Winter Barbel Fishing

When I was a kid (and yes, I know what you’re thinking but it wasn’t that long ago!) it was generally accepted that the barbel hibernated in the winter. The standard practise was to fish for barbel in the summer and autumn and then hang the fishing rods up until the following June. Eventually, the thinking changed and we began to realise that not only are barbel a good target in the winter, they are also in their best condition. I think it was fishing on the Severn that persuaded people: a few late autumn matches were won with ‘bonus’ barbel caught by legering a big lump of meat down the edge in a flood. Pretty soon anglers started adopting the same tactic in the winter and hey presto we were suddenlty all year round barbel anglers….

Living as I do near the river I often get the chance to play around with barbel baits and tactics. Many years ago I got a new rod for christmas and I was desperate to try it out so, while my mom was stuffing turkey and the rest of the world was opening presents, I snuck off up the river and nailed my one and only christmas day whisker in less than an hour on a big lump of meat. When you know a river really well such things are possible and so too are endless possibilities to try out new fishing baits and ideas. It was on the Severn, for instance, that I invented the new infamous ‘time bomb’ method using an open ended feeder stuffed with pellet groundbait and boilies/pellets – an approach that has changed the way anglers fish the river irrevocably.

The middle Severn was also the place where I played around with boilies when formulating the amino active CSL boilie that is now a flagship product in the TF-Gear range. Amino Active CSL is basically a commercial version of a home-made boilie I had been using for a number of years to catch barbel. Amino active is one of those rare baits that not only works the first time you use it but carries on getting better the more of it you put in over a period of time. That’s because the base mix (food value) of the boilie is naturally strong whilst the flavour label (an essential oil) is very subtle. It’s my experience with barbel (and other species, actually) that baits heavily laced with flavour never catch fish for very long.

People often ask me how to fish the river barbel given the success of pellets. ‘Have the pellets blown?’ they ask. The answer is yes and no. On the heavily fished stretches of river you can forget about using great big halibut pellets on the hook – the barbel have wised up to them. A few small pellets in the feeder or bag (3-4mm) jobs will help to attract the fish but keep the free pellets at a low level and instead stuff the feeder with a mixture of mini pellets, Crunchy Fish groundbait and broken amino active CSL boilie with the edge nicked off (this releases the subtle aroma that barbel will home in on). Using this combination I feel confident of catching barbel anywhere on stretches of river ranging from easy to difficult.

Of course, no bait will work unless you use it in the right swim and in the right conditions. In winter, the conditions that you are looking for are rising or stable water temperatures with the river temperature at four degrees or more. Don’t worry about the colour – I’ve caught barbel in rivers so dirty that visibality is reduced to just a few centimeters. Quite how the barbel manage to sniff the bait out in chocolate coloured water amazes me sometimes but they do.

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