Barbel are fish belonging to the Cyprinidae family and to the genus Barbus, which holds many species found all over Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. One of the most widespread species of barbel is the common barbel (Barbus barbus). In this post, we’re going to point out the most important aspects for catching this fish on the line, where to find it, what are the best weather conditions for its fishing, the best gear, and the best baits for it.
The Common Barbel – Habitat And Diet
The common barbel are typically river fish but can adapt to still waters as well. They prefer fast-flowing rivers with gravel bottoms, but can also be found in large, slow-flowing rivers. They normally don’t form large schools, but they do stick together in small groups. So, if you caught one in a certain spot, there’s a high chance you’ll catch a few others. Also, especially in large river basins, they often travel long distances in short periods of time, in search of food or spawning grounds. For spawning, they usually move upstreams or in shallow, highly oxygenated water.
Barbel are bottom-feeders. They have down-oriented mouths equipped with small barbels (thus the name) similar to carp. The diet of adult barbel consists of a wide variety of benthic organisms such as insect larvae, small crustaceans, and mollusks which they dig out from the river bed.
In terms of feeding habits, they’re mostly nocturnal. At night, they leave their hiding places and move more, rummaging through the river bed for food. During daytime, they usually retreat in deep water, near banksides or abrupt shores with a lot of vegetation, hiding under tree roots, submerged trees, large rocks, etc. Once they found a hiding place, they usually sit there with their heads against the current and occasionally grab whatever the current brings.
The Best Fishing Conditions For Barbel
First of all, common barbel typically likes cold water. One of the reasons for it is that it prefers high levels of oxygen in the water. So, as the water temperature rises, the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water decreases.
This being said, in winter and spring (or differently put, in cold weather) barbel bites fairly decently at temperatures around 42°F (5.5°C), or slightly above. This time of the year, it’s best to look for this fish in parts of the river where the water temperature is slowly increasing, or at least remains constant. In other words, big river bends with slow currents and deep water are perfect.
During summer (or during hot weather) barbels move in places with fast currents. That’s because fast-moving water holds higher levels of oxygen. This being said, some of the best spots to look for barbel during summer are deep long holes or river channels, right after rapids. That’s where they’ll be during the day. At night, they will leave the deeper sections and move into the currents, or in shallows, foraging for food. Tributary creeks with cold, fast-flowing water are also great places for barbel fishing in the hot summer months.
Barometric pressure affects the movement of plankton and other microorganisms up or down in the water column. Typically, fish and other vertebrates that feed on them will follow their movement. Barbel feed mostly on benthic organisms (bottom dwellers), and regardless of the pressure, those will still be on the bottom. Thus, barometric pressure doesn’t affect these fish directly. Regardless if pressure increases or decreases, you should still be able to catch barbel if other fishing conditions are right (i.e. water temperature, wind, etc).
Rain usually affects barbel fishing positively. Even if it has been raining for a couple of days, water levels are high or increasing, and the main basin has received a fair amount of muddy water from tributary streams, barbel will continue to feed. That’s because they’re equipped with an excellent apparatus for feeding in such conditions (the barbels and a highly sensitive mouth). Plus, floods also bring the water temperature levels down which is great for barbel, especially during summer.
On the other hand, wind can affect barbel fishing both positively and negatively. For example, especially in the winter months, if cold northerly or easterly winds are blowing, barbel fishing won’t be productive. In the same winter months, a few days of warmer southerly winds will increase the water temperature just by a few degrees which can matter a lot and lead to great barbel fishing.
Conversely, in the summer when the water temperatures are high, colder winds and multiple overcast days can bring water temperatures down, which favors barbel fishing.
Fishing Methods, Tackle, And Baits for Barbel
In Europe, anglers employ different fishing methods for barbel. But the most common ones are still fishing, fly fishing, jigging, and trotting with float rigs.
Still-fishing is the most common method. It doesn’t require gear as heavy as for carp or wels catfish. The rigs typically consist of a heavy sinker to keep the bait on or close to the bottom, with 1-2 hooks, and various natural baits or boilies. Using a feeder with aromatic baits, maggots, etc. inside instead of a typical sinker is also popular.
Fly fishing is best done in small fast creeks or in shallow clear waters during May / June when barbel migrate to spawn. In deeper waters, barbels can still be caught on the fly by using nymph flies, or other flies tipped with a split shot. For barbel fly fishing, a wide landing net and polarized sunglasses can make quite a difference.
Catching barbel on a jig can be a lot of fun. However, for jigging, natural baits such as worms, leeches, or even cut bait, work usually better than artificials.
Trotting is a method of fishing that requires a float with a weighted line that moves the hook with the bait just above the bottom. Evidently, depending on various factors such as currents, depth, and vegetation, the trotting setup may require different gear.
As a general idea, for barbel you’ll need a rod between 1.75 – 2 lbs test curve, 10-12 ft. long. Here are a few examples:
- Daiwa Basia X45 12′ 1.75 lbs
- Daiwa POWERMESH 12′ 1.75 lbs
- Free Spirit CTX 12′ 1.75 lbs
For fly fishing, it’s best to use a shorter rod, at around 9 – 9.6 ft. for better line control, with a 5 – 6 wt. tip flex.
For barbel fishing, a spinning reel within the 4000 – 6000 range should do, with gear ratios between 4.6:1 and 5.1:1. Here are a few examples:
For fly fishing, you’ll need a reel with a good clutch that will balance your rod properly. And since you’ll be working with 5-6 wt. rod, pair it with a reel that can accommodate fly line weights between 4-6. Here are a few pointers:
In terms of fishing line, either monofilament, braided, or full fluorocarbon can work for barbel. You’ll need it, though, in a 10 – 14 lbs test range, preferably a 12 lbs test. As leader, fluorocarbon works best. And finally, if you’re going with fly gear, you’ll need 4-6 wt. as your main line.
Barbel aren’t predatory fish, like walleye, pike, or catfish, so don’t have super large mouths. Thus, you won’t need super large hooks for them. But nonetheless, a certain bait size calls for a certain hook size. In general, the hook range for barbel fishing is between #4 and #14. The best hook types are octopus hooks; circle hooks work as well. If you’re fishing with boilies, curved shank hooks are the best. And finally, if you’re using large worms, bait holder hooks may offer the possibility of a better presentation.
Baits and lures
Barbel can be caught on a wide variety of baits. In general, luncheon squares, high-protein pellets (such as halibut pellets), as well as fruit-flavored boilies are some of the best and some of the most widely used by anglers. In turbid waters, pellets and boilies produce better results if enhanced with extra flavor. Cut bait, as in small pieces of fish, especially oceanic fish, works too.
Of course, redworms, lobworms, maggots, and other insect larvae, leeches, and small slugs, are always great. If the swim has fish and they’re feeding, they’ll definitely take them. Also, especially if trotting, you can occasionally hook barbel on insects like grasshoppers or small locusts when fishing for chub.
For fly fishing, jig flies that imitate nymphs are the best for barbel fishing. Flies like Perdigon, Peeping Caddis, San Juan worms, or Squirmy Wormies usually produce great results.
And finally, if you prefer jigging, you’ll need small jig heads tipped with either small curly-tailed worms or finesse worms. However, tipping the jighead with either a worm, a leech, or maggots usually brings considerably better results.