Barbel Bites Are What You Make Them

By Steve Smith

The subject of barbel bites is often discussed, with the slammers and twitchers getting quite agitated over their opposing views. I think the degree of force in the bite is relative to the application and set up of our tackle. So in fact, both camps are right.

The modern method of fixed, semi fixed or even free running heavy leads really emphasises the point, hence the term the three foot twitch! The fish has been panicked by the realisation that it is in trouble and is probably already hooked. Now you cannot argue with the efficiency of these rigs and I, like most, will use them when necessary but it's the ferociousness of the bite, which is under scrutiny here. The point I am making is that it is the amount of weight that is exaggerating the bite. If you were using the minimum of weight, the bite would be slower to develop, and you would probably have struck well before the rod was being dragged round.

A friend and I used to fish a swim on the Bristol Avon where the fish were very cagey. It was a difficult swim and you could not get very close to it. We would fish a very light lead and swing it round under the bushes, then holding about eighteen inches of line and pointing the rod at the fish, we would feel for the bites and feed the line to the fish on a pick up. Sometimes they would take the whole of the slack line very slowly. Other times you would feel it move, stop and move again all very slowly. I am sure those fish did not know what was going on until we struck, as they had felt no resistance.

Bites on heavy feeders can be drop backs or good pulls depending on the angle to the feeder and whether it is upstream, across or downstream, again some of these can be rod wrenchers. I had an experience of some Hampshire Avon fish, which I could see across a very fast pool. I would cast over the fast water, slightly upstream, with a small green Drennan feeder and holding the rod up as high as could. I would watch for the merest twitch and strike. I caught those fish and convinced myself that they were twitchers. The truth was the set up was so finely balanced that as soon as they picked up the bait the feeder dropped back and I got my twitcher.

Further up the river from that pool was a straight and shallow gravel run with lovely flowing beds of ranunculus, although there were some tall maple trees bordering the river there they were almost impossible to climb, so seeing the fish between the weeds was very difficult. During one winter flood, an old wooden ladder was washed downstream. I immediately saw a use for it and rescued it. I hid it in the bushes back from the river. Come Spring time it was brilliant, I would get it out when nobody else was about and climb those impossible maples and from there I could watch my barbel moving up and down the gravel runs. One evening in summer I was up the tree and I could see some good fish in residence. As I was staying over night, I baited heavily with hemp before going off to my bed in an old hay barn. Up before dawn, I cooked my eggs and bacon in the open air and after breakfast I made my way back to the swim, just as dawn was breaking. No point in getting the ladder out now, as the light would not allow observation. I cast out a small arlsey bomb and four red worms on a size twelve hook. The bite was not long in coming. Tap, tap and a gentle pull round of the quiver and I was rewarded with a scale perfect double. That fish was obviously very confidently feeding, and the combination of a light lead and quiver did not unduly alarm it.

Trundling produces twitches, drop backs, slack liners, vibrators, donks and ordinary pulls because there is virtually no resistance to a taking fish but let the whole lot swing right round to a tight line against the rod top and then a good strong pull will be the result.

In conclusion, I think the ferociousness or otherwise of the bite is directly related to the amount of resistance the barbel feels on taking the bait which, in turn, depends on river conditions, location of fish, variations of swims and accessibility. All of which require a variable application and approach from an adaptable angler. Enjoy your pulls.

If you'd like to find out a bit more about The Barbel Catchers Club, please click here.