Steve Pope Barbel Fishing

Catch more barbel!

How Much Bait?


Well it’s a lot easier to ask how long is a piece of string!

Barbel when they are hungry can get through a lot of food, when they are not so peckish then very little is needed, so sometimes a relatively large amount is not enough to keep them happy and at other times a tiny feeder or four bait stringer is too much!

My entire serious barbel fishing is built around a simple concept, what exactly am I setting out to achieve?

That sounds simple enough I hear you say, to catch a barbel surely?

 The reality is it isn’t simple at all, there are so many variables and this is why blanket statements can be misleading at best and downright irresponsible at worst.

Every single trip down to the river presents a different set of circumstances to the thinking angler, if you set out with too many preconceived notions you may get lucky on occasions but you will never be able to grasp and take full advantage of all the opportunities that may come your way.

Another favourite saying of mine that encapsulates what I have just said is this one; never build a philosophy around one single instance.

I wish I had been the one to say it but that honour goes to the late Gordon Scott who I first heard use the phrase in his editor’s piece for an early Barbel Fisher magazine. Gordon had a real way with words and his clever writing that was always infused with humour is sorely missed. He was there at the very start of Internet fishing forums and could always be relied upon to get his point over while putting a smile on your face, I wonder what he would make of the garbage that purports to be humour that we see on some of the sites today, I can only guess.

Now if we look at that phrase in depth it actually pinpoints where I feel a number of angling writers fall down. I have realised over the years that once you put pen to paper you are empowered with great responsibility because many readers will act upon every word written. If there is any ambiguity you can be sure that the reader will probably opt for a course of action that is far removed from the writers intention.

I’m only going to touch on pellets and boilies for this short piece, I’ll save the other baits for another time but each one has a method for feeding to go with a particular set of circumstances.

So we’ll start with pellets and go into some detail.

Let me say at this point that I am part of the Dynamite team and so obviously use their range of bait. It is excellent quality and with the correct application will catch you plenty of fish. I could advise you to buy lots of the bait and put far more in than is necessary but you wouldn’t thank me for that and nor would Dynamite Baits. It is in everyone’s interest to do things properly, that way you will be successful and go back for more rather than become disillusioned because you took on board the wrong advice!

Let’s look at a few figures.

A 1Kg bag of Dynamite 3,4, 6 and 8mm pellets equates to about 2.5 pints.

A one-pint mixture of those pellets will fill eight Thamesley size droppers.

So 20 full droppers will discharge 1kg. Pellet.

We can now get some idea of volume when discussing the number of droppers going in. Obviously we can half fill the dropper with hemp then we get 16 droppers to a one pint 50/50 mix of hemp/pellet.

Don’t forget we are talking Thamesley size, if you are using Seymo’s or Free Spirits you’ll have to do the maths!

Cost wise pellets are very economical coming in at around £3 per Kg, or £1.20 per pint or half the price of the equivalent quantity of maggots or a third of the price of the same amount of casters!

 It’s no wonder they are popular.

So let’s look at some of the factors that will determine our strategy.

We need to be aware of the size of the river, the barbel population, the time of year and the amount of angling pressure. Also the speed of flow, and if we are fishing where the barbel actually live or, if we have to attract them to our pitch.

We also need to know the length of time it takes for a barbel to digest its food so that we do not overfeed and are therefore aware of the time needed to pass before a barbel is ready to feed once again. The speed at which the pellets fragment or are washed away are other factors to consider as well.

The old adage that says you cant take it out after you’ve put it in is true but then we have to take account of breakdown times which can vary with the type of pellet and time of year.

Regarding breakdown times, the Dynamite pellets take longer than you might imagine especially when the water has lost its summer warmth.  It can take six hours for 3 or 4mm pellets to break down and the larger sizes could still be there 24 hours later.

Always, the key to the amount of bait you put in is dependent on what you are trying to achieve.

Either competitive feeding amongst a mixed shoal, a carpet on the river bed as in bream fishing, a constant trickle to keep feeding fish interested or just a few pellets as Trefor West prefers to catch a fish from each swim, it really is horses for courses.

Underwater filming has identified the behaviour of barbel but only in that particular instance in relatively shallow water, 4ft perhaps. I’ve no doubt over the years with the equipment becoming more readily available we will be able to dispel every myth and monitor barbel behaviour in all its different variations. But I feel it is a mistake to take a particular instance and build a whole theory around it, as Gordon said.

The Lower Severn a favourite river of mine, it is wide, deep, has a steady flow, is apparently featureless but there’s plenty going on under the surface. No film cameras on the bed in these murky waters. Barbel will often act like bream and form a big shoal, at other times there could be just three or four doubles together and every now and again just the one monster, you need to know!

 Different feeding techniques are required for each eventuality.

However, I will always lay a carpet of hemp no matter what bait is on my hook, I liken the riverbed to a motorway and you need to create a service station to allow the barbel to refuel.

Once barbel move into the swim I would use enough pellet to hold them. Successful methods include cage feeder, pva mesh and bags, method feeders, using the dropper.

I would probably get through a gallon of mixed pellets (3 1kg bags) in a summer days session if the barbel were responding.

I have seen so many people fish with a single pellet hookbait and very little feed and despair at their chances, when Bob Roberts says most barbel anglers do not introduce enough feed, he could well be describing these guys but I would prefer the wording to read most anglers fishing for barbel do not introduce enough feed. There is a subtle difference.

So just like the Trent the Severn can take more bait but be aware the Trent is generally more prolific these days so feed accordingly.

The Kennet is another river I fish quite regularly and it’s very different to the Severn, four to eight feet deep, generally more pacy and quite narrow. Underwater filming would be possible here; it appears to be very similar to Bob’s small river venues, shoals of a dozen or so barbel move up and down the stretch. The point here though is that it is a popular fishery and my methods are based on consideration for my fellow anglers and therefore pellets in quantity would certainly work but the affect on others precludes that option. I will not prejudice other anglers fishing on popular waters.

 That is a key reason for preferring the maggot or caster alternative. I have done well with a tiny method feeder and 8mm hook bait and topping up with hemp and as I said I’ve no doubt if I used a gallon of mixed pellets instead of casters it would work very well in the summer but it would definitely impact negatively on the fishery.

I’ll mention the Great Ouse because that is a type of river that sets the angler its own particular set of problems; I would imagine the Dove is a similar river. You are looking for one bite, one big fish, there is no need to think about competitive feeding you want that one big fish to enter your swim and pick up your bait.

In this situation if using pellet I would introduce no feed other than a little at the very start. From then on it’s a waiting game.

Now the Upper Severn is a challenge for me that I’ve yet to really come to terms with. To be fair I haven’t devoted enough time and effort but that is about to change because I believe I now know where the fish are and more importantly I can fish for them close in using methods I prefer. The stretch is not prolific but there are a few that are of good size and the draw for me is catching barbel on the most upper reaches of this mighty river. So my tactics have to be set out accordingly and that means careful feeding. There are very few anglers on the water so the options are there but it is pointless to go in too heavy.

My line of attack is to introduce one dropper of mixed pellet into four swims and see what transpires. I can’t see the fish so have to rely on experience as to what is happening. What I am sure of though is that given decent conditions over two or three sessions I should be able to get to grips with the situation.

I’ll keep you informed on here how things work out.

It really is amazing to think that twelve years ago pellets were nowhere to be seen, the barbel books of the time gave no mention but today 95% of us use them as our first choice bait. If that isn’t a fishing revolution I don’t know what is!

Pellets are an extremely versatile bait; they can be fished as a particle which can be very productive or with just one single bait together with judicious feeding.

 To summarise, always think about what you are doing and the consequences of your actions.

This article is working out to be longer than expected and I haven’t touched on boilies yet.

I have in the past baited up with two 1 kg bags of boilies on a stretch I had to myself and the barbel moved in the next day. So this can work, but I would only do it on big rivers and where there is little angling presence, to do otherwise is bordering on selfish fishing.

In other circumstances I use a four-bait stringer, method feeder, crushed boilies in pva or cage feeder.

I don’t like casting out a boilie without a stringer though; experience has shown to me on the waters I fish that I catch far more if there are three or four little balls close by my bait!

My favourite boilie was the Dynamite Meaty Marine but that is not available anymore, The Source and Marine Halibut work just as well.

Introducing a bag of boilies can even help those fishing the next day on a big river, the fish can take that time to find them and they won’t have broken down. You will have gone home but someone else could easily benefit, it’s happened to me countless times!

 Always think about the impact your actions will have not only on the fish but also for your fellow anglers.

I do know of situations where people have filled in certain areas on small rivers and pulled large numbers of fish to an artificial hotspot, it has happened on a number of rivers, I believe the number of people and times are very small and that is a good thing because there is an ethical question raised by this behaviour as well as a total lack of consideration for others.  Common sense is what it’s all about here and that is what I hope comes across in what I’ve had to say.

If you can fish regularly, every other evening lets say, feeding little and often will do the trick because the likelihood is that the barbel are in the area and are on the look out for food.

I’m not a fan of using boilies on small rivers, preferring the particle approach. Notwithstanding that sentence and bearing in mind what I said about fishing regularly one of my good pals has access to a very good bait, one of the very best, and he introduces just a few pieces and he catches consistently.

Remember, barbel need very little food to sustain their lifestyle, be aware of the fact that it is possible to overfeed, the secret is to correctly analyse each situation you are presented with and feed accordingly.

Barbel can be ravenous feeders but then can be quickly satiated so always bear that in mind. They can also be very wary and particularly choosy.

If you are fortunate to enjoy a day when their heads are really down and they are in your swim make sure you have enough bait to hold them and don’t be frightened to put it in. You certainly won’t scare them!

Be mindful of your fellow anglers, going down to the river to deposit bait while others are fishing or frequent the stretch is downright selfish and if you have done that just think what it would be like if everyone did the same.

Much better to use your skill and knowledge to ensure you always stay one step in front of the game without offending anyone else.

So to sum up, Bob and Graham are both correct, how can they not be, their results from their respective venues confirm their points. Bob said most barbel anglers do not introduce enough feed and he is right, but going back to my point about readers taking on board words verbatim it is a dangerous statement.

The key in all this is to go back to Gordon’s phrase and always bear it in mind because every trip to the river presents a different situation.

The thinking angler more often than not makes the correct call and catches consistently; the guy who doesn’t appreciate the importance of all of this will have to settle for catching occasionally. Make sure you’re not one of the latter!

Steve Pope

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