Winter barbel Part 3 – Floodwater Fishing

Homework and Preparation

It’s just as important to spend time on the banks in low water conditions as it is in high water to prepare yourself and learn the river. Areas in normal conditions that are only 12 inches deep and contain no fish can soon become a feeding ground with several feet of coloured water raging over it. Take time to walk the banks, look for areas close in with a clean gravel bottom where the fish can lay in comfort during a flood. Any slight depressions in the river bed no matter how small can be a perfect place for a barbel to lay up as they wait for morsels of food to be washed into them. Backwaters and eddies are perfect places to make a note of for future reference. Again food will regularly be washed into them and stay there making it the ideal place for barbel to get an easy meal in high water conditions.  Once the path of the river has been learnt and potential flood fishing areas marked it’s important to take a look around and identify safe places to fish when the river is in full flood. The river will change considerably and it’s vital any areas with undercut banks or sudden drops are noted and avoided. I tend to look for areas that in normal conditions have a high, solid bank making it possible to sit well back from the waters edge and fish safely. There was an episode a few years back when my local river was in full flood. I had decided to go out and chose an area I knew well. What I hadn’t counted on was the weather. Further upstream it was still raining and before I knew it I was surrounded by rising water and it was rising fast. I made my way to safety and within an hour the spot I had been in was completely underwater. I had to wade through waist deep water and with a broken mobile and no one knowing where I was the outcome could have been very different. It was lesson learnt and every time I go out in a flood I now tell someone where I am going and make sure my mobile stays dry.

Rigs and Method

Floodwater rigs are simplicity in itself. There is no need for anti tangle tubing, leadcore, backleads or ultra long hooklengths.  I start by threading a float stop onto the line followed by a lead of only anywhere between 1oz and could be 6-7oz depending on the flow mid river, this is followed by a buffer bead and a quick release clip that I can attach the hooklength to. The hooklength is generally 12-18 inches of coated braid with a couple of inches stripped back at the hook end and I finish it off with anything upto a size 4 depending on bait size. The float stop acts as an anchor for any debris in the water column, rather than sliding down the line and possibly masking the rig making it ineffective the debris will collect 2 feet up on the stop. It might sound strange only using leads as small as 1 oz at times but the swim I’m fishing will dictate how big or indeed small a lead I’ll use. By using a small lead the flow will pick it up and carry it into the bank leaving my bait potentially in the same place as any natural food that is being washed downstream. Don’t get me wrong barbel will and do sit in the main flow of a heavy flood and I do fish this area when using 2 rods. In this case I’ll fish one with a large lead, upto 7oz in size and anchor the bait in place mid river, the second rod will be fished down the nearside margin. Margins are the biggest feature on all of our rivers and are a very neglected area, on numerous occasions it has come up trumps with a big fish.


When it comes to bait anything that is high quality and has a high flavour leak off will catch fish. I don’t bother using any freebies as they could end up anywhere so I much prefer to use a single very large hookbait. Often this will consist of 2 x 16mm boilies wrapped in paste or ¼ of a tin of Spam! These are very big baits but surprisingly catch fish. I remember being dubious about the chances of catching with a ¼ tin of meat but once I’d landed a barbel of 12.12 on it I was convinced. The idea of high attract baits doesn’t necessarily need to be limited to your hookbait though. I’m a big fan of pugging a gripper lead with paste which matches my hookbait then dunking the whole lot in a thick liquid bait additive. If I’m fishing a whole day I’ll also have a few leads ready ‘glugged’ in a pot already plugged with paste so I can put a fresh scent trail in every cast if need be. Generally speaking I will cover a lot of water on a days flood water fishing, The fish will be actively looking for food so I tend to find that if a bite hasn’t materialised in 20 minutes or so then I’ll move on. It may only be a move of 30 or 40 yards but staying mobile can often be the difference between a blank and a real red letter day.

Double 16mm boilie to get started

When to go

So you have organised your gear and have a stretch of river in mind but what about when to go after those flood water barbel? There are a few things to consider, the main 2 being what stage of the flood to fish and what type of flood. Let me start with what type of flood. In the Summer and early Autumn any flood will get the barbel feeding in earnest as the influx of extra water is more than likely to be warm. These are the easiest floods to fish as you can almost guarantee feeding fish and therefore a good day is often on the cards. The reverse of this is once the winter is under way. After the 1st frosts the water temperature will start to drop add to this any rain at this time of year and it will drop even further. What you are looking for is a period of warm rain and wind coming from the south west. This will more often than not bring the barbel onto the feed especially if it is raising the water temperature after a prolonged cold spell. If you have a rising river due to snow melt or cold rain from the north or east then 9 times out of 10 you can forget it. There maybe a very small window of opportunity but in these conditions I prefer to fish for something else until conditions improve. What stage of flood do I target barbel? There are 3, rising, peak and dropping. If you can put up with all the debris in the water column of a rising river this can be a fantastic time to catch a few fish, they will be feeding their heads off with all the extra food being washed into the river. Once the river has peaked and started to drop this can be a good time to catch the bigger, greedier fish. While the smaller ones may have had their fill and be resting up the big old girls will often find a large smelly bait hard to resist. That just about covers flood water barbelling. Once we get the right conditions you can be sure thats what I’ll be doing. Remember though, no fish is worth risking your own safety for, always cover your options and be aware of your surroundings.

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