A good example of a barbel caught on a river

Once you learn the basics on how to catch a barbel there is no going back. These fish are truly magnificent creatures.

The mighty barbel (Barbus barbus) is a strong-fighting freshwater fish mainly found in rivers. It truly is a stunning fish that spends most of its time on river beds. Barbel tend to favour gravel-bottomed streams and rivers that have a bit of pace to them. I believe the UK record for a barbel is 21 lb but that is a rare fish.

You are more likely to catch them around the 5 lb to 8 lb mark in most barbel waters.

Barbel are quite a fussy kind of fish and choose their habitats wisely. If a river has a good stock of these fish in it, you know that it is a good healthy stretch of water. Nowadays you can find barbel in stillwater commercial fisheries, lakes, and canals.

These venues are not natural to a barbel and would have been stocked fish or escapees from another water.

When it comes to sussing out how to catch a barbel it is a fairly straightforward affair. You don’t need shed loads of tackle or special tactics. You can get away with traveling quite light with the tackle that is needed. We will cover that further down in the article. For now, let’s take a look at where you find these elusive fish.

Where’s the Best Places to Find Barbel?

Firstly ask the local tackle dealers and local anglers which stretches hold barbel. Once you have figured out where they are, look for features such as weir pools, mill ponds, and fast shallow stretches with a gravel bottom.

Also look for any little channels between streamer weed, barbel, and bigger fish will use these to navigate up and down the river. 

Streamer weed in a river
Streamer weed provides great cover for barbel

Undercut banks are also a very good place to plop a bait, the bigger fish will quite often be hiding in places such as these.

What Is The Best Bait For Catching Barbel?

Luncheon Meat

Luncheon meat is one of the best all-time baits for barbel by far. Any type of tinned luncheon meat will do the job, as long as it stays on the hook. 

I either hair-rig the meat or put it straight on the hook.  burying the point in the meat and putting a fine piece of grass between the meat and the shank of the hook. This stops it from falling off.

Personally, I don’t bother with flavoured meat, but it may be something worth considering to give you an edge on the day.


Pellets are another good barbel bait that people do well with. All tackle shops now sell pellets so they are fairly easy to get hold of. You can even order them online easily enough.

Like with most baits pellets come in a vast array of sizes and flavours.

I just pick a standard fishmeal flavour and hair rig them but experiment in what will work best for you. A big part of fishing is sussing out what the fish want and how to present it to them.


Worms for me are hard to beat as big fish bait. I like a good big lobworm on the end of my hook. The only drawback is fish such as perch love them and so do the crayfish.

If you can’t afford to buy your worms, go down your local cricket pitch about an hour after dark armed with a torch and a pot, you will be surprised how many lobs come to the surface.


Maggots are probably the most popular bait ever. And with good reason, fish absolutely love them. Barbel being no exception.

Try putting a bunch of maggots on a 10 hook and filling a swim feeder with maggots. This can prove deadly in the right circumstances.

You could also try krilling your maggots. Don’t be put off if your maggots have turned into casters, barbel love these as well.

What Tackle Do I Need For Barbel?

As I mentioned earlier barbel are a hard-fighting fish full of muscle. They also mainly hang around in fairly fast water that has a good pace to it. For these two reasons alone you will need some good strong tackle that is up to the job.

Barbel gear is generally somewhere between match fishing gear and carp fishing gear. A barbel rod of about one and a half pound test curve up to two and a half pound should suffice with a decent reel of about 6000 in size such as a Shimano Bait Runner. The heavier weight of the rod being suited for big fast rivers. Line wise I use 8 lb to15 lb Maxima, I do love Maxima.

When it comes to the hook I take a selection between size 10 down to a 6, depending on what bait I have on at the time. If ledgering be sure to use a weight that will comfortably hold the bottom, there is a good selection to choose from online or at your local tackle dealer. If you are fishing some distance over fast water be sure to get yourself an extra-long bank stick.

You will need to keep the rod tip up high so the line doesn’t get dragged about by the water’s current.

Two barbel rods kept up high in the air.
Keep your rods high when fishing fast-water

I just take a small seat, bag of bits, unhooking mat, and a landing net. Perfect. P.S. Don’t forget polarised sunglasses.

Which Technique is Best for Catching Barbel?

When it comes to the technique for catching barbel, to me there are really only 3 different ways, ledgering, feeder fishing, and float fishing. These 3 techniques will cover all situations and conditions if used correctly. 

I would only personally float fish for barbel when I know they’re in the river in great numbers. Otherwise, it is a bit of bait up and sit it out kind of affair with a ledger or swim feeder. 

Do Barbel Prefer Shallow Water?

Though barbel do like shallow fast water (especially in the warmer months) you will also find them resting up in the deeper pools. In my experience, the deeper pools just off little fast stretches tend to have a lot of particles washed up into them.

The fish seem to know this and will often head to these pools and eddies to have a root around for bits to eat. 

So personally for me, I would be happy fishing for them in the shallow waters, but equally as happy casting bait in the deeper pools.

What are The Best Times to Fish for Barbel?

As with almost all specimen fish, barbel are mainly nocturnal. Mind you this is only a guideline, barbel in some venues are quite active during the daylight hours.

As a general rule dusk, dawn, and through the night will be the most active times for targeting these awesome fish. Particularly in the warmer months when the daylight temperature is just too warm for them to switch on.

A river at night
Night time is usually the best time for barbel

Late summer through to late autumn is the time of year when I choose to fish for them.

5 Top Tips For Barbel Fishing

Use A 12FT Rod

When fishing for barbel, nine times out of ten you will probably have fast water out in front of you. For this reason, you have to keep your rod up high so as not to get your line caught up in the flow. A 12 ft rod with a good long rod rest should overcome this problem.

Get Yourself A Bait Runner Reel

I would not go barbel fishing without a free spool reel. Set up properly this will reduce the chance of a big fish pulling your rod off its rest. You don’t want this happening while you are trying to figure out how to catch a barbel. For me, there is only one reel I would buy and that’s the Shimano Baitrunner.

These reels are reel workhorses that can take a fair bit of abuse.

Consider Moving Around

When you’re on the bank trying to catch a barbel if they aren’t biting then consider moving swims. If you have presented your bait correctly it may just be the fish aren’t there. Travel light and move around a bit to cover more ground

Go Big On Big Rivers

If you are fishing big rivers for big barbel such as the Trent, you will need some heavy gear. These rivers have some big fish in them and lots of nasty snags you can easily snap up on. A two-and-a-half-pound test curve rod and 6000 Bait Runner should do the job. 

Be Sure To Use Safe Rigs

Regardless of what rigs you use for catching barbel, make sure they are fish-friendly rigs. By this I mean, if the line snaps make sure that any end tackle such as swim feeders or heavy leads can part from the line. The last thing you want is a barbel dragging a big weight around.

I always like to use a hook length of a couple of pounds breaking strain lighter than the mainline.

To Conclude How To Catch A Barbel

Barbel are a great fighting fish that are well worth targeting. You don’t have to do anything too technical to be able to catch a barbel and you don’t need that much tackle to do so either.

The buzz of getting one of these beasts to your net will stay with you forever. Do your homework find the fish and enjoy sussing out how to catch a barbel. Tight lines and enjoy yourself trying.

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