You will always hear different opinions on whether barbel should be retained after being caught. Personally I think that if you retain the fish properly with the minimum of messing about on the bank, they will be fine. I have kept barbel in a keep net in the past when on overnight match sessions with friends, which usually happened once a year, and the fish were all released OK because I set it up for the fish and not for myself. I also preferred a big keep net to a carp sack, because a carp sack cannot be set up with enough room, as well as a keep net. The net I used to use was a large square section keep net 11 feet in length, with the bottom three sections being made of a mesh designed for carp. When I used it, I would peg it out in the flow of the river. It didn't matter if it wasn't totally covered as long as there was a good flow through it. When I put fish into it, I put them in backwards to try and get them to slide down the net, backwards towards the bottom, meaning that they were facing upstream all the time. Looking after the fish like this, I have kept five good barbel overnight which swam off very strongly the following morning. If you are going to retain fish overnight, then check them regularly, every 5 to 10 minutes after putting a fish in, to make sure they are recovering well because you can't see everything that happens in the dark, and if you don't see a fish that's struggling until daylight, it may well be too late for that fish by then. I've never had a problem with fish in my net, in fact my worst case of recovery was a fish over 11lb that I had to keep in my landing net for over an hour before it was able to swim off. This particular fish was a June fish, and probably struggled because of low oxygen levels due to warmer water temperatures, something we should all be aware off during the summer months. We need to look after our quarry, because lets not forget, that the big fish of now are also our sports parents of the future.
The more we fish, the more we have noticed that our best chance of a bigger fish, or sometimes any fish, is after dark and or during coloured high water levels. That means using a heavy flat lead to anchor your bait in the best spot on the bottom, before last light if an evening session, ( and not constantly casting in every 20 minutes which will not let fish settle ), even if it takes two or three casts to get it right, ( especially when fishing under a willow on the opposite bank ), using a bait that will stay on the rig no matter what, baiting up the area and then sitting back and waiting. It does work, but there are still those almost perfect nights when it just doesn't happen, and we are left wondering why. Part of the key to success is to be in the fish's patrol/feeding area and leave it there. You will see from the gallery shots that we do catch in the daylight, but there have been times when three or four of us/8 rods have blanked, even though we could see the fish just a few feet in front of us. Having said that though, September onwards sees a far better chance of catching in the day if you know where the fish's winter haunts are, because September is the month when the fish start to migrate from the summer shallows back towards their winter haunts, and feel safer in deeper water where they think they can't be spotted or found.
You can of course use the old faithful maggots and casters, but with a lot of small fish about, ( especially minnows ) they soon get beaten up, and that'swhy I think you need bigger, firmer baits. A lot of roving anglers will pile in a lot of pellets, hemp and casters into several spots and then leave them for half an hour before returning to see if any fish have moved in. By rotating the spots, some are able to catch one or two fish in perhaps half of the spots that they have pre-baited and so enjoy a mobile session. Personally I tend to go for the static approach and fish a peg or stretch where I know the barbel will be, and then wait for them to come to me. But as water temperatures start to drop in September, so the small fish become less of a problem, and baits like casters have a far better chance of being productive in a deepish run with a reasonable flow that those annoying bits don't want to struggle in. The black pepper spam works best if you cut it into slices and fry it one side to give it a hard edge to hair to. This way you can break it into what ever shape or size chunk you want to on the bank. Due to my being incapacitated one weekend, Jochen ended up doing an overnighter on his own, hairing two grains of sweetcorn after a warm day/evening, and had four barbel upto 10lb 8 between 11pm and 4am, thereby confirming the old idea of size matters. I mean, we dont like to eat a lot ourselves when itís hot, we just want a snack or a nibble, perhaps it's the same for the fish. The 22mm halibut pellets will catch fish, and are certainly worth fishing in a flood as their oily smell makes them easy for the fish to locate, but can be a bit too obvious on very pressured stretches.
Advances in " fake hook baits " have produced some useful things to try. The imitation sweetcorn also has buoyancy to help it to be sucked in a lot easier by any species. Try hairing both real and fake grains using more fake grains than real. This way there is something genuine for the fish to feel and taste, and one good pull will not remove everything from the hair, meaning that a fish may well return for another go quite quickly if its missed the first time. My personal favourite which I intend experimenting with, is the fake halibut pellets which will be soaked in my own preferred flavours, one of which may already be taking a lot of fish out of the Dove.
When it comes to feeding up a swim on the Dove, I throw in a few 14mm halibut pellets, and several catapult fulls of the 3mm halibut pellets, and a few chunks of BP spam. If I've got any hemp or sweetcorn, then some of both of those two will go in as well. We have now also started using betaine pellets in our loose feed as they are supposed to stimulate a fish's appetite. This puts plenty of smell into the water and a few free samples of hook bait, which can be 15mm boilies, BP spam, sweetcorn, or a halibut pellet as I like to start with two different baits to try and find out what the fish want on a particular night, and then set both rods to fish the same bait about five yards apart if one is catching and one is being ignored. Loose feeding through the rest of a session is smaller amounts of the 3mm halibut pellets, a few chunks of BP spam. I've tried leaving two different baits out and found ones catching and the others not even being sniffed at, then changed the other rod over to the same hook bait and started catching on both rods, and occasionally I've had two on at the same time which is quite an adrenalin rush. What this says to me is that although fish may well head in the same direction, there may be a pecking order in terms of what line they can feed along as they rove. As autumn draws in I reduce the loose feed, but still rely on 3mm halibut pellets as a base, before moving on to ground bait feeders from October/November onwards.
When fishing the Trent I tend to just use my own pellet feeders filled with a mix of betaine, elips, and halibut pellets in various sizes, so that a few will get through the mesh and lay freely around my hook baits, but only the minimum amount with probably 85 to 90 per cent always retained to leak off a scent trail. The Trent is just to big and powerful to loose feed when fishing at distance, whether it be across, downstream or upstream. You cannot get a small area of feed to stay where you need it, and as such is a waste of time and very inaccurate if your lead/feeder is dragged out of the area. My feeders have attracted quite a few fish to them in their first real season of use, often working to a no loose bait approach, and I am continuing to modify my designs to improve them as much as possible, including making them bigger and a lot heavier. I have also used them on the Dove to good effect, showing that they don't spook the fish, which is probably because the fish find the scent that they give off is just too irresistible to ignore.
FISHING IN FLOODS.
There are some spots and stretches that we fish that I know have the odd fish in them, but once the rivers up a few feet and coloured, the fish will gather up into a tighter area out of the main current and still feed. Even pre-baiting works on the Trent. Myself and Jen fed up a peg one night when it was up and coloured with pellets and boilies, so that I could return the following evening and fish it. The result was my first double out of the Trent at 11lb 6 on my very first cast. I've also fished the Dove when it's been within inches of the top of the bank, and had two fish within 10 minutes of each other, because the fish know where to go in flood conditions and wait it out until the level returns to normal. If you can find these areas then you are in with a good chance of catching a fish or two. We have fished gravel banks that are normally well out of the water, and cattle drinks, especially if they are on the inside of a bend. But even trees hanging in the river can offer some shelter behind them. It may still be boily, but if it's slowed the pace down, there could be something there, especially if the depth is increasing because of a drop off under the tree. Look out for large slacks and creases, the joining point of two water areas moving at different speeds or directions, because the fish will be holding just inside of a crease in the slacker water waiting for anything that's washed down to them, whether the river is in flood or not,and whether its winter or summer if there is a good depth. I have got to know quite a few anglers over the last few seasons, including a guy called Andy who gave me a little bit of info about a stretch on the dove at Marston, and the movements of some good fish that he said went ten pounds. As the river was well up, I set up downstream of two trees, one on each bank, and cast a rod in behind each. Fifteen minutes later I was in to a cracking 11lb 6 on the rod on the far side. In fact I've probably had less blanks in high water than I've had when the rivers been it's normal level. Jochen and myself fished a spot at Marston one year which was in flood, where a guy had already fished for several hours and had one fish out. As it was getting dark we decided to try the same peg, put four rods out and fished a mixture of boilies and pellets, and after an hour we'd had a fish each over the 8lb mark. Obviously there's no need to put in a lot of feed, because some of it will only be swept away by the current, but also because if there are any hungry fish around, they will probably pick up anything that's offered to them.The key is to feed very little, and use something on the hook or hair-rig, that is both smelly, oily and irresistible to them. Autumn/winter flood fishing can be very productive especially as the fish are a lot heavier, and to be honest, there have been nights that we have gone out that others would have thought far too un-safe.
Winter flood fishing has thrown up some interesting finds on the Trent. It looks like I may well have found a spot where the barbel are present all summer and winter, moving just a few yards depending on the water levels, but always out towards the middle of the river. The size of the fish that Leyton and myself have caught from this area has also been of interest. The smallest fish during the 2007/8 season was 9lb 9 with the biggest at 10lb 14, giving an average weight of over 10lb's. It has been a real winter banker peg on the right phase as long as you can get everything to hold in the right spot in 15 feet of swirling water some thirty odd yards out. The proof to me was catching the same fish in both December and March during the 2007/8 season from the same area under very different river conditions.
We try to get out a 2/3 or more nights a week from June through to end of October straight from work and try lots of different stretches on the club waters that we are members of, being the Derby Railway Angling Club, and the Burton Mutual Angling Association as well as some half and full day sessions with a few overnight trips as well. We will fish all sorts of stretches and runs, even casting over the long lengths of streamer weed that seem to be spreading out in shallower stretches, using a heavy lead to hold position on the bottom, but over the back of the long strands of weed, with the rod tips up high to reduce line drag, meaning that as we are using long hook lengths, our baits can roll under the streamer weed where the fish will be hiding, then feed it up, sit back, and wait. As I have already said, location is the key, but even then that is no guarantee of success. Several fruitless sessions might be needed before success is tasted. I took a friend to a stretch where in two sessions I had lost two fish and landed seven, but on what looked and felt like a cracking afternoon and evening session, ended up with me not having a sniff, and Steve getting bitten off, probably by a pike. The most notable point of these three sessions was the fact that all of the runs came well after dark. There are those nights when we've dropped into a spot and landed fish first cast, whether it be two minutes or an hour, but then we were expecting the fish to be there waiting for us, the only question being what time would they feed if at all, and then there are those nights when we cast in two hours before sunset and have had to wait until 3 hours after sunset to get a bite. But while the weather is warm, the barbel will move around and feed in very shallow water once the sun has gone down. I have had them feeding virtually under my feet in less than a foot of water, to then see them swim off downstream when I stood up to take a closer look in the dark. If you find a weedy run with a nice open gravel run down the middle, then that's a great place to set a night time trap by having a lead or feeder hold in the middle of it and one anchored over the weed as I said earlier, in case something wants to feed before dark. On both rivers, look out for the end of a shallow run where it starts to deepen off and where streamer weed ends. These areas, are areas that fish will head for, to feed as the light starts to fade in the evening. A sure sign that it is a feeding area will be patches of totally clean gravel, where the fish have been grubbing around previously. Fish a few yards downstream of these where it becomes difficult to see the bottom, feed it up and wait. This is how I came up with my feeder idea, something to draw them upto one of their feeding spots, but with no freebies for them to get at, just a smell machine to guide them in, and it does work very well. If you have a deepish stretch with long tails of streamer weed either side of a channel where the bottom isn't visible, then fish the channel putting enough lead on to hold out into the river if necessary, as I mentioned earlier for shallow stretches.
Its also a good idea to feel around a swim with a lead weight to find shelves and the deeper parts of a swim. Some of the spots that we fish on the Dove and the Trent, have troughs running through them which the barbel will run up no matter what the depth, so you need to be fishing where they are likely to pick up a bait, even if they are just passing through on their way to somewhere else. I've caught quite a few fish that have picked up my bait and then continued on upstream without producing that slam round bite that we all expect.
Stalking moving or stationery fish can be challenging, because the fact that you can see them can be your downfall. Keeping calm and trying to get the first cast right is the key. If you are lucky you may get a second cast. I have spotted fish upstream of me on the other side of the Dove in very shallow water, and cast a piece of meat above them using a light lead. The idea is to bounce it back to them and try and get it to run by them as naturally as possible. However, I have seen a barbel come off the bottom and grab a piece of meat as it looped over its head. If fish are slowly moving upstream in a feeding manner, then cast 20 or 30 yards above them to try and not spook them before starting a roll/bounce. This method has also worked for me. Some anglers also use plasticine for added weight, as it will come off very easily if you get weeded up, whilst others use a long shank hook with lead wire wrapped around it, to have casting weight as well as reduce the chance of the hook easily pulling through the meat by increasing the hooks diameter.
We tend to fish stretches that we know what to expect, ie we have fished them on day/evening sessions and found where the fish tend to feed, so making overnighters almost a guaranteed success where we all have a chance of catching. Plus I tend to pick the better phases where I have results to work to so that we also have an idea of what time to expect their arrival. We have overnighted unknown stretches on poorer phases, and the difference in catch rates has been very noticeable. It has also been noticeable how some nights the fish switch off as soon as the sun comes up the following morning. We don't change anything that we do, or take anything special, other than some warm clothes in case it turns very cold and a barbecue for those warm summer nights.
By logging my catch times, I have found that some days and times are definitely better than others. A blank one day could be totally reversed a few days later on a different moon phase, or just because the rivers are carrying an extra few feet of water. But without a doubt the best sight has been as its approaching last light, to see the fish head off upstream to feed and the zig-zag bow waves they create as they power their way through the fast shallow water, unless of course they were salmon?