21lb 1oz, Graham King, Adams Mill Fishery, Bedford, 2006
9lb 8oz (4.310 kg), Steven Wilson, River Clyde, Strathclyde 2010
Barbel are a much sought after river fish as they are extremely powerful and fight very hard for their size, angling their large pectoral fins against the current to help them stay hard on the bottom.
In Scotland, barbel are almost exclusively found on the middle reaches of the River Clyde where they were introduced in the 1970s and early 1990s, and on one or two commercial coarse fisheries.
On the River Trent and River Severn they are very prolific in the 500g to 2.500kg bracket and can be relatively easy to catch once you locate their haunts. Bigger barbel are far more elusive as they tend to be loners or shoal with just a handful of smaller fish.
Barbel like fast flowing, highly oxygenated water and prefer a gravel bottom. For this reason they are most commonly found in and around weir pools, shallow fast swims, particularly on bends, and weedy channels where the water is at its fastest.
On deeper more powerful stretches they will often be found hugging the bottom near features like submerged obstacles or pronounced depressions in the river bed, especially if on the edge of faster water.
Fishing for Barbel
Barbel are predominantly bottom feeders and will happily mop up small baits like maggots, hemp and casters. For many years the most successful approach for barbel was to put down a good bed of hemp to attract and then keep the fish hunting around for the small particles amongst the gravel on the bottom, and then to fish a mixture of hemp and maggot or caster through a blockend feeder with maggot on the hook.
For larger barbel the feeder was often replaced by a straight lead rig with sweet-corn, luncheon meat, bread or spicy sausage on the hook, occasionally dislodging the lead and letting the bait bounce down the swim with the current a few feet at a time often proved the most effective approach.
In recent years the introduction of the pellet has seen the traditional hemp and maggot approach replaced on many venues, with a bed of small Halibut or Marine micro pellets now being introduced in place of the hemp and a larger pellet being used on the hook.
Barbel can be caught on running line methods but getting the feeding and presentation right is critical and takes a deal of practice.
Barbel feed all year round, but best results are likely when the river is carrying a little extra water, especially in late summer or autumn.
In low water levels during the summer it is best to seek areas of higher oxygenation such as below weirs or at the head of pools below fast rifled water.
In winter, areas of deeper water just off the main flow are often the most productive.