Barbel are very powerful fish and are renowned for their fighting abilities. For this reason alone they deserve a special mention as they require sturdy tackle. Even a 5lb fish can test any weaknesses in your set-up! Many of the listed stretches of the river can hold large specimens and many double figure fish are taken every year.
First and foremost a strong rod (preferably at least 1.5lb test curve) and reel are necessary – the reel ideally should have a freespool mechanism (often called a baitrunner) – this enables a fish to run with line on a take – many people have lost rods when a barbel strikes out of the blue, they are well known for being able to wrench a rod completely off a rod rest – even just turning your back for an instant can spell disaster! This is not good for you or the fish! The reel should be able to hold at least 100m of 8-12lb b.s. line.
Secondly many anglers fish with too light tackle – with skill and a properly adjusted clutch you can land barbel on very light line but we would not recommend it – we advocate mainlines of not less than 8lb b.s. many of us fish with lines of 10 or 12lb b.s. the barbel do not seem put off by this. The River Severn in Shrewsbury is generally coloured and fish are not spooked by heavier tackle. However, at times a certain amount of finesse may be necessary and lighter hooklengths do become necessary to get bites.
The other important aspect of barbel fishing is the end rig – at all times we advocate free-running leads and feeders. Anyone caught using a fixed system will be asked to change their rig or leave the fishery – this is for the fish’s welfare, we have seen and caught barbel towing around a big lead that has broken off someone’s tackle – not a good idea. Hooklengths should generally be of the same or slightly lighter b.s. than your mainline. Most anglers use mono hooklengths, others prefer the softness of braid as it behaves much more naturally in the water.
An important choice is the size of the hook, this should be matched to the size of the bait you intend to use. A 12mm pellet is ideally matched to a size 10 hook whereas a large lump of meat needs a bigger hook – a size 6 or even size 4 – this may seem huge but when you catch one just look at the size of a barbels’ mouth! We would advocate a strong hook pattern such as Drennan Specimen – barbel fishing is not suited to fine wire hooks – they will often straighten out during the fight and you could lose your fish of a lifetime! On occasions – such as during low, clear water conditions, you may find that going down to a small hook size, and bait size may get you a bite whereas a bigger bait/hook doesn’t.
Now lets move on to baits and end tackle. Although not a new technique, the use of halibut pellets for barbel fishing may be unfamiliar to many new anglers and those used to more traditional methods such as maggots or bread etc. The technique developed from carp anglers and being of the same family barbel were considered ripe for this ‘new’ method of fishing. You will find that today many of the anglers specifically targeting barbel use the halibut feed and halibut pellet on a hair-rig set-up. This technique has caught literally thousands of barbel over the last twenty or thirty years and some say that it is now becoming outdated and that barbel are beginning to wise-up to pellets. However, it still works and if you are new to the sport then there is no easier and productive technique, it will catch you your first barbel – and many more!
What is a hair-rig you say? Well again this was developed by carp anglers as a way of presenting the bait to the fish whilst keeping the hookpoint clear to increase your chances of a good hookhold. Basically the bait sits on little piece of line hanging from the back of your hook and is held in place with a little stop. Watch a youtube clip on how to tie and bait a hair-rig using the knotless knot here. (its for carp but the same technique is used for pellets for barbel).
Other popular baits for barbel are luncheon meat, worms, maggots and boilies. Sometimes certain baits will fish better than others, maggots for instance are an excellent bait in the late season when ‘nuisance’ smaller fish (bleak, dace etc.) are less rampant! Lob worms fish well particularly after big floods when barbel are feeding on natural baits washed into the river by the flood water. Luncheon meats are generally used in the warmer months when fish are feeding well. It is always worth taking a range of baits as sometimes, for whatever reason, a change of bait can bring a sudden bite from a swim that you almost thought was fishless! Many people swear by using exotic and enticing flavours to pep up their baits (it is well known fact that barbel love curry spices in particular). However, as with all fishing, nothing is set in stone so experiment and think outside of the box, you never know, you may hit on a hot bait and have a red letter day!
Nash give good info here, fishing pellets/boilies on the middle Severn below Bridgnorth.
Many new anglers ask which pegs fish best, with all honesty barbel can be caught from any peg on any stretch but they are certainly more prolific downstream of the weir – Sydney Avenue, Monkmoor, Pimley and Emstrey all hold good heads of barbel – many of us have favourite haunts and we will try and do the best to guide you – it is always worth asking if you are new to the sport or area. Barbel do move around and what fishes very well one day can have no fish the following day and vice versa. It is, however, worth pointing out that in general barbel can be found in the streamier shallower water in the summer and deeper slowing moving water in the autumn and winter but in flood conditions can be found tucked right in under the banks – practically at your feet. It is surprising how many big barbel come out from the most unlikely looking swims with barely a foot or two of water over their backs. Your knowledge of the river and its many guises will grow over the seasons and very soon you will be fishing like a pro!
Barbel more than most fish are affected by temperature and will go off the feed if the water temperature is dropping below about 8C. However, if you find conditions in the winter when warmer water has invaded the river and it has been very cold then sometimes this will trigger the barbel into feeding again even though the actual water temperature is below 8C – it is the change in temperature that is crucial. A rising temperature during a cold spell is good, similarly a dropping temperature after a prolonged warm spell can be disastrous. Steady warm temperatures in the late summer and autumn can be extremely productive, particularly in the peak feeding periods of dawn or dusk and into the night.
It is worth noting that even the most knowledgeable of us can have blank days sometimes without apparent cause. This is what keeps us coming back for more! It would be very boring if we caught loads of fish every time we plonked a bait in the water! Perseverance is the key!
Lastly, but by no means least, it is necessary to touch on the subject of fish welfare – in addition to using the correct tackle it is essential that you use an un-hooking mat when handling barbel – DO NOT lay them on hard surfaces. Barbel need gentle handling, as soon as they are in the landing net – let them rest to regain some strength before lifting out of the water, do not keep them out of the water for too long, do not put them in keepnets or keep sacks and when you release your fish, hold it with its head upstream and allow water to flow over its gills until you feel it is strong enough to swim off.
If you cannot reach the water with your hands to release the fish, return it in the landing net and again allow time for it to recover. They give their all during a fight and should be allowed to regain their strength prior to release – some barbel take many minutes to recover – others almost take off straight away. Barbel are a noble species and deserve to be treated with respect.