A Carp Angler's Guide to Barbel Fishing

With a new river season here, are you a carp angler who fancies a bit of a change? Why not have a crack at another of the UK's most popular fish - the barbel! In this guide, the One More Cast Team reveal everything you need to know to head out barbel fishing this summer, with tips on location, rigs, baits and much more...

June the 16th is a date that all UK anglers highlight in the diary - a NEW season begins! For most, this will mean a return to rivers, but there are still closed seasons on canals and lakes around the country often lifted on the same date too. When fishing on running water, there is no finer fish to target than the barbel - one of the most powerful fish that swims in British waters.

In recent years, barbel fishing has become almost as popular as carp angling in some areas of the country, with many anglers using the same or similar gear to target both species. There are of course carp in many rivers too, so being prepared to encounter both is certainly advantageous.

Thames Barbel Omar Sitri


Barbel are a species that thrives in fast flowing rivers. They like strong, oxygenated water and clean gravel bottoms, where they will do the majority of their feeding. This isn't to say they can't be found in slower moving stretches, as this can be where some of the more nomadic and larger specimens can be found. But if you really want to nail their location down on your river, you won't go too far wrong casting into some rapids or a weirpool.

This is particularly true early in the season, where the fish will have looked to have spawned on shallow, weedy, gravel beds. Don't be at all surprised to find fish in water no deeper than your waist, or even wellies!

River Wye Barbel Spot

Like all fish species, observation and location is the key to catching them. So, make sure you're equipped with some quality Polarised Glasses like our Peekaboos, as these will cut the surface glare and help you see to the bottom. They can be difficult to spot sometimes, unless they decide to flash for you. Normally, they will be tucked in amongst streamer weed and reeds, or under overhangs.

Most anglers will have a river with stocks of barbel near them but here are some of the best:

  • River Trent
  • River Thames
  • River Wye
  • River Lea
  • River Severn
  • Hampshire Avon
  • Dorset Stour
  • Warwickshire Avon
  • Bristol Avon
  • River Ribble
  • River Wharf
  • River Ouse
  • River Kennett

The nature of your local river will have a big bearing on how you approach the task of fishing for the barbel. On large and powerful rivers like the Trent and Thames, anglers fish for them in an almost identical way to carp on lakes. By this we mean, night fishing with bite alarms, multiple rods and boilies. Whilst on smaller rivers, a more mobile approach with lighter rods and minimal gear/bait is the preferred choice. 

Ali Hamidi River Wye barbel


Barbel are a very interesting species of fish. Just looking at them tells you a lot of information about how you should go about catching them. Their overslung mouth and distinct barbules indicate this fish is primarily a bottom feeder. Similar to carp, they feed a little like a hoover, sucking up objects they pass over, filtering them in their mouth and blowing anything unwanted back out again. This is why a lot of tactics you may be familiar with from carp fishing will also fool barbel too.

When hooked, barbel show some truly immense power, and on the right gear, they arguably fight harder than anything else pound for pound. Add this key trait to the often snaggy environments they are found in and it highlights the need for robust tackle to safely catch them.

Barbel Head

On the theme of safety, barbel are unlike a lot of other species, in that they really do give it all in the battle. This can cause the fish to be pretty tired once it hits the net and it is therefore crucial the angler provides the fish with sufficient and safe recovery time before handling and subsequent releasing.

Once landed, simply leave the fish in the net in the water and allow it to get back its full strength. Imagine running the 100m, you'd want a breather afterwards, right? There is absolutely no rush to get a fish on the bank, or return it. Take your time with each one and any risk to the fish is reduced to almost zero. On release, hold the fish with its head facing upstream and allow it to kick positively before letting it go. There's no better moment than seeing your majestic prize swim off strongly to go and fight another day.

Barbel being released

Understanding the barbel's feeding behaviour is a key piece of the puzzle if you are to catch one. They will eat almost anything and can respond very quickly should a bait be offered to them under the right conditions. There are, however, many times when they simply refuse to feed. Bright sunny days on low clear rivers can be really challenging, unless you find some rapid water. Overcast conditions on a higher, more coloured river, on the other hand, can produce far more prolific results.

Regardless of conditions, all barbel anglers recognise that classic 'Witching Hour' as the best time for a bite. This period either side of darkness is usually when the rod tips come alive, as the barbel move out of the safety of cover and begin to feed on the gravel - there's not a more exciting time to be on the bank!

Seasonly, you will find barbel fishing better in the autumn and early spring before the rivers close. The summer is a great time for fish to be feeding but due to the factors already mentioned, the location of the fish can be quite localised and their activity largely in the hours of darkness. This isn't of course a problem if you've found the fish and are willing to sit it out after dark. It certainly is far more favourable than winter barbel fishing, which can mean negotiating challenging floods and minus conditions for fish that more often than not have simply switched off.

River Wye Barbel Fishing


Tackling up for barbel fishing will largely depend on the river you intend targeting them on. Larger rivers like the Trent and Thames can be fished with your standard light carp gear; rods of 2.5lb test curve and 6000-10000 sized reels. Load these up with our Dancefloor Monofilament Mainline in 12lb or 15lb breaking strain and you'll have more than enough backbone and abrasion resistance to land any barbel you may encounter. 

For smaller rivers, you will likely want a more dedicated and lighter barbel fishing setup. Specialised barbel rods can range from 1.25lb test curve right up to 2.25lb test curve but are often built with a more forgiving action than a carp rod, that are more tailored towards long range casting. Reel choice and line can remain the same.

As well as all your usual terminal tackle, leads and other essentials like luggage, nets and mats, you will also need a decent rod support system and the ability to keep the rods tips high. Having the tips in the air on adjustable banksticks or a pod ensures line is kept out of the flow, reducing the pressure put on it by the current. Our Elbowz are worth a look for any angler looking for the most adaptable rod rest systems available. For indication, you can use either your standard carp fishing bite alarms or watch the rod tip in the classic fashion, maybe even add a bell.

Barbel rod with Bell


Barbel can be caught on all sorts of baits, from naturals like maggots to man-mades like boilies. Bait choice should largely depend on the conditions faced on the day and the tactics you intend to use.

In low and clear river conditions, or in the colder months, small baits like maggots, casters and hemp can be a real winner. Anglers float fishing for other species on these baits will often encounter and be beaten up by a rouge barbel or two, and for getting bites when nothing else will, these options are the best choice.

Maggots in groundbait

For single roving baits on rivers with a little bit of colour, you can't beat a big old piece of luncheon meat or a juicy lobworm. Barbel love these offerings, especially when bounced past them on the 'rolling' method. More on that later!

Luncheon Meat fishing bait

Your traditional carp baits of pellets and boilies are a meal barbel love to eat too. Halibut pellets in particular are one of the best barbel fishing baits of all-time and stinky fishmeal boilies can be hard to top in coloured and flooded conditions. Combine these with a matching paste and you have a beautiful hookbait option that barbel will zone in on from far and wide.

Mainline Barbel Fishing Baits
Barbel Fishing Paste

Many barbel anglers like to use a lot of groundbait in their fishing too. So don't rule out grabbing yourself a couple of bags of a nice fishy mix. When feeder or PVA bag fishing, these fine particles explode out the feeder and drift downstream, activating the barbel lurking below to come and investigate the source.

OMC ChopStix PVA System


Tactics for barbel can be as complicated or as simplistic as you like. The bulk of anglers you come across will use a traditional Running Leger Rig for them. This simply involves a Lead or Feeder running freely on the Mainline down to a Buffer Bead and a Swivel, to which is tied a Hooklink of anything from 12-inches to 6ft, depending on conditions.

Ali Hamidi Barbel Feeder Rig

You can improve this setup in many ways. The first is to consider the actual Lead you're using. A great tactic to boost the attraction in the swim is to mould some paste around the Lead itself. Once in water, this then slowly leaks off downstream, pulling the barbel towards it. The veins on our Arra Leads make them absolutely perfect for this approach! 

OMC Arra Fishing Leads

The Running Rig can further be enhanced with a few more useful additions from our Terminal Tackle Range. The next is our Vitabitz Run Rig Kit, which comes with everything you need to create the perfect Running Rig. You can even fish it in a manner where it performs more like a 'Bolt' or 'Shocker' rig, another superb tactic. The clip on the kit allows you to change weights or feeders easily without tackling down, essential for saving time when roving between swims on short sessions.

OMC Carp Fishing Running Rig Kit

A more common approach for big specimen barbel is a typical Lead Clip Bolt Rig. Many barbel specialists combine this with a small PVA mesh bag, like those created with our ChopStix System and fish either a pellet or boilie hookbait on a standard hair rig. This rig is perfect for bait and wait tactics, when you want to get everything in position and leave it there until a barbel strikes. It is best to use a larger weight for this method, this will increase the bolt effect and ensure the trap stays firmly in place on the riverbed until that big barbel approaches. Our Vitabitz Pin Lead Clip and Tail Rubbers are a great choice for creating this presentation. The Pin allows the angler the ability to lock the Lead Clip to the swivel when in place, or have it running so it can pull free on the take, giving the fish something entirely different to handle. 

Carp Fishing Lead Clip System

With both the Running and Bolt Rig you are going to want some reliable end tackle components, namely a strong hook and hooklength. In clear water conditions, no material is better for this than our Blend Fluorocarbon Soft in the 10lb breaking strain. This material is supple enough to be fished at long lengths and still ride over bottom contours, but also has amazing responsiveness and strength. Its also practically invisible underwater - almost cheating!

OMC Fluorocarbon for Carp and Barbel Fishing

For more snaggy conditions on larger more coloured rivers, it is also worth considering using a Coated Braid Hooklink. The added strength and abrasion resistance of our 18lb Blend Coated Hooklink will help you extract barbel from the most savage river fishing environments.

OMC BLEND Coated Hooklink for Carp Fishing

The length of your hooklink for barbel fishing will depend on a variety of circumstances but should always be adjusted throughout your session to pinch an extra bite here and there. At times you will find fish backing off your feeder or even your mainline. This is when lengthening your rig up to even 6ft will help gain the confidence of those more cautious fish. Another time when this is an advantage is if the powerful flow is pushing your loosefeed a long distance from your feeder or lead. 

In contrast to this, there are occasions too when you might want to shorten your hooklink down for more success. This can be when fishing in tight holes in weedbeds, or when fish are confidently feeding in the swim and hitting the feeder or line, giving you plenty of indications. Shortening the rig will make it more responsive and give you faster indication, plus improve the self-hooking properties of the presentation as a whole. 

OMC Barbel Fishing Guide

Moving to the hook end of the rig, and here the majority of barbel anglers opt for a simple knotless knot hair rig. Of course, the optional addition of our Dazzlers will improve the performance of the hook section and help it flip and turn easier in the mouth. The most important consideration here, however, is actually the length of your hair. You will find that barbel often frequent the same areas as another abundant river species, the chub, and these greedy fish won't hesitate to grab your hookbait, spook the swim and ruin your chances of catching a barbel.

Chub feed in a totally different manner to barbel, whilst barbel as previously mentioned act more like a hoover, chub will grab and pick at baits. This means to avoid the chub actually taking your hook in their mouth, you can lengthen the hair. You still might catch the odd one but you will more often than not just get pulls on the hookbait before they feel the resistance and drop it again.

Chub on OMC Pellet Caves

If nuisance fish like chub and smaller species are a problem, there are some other useful solutions too. One is to make the most of our Revibed Pellet Caves. Not so great at avoiding chub, as they love them more than anything, but certainly a good choice to avoid small fish. You can load the Pellet Caves up with paste and you will have an everlasting hookbait that looks just like the real thing. They simply can't get it off the hair when combined with one of our Bait Blobs.

River Fishing Rig One More Cast

The final tactic we will mention is one of the real art forms that all barbel anglers should learn and utilises one of the best barbel baits of all-time - luncheon meat. Whilst it can be fished static, baits like meat are often accepted more readily by the fish when trundled or 'rolled' through the swim at the pace of the river. This rolling method is often met with a firm thud on the rod as the fish grabs the bait whilst on the move.

Luncheon Meat Hookbait for barbel Fishing

It is very easy to create a simple Rolling Rig for barbel. All you need is your mainline, a stop or Sinker and a big hook. Traditionally, anglers have used split shot or even plasticine moulded around the line to give the rig enough weight to roll through fast currents. OMC fans, however, need look no further than our awesome Blend Putty. Not only does it provide decent weight, it is pretty much an immovable object and never comes off - just what you need! Create a short hooklink with a Swivel and mould a small piece of putty around the connection, or simply mould it around one of our Dog Bone Sinkers threaded on the mainline. 

When rolling baits, it is best to cast slightly upstream, then almost follow the bait with your rod as it bounces around the swim, holding the rod in your hands at all times and feeling for bites with the line. Once perfected, this is one of the most exciting methods to catch barbel, particularly on small rivers. 

Luncheon meat and Spam are great baits in coloured water for barbel but some anglers struggle to keep them on the hook. If this is you and you're getting frustrated with the whole process, we have a product that is well worth checking out - the Wormurai Sprig Kit.

Don’t be fooled by the name, the Wormurai Sprig Stop isn’t just for worms. It’s a multi-use versatile bait stop that will allow you to pull on or push into a variety of baits. The double ended tool allows you to either hold onto the stop and pull bait onto the hair, or you can push the stop through a bait with the flat edged needle lodged inside the Wormurai Sprig Stop. Problem solved when it comes to keeping meat on your barbel rigs!

OMC Worm and Meat Fishing Stop Kit

And that's all you need to know to get started with barbel fishing. Give it a go on your local river - you won't be disappointed! There's nothing quite like the excitement of a savage barbel bite and the epic fight that follows - they are very special fish indeed.


For more motivation, check out this barbel fishing video from the early days of One More Cast...

Author Chris Haydon has just joined the OMC Family after six years working for the UK's number 1 fishing publication, the Angling Times. He is a keen coarse and carp fishing all-rounder, fishing in the South West region, including the famous Cotswold Water Park.