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The Barbel

posted on 8 February 2015 | posted in Hints and Tips

Common name: Barbel

Latin name: Barbus barbus


Record weight: Nineteen pounds, taken by Tony Gibson from the River Great Ouse at Kickles Farm in the Spring of 2001.

Distribution: Naturally found only in the rivers of Eastern England, which it entered during the last ice age. At this time the Rivers of Eastern England drained directly into the River Rhine, and so were connected to mainland Europe. The barbel has been stocked into a large number of rivers over the last fifty years. It can now been found from the River Clyde in Scotland to the River Stour in Dorset. Very common across Europe, where several related species can also be found.

Features: An elongated body points to a life in fast flowing rivers, and for the most part this is true of the barbel. Generally found in the middle reaches of rivers where there is some flow. Although it is not possible to sex barbel from their external characteristics, female barbel grow much larger than the males. It is rare to find a male barbel weighing more then six pounds.

Diet: The mouth of the barbel is highly underslung and features protrusible lips and four large barbules. The whole design of the barbel's mouth is adapted to feeding on invertebrates picked off the river bed, or dug up from amongst stones. The barbel is a very strong fish and it will often excavate large amounts of gravel when feeding. Barbel will feed on a very wide range of different types of food, although small invertebrates, such as caddis larvae, and freshwater shrimp tend to provide the bulk of their food. Barbel will also take small fish, particularly during the Spring.

Spawning: Barbel spawn between May and July, although unlike many species of coarse fish they can in exceptional years spawn more than once. These fish require clean gravel with a good flow of water in which to lay their eggs. The female beats the gravel with her tail, excavating a shallow scrape in the process and also cleaning the gravel of silt. A group of males then approaches the female and they spawn together. The female then covers the eggs with a shallow layer of gravel. The young barbel hatch within a week, but unlike other coarse fish the young remain in the gravel for several weeks, surviving first off their large yolk sack, and then actively hunting tiny invertebrates in the spaces amongst the gravel.

Growth: Despite their large size, barbel are quite a slow growing species, often taking five years to reach catchable size. Specimen barbel of ten pounds or more are likely to be twenty years old. Although we do not know the maximum longevity of barbel it is estimated that they can live for at least thirty years.

Methods of Capture are varied from casual feeding with the use of swimfeeders and legered baits, sitting and waiting for that rod-bending bite to stalking; stealthily walking the bank, gazing through the water with Polaroid's and a selection of baits to hand.
Whilst some results can be had with the first method, it can also be a hit and miss affair. The better catches coming from steady, consistent feeding and careful selection of the swim - long gravelly glides fringed by beds of flowing weed. Strong tackle being the order of the day.
The second method is the favored one especially if the larger, specimen is the target. Careful observation can pick out the Barbel in between weed beds sometimes accompanied by one or two others. Again strong tackle is required. A bait, dropped ahead of the fish with a small leger and allowed to be carried into the Barbel's feeding area, can have some heart-stopping results.
Prebait a swim with particle baits, seed, corn, diced luncheon meat, and then return to fish similar over the chosen area. Keep a low profile and try not to disturb the water too much. Wait and watch, the bite may start with a twitch of the rod tip or line, and if the Barbel is confident, result in your rod being wrenched from it's rest or hand. Once hooked.......

Tip: A good bait for Barbel in any location is caster fished over a bed of hemp seed. This usually accounts for quite a few Barbel. However, if the fishery you are fishing is stocked with small silver fish it may be worthwhile switching to a large chunk of luncheon meat flavoured with chilli or curry powder at this time of year. Or Paste