Dave Roberts on how to catch more Barbel

To catch more Barbel with feeder tactics, an angler needs to have a strategy. There are numerous changes can be made when feeder fishing. Some are subtle, some are more extreme, but having these preconceived plans in place, coupled with reacting to changing conditions, makes feeder fishing much less of a chuck it and see method, and puts more fish in the net.

I’ve come today to a peg on the Holme Lacy stretch of the River Wye. The river is carrying a couple of feet of extra water and is fining down but still quite coloured and pacey. It looks just right for a bold approach and the sort of river I can set about attacking. To me, Barbel fishing at this time of year is all about impact. I like to impose myself on a peg and give any fish in the area a reason to come looking straight away as opposed to waiting for them to turn up.

Traditionally blockend feeders were the only way forward for barbel but the revolution of Halibut based products has opened up a whole range of possibilities with regards to bait and how it’s fed. The idea of using groundbait for Barbel was disregarded for many years but now Halibut groundbait is my absolute first choice on big rivers at this time of year. Starting on a big cage feeder allows me to deliver a lot of particles as well as a trail of groundbait into my swim. I’ve always got the option to change to a blockend feeder at any time and I can do this in conjunction with any combination of the particles I’ve been feeding through the groundbait. This is a massive part of a plan that I have developed for pegs like this. I will fine things down in colder weather and possibly go down the smaller, Maggot/ blockend feeder route, but at this time of year I can be bold and really go for it.

I cannot express enough the importance of having gear that is up to the job, and making sure everything is in working order. These barbel fight harder than any other River fish. The power they possess, as well as their size, means they are equipped to reek havoc on an under gunned angler. Everything has to work like a well oiled machine.

Firstly the Rods we use have to be capable of casting a heavy feeder with anything up to 6 oz of lead attached. It has to be long enough to keep as much line out of the water as possible to keep the feeder in place in heavy flow. It then needs the middle power to be able to move the feeder through the water quickly on retrieve or tame any angry barbel into submission. The action is most important when a fish is under the rod tip. It needs the power to lift these bottom hugging fish to the surface whilst still maintaining some action to counteract their lunges.

My favourite rod for this is the 13’6” Tri-Cast Trilogy X power. This rod has the essential qualities for this style of fishing, not only here on the Wye, but also Rivers like the Severn or Parts of the Trent.

I couple my rod with Daiwa Excellor Plus reels in a 4000 size. Reels in these circumstances have to be just as powerful as the rods. Constantly winding in lumps of lead puts enormous strain on the gearing and poor quality reels will soon just fall apart under the pressure. I have 3 spools for each reel loaded with 6, 8 and 10lb Maxima. This covers all situations I face when feeder fishing for barbel. Maxima is such a durable line and stands up to the considerable stress that is caused by big feeder fishing. Today I am using 8lb breaking strain.

I carry an array of feeders with me and multiples of the same size. My blockend feeders are all Kamasan Black caps. These are very tough feeders and never crack or let me down. I also carry a lot of Cage and open end feeders of all shapes and sizes. It is important to carry plenty of spares as some pegs are very snaggy. Over the course of a session I get to know where the snags are and am usually able to navigate my way around them but it sometimes takes a few lost feeders to do this. When casting I always like to trap my finger against the spool as the feeder hits the water. I then watch the rod tip and lower it forward as the feeder sinks. You can really feel the feeder hit the bottom and it’s the feel of this landing that tells me whether it’s settled on gravel, silt or even in a snag. There’s something very reassuring about a feeder hitting gravel with a definite bump.

I also carry a box full of clip on leads to change the feeder weight to counteract changing flows. This is where there is a real art to feeder fishing. I always like to fish with a bow in my line which allows less weight to be used but if the river is rising or flowing fast I want to nail the bait down and use as much lead as is needed to achieve this comfortably.

For hooklengths, whether it be hair rigs or spades, I use I use Preston Power in 0.21 diameter. I rarely drop below a 0.19 diameter when barbel fishing. I won’t compromise on line strengths and in my opinion it’s just not worth the risk of losing fish. I carry a couple of hooklength boxes with me containing Hair rigs and big spade end hooklengths. I’m not too bothered about spade end hooklengths as these can be tied on the bank quite quickly in between casts but the hair rigs are a little more intricate and I like to have a good stock ready tied. Hooks for live baits are Kamasan Animal Spades and for hair rigs I use Korum S3 seamless. Both patterns offer unbelievable strength and sharpness and have never let me down.

Apart from the terminal tackle everything else has to set up correctly. Casting can be tricky with big feeders so the position of my seatbox and everything around me has to be in order. The rod rest has to be in the right position. I like to keep the rod high to keep as much line out of the water as possible, but I don’t want to be straining my neck all day so the angle has to be set just right. I like the rod facing down stream directly at where the line is entering the water. This way, when I strike I’m lifting straight into the bow of the line which gets me straight in contact with the feeder and hooked fish.

The rig I use for most of my feeder fishing is a multiple loop rig. This consists of a feeder being tied into a loop of about 12 inches. The Tag end is trimmed and the feeder is then slid back up to the knot. A figure of eight knot is then tied below the feeder so that the feeder is running up and down a 3 inch loop. I always attach a Korum feedabead to the feeder before tying the loop as this allows the quick interchange of feeders or leads. A series of knots is then tied down the remainder of the loop leaving a 2 inch loop for the hooklength to be attached to. This series of knots helps to create a ‘stiff link’ which keeps the hooklength away from the feeder. Big feeders (especially with added lead) have a tendency to rub against the main line and hooklength which can cause them to weaken.

The way barbel violently shake their heads adds to this wear and tear so I find the double length of line that the feeder runs on takes the punishment well and also stops the hooklength from deteriorating. In reality the rig is a bolt rig but the 3 inch loop is vital because if the feeder does become trapped in a snag and doesn’t move when the fish swims away, I still get some indication on the rod tip. This gives me a chance to strike and hopefully dislodge the feeder. Without this there would be no indication of a bite and the first I’d know of it would be when I wound in minus a hooklength. Normal uninhibited bites will usually result in a sharp drop back on the tip If I was fishing under my feet or on the inside third of the river I would probably revert to using a simple running rig with the feeder stopping against a buffer bead swivel to which I would attach my hooklength. This would be my choice of rig for narrower rivers as well.

I’m starting today with a cage feeder containing neat Bait-tech Marine halibut method mix groundbait. This groundbait can be bulked out with crumb but as I said earlier I like to make an instant impact. Rich, flavourful, groundbait containing hemp and 4mm halibut pellets, delivers a parcel of goodies and attractants that should pull fish from all around. My starting hookbait is always Maggot. Five reds on a size 12 may sound extreme but when compared to the coloured water and heavy feeder it is a perfect bait to kick off with. I have lost count of the amount of fish I’ve caught first chuck on this combination. It really is amazing how often I get an early response and even if it’s a small fish it gives me a chance to get more feed into the peg.

Today is no different as a lovely slender Barbel is landed within five minutes. Next cast and I hook and land a bigger barbel of about 6lbs. As is so often the case with this method I have had regular bites for the first couple of hours. I’ve tried putting a longer hooklength on to see if any barbel are sitting back off the feed but this results in small dace and minnows shredding the maggots every time. At this stage it’s time for the first major change of the day. I attach a hair rig. My hair rigs are all tied with a pellet band attached. I find this such a versatile way of hair rigging. I can band a single or double Pellet, pull the band through a piece of meat or through a couple of drilled pellets with a bait stop to hide the band. I also tie the hairs quite long as these days I almost always wrap the hookbait in paste as an added attractor.

Changing to a large blockend feeder, still in conjunction with the hair rig, I simply fill the feeder with 4mm Halibut pellets and mount a paste wrapped 10mm pellet on the band. I add a bit of extra weight to the feeder as I don’t want this to move at all in the current.

By feeding just pellets in the feeder I’m actually feeding a lot less than before but for some reason it nearly always sparks a response form barbel, even in flood conditions. It may be that after a while they become wary of the big cage feeder and sit back a bit but as in previous sessions the barbel come out to play and I have a nice run of fish to about 8lbs.

I’m positive that the paste is a key element. I mix my paste using the same groundbait as my feeder mix but I make it up using an egg and a little halibut oil. This not only binds the paste well and keeps it secure through the casting process, but also produces a paste that will break down quickly and send a trail of smell and particles downstream from the hookbait. In fast current I will stiffen it up by adding a bit more water to slow the breakdown. I find it a deadly addition to a pellet hookbait and a proper impact bait. It is very rare that I cast out a pellet these days without a paste wrap.

I end the session with 10 barbel and a chub for about 60lb. By ringing the changes in a structured but reactive way I’ve managed to keep bites coming all through the session.

At no point today have I felt that there was nothing to do but sit and wait. I’m not sure I would have had such an instant response on just a pellet feeder. Fishing with maggot or hemp and caster in a blockend feeder may have seen me pestered by small fish but they were all things that I could have tried had the bites dried completely. It’s good to break a session down into half hour segments when you’re searching for your next bite. This keeps it interesting and fills the gaps in a proactive way. It’s never a hopeless cause and there is always something to try.


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