Steve Pope Barbel Fishing

Catch more barbel!

Barbel Just Love Casters!

I’ll make a bet, with the new season in full swing many of you with barbel on the brain will be working out how to catch a few with those beloved pellets. Nothing wrong with that at all, I use them much of the time, they are a superb bait. But now and then, when finances allow, I like to indulge in a little extravagance! The great thing is as well that if you get it right and I’m about to tell you how, your investment will reap great dividends.

Caster and hemp style barbel fishing has been around for a long while and in recent times the likes of Stef Horak have taken it to new levels. The beauty is that you can adapt and refine the basic technique to suit the circumstances you are faced with on the particular rivers you fish.
Because casters are not used so much these days the barbel are not too wary of them, on the contrary in fact, they still love ‘em and in the right swim at the right time they will out fish anything else as much as five to one! Casters won’t fill the barbel up and therefore it is a very considerate bait, barbel will be ready to feed again very quickly even after being caught and so every one’s a winner.

I reckon that just about covers the why we should fish with this bait, before I show you how to apply the method I’ll run through the where and when it comes into its own.

The technique that follows depends on accuracy and is therefore suited to close range fishing, I often fish no more than twelve inches from my bank. Small rivers like the Kennet, Teme and Ouse are ideal but even on the wider ones such as the Severn and Trent there are always near bank swims where barbel will happily feed.

It is important that you have a good idea of the resident fish population either from visual contact in clear water or from your prior knowledge of the fishery. Although barbel will soon push the smaller fish out of the way from an economic point of view- casters are relatively expensive, £2-50 to £ 3-00 a pint. – it’s reassuring to know there are some bigger fish about. On a number of occasions I’ve taken two, even three doubles before midday!

This is primarily a summer and autumn method when the river is running at normal level, it can work well in winter by substituting maggots for the casters. The beauty of it is that you can catch really well during the daytime while the sky is blue and the sun is blazing, instead of waiting for the standard barbel catching witching hour of just around dusk.

So lets go through the technique step by step.

First of all you need to order your bait, very few tackle shops carry a good stock of casters and they are always pleased if you give a few days notice. Plus you want to be sure that your bait is as fresh as possible.

For a 12 to 15 hour session a gallon is not excessive, the last thing you want is to be running out of bait as the barbel get their heads down. It is expensive I know but we’re not going to be doing it all the time and the idea is to have a special day and catch them all!

I would already have 6 to 8 pints of hemp defrosted together with the hemp juice, which I always keep in two litre plastic bottles in the freezer.

The casters are emptied from the bags they come in into a bucket half filled with the hemp juice. Any floaters are skimmed off and crushed and mixed in to the hemp. When I arrive at the fishery early in the morning the first job is to get some bait in to the swim. Leaving the rest of the tackle in the car I take the dedicated bait dropper rod, which is an essential requirement, and my two buckets, one with a gallon of casters in the hemp juice, the other with a gallon of prepared hemp down to the swim.

Carefully deposit a pint of casters into the swim about twelve feet upstream from the spot where the baited hook will be. The bait will always drift downstream no matter how careful you are and the last thing you want is barbel feeding ravenously yards downstream of your hook! I prefer the Thamesley style dropper, six or seven of which equates to a pint of bait. These droppers are not available anymore unfortunately but there are similar metal ones in the shops. A pint of bait takes up about 34 cubic inches so you can gauge the amount to your own dropper size.

Once the bed of casters is on the riverbed I deposit four droppers of hemp each one a couple of feet further downstream of the last. This creates a trail leading from where I suspect the barbel to be lying to the feed area. Remember with this technique the casters are to feed, the hemp is to attract.

Once the initial baiting is complete I leave the swim for an hour. This gives plenty of time for the fish to find the food and move around the swim with confidence.

Lets run through my tackle.

As we are fishing close in an eleven-foot rod is ideal and I use A Free Spirit Tamer with 1.5 lb test curve. This rod is powerful enough to subdue any fish I’m likely to hook and forgiving enough to deal with the short-range battle I’m going to have with the barbel no matter what size it is! It will also get the fish away from the baited area quickly, which is very important to ensure prolonged action.

My standard Rapidex centre pin reel is loaded with 20lb Powerpro, a braid that I use for the majority of my barbel fishing. A strong mono of 12 – 15lb BS. would just as easily suffice if that’s your preference.

I use a backlead with this method to prevent line bites, which if experienced can put the barbel off for anything up to two hours, even more if they feel particularly agitated.

A small Stonze in line weight is threaded on the line after the length of rig tube has been cut off flush with the insert bead, this is followed by two Nash rig stops which keep it in place. A 1.5 ounce weight is attached via a safelink bead and this is followed by a bead and then an Enterprise leger stop. I fish straight through to the hook with the main braid, thus eliminating knots and potential weak spots.

Hook is a Drennan Barbel size 12 and a 2lb mono hair is tied direct to the bend. Three casters are attached to the hair in the following way; Squeeze a blob of Superglue Gel on to a piece of card or plastic. Take one caster and push in to the glue longways, attach another caster to this one. You now have two casters glued together longways or cigar fashion. Take the hair and lay it along the join allowing a gap of ¼ inch from the bend to top of caster. Squeeze a blob of glue on to the hair and take a third caster and place it longways over the join. Your finished bait is three casters hanging longways ¼ inch from the bend.

Sounds complicated but it’s dead easy and the barbel love it!

So now the swim has had a good rest and our tackle is all made up, we’re ready to go.

More often than not a barbel will come to the very first cast, that’s the easy bit, as Stef Horak always says the second one is the most important because that means you haven’t spooked them and you could well be in for a red letter day!

After catching the first you have to follow the BBC rule, that’s bait up, take a breather and then catch your barbel. It is the absolute key to your success. The time you are not fishing is every bit as important as the time you are. So always take at least a twenty-minute break after a fish is landed, at least for the first half of the day. I leave food and drink in the car and take a walk back, keeps me fit as well.

Your bait dropper rod will be in continual use and its worth remembering that you do not always remove your baited line before putting the dropper in, quite the reverse in fact, it is a brilliant dodge that can almost guarantee a fish when they are on the bait.

One, two, three, bang I call it and it’s brilliant.

As the third dropper half filled with casters hits the bottom your reel will start spinning, I’ve lost count of the times it’s happened. Whatever you do be ready to drop the dropper rod and grab your main rod straight away! When anyone says introducing a bait dropper scares the barbel I often have a quite smile to myself!

Another dodge to get an instant take is to put a golf ball sized PVA mesh bag filled with caster on the hook, the barbel go crazy when you introduce that rig!

One of Stef’s favourite tricks is to put in a Blast four or five hours before you pack up. This entails baiting up with twenty or so droppers of casters, as long as you have enough left! This often kick-starts the barbel into a feeding frenzy that can give you half a dozen fish in as many casts.
The way the day is going and the way the barbel are reacting dictates your moves and the more you fish the method the more in tune you become.

During the last hour I will put in a few Wafta Droppa’s, this means lifting the dropper as soon as it hits the bottom to allow the casters to drift over the heads of the barbel as they lay waiting to move up on the bait. This often brings instant results but means you are catching them in their safe area, hence the reason for leaving it till the end.

It’s important to realise that often the last couple of hours may not be as good as you might expect, that’s probably because you’ve already caught them all, if you have had a dozen or so during the day that’s probably it!

It’s a tiring technique all right, arm aching action with the barbel, constant thought and action with the dropper and a long day, but it takes some beating.



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