I am sure I am not the only one still waiting for summer to arrive! Yes the inevitable and predictable British summer is well and truly over, giving way to destructive floods and cold overnight temperatures already!

Winter is here whether we like it or not (I don’t wear my ‘Long Johns’ in bed for nothing you know!), bank time for most is limited to warm spells and breaks in the weather which bring low pressure and inevitable rains. This is welcomed by us barbel anglers if rather unpleasant to fish in, providing of course, flooding doesn’t end up in our street or destroying our properties though, hey? 

Autumn? Did that just bypass us all as well?

The weather has undoubtedly got the feel of winter about it and as we prepare for those cold nights under the duvet and waking up to frost on the ground and icicles hanging from our rooftops. The last thing we really want to do if we’re honest with ourselves is to go fishing, apart from maybe the foolhardy that could lead you to believe they’re somewhat disfunctional or deranged.

Granted, winter fishing is not for the faint-hearted, but during low pressure when the weather is generally warmer and wetter than that of the clear days and frosty nights of high pressure, barbel fishing can be terrific!  

Winter is a great time for monster barbel.

I wrote a piece last year on ‘winter barbel fishing on large rivers’. On this piece however, my intention is to give you a broader picture, achieving goals and creating dreams by catching winter whoppers. I hope to show you the tactics to employ and the baits to tempt these enigmatic barbel. 

By approaching a river the right way, without fear of what’s in front of you the catching of barbel are still possible at much bigger weights than that of summer fish, they’re a completely different animal to tame that’s for sure!

What Tactics Are Best?

Like most barbel fishing, there is no particular tactic that will work every time, you will think that you have a stretch of river sussed and then something happens that will bite you in the bum!

This is the nature of the beast unfortunately, not any one bait or rig will mean you’re catching consistently enough year after year to warrant such high honours within barbel angling.

In my personal fishing, as you may probably know the days I actually get to wet a line are somewhat limited due to living in Scotland (No barbel here) so getting back when I can to do battle with these fish when I can is paramount to keeping myself barbel educated, if you like.

I am writing from many years of experience and what has worked for me in that time. My bait range (3 F T) has been put together by research, the tactics I employ to catch barbel are no different.

Reactions and behaviour to the weird and wonderful things that can be placed into the water to catch barbel can be very interesting to watch, if you’re in a fortunate position that enables you to peer into a clean, shallow river where barbel are residing, it can be very exciting way to learn.

Luckily I spent many years watching barbel on the river Wensum in Norfolk where I began to learn when, what and how barbel wanted something to eat or how they reacted to line, hooks and many other things during many weather variables to see what worked, when.

You can learn a lot by watching barbel feed in summer.

What I learnt then, and later from my time on the Trent is the way barbel will not be bothered regarding line in the water, whereas on other days they will.

Gripper leads serve a great purpose during winter!

In summer it can become necessary to use long hooklengths and small hooks (clear water for instance). During winter however I do not see a reason to use such finesse in your approach as the barbel rarely care. If you’ve picked the right location, during conducive conditions they should be ready and only to willing to pick up the bait.

Feeders work effectively during ‘normal’ autumn conditions when using groundbait with skretting (3.5mm) pellets sandwiched in-between. Skretting is a very low in oil pellet that will not give a barbel too much actual food content, but enough reward to keep them there. 

It is very important to find the right balance but by feeding skretting and groundbait combinations you have the attraction of the groundbait and the food content of the pellet albeit a very small one. This is a fantastic method to use in autumn, during the months of September through to end of October as the water temperature is generally still holding at a reasonable temperature from summer.

A standard feeder or gripper weight rig is all you really need to catch barbel

There is exceptions and variables to consider however, has the river your fishing suffered from a dramatic decline in water temperature overnight? Are you fishing during conditions not favourable, i.e. clear, cold and very sunny during clear water conditions? It’s something to always keep under consideration when choosing your tactics for barbel.  Of course the balancing act can be counter-balanced by having one or the other such as low light and clear water conditions or vice-versa (coloured water and sunny conditions) these are variables in which the angler must decide on the route to take. I will always be confident during such times providing the river temperature is not below 7 Celsius (a thermometer for testing water temperature is an invaluable piece of kit for winter fishing) that barbel will feed and as such will opt for the feeder approach as a rule.

The rig is simplicity itself allowing free movement of the feeder which allows the barbel to hook themselves against your rod tip. Main line is 10 – 15lbs (Only using 15lbs if snaggy). I begin by threading my feeder which incorporates an american snap-swivel for quick change of feeder if I need to adjust the weight through the main line. I then insert and thread a buffer bead (bulb-end first) through the main line also.

Hook length can be anything braid or mono but found Drennan Sink braid to be very good. Take a length of your desired hook length around 12 inches and begin the knotless knot process with a size 8 to 10 strongly forged hook (Pallatrax’s ‘the hook’ is very strong and sharp). Once you have done this take a size 8 swivel and with the tag end tie the ‘palomar knot’. The other end of the swivel is then knotted via a ‘grinner knot’ to the main line. Push the buffer bead over the swivel only leaving the swivel on the hook length side half visible.

Simple!

There are times, in particular cold spells during the autumn where ‘proper’ winter tactics are needed. Taking these conditions into account the expectations need to change, and the tactics you employ also. During these cold spells (3 days or more) in autumn through to winter, you’re fishing for a bite and a opportunistic capture, one where a barbel will mouth a bait and tear off almost because it’s annoying them (salmon-esque).

Through times of study I found barbel lethargic to the point they’d not move from one spot for hours during winter when conditions are less favourable. 

The window of opportunity is always there however and always will be, no matter how small the margin, as long as you’re there at the right time, and the right place. The 5 minutes in which barbel will feed should leave little doubt that you will have that one chance, providing you’ve adjusted your tactics accordingly. Of course most anglers prefer not to fish these conditions as the odds can be weighted heavily against you but it’s not without rewards.

I like to employ a ‘Stringer’ method which is made up from PVA tape or string which are an invaluable tool for anyone fishing for winter barbel I feel. It’s an ideal tactic to employ during spells of very cold temperatures during late October through to late February.

A ‘stringer’ approach for the opportunist angler, a fantastic Winter method

I use a boilie ‘stringer’ for this tactic which does suit this style of fishing perfectly, often having 3 – 4 boilies on a piece of melting PVA (pictured) through a ‘stringer’ needle and then place boilies onto the tape/string, making sure to leave a gap between each boilie as not doing so will cause the PVA to not melt properly.

PVA Tape used for this ‘stringer’ – As you can see the tape is placed onto the hook.

Cut with scissors and knot so the boilies can not come free during the cast and with the tag end place the tape over and onto your hook,  if using string you can simply use a ‘granny knot’ on the shank of the hook.

The idea behind the tactic is that once a barbel becomes interested in feeding there’s really not much chance of leaving your bait. I find this very aggressive style works hand-in-hand with the stretches and swims associated with barbel during winter. Steady, deep swims are considered the best, where using this tactic means the free offerings around your hook bait are not carted off by a rampant current.

Favourable conditions are very different however and the approach employed is too, preferring instead to use feeders and more food content within a groundbait mix, this will be when barbel will gorge themselves up and be ravenous in their approach to bait and loosefeed generally.

I use the word “favourable” as when low pressure is firmly in control, which brings the inevitable rain and respite from the cold, clear and icy conditions barbel really do come on the feed in a big way. As such feeders still play a part in what is a time where you should really be filling your boots, especially when water level is dropping after floods.

Using feeders to hold bottom, a very smelly groundbait mix and a large hook bait can be a deadly combination during this time.

Re -casting every 10 – 15 minutes will keep the scent/smell in the water column drifting downstream and providing the barbel are ‘up for it’ they can follow a trail of scent to the source very quickly.

Food content within a mix can hold a certain degree of oils within loosefeed such is the time where you really should expect barbel to feed avidly, hemp, chopped boilies, sweetcorn and a small helping of high oil pellets can all be included within the groundbait mix.

Boilies and luncheon meat are effective baits to use with this method but we’ll discuss this in more detail later in the series of 3 parts.

Part 2 will include how to use watercraft effectively in winter!

(Big thanks to Angling Times and James Denison for some of the pics)