At the start of the river season I had my sights set on catching my first double-figure barbel. To give myself a bit of confidence before tackling the “biggies”, I fished two sessions on a small river where I had a chance of hooking a few fish. Unfortunately, no barbel showed themselves on either trip, and I had to settle for 3 chub on the first evening and a complete blank on the second. Not an ideal start to the river campaign, but barbel often take a few weeks of the season before they start to feed heavily, so I was not too worried.
My tactics for barbel have slowly evolved over the past 4 or 5 years. I started off quivertipping a swimfeeder, with casters and hemp. Then went through various groundbait mixtures, with luncheon meat on the hook, before eventually reaching my current tactics. Nowadays I have put the quivertip rods aside, in favour of Avon-style rods of 1.5 to 1.75lb test-curve. These bend to the handle and have stacks of power. I couple these with Shimano 5000 baitrunner reels to absorb the fierce takes which barbel are famed for. Because barbel often inhabit snaggy swims, I use nothing less than a 12lb breaking-strain mainline with a high abrasion-resistance, such as GLT Pro Gold or Pro Clear.
My terminal tackle starts with a flat-sided inline lead, which acts as a flying back-lead. After this I tie-on 2-3 feet of lead-core (2010 edit – I no longer recommend the use of leadcore in barbel fishing. If you coose to do so, please do so with extreme caution and with fish safety your top priority), with a 2 to 4oz (depend upon flow) camouflaged lead attached to a safety clip. The clip creates a self-hooking rig, so I only have to lift the rod into a running fish, rather than strike. For hooklengths I like to use 12 to 18 inches of 10lb or 12lb Drennan Micro-Braid, which has a low diameter, yet is extremely tough. To finish the rig off I use a short-shank, heavy-gauge hook with a slightly in-turned point. A pattern I’ve tried this season and been most impressed with is “The Hook” from Pallatrax Stonze Stystem. It’s extremely strong, and the short shank is ideal for tying a knotless knot hair-rig.
On the hair, I use large, hard baits such as pellets and boilies to resist the attentions of small chub and other species. To introduce free offerings into the swim, I fish a PVA bag containing a mixture of pellets and chopped boilies.
Besides “beefing-up” my tackle over past seasons, I’ve also grown the confidence to fish larger rivers. This is the first year I have made a concerted effort to fish the River Trent for Barbel. There are many rivers now producing double-figure fish, but the sheer size of the Trent leads me (and a good few others!) to believe that one day it may challenge the Great Ouse for the British record.
On my first trip to the Trent I walked the bank to check out the swims, having not fished the stretch before. I couldn’t be sure where the barbel would be located, but I opted for a fairly deep but fast-flowing swim just below a shallow glide. This is a good place to start when the conditions are as they have been this year – unbelievably hot, sunny and dry. The barbel will seek out the highly oxygenated water coming from the turbulent shallows, but bright sunshine and clear water would force the fish elsewhere. This means there can be many fish holed-up in deep water or snags, which are immediately downstream of a faster run.
After fishing my chosen spot for an hour or so, I was surprised to see a large barbel break the surface just in front of me. I re-cast a rod to that spot and when my first bite came I expected it to be a barbel. Alas, it was a chub of around 2lb. I cast back to the same area immediately, this time even omitting the PVA bag, and around ten minutes later I had another bite. Immediately I knew I was connected to my first barbel of the season. It took line whilst swimming upstream against the current, so I suspected that it was a large fish. The battle was over all too soon though, and a personal-best barbel was landed, which weighed 9lb 4oz. What a start the season!
Uplifted by this success, I returned the following evening to fish another swim I’d spotted, further downstream. Again, it was below an area of fast water, but this time the bottom dropped away quite quickly, towards the far bank. I hadn’t been cast out long before I connected with a heavy fish which powered away, taking a lot of line. After finally managing to halt the fish, I slowly worked it upstream, convinced that I was battling a double-figure barbel. It wasn’t until I was about to net the fish that I realised it wasn’t a barbel at all, but my first British river carp! It weighed a respectable thirteen pounds, and gave me one heck of a fight!
Next cast on the same rod, a more delicate bite saw me hook into a good chub which was in poor condition. It put up hardly any fight and took a lot of reviving when I released it. The rigours of spawning had probably taken their toll on this fish, which was a shame. At 5lb and half an ounce, it is my second largest chub. I held the fish in the current for a good few minutes before it kicked away, but it was worth it to give this old “bruiser” of a fish a fighting chance of survival.
Just as I was thinking of packing up for the evening, I got an even more delicate bite on the margin rod. From the tell-tale lethargic headshake, I knew I’d hooked a bream. After a brief fight I landed my second PB of the season . Although not huge and not a barbel, I was happy to land this 5lb 4oz bream because it’s not a species I often target.
So, these two short-sessions produced a very mixed bag and some fish I’m very pleased with. For the moment, a double-figure barbel will have to wait. There’s plenty of season left yet, so watch this space…
Good fishing to you all!