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Barbel fishing with modern baits

The biggest leap forward in barbel fishing has come over the last few years with the use of pellets boilies and paste as bait, their use has quickly spread and now hardly an angler that fishes for barbel leaves home without one of these modern baits in his armoury.

Pellet fishing

Once a few pellets had been fed into a river it didnt take long for the barbel to recognise them as a food source and with their use and popularity increasing it became harder to catch on the old faithful maggot or meat approach, thankfully this has changed over the last couple of seasons, with maggot and meat again accounting for a few more fish as barbel become wary of the pellet approach.

To get the best from the pellet approach it needs to be remembered that the pellet is designed to be the perfect food source for a fish, adapted as bait by anglers from its use in the fish farming industry, consequently the biggest problem as with any high protein feed is overfeeding. Gone are the days when a 16mm pellet chucked out with a short hooklink fished bolt rig style would produce a shed load of fish, its now more likely to be a single 8mm pellet fished on a four foot plus hooklink with the lowest resistance running rig possible.

Generally whilst fishing the pellet I use a specialist rod and watch the rod tip, delicate bites are not what I am looking for, usually its either the tell tale slow tip movement that tells me fish are active in the baited area or if the hair rig is doing its job the rod top will lunge over as a hooked fished bids for freedom.

The use of bite alarms has become more and more popular whilst barbel fishing over the last few years and in the right situation they are a fantastic aid to my fishing, especially on the bigger rivers where I often go for a two rod approach. I always include a hanger of some description in my bite alarm set up, as not every barbel will tear of with a bait, sometimes a fish will pick up the bait and create slack line, which doesnt always register with a bite alarm. I sometimes choose to use a rod pod rather than individual bank sticks especially where the banks are strengthened with rocks or when fishing from rock hard banks

My favourite method of fishing the pellet is to use an open end feeder stuffed full of a fish meal based groundbait, laced with a helping of pellets in mixed sizes 4,6 and 8mm. The feeder will be on a free run rig and slightly heavier weight wise than is required to hold bottom, I want it to stay put when cast not roll around the swim, scattering bait all over the river. The hooklink I recommend is either mono or flouro carbon in 12lb test, to avoid the fish being weary of the heavy hooklink I never fish less then a 4 foot link and more likely 6 foot plus. For bait either a single 8 or 10mm pellet, which I have previously glugged in fish oil to which I have added a flavour, sausage sizzle and garlic being my favourites. Once cast an 8mm pellet might only have an effective life as a bait of 20 minutes or so, by glugging in oil that life can be extended towards an hour, often the time it takes a barbel to approach a suspect bait.

Whilst the feeder approach will work on any river a more delicate approach is sometimes required on smaller rivers when targeting individual or small groups of fish. Thats when the use of PVA funnel web comes into its own, a custom made bag of mixed pellet or a compressed stick full of a mixture of crushed pellet and oil rich groundbait can be hooked onto the rig and gently lowered rather than cast into the swim, with the use of back-leads and rig tube its possible to disguise the rig and fool even the weariest of barbel.

Boilies and paste

Boilies have changed the way some anglers fish for barbel in much the same as they did in carp fishing many years ago. As an angler we have the choice to make a bait to our exact design with the flavour, size and shape to our own specification, this might be beyond what most of us want or require from our fishing, and with such a vast range of ready made boilies available to us straight from the tackle shop theres very little need to produce our own concoction.

The Bait makers take all the hard work out of it and all of the big companies produce plenty of boilies in either freezer or shelf life that will catch barbel straight from the bag. Barbel seem to like savoury and spicy baits when it comes to boilies, so I tend to use a fish meal based boilies that has a hint of things like black pepper or garlic, colour is important and for me its dark red or black, size wise, whilst I sometimes opt for boilies as big as 35mm to avoid nuisance bream most of my barbel have come on a single 10 or 12mm boilies. Dont fall into the trap that a boilie is round, they might be when they come from the bag but by using a knife or a bait punch its possible to produce custom shapes with your baits, try squares or cylinder shapes for something different, boilies with the skin scrapped or cut off will also release flavour much quicker.

The methods that work well for pellet fishing work just as well when boilies are used as bait, an open end feeder stuffed full of groundbait and to the mix I will add a good helping of crushed boilies in the same flavour I am using as hook bait. With the PVA bag method again fill the bag with broken boilies rather than pellet, or maybe lower a stringer of broken boilies into the swim.

To give boilies an extra boast and something that works really well in flood conditions is to mould a paste around your hookbait. When pellet fishing I often make a paste up from scaled pellets and mould that around my hookbait, if its boilies I am using as bait then I cut a boilie in half and mount the halves back to back, these make a great key to mould a nice size lump of paste of the same flavour as the boilies around, its a deadly method that has caught me some very big fish over the last few years.