Steve Pope Barbel Fishing

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The Enigmatic Lower Severn – The Dawn of a New Era?

Along with many other passionate barbel anglers who are captivated by the lower reaches of the mighty river Severn, I was overjoyed to read about the capture of a new river record after so many years. Hard to believe that it was way back in November 1997 when Howard Maddocks shook the angling world while setting himself up in meatballs for life when he landed his 16 – 3 barbel which was also the National Record.

Since then of course the barbel world has seen massive changes with every river seeing its own record blown out of sight, that is every river except the Severn, until now. I really hope this long awaited fish brings about an upsurge in popularity for this river because it needs people fishing it. Bait needs to go in, it is a big river and can take it, a river that thrives on the attention of the angler.

Once you fish the lower stretches there is no middle ground, you’ll either love it or say it’s not for me. If its magical mystery hooks you it won’t let go and you will come back time and time again.

The lower river starts form where it becomes navigable at Stourport, and runs down to Tewkesbury. My knowledge is primarily on the venues from Diglis Weir, just below Stourport, down to Bushley, which is almost at Tewkesbury.

If you visit in the summer you will be surprised at the volume of boat traffic, the lower Severn is a very popular holiday destination and at times the flotilla of brightly painted barges seems endless. You may also see a paddle steamer or even the disco boat, it all adds to the fascinating attraction and more importantly doesn’t faze the barbel.

In winter you will be amazed at how anyone can possibly fish it when there is a full on flood, everything you can possibly think of is carried down the river at a rate of knots and you wonder how the fish can possibly cope, but they do. In recent summers similar scenes would have confronted you as the freakish weather played havoc with river levels and caused all sorts of problems for the angler.

This is a big river, fifty to sixty yards across with depths down to fifteen feet or so, it can be a daunting sight to the newcomer, but beneath the surface it tells a different story and this is the key to your success.

There are massive snag features in various places that can withstand the most powerful flood and barbel congregate in these areas. The shelf which runs along the Western bank often deviates and provides sanctuary for barbel. Years ago I used a fish finder to survey a number of stretches and was amazed at the undulations, snags, nooks and crannies that belied the uniform surface, many of these features were close in and that is another key point for the barbel angler. There is no need to cast out to the middle, the barbel will happily feed under your rod top as long as you get the basics right.

Before I tell you how I set about catching barbel from the lower Severn I’ll let you know how I actually found myself on this water seeing as it was 170 miles away from home at the time. Des Taylor was to blame! In an article he wrote in these pages nearly twenty years ago inspired me to have a go. Des in his inimitable style challenged Southern based barbel anglers to come up to the lower river and beat the record because he was certain this river would do it. Well I took up the challenge and enjoyed fantastic fishing, catching many double figure barbel, twice coming very close to the river record and just a few years back landing my biggest from this river, 14-11. There were plenty of multiple catches as well with barbel caught at every time of the day or night, a barbel angler’s paradise.

The national record did eventually go a few years later when my good friend Howard Maddocks caught a huge fish that has remained the river record up till now, Howard came from Macclesfield!

So for almost twenty years I have enjoyed a love affair with this river catching barbel from a variety of venues.

Following on from the summer floods of recent years anglers have expressed concerns that barbel are no longer around in the numbers they once were. One of the daftest notions is that the fish have been swept out to sea, well all I can say is that barbel have evolved to deal with hostile situations and are more than capable of looking after themselves while chaos ensues above the water line.

Some barbel found themselves stranded in the fields as the water levels dropped but the numbers were not great, certainly nowhere near as many as the bream that perished.
Many safe havens would have been moved by the powerful surge and natural food larders would be dispersed, the consequence being that the barbel have been forced to move. It’s up to us to find them because there are still lots of fish throughout the size range to be caught.

So how do we set about it?

First and foremost it’s about preparation. Imagine for a moment the riverbed as a motorway, your job is to construct service stations that the barbel will regularly visit to refuel. Once you have them established the barbel will keep looking in as long as you put the food down, much in the same way as the birds visit your bird table.

You will need lots of hemp, two gallons is not overdoing it, this is a big river and can take it. If your choice is boilies you will need to put in at least a kilogram to start, relying on just a stringer or pva bag or worse nothing at all is a recipe doomed to failure.

The hemp needs to go in with a big dropper and you are looking to carpet a reasonable sized area no more than two-rod lengths out.

Although very wide in places, the barbel will come in close, right under your rod top at dusk when they are foraging for food.

As I pointed out earlier, the lower Severn has a pronounced shelf on its Western bank that extends out from the bank four to six feet. The target area here is no more than a rod length out. On the opposite bank the river bed tends to slope down to the main boat channel depth and it’s usually well after dark before the barbel come in close so two rod lengths out is best.

For guaranteed success you really need to put a two or three day session together. It can often take that sort of time for the barbel to move over your carpet of feed. I’m not talking about camping out for three days but I do mean fishing the same swim, many is the time I have had to wait and then bang! They arrive and there’s no telling what you might catch, one monster, two or three doubles, or a dozen shoal fish. It’s this mystery that captivates, every time the rod top pulls over and the reel starts to spin, your heart will race because there’s just no knowing what’s on the end of your line!

So, having laid the carpet the next task is to choose your tactics. The hard work has been done already and the good thing now is that most approaches work, the choice really is yours.

My preferred attack would be using a 12ft Free Spirit Seeker rod, which is powerful enough for the big fish and subtle enough for me to enjoy catching the five pounders. A centre pin reel is always my first choice, I just love ‘em, loaded with a minimum of 10lbs bs I’m confident that I’m able to land anything that comes my way. Twelve inches of Drennan Striptease for the hooklink, a size eight Drennan barbel hook loaded with two hair-rigged 15mm Dynamite Marine Halibut boilies and I’m ready to go.

Depending on the pace of flow my leger weight would be anything from one to five ounces. Fishing with the boilies I would incorporate a stringer to ensure there is loose bait close to the hook.

Another great method incorporates Dynamite hair-riggable pellets in conjunction with a pva mesh stick filled with groundbait and tiny pellets. You can also use a pva bag instead.

You can try a method feeder, this can be devastating as long as you cast out regularly for the first couple of hours.

You don’t have to worry about backleading here; it will only cause trouble, as there are too many minor snags that will give you problems.

During the colder months maggots in conjunction with a feeder work extremely well, I once had a phenomenal catch at Beauchamp Court fishing this way.

As darkness falls bigger baits come to the fore, you can go up to 26mm for a boilie, or use a huge piece of luncheon meat.
My good friend Lawrence Breakspear pioneered this method many moons ago and it is still a brilliant way to catch the bigger barbel today.

No matter what method you choose remember what I said at the beginning, laying a really good-sized carpet of hemp is an essential requirement for consistent success.

So there you have it, the longest river and dare I say the best barbel river in the country is once again back in the limelight, where it deserves to be. Where else can you catch barbel from the upper reaches, through the prolific middle section to the wonderful mysterious deeps of the lower?

Put the lower Severn on your list for next season and I guarantee it will soon have you under its spell, good luck!


  1. Lay a good carpet of hemp, you need a decent sized baitdropper, two gallons of hemp is not overdoing it
  2. Try to put a couple of days together and fish the same swim, sometimes the barbel take time to find your bait.
  3. Don’t cast too far, bring the fish close, they will feed under your rod tip if you get the feeding right.
  4. Big baits still work, this is where the massive piece of meat first came to the fore and it still works today.
  5. Be careful when the water level is up, it’s the best time but make sure you are safe, the banks are not for the faint hearted and a rope and dog spike is recommended.
  6. Be careful when the water level is up, it’s the best time but make sure you are       safe, the banks are not for the faint hearted and a rope and dog spike is recommended.


  1. Dynamite Marine Halibut or Spicy Prawn boilie
  2. Dynamite hair riggable pellets
  3. Luncheon meat and meatballs
  4. Corn
  5. Maggot especially in winter.


  1. Beauchamp Court – Controlled by the Barbel Society, night fishing allowed, contact
  2. Kempsey – Controlled by Kinver Freeliners, contact
  3. Pixham Ferry – Controlled by Worcester and District contact Alan’s Tackle in Wortcester
  4. Diglis Weir – Controlled by Worcester and District contact Alan’Tackle for ticket availability.
  5. Severn Stoke – Controlled by Birmingham Anglers contact




2 Responses to “The Enigmatic Lower Severn – The Dawn of a New Era?”

  1. HI steve spoke nick other night iv known nick from school were both 53 an fished from age 7 . I normally fish dove yes nicks brought caravan at red pools caravan park by banks off severn at ripple he had good catch 13 sept 2 x 9s a 10 plus an biggest at 11.11 an pulled out one . he not in good health with heart unfortunately had to have ambulance at bank at 2am morning otherwise would poss had more he back fishing now after few days hospital he had put lot time in baiting so was well deserved catch .
    he tells me severn record came from that stretch by kev gittins 16.11 also record catfish same area. nicks a good angler an itteligent an he does put lot time in when he can so hope he does catch a monster .
    I plan to pop down at some stage but im thinking trying severn stoke as well been told more barbel there any info on severn stoke baa stretch ? an is it less snaggy than ripple / bushley or could you recommend snag free areas at severn stoke an dislike fishing snaggy areas if I can avoid it .
    I think you live Montgomery I no welshpool quite well used spend lot time there younger fishing for chub on r banwy neaud bridge caravan park is quite deep for banwy 4 to 5 foot far bank an 6 foot on large bend also fished mawrs moor hall in early 80 s magical place pike bream roach now private always wanted fish lyn du in grounds mans house no chance im always told every time im over there an knock his door .
    all best ian

  2. Hi Ian, Hope Nick’s health improves and he enjoys plenty of quality time at his caravan and perhaps a real monster barbel!

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