Steve Pope Barbel Fishing

Catch more barbel!


In the summertime when the weather’s fine, we go fishing in the river or the sea, we’re always happy, life’s for living in this sound philosophy.


I guarantee you’re humming the familiar tune right now, what wonderful words of wisdom from the guy with the big hair fronting the band Mungo Jerry. Bet he is a barbel fisher as well.

June 16th, that magical day is just around the corner when once again the rivers are open to us coarse anglers.

Always been a special day for me, even when I was too small to hold a rod, why is that then you may wonder? Because that was the day, rather too far back than I care to remember, when I arrived on this planet.

Born to fish, that’s me and it might explain in part why like Bin Fishin’ I am a firm supporter of the close season on our rivers.

Before I give you a few pointers on early season barbelling I thought I would let you know what someone like myself, an out and out barbel man, gets up to while waiting for the days to pass as the clocks tick down to that magic hour.

Being heavily involved with The Barbel Society a great deal of my time is taken up with work on its behalf. We have a strong team in place running the organisation and a loyal following and because our membership year starts on June 16th, the close season is a busy time for us all.

So now is the time to sign up if you really want to take your barbel fishing to the next level, it’s very easy to do and you can join on line by visiting the Societies website.

Each year the BS holds what is now titled The Barbel Show. This year it is being held on June 5th at The Hinckley Island Hotel, a superb venue that is ideally situated with a central location easily accessible for most people. As always there is a fine array of top-notch speakers lined up for this year and plenty of tackle stands to whet your appetite as the new season approaches. Get yourself along, the Show is open to all, you’ll have a great time chatting to like-minded enthusiasts.

Ok then, the start of a new season, how do we set about catching barbel when the days are at their longest and the nights pass by without us noticing and we can sit out in them wearing tee shirts instead of layers of thermals?

I’ve previously mentioned the question of barbel welfare and it’s extremely important to point out that as the rivers open up to anglers once again barbel are at their most vulnerable. The exertions of spawning are still very much apparent, the females are much lighter in weight, the males carry the visual evidence of their part in the annual rites of reproduction and to make matters worse the fish are easily visible in the shallow water where they still tend to be shoaled up waiting to drift downstream to their usual haunts.

So the name of the game is to be mindful of this, take extra care and perhaps consider waiting just a couple of weeks until the fish really are fighting fit and ready to go and definitely give them a miss if the temperatures have soared and June is experiencing a heat wave.

Early summer is a good time to go wandering for the fish and a great method for this is to roll a single bait through the streamer weed and feel for the bite. It is hugely exciting and not only helps locate the fish, it assists in reading your river, understanding all the flow variations, coming to grips with all the underwater features and deviations on the river bed.

This is a technique I used too employ regularly on trips to the Kennet and Royalty and back in the days when the fish population consisted of a large number of barbel in the four to eight pound range, catching anything up to twenty fish in a day was relatively common once you had mastered the relatively simple component parts of the method.

Today a river like the Wye would be perfect for a day spent roving the banks, rolling a bait through every likely looking area, which effectively means everywhere, as there is such a good head of fish. Be sure to book your venue quickly because the Wye is becoming increasingly popular during the summer months, indeed it’s fast becoming the barbel fisher’s favourite river.

But if you can’t get down to the Wye there are other places and I also enjoy rockin’ and rollin’ on the Teme and Upper Severn.

Bait wise, luncheon meat is probably the most widely used followed by paste in all its different forms. Cheese paste, trout pellet paste, sausage paste, all great baits and don’t forget the humble lobworm, most do and yet the barbel still love ‘em!

Since what I call the pellet and boilie revolution took place, a great many anglers have simply forgotten about the older style baits, understandable when you consider how convenient the new baits are but the barbel have a catholic taste, within reason they will take any free food offering that’s going, like any living creature. So my message is don’t become stereotyped in your thinking especially with regard to what’s on your hook.

Another fantastic barbel bait is the meatball. Like the ubiquitous luncheon meat it can be used in a variety of ways, it isn’t just a meaty ball lying on the riverbed waiting for a barbel to come along, it can be rolled along with a number 6 hook inside and a couple of swan shot six inches or so above to suit the flow. It can also be cut into quarters and fished as a particle. Cut your meatballs into small pieces, a couple of tins is enough, and mix with a gallon of hemp and use your bait dropper as you would when fishing maggots or casters and you will have the barbel queuing up enjoying their meaty feast! You can do this with your meat as well by dicing it up into quarter inch cubes with a similar sized piece as bait on a size ten.

I can’t mention meatballs without telling you about two mates of mine who really have made them their own. Back in 1997 Howard Maddocks cast his meatball into a bank high river Severn and forever cemented his name in Angling history when a barbel weighing 16 – 3 snaffled up the bait. This fish was a national record and it also meant Howard never went hungry again although I would think he’s had enough of them served up on his plate by now to last a lifetime! I was on the river myself that day and was lucky enough to see the fish and the state Howard was in, a memory that will stay with me forever.

Then there’s Meatball Kev, the man with the cleanest balls in angling! I fish with Kev on the Kennet and meatballs are the only bait he uses and believe me he catches plenty of barbel. He swears by the Asda meatballs and I have to agree, the consistency of the ball is perfect so this is the brand to look out for.

But here’s the amazing thing, Kev washes them at home before they reach the river bank in his poly bags, no fiddling about in a sticky goo of sauce for Kev, he keeps ‘em clean, and as I said he catches more than his fair share of barbel.

The long summer days to me scream casters, in the right swim and fished well they are simply devastating.

Not as convenient as pellets I have to say, you really need to order them from your tackle shop and to be fair they are not exactly cheap.

But even if you only use them a couple of times during the summer if you pick the right swim you will empty it.

I’ll be going into far more detail with all these methods as the month’s progress and we’re out on the bank together sharing days and nights on the different rivers my friends and I fish.

But for now you need six pints of casters, a gallon of hemp and most important of all, a bait dropper attached to its own dedicated rod.

Careful dropping through the course of the day, making sure the barbel are relaxed and ready to get their heads down, the sky really does become the limit.

The mantra is bait, wait and catch.

Don’t for one moment think barbel are put off by a bait dropper entering their domain, they love it, many is the time I’ve actually felt them knocking it about as soon as it hits the deck. In fact I often leave the bait in the swim while dropping just above and then it’s a matter of one, two, three, we’re in as the barbel scream off while the dropper is still depositing its load.

Then it’s a matter of ditching the dropper rod and grabbing the baited rod PDQ!

If you use pellets and thousands do, including me, then consider the small 8mm drilled ones and fix them using the lasso method, fished with a feeder and a mini pellet ground bait mix you’ll do fine.

And finally don’t forget sweet corn…………. the barbel haven’t.

There really is nothing better than sitting by the river on a lazy, hazy summers day, waiting for the ‘pin to scream as the rod top buckles over from the powerful lunge of the river prince.

But then again it’s even more satisfying to watch your prize swim strongly away as it heads back to the lush ranunculous where it feels safe and ready to fight another day.

Good Fishin’

Steve Pope








Many anglers like to fish swims that are ready made with steps cut into a steep bank leading down to a timber staging. These swims are prolific on the middle Severn and Warwickshire Avon. Often there is just enough space to get your seat and bait buckets, rucksack, rod holdall and all the other bits and bobs with little room left for anything else.

So, when we have that barbel resting at our feet in the landing net where do we put the fish if we can’t unhook it in the landing net?

Well what I do is to push the back of my seat down flat and put my unhooking mat across it and bring the fish out in the net on to the mat, simples!

It is safe, the fish stays within the confines of the mesh and there is no fear of dropping or the fish flapping about out of control.

This is a good way to handle the fish in very tight swims as well.

But don’t forget the barbel needs a lttle more TLC during the hot summer months, rest them in a landing net, forget about putting them in a keep net.

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