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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


09/10/2013 - Go Catch a Barbel Martin James


Back in the 1950’s 60’s most anglers thought barbel were a fish of summer and

early autumn, once the first frost had arrived anglers reckon barbel along with

carp and tench were only caught by luck. Not true those anglers often known

As specimen hunters would fish the Hampshire Avon, Dorset Stour, and the

Thames and Kennet in search of barbel and were successful. The top fishery in

those days was without doubt the Royalty Fishery in Christchurch owned by

the Hampshire Water Company. During the summer months hundreds of

anglers from all over the country would flock to this most famous fishery

where day tickets were available. In those day barbel were not present in the

rivers Wye, Severn, Teme, Ribble and other west flowing rivers. Yorkshire

anglers were very fortunate in having several rivers with barbel, the Swale,

Wharfe, Nidd and Ure were popular venues.


Baits were cheese paste, cooked sausage, sausage meat, bread flake,

lobworms and gentles (maggots) In those days my friends and I would

send off a postal order on Monday to Don Bait Company in Mexborough Yorks

ordering a gallon of gentles. On Thursday evening I would collect my biscuit tin

full of bait from my local railway station. There was never an occasion when

the bait didn’t arrive on time. Tackle was usually an 11 foot Avon action rod in

bamboo or fibre glass, fixed spool or centre pin reel with 8lb line, if we chose

to float fish, we would often use a lighter hook link. Most anglers legered

using an Arlesey bomb stopped about 18 inches from a hook size between 6’s

and 12’s depending on the bait. A small split shot would stop the weight sliding

down the line; this completed the tackle set up for most occasions.

                                        Today it’s a different picture

Without doubt more anglers fish for barbel today, than most other fish, only the carp has more fans. Today barbel are found in most of our river, in fact some still waters contain barbel, though I don’t agree with this practise. Even some of the famous chalk streams have a few barbels. My tackle today is a Trefor West barbel rod of 1.75lbs. It can be described as the perfect tool, light with a nice action, not a stiff rod, like many of today’s barbel rods. It’s a rod designed for the job by an angler who does know what he is talking about, and British made by Harrisons of Liverpool and available from Lone

My reels are both fixed spool variety, and centre pin, the latter for the smaller

have one reel filled with braid, the other with nylon or fluorocarbon. Over the

years I have had to change my hook patterns as one company after another

than satisfied with these hooks. Hopefully they will be around for a few years.                          


Not All Bites Are Three Foot Twitches

I and many anglers use braid in fast water for detecting those bites that hardly

move the rod top, also you need less weight to hold the bait in position. Let’s

look at those small taps on the rod tip that many anglers ignore putting them down to

small fish, not really true. Leave those touches alone at your peril, they could be

always give a three foot twitch. I write from many years of experience. Last winter

despite the flooded rivers many of my barbel captures come from a light pull on the

rod tip which I felt through the pressure of the line on my index figure. Most of my

fish including several double figure fish wouldn’t have been caught if I hadn’t set the

hook on feeling the line tighten. It would have been another fish missed; I would

have ended many sessions like other anglers saying. “The fish didn’t

want it today”. Learn to hold the rod and detect those small taps, some will be leaves

or other rubbish , perhaps the weight moving, other movements will be fish. The

more you practise, the more you will learn the difference between leaves weed or

fish your catch rate will increase.

                                               Spoilt for Choice

Today you have a huge array of baits, from boilies paste’s squab’s luncheon meat

sausage meat pellets lobworms and gentles to name just a few. Then there are

hundreds of flavours yes that correct. Flavours from strawberry to roast beef and

sausage sizzle, in the past this latter flavour was only available to a selected few and

come in powder form. Today its’ available to everyone and comes in a handy spray

large polythene bag spray some sizzle in the bag then add your loaf of bread, having

sealed the bag put it in freezer. The night before your fishing trip take the bait from

the freezer and allow it to thaw out slowly as it does so the bread will take on the

My approach is often different to many anglers; I don’t pick a spot dump in a load of

bait then sit there all day often watching two motionless rod tips.

I will start at the bottom of my chosen beat then walk slowly upstream trying to spot

fish if the water is clear, if not I will look for likely spots gained from past experience,

then creep into the area dropping in no more than six baits then move on. I might

cover a mile .sometimes two miles putting between three and six baits into my

chosen spots. I would leave the area alone for at least an hour possible longer.

I would make a brew, read the paper chat to other anglers, but I definitely wouldn't

start fishing right away. I like to let the fish sample the free offering and gain some

no interest I will move on then try that spot later on. In a session I might fish between

four and a dozen spots.

                                     Barbel can be caught in Cold Water

When the water temperature is down to 34-36 degrees F, fish will still feed but for a

short time, the feeding spell if you can call it that will last ten fifteen minutes. Perhaps

one bite one fish, but often a good one. In 2010/11 winter my mate Len Arbery and I

fished different rivers, Len a slack water swim on the Thames often until around 2

o’clock in the morning for a single bite, but he fish into double figures. His indicator

was a small piece of silver paper. At the same time I’m fishing a slack water swim on

the Kennet, a tiny dough bobbin as an indicator. Often I waited until the early hours

of the morning for a single bite, usually a good fish. Enjoy your fishing, if you need

any advice e-mail me [email protected]

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Martin James Fishing
Email: [email protected]