River Trent
During the winter choosing suitable baits for the conditions you’re fishing is one part of ‘getting it right’, this of course is not the be all and end all within winter fishing, location is far more important, but having the right bait and feeding the right way will increase your chances of catching barbel.

During this series we have already spoken about the rigs & tactics employed during winter, and indeed where to find your quarry.

In the last part I am going to give you my take on what baits I prefer to use, and how I prefer to use them. Of course different temperatures dictate different tactics and bait and feeding are no different.

During the Summer, barbel will feed quite freely, even allowing themselves to be seen in the crystal clear rivers, flashing and even crashing on the top of the surface. The warm rain and the golden hour after dark are prime times to catch a barbel on all manner of different baits, they all have their day.

However, during winter it’s so different, baits are met with fussy and moody barbel that just won’t feed on anything, with this in mind when barbel do feed ( and they will during a 24 hour period) it is important that number one, you’re actually fishing at the right time, two that your in the right location and number three that you’re using the right feed and bait to catch them.

This isn’t necessarily rocket science, but it’s where so many anglers get it wrong. So often I see anglers opt to use very high oil pellets as oppose to something more accepted by barbel and less filling.

I find that by using small baits for example such as maggots, casters and even sweetcorn to a lesser degree work so well in the winter months as the smaller fish will generally be less inclined to compete for food during the colder months, whereas in the summer this attack on baits such as this is far more enterprising, largely down to the size of a shoal maggots do attract into the swim.

Casters & Maggots can be deadly during the winter when less intrusion from smaller species

Casters & Maggots can be deadly during the winter when less intrusion from smaller species.

This is not the case in winter, of course maggots, casters do attract the smaller species but not in the huge numbers or groups during the colder months of the year. This allows the barbel angler who wishes to use a maggot/caster attack using a blockend feeder for example more chance of them finding it without the need to compete so much.

Indeed, this approach lends itself to different styles, methods and of course presentations. The rubber element comes into play here, by this I mean artificial maggots or casters, popped up or laying on the bottom. This way of presenting maggots is particularly useful if the stretch you are fishing is full of smaller species or indeed if you are getting plagued by them constantly picking up the real ones. For some reason the element of anything artificial/rubber doesn’t appeal to the smaller species, but yet bigger fish are unfazed, this adds a different dimension and is a fantastic way of catching, not just barbel but all manner of specimen fish.

I strongly believe in using a setup that critically balances the artificial maggots or casters that are attached via an hair-rig with a granny knot tied in the middle of it, I then thread on a buoyant rubber maggot or caster (dependant on what I’m using in the feeder) via a baiting needle. Push the maggot over the knot in the hair and then glue the loop, once you have done this the rubber maggot/caster can then be pulled back down covering the  loop, the glue of course helps it sit in place. You must keep the hair short so it sits at the back of the hook. I then place 2  real maggots/casters on the hook (usually a size 16 to 14), this works great in the winter, but you may find during the summer you are getting minnowed to bits, in which case use two rubber maggots on the hair.

This shows how much diversity goes into the rig, matching your bait to your feed is key to success.

This shows how much diversity goes into the rig, matching your hook bait to your feed is key to success.

The presentation pictured (right) shows how diverse it can be with many artificials, matching your hook bait to the very stuff that’s dropping out your feeder is key to catching many fish during the winter and is a rig I’d use when the water is clear, it also works very well for chub.

There is times of course where bigger baits are the order of the day, there’s simply no point turning up with several pints of maggots if the river you’re fishing is flooded or carrying extra colour.

These are times where smelly and big baits prevail, barbel during these times can be very easy to catch if low pressure is in control and prevailing rains cause water temperatures to rocket. A frenzy amongst many fish often ensues, not just barbel, and providing you find them and the water level is not into fields and access is not compromised barbel are very easy to catch.

Luncheon meat can quite often be a devastating bait to use during this time, making four cubed baits out of a tin is not considered too much for these hungry barbel. I however prefer to use many baits from a tin (much less expensive also), the consensus that bigger the better is not necessarily an equal measure of how well the bait will catch fish. I don’t feel the need to use such a big piece of meat regardless of how barbel are feeding.

Meat cut into cubes (misshape for wary or shy barbel) is a devastating method in coloured water.

Meat cut into cubes (misshape for wary or shy barbel) is a devastating method in coloured water.

Big or small cubes work just as well as each other in my opinion. The idea is to create a smell in the water as eyesight is severly impaired to that of clear water, barbel will then rely heavily on scent to find the bait or feed.

This is something you must consider when approaching rivers that are coloured, I often see the angler fishing a bait that is not appropriate for such conditions.

Smelly baits such as cheese and flavoured meatballs also work impeccably well during coloured water as do many glugs and dips which is something I must also point out.

Glug/dip works fantastically when using baits baits such as boilies, meat, anything really!

The best way to make the bait more attractive and to leak to the maximum is by placing the baits in a glug pot and leaving to soak for a good 6 weeks or more, turning the pot over every so often, this will then leak to the maximum efficiency and whilst baits such as boilies are great used on their own, the soluble oils in glugs leak off creating a huge mass of scent downstream, thus bringing fish upstream to inspect.

Glug/Dips have become a vital part of my winter armoury, along with a very quick breakdown paste that will also attract barbel to the area. In cold water it is important that a paste or in fact a glug leaks the oils that it is meant to and is soluble in water. I have created products within my range that do just this.

My own 3 F T glug works well in both the summer & winter

My own 3 F T glug works well in both the summer & winter

It’s not just summer temperatures where the water can be as much as 17 or 18 degrees that you must be aware of but during colder water the leakage become less, so you must be sure that the glug/dip and paste that you purchase does leak in both the summer and the winter for maximum effect. 

Paste that is moulded around the hook works in much the same way, however it holds an advantage in that it can hold much more flavour and soluble oils, this is particularly beneficial when bits and pieces fly off downstream as it begins to break down, releasing its flavour, cloud and oils that turns barbel on.

I find that during times of clear water smaller baits are often needed such as maggots as I’ve already talked about, during darkness however bait choice in these clear water conditions become less important, providing you’re fishing in warmer temperatures a barbel will quite happily pickup a boilie without hesitation. Sometimes baits such as maggots during darkness are often discarded and left along by bigger fish, I do not know the reason for this but it can quite often be the case. Generally bigger fish feed at night and these fish are usually looking for something to fill them up quick and retire back to where they’ve come from, especially in winter when the window of opportunity becomes less. This is why things such as glug/dips work amazingly well, bringing the barbel to you when they’re in the mood to feed, and you do need that otherwise they could quite easily find food from elsewhere during the small window of opportunity.

Pellet wise you should stay well clear of high oil pellets such as halibuts, skrettings are of much less oil and much suitable to use in winter conditions such is the low water temperatures. High oil pellets will fill the fish up too quick as the pellets are not readily broken down due to the high level of oils coating the pellet so once in the system of the barbel, it will sit there for hours sometimes days before it’s passed through their system. Skretting on the other hand are passed through no problem and it will still break down in their system in a couple of hours or so, this will also not fill them up so quick so makes the chance of a bite much larger as the barbel will simply stay in your swim for longer, of course this makes them much better to use in winter

I hope in these 3 parts of winter barbel fishing you’ve learnt to put some of these tips and how I approach such times into your own fishing. I’ll be reviewing my 3 F T products in the next blog to tell you what’s coming for 2013 and what you can look forward to trying if you would wish too. Until then.

Tight Lines