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Big Baits………………………….The Early Days by Lawrence Breakspear


Richard Walker once headed an article, Big Baits For Big Fish, if my memory serves me well it was pike related, what he was saying was that a big fresh deadbait or large lively livebait would most of the times sort out the bigger pike. I remember trying this and was amazed what infact small pike would have a go at, remember spinning on the Warwickshire Avon at Pershore (in between the two bridges, an excellent big barbel spot these days by the way!) and was catching jack pike on spoons almost as big as themselves, I remember fishing with one pound plus chub as livebait on the lower Severn and again was amazed the size (or lack of)  of the pike that would take the bait. What happened over the following years in using this philosophy with other species, big baits  did prove to be selective in certain circumstances and at different times of the year.

 Lol in relaxed mode - Any second now!

I started barbel fishing in earnest about 1970, I in addition and with a  few mates got involved with the Severn Barbel Research Programme with Dr Peter Hunt of Liverpool University, we fished two years plus for barbel, even during the closed season with river authority approval may I add, as Peter wanted his analysis to be all encompassing and complete. Whilst  the research was fun, I did really get into the catching of the barbel and as a budding specimen hunter and Peter Wheat devotee, the bigger fish became my preoccupation, how I wanted a ten pounder, but middle Severn barbel at that time seemed to struggle to get over 8Ib never mind 10IB. Though stories of match men and other barbel specialists taking double figure barbel reinforced my enthusiasm to get my first double, it was at this time I began a thought process of big baits for big barbel, though the larger catches of 100Ib+  were still being taken on swimfeeder casters or maggot type approach, with the odd bigger fish either smashing the match guys up or being caught by mistake or luck.

Once the research programme was concluded, i moved on to other things, big eels in the Birmingham Park pools and carp from distant lakes, I remember catching double figure carp from Llandidrod Wells on paste baits the size of large oranges, I reckon it was the first time a ‘method’ type approached was being adopted.  The carp would whittle the bait down until it was smaller enough to engulf, without a doubt the activity around the bait was intense, if we reduced the bait size we got small carp, so we had to interest all carp but exclude the small ones from actually taking the bait, so we buried a large hard bait in the orange ball, it worked .  

 The Original Big Meat Man!

I have been often asked, challenged, agreed with and argued with on my use of big baits for big barbel. When I started to fish the lower Severn for its potential record breaker in the late 80’s and more importantly its undoubted stock of big doubles, I became frustrated in lack of success, yes I was catching Barbel, but struggling to get fish over 8Ib, I knew they were there, I had seen a match man catch two ten pounders  in a match on Beauchamp Court. I was there sat behind him and marvelled at his skill as he ran a stick float down with the flow close in and meticulously fed casters and hemp, but it was luck on his behalf, two 8 pounders could have easily taken those casters, he would have been just as happy and still won the match as he did!! This just fuelled my frustration.

I became that obsessed I fished for one barbel at any one time as a mind set, not any barbel, with the hope of a lump just might come along, no, fishing by design for not so much a one particular known fish, but I believed by now that large barbel do become almost like a separate species that behaved similarly  to smaller fish, but ironically totally different in many ways. I developed a minds eye of imagination and pictured those big fish mopping up anglers throw aways, many times I witnessed match men throwing in half tins of meat after the match had finished, I started to be very analytical in my approach. I noticed 20% of the swims produced 80% of the big barbel ( 8Ib up) so if i spent 80% of my time in the 20% of the fish producing swims, my chances (I believed) would increase and my blanks would decrease, but I needed to discriminate between 8 pounders and double figure fish, because I soon learned that a scrappy 8 pounder could ruin a swim for many hours. I began to do the exact opposite to what other Barbel anglers were doing, baits, tackle, position in the river, close in or far out, bite indication, bait flavours, pre baiting etc. all these things were questioned by me.  I was fishing very often, but relatively short sessions, 4 hours or so was the norm, say up to mid night or so, this was due to work or family pressures. I then thought about the big bait theory and Richard Walkers words, had barbel over the years on heavily fished stretches developed a very safe habit of taking the throw aways in darkeness whatever the size, could they take large baits or whittle them down like my Llandidrod Wells carp ?

There was only one way to find out and a standard tin of  meat was cut up into 3, heavily flavoured and frozen for flavour penetration for my next session at Beauchamp Court.

I remember that first big bait night vividly as if it was yesterday, I had tackled up at home and this consisted of a Drennan specialist 11ft rod, Mitchell 300, 10Ib maxima, 18 inches 12Ib Kryston silk and a honed needle sharp size 2 Jack Hilton carp hook, with a 1 oz bomb to finish it off, I knew also I would have to allow the fish to run with the bait to engulf this monstrosity I was putting before them, so I would hold the rod at all times and give some slack at the first sign of an interested Barbel !!

On arrival I baited up with a couple of pints of flavoured hemp, bits of meat, with a can of Corn mixed in, I loaded the home made bake bean can dropper and placed the hemp and meat samples in front of me one and a half rod lengths out, the same distance I thought a match man would throw his leftovers to. I sat back and waited for things to settle, after a few role up fags and a cup of tea an hour had passed, I put on the bait, the 2 hook was just put cleanly buried through the centre of the meat and turned. I swung the bait out, followed by the loud plodoosh I cringed as it sank slowly to the bottom of the slow deep water. After an hour I started to feel twangs and plucks on the line through my finger, what was happening I wondered, the bait I thought is clearly too big and they couldn’t engulf it, were they whittling it away I wondered, I was desperate for a leak and put the rod in its rest, whilst I was relieving myself I noticed the beta light rod top bounce and because I had increased the height the rod tip by putting it in the rest I was getting bat bites, I sat down again……it was nice not holding the rod as I settled back in my chair, I lowered the rest and attached a bobbin and also attached a couple of swanshot to counteract the flow.

 Lol Breakspear in a familiar pose.

This was very nice, and relaxing I thought…….the bobbin began to twitch and jump, my hand hovered, slowly it moved up, then in a blink of an eye it crashed into the rod butt and the rod top heaved over as I lifted into an unseen leviathan, bloody hell what’s this I wondered, it was awesome, it must be a record I thought.  I had never felt anything like it, this was no 8 pounder, it began to chug upstream against the flow and away from me click click click went the Mitchell as the barbel took line, this had never happened before with so much power……. 20 mins or more later and me totally worn out, I netted a beautiful 11Ib 3oz barbel,  my approach and thought process been proven correct and it had worked, subsequent trips proved to me via observation and experience that big barbel don’t whittle the bait away, yes an odd little suck and see nibble but they were and are capable of taking the largest of baits, remember the best free offering you can give a barbel is from your hook bait and a large bait allows this .

The rest is History as they say, the following years saw many double figure barbel from the Severn, Teme and Warwickshire Avon caught by myself and friends on this method, the Big Bait method was refined as time went on but I am glad to say that even by today’s times of pellets, boilies et al the big bait method still produces today, and is the ultimate selective way of catching double figure barbel as many present day barbel fishers can prove.

One last bit of advice though, to help this method work, and even by todays standards of monster barbel some anglers still lack the confidence in the big bait method…..’cus it don’t look right type thoughts’… advice is this, get into a mindset that you are after one barbel, one single big fish, where does she live, where does she feed and when ….look at what the rest are doing and do something different, time, presentation, tackle, fish closer to the bank, fish in the vicinity of features, reduce resistance to a bare minimum…..and then use a big ragged chunk of flavoured meat, as there wont be many using one of them!!  

Lol Breakspear

Copyright Lawrence Breakspear

19 Responses to “Big Baits………………………….The Early Days by Lawrence Breakspear”

  1. iv just brought caravan at ripple which im living in an im struggling with the barbel here at present been told too early yet but good sized barble are here have you fished here an any advise or tips many thanks its bAA water here

  2. Hi Nick, You’re in a good place for double figure barbel but its not easy! The fish are very nomadic and some swim from Diglis to Tewkesbury as a matter of course. The trick is to provide an area where they will stop, my analogy is the service station on a motorway. So you need to keep a regular supply of food going into your chosen swim. Hemp, boilies, go easy on pellet as it tends to attract the bream. You will have plenty of blanks but every now and again a good fish will come your way. Fish the afternoon up to midnight and daybreak as well. I wish you good luck and let me know when you get that fifteen pounder!

  3. Hi all, Met with Nick the other day at Ripple, Hi ya mate you had a few up till then, funny we were talking at the same time about Lol”s methods, and you said at the time you were just reading up on him.

    Re BIG meat, never reall done it, as said tend to bottle out, but last week I saw it work on the Lower, chap used a third of a large tin of Spam, I was thinking Yeaa…half our later a 9.4 was in the net.

    Reading Lol’s article again, and seeing it work, means I will be giving a go.

  4. how many double figure barbell has LOL had off river severn iv heard 300 with some anglers quoteing 2000 ??

  5. Hi Ian, I hope Lol sees this and he can answer. I would think its nearer the first figure, thousands when you are talking about doubles is a pretty serious figure! Mind you if someone devoted their life to catching doubles from the Trent…………….!

  6. ps how many 14 plus barbel has LOL had an what about yourself steve have you just had the one 14 plus off lower

  7. Lol will see this and hopefully respond to your question. I’ve had two different fourteens and a big thirteen. Its been many years since I put a real effort in to the lower Severn. As soon as circumstances allow I hope to try again because the current situation is probably the best there’s been for doubles.

  8. Hi Ian…

    I dont know many barbel I have now had that were double figured, I stopped counting at 250 and that was well over 15 years ago, I got divorced and lost all my old diaries and records. On average I have about 20 to 30 doubles a year, for instance last year (2015/16) I had 37 doubles from the Severn, mainly the lower, within that count I had four 13 pounders, the previous year (2014/15) I had only 17 doubles because I concentrated on the middle Severn, as I wanted a big fish from the middle river. I succeeded in taking a 13.10 barbel from Hampton loade plus other doubles, at the back end of that season I then moved back to the lower river and had a second 13 pounder of 13.12,. so far this season (2016/2017), I have taken 9 doubles. I have taken 3 fish in all my barbel years over 14 pounds, with the biggest at 15.03 from Severn Stoke in 1999, the other 2 were repeat captures of a 14 on Pixham ferry, If memory serves me right I have had approximately 17 barbel over 13 pounds. As far as the total of doubles I wouldn’t have a clue now, probably between 750 and a 1000, bear in mind I have taken doubles from the Teme, the Warks Avon, the Lugg, the Mease and one from the Alne, I try to only target the bigger barbel and even now my perpetual quest is for a 16 pounder, once I achieve that it will be good night Josephine and thank you, I hope this answers your question.

  9. Just one thing to add within all those numbers I have given, I must emphasize I dont just turn up and catch, because of my style of barbel fishing and the fact I dont go and stay out on the bank for days and nights on end, because my barbel fishing is made up of short sessions, I do blank, sometimes I blank very dramatically, I blanked then in the day and I blank now, back in the early 90’s I blanked 14 times on consecutive trips on the lower Severn, I thought I was or going mad, but I stuck it out and broke the sequence with a 12 and a 13 pounder on the same night and only recently last month I blanked 5 times on the bounce and broke the cycle with a a couple of doubles, to deal with those situations i have a philosophy, with each blank I get closer to to catching, and the next one could be the big one….

  10. good advise lol thanks for the figures im considering fishing the lower an wanted an idea off what im up against any advise on good b & b accomadation at ss preferable a pub .
    best luck with quest for 16 if you want it I think the 16.11 is still there same area only should be 17 plus now certainly back end

  11. ps lol I take it your big bait measures approx. 2″ x 1 ” just measured third tin 250 g tin what size hook do you use on that ? an do you fish hair or straight in meat do you still use grass as a stop .
    you refered in article to lower severn bites being delicate an twitchy is that due to fact off large bait an barbell munching on spot large bait if wait does tip hoop round ?
    would bites be more positive if used standard smaller 14 mm bait or would still be twitchy on lower .
    I learned a lesson 35 years ago on river banwy near welshpool chub fishing into dusk was only 20 then I could not hit a chub bite at all even with sensitive light quiver an 4 pound line an meat size 8 . a chap older than me on caravan site from London said son let me show you he came back with piece cork womans hair grip in it piece string an wooden clothes peg put it on my bankstick an line said watch cork set just off ground .
    you don’t want tip to move just watch bobbin I never ever missed another chub again !!! should we as barbell anglers learn from this but if strong fast flow its difficult this was a small river

  12. I use a quarter of a tin of a 340 g tin, on a bait that size i use a size 2 Drennan Continental boilie hook, pulled through the meat and turned then pulled back, I now use a piece of dissolving rig foam on the bend of the hook, then I pull it back into the meat, the foam dissolves in a few minutes. the whole point of a large bait is that it fits with a large barbels instincts to avoid capture by taking single baits apposed to grazing in a baited area, basically the movements on the rod top could be anything from small nuisance fish pecking at it or a large barbel nosing it around, I dont watch the rod tip for bites, I point the rod at the bait and await a run and the buzz of a centrepin, a large bait is very attractive to a large barbel and it can be a very selective method of catching the largest barbel in front of you, but its main effectiveness is that it taps into how a large barbels life changes and how they become very selective feeders and avoid capture

  13. interesting have you thought off writing a book with your many years an vast experience off your knowledge off specices.
    I find I catch in summer mainly from dark 10 pm till midnight till 1 am .
    would you say now dark at 7 in prorata the 3 hours hot time would be till only 10 pm .
    eg fishing in summer after 1 am is less productive would this be the same after 10 now would you say not to do with times off clock but when it turns dark if you can understand what im trying to say

  14. just been out got large tin meat cut into 4 approx. looking at bait inch half square do smaller barbel still take this big bait 8 plus fish ? an do you get many dropped takes or missed fish .
    so I take it once you get proper screamer they don’t drop it due to resistance from reel I only use baitrunners also do you get much problem with pike picking up this large bait .
    lastly does bait tend to stay on with no bait stop after dissolves presume you recast every hour ?
    ill try my luck with it at severn stoke tomorrow

  15. Hi Ian I apologise for the delay in answering, the barbel I generally catch on large pieces of meat dont get missed because of dropped runs, in fact the set up is probably the best anti regection rig ever, theres no sucking in and blowing out here, the only thing I will say is that large barbel do mouth it and maybe take a chunk out of it with their powerful lips, I consider this to be an advantage and have always said the best free sample a fish can have is from your hook bait, dont forget to rough the edges up on the meat to take the corners off it, once you see a double figured barbels mouth next to a quarter of a tin, you will soon realise they have no problem in negotiating the bait.
    I am currently writing a book on barbel fishing, it will be published by little Egret press next year. Thanks for your interest.

  16. HI lol no luck barbel yet in all the double figure barbel you caught what percentage would you say you have caught into dark an an hour or 1 or 2 being the best ?? against catching them in morning or afternoon . am I right in saying on lower can be caught just as easy in flood conditions or when river up as on dusk or evening ?
    id be pleased to view your opions on this subject for optimum feeding times conditions on lower an is it a dead loss fishing in clear cnditions like at present or can they still be caught into dark .
    I did bump into I call him the otter man think his names rob very tall chap curly hair had very long chat him about otters he has followed there footprints for 8 years very interesting chap gave me few facts about otters he said he spoke you he said was amazed the size bait you swang out tight lines hope your catching them

  17. Hi Ian, I would say 80% of my barbel on the Severn have been caught on the cusp of darkness and into darkness, however this time of year and when the river is low day time feeding seems to have the edge, i put this down to Otter nocturnal activity during the hours of darkness, I rate the so called flood conditions as being the best on the lower Severn as long as the river flows within its natrual banks, 6 ft on and a water temp above 10c is about as good as it gets in my mind, and once again 1 hour before darkness and 2 to 3 hours into darkness, but frankly in high colured they can feed at anytime,, the high water moves them around and my theory is a moving barbel is a feeding barbel, the common denominator with all this is low visibility, and I think the barbels instinct is happier when they cant see and they feed by other senses, touch, scent and taste receptors guiding them, they are somewhat like Ostrich like in their behavior i.e. they cant see anything so they cant be seen, as for the Otter man….I dont know him.

  18. Hi Lol, just come across this thread by chance, your catch rate during the 15/16 season was amazing! did you have many other back up fish <10lb during the season also off the Lower? Did you catch the majority of those on 1/4 of a tin? I'm a big fan of that approach and have been fortunate to catch doubles off the Severn, Warks Avon and Teme employing it. Very interesting observation about day time feeding this time of year in low conditions, would you look to use smaller baits (maggot or caster over hemp or boilies/pellets?) My instinct would be the opposite but I guess I didn't take into account Otter activity.

  19. thanks for advise would you say on lower any advantage fishing west or east bank off river ? they say east slopes down more gradual west only rod length out have you found any side better than the other I would prob say does not matter more to do with tree or bush cover available but iv not fished it enough to make judgement also the west an east shelfs do they think they run consistant along most off the lower reaches ?
    furthermore on lower when using bobbin indicators at normal summer level which counter weight do you think works best ? while pointing rod tip at bait an which bobbins do you prefer .
    I can relate your low light theory to my pike fishing knowledge certainly in shallow clear waters in fact the stronger the wind an duller the better had some my best pike catches in gale force winds have you found this with barbel the strong winds trigger them off .
    in fact only species I found don’t follow this rule is gravel pit tench were by the sunnyier an hotter the better .
    im learning from your advise only been seriously into barbel for 2 years but they are a new challenge for me .
    many thanks ian

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