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BFW Rotary Letter 3

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Rotary Letter No.3 - by Jon Callan, followed by Paul Thompson


I’m a little bit different to Andy on this one; I keep casting to an absolute minimum.

During a session I will leave the bait in the water for anything up to 3 hours depending on conditions and time of year.

It can be very hard to leave a bait in the water this long when you’ve had taps and are constantly doing battle with a resident Crayfish population, but it amazing just how often it will go when its been in the water for an hour or so.

It also has a habit of being a good fish, I’m sure the little taps and knocks we get during a session are Barbel testing the bait and paying it a visit. You will normally get a few knocks, then nothing for 10 –20 minutes, then a few knocks again, this can go on for a very long time before the fish finally commits to picking the bait up.

It is quite common of for me to make only 4 or 5 casts in an eight-hour session. (Unless they are feeding of course!)

In a couple of extreme cases I have made only 2 casts in an evening and both these have resulted in fish. I may be missing out on a few more, but if 1 or 2 of the bites are from doubles, I’m willing to risk it!

It takes a fair amount of will power, not to reel in after you’ve had a string of good pulls.

Is the bait still there?

Is my rig tangled?

Am I snagged?

All these thoughts will go through your mind and your head will be screaming at you to have it in and check it, but resist the temptation, it’s the very last thing you want to do!

Some of these ‘little’ taps can be quite violent; I’ve had anything up to 3-foot pulls, which leave you wandering how the hell you didn’t hook it. But 9 times out of 10 they will come back and slip up.

But, once in a while, they won’t come back and the rig will be tangled!


An hour and 40minutes of constant taps, rattles and a lot of restraint, finally resulted in this beauty slipping up!

Differing values…

This subject can be a little distasteful to many, for that I make no apology. I’ve written it more to make those who find these values distasteful try to understand the mentality behind them.

I take great pleasure in catching Barbel of all sizes, but ultimately I want to catch the largest I can from the waters I fish. In some waters that may be 10lbs, but in others it may be 14, 15 or even 16lbs. The size of the fish, I keep in relation to where I’m fishing and what the perceived targets are.

The majority of the waters I find I head for nowadays all have the potential to, or already produced big fish (13lb+). On these types of waters, you normally find that one in every 3 or 4 fish is a double, so after a while you become accustomed to catching fish of this size and they become the ‘average’.

A 10lb or 11lb Barbel is a very nice fish, but no longer viewed as they once were. It is not what I am aiming for, more what I catch as a bye product along the way.

Mush the same as if you are fishing for that first double, 7 & 8lbers are great and very nice, but after a while you don’t take pictures of everyone!

I still rightly or wrongly judge how I’m fishing, by how many doubles I catch a season, I’m always hoping to improve the way I fish, so want to improve the amount of big fish I catch a season.

If I catch less, I’m not too disappointed; it just makes me more determined to better myself the next season.

I find its like, you aim to catch your first double, and then you aim to catch a few more.

Once you get to that point, you’d like to catch two in a session, when achieved, three would be rather nice.

Then wouldn’t four be great, now I’ve moved onto wouldn’t five be something special!

May never achieve it, but it’s nice to dream and have something to aim for. I’m also sure that if I’m ever lucky enough to achieve it, it won’t be long before I fancy six!

What I’m trying to get across I suppose is, I’m competitive with myself, the fish and a little bit greedy. On any give day that I’m fishing, I want to catch the most and the biggest. I’m very happy if whoever I’m fishing with catches a biggie, but for a minute or two I always wish I’d caught it. These times just make me more determined to catch one myself!

But, you will find most people who try to catch the largest or most, have similar motives.


This fish made me just as happy as a fish twice its size from my more normal haunts. It’s all relative to the venue and size of fish you hope to catch

I must be mad…

The time I year I always look forward to is winter and in particular Floods!

I love ‘em, always have, and always will!

The power and unpredictable nature is what I savour and any fish is normally hard one and well fought for. However, as we are all aware in winter, the river isn’t always flooded and lovely, warm and carrying colour.

They spend a fair amount of time low, clear, cold and pretty uninviting.

But, the fishing doesn’t have to suffer just because the river is a little bit out of sorts; simply a different approach is called for!

When the conditions are like this and the water temperature has dropped below 44f, I switch over to just fishing after dark and not starting out till late on.

Normally 2 to 3 hours after dark and then fishing hard for 3 to 4 hours. (Or longer if they’re feeding!)

When I arrive, I will have already made up my mind whether to sit it out by a holding area or by baiting lightly and roving. In these conditions I normally plump for a roving approach, as it keep me warmer!

The first thing I do is pick an area that offers the possibility to fish 3 or 4 swims in a couple of hundred-yard length of river. I’ll then (before setting up) wander along to each swim and put in 5 – 10 small pieces of paste in each one.

Wander back and have a slow tackle up and something to eat.

I’ll then fish each of the swims starting at the upstream most one for 15 minutes.

If after 15 minutes I’ve had an indication of fish in the swim, I’ll give it another 15 minutes. If at the end of that 15 a fish hasn’t resulted, I’ll move on. But, not before dropping another 4 or 5 bits of paste in.

If nothing has resulted by the time I get to the last swim I’ll go back to the gear, have a coffee, sandwich and fag!

If by chance something was stupid enough to have a go. I’ll return to that swim for another 15 minutes to try to catch the culprit of the earlier activity, if nothing appears, back to the gear for a coffee, sandwich…

After being suitably refreshed, I’ll repeat the same process all over again. If at the end no fish has resulted from this second fishing. I’ll pick the swim that gave the most activity or more likely the one that ‘feels’ the best and go and fish it static for an hour or until fed up and freezing!

The reality of these sessions is normally a Chub or two from one or more of the swims and the Barbel normally following on behind or not appearing at all.

Very often, a bite appears from either a Chub or a Barbel within the first 2 or 3 minutes of casting in.

In these conditions it is surprising just how many you can catch on nights when there is a thick frost on the ground and a freezing river in front of you. It won’t surprise you also, that it is a lot easier to blank as well on another night with identical conditions and water temperature!

The fish can be very fickle at times and not read the script and carefully prepared plans!

In the last couple of winters using this form of Roving/Static fishing, I have caught Barbel to just under 13lbs and in water temperatures as low as 37f (2c).

It can be very enjoyable and rewarding.

But, it can also be miserable at times and you’ll be asking yourself “What the hell am I doing here!!!!â€

A few highlights of this type of fishing have been catching a 12lb 10oz and a 12lb 12oz Barbel in consecutive cast when there was a thick frost on the ground and the landing net was frozen to the bank.

Catching 4 Barbel in 20 minutes from the same swim on the same bit of paste! 2 hours before that and for 3 hours afterwards I never had a tap!

And another time static fishing in air temperatures of –4c and a river temperature of 40f (4.4c, catching Chub of 5lb 6oz & 6lb 13oz, following them up with an 18lb 8oz Mirror carp and capping a magic night with a 9lb+ Barbel.

I choose to forget most of the nights I freeze me nuts off, get wet, lose a fish and miss the only pull of the night through sheer shock that anything would feed!


Cold water Barbelling, hard to beat when you get it right, best forgotten when it goes wrong!

Jon Callan

Thommo's bit follows ............

I thought that I would begin by throwing my hat into the ring and giving my opinion on some of my co authors writings, before moving onto a few other subjects.

First though, doesn’t it amaze you to think just how much we know about barbel, and how much we don’t. Consider all the above, that’s one hell of a lot of knowledge, but it’s only a fraction of what we collectively know so this letter could go on for years, and we’d still never have all the answers!!

Now, stop gazing at the moon, and carry on reading……..

Single Baits.

Andy writes about single bait fishing, and I have to agree with his findings, but would like to add that perhaps the lads were catching their barbel because they were placing the hookbait in the one spot the fish would definetly (almost then) move through, that being the channel which almost inevitably runs along the middle of the riverbed.

Many times you will find this depression somewhere along the riverbed and if boat traffic has anything to do with it, it will be near the middle. Its something I always bear in mind when casting out in a swim with little in the way of features above the water, and no visible sign on the water of features beneath the surface. Somewhere in that swim is a feature, and if there is no obvious sign of one, then try a bait down the middle, or against the shelf.


I’ve been confidently using fluorocarbon hooklengths for some time now, and cannot see me changing to anything else. Although I also used Kryston’s mantis last winter, ESP Ghost was my number one hooklink. I’m more than happy with it in 10lb bs, and find it forms a strong knotless knot, although I don’t extend it as a hair, but use a hair braid trapped under the coils.


Even on the rocky Wye, it stands up to some considerable punishment and I’ve landed fish to 9lbs on a frayed hooklink before now. So I’ll be sticking with it thankyou very much.


I recast quite regularly, usually two or three times an hour, as I like to keep a trickle of bait going in and use pva bags on the hook. I have found this season, that the fish in certain areas have responded positively to recasting, and have taken quite a few fish just after the bag would have melted.

I do wonder if they are hitting the pile of feed around the hook as opposed to the hookbait itself, and being hooked as they hoover it all up. Whatever happens, its certainly works at the moment so I’ll continue doing it until the barbel stop responding, and then I’ll change to another method, such as pva stringers, feeders or the method.

Getting them out.

Rarely do I fish swims that provide access to the water that is difficult. Mainly due to the fact that most stretches of the Wye, my usual river present their own access problems with very steep banks, which when the river is low you would need a drop net to fish from!


Can you think of a more beautiful place to fish in? The Lower Wye in full summer.

The other swims are usually well known and easy to fish from, but the beauty of the Wye is that due to the lack of pressure you can normally get into swims that are both easy to fish from and contain catchable fish.

Now and again I will fish a swim that is nigh on impossible to get into. These swims undoubtedly will contain brilliant fish holding features but present their own set of problems in simply getting down to the river. Twenty metres of a good quality nautical ‘rope’ which is waterproof and allows a certain amount of stretch can be the difference between catching and blanking in these swims. Mind you, I have been known to take a dip and lose a spade once in a while!


After I started fishing, I went back to the village pond day after day throughout those magical warm summer holidays. My father introduced me to the sport and I never looked back. At first just catching fish was enough to make sure I returned for more. The summer’s evenings watching carp in the shady corners drifting under the lily pads did more to fire my imagination than anything else. I even had a go at catching them on floating breadcrust, and despite hooking up with them on several occasions the woefully inadequate tackle would never give me more than a few seconds of contact with one of those dark torpedo shaped wildies, which quite literally would tear off like a torpedo looking for a target.

I realised that I would always want to catch larger fish than the roach and rudd that inhabited the pond in abundance. A chance meeting with a Perch of almost 4lbs, continued to fire the imagination of a small boy, who didn’t realise just how big a fish he had caught back then!

I moved onto rivers, the Gt.Ouse at Kempston being my local stretch, and there I began to learn real watercraft skills and soon could catch chub with the best of them.

I continued fishing after joining the army and enjoyed many hours fishing the River Aller in Germany tackling the vast Bream shoals there, and then when I came back to the UK after many years away I found the one fish I had been searching for since that very first day.

Barbel. If there is one fish that lends itself to the spirit of angling it has to be the barbel. Although I have spent a lot of time pursuing carp, it was always the barbel that would draw me back to my senses. Simply put, you can only catch Barbel on rivers ( or so it should be), and the one place that is full of all the joys of angling has to be a river. Constantly changing moods, courses and conditions. A river gives the biggest challenge to an angler and the chance of catching a barbel too.

Barbel have the knack of being so predictably unpredictable. Just when you think you’ve got them sussed, the river changes, or the barbel decide they are making it too easy for you and all the plans go out the window.

Barbel offer a challenge to any thinking angler (and those who don’t) that is unmatched by any other fish. They also fight like tigers and look so perfect when held in the smiling anglers arms. You’d think they were made for the job!

As you see, I put a lot of emphasis on the atmospherics and ambience of going fishing. Its not just about catching the fish, but about thinking my way around problems, learning rivercraft, accepting the challenge of the constantly changing environment, and most importantly being there.

I do hanker after big barbel, but doubt I will ever see anything so large it would threaten our records. The rivers I fish now don’t contain fish of that size, but they do offer large doubles that I have yet to catch, but will one day, that I am confident of. Meantime, whilst I’m working through that particular conundrum, I’ll endeavour to keep reaching my goals I set for myself along the Way.

This year for instance I’m hoping, nay praying, that I will take a barbel in each month of the season. I came so close last season, but feel that I can achieve it this time round. If I happen to make one of those fish a double then all’s well and good.


9lbs 7ozs. My seasons best to date. Taken after breaking a rod, going home, watching the start of the rugby world cup, going back out with my another rod and catching within an hour of returning.

And friends.

Making and having good friends is also important to me. I’m fortunate enough to have several mates that I can enjoy catching barbel with. We all share the same values regarding the fish we cherish and understand how important our quarry is to each other. I have good memories of helping weigh, photograph and fuss over some beautiful barbel that my friends have caught. Sometimes its almost as good as catching them myself….


Now that’s one hell of a motley crew. I’m sure I’ve seen some of these faces on the wanted borads at work…..!


Like Jon, I’ve learnt to love flood conditions, and barbelling in the winter in general. Floods are part and parcel of barbel fishing and present so many opportunities which otherwise wouldn’t be there in normal low water conditions.

Pegs that you would find yourself sitting in during the summer months become swims when the river rises, salmon croys which you sunned yourself on in august become havens for barbel seeking refuge from the main current.

I tend though to find the features on the inside and fish to them, these include crease swims created by trees, rocks and the bankside. These features are readily available on the Wye, which in common with the Severn can change overnight from a sedate, gliding river into a mass of dirty turbulent floodwater that is often eight or nine feet higher than the previous day, and still rising.

Once you learn to cope with these conditions, and it really is a case of mind over matter, you’ll open up a whole new angle (pun intended!) to your barbel fishing. This subject will no doubt be covered by a barbel angler who is far more experienced and proficient at floodwater fishing than I, so I will simply say learn to read the flooded river as you learnt to read the summer one, adjust your methods to suit the conditions and be positive. Barbel are built to hug the riverbed and will do so in all conditions. If you can find that channel and hold bottom then you’ll catch barbel, just as you would in summer.


This swim is usually fished from alongside the trees! Creates a great crease though!!

I would like to finish by posing a few questions. I think each contributor could do this at the end of their article. It will give the next author a head start and lead them nicely into all things barbel. So if Andy agrees then you’ll read this, if not my article will have ended rather abruptly!!

Barbel and their feeding habits.

How do barbel find food (and just as importantly, our bait) in coloured conditions?

I would tend to think they use taste and smell rather like felines or canines rather than sight. Something to do with olfactory senses I’ve read somewhere….

Do they actively seek food items during floods, or wait for them to wash past? Do they still patrol in the same manner they do in summer conditions, or just find a comfy spot and remain in it until forced to move by hunger or fear?


Why do they seem to prefer spicy or strong flavours? Do you choose short term high flavours or long term subtle tasting bait?

My preference is for long term minimal dosage flavours, except when chucking out a large lump of hot ‘n’ spicy luncheon meat…..


What test curve and action do you use, and why?

I favour an Insight Multi spec 12’ progressive actioned rod for the majority of my barbelling, as a it allows bites to be detected on a sensitive tip, but gives me extra power in the butt section for bullying fish out when I need to and for chucking heavy baits out on big rivers. This rod gives me 3 tips and 3 choices of test curve : 1.5lbs quiver, 1.75lbs, & 2lbs.

I also have a Free Spirit Barbel Tamer Stepped up rod, which is a more through actioned rod for the smaller rivers and for low clear conditions. It doubles up nicely as a braid and centrepin outfit too as it gives the required softness when using this set-up for good direct control of a barbel, and again gives a quiver tip and avon top, both at 1.75lbs TC.

Paul Thompson
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