Steve Pope Barbel Fishing

Catch more barbel!


 Cards on the table from the off, no messing, like so many others I must admit I’m barbel crazy!

 If I’m not out there fishing for them myself, then I’m probably doing my best helping others to catch barbel.

 If conditions are not favourable I’ll be writing about them, reading about them or on the phone talking about them. All of this while helping out with the running of the largest national barbel organisation, the Barbel Society.

A fully paid up member of the barmy barbel army, that’s me!

So watch out before reading on, barbel can take over your life, be mindful that to your other half barbus barbus really is the other woman!

The Boss sings in one of his songs, might as well let you know I’m a huge Springsteen fan as well!

If I were a rich man’s son

I’d sit by the river and watch it run.


Well you don’t need to be rich, you just have to be a barbel fisher, and then you can watch the wild river flow until your heart’s content.


The undisputed Prince of the River, although to be precise I should be saying Princess, because all the bigger fish are certainly the female of the species and boy at times do they portray those feminine characteristics!

Nevertheless, no matter what sex we are talking about the barbel is coarse fishing royalty, make no mistake.

No matter how many times I gaze down on the pure natural beauty as the barbel rests calmly in my landing net I will never tire of catching this, the most majestic of piscatorial creatures.

The perfect curvature, the huge pectorals, the imperious dorsal fin and omnipotent tail and then throw in those mesmerising eyes, the glistening tones and perfect symmetry, that’s an intoxicating mix.  All of these qualities conspire to draw you in and grab hold, never to let go………….like I said, the archetypal female displaying all her charms.

And she knows how to fight as well……………what more could you possibly want?

I’ve been captivated for a very long time, nigh on fifty years and that my friends is pure gold no matter how you look at it.

Why then is this wonderful creation called Bertie, Whiskers, Beard or heaven forbid Boris?

 Bertie? Nope I’m not even going to go there.

 Whiskers are what I spend far too much time removing from my face every morning but then again you can find them on cats.

Beard? Well not really unless we’re talking the type favoured by Rastafarians and even then I can’t really see the resemblance, and I don’t know about you but I’ve yet to hear a barbel break into song, “ Don’t worry bout a thing……….!”

Now before anyone jumps in, I went to school and I’m well aware that there is a Latin connection, barba meaning beard and all that, but I would suggest that’s a bit tenuous for most anglers, and don’t forget we’ll be confusing the issue even more because the most sought after barbel are not male!

 Boris really is a step too far.

 Where is there any connection? I’ve never witnessed a tennis playing barbel, one standing for Mayor or for you oldies one displaying a craving for blood!

No, the barbel deserves far better than all of those names, though I appreciate they are all meant as terms of endearment, to me the barbel will always be the prince of our rivers and every time a big fish comes along that will be my princess and that’s why you should always look happy when cradling her in your arms!

While on the subject of names and description there is another that has over the years been the cause of much discussion between barbel aficionados.

 Those bits hanging from the side of the mouth, are they barbels or barbules?

The two Pete’s, now that’s a proper fisherman’s name, had a right old friendly ding dong a few years back while disagreeing on this one.

Peter Wheat that legendary angler, superb orator, author of the Fighting Barbel, he says barbules.

Then there’s Pete Reading, scientist, conservation guru and all-round good bloke, he says barbels, so take your pick; I’m with Wheaty on this one………………….sorry Pete!

I’ve mentioned that the barbel is a fighter and a powerful adversary but it also has elegance and vulnerability. Because they give their absolute all when hooked barbel need time to recover from those exertions, that’s why I always leave the barbel to rest in the landing net for a few minutes before lifting her from the water.

 How would you like to go ten rounds with David Haye and then follow that up with a 100-metre sprint?

You wouldn’t that’s for sure so why ask the barbel to do the same!

We can cover welfare at the appropriate time, as the blue skies of summer approach, when the shirts are off and the water temperature is high……….that’s when we need to be vigilant and you need to be aware of the Barbel Society handling code.

Mr. Kipling, not the one who makes exceedingly fine cakes I hasten to add, once wrote,

I keep six honest serving men,

They taught me all I knew,

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.


I’ve given you a very quick insight into what, why and who, time now to take a brief glimpse into the where, when and how.

The avid barbel fisher almost always finds them self in beautiful surroundings, it’s yet another one of the reasons we become hooked, of that I’m sure.

Big rivers, small rivers, from one end of the country to the other, you’re never too far away from good barbel fishing unless you reside in Scotland or Cornwall, and if you do there are probably other attractions to keep you busy!

My personal favourites are the mighty Severn, the magical Teme, the intimate Kennet and the simply stunning Wye.

Each of those rivers offers a different challenge and each has its own unique quality. All of them will take you to a fantastic scenic world where the countryside can be just spectacular.

 Lucky people us barbel fisher folk.

A barbel river in general consists of three distinct sections, the upper, middle and lower.

The upper river will offer the panorama, it takes you into grayling and trout territory but be in no doubt barbel are there, big ones too. The upper reaches of the Severn are very close to my home so I’ll be trying to catch a few from this type of venue and I’ll be telling you all about it.

The middle reaches are far more popular and that should come as no surprise because it’s where most of the barbel live in surroundings where they can thrive and flourish.

The river then reaches its lower region where there is a mystical quality you don’t find anywhere else. Certainly it isn’t as pretty as the rest of the river but the magic is all in the not knowing, you can’t see the fish in this deeper expanse so you need to use all your skills to work it out, we’ll be doing that as well later in the year.

How low do they go? Well they’ve been known to swim from the Hampshire Avon to the Dorset Stour and that’s just about as low as you can go.

Virgin territory on most rivers and not for the faint hearted.

Reading the river as its mood changes is essential as the months roll by and summer turns to autumn before frosts herald the arrival of winter. Ours have been a little harsh of late; it is possible to get fed up with white painted vistas!

But as the river flows relentlessly on to the sea always remember the barbel are used to all the changes, they have nowhere else to go, to catch them you have to adapt as well as they do.

In the summer and autumn months it’s relatively easy, in winter it is all about timing.

Windows of opportunity present themselves but they can be very small indeed, portholes even.

For example, mid-January saw air temperatures rise, the rains came and the big rivers rose. Some will tell you its fill yer boots time; well the reality is that it may be if you are in the right place at exactly the right moment. Get that wrong, and most do, then you’re not going to fill yer boots with anything other than disappointment!

Understand your fishery, get to know the guys who fish there as well, it’s a big advantage to know what has happened the day before you arrive in a swim. Networking is another vital factor.

If you know someone fished the swim just before and baited up especially in the summer or autumn months and then missed out it may be you’re in for a good day. If however they emptied the place, you almost certainly would be wasting your time!

It’s that sort of information that separates success from failure.

Finding the fish is made easier once you grasp the three essentials as the barbel lives out its existence, survival, reproduction and feeding. That is all they, like all creatures except for us, have to worry about.

Understanding those three fundamentals means we anglers can work out our strategy to make the pieces in the puzzle fit, and achieving that is the key to consistency.

Cover is another barbel requisite, above and below the waterline. They then feel safe and that is their first consideration. Barbel don’t have to worry too much once they reach maturity, their only predator of note and that is a relatively new one is the otter, but that’s another story for another day.

I’m always being asked,  “How can I catch a double.”

Simple to answer that one, fish where they live!

It really is as easy as that, you can never catch what isn’t there no matter how good you are!

That said it then becomes blindingly obvious that finding them is our top priority.

You need to have a good idea of how many are in the stretch you’re fishing so you can weigh up the odds, of course to put them in your favour you can pick a method that will be selective.

We’ll be looking at these techniques at the appropriate times in the season.

Get the feeding patterns right, the number of times on a big river like the Severn I see anglers casting out a single bait and literally hoping for the best, their chances are not much more than zero. And likewise but from the other end of the spectrum I see anglers on a small river like the Kennet putting far too many pellets in, once again their chances are probably over before they get started.

Don’t forget that basically there are two main techniques in barbel fishing, particle baits with methods to encourage the fish to visit your swim and get their heads down, and single bait fishing where you take the bait to the fish. It is easy to get things horribly wrong by mixing the two.

Over the coming months I’ll go into far more detail explaining the whys and wherefores of baiting to attract the fish, because attract is the key word here, if we feed them they won’t stick around too long!

There are many tricks up the sleeves of the experienced barbel fisher. Bait dodges, big meat, small meat, meatballs, the list is endless.

 Rig tricks as well, you could write a book and some have.

All of this is part of the game but the key to success is simple, analyse from the second you arrive on the river what you hope to achieve, decide on the method you hope will give the best chance of success and then put every part of that method into action. Then persevere until you catch, because catch you will. Get one piece of the puzzle in the wrong place and your chances are reduced immediately.

The good news is that this is fishing, not quantum physics and success can be achieved by anyone who grasps the basics.

This first introductory feature is my homage to my favourite fish, follow me over the coming months as I introduce you to some of my chums, some you’ll certainly know………..some you won’t. We’ll visit some of my favourite venues and put the methods into practice and show how they all work, I’ll tackle some of the big news topics, I’ll be letting you know a little more about the Barbel Society, I’ll show you how my guiding days pan out with all the different people I meet on my fishing journey. It will be a real mixed bag.

If you want to keep up to speed with my writings there’s no need to go to church, you only have to press the keyboard to check out where I endeavour to keep my blog updated on a weekly basis.

Hope this first feature has whetted your appetite to go searching for the River Prince in the coming season

May your rod bend and the barbel be with you.

Steve Pope









1.     Superglueing Boilies

Do away with needles and stops, you just need the Stanley knife and superglue and it’s job done.

2.     Lassoing pellets


No need for glue or stops with this one and you can rest easy in the knowledge your pellet is firmly attached, works well with the Dynamite pre- drilled pellets.

3.     Glueing Casters.


Fantastic dodge this one, the casters stay on, no shelling by small fry, the crayfish struggle and it catches lots of barbel.

 First published in Fish ‘N Tips magazine

Leave a Reply

For more information regarding guiding, articles, talks and presentations, shows and anything barbel fishing related contact me at: StevePopeBarbelFishing Facebook