Classic barbel baits
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The Worm has turned

Barbel fishing with classic baits

Not so popular these days but baits like maggot, caster and luncheon meat are still very effective baits when in pursuit of barbel, a few modern twists to the traditional methods have seen them become more effective and their popularity increase.

Maggot fishing

By far the easiest way to get the best from the maggot/caster approach is to fish a blockend feeder and simply feed the swim with a continuous stream of bait introduced via the feeder, to get the best might mean getting through several pints of bait in a session. Regardless if fishing with maggot or caster the addition of some boiled hemp will not only reduce your bait bill but increase their effectiveness.

A simple method would be regular casting of the feeder loaded with a 50-50 mixture of maggot and hemp and fishing with a hooklink of around 8 to 10lb coupled to a strong eyed hook in the 10-16 size range, forget hi-tech hook-links and fine wire hooks, they have no place in barbel fishing. A hooklink of around 4 foot is a good starting point lengthen to six foot if the barbel are playing hard to get, 3 maggots on a size 14 hook will normally get some fish going. The secret of the method is continuous feeding, casting every few minutes to keep the swim topped up and hopefully bring the barbel into a feeding frenzy, once feeding hard the fish lower their defences and become easier to catch and the splash of the feeder rather than scaring the fish sounds like a dinner bell signalling the next meal and bites can often happen, on the drop. The best swims for blockend feeder fishing are swims with plenty of flow and usually involves fishing the feeder in the main flow, the flow will take the free offering down to the hungry fish and hopefully see them move up into the area of your bait.

When fishing the block end feeder I like to use a quiver tip rod, glass tips are no good a solid carbon tip with a 3-4oz rating will be heavy enough not to fold under the pressure of the flow, but soft enough to show all the little taps and rattles as the fish attack the bait. Weight of feeder depends on flow but always fish with just enough lead to hold the bottom, increasing the height of the rod rest will reduce the amount of lead required, as will feeding some extra line from the reel once the feeder has settled on the bottom, more commonly know as fishing the bow it feels like it shouldnt work but it does with bites more often signalled by a small tap followed by the tip dropping back as the hooked fish dislodges the feeder and produces a momentary amount of slack line.

With the addition of a maggot clip tied to a hair rig its possible to fish a bunch of maggots under a bigger hook something thats been taken from the carp anglers armoury to great effect by some barbel anglers. The maggot clip method works ok under a feeder but becomes more productive when fished over a bed of maggots introduced via a bait dropper or spod. Dead maggots can be very effective with this method, the best way to kill maggots is to freeze them, I bag mine in one pint bags, for extra impact its possible to add some flavour before you freeze them, once bagged 24 hours in the freezer will see them no longer with us but a very effective bait that wont crawl under the nearest stone.

Simply select a swim with some depth and flow close to you own bank and introduce a little hemp and maggot if barbel are in the area they usually aren’t long in showing themselves, the hardest bit now is to have the patience to keep feeding the fish without fishing for them, the longer you can resist the urge to fish the better the chance you have of catching some barbel, a bait dropper is very effective at getting the bait on the bottom exactly where you want it, loose feeding can be much more hit and miss.

Once the fish are feeding confidently then hopefully a well presented bait will sort them out, either a maggot clip on a hair rig with a nice ball of maggots or a simple hook with a bunch of maggots mounted straight on the hook. In either case I would use a specialist rod rather than a quiver tip as I will be expecting rod wrenching bites not tiny tap tap bites.

Small fish can be a problem when fishing maggot or caster and sometimes its impossible to avoid getting a bait destroyed within seconds of casting. A method that works well to avoid this is to tie up a hair rig and instead of tying a loop in the hook end just leave an inch or so off line and tie up the rest of the hook as normal. With the careful use of some superglue (the gel works very well for this) I glue either 3 maggots or casters to the tag of line left as the hair. Mounted tightly together the bait becomes less prone to damage by little fish and very effective for the hungry barbel, I have had more than one barbel on the same bunch of casters. My golden rule when fishing maggot or caster in any form is I never feed any pellet what so ever, I just find the two types of bait dont mix and seems to switch the fish off.

Meat fishing

Luncheon meat has caught many thousands of barbel over the years and will continue to do so, its very effective straight out of the can, but its also easy to flavour meat with either liquid or powder flavours, garlic and curry powder being my favourites. Simply break up a can of meat into hookbait size pieces and put into a poly bag add to that your chosen flavour shake the bag and its an instant bait as the flavour sticks to the fatty texture of the meat. Meat can be fished either on a hair rig or straight on to a hook, and the size of bait can vary anything between a single half inch cube up to a chunk about the size of a third of a tin.

In summer in low clear conditions a small piece of meat the size of a thumb nail trundled through a swim will fool even the wisest of barbel, but my favourite time to fish meat is in flood conditions. Once a river is in flood then its a matter of finding areas of slower even paced water, sometimes these might be very close to the bank other times mid river. Once an area is selected a mobile approach is often advisable, bites will sometimes come within seconds of casting, but usually if I havent had a bite within an hour in a new swim, I will up and move onto the next likely looking area.


In summer barbel can often be caught on corn, nothing complicated a couple of grains on a size 12 hook will produce the goods, but a couple of grains on a hair rig complete with one of the semi buoyant pieces of artificial corn can be deadly, I have used this combination to great effect in low clear summer conditions when other options have failed.


Often not even given room in the barbel anglers bait bag, but believe me in flood conditions there is nothing that mimics the natural larder of a hungry barbel like a single large lob worm or a bunch of dendrobenas presented on a straight lead or in conjunction with a feeder full of chopped worm.