Whilst sane individuals are indoors, sitting by a warm fire, closing the blinds and cursing the pitter patter of rain droplets hitting the window pane. The barbel angler is revelling in it, but why? During this article I hope to explain the reason why these wet, wild and raging river torrents are welcomed by the barbel angler.

One thing you can rely upon during the winter months in Britain is plenty of rain, indeed this can be a miserable time for many. Days under the duvet are commonplace and devastation for others that live on a floodplain as rain arrives can sometimes be catastrophic.

The rain and a rising river to a barbel angler wishing to catch his/her quarry is however a godsend, a gift from god!

WHAT TYPE OF FLOOD IS BEST?

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There’s three type of floods, the good, bad and indifferent. It’s something angler’s rarely contemplate when getting excited at the first sign of any rain and a rising river. Indeed, not all rain is good for catching barbel, not all floods should be met with ethusiasm for a red letter session.

Here’s why…

During the winter it’s vitally important that any rain depicting ‘a good flood’ for barbel fishing is a wind following a warm direction, westerly, southerly, south-west and to a lesser extent a south-easterly direction are all directions that often bring warmer rain.

During the winter the rivers are often cold, so warm rain sparks a ressurgence in feeding. This isn’t so from a cold easterly, northerly, north-easterly and north-west. A cold arctic blast bringing rain, sleet and snow when colliding with the warm air from the south brings little benefit.

There’s positives of course but not for the angler who’s hoping to catch during this cold flood.

Positives Of A Cold Water Flood

  • A cold flood (providing it’s the first of the winter) inevitably moves barbel into their winter haunts from summer.
  • Debris such as leafs and weed that litter the bottom during autumnal conditions are cleared by the rising river.
  • Barbel will never be far away from the slacks, drop-offs or uneven depth swims, discounting 80 – 90% of the rest of the stretch.
  • Inverterbrates, crustaceans and small fry is often killed, releasing massive amounts of free amino acids and lots of natural food becomes available.

It’s important to understand the difference between the contasting weather conditions and their prevailing winds to fully comprehend of all that it entails.

A warm wind, followed by moist low pressure and ineviatable rain is a different matter entirely. This is a flood that should have barbel angler’s on the bank in their droves and catching fish, but not always so….so why is this? Why is something that should be so good (what we’re led to believe), be so bad?

During a warm flood barbel will often ‘binge’, eating everything in their path for a few hours until they’re satisfied and lay up again for a few days, usually only feeding again during the river’s ebb.

It’s true barbel feed well during this time but only for a period of time, it’s being there at that time that’s significant, not at any time!

Arriving before or after the big ‘binge’ can be the explanation to not catching much, or at all. 

I must reiterate that there’s far more importance or emphasis on being at the river when most barbel are feeding, this is typically once the river has peaked.

So What Causes This Reaction In Behaviour?

Typically, barbel are torpid creatures during the coldest periods in winter, laying dormant for days and feeding sporadically during very small windows of opportunities (usually during the warmest part of the day in winter). Often these small windows can almost cease completely for a day or two.

Simply put, if a barbel is not expelling any energy it does not need to replenish any, the area in which you would typically target them in winter (slower, often deeper water) enforces this point. Barbel will move to areas such as these to coincide or correspond to their natural feeding behaviour during the winter months.

A barbel will adjust to their environment and to their metabolism, they will always, always have winter haunts and will never, ever stay in one area for 12 months. At best they may venture back into their summer haunts once or twice, but will never be resident there during the winter.

During a flood, many crustaceans are removed from the river bed, sediment will cloud the water with a chocolate brown colour that will also contain minerals and every freshwater living creature in our river systems will seek sanctuary.

This is not based upon how cold the water is, but based upon how much water is being forced through the river at any one time. There’s little doubt this volume of water that threatens the miniscule invertebrates and water snails is not ideal for them, but to a barbel angler it’s a barbel playground.

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Freshwater snails are often killed during the big floods

Water snails are slammed into rocks and boulders, mussels are crushed and shrimps are destroyed. The big floods are often devastating for these tiny creatures that we as angler’s are often ignorant too. 

I will always maintain, despite making bait for a living – nothing will ever, ever compete (or compare) with the natural underworld of the river and a fishes environment. 

This natural process is the environment in which all fish (not just barbel) have flourished for a number of years in our rivers. Fish don’t exist because we fish for them, and ultimately feed them, they’re adaptable and can live quite happily without any intervention from us. A natural diet of small custraceans and invetebrates are a staple diet of a barbel.

It’s little wonder then, when a flood arrives and essentially kills these crustaceans and invertebrates the barbel are looking to cash in on this creatures unfortunate demise in mass and begin foraging.

Freshwater shrimp {Gammarus pulex}

Freshwater shrimps dead or dying release free amino (Credit Alex Hyde)

This is of course the reaction you should expect during a warm flood. A cold flood however discourages this behaviour and only when temperatures become steady and flow is minimised will they begin to feed.

How Can Barbel Detect Dead Crustaceans And Invertebrates?

I can only speak here of opinion, certainly not fact as I have no actual evidence on paper to support this notion.

I require a longer time to study and test to give an accurate account to base my own opinion as a fact.

My opinion is, much like carp, barbel can recept PH changes in the water column, certainly the ‘binge’ type eating during a flood would support this argument. The breakdown of creatures dying or dead release free amino acids which in-turn release a localised difference in PH from that of the water which barbel recept and move in on this area.

To elaborate further on this subject would be unjust and could be totally inaccurate. However I thought that I would share my thoughts on the trigger for this response in barbel during floods.

Barbel Are Bigger In Flood

17lb 8oz

Big floods bring big fish, this 17lb 8oz barbel was caught after the river rose to over 8ft.

This is certainly true, barbel if not true big specimens during normal summer levels are now putting on weight at an alarming rate. This is not always down to that ‘binging’ effect I keep talking about, but water retention taken on during the floods. A big flood will often produce big barbel due to this retention and the ‘binging’ effect I have explained.

Big barbel will frequently gather in one area or swim, often in very close proximity of one another, packing in to a slacker area or undercut bank. The tightness of this pack is pre-determined somewhat by the current of the main flow, especially during its peak. This often makes the locating of barbel much easier, looking for slacks on the inside of bends, or rafts of rubbish against large trees creating a back-eddy.

Noting areas in summer during low levels are a catalyst to finding these good areas, especially if they contain a gravel bottom.

Remember that barbel will never leave the actual river system itself by much, if any so catching barbel on your local playing field is just not going to happen.   

The main river only really becomes fishable again once the flood water recides (or backs up) and barbel are caught once this occurs, but find myself that consistency is not established so prefer to stay in a slacker area. Besides 12oz leads are not really my bag, or in my bag.

The speed in which the water flows, is much like a drainage system in our homes and on our roads, the more water that is being filtered through, the more its processed. At home this water is regulated through pipes which will only allow a certain amount of water volume through at any one time to drain away.

However, our road drains will only allow a certain volume of water to filter through before it backs up, thus causing floods.

The rivers are much the same, sometimes the sheer volume backs up and becomes a much steadier pace, even when 6 to 8ft up. The sea is unable to cope with the volume of water pushing through so will back up upsteam and slow the pace of the river right down.

This is a fantastic time to fish the main flow again and barbel will feed in earnest. 

Again this is relative to the type of rain resulting in the flood in how the barbel will respond to that feeding.

Rain can fall during the night which is cold to then change direction in the morning to a warm direction, this will often settle at a certain water temperature after a couple of days. Providing there’s not too much cold water which bring the water temperature under 7 degrees it can be a good time for fishing for barbel.

Methods

Flood water fishing requires less finesse and more watercraft knowledge – this bears considerably more significance than any fan-dangled rig.

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A simple hair-rig with a boilie and a medium soluble wrap paste will often suffice. If you’re in the right place barbel should not need any freebies but I will always use a PVA mesh bag for peace of mind. This will incorporate some chopped boilies and a couple of whole ones.

The emphasis really should be on choosing the right spot to target the barbel more than what you feed or method you choose to use.  

In Conclusion

The type of flood is important, a cold flood (if it’s the first) does bring benefits but only when a stabilised temperature is ascertained will the sport improve. 

A warm flood brings added benefits and barbel will ‘binge’, usually when it peaks but timing of the ‘best’ sport is imperative.

Methods or rigs are not important, watercraft skills play a major part in finding barbel. 

The barbel are tightly packed, often three to four (sometimes more) are in close proximity and can all be caught.

Warm floods are the best time to catch multiple big fish as they can often be all in one area. Even in a cold flood and not feeding they will still be there, increasing the odds of at least one chance of a fish.  

A big bait is not essential, barbel scoff the bottom and chuck out uneccessary items out through their gills, only eating the edible.

Let the prevailing wind direction dictate your floodwater fishing, a lot of things can change over a 48 period of rain, starting from a cold northerly perhaps to a warm southerly. Usually after a couple of days and providing no more substantial rain has fell the temperatures will even themselves out and providing the water is around 7 degrees it should provide some sport.

I hope that during this article you’ve picked up a few things and understood the importance of what type of flood is preferred and why.

Thanks for reading…

Richard