Winter barbel Part 2 – Bait, Application and Rigs

We are now rapidly leaving the summer behind. Greens will be turning to golds, browns and oranges and the nights will be gradually getting longer. What does this mean for the nations barbel angler among us? Well we certainly need to start thinking about what bait we are using and more importantly how it’s being applied. From June 16th throughout the warm summer months the pellet rules up and down the country, from halibut to salmon to elips to pre drilled there won’t be many barbel anglers who don’t carry this bait throughout the warmer months. But what about autumn? With the air and water temperatures starting to drop high oil content baits need to be replaced by something more digestible and soluble, the perfect bait for this time of year through to winter are boilies.  Boilies are a good  bait for a mid to late season campaign, they can be made or shop bought to a very high standard and most manufacturers these days use very good quality, highly digestible ingredients which offer the fish a balanced diet. This is one of the main reasons for switching to them, in cold water the oil in pellets will lock in causing the fish to have problems digesting them (put a bottle of olive oil in the fridge for 2 hours to see what I mean), boilies on the other hand are highly nutritious and pass through the fish quickly. Now that we have covered ‘why’ we need to look at the ‘hows’ of fishing with boilies.  There are many different variations of fishing with boilies, I never use them straight from the packet. One of my favourite ways of preparing my baits is to air dry them until they are rock hard then glug them in a matching dip. This pro longs the life of them as you are removing the water content therefore preserving the bait but when you glug them you are infact replacing the moisture with pure flavour without actually changing the ‘make up’ of the bait. I will only do this to my hookbaits as this will set them apart from any freebies that I decide to introduce into my swim. When it comes to feeding with boilies, because they are quite high in attraction levels once air dried and glugged I like to use the old adage of ‘less is more’. The way I go about this is with PVA stocking and matching paste wrap. PVA 1st, I very rarely if ever use whole boilies. Much preferring to crumb, halve or simply break them up. This improves scent trail on them and as they are no longer round they wont roll away downstream in the current.  The two ways of using PVA for me are stocking and tape form. If using stocking I will make golf ball size bags up of broken and crumbed boilies then dip the bag in a matching PVA friendly dip.  This will prolong the melting time and leave a nice parcel of tasty morsels in the vicinity of your hookbait. When using tape I will mount several halved baits and then attach the string to the hook, this will give a small amount of baits surrounding my hookbait that are all matching  therefore making the actual hookbait look more like the freebies it is surrounded by.  Boilie paste. There are 3 ways of making paste, you can buy it, use water or use eggs. Shop bought ones are good, they have a great consistency and do what you will need, I prefer to make mine myself from the same base mix as the boilies I am using. The benefit of making your own matching paste is that you can control the consistency and flavour levels to match the fishing situation you may find yourself in. As I already mentioned the two binding agents we use are water or eggs. When using water this makes your bait a lot more soluble, once cast out the paste will break down very quickly leaving a good scent trail but it won’t last long. I much prefer to use eggs, once made it last longer and is a lot more hard wearing. The other added benefit of using eggs is you can boil the paste to create your own boiled baits to your own spec and size. Egg based pastes are great for flood and winter fishing, you can cast out a boilie wrapped bait of anything up to golf ball size (or bigger if you prefer) safe in the knowledge your going to get a prolonged scent trail and still have a bait at the business end once the paste has broken down. Given that you can often buy boilies anywhere between 8mm and 30mm these days there really should be a great bait out there to suit all situations.


There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to feeder fishing for barbel. As long as the location is good and you’ve got a baiting pattern that you know works the hard parts are done. When it comes to feeder rigs when using maggots and casters for barbel they can be as simple or complicated as you want. Obviously simpler is almost always better but there are a couple of little tweaks that make a basic rig even more effective.

Using a feeder is one of the most common methods of barbel fishing. Anglers up and down the country use them week in week out and catch a lot of fish but which feeder to use? The 2 most popular are the open ended and block end varieties. I used to be a big advocate of the open ended feeder for barbel fishing using maggots and plugging the ends with a high attract ground bait. I would use very large feeders which would enable me to introduce a large amount of bait quickly and accurately. The main problem with this is you have no control over the release rate of the maggots and once the ground bait was gone the maggots would wash out of the feeder extremely quickly and spread out much further than I would like. I played around with different groundbaits and consistencies but was never really 100% happy with where my bait was ending up and the accuracy of having a nice tight feeding area for the fish.

Over time I decided to give block end feeders a try and in particular the 2oz and 3oz in-line variety. These are perfect for a maggot and caster approach. Once the feeder is in the water the release rate of the bait is controlled by the holes in the feeder. If you are getting regular bites the holes can be enlarged making the maggots exit the feeder much quicker therefore keeping the fish actively searching and baiting the swim quickly. Once bites tail off a little or if you want to drip feed the swim giving the barbel the odd maggot here and there to keep them searching out the food for longer periods of time then masking tape can be wrapped around the feeder leaving just a handful of holes for the maggots or casters to escape out of.

I mentioned that I prefer an in-line feeder over a regular swivel feeder. The simple reason for this is it eliminates potential tangles and makes the whole rig nice and streamlined. In the event of a snapped mainline the swivel will still pull out of the feeder base with ease leaving just a length of line with a hook on the end. There’s no need for buffer beads or rig sleeves etc. it’s just a simple case of sliding the feeder onto the mainline and pulling the hook length swivel into the base of the feeder, simplicity itself.

Now the hook lengths and what I do at the business end is slightly more complicated and different to the norm. I have in the past and do still occasionally when the fish are really having it impale as many maggots onto a size 8 or 10 hook as possible. No finesse involved at all just cast out and hold on! However over the past few years I’ve played around and tweaked my rigs slightly and the hooking potential of my maggot rigs have improved dramatically as has the hook bait presentation itself. Now I make no apologies for the fact that I will and do take ideas from the carp world and use them in my barbel fishing. These guys really do have some fantastic ideas and if I see something that is going to improve my fishing I’ll use it. There are 2 rigs I tend to use and they are as follows.

The ‘2’ hook rig

I first saw this rig in a magazine several years ago and thought it was a great idea. Now before anyone calls for my head and wants me stringing up it is technically a 2 hook rig but not with the potential of the fish having 2 hooks in its mouth. Let me explain. The idea is that you tie a size 16 or 18 hook onto your hook length material using a Palomar or grinner knot, this is followed by threading a fake rubber maggot blunt end first down the hook length and over the hook eye. This is followed by your usual hook (in my case a size 10 Nash Fang Uni) tied on knotless knot style. Now what you have is a small hook and fake maggot on the hair thus enabling you to fill your size 16 or 18 hook with live maggots then push the fake one over the hook point ‘locking’ your bait in place. This means your actual ‘fishing’ hook is completely free giving you a clear hooking point that’s not masked by maggots and by using the fake maggot you are neutralising the weight of the actual hook making your rig very light and thus giving you a very good hook hold once the barbel has taken the bait.

‘The Fake maggot Rig’

This rig is very similar to the one above but less fiddly to tie and use. I tie my usual hair rig and leave the hair slightly longer than I would normally. I then using a fine baiting needle hair rigging one or 2 fake maggots through the blunt end as you would real ones. There is no need for a bait stop as the knot on the hair will keep the fake maggots in place. It’s then just a simple case of putting a few maggots directly on the hook and your fishing. I Like to use this rig for 2 reasons. Firstly should your bait get taken and sucked by small fish you are guaranteed to still be fishing due to the hair rigged fake ones and secondly the fake maggots once again neutralise the hook weight making the rig very efficient at hooking the fish.

The top rig is the ‘2 hook rig’ with the small size 18 buried in the fake maggot and the bottom is the hair rigged fake maggot rig. The red fake maggots are for illustration purposes only, in a fishing situation they’d be real magggots.

I regularly read once it comes to the winter that you need to fine down your tackle to get bites of barbel. This in all honesty is absolute rubbish. If your location, feeding pattern and rigs are right then the barbel will feed and you will catch them. I still use 10lb or 12lb mainline, 10lb low diameter mono hook length and size 10 hooks in the winter and catch plenty of fish. To reduce the hook sizes and line strengths only serves to weaken your rigs and will result in lost fish that are left trailing line. Barbel still fight hard in the winter and the utmost care should be taken to ensure they remain in tip top condition.

Top 5 Tips

•              Don’t go under gunned, barbel fight hard and give their all. Make sure your tackle is upto the job.

•              Don’t 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 them up a little to 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.

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