If you are a seasoned barbel angler, or simply a fisherman who like me has spent too many blissful days on the riverbank, then this article is not for you.

If you spend your waking hours reading of fish, how to catch them and fishermen tales, this story is again not for you.

If, however you are a the beginning of your angling adventure, fancy a change from the pleasure of trotting the stream, or indeed one for whom the challenge of big goldfish in mud ponds has waned, read on. Together we will find a barbel to set your pulse racing and make your legs shake.

The Quarry

Barbel are not particularly clever fish, there are times when you can catch a number right under your rod tip, these are generally the smaller fish though, up to 5lb.

They are bottom feeders as their barbuls and underslung mouths will tell, however when really active and competing for tasty morsels they can be caught midstream. Watching them feed in mid water is fascinating. They need to twist to intercept the bait, giving that characteristic golden flash that you can often spot when searching the water.

Shark feed in the same way!

Like most fish they are turned on to feeding by various factors –

hunger, temperature, water flow and feeding competition being the main ones.

My personal choice would be a balmy day/evening with a light south west breeze, a hint of colour in the water that is just above normal levels for the time of year. Despite what you may have read, chocolate water I don’t like! Given all that, I have caught barbel to 10lb on frosty mornings during hailstorms!


I can only talk with authority of my southern waters, the Thames tributuries such as the Loddon, Kennet and St Patricks Stream and suchlike.

On my local water, which is linked to the Thames, the barbel follow a general pattern of movement. This is not a scientific study but one borne out of fishy days and fishless days! At the start of the season, the fish have spawned and if this was not too early they will be in the fast runs, cleaning themselves in the side streams or on the shallows. This is the time when excellent sport can be had with mended fish that are hungry and often queuing up for the bait, small baits like tares, maggots, casters and elderberries will work well. Come late summer the fish will have split up into smaller groups and be well spread throughout the river, many anglers turning up the odd fish or two. During winter many of our fish will have moved back into the Thames from the Loddon and the St. Patricks Stream,

I suspect to take advantage of the greater amount of food present.

Come the tail end of the season the fish will start showing back in the smaller rivers, at a greater weight despite the winter but perhaps because of the general lack of activity in laying semi dormant with infrequent feeding blitzes.

To catch our barbel we need to select a swim that the barbel likes, irrespective of the angler’s comfort.

One location stands out above all others, .. A deepening of water following a lengthy run of weedy shallows. If you do not know the water well, look for the river to narrow, or return to normal after a wider stretch of river, here you will find a barbel. If you also find evidence of swan mussels on the river bed so much the better, these make contours on the bottom that trap food for the barbel to suck amongst, they will also be in the areas of the stream that most food particles naturally flow through.


I am sure that my fellow fisherman think me a tramp. A cheap Argos folding chair with side pockets, a heavy feeder rod of around 11/4 pound test curve, 6 or 8lb maxima, 8lb low diameter Ultima line, an old rusty rodrest and a selection of arsley bombs together with some long shank 6 or 8 hooks make up my tackle. This is set off by the grubbiest waterproof top ( it was waterproof a year or so ago) and a pair of wellies. I don’t get that bothered with anglers wanting to discuss the benefits of the latest angler catching gadgets for some reason!

My end tackle setup is simple – but it works at tricking the fish.

I simply thread a link swivel up the line and tie the line back in a loop of about 12 inches. Don’t be afraid to leave 2 inches before cutting the knot surplus, this gives you a bit of play if slippage occurs and also sometimes prevents small pieces of weed travelling down the line and masking the bait if you leger downstream. Another small loop at the bottom allows between

9 inches in heavy river flow, and 15 inches in lighter flow, of the low diameter line to be attached with a tucked blood knot, wetting before pulling tight. A size six long shanked hook finishes the end tackle.


We are going to catch a barbel. Believe me when I tell you this, don’t waver and try anything involving boilies, self hooking rigs, 2 oz leads, bite alarms or strange expensive concoctions. Do that if you wish after you have caught one or two without too many gizmo’s.

Sit downstream 3 or 4 rodlengths from the end of the shallow run with your rod rest angled upwards, keeping as far back from the bank as you can fish.

Walk up to the end of the shallows and put in 2/3 pints of hemp spread over a distance of 10 feet or so upstream. 10 feet further up, or more in a strong flow, put in 10 to 20 pieces of 1/4 inch luncheon meat that has been shaken together with knorr cajun spice. Now sit down, admire the fauna, have a tot, a fag or a snooze for the next half hour. Glance at the water you are to fish, any sign of Barbus barbus? Can you feel him close yet?

Never fear, with a 1/2 inch lump of flavoured meat with the hook pushed through and secured in the bend with a small blade of grass, the smallest weight you can use on the swivel and a gentle swing to the tail of the shallows, he might just suprise you immediately. Make room on your chair for the rod butt, not too tight a line and wait for the tremble, the lift or the arm wrenching pull. Hold the line behind the crook of your finger and feel part of the river. If you wait just for the firm pull you will miss 3 out of 4 takes as the fish mouth the bait. Barbel are not clever, but the bigger ones can rej
ect a bait that doesn’t move when they suck it in to check. The loop in the end tackle allows freedom of movement.

No fish after 20 minutes? Lift the rod top a few inches, let the bait settle and leave it a further 20 minutes. Repeat this until the bait is level with you even if it is under the bank in 2 feet of water. Start at the beginning and you will catch your barbel.

Before you packup, take off your leger weight, cast upstream to where you put the initial meat in, and let the bait, this time a 2inch piece, trundle through the swim, mending the line through your fingers and feeling for a take. These can sometimes be violent, full blooded grab and run bites as a shy fish that has been fooled by the natural movement and a bait too big to ignore. On half of the occasions this bonus fish is invariably the biggest.

Well you wanted to catch a barbel. Thrill to the powerful fight, but treat him gently on the bank. Give him a chance to revive in a slack before releasing him to give pleasure to other barbel and other fishermen. However proud you may feel on no account put him in a keepnet. They really are the most beautiful of fish in our rivers.

Graham Elliott – 2000

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Graham Elliott

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