Fishing the Trent for Barbel

Sunday 11th March 2012

Waking up at 9AM I was greeted by water on top of my sleeping bag from the dew overnight. However it was a bright and sunny morning.

I began to pack up straight away and head for home and contemplate my next move.

After my hunger taken care of I began a long deliberation of my next move, receiving texts from friends fishing the tidal Trent which were all positive. Most anglers’s hooking two to three barbel per night, and numerous bream so I thought Collingham would be worth a punt.

Sat-Nav all set for Collingham, I was just about to reverse out the drive when I got a text off a friend stating that he had just arrived at Collingham and it was heaving with angler’s with fires burning, dog’s barking and drinking beer, not my idea of a peaceful coarse fishing trip. As I have stated many times, Collingham does have a problem with this persistent minority that for all intents and purposes are there to drink and get totally off their trolleys and become noise driven which can only be described as ‘loutish’ behaviour.

So a quick re-think and I decided to right the wrongs and return to my first spot I had chosen yesterday, with the feeling that as soon as darkness fell I would be in with a chance. It was 21 degrees and blue skies above so I thought I’d wait until 3.00PM to make my move.

Barbel Delight!

On arrival I decided to take my fishing tackle to a different peg for a couple of hours before returning to where I had started yesterday for the night.

Despite putting in eight to ten balls of pellet (damped down to form a ball) and chopped Crustacean boilies with many re-casts of the feeder comprising of the same mix I didn’t have a touch. I’ll try again in the morning I thought.

Once at the peg I had fished and left yesterday I was determined that I would wait and give it the night before I made any judgement on the swim I had chosen. Nothing was going to come easy at this time of the year, generally big fish are caught with hard work and perseverance.

By this time however it was beginning to get dark but my rods were out and fishing, both on pallatrax multiworm boilies, and just as they were the day before one upstream and one downstream.

Light was fading fast and water Voles began to appear from each side of me. I left the fishing rods out for half an hour before re-casting again and then again but to no avail.

By which time the clock was nearing 7PM then all of a sudden I got a huge thump and drop back on the downstream rod, so I struck into it and felt some resistance from a fish straight away, a typical thump, thump from a chub of around 4Lbs as it quickly made its way to my waiting landing net and first fish on the multiworm boilie. Good sign! Chub follow barbel, so if you have chub in your swim the barbel won’t be too far away.

The voles were now getting a little more adventurous with their intentions, crossing from bush to bush behind me which made me look back thinking someone was there!

A few more casts and no more action I decided that I would take my receiver and go and sit in the car just behind my peg to get out the way of the voles as they scurried across me, in front of me and directly behind me; it was freaking me out.

I switched the engine on and fired up the heating, it was getting rather cold at this point.

I was just beginning to drift off, when BEEP! BEEP! There goes my receiver!

I run down the bank and strike the downstream rod. Again resistance is felt, a bream, around 4lbs which was quickly landed and returned.

I re-baited both rods and cast out again and returned to the car in the hope the next run will be a bit more enterprising than the first two.

I was awoken at around 10.55PM by my receiver on a ‘one toner’, quickly I ran down the bank like an Olympic sprinter,t Dean Macey would have been proud of me, to see my reel spool shipping line, now this was evidentially a bit more promising. Lifting the rod (no need to strike) I felt a better more substantial weight, something with a bit more of fight to it. After five minutes or so it came close and I saw it was a barbel, at last!

Two minutes later it was in the net, and recovering, while I set-up my camera.

After taking a couple of photos, a quick weigh which read 8lbs 4oz I released the fish. What a relief!


Closed season homework, are you doing it?

Like it or not, we have a three month lay off from the rivers every Spring and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. For many of us anglers who go coarse fishing this merely gives us either a chance to catch up with domestic chores or, for the sensible and luckier ones amongst our numbers, it means a change of species as we move to the lakes and canals. However, don’t ignore the river just because you can’t fish it.

Before I go any farther please check with your angling club whether or not you are allowed on the banks during the lay off, some permit it some don’t. If you do want to go for a look around then a phone call to the club secretary in advance may well be worthwhile to either gain permission or to at least let him know who is wandering along the banks whilst fishing is prohibited.

That out of the way, my first recommendation is to make certain that you have a decent pair of polarized sunglasses, they are imperative.

Without them you will just see reflections on the water but with the  you will see through most of the glare and be able to make out fish and just as important, features.

Knowledge of the features on your section of river is just as important as spotting fish for several reasons, not least that the fish will move yet the features tend to remain for many seasons. If you have an idea of the make up of the river bed then you are half way to deducing where the next bite may come from.

I find April and May the best months for feature finding as the algae and weed that tends to colour the water and obscure our view is yet to form. If we have a period of dry weather with a bit of sunshine to assist with visibility a whole underwater world can be on display and whilst the rivers banks are quiet, the fish are generally quite easy to locate. A few pellets dropped into likely spots will often bring hungry fish out within seconds.

So what are you looking for? My simple answer to that is ‘anything out of the ordinary’. If you consider your river bed to be fairly even, consisting of gravel, stones and a few scattered rocks then you find an area as shown in  it is worth investigation.

What had happened here was that a tree just upstream and out of camera shot, had caused a shift in the current and a swirling crease had scoured the river bed clean of algae etc. This may look like a good spot to fish however, that scouring action will have also torn many invertebrates from their homes within the stones and, for the fish, pickings may well be better elsewhere. There is also the bright, pale river bed that is left and fish will stand out against that making them feel insecure. This was all driven home to me as I was looking at the feature and I saw a couple of barbel happily feeding over the darker, untouched river bed yet they stopped short of the cleaned area only to drop back and have another feeding run over the dark area. This colour change on the river bed was invisible at the start of the season but, when I fished there I was confident and found that a bait farther down the swim worked very well indeed.

Above, there’s another feature that isn’t obvious for much of the year but a walk in the Spring revealed this dramatic drop off close to the near bank. Subsequent fishing sessions found that barbel loved to tuck in against the almost sheer drop off whilst big chub were content to bask and feed along the crease that it caused on the outer edge. It has been a real hot spot at times whilst being walked past by the majority of anglers.

This is just a glimpse into a vast area of intrigue and exploration and I guarantee that you will find plenty of areas that you may have missed before and it will fill your head full of plans for the new season. Some years the fish are less easy to spot but when you do find one  just sit back and watch what it does in its unpressurised state, then give it some food and again just observe, you’ll have nine months in which to try and catch it.

Occasionally you will come across a shoal of fish like here. I suspect that they were in that spot as a prelude to spawning but, interestingly, the one feature they gathered around was a modest boulder that just pushed the current up a little and caused a boil on the surface. They were milling about up and down the area but that was the focus of their attention.

 Again, come the new season, although I never saw this many fish gathered at one time, I caught plenty of barbel from this spot proving just how invaluable a little bit of homework can be.

If during your wanderings you find evidence of anglers poaching during the close season then please report it to your club secretary and the Environment Agency, don’t let the few spoil it for the rest of us.

Varying light conditions may deem some shades of polarised glasses useless, when the sun tips low and daylight is fading a lighter shade lens is usually more productive on cutting out glare and lightening your view. The yellow also helps pick out dark objects such as shadows on the river bed, giving you better indication of fish and structure. Instead of carrying many different pairs of glasses to the river I opted for a pair of Airflo Interchangeable polarised glasses a while back, these have interchangeable lenses which can be swapped in varying light conditions.

A Stop Start Winter

Since my last Fishtec blog in autumn, my fishing became very disjointed from October onwards and only really came back to normal in February. The main reason was a succession of health issues within the family, which saw me missing a lot of fishing and only going locally for a few hours when I could get out. Consequently, I was never able to get a proper campaign underway and the results suffered as a result.

The main target of my river fishing was the upper Warks Avon near my home, principally because it is so close and I could be home quickly if need be. Unlike the middle to lower stretches, the chub and barbel of the upper river are fairly modestly sized, 5lb chub and 10lb barbel not being that common, this looked to be the perfect place for a few short coarse fishing sessions. So I made those two weights my initial targets and would go from there. My first few trips produced a few barbel to just over 7lbs and chub to about 4lbs, but the fishing was very slow at times. Blanks were common. Then, in late November, I had my biggest Avon barbel of just over 9lbs plus a chub of 5lb 4ozs ten minutes later. Obviously, these are quite modest fish by Ouse standards but I did feel that I was getting somewhere. Over the next couple of weeks I had another two small barbel, but struck a purple patch with the chub, taking three more five pounders on the bounce. That made four 5lb plus fish in a few weeks and, according to regulars who have fished the stretch for years that is very unusual.

Just after Christmas, I was fishing the lovely crease swim where I had taken my most recent 5lb chub. A large near bank rush bed projects five yards out from the bank, throwing the main flow across to the far bank and creating a really pronounced midriver angled crease. At a steady 5ft depth and smooth gravel bed it is a perfect set up for chub and barbel. I was fishing an 18mm boilie, with a PVA bag of broken boilie pieces impaled on the hook on each cast. My first cast was made around midday but it wasn’t until nearly dark that I had my first serious indication. I don’t count a kamikaze 12oz chub that nearly choked itself on the boilie in mid afternoon! A vicious pull had me on my feet and I soon realised that this was another chub, but what a beauty. It weighed 5lb 7ozs, another very big fish for the Upper Avon. It was my biggest Avon chub by a couple of ounces.

Ten minutes after the recast, I was in again and this time it was obvious that I was connected to a big barbel. That fish gave me a memorable scrap, making the clutch scream more than once, and I was soon netting my first Avon double figure barbel. It weighed 11lb 5ozs and I was absolutely over the moon with it.

After those fish, with all family worries now behind me, I was able to resume my love affair with the Great Ouse. Like waters everywhere, it was painfully low at the back end of the season, and four trips to a stretch where bites are always few and far between, but the fish are big, saw me averaging but one bite a day. And a day means fishing from about mid morning until well after midnight. The previous season I had taken my 7lb 13oz personal best chub from the same stretch, and I was never able to come close to that this time. In all, I landed eight chub, which comprised a baby of 4-12, four more five pounders to 5-15 and a top three of 6-1, 6-2 (featured below) and a 6-6.

Most pleasing was a final session barbel of 13lb 6ozs, my first barbel from the stretch for three years following the attentions of otters.

As well as the chub fishing, I also had two sessions at the perch stretch where my 5lb pound fish was taken in 1999. Sadly, that has also been badly affected by otters and, although there are still big perch to be caught, the numbers have been drastically diminished. Apart from a solitary small perch, all I caught on my lobworms were average chub and a small pike.

I can look back on the season just ended as one of the most difficult I’ve ever experienced, for several reasons, and in some ways I was glad to see the back of it. Now, after two weeks off, I’m planning some tench and bream fishing, commencing next week. The water has produced tench to 11lbs plus and bream to over 16lbs so I’m hoping for some exciting fishing. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Coarse Fishing, Sometimes for nothing.

Yes, Churchill had it right when he said those immortal lines “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”.  Of course what you didn’t know was that this wasn’t referring to Russia at all but to Fishers Green on the Lea.  Just like the Ouse, Fishers Green screams barbel at every twist and turn and yet you get your coarse fishing tackle out and almost can’t buy a bite.  I used to fish here a few years a go and did reasonably well.  However, things have changed.  I have fished here twice this season, in some mouth watering swims and haven’t even mustered a single bite.  Of course my lack of angling skill has nothing to do with it!  Its a tough section and always was.  However, it seems to have got just that little bit harder.

Still one thing hasn’t changed: it’s still a beautiful looking river.  It’s a delight to fish.  The bankside vegetation seems to have been cut back a little and this opens up a few more swims.  Overall it still has a wonderful natural wild feel to it, which I like.  It’s still very clear and there is plenty of weed and water cabbages.  Sadly though, it was desperately low.  I’m sure this had something to do with the lack of action.  It’s a problem faced by many of the southern rivers at the moment.  A real lack of water is causing all sorts of problems.  So my lack of bites is small fry compared to the real issues faced by these rivers.


I certainly wouldn’t condemn a venue to the trash can after only a couple of visits either.  It takes patience and perseverance to tackle tough venues like this.  It still produces some cracking barbel and chub, so there is no question that The Green can still produce the goods.  All I need to do is visit it more often and re-learn the venue. Therein lies the real crux of the matter.  You can’t expect instant results.  You have to work for your fish here and that takes time.  This is not a Wye or Trent.  The fish here are much harder to come by and I’ve been spoiled of late.

So, it’s back to the drawing board and on with the barbel and chub head (most people prefer that to my normal head).  It will be a while before I venture back for the barbel, but I certainly intend to return this winter for a session or two after those massive Lea chub.


The Dog Days of Summer

I love these conditions. Low, clear water, the fish are hiding in the most out of the way places and are reluctant to move far to feed. Conditions like this can be really challenging whilst coarse fishing but, with a little thought and flexibility in your approach, you can still find consistent sport.

Take a session I had last week. I arrived at the river to find it quite busy with people in the usual swims but all catching very little. I took some time to wander and soon found a spot where a few elips pellets tossed into the margins from a high bank, were taken on the drop by a group of chub. I kept the feeding going in little and often and soon those chub were preoccupied and joined by others from downstream. Inevitably they were then joined by a couple of barbel, looking pale compared to the chub and blending in with the gravel as they drifted across it. Now was the time to plot their downfall.

My fishing rod was already rigged with 10lb line, a 2′ long coated braid hooklink with the last couple of inches peeled back and a size 10 hook at the business end. I’ve gone over to coated braid for the time being as there is some evidence that barbel will spook to fluorocarbon if they touch it whereas they tolerate brushing against the more visible braid. Whether its a fact or not I don’t really know for sure but I’m catching on braid so it’ll do for now.

The lead is coated to blend in with gravel and a lump of plasticine is wrapped 3′ or so above it to act as a back weight. Pinning the line down is essential in fooling wary fish in shallow, clear water. To this end I also put a couple of rig putty blobs on the leader, I don’t want it wafting up in the current. The bait is a single elips pellet, broken in two then glued together over the hair.

I waited, the fish left the area having eaten every item of loose feed. I lowered the rig exactly where I wanted it, close to a nearside ledge. Here the line up to my rod would be less visible against the stone than it would in open water, another bonus in this stealth war. Having got everything where I wanted it, I recommenced loose feeding and immediately the fish returned. I kept the free pellets falling through the swim as the chub were taking mostly on the drop, this increases the chances of it being a barbel that takes the bait – and it worked. The barbel headed straight for open water and I was quickly on top of it, guiding it to the waiting net.

Having spent my time building this swim up I thought I’d get a bait straight back in and await the fish’s return in the hope of a second success. I figured it would take half an hour or so to settle and sat back playing with my new camera but was surprised when, after just a couple of minutes, the rod jolted down and a chub headed for a sunken bush. I was too slow, the fish went into the snag and the hookhold failed. Damn! My fault, sometimes the fish don’t respond in the usual manner and I had spooked the swim.

Not to worry, there’s plenty more water to explore. I found a couple more ‘flashing’ barbel but could not induce a take so ended the day at an old favourite swim of mine. Its been largely ignored for most of the summer mainly due to the distance from a car park but that suits me just fine. Here I put my lead into a pva bag of pellets and broken boilies and cast it into a deep run. Having the lead inside the pva bag ensures that it hits the bottom before breaking up rather than wafting in the current and spreading your bait far and wide as often happens when you simply put it on your hook.

I was joined by my old mate Tommo who declined the offer to share my swim and headed off to a spot that has given him some good results in the past. It was another deep run of well oxygenated water and close to an overhanging tree. As we chatted my rod sprang into life and I landed a barbel. I followed this with another fish of a similar size, about seven pounds or so, and a couple of chub. But it was Tommo’s excited whistle and shout that signalled the high point of the day. As I got to him he was just netting a beautiful barbel that turned the scales to 10.4 and was in mint condition.

Not bad for a difficult day.

Written by Dave Burr

At Last

Determined to get it right this time I set off again on the long walk, hauling my coarse fishing tackle  to the swim I fished on my last visit. This time it was a morning session and I noticed that the river had dropped a little and was crystal clear. These are great fish spotting conditions but they are wary and feel vulnerable in such clear water.

At the swim I put in a little bait as before, some across to the gravels and some in close. I waited ……… and waited. Eventually, a couple of decent chub ventured out of their cover and began picking up my mixture of pellets. Once a few fish appear others usually follow so I kept a trickle of small pellets going onto the gravels but lobbed a few bigger Elips pellets in close.

I suppose it took an hour before I had any confident feeding underway. The low conditions and bright sunshine was making the fish uneasy but I slowly got their confidence, that is until I introduced my bait. I made a horrendous cast and sent everything scurrying back under the overhanging bushes. I wasn’t happy with myself but figured that I’d take the opportunity to position my bait exactly where I wanted it then ‘feed’ them out again.

It took some time but eventually I had both chub and barbel milling about over the loose feed. Nothing wanted to come to the nearside bait today, they were all staying across the far side of the river. Ah well, if the mountain won’t come to Mohammed and all that…… I put my bait across a bit further but it was a chub that took it. Again, I let the fish ‘feel’ the rig and it let go. I was using a long hair which always seems to put the chub off so, I was still in with a chance.

Exactly two hours after I started I had a decent pull and found myself attached to a barbel – at last! It took me all over the swim but I never allowed it to get amongst the overhanging branches so it was soon beaten. And there it was, after so many years – a Lugg barbel of maybe seven pounds or so. I felt very satisfied and decided to pack up there and then. I’ll come back again soon especially if we have a spot of rain and the water colours up.

Written by Dave Burr

Back to the Lugg

Having walked about a mile from the car, I lowered my gear and collapsed in a sweaty heap next to a good looking swim.

Composing myself, I catapulted a small handful of mixed pellets across to a shallow gravel bed about ¾ across and lobbed a few just a yard or two out onto a clear patch of river bed above a dense weedbed. I sat back and started to assemble my 11′ fishing rod and centre pin reel, the ideal tools for small water fishing.

By the time I was sorted the fish were already mopping up my freebies. There were plenty of chub cruising back and forth but there, beneath them and moving in a slower, more positive way were the barbel. I counted four of them and, much to my delight, one of them was over the nearside bait.

There was no hurry to get my baited hook in the water; first I had to narrow the chances so that it would be a barbel rather than a chub that took the bait, despite the fact that some of those chub were 5 if not 6lbs in weight.

I used all of my tricks; it had been a while since I sight fished like this but my plans seemed to work quite well. I kept the bait going in on the far side and made sure that it was spread well to keep the chub occupied. Although the barbel joined the feeding frenzy over there, they would occasionally come inside and appear out of the weed and feed on my tightly baited spot. Unfortunately, some of the chub had found it too but the odds were far better there than across the river.

Chub can be a problem when fishing in tight spots. One fish caught will usually send everything back to their cover for a long time, so it’s important to get it right first time. To this end I tied a ‘bad rig’. This may sound confusing but I’ll explain. A standard hair rig is fine for barbel, they suck it in and won’t let go so they get hooked pretty much every time. Chub however, are a tad smarter and can eject a hook without getting pricked. I have been tinkering with rigs and have come up with one that nails chub just about every time which is great when chub fishing but not for today. I’ll cover this topic in more detail at some time in the future.

My rig comprised of a size 10 straight shank hook tied to a short length of braid. This is connected to about 15” – 20” of 10lb fluorocarbon which helps to keep it nailed to the bottom and out of sight to the fish. Using just enough lead to keep it in place, I then add a good lump of plasticine 3 or 4′ up the line to act as a back weight again, to keep the line out of the view of the fish.

To prove my rig decision was correct, three times my bait was taken by chub and three times, despite every nerve in my body screaming Strike! I held back and the fish dropped the bait.

Using this technique I was able to stay in with a good chance of getting my barbel but these fish had seen it all before. I watched as one of them saw where my line left the riverbed and spooked. Their visits to the nearside spot decreased and my chances dropped considerably.

Rain was approaching and I didn’t want a long, wet walk back to the car. I opted for the ‘all or nothing’ approach and cast to the nearside edge of the gravel bed where the barbel were still feeding albeit with less gusto than before. I didn’t have to wait long. The line tightened and the rod stabbed forward – but it was a chub. It fought well and was in pristine condition but it left behind an empty swim as every other fish bolted for cover.

Ah well, another lesson learned and another victory for this little river.

Third time lucky?

Small River Barbel

After about ten years leave of absence, I’ve decided this year to give the little river Lugg a go in an attempt at catching a few of its elusive barbel. It’s a beautiful little river winding through the Herefordshire countryside but one where the fish are as ‘spooky’ as can be and few are caught by casual means. I’ve watched shoals of chub drift away at the least disturbance and when the chub leave they usually take the barbel with them.

My fishing is usually done in short two to four hour sessions and the mobile ‘hit and run’ approach suits this river perfectly. On this trip I had a wander before taking my gear from the car and soon saw a barbel ‘ flash’ as it twisted in the current over a gravel run, that’ll do for me.  I set about introducing some feed then sorted my gear out. Despite my best efforts and keeping low amongst the thistles – ow! I only had a modest chub enter the baited area…… which then immediately left.

I gave up with that swim but put in some more pellets and a few broken TF Gear Yellow Peril boilies on a clear spot before I left. This makes it easy to check your swims later and see if they’ve been visited.

I tried a few more swims without a sign of a fish then wandered back downstream. On my way I looked in on the swims I’d been fishing for any signs of feeding fish, there were none until I reached the first spot – the Yellow Perils had gone!

I put more bait in and waited. I saw a puff of silt drift beyond a feeding fish, then – a flash! This continued for a while but still no bites until three swans started feeding in the shallows upstream. This had the effect of sending a ‘smoke trail’ of coloured water through my swim and, as it passed, my 11′ Avon rod bent forwards.

It was a barbel of at least eight pounds and looked impressive in such a tight swim. It fought well but I soon had it over the net which I extended from a difficult position on the high bank. In it went but then – splash – out it came  again and the fight continued. Annoyed at myself, I played it back to the net and said to myself, ‘you won’t do that again’…… it did. This time however the lead caught in the mesh and the fish snapped my hook-link ……. Damn!

I haven’t lost a fish like this for ages, I was not happy, I had it all but landed and, either through bad luck or, much more likely bad angling, it was gone. I always claim that it’s the fish that we don’t catch that brings us back to a water and I shall certainly be giving the Lugg some more attention.

Written by Dave Burr

Barbel on the Wye

July is almost over and the rivers are in fine form, time to concentrate on the barbel. Yes, I’ve had a few trips after them already but the start of the season is usually hit and miss as the fish are often still spawning which means that those you catch are in poor condition. I prefer to let them fatten up and get over their early summer exertions.

Having said that, this year the spring was exceptionally warm and I saw chub and barbel spawning in April. This does not mean that they won’t be at it again in late May or early June but, I have found on the Wye, that they do tend to be in better condition at the start of the season

During years like this I always have an early trip or two, fishing the fast water where the barbel are enjoying the extra oxygen and the bounty of food amongst the stones and gravel. I say ‘usually’, this year my back was giving me plenty of incentive to stay at home and moan a lot, but last season I recall, I had a couple of enjoyable outings.

When I fish these fast stretches I, and my bait, are constantly on the move.  Rapids are always home to stones and rocks that will swallow a lead. To leger or feeder fish in the conventional manner will inevitably result in lots of lost quality fishing tackle and lost fish.

My set up is simple. I like to fish a low stretch line such as Shimano Technium. This is not as sensitive as braid but better than most mono’s. I don’t like braid especially when touch legering as a fast take from a barbel can cause it to cut, like a cheese wire, through the end of your finger – believe me, I know! I always attach the hooklink via a swivel that I cover with a tail rubber or anti-tangle sleeve. It just helps to keep everything straight and is also something to mould the plasticine around. Plasticine? You may well ask. Yes, in a rocky area it is your best option for avoiding snags  as it simply falls off the line when it does occasionally get caught up.  At the end of the link is your hook which may or may not have a hair attached, mine always has.

The process is simple enough, introduce some loose offerings, usually pellets or boilies and, if you can, observe. My favourite swim for this method has a high bank and it is usual that a few baits trundling through on the correct line, will have barbel flashing within minutes. Alternatively, it gives me the opportunity to feed closer in and watch the chub and barbel drift over the feed and get their heads down. Time for a cast.

I prefer to wear waders and wade in the edge, this allowes me to get right down to water level and allows perfect line control.  My bait is usually two pellets glued to a short hair or a boilie. I don’t have too many problems with the hook catching bottom but, if you do, then paste covering the hook may be a better option. I do however, check my hook point regularly and sharpen it if it gets dulled or bent by the stones.

A cast is made to the head of the stream and a little line given so that the plasticine can bounce through the swim in a straight line rather than be pulled in an unnatural arc toward the bank. It may take a cast or two to get the amount of weight just right but you will be surprised at how little weight you need to keep your bait coming along the bottom. If you have it just right you will feel it bumping along through the line which you hold in your left hand. If the flow is harder than you can work with plasticine then a small lead can be used but, before re-tackling, try pushing some small stones into the plasticine, this often does the trick.

Bite indication takes a little getting used to but basically strike at anything that feels different. A pull a tightening at a speed other than the weight catching bottom, everything going slack is another as the fish swims downstream. You’ll soon pick it up. If the weight catches on the bottom then leave it for a minute or so, this is often a great time for a bite, to move it again just lift the rod slightly and pull with the left hand, this will dislodge the weight and off you go again.

Its a great way to learn about a river and when you ‘feel’ that contact with a fish and strike into your first barbel of the season, it becomes totally addictive.

Effects of Weather on the Winter River

As an all round specimen hunter, our normal wildly variable winter river conditions rarely see me stuck for which species to target. Other anglers, specialising in one species, can often go for weeks where the conditions give them very poor prospects indeed. There are now a large number of anglers who fish for little else but barbel, and I’m often asked what are optimum conditions for winter barbel, and, conversely, what species would be best sought when conditions are adverse for barbel.

5lb 8oz chub taken in perfect winter conditions

Let’s look at the winter barbel angler’s dream conditions first of all. What I want to see is a rising water temperature, and the sharper the rise the better I like it, coupled with dropping air pressure. These conditions are at their most dramatic when a high pressure dry spell, coupled with clear skies, night frosts and low river levels, is ended abruptly by an intense low pressure belt that brings gales and heavy rain, leading to rising water levels carrying deepening colour. After days of low temperatures, barbel do go on the feed with a vengeance when the temperature starts to climb and the river starts to colour up. I’ve had some of my biggest barbel in such conditions, barbel being one of the few fish, along with roach, that feed avidly in a rising river. As long as I can find a swim where I am not too frustrated by the floating crap that usually accompanies such conditions, I can virtually guarantee sport. There is an important point to be made at this juncture though. A winter flood can also result from melting of heavy snowfall, which has a serious deoxygenation effect. If this is also accompanied by ingress of rock salt where road de-icing has been taking place, don’t even bother going fishing. Of all water conditions, these have to be the worst.

Hardly ideal barbel conditions

Knowing your river is important for fishing in floods, for safety obviously, but also because you need to know the bottom composition of all the newly created marginal swims, which will normally be on dry land. A gently sloping dry gravel bank will become a classic floodwater swim. High natural banks are also important because the bottom of such a bank in flood conditions, tight in to the edge, can have a remarkably steady flow, even if the surface current seems impossibly savage. Similarly, where undercut banks occur, the undercuts are usually packed with fish of all species in a high flood, where they can escape the full force of the current. Although I have caught most river species from undercuts, I particularly associate them with perch. Legered lobs, fished light enough on long tails, so that the bait washes right under the cover, has yielded me some memorable bags of good perch.

16lb 6oz barbel taken in a high warm flood

Once a flood has peaked and starts to ebb, losing some colour and current speed, most species respond to anglers’ baits avidly. I’ve had some great catches of chub and roach as a flood just comes off its peak, and when the river has dropped to almost its normal level, while retaining some colour, the conditions are absolutely perfect for perch. Bream and carp also respond well to a slightly coloured river. Both of these are neglected river species by specimen hunters but I can assure you that they are both well worth targeting.

11lb plus Ouse bream taken on a mild February morning

On those all too rare mild and dry winter days, with light winds, and rivers running at normal winter level with only a hint of tea stain colour, most species will feed well enough, although barbel and roach not as avidly as when conditions are murkier. Barbel that may be very aggressively feeding on large baits in well coloured water, actively foraging all over the river, are usually much more static in clearer water, suggesting that feeder fished maggots would be the most effective approach in daylight. With temperatures holding up after dark, however, barbel will respond normally to large baits in the conditions of low visibility. This is my favourite approach as I absolutely love winter night fishing for barbel. On stretches with big barbel a possibility, I hedge my bets in these conditions by targeting chub in the daylight hours, getting serious about barbel as dusk approaches. There is a definite parallel here with roach. In clear conditions, I find the species more effectively targeted with maggots, either on the feeder or on light float tackle. However, in coloured water, or at night, those same roach respond eagerly to large chunks of flake or full sized lobs.

My first 7 pounder on an icy winter evening

Chubbing in such mild, settled conditions is an absolute delight and after forty years of using the technique, I still never tire of wandering the banks with a light quivertip rod, baiting several swims with mashed bread, presenting legered bread crust. It’s fair to say that, these days, I fish more often with special pastes and boilies, looking for mega specimens. But when conditions are right, legered crust in conjunction with bread mash is as effective as it ever was.

Try for grayling in extreme cold conditions

Another species for which settled conditions are ideal is the pike. Every pike in the river is feeding when the conditions are like this, and it is a mistake to linger too long in a swim if there is no response. Just as with feeding perch, if there’s a pike present, a bite will not be long in coming. For river piking, I’m probably more mobile than with any other species apart from grayling, and at the end of the day may have covered over a mile in fishing for them. My favourite swims for river piking are those slow, near bank crease swims, which are obviously attractive to prey species. I rarely fish livebaits these days for any pike fishing, and generally trot with natural deadbaits fished horizontally on the trace or freeline sea deadbaits in the slacks or inside of crease swims.

Barbel love warm winter floods

The best perch conditions are found on heavily overcast days, as perch appear to detest high light intensity. They don’t like heavily coloured water though. Whereas great pike conditions include a clear blue sky and pleasant winter sunshine, perfect perch conditions are found on those muggy days when it never seems to get properly light. If there’s drizzle in the air so much the better. The absolutely prime time for a big river perch in winter is the hour just before dark, and my favourite method is to be laying on a large lobworm under a night float if the current is sluggish enough. I use a Drennan insert crystal with a snap in night light. To see that glowing float tilt and slide away in near darkness is a magical experience.

Dusk is the prime time for winter perch

So far I’ve talked about various combinations of water conditions featuring favourable water temperatures in the mid forties Fahrenheit or above. Where temperatures are struggling far below these ideal levels, however, fishing becomes much more challenging. The first extreme is that of high pressure with clear skies, leading to cold, frosty nights and days of weak winter sun when the thermometer struggles to creep above zero. At the time of writing, late November, those conditions are here with a vengeance! With low, clear water at a temperature down in the thirties Fahrenheit, the only species we are going to find feeding with gay abandon is the grayling, which revel in the cold water. They respond readily to both trotted maggots and feeder tactics. For the better quality fish you cannot beat feeder fishing with corn on the hook and crushed corn grains in the feeder. Grayling absolutely adore sweetcorn. Other species that are still very worthwhile quarries, despite the low temperatures, are chub, dace and pike. It is important to stress that all the preceding comments assume that the cold conditions have been prevalent for several days. Sudden frosts after mild weather kill all sport stone dead initially until the fish have acclimatised.

A nice winter double on a freezing cold day

I’ve fished for chub in arctic conditions with breadcrust for the best part of fifty years, and have learned and applied important variations to my approach from that in more favourable feeding conditions. First, the fish are certainly more sluggish and prone to stay in one comfortable swim. I always want steadier water than that which they normally inhabit. A crease swim is a perfect example of what I mean. In normal temperatures, the chub will be found adjacent to the fastest flow, feeding with gusto. In cold water, they may have migrated inshore to be tucked into the very gentlest flow under the banks, even skulking right under marginal ice. They are still happy enough to take a bait, and still accept a good mouthful. But they are not prepared to chase all over the river for it. I therefore cut right back on free feed and cast regularly. Over the years, most of my chub in these conditions have come within a minute or so of a recast, obviously suggesting that a bait needs to fall close to a fish before it will consider taking it.

When we have weather severe enough to freeze rivers, I’ve found piking can be excellent. My solitary thirty pound pike, the 32lb 1oz Thurne fish of the mid eighties, was taken in water that had only been ice-free a matter of minutes. When I’d arrived that morning the river had been frozen bank to bank, apart from a few hundred yards upstream of the dyke where I kept my boat moored. I had commenced fishing at the edge of the ice and as the ice gradually receded during the morning in the strengthening wind, I continually worked my livebait into the newly available areas.

Where we have very low temperature, but the river is fast, high and coloured, we really are up against it, especially if the temperature is still falling. I must admit I rarely bother fishing a river in these conditions. It is totally hopeless when a rapidly falling thermometer is coincident with a rising dirty river caused by melting snow, coupled with deoxygenation caused by ingress of road salt. I definitely admit defeat on rivers in these circumstances.

In every other combination of weather and water condition, though, you need never be stuck for a species to go for that will give a good chance of sport. Play the percentage game and choose the species where the likelihood of success is greatest.