The Barbel, regarded with Awe. as a tremendous fighter but only caught by the lucky few. Well catching one is easier than you think, and here’s how to do it.
To catch Barbel, being familiar with their feeding habits is the first step. Barbel are a specialized fish, streamlined for life in fast water, with an underslung mouth for bottom feeding. The torpedo shape of their body helps them to swim with ease in fast currents, and with four barbels on the upper jaw finding food in these conditions is easy, even if lodged between stones and snags. It makes sense then, to fish for them on the bottom of the river.
Feeding the Swim
It may sound obvious, but catching Barbel is only possible, if they are in the area you intend to fish, it will do you no good to blindly fish in the hope that they will turn up, you would have to wait forever. But, if you were to feed the swim, then yoour chances are greatly increased. Shallow clear rivers make it easier to spot these super fighting fish, but the same tactics can also be used on deep coloured waters. To get the fish interested, feed free offerings in a tight area on the bed of the river you are fishing. The simplest way – if the flow and depth of the water are not too great – is to throw in a few samples in a small area. If the flow is on the otherhand, is fast and furious that the bait is washed out of the swim before it hits the bottom, then use a bait-dropper or swim-feeder to get your bait to the desired location. One thing with using droppers though is their limitation in casting, if you tried to cast a loaded dropper it will invariably open in mid air, and scatter your bait over the river which will not make it easier to catch your quarry. If you need to cast bait to an area out of the normal range of a dropper, use a swim-feeder, this wil keep your bait controlled, and more importantly, get it to the desired area.
Each time you visit a water you intend to fish, it is always a good idea to throw in an amount of yoour chosen bait, this can have the affect of Brainwashing the Barbel into choosing your bait. Hempseed in a nice cheap bait for this practice and most effective, you can also lace it with a few choice hookbaits like, sweetcorn or luncheon meat, you can form quite an attractive carpet of smells and tastes on the river bed, which will excite the fish into feeding next time you arrive to fish. If the stretch of water you choose sees a lot of a certain bait, then the Barbel become accustomed to eating it, if not, then pre-baiting is essential. It can take a considerable time to introduce the fish to a new bait.
Barbel are one of the most fickle of biters and the most powerful of fighters, so you really do need to get your tackle right first time. A rod with a test curve of about 1 1/4 lb would suffice, you don’t have to go overboard in buying the most expensive you can find, these days nearly all mass produced rods are quite acceptable in standard, choose one that will meet your basic requirements. The reel mostly chosen by specialist Barbel hunters would be a centrepin reel, this type of reel allows you to respond immediately to the demands of a fighting fit Barbel as it accellerates away down the river with your hook in its mouth, completely surprised! Choosing a fixed spool can aften be a mistake, as trying to control line flow when in the action can most often result in the fish getting away. You always have to anticipate what a Barbel is going to do next, which is not easy, especially with adrenilin flowing through your veins. Line, of about 6lb or more is a good choie, make sure it is excellent quality and don’t be tempted to use the spool that has been lying around in your bax for the last few years, you’d fairly quickly regret that decision. Also use forged heavy wire hooks, as these are less likely to bend in the struggle, even a small Barbel can exert a force strong enough to bend most hooks. Now, to complete your outfit, a landing net, this essential bit of kit should be at a minimum 3ft across, with big mesh so that the current doesn’t exert too much pressure on it, it’s hard enough battleing your catch with one hand, without having to battle the current with the other.
Rigs & Tactics
There are many types of ledger rigs, but the most versatile is the 3-in-1 rig which incorporates sliding stops. With the stops pushed well up the line, it’s a free running rig; hard against the boom it becomes a bolt rig; just pushed away from the boom it is a variable-length confidence rig. Within a matter of seconds you can change the rig to suit the mood of the Barbel on the day, giving you a much greater chance of hitting bites.
The free running rig: is the most common choice when the Barbel are their usual shy selves and you are fishing with one rod. It is essential to hld the rod, feeling for the bites with the line held between your finger and thumb. Bites are rarely savage, rod-wrenching affairs. This is particularly so with larger fish and on heavily fished waters, the bites are often gentle plucks, similar to Dace bites than anything else.
The bolt rig: comes into play when fishing with 2 rods. Obviously, quick biting Barbel are likely to be missed if you are trying to watch 2 rod tips at the same time. What’s needed is a method where the fish can take care of hooking itself. This is what the Bolt rig was designed for. The bait is fished on a hair rig. When a fish picks up the bait it does one of two things, it either moves on to take the next piece of food, pricks itself, panick and then bolts (hence the name of the rig) and, by doing so, hooks itself. Or it realizes it’s mistake and attempts to eject the bait- with the same result. This usually produces a fairly positive indication and gives you a chance to pull the hook home.
The confidence rig: works on much the same principle as the bolt rig. The difference is that you should leave slack line to allow the fish to move away with the bait until it suddenly hits the stop. As it’s name suggests, this rig works best when the fish are feeding without a sence of caution. In clear water this is indicated by fish moving all over the swim trying to get as much food as possible before the others get it all. In coloured water if a lot of line bites are occurring without any fish being hooked, the chances are that they are feeding confidently too. Advantages of using this rig are that by the time the fish feels the hook it probably has it well inside it’s mouth. There is little chance of it ejecting the bait. With this method you should make no attempts to strike – if you do the likelyhood of foul hooking is very high.
Picking your swim
The more time you spend on the bank looking for fish, learning their habits, feeding patterns and preferred swims in times of low waters through flood conditions, the greater are your chances of hooking up with a really big Barbel. This is a much better, general approach than feeding what merely looks like a good swim. If it looks good, it was probably fished the day before and may well be fished again the next. The fish will be hard to catch – if they are there at all. The farther you get from the car park, and all the other anglers, the better are your prospects of a good days fishing – and possibly of connecting with that elusive double-figure specimen.
When fishing a heavily used stretch of water, it is often useful to prebait with a less common used bait, this can often give you the edge on other anglers, helping yu catch more, and bigger Barbel