Andrew Hughes takes a look at the feeding patterns on his local river Arrow, although you could increase your knowledge by doing the same...
Barbel Feeding Patterns | Specialist World
Barbel Feeding Patterns
I have fished Warwickshire's river Arrow for the past three seasons, in the hope of learning more about the river and its barbel. I was interested to see if any double figure fish would be caught. This was not to be, but I found the fishing both interesting and absorbing. These are some of my thoughts.
Are barbel simply opportunistic feeders or do they have particular feeding times that an angler can exploit? It is likely that both can be true. It often happens that barbel feed within twenty minutes of bait being introduced into a swim and can often be caught on the first cast - a sure example of opportunism?
My problem with this is that on numerous occasions I have walked down to a likely looking swim, cast in, the rod has pulled round solidly, and I've caught a barbel. In these circumstances it is all too easy to congratulate yourself for a clever piece of angling and to speculate about the likelihood of a large catch. All you need do is to drop into other likely looking swims and extract a barbel, exactly the same way.
Yet it never happened like that. In a short session, the most barbel I ever caught was three. Usually I caught one, or maybe two. Why should this be? Perhaps my baiting techniques were inadequate for multiple captures or maybe other reasons were responsible.
The first reason is barbel populations. Just how many barbel are present in a river that is noted for barbel fishing? Judging by the number of repeat captures, always tricky to spot with barbel, I began to suspect that there were not as many barbel in my stretch of river as I'd thought. If you subtract barbel that are holed up in living areas instead of actively seeking out food or travelling around, we could be fishing for a seriously reduced number of fish.
Another aspect I noted was the tendency to experience a 'mid-afternoon' barbel. Often there would be nothing until dusk when there was a good chance of a bite. I wondered if there were half a dozen other barbel anglers fishing the same stretch, whether we would all catch fish at the same times. Could each swim produce at the same time? If this were the case, it severely limits the effectiveness of a mobile approach.
I tried to compare roaming with a more static approach and came to no hard and fast conclusions. My best captures of three barbel a session fell to both tactics. I ended up adopting a compromise approach of fishing one main swim with forays into a couple of others. Sometimes returning to a previously baited swim resulted in a catch.
The state of the river affected my approach in that larger baits worked well when the river was carrying floodwater, conversely as the water became lower, clearer and colder, smaller baits were better. My main fish catching difficulties occurred in low, clear and cold river conditions. Hemp and maggots were not as successful as I had hoped. Minnows could be a nuisance and they attached themselves to the hook at every available opportunity. No amount of cold weather put them off. They even used my feeder as a mini-minnow trap!
One exception to this was two or three small pieces of luncheon meat fished as a stringer up the hook length. I read about this in a piece by Archie Braddock and found that this method could work in almost any conditions, if the barbel were prepared to feed. It obviously appealed to the fish's greed!
Bites were usually a couple of small but definite pulls at the rod top, followed by the rod tip pulling round in a solid fashion. A firm strike resulted in a firmly hooked barbel. I had very few 'flyers' and no problem with 'twitchers'. I fished light leads, on average a three swan shot link ledger. Chub bites were another matter and it was possible to be driven to distraction by their antics, but if a 'solid' bite occurred, it was often a barbel.
On a number of occasions I caught the same barbel and chub on the same day, in the same swim. I don't retain fish and I cannot see how a fish returned to the water after capture, which then proceeds to feed and is recaptured minutes later can be badly traumatised. Repeat captures allowed me to track some individual fish and I was interested to see if the barbel population was increasing in weight. I had caught barbel up to 8 Â½ lbs and I wondered whether a double figure fish was a possibility.
After three seasons I was unable to come to any firm conclusions. One of my known fish had put on weight but not enough to indicate great potential. Records also showed that my bigger barbel had been caught during my first season's fishing. I started to catch some smaller ones, around the two-pound mark, suggesting that spawning had been successful.
The Arrow flows in to the Warwickshire Avon and the barbel stocks are from this source. There was always the possibility of a big fish moving up into my stretch. A number of weirs impede progress but in high water, flood conditions they disappear and make movement a possibility. I suspect that barbel populations are mainly resident to stretches between weirs, despite the possibility of movement.
Looking at the pattern of my fishing over three seasons I feel that I could wait a long time to catch some bigger barbel from this stretch. Perhaps, it is time to move onto pastures new. Nevertheless, it would not surprise me if this stretch produced a double figure barbel; such is the nature of barbel fishing. My experience has shown that barbel fishing involves so many variables that it is impossible to create hard and fast rules. Perhaps this is why it provides for many anglers, myself included, an absorbing pursuit that blends logic with intuition.