Barbel - (Barbus barbus)

As you can see from the picture, barbel have evolved well to life in rivers, with a streamlined low profile which enables them to seek out food along the river bed. They are typically golden in colour along their flanks, with a pale underside, and have a large coral-pink caudal fin which gives the barbel it's power.

Probably the easiest way to identify a barbel is by its barbules around its mouth. Barbel have four barbules and these allow the fish to taste and touch its way across the river bed in order to locate it's natural food source amongst the gravel and silt.


Barbel spawn between the months of May and July, their spawning grounds tend to be in shallow areas of water with a gravel bottom.

During spawning, the female will create a small channel in the river bed where she will lay her eggs and allow males to move in and fertilize them. Once fertilised the female will cover her eggs with a fine layer of gravel and leaves the young barbel to form within their egg sacs - These young barbel will usually hatch within a few weeks and will begin to feed on the tiny aquatic life that can be found amongst the gravel.

Young barbel reach sexual maturity within 3-4 years for males and 5-8 years for females. Distinguishing between the sexes is particularly difficult with barbel, with a general indicator being size - the females grow much larger than their male counterparts.

Natural Diet & Common Baits

The natural diet of barbel consists of small invertebrates and freshwater shrimps which are found amongst the gravel on the river bed. In order to mimic this, many anglers employ the use of particle baits to hold barbel in an area, with hemp, tares & sweetcorn being the popular choice for loose offerings.

Barbel have an impeccable sense of smell and they rely on this more so in the hours of darkness, so it's always worth trying fragrant baits such as luncheon meat or Halibut pellets during night trips.

Bread, boilies, casters, maggots & worms have all accounted for barbel, so make sure you have a few change baits to hand if your targeting this powerful river fish.


Location of Barbel on rivers is the key to success, which can seem daunting at first, especially as barbel can have a large patrol range, sometimes up to 7 or 8km. However, there are a few good indicators that barbel might be in an area, and you should always be on the lookout for any highly oxygenated water - weir pools and the ends of rapids are good examples of water that is packed with oxygen that barbel love.

Another indicator which cannot be ignored is colloquial known as streamer weed (Ranunculus fluitans), this underwater plant can be identified by its long green tails. Barbel often travel in between these beds of plants looking for small crustaceans in the gravel and silt, so always bear it in mind when looking for a barbel swim.

The clear channels inbetween the weed make this a great barbel swim

Tackle & Tips

  • Barbel are tremendously powerful fish, which means you need the right tackle to fish for barbel. For starters you need to use a strong rod - A rod with a test curve of 1.75lb is considered a good strength, If you intend to use a feeder rod, make sure it's rated as being "heavy."

  • A decent reel with a suitable drag system can certainly help when barbel fishing, as can a "baitrunner" - Barbel have been known to pull a few rods in ! This is due to their sometimes savage lunge bites - So make sure your rod is attended to at all times.

  • You will also need strong line, 8lb is considered the minimum breaking strain to use whilst barbel fishing, with many anglers opting for larger breaking strains.

  • Hook size is dependent on the size of your intended quarry. Sizes between 4 & 10 are generally used to target larger fish, with sizes between 10 & 14 being the most commonly used for smaller sized barbel fishing.

  • There are many methods an angler can employ when targeting barbel, these range from fishing hard on the bottom with a leger/swimfeeder or by trundling a bait naturally along the bottom with a float.

  • Regular, accurate loose feeding is the key to getting barbel feeding - hemp, casters & pellets are ideal particle baits for this job.

  • Whilst barbel are powerful fish, the battle between fish and angler can sometimes leave the fish a little exhausted. Prior to unhooking, it's wise to rest the barbel in your landing net to give it the chance to catch its breath, especially if its been a prolonged fight. After unhooking, always ensure a barbel has made a full recovery in the water before you finally release the fish. To do this you can rest it within your landing net in the water or cradle the fish with your hands & keep it under water with its head facing upstream into the current, this will allow the fish to recover its oxygen levels. Never release a fish until it begins to move off under its own steam.