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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


14/12/2015 - Go Catch a Winter Barbel

A good barbel caught when the water temperature was 34 degrees F with cat ice in the quiet bays

Up until 1970 most anglers didn’t target barbel after the first frosts, it was thought barbel couldn’t be caught during the winter months, Today we know different, in fact me and my mates along with lots more young anglers who can best be described as Walker disciples were targeting barbel and river bream back in the 1950’s. I probably caught as many barbel in winter as during the summer, also it’s when many of the bigger fish were caught. My guests and I certainly got our share of winter barbel from the rivers Kennet, Hampshire Avon, Dorset Stour in those early days. I often fished with more confidence than I did in the warmer months, especially if the rivers were bank high with warm water after a cold spell, though we did catch fish on cold days, occasionally with snow on the ground.


Yes we would struggle during the winter months if we had a few days of high pressure, with night frosts and bright sunny days; not the best conditions for barbel, I then seek the chub, dace, perch or grayling, today we you are spoilt for choice of venues when targeting barbel with many more rivers holding barbel. When the wind starts blowing from the south westerly direction with a forecast of rain following a few days of high pressure, I immediately think of barbel and roach as both fish are likely to feed. With the rising air temperature warm rain, water temperature going up 44-46 degrees F and continuing to rise you need to drop everything and get out on the river bank. I would then expect to catch fish during the daylight or darkness. Many of my friends make sure they keep a few days leave so they can take advantage of the rising water temperature knowing the fish will feed avidly. Being a pensioner I can fish anytime


Keep It Simple


Far too many anglers put barbel on a pedestal; others seem to think it’s intelligent. In fact the barbel is one of the easier fish to catch; chub are a far tougher quarry. Many anglers make it hard on themselves by using the same old baits, day in and day out. Talk to ten anglers, nine of them will be using pellets or boilies. Remember fish soon wise up when they keep getting caught on the same bait. As the late Richard Walker said “Fish will eat anything unless they are taught not too” The way they learn is by getting caught. One bait I use with great success is Lone Angler flavoured bread crust or flake, a bait that very few anglers are even prepared to use, my other baits are sausage sizzle and cheese paste, lobworms, also luncheon meat flavoured with sausage sizzle, have all proved successful. I reckon if I am not catching on one of these baits then the fish are not feeding or I am fishing the wrong swim. I also need a big chunk of luck. To flavour baits spray some Lone Angler flavour of your choice into a plastic bag then add some crust flake or meat, seal the bag then pop into freezer, the evening before going fishing take the bag of bait from the freezer allowing it to thaw out in room temperature. Why not get some bottles of Lone Angler Glupe to give some extra flavour, it’s not a gimmick, it does work.


I see many anglers fishing with rods that are far too stiff; in fact some of the rod I see in use would make a good bass rod. I use Avon action rods between 11 and 12 feet designed for lines between eight and twelve pounds. Much of my time at the waterside I use a centre pin reel, rather than a fixed spool reel, it’s not a fashion item, I rate them better than a fixed spool reel especially when fishing small waters or close in on big rivers, it’s very rare for me to fish far bank swims except on waters like the Kennet or Lodden much preferring to fish close in with soft actin rods with a free lined bait or a light weight, often just a shot. Over the years I’ve used many types of lines, today I’m using various brands of braid, I also use Cralusso monofilament when float fishing for barbel, I’m currently using Gamakatsu Super G-line which is extremely abrasion resistant with good knot strength I’m more than happy with this American product on bot my centre pins and fixed spool reels.


Many anglers make it hard on themselves using various complicated rigs; most times I use LG shot rather than a standard weight, though if I’m fishing in clear water over gravel in bright conditions I might use the new gravel coloured shot, but it’s rare for me to do so. When baiting with crust I lightly pinch on the shot five or six inches from a size 2 or 4 barbless hook. Using flake, lobworms and paste baits I will have a tail between fifteen and thirty six inches. The length of tail will depend on the swim I’m fishing and the water temperature, if its below 38 degrees F and I’m fishing crust it might be as short as 2 inches, other baits it could be just 6 inches.


High Water and Ground Bait


If you arrive and find the river bank high you should have a smile on your face, more so if it’s a rising water temperature. It’s now time to use a smelly baits, Cheese paste is as good today as it was in pre-war days, three or four lobworms on a size 2 barbless hook can certainly be a winner. Remember to put a small piece of rubber band on the hook after impaling the worms so they stay hooked, look for a seam or crease where the water flow is quieter, despite many anglers telling me the fish will be in the faster water, I will still target the quiet spots. Many times I’ve dropped a bait no more than a foot from the bank in two feet of water, last March on the Kennet fishing with Dave Hurst I dropped a flavoured bit of crust into such a spot, within a minute I’d hooked a good barbel, it weighed 12lb 6 ounces. It’s surprising how tight to the bank a good barbel will hold station often behind some small obstruction that will slightly divert the water flow.


Keep on the Move


If I could offer one bit of advice to budding barbel anglers it would be to keep trying various swims, when I arrive at the waterside I take the water temperature, and then walk several hundred yards along the river bank looking for swims where barbel might be. If the water temperature is above 44 degrees F I will put in three or four hook bait samples, then leave the baited spots alone for an hour or so. Back at base I will put the kettle on before putting my gear together. Roaming from swim to swim travelling light, in my shoulder bag I have scales, weigh bag, baits and odd bits of tackle. I carry a rod rest, a piece of sponge to sit or kneel on, with my made up rods, with landing net I’m ready to go. I often roam two three miles or more in a day’s angling fishing every likely looking spot. Sometimes catching three or four fish from one swim before moving on. Yes, a lot of this is down to experience. The way you get that experience is by spending time at the waterside.


Mashed Bread and Bran


Having described my usual way of fishing, there are occasions when I will find a deep water swim with a water temperature of 44 degrees f plus, then I will spend a few hours in one swim, starting off by making up some mashed stale bread, usually having a supply in the car, don’t attempt to make mash with new bread it doesn’t work, it’s just a sloppy horrid mess. Having made up enough mash for a few large orange size balls of ground bait, I add a good helping of Lone Angler sausage sizzle or cheese glupe before putting in enough bran to stiffen the mix. When fishing lobworms I will add chopped worms to the mix, then having dropped two balls in at the head of the swim, I will leave the swim alone for some thirty to forty minutes. Either taking a walk or just sit reading the paper, perhaps watching the wildlife. My baits will often be fished on a three foot hook link unless its crust then it’s about six inches. It’s often these types of swims can give you a red letter day. I well remember catching a brace of big Kennet perch on a bitterly cold day when other anglers had packed up, saying “Waste of time today Martin” though I didn’t catch my target fish the barbel I had a brace of perch 3lb 2 ounces and 3lb 4 ounces on three big lobworms. With the rivers in the north of England bank high, often over the bank in places I’ve made up some bread and bran mix for my trip to the Ribble tomorrow. Any questions feel free to e-mail me with [email protected]

















Lobworm a winning bait when conditions are hard

this perch at 3lb 4 ounces on lobworms when barbel fishing

Brendan Ince with a 12lb Wye winter barbel 2 days before the season ended

12lb 6 ounce caught from a 2 feet deep swim less than a foot from the bank on flavoured crust

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Martin James Fishing
Email: [email protected]