The only rule of barbel fishing you ever need to know is…location, location and location.

Get this right and the barbel are not too far behind!

Deep glides to the cave like undercuts, barbel just like us humans, display characteristics of hibernation and look for sanctuary.

There’s little respite for any species of coarse fish during winter, however some fish adapt, and dare I say like these cold, frosty conditions, such as pike, chub and perch for example.

Barbel whilst not fond of these arctic blasts learn to adapt and overcome such inclement in weather and water temperatures, it’s little wonder then that when a reprieve does come they make the most of it.

In this article I will give you my take on the areas to look for in winter and how to get most from these chosen swims. It’s not rocket science, reading a water to execute the perfect assault on these fish is simply down to a little common sense and perseverance.

What To Look For In Swims?

Barbel can be often found in tight packs in winter, preferring to stay huddled together during this time, why they do this could be a variety of different reasons, to stay warm? I don’t know, but what I do know is that they will stay in a group of 6 -7 as oppose to 3 -4 in summer, where the barbel will be more spread out over a stretch of river. 

So of course it goes without saying, without any watercraft ‘nous’ you could fail miserably in your attempts to catch any barbel at all during winter. I cannot stress the importance of choosing the right spot or area, barbel move a lot less in colder water temperatures so that margin of error (casting in the wrong spot) becomes ever greater. 

Choosing the right spot could be 20 yards or less on any given area where there’s a pocket of fish holding up, those 20 yards could be the difference between success and failure. Like I have already touched upon, the tightness of a group of fish could be that of 6 – 7 so catching more than one is very common from the same spot or area.

Barbel fishing in winter differs to that of summer barbel fishing in so much that location changes. Whilst the fast, turbulent water are barbel havens in the summer, the cold, dark and deep areas in winter, provide sanctuary that less turbulent water will bring. Of course this is a characteristic change of the season, where they feel most comfortable and indeed where energy is not wasted fighting a raging torrent most of the time. 

A big bend such as this, where deep water sits on the inside of the bend are great winter holding areas.

Looking for areas where bends in the river can signify deeper water are often great areas in which to look for barbel. Places such as these exist on every river, not necessarily all deep but what is important is to get good reliable information on the river first.

A lot of anglers make the mistake of sitting by a weir where they’ve took excellent hauls in summer, expecting winter to be no different. Whilst weirs can produce fish, there’s usually better areas to fish for barbel in winter in my opinion.

Winter fishing is a different animal, no real need for complicated rigs, only where you target barbel and a refined approach in feeding is all that is required. You may of course still find yourself on the receiving end of barbel mood swings in terms of when or where they want to feed but there is always a small window of opportunity, providing you’re in the right place at the right time!

Faster water and areas you would normally associate barbel in summer can actually be devoid of any barbel in the winter no matter how mouth-watering the area looks.

Changes are apparent in their behaviour in terms of where they go and how they feed, from the shallow and fast glides of the summer to the deep and sluggish reaches in the winter. From a scattered nature of shoal fish in the Summer that hunt or feed in packs to pockets of fish dotted about over the course of a miles stretch in the winter for example. It’s all about fishing for opportunistic fish and using bait, and ultimately where you decide to put that bait in an area which is right!

Picking the right swim and knowing how deep the water is in front of you are pivotal to making the right decisions, get these wrong and the chances are you’ll not catch many barbel over the course of the winter.

The dynamics of barbel fishing in winter do change but the margin of opportunity becomes much less than that of summer conditions such is their metabolism to eat less during normal water levels, most fish are caught in the evening and into dark.

Creases are not areas that should be ignored nor are areas in which deep holes are present in any large or small river. Barbel will often sit in an area no bigger than a bathtub you have in your home, this area can mass 6 – 8 barbel in just that one area. Putting your bait yards away from them can often yield little or nothing as barbel will sit there and only feed for a short amount of time, this can be as little as 5 minutes in a 24 hour period and if you’re on them at that point you’ll catch, if not then you won’t, simple. Of course there’s plenty of variables to consider but during very cold conditions this can quite often be the case.

In summer barbel will travel much further and make much more of a concerted effort to actively look for food for longer and in most cases gorge themselves on it. The cooler weather brings this kind of response to a much more limited level, so the chances of getting a long feeding spell are few and far between during the colder months. Essentially barbel semi – hibernate during the winter colder months, often feeding for small periods at a time only so the chance of a fish will continue to be there. As they become lazy they also become bigger, eating for small periods and not doing very much in-between.

During the winter months I will not fish a area that is not deep,  first and foremost until late February where the fish do tend to move back into the faster water again in readiness for warmer temperatures and spawning time, this is when bigger fish are usually caught as they will eat a lot more during this period to stock up before spawning.

Trent in flood – Don’t be fooled by first impressions, look for a slack!

Floods do make the decisions easier (in my opinion)to pick a swim  that’s for sure as barbel will not often want to fight the main column of flow, unless there’s very little choice in order to find food.

The ability to forage and look for food becomes fundamentally important to a barbel’s survival during these times as more water enters the river it will increase in pace and level, barbel are then having to work harder to stay stationary in the flow thus losing more energy and the need to feed becomes a greater aspect in their ability to survive.

What you must look for is backwaters, eddies, creases and obstructions that create back eddies behind them during flood water fishing.

It can also be a good idea in the long run to write and even draw areas/spots during the summer, use your time wisely for your winter assault, knowledge is everything and knowledge like this is invaluable in the winter months. Knowing exactly what you’re fishing over, can and often will be the difference in having a successful winter fishing campaign or not. Remember the chances are the very thing you’re standing on during normal summer levels such as gravel etc, become barbel hot spots in flooded conditions.

In conclusion during winter find areas where you’d least expect barbel to be during the summer as winter can be the time to fish these areas, but be sensible in your approach. Do not fish eddies when the river is running at a normal level but fish deep parts of a river where steady flow exists. Creases in areas where there’s a more swifter pace and if you find deep holes then these are places you definitely want to concentrate on in the main.

During floods creases will again throw up barbel, undercuts will also. You’re looking for slower areas of the river the majority of the time during times such as this.

Undercuts are areas in where the erosion of banks from floods that have eaten away at it, leaving a gap underneath the bank that can go some 6ft. These are great areas to find on smaller rivers and if you’re lucky enough to know where they are (usually requires a lot of finding), you could have many good days fishing for barbel in winter.

One thing is for sure however, barbel are possible to catch in winter but where you target them and how you present your end tackle as we spoke about in Part 1 do need to change.

In the last and third part we’ll talk about baits you may need for winter barbel. Thanks for reading.