News, tips and tackle for barbel fishing
It is no coincidence that the barbel’s elongated, powerful shape bears resemblance to a long carp – the barbel is part of the cyprinidae, or carp family of freshwater fish. This is not the only similarity – it is also similar in habits and physical characteristics.
Barbel is happiest in well-oxygenated river water, and will often be found in fast runs over gravel or a clean sandy bottom, although it can also thrive slow moving rivers.
Most river barbel are in the region of 3-6lb, and generally group together with other barbel of the same size. Any barbel exceeding 8lb is considered a fine specimen.
The barbel has four sensory barbules, one pair at the point of the snout, the other at the rear of the top lip. When netting and retaining barbel, extra care must be taken due to its strong, serrated spine that starts at its dorsal fin – this spine can become entangled and then broken.
Its front is triangular and skate-like, and its tail is large and forked, the top lobe being sharply pointed, the lower being rounded. The scales are small and lie close to the body, the colours going from an even olive-brown to brown-grey at the back, and pale brass flanks, with a matter white belly.
Barbel feeding and best baits
Barbel can be reluctant to take the bait during lighter hours of the day, feeding more confidently from dusk through the hours of darkness. However, if they have a sanctuary they can continually nip in and out of (ie sandy runs between beds of tall bullrushes) they will feed well during daylight.
Winter barbel fishing can be slow – the last few weeks of the season being the best time. Weed cover will be lessened by frosts which makes barbel shoal in much tighter groups, becoming far less spread out. There are certain conditions can prompt aggressive feeding from barbel: a rising river, points at which clear water starts
to colour, when, during winter, there is consistently high air temperatures or mild spells.
Although they occasionally take their food to the surface, the majority of its food is found on the bottom, so most of its feeding will be done there. Its diet consists of shrimps, snails, crayfish and aquatic insect larvae, which it will probe for at the bottom, using its the sensitive taste paids on its long whiskers. Barbel will also eat small fish such as minnows, loach, gudgeon and lampreys.
To catch a barbel during the summer you would be best fishing with large baits such as boilies, luncheon meat and drilled pellets, but in winter they respond to maggots, worms and even bread.
Barbel breeding habits
This usually takes place during late April / early May. White tubercles appear on the males’ heads and backs, distinguishing them from females. This is the only time of year where there is any distinguishable difference between male and females.
Several males will gather round the female, who is now heavy with eggs and use their noses and shoulders to nudge her to stimulate her to release the eggs. Once released, the males will distribute their milt over the small yellow eggs, and they flow downstream to stick to stones and rooted weeds. Once fertilised, they eggs take up to 14 days to hatch, although this can depend on water temperature. After that, they are thrown into a hostile world where most will fall prey to other fish, including its own kind.
Where to find barbel
Barbels choose homes where they feel that they are safe – this will often be somewhere that they have cover over their heads, or close by.