Big River Barbel Fishing

Big river barbeling can be a very daunting prospect but with careful planning and preparation the rewards can be staggering. What can we define as a big river? For me the three that really stand out are The Tidal Trent, Severn and Thames. All 3 rivers are big, deep, wide and very powerful with the Tidal Trent and Severn especially having large stocks of nomadic barbel.

One of the main things I have found over the 4 years of fishing these rivers is you need time on the bank and lots of it, by this I don’t mean several short sessions a week more like 48-36 hour sessions in one go. As I mentioned the fish can be very nomadic and there can be long periods between bites as the fish move around in large shoals eating  and then moving on to the next spot. Once you have arrived at the river it’s important to have a good walk along the stretch and identify potential fish holding areas or areas that you can draw the fish into and hold them there for a period of time. I aren’t a fan of far bank fishing on these rivers much preferring where possible to fish no more than 3 rod lengths out, this might sound strange with so much water to go at but bear with me. I like to find a swim where there is a steady depth with the flow under your feet or certainly close in, this enables you to be extremely accurate with your casting and baiting up over a period of time. There is nothing worse than having a few fish at night and upon re casting you end up spreading the bait all over the place or due to it being dark getting your re casts just short of the baited area this will have a detrimental effect on the fishing further into the session.

Once a swim has been chosen the 1st thing I do is prepare some bait and start to introduce it. Over the course of a long stay session I will think nothing of using 20kg of bait made up mainly of particles, ground bait and small pellets. I introduce about 20 tennis ball sized balls straight away and then rest the swim for a couple of hours while I ready my gear. Once I’m ready to start fishing I will use a big feeder and re cast every 20-30 minutes until I start getting bites and catching fish once this happens I will generally fish to bites only re casting after every fish. If I’m catching and the bites start to tail off I will top the swim up with 5 balls of ground bait mix to make sure there is always a bed of bait in the swim to hold the fish there longer.  You will notice that I don’t put any large bait items in with my freebies, this is because the only large offering I want on the river bed is my hook bait, I introduce plenty of particles and small food stuffs to keep the fish grubbing around without filling them up completely which a kg of boilies or larger pellets will do.

Rigs, there are generally only 2 rigs I will use when I’m fishing in this way. During the day I fish a large 4oz feeder in conjunction with a length of tungsten tubing, lead clip and a long hooklength finished with a size 10 hook. Depending on the water clarity and make up of the bottom I will use either Drennan sinkbraid in 12lb breaking strain or 10lb Gamma fluorocarbon. Daytime bait will usually either be 2 small elips pellets glued to the hair or a small 10mm boilie.  I use this method in day light hours as if the fish are a bit wary due to clear water they may sit back from the feeder and eat the contents as they are washed out, having the hookbait 3 feet or more below the feeder enables me to pick the fish off as they feed. Once we get towards the hours of darkness I change my rig almost completely. The feeder and long hooklength are replaced with a backlead, 3 or 4oz lead and a short 8-10 inch hooklength of 15lb Nash the Missing Link with 3 inches stripped back at the hook end. This rig is fished with a 16 or 20mm paste wrapped boilie and a large fist sized solid PVA bag of crushed boilies and pellets. I fish this way at night as there are generally a lot of bream present and the large hookbait helps to put them off. I also find that due to the lack of clarity the fish lose a lot of caution so the long hooklength is not needed, the feeder is replaced by a lead and PVA bag as I find that there can be long periods of inactivity at night and as I’m not recasting as regularly as I am during the day I want to make sure there is plenty of feed near my hookbait at all times.

These tactics and methods have enabled me to land some great bags of barbel over the past few years and hopefully they will catch you some to.


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