Maggot Fishing

It’s the summer of 1991 and as a 10 year old my dad had decided to take me fishing on the middle Severn. We were to be based in Bewdley to fish for a species I had only heard tales about, the barbel. It was with much excitement and enthusiasm that my dad taught me and showed me the ropes. The rigs consisting of a large Drennan block end feeder and a 3inch hooklength fishing with maggots, not just a pint or 2 but gallons of them. We went on to land dozens and dozens of barbel over the course of that weeks holiday and as the old saying goes ‘I was hooked’.

Fast forward 13 years to 2004 and I found myself moving to Stratford upon Avon. I had continued to fish through my teens but building a career and life for myself had taken up a lot of time so fishing took a rather distant back seat. Now that I found myself living in close proximity to many rivers and in particular The Warwickshire Avon, my fishing fire was re-ignited. But what had happened? It seemed the days of meat over hemp and feeder fished maggots had been replaced by pellet and boilie fishing. I did some research on the net, browsing various forums and websites and was a little overwhelmed by the sheer choice of baits and new tackle available. Undeterred I kitted myself out and went about teaching myself how to target barbel with the new methods. It was a very steep learning curve and for quite some time I struggled, catching the odd fish but never really understanding why I was doing what I was. A chance meeting on the bank one evening changed all that very quickly. I had been out for a few hours and came across another angler who in the following years has become a firm friend and fishing buddy. Over a few sessions he saw how I was fishing and the advice he gave me changed how I approached my fishing, not just for barbel but all species through the season. We eventually got onto the subject of fishing for barbel using maggots. I was under the impression that due to the pellet and boilie boom maggots were old hat and out of fashion so to speak. Little did I know how wrong I was. That season I went onto have what was then my best ever season with several multiple catches of fish, all of them on the humble maggot. I continued to fish with maggots when the conditions allowed and over the coming seasons tweaked and changed my approach and rigs until I was happy with a method that has gone on to account for many double figure fish culminating in a PB of 14lbs.

With autumn now well upon us what better time to have a look at a method that many will have forgotten but one that is definitely a big fish tactic.

There are a lot of variables to consider when using large quantities of small baits for barbel none more so than time of year and location closely followed by conditions and bait application.

Time of Year/Location

In the warmer months of summer barbel are easily located in the majority of rivers with fast shallow runs and well oxygenated weir pools being a favourite haunt after the spring ritual of spawning. In the low clear conditions they are easy to find as they ‘flash’ and move between weed beds and rafts. Once we have had had the 1st floods of the summer this changes somewhat and under the cover of several feet of coloured water the barbel will move along the course of the river freely without fear of being seen by predators and anglers. More often than not once the water levels have receded the barbel will stay in their new found homes for long periods of time, with extra flow and oxygen created the deeper areas are a lot more attractive to them. This is where you should be looking to fish come the autumn and winter months. The inside and outside of bends and any area that drops off on the river bed are ideal habitats as any natural food items will be washed into these areas and the fish will sit there waiting for it’s next meal.

In the warm early part of the season the fish are catchable on maggots but due to the sheer volume of fry and small fish that also inhabit the river you can go through a lot of bait. In these months I much prefer to fish with pellets and boilies but once the nights start drawing in and the weather cools there is only 1 method on my mind for targeting barbel. As the water cools with the colder nights so does the fishes metabolism and it can take a lot less bait to feed off the smaller fish and chub before the barbel move in. While the metabolism of other species may start to slow through the autumn the opposite can be said of barbel. Through autumn they will be ravenous eating as much as possible before the 1st frosts arrive and winter sets in. This time of year and when the river is fining off after a winter flood are perfect times to get them ‘on the munch’.

Bait Application

Much like the summer  months there is no need to go in on the light side with maggots. Over the course of a day session I can easily go through a gallon of maggots fishing the feeder on 2 rods. Unlike high oil pellets maggots don’t take time to digest and the fish also require a large amount to gain any nutritional value from them. Once a maggot is burst there is very little substance left to consume so the barbel will keep on feeding until they are literally fit to burst or you have ran out of bait. On more than one occasion I have used this method and then gone back the following day and caught barbel that were literally passing maggots out in the net.

When arriving at the venue the first thing I do is clip on a large open ended feeder (I find the barbel tunnel feeders from 30 Plus the best for this). I will fill this with maggots plugged at either end with groundbait and deposit 2-3 pints of maggots into the swim. Once this is done I take my time to set my rods up and organise myself sometimes not casting in a baited hook until maybe 3 hours after the initial hit of bait. I will then re-cast every 20-30 mins until I start to get bites and catch fish.


As I have already mentioned I prefer to fish this method using a large open ended feeder. When it comes to smaller baits a lot of people tend to fine down their end tackle and rods. In my opinion this is not necessary and is also irresponsible. Barbel fight extremely hard all year round and using lighter tackle ‘to get a bite’ is not an option. If the bait application is correct and the fish are feeding then they can be caught on standard gear. My set up consists of a pair of 1.75lb T/C barbel rods, 12lb mainline, 10lb mono or fluorocarbon hooklength and a size 12 Drennan Super Specialist barbel hook. I thread a small rubber float stop up the line followed by a bead then another float stop. This acts as a point for debris to gather and also if slid down the mainline can act as a buffer in a semi fixed set up. I follow this with the large feeder then a buffer bead and swivel. I prefer to attach my hooklengths using an overhand figure of 8 loop knot and clip as I can change rigs quickly if necessary. The hooklength will be anywhere between 2-3 feet long and using a Palomar knot I attach the hook. A lot of people use mag aligner rigs or maggot clips but I have never felt this necessary just hooking as many maggots directly onto the hook as I can has worked on many occasions.

This approach has accounted for many many fish over the past few years with a large percentage of doubles to me and some friends. So what are you waiting for? Try something a bit different to the norm and  leave the pellets and boilies in the garage this autumn and get on the maggots!!

Top 5 Tips

  • Dont go under gunned, barbel fight hard and give their all. Make sure your tackle is upto the job.
  • Dont be afraid to pile the bait in, barbel will eat maggots all day long.
  • Spend some time locating depressions and drop offs on the river bed, this will pay dividends come the colder months.
  • Why keep the maggots natural flavour? Spice em up a little and give them a bit more attraction.
  • When there has been a warm winter flood wait for the last bit of colour to start to drain away and fill your boots.


Leave Your Response

* Name, Email, Comment are Required