My favourite autumn tactics
Fishing in flood
Autumn can be a brilliant time for catching barbel, but can also prove to be very difficult.
It all depends on river conditions. A flush of water from a good downfall of rain will clear out all of the dead weed and debris, stimulating the barbel into a pre-winter feeding spree. This is when large, smelly baits such as luncheon meat, fishmeal-based boilies and pastes will come into their own.
I tend to try to use something different from the crowd at this time of year, homemade baits that the barbel are not used to. When they have been inundated all season with pellets and shopbought boilies, a change of bait can give you an edge, or even just confidence – something that’s as vital as any bait ingredient!
Drifting debris and weed can make fishing in high water tricky, so do not be scared to use heavier leads or feeders than normal, along with a heavy backlead if you are fishing in close. I will use a 4 oz lead and 2 oz semi-fixed backlead more often than not. Upping those weights may be necessary to hold out for 30 minutes or so, enough time for a barbel to detect your bait and chomp it. Be prepared to be mobile and move around if no bites are forthcoming. After an hour or so in such conditions, a take is likely first or second cast.
Fishing under the bank will help you avoid debris, and fish are likely to venture closer in coloured flood water.
Cold and clear conditions
Sometimes rivers in autumn will be low, clear and cold. They can look seemingly lifeless and be full of dark, decomposing weed and leaves. Barbel are not easy to catch under these conditions, but will fall more readily to a particle approach, when maggots and the deadly hemp-and-caster combination can prove very successful.
Choose your swim carefully, looking for a strong, steady flow and a clean bottom, but go for a longer hook link than normal and feed regularly, introducing bait with a baitdropper.
Three maggots superglued to a hair on a strong, size 12 hook is my favourite way to present a bait in these conditions, and I like to use a braided hook link, either employing a coated braid or a combination rig of stiff nylon and a short, braid link to the hook. Pin the last few inches down with a linking swivel or a bit of heavy putty.
I use a big block-end feeder when using both maggots and casters, to introduce feed and enable accurate casting. Smelly baits are best when rivers are coloured, often following floods. Here are a selection of my favourites, including two pellets glued on a hair.
■ When the rivers are in flood, barbel start to feed, and some good catches can be made. On this occasion, the Hampshire Avon burst its banks.