slamming over and the baitrunner screaming like a carp run.

SO FISH ON!!!!!!!!!
You must play barbel HARD. It is no good ***** footing around. As I have previously said the barbels oxygen requirement throughout the summer is very high and the quicker you get them in the folds of your landing net the better. A long protracted fight is very bad news for the fish and often ends in a fatality.
If you are using the tackle I have suggested you will cope with any barbel that swimsjust one thing thoughI am amazed at the amount of anglers I see playing fish with a rod that is hardly bent!!! The rod is a springits there to be bend the thing!!!

Be careful as the fish nears the net. Barbel are the one fish that are extremely adept at catching you unawares. Just as you think they are beaten they wil make one last dive and strip a load of line from your reel or if youre not ready break you.
Once the fish is in your netWAIT..leave the fish to recover for a few minutes in the water. This can often give you time to prepare your weighing and photography equipment before even unhooking the fish.

So there it is then, youve selected and prepared your swim, cast out the right rig and your prize is in the netso on to PART THREE.

In Part Three we will look at how to properly care for barbel which is the MOST important thing in this whole saga!!!


In the preceding parts we have looked at tackle, rigs, baits, location and how ,by preparing a swim correctly, to give ourselves the best chance of hooking and landing a barbel.

So, at this point the fish is in the net, but lets rewind slightly and have a look at a few essential pieces of kit that we might now need.

Absolutely essential with so many versions available literally costing from a few pounds upwards there is absolutely no excuse for not having one. Buy the most expensive you can justify (or afford) and also the largest. I use a JRC Euro Zip mat which will if required double up as a safe weigh sling. It is big enough to cope with large pike and catfish as well so potentially you will get a lot of use out of it. Comes in its own carry bag with strap , weighs next to nothing so is absolutely no hassle to carry.
The days of watching fish flounder on the grass or worse still on gravel should be long gone.sadly only the other day I witnessed!!!!!

A sturdy pair of artery forceps to gain a positive grip on the hook enabling the hook to be removed both quickly and cleanly.


Hardly ever used but handy to carry for those rare occasions when a hook shank needs to be snipped to make the hook extraction easier.

Again pennies to buy but the safest way to weigh a fish and much kinder than a carrier bag!


An accurate pair of scales is a must if you are into the numbers game. I use a set of 40lb Avon Dial Scales which I have had for nearly 20 years are still as accurate as when I first had them and have never let me down.

Get yourself a decent digital camera. If you are looking to potentially submit photos or articles to magazines you need at least 4.0 megapixels to prevent the pixilation effect when the photo is blown up in size. The real beauty of course is that you can check your photography as you take it no longer leaving it to chance and hoping the chap at your local Boots does a good job!
Make sure it has a self timer functionmore later


There is nothing worse than catching a big fish and having to take a non descript picture of it just lying on your mat. This gives no impression of size and more importantly doesnt show you!

So, with the fish resting in the net, pop yourself up the bank and lay out your unhooking mat on a nice flat surface. It is my opinion that this is best done away from your swim as it gives you more room to work.

Next set your tripod up and line up your camera shot, as a rule of thumb line up the top edge (as you see it in the viewfinder) of the unhooking mat with the bottom of the shot. This should make sure that you will be in the shot without cutting your head off!!!...BUT..check it first.

Set your self timer and kneel down by your mat in a fish holding pose!! (may look silly but works!) and take a test shot. Go back to the camera and check positioning, checking that both you and the fish will be completely in the shot.

Now crucially dont move your unhooking mat or your tripod!!!

Right with scales and sling at the ready now go get the fish and lay it on the mat. Slip it in your WET sling and get your numbers!! Then back on the mat, I leave the sling covering the fish at this point which tends to keep it calm.

Turn your camera on , engage your self timer, back to the fish, pick up fish and smile like a good un!

The main thing here is that all this preparation will minimise the time the fish is out of the water and gives the fish chance to recover after the fight.

Carry your fish back to the water either in the weigh sling or your rolled up landing net (if youve got one with detachable arms) . Now for the most important bit. Dont just release the fish at this point.

Find yourself an area where you can either get in the river or where you can comfortably hold the fish in the water without the risk of you overbalancing and ending up in the drink.

Place the fish back in the water pointing upstream to maximise the flow of water through its gills. Now support the fish until it swims out of your hands of its own accord. Depending on the time of year this can take anything up to 20 -30 minutes but its best to make absolutely sure that the fish is totally recovered.

The importance of getting that last step right cannot be stressed enough.

Well following on from Part Three I said we would look at some advanced methods and some solutions to some of the difficult stuations barbel occassionally throw at you.

Firstly lets look at flood fishing:-

Some of the best barbel fishing , and certainly sometimes your best chance for a big fish , comes when the river is running bank high with floodwater, now for some rivers bank high may only mean a couple of feet of extra water, on waters like the mighty Severn however it can be anything up to 15 feet of extra water!!!
The key is firstly to fish safely, there is not a fish big enough in the land that will make me risk my life!
Get to know your particular stretch , and if possible take pictures of the swims and the bankside foliage, remember that lovely bush that was once shading you from the sun is now submerged and is now a formidable snag at its upstream side and a fish haven in its downstream ebb!
In my experience forget the old advice of finding an eddy or slack water in a flood, barbel are ideally suited to fast flows and have no problem in stting out in the main flow during flood conditions.
The main problem this presents is twofold:-
a) keeping your bait in position without using a washing machine as a lead!
b) stopping the debris,leaves , sticks trees etc accumulating on the line and pulling your bait out of position.
Both problems are relatively easy to address , firstly use a large lead (6-7oz watch type leads) and cast willfind that you need far less lead to fish upstream than you do to fish the usualdown and across line.
Now to deal with the debris...simple...tie a stop knot about 4ft up your line, this will catch most of the leaves etc and stop your rig getting masked.In extreme flood you may still only get 10 minutes before the weight of the debris pulls your rig out of line but 10 minutes with an unmasked bait is worth 100 minutes in the sameplace with a hidden bait.
Also in times of flood play fish HARD, rememberng at all times the new snags in the form of bankside fauna etc.

Baits in flood conditons need to be smelly and not necessarily any bgger than normal, remember the barbels natural food doesnt suddenly growin size just because we've had a bit of rain.
Meat is a good bet, as are paste wrapped boilies and never neglect a couple of lobworms.

The Problem of Liners
Another problem which can occur during low water conditions is the problem of liners, barbel bumping into line will spook violently out of your swim, possibly taking any other fish with them , the only thing you know is that your rod wll slam over briefly but aggressively.
It is therefore of vital importance to get your line pinned down behind your lead for a good 10ft or so, ths presents its own problems in that most of the commercially available carp type backleads are way too light,oh and forget leadcore! to work properly a slack line is best and this is simply unachievable in moving water,couple this that most anglers I see using it are fishing a tght line wth the rod tip high on the rest trent style it must be stuck off the bottom like a telegraph pole!
The answer is to use a purpose made backlead, check out the Pebble backleads from Anchor. We developed these specifically for fishing large rivers and when secured with a small rubber floatstop up the line they work a treat, they also double up as ideal inline stalking leads[;)]

Missed Bites
I'll tell you now they ain't barbel!!! and quite why people need a quivertip for a fish that bites with a 3ft twitch s beyond me! sharp raps on the tp when hair rigging tend to be bream or chub which you dont want to catch anyway.

Well hope thats given some food for thought.
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Regular member
Jun 22, 2006
Excellent work AC,

I can't wait for part two!

Maybe the Boss will make this a "sticky", it would be a shame if such sound advice were to be lost in the "ether"


Active member
Sep 2, 2003
Thanks for the advice. I am going to Bewdley in Worcestershire for my holidays on 10th August for 2 weeks and looking forward to do some Barbel fishing, for which I have not tried to catch yet. So looking forward to Part 2 again thanks for the info.

Astounded Coach

Regular member
Dec 12, 2003
Thanks chaps. I've been meaning to do this for a while.
Would be nice to get `sticky status' as theres 4 parts in total!!!

Astounded Coach

Regular member
Dec 12, 2003
Apologies everyone, some big carp got in the way of my penning Part Two. Will be completed and posted tomorrow evening (Tuesday)
Tight lines


Regular member
Sep 13, 2005
Good Post Neil

Do the Mods know that you will be charging for the info??

How do you think the Teme will fish this weekend?
A drop of rain and colour would be nice

Astounded Coach

Regular member
Dec 12, 2003
Severn Traveller not with you.
I am not charging for the info, I have placed these posts entirely free of charge to help other anglers.
Of course I charge for my guided days, that is my job, but that is not what these posts are about.
I think the Teme will fish its head off, the run off from that last lot of rains is only just leaving the river and having spent hours this week watching the fish they are definitely in a co-operative modd![:D]
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Regular member
Sep 13, 2005
Only joking about charging mate.
Great posts so far and its nice to read an article without sponsership plugs (Dynamite Bait Times!!)
I think the Teme will fish as well and spotted a few nice fish when walking the St Johns stretch today

Astounded Coach

Regular member
Dec 12, 2003
Fair dos ST![:D]
Teme does look fantastic at the mo..this week is going to be a lOOONNNNGGGG week!!![:0]


Regular member
Sep 13, 2005
Plan to use Halibut pellets with a paste wrap soaked in salmon oil.
Loose feed pellets and hemp.

Worked last year so fairly confident.
Have a feeling that the fish will be concentrated again though.
Not so sure that the bigger fish are still there in the numbers they were a couple of seasons ago but you never know.
At least it looks like the canoeists right to roam wont be a hinderance.


Regular member
Oct 6, 2009
Great guide mate

I also guide for barbs and i fish snags mostly so as you can imagine the fish i hook are under immediate pressure so i was very surprised to hear what you said about the drennan super specialists

This is the only hook that has never straightened out on me, or anyone else i know for that matter

I would challenge anyone to put on a size 4 or 6 super specialist, hook it into a fence post, then try to straighten it out

You can't do it, even with 33lb braid

They are the toughest hooks around, and i wont use or recommend anything else

I am in disbelief at your statement bro, honestly

Got a pic? lol

All the best :)
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