Small River Barbel

Well, after all the fish spotting I did prior to the ‘Glorious 16th’ true to form, the heavens opened and the rivers rose, turning a murky brown colour in the process! Having taken the  16th off work, I wasn’t going to waste it and set out to catch a barbel or two, instead of my intended target of rudd. I just thought with the conditions as they were, the barbel would be the better option. I met my mate Martin on the bank and we would share the opening morning as we have done many times in the past.

My fish spotting sessions would serve us both well though and we headed to a small local river, where I’d seen and fed a number of barbel a few weeks earlier. My tackle couldn’t have been much simpler. I used an Avon style rod with the quiver tip section in place. 6lbs line was then threaded straight through to a size 10 hook. I had an inline 1oz bomb about a foot above the hook, kept in place with a BB shot. On the hook I had 2 rubber casters, not hair rigged, and for feed, I trickled in hemp and casters under my feet.

I knew the barbel would come from good distances to the sounds and smells of my casters and sure enough, the tip wrenched round minutes after casting in and I was soon looking at barbel number one. It had a strange reddish colour to it’s lower half, but it was in fighting fit condition and gave a good account of itself.


After lowering my rig back into the margins, 15 minutes later I was doing battle with barbel number two. This was soon bundled into my waiting net where I realised it was a bit weighty, so I thought I’d see what it went on the scales.


It went 7lbs 15oz, which is a new river PB for me, well to be honest it’s the first barbel that I’ve weighed from the river! I used to target them in this particular area a decade ago, but back then they were too small to bother weighing. It seems they are growing nicely these days! It did have an unusual mark on one of its flanks. I don’t know if anyone knows what could have caused it?


The other side was a lot better


I carried on trickling my casters in the edge, having the odd bite from smaller fish, which thanks to my rubber casters I could just ignore, knowing I still had bait on the hook. After another short wait the tip banged round again and barbel number three was charging off down stream. With very little weed and no snags in the river, it was just a formality in getting it to the net, where I managed to bundle it in at the 4th attempt! As I went to lift the net out I realised why. It was a pretty heavy barbel and a bit too big for my landing net, I thought the one I’d brought would have been more than appropriate, but I’d misjudged the size of barbel in the river.

This fish pulled the needle on my scales round to the 10lbs mark exactly. I know it sounds ‘dodgy’ when a weight is bang on ‘the dot’ But it is what it is, and it was witnessed by a passing angler.


I decided to pack up and head to see how Martin was faring. I knew he’d already taken a few chub to ounces under 5lbs, trotting casters under a stick float. These are cracking chub for this time of year as they are generally very lean after spawning, but I was feeling smug as I’d have the bragging rights for the day. My smugness was soon shattered by seeing Martin holding a larger barbel well over 10lbs!! He’d caught it on his chub gear and had no chance of getting it in his match style landing net. Luckily for him a passing angler lent a hand, and his landing net, before taking the photos too! What a fish for a tiny river!


It wasn’t long before I was back to the same river, this time trotting for chub. I was hoping for some of the near 5lb fish that Martin had caught, but the best I caught was 4lbs 7oz. It was a fantastic days fishing though, stood in the water, teasing a stick float down to a shoal of chub. I had 15 good chub and plenty of others in the 1 – 2lb range. I even caught a baby barbel, my first of this size


I’ve caught smaller barbel before, like gudgeon, but those were freshly stocked fish, on the Trent in the late 80s, probably the same big fish what we are catching today.

After a few hours trotting for those chub I’d had enough. I couldn’t lift the keep net out I’d caught so many so I put them all back, saving a couple in the bottom for a photo of the average stamp of young and old fish.


One chub had a worrying wound. Again, I have no idea what’s caused this? It was a lumpy fish, but very lean after spawning.


After the chub session, I waited until the river cleared to have some more barbel fun. This time, in the clear water, I could watch them feeding and my swim was soon a writhing mass of barbel, literally doing cartwheels to take my casters. I reckon if I’d have put my casters on the bank they’d have climbed out to eat them!

I waited for an hour before lowering my rig, the same as mentioned earlier, into the feeding barbel. Within 20 minutes I’d caught 5 fish and had more than enough fun for one day. If you are patient and get the barbel feeding and competing before casting in, catching them is a formality. What was good was observing them in the clear water. The way they feed, the way they take the bait, move in and out of the swim, plus many more things. I caught an old friend and a couple of chunky fish over 8lbs in weight. It really is a cracking barbel river and my swim was still full of feeding fish when I’d had enough.