Do you fancy a few short sessions this summer with plenty of action and a healthy bend in your rod? Perhaps your local lakes have all weeded up, the carp have got a sulk on, and the mozzies are driving you mad? Well why not try something a little different, with some hard-fighting fish that aren’t too difficult to catch. I bet you have most of the gear that you will need already. Yes, of course, I am talking about a spot of barbel fishing!
Never has there been a better time to fish for barbel. The species can now be found in much of the country, so wether you live in Kent, right up to Yorkshire, the chances are you won’t have to travel too far to catch them.
Just like carp
In so many ways barbel are just like carp, only they live in rivers. The rigs and baits that you use to catch them can be just the same as you would use for carp, and if you have got a set of lighter rods and reels - say Scope 2.75lb or similar, then you will already have everything you need to fish for them. OK, using slightly lighter rods will give you some epic battles with even the smaller fish, but if you don’t want to go to that expense then just stick with what you have got.
What you won’t need to go barbel fishing is a lot of the paraphernalia associated with long-stay carp fishing. Forget a bivvy and bedchair, cooking gear and barrow. Travel light and fish short evening sessions and you won’t go far wrong.
In many ways barbel fishing is a lot like opportunistic carp fishing. In clear running rivers you can often see the fish and set little traps for them. There is nothing more intense than being able to watch the fish feeding on your bait, whatever the species, and with barbel this is often the case. In larger rivers I will often bait several swims with a sprinkling of boilies and then revisit each over the course of an evening, each spot being fished for an hour, no more, in search of a fish or two. Yes, if time is limited and you need to maximise those long midweek evenings at this time of the year then barbel fishing will certainly be for you.
Get them feeding
I was lucky enough to get my hands on the three new Nash boilies, the Key, TG Active and 4G Squid about a year ago, so I have had the opportunity to put them through their paces for a number of different species including barbel, with some excellent results. Of the three, I think the TG Active takes some beating as a summer barbel bait. Barbel love spicy baits, especially those containing garlic, so you can see why the bait should be an instant hit with them. I think the success of this bait goes deeper though. The complex base mix is also very much to the barbel’s liking and I am sure this is the reason for its continued success.
I have found the TG Active to be absolutely instant for barbel, as any good bait should be. My normal plan is to introduce the bait either in front of fish that I can see are in the swim, or look to lightly bait a few spots that look like they should hold fish - fast gravel runs close to snags and overhanging trees being obvious spots. I will introduce around 30 baits into each spot. I prefer to use the 10mm freezer baits, as they are a lovely soft texture that I am sure all fish prefer. Alongside the boilies I will always introduce some hemp. This doesn’t have to be a huge amount. It is better to keep a pouchful of hemp going into the swim every ten minutes than it is to dump it all in at the start of a session and then sit on it. The new Slicker spiced hemp is perfect for the job, and I can normally get a couple of trips out of each bag.
My hookbait is normally two 10mm boilies on the hair with a wrap of the awesome TG Active paste around them. I always use paste around my hookbaits as this is by far the easiest way of increasing your catch rate for both carp and barbel.
What of the other baits? I have caught well on the 4G Squid, but I find this bait a little less selective for barbel simply because chub absolutely love any bait that has the squid powder in it. As a chub bait few things come close, but if I am solely after barbel then I think the TG Active or Key are better options.
The Key I used quite extensively last winter and considering I was fishing a VERY tough stretch of river it worked well for the barbel. Certainly the superb nutritional profile of this bait make it very effective in winter. I know from looking at the results of some of the other field testers that it has also caught big barbel in the autumn, so I will be looking to put it through its paces earlier in the year this season.
It is also worth not forgetting the new pellet range. Now, barbel love pellets and I can see the new Small and Mega pellet mixes being an important addition to my barbel fishing armory. The dedicated pellet-shaped hookbaits are another essential in my rucksack as they can easily be hair-rigged, resemble a pellet, but last much longer in the water.
Most barbel anglers use very simple rigs, normally nothing more complicated than a length of 15lb combi-link knotless-knotted to a size 10 hook. Hooklengths are normally quite long compared to carp rigs, with anywhere from 18-inches to several feet being the norm. The reason for this extra length is to keep the hookbait away from the main line above the lead, as the current will tend to force this downstream, right over the heads of the fish. You could back lead, and some people do, but personally I prefer to just use longer rigs to keep the main line away from the fish.
Now, although most barbel anglers use very simple rigs, this does not mean that there is not considerable scope for experimentation. Remember what I said at the start, barbel are very similar to carp, and so a lot of the rigs that work well for those big old mirrors will trip up the more pressured barbel too. It is well worth experimenting and I know anglers who have had great success on combi-rigs, reverse combi’s, stiff-rig pop-ups fished just off bottom, snowman rigs and multi-rigs. There is plenty of room for experimentation in the rig department if that is your thing.
An average evening
I am extremely lucky in that I have two prolific barbel rivers within an leisurely drive of home, but I am sure many of you reading this will be in a similar position. After dinner I load my rucksack, rod holdall and chair into the back of the fishing wagon and make my way across country to the river. There is no real need to rush at this time of the year as ‘bite-time’ is so often from dusk until midnight that there is little point in arriving much earlier.
If I know the stretch well then I will normally fish just the one swim for the evening. After all, I might only be fishing for three or four hours. I always start catapulting hemp and a few boilies into the swim before I even set up my chair. Once the bait starts going in your are already increasing your chances of getting a bite, so make this your number one priority.
On small rivers there is only normally room for one rod, but on the bigger rivers you can use two if you prefer. I use the new 10ft 2.25lb Scopes for much of my barbel fishing, the short pack-size and brilliant accuracy of these rods makes them ideal for river fishing. Once I have made myself comfortable and got everything in position it is time to get the baits in the water. There really is no need to rush this and it is better to make sure you have everything set out neatly before it gets dark. With practice you will soon get into your own routine and know exactly where everything is.
As the light begins to fade the rod tops will often start jangling as small chub begin nipping at the hookbaits and perhaps the odd barbel cruises through the swim giving you a heart-stopping line-bite. Eventually, the rod top nods slightly and then whacks around to its full fighting curve as an angry barbel is stung by the size 10 Fang Uni hook. Now the fight is on and you will be amazed at how such a small fish can fight so hard. Using the current to their benefit barbel will really give you a working out and fight all the way to the net. Once in the net give the fish five minutes to rest before bringing it up on to the bank to remove the hook and perhaps take a quick picture. This is only fair as it will give the fish a chance to get its breath back after such a hard fight.
And that is about all there is to it. I know a lot of dyed-in-the-wool carp anglers who have fallen in love with barbel fishing. To me the two styles of fishing complement each other perfectly. So if you are looking for a new challenge this summer why not head off to your local river? You will not be disappointed!