There is a lot written about barbel fishing tactics, rigs and bait; whether it’s in magazines, books or on social media there is clearly no specific right or wrong way to do things. We’ve all read about anglers using completely different approaches and they are catching fish. Therefore this is not intended to be ‘this is how you do it’, but a general basic overview of barbel fishing.
In my view there is no need to over complicate rigs for barbel fishing. A simple running lead or feeder with a good strong hook with a hair rigged bait is generally all you need. Please remember to make sure your rigs are safe e.g. if the line breaks you don’t want the fish dragging a lead or feeder around, so always ensure the lead/feeder will come away where ever the line breaks.
Hooks can be barbed, micro-barbed or barbless depending on person preference or/and the rules for the water. Most anglers use hooks in sizes ranging from ten down to six, though of course depending on bait other sizes might be preferred. Most barbel anglers use a knotless knot for tying on the bait to the hook.
The material and the actual length of the hook length are often two commonly debated topics. The options for the hook length are monofilament, fluorocarbon or braid (soft and coated). I’m not going to state one is definitely better than the other, my perception is generally fluorocarbon or coated braid are the most popular choices. They are both strong and quite stiff so less likely to tangle. Fluorocarbon is almost invisible in water, so good in clear water whereas coated braid is very abrasive resistant so good in rocky, snaggy or/and coloured water.
The hook length can be 6 inches to 6 foot. Some anglers catch barbel on carp style rigs, just 6 inches in length, whilst others swear by using long hook lengths up to six feet in length. The average hook length is probably more likely to be between two & three feet in length.
Back-leads are a useful tool for barbel anglers in certain circumstances. Barbel don’t like swimming into a tight line in the water, this can spook them and other fish out of the swim. They are generally used when anglers are fishing at close quarters on small to medium rivers.
Where to fish
There is no exact science on where barbel will definitely be caught, though certain swims are more likely to hold barbel than others. The picture below shows the most likely spots on a typical river where barbel could be found.
When a river is in flood the barbel are most likely to be found out of the main flow, in places such as behind trees and obstructions where the water is calmer and less turbulent.
Many barbel anglers, like carp anglers use boilies (round or barrel shaped). These generally range in size from 10mm to 20mm, though others sizes can be used. Boilies come in many different colours and flavours, and are produced by an array of different companies. Size and flavour are a personal choice, though large boilies are only likely to be picked up by large fish, so if you want to target large fish then a large bait may help.
Spam or luncheon meat is an old favourite and still a good bait for barbel, particularly in coloured water. Some anglers will use half a tin with a size two hook buried in the meat to target big fish. Small baits like casters or maggots will catch barbel though are likely to attract the attention of small fish, but in the right circumstances can be a very effective bait.
A good old lob worm is not to be ignored as a barbel bait, though of course will attract the attention of many different species. Hemp has been used as a feed bait for barbel for very many years and still is today, often deposited on the river bed via a bait dropper or feeder.
Groundbait is also used by many barbel anglers, normally to block the ends of a feeder up to ensure the bait inside stays there until it hits the river bed. Though it can also be ‘balled’ in via hand.
There are a number of ways to feed a swim. You can simply throw bait in, though as the flow will take this downstream it is more difficult to judge where this bait will settle. Clearly if you are throwing in heavy baits such as boilies in fairly shallow water without too much flow then they will quickly find the bottom of the river. Likewise if you throw bait into a deep fast flowing river it isn’t likely to settle on the bottom until it has travelled a fair distance downstream.
Feeders are often used to provide a steady input of bait into a swim. These come in various sizes and weights, depending on the volume of bait you wish to deposit and the strength of the flow. Feeders are most often filled with things like groundbait, pellets, hemp and maybe a few free samples of the hook bait.
Bait droppers are normally used to deposit bait on the river bed in a specific spot, fairly close to the bank. You can be very accurate with a bait dropper, you simply drop it in where you want to feed or swing it out under arm to the chosen spot. You can cast a bait dropper overhead some distance but normally feeding at a distance is done via a feeder.
Finally you can attach a PVC bag (mesh or solid) either to your hook or the lead. PVA dissolves in water and releases the bait. You at least know the bait will be released near your hook, though of course the flow may take it down stream depending on the strength of the flow and the size/weight of the bait.
Baitdropper and PVA bag
These days rod manufactures produced specific rods for barbel fishing. They tend to be measured by their ‘test curve’. A rod’s measured test curve is a figure given to the amount of weight that, when applied to a rod will cause that rod to bend into a 90 degree curve. Though not all rods have the same type of ‘action’. A barbel rod is most likely to have an ‘all through’ action, meaning the rod will bend progressively throughout its length. A typical match rod is far more likely to have a ‘tip action’, where the top end of the rod will bend far more than the bottom end. Barbel rods are normally in the range of 1.5 tc to 2.5 tc. The higher test curve rods are required if you’re fishing large rivers with a powerful flow or/and for large fish.
It’s important to note that barbel often give savage bites, with rods bending right round very quickly. I would advise you have the bait runner ‘on’ so line can be taken, and you ensure your rod ends are fixed into a gripper of some sort or on a tripod to stop them being dragged in. Don’t take this lightly as many rods have been lost to barbel bites.