Make tiny baits... catch big barbel!
Create a trail of particles that won’t fill up the fish and you’ll catch in tough summer conditions
BARBEL aren’t normally that difficult to catch, but combine hot sunny weather with a low river and it’s a whole new ball game.
If you want to catch during the day the answer now is to use smaller baits. That way you can build up the hunger level of a shoal of barbel and get them feeding with enough confidence to pick up the hookbait.
Feeding regularly is the key to getting barbel hooked on small baits. Even the most lethargic whiskers will eventually succumb to a constant stream of hemp and other goodies.
Once they do decide to feed, they find it very hard to get enough of the small baits to fill themselves up, so they start to compete with their shoal-mates for every passing morsel. My aim when fishing for barbel is always the same – to create a trail of bait gently rolling along the riverbed. Some will lodge in weed fronds or behind pebbles, but most will drift on downstream. The simplest way to bait up is to loosefeed, which creates no disturbance. The trouble is, most baits are quite slow-sinking, so in deep or fast-flowing swims your feed can be way downstream before it ever reaches the bottom where the barbel, with their heavily underslung mouths, feed. In shallow rivers, where barbel can be spooky, loosefeeding is ideal – you might even be able to watch the cloud of particles being washed downstream if the water is really clear. I try to get the bait to reach the riverbed directly in front of where I am fishing. This means catapulting the feed well upstream. As a general rule, for every foot of depth, fire in your bait half a rodlength upstream. In bigger rivers
that are faster flowing, too deep or too wide for loosefeeding to work, get the bait dropper out. With this I can bait up straight in front of me, knowing that it will release its payload close to the riverbed. Whichever tactic I used to feed, it must be done regularly.
A pinch of bait every minute is far better than a heap of bait dumped in every hour. With a bait dropper, one load every 10 minutes is normally about right.
There are plenty of baits that fit into the ‘small’ category. Pellets are an obvious choice, but 10mm boilies and boilie chops are useful too. Casters have fallen from favour with many anglers, but combined with hemp they are right up there with the best. Maggots are not far behind – but the unwanted attentions of small fish can make them difficult to use unless fake hookbaits are used.
A very under-used barbel bait is sweetcorn, which combines very well with hemp. Small cubes of meat are also very effective – go
for 8mm cubes for best results.
My choice of bait often comes down to trying something different. So if most people are using pellets, I will either flavour them, or switch to corn or casters to keep me one step ahead.
NOT ALL PELLETS ARE EQUAL
The number one barbel bait of modern times has to be the halibut pellet, but not all pellets are made equal. Some are really dark and oily to the touch, others are a lighter brown and smell fresher. I find these most effective for barbel, I think because they have a less bitter taste.
The Elips pellet is a classic barbel bait. Its flattened shape has been replaced by a more regular profile, but they are still very effective.
A good test of a pellet is how easily it can be drilled with a baiting needle. I drill mine in the garage, filling a tub ready for a few trips to the river – much easier than trying to do it on the bank. Quality pellets will drill easily and not split. While a 10mm pellet can be drilled and hair-rigged, smaller
pellets than this can be tricky. In this instance I superglue two pellets to a piece of rig foam on the hair to balance the weight of the hook perfectly.
HEMP WITH BENEFITS
I still prefer to soak and cook my own hemp, rather than buy it ready cooked. That said, I will always have some prepared hemp in the car. It doesn’t need preservatives to stop it going off, as long as the packaging is intact.
Other ingredients in hemp feed only work if you are using a bait dropper. Try to catapult out a mixture of baits and they will just spread out. Hemp and caster is a classic combo, but try mixing in a handful of 6mm pellets to your hemp instead.
Just recently I have been using boilie chops in my hemp. These soak up the hemp juice and create a terrific slick of attraction.
Try a boilie and pellet sandwich – they’re deadly! Hair rig a small sliver of rig foam. Superglue attaches small pellets to foam.
A boilie whittled down to the size of a pellet accounted for this big barbel. I make up batches of drilled 10mm pellets at home.