There's nothing more exciting than watching your rod double over as a barbel picks up your hookbait and powers off into the river. The incredibly hard fighting species reside in a huge number of rivers around the country and provide lots of angler's good sport throughout the year. Catching barbel can be easy too. Read on as river ace Rob Thompson reveals his thoughts on tactics and baits for big beards!

Watch The Weather

Keeping a close eye on the weather and the river conditions will increase your chances of catching a fish. Try to time your session to coincide with the river starting to drop from its peak height, that way there is less rubbish in the water to catch on your lines and pull your rigs out of position. There's lots of monitoring stations positioned along lots of rivers with the information on levels readily available to be viewed online. By keeping an eye on these I can virtually make the decision to go fishing or not from the comfort of my living room!

Read the River

As with any type of fishing that you do, locating the fish before you start fishing in key to you catching. You need to find some fish or areas that will hold fish.  Areas that hold barbel in the warmer months include obstructions in the water, overhanging trees, and creases in the river will all be worth targeting. If a swim holds more than one of those that would be my starting point. Spend time walking the river and speaking to anglers that fish the stretch. Often these will lead you to some likely swims that hold fish.

Overhanging trees are a magnet for fish and by fishing upstream of them you can pull the fish up to your bait with the smell of your bait.

Venues with a larger stock of barbel will naturally give you a better chance of catching one. If you are after a large fish on a river with a low stock of barbel you should prepare yourself for a few blank sessions!

Test your tackle

Any barbel fishing will really test your fishing tackle. These strong, hard-fighting fish can really pull back, and they also like to live around rocks, branches and other obstructions that can cause all manner of problems for anglers. For this reason you need to use gear that will allow you to safely extract the fish from their home. There's no point in fishing light; floodwater, heavy leads and strong fish will make light work of inadequate tackle leaving you with your head in your hands having just lost the fish of your dreams.

I use 2lb t/c Korum Barbel Rods, especially when the water is high, coupled with a 6000 Free Spin reel loaded with 12lb Xpert reel line. You need a main line that is tough and has a high abrasion resistance. Otherwise you could get cut off by an underwater obstacle.

You don't need complicated rigs when barbel fishing. Unfortunately for the barbel the shape of their mouth lends them perfectly to not coming off! They only need to sniff your hookbait and you can hook them. A simple running rig using a Running Rig Kit to stop tangles and 3ft hooklink of Xpert Power Braid finishes off the rig. A size 8 Xpert Specimen connected using a knotless knot finishes off the rig.

I'll chose the lead size dependant on the flow where I am fishing. Most often I'll use between 2oz and 4oz, but don't be afraid to go higher if you need it. I like to use Korum K-Grip leads, not only do they hold the bottom well, they also allow you to mould paste into the lead for added attraction in the swim – an important factor in high, coloured water.

Barbel Baits

Picking a bait with lots of smell and flavour leaking into the river is guaranteed to increase your chances of bagging a barbel. The smell travelling off downstream will help to pull fish upstream and into you hookbait.

A big bed of bait will sometimes put fish off and move them out of your swim. What i'm looking to create is maximum attraction – minimum feed.

I like to use different baits on my two rods. That might just be the difference between catching a barbel and not! For one rod I've chosen to use a Korum Paste Cage. I've moulded a ball of smelly paste around this. I make my paste using a shortcrust pastry mix. To this I add plenty of Code Red bag mix and Code Red glug. Along with the Code Reg glug I introduce a good squirt of Hemp and Cheesy Garlic oil. All of these ingredients have a very strong smell.

On my second rod I've opted to use a boilie hookbait. A Code Red boilie tipped with a semi-buoyant Pineapple Bandum is the hookbait of choice. Fish are very inquisitive and with other fishing, such as big bream or big carp many anglers use a bright bait. I like to do this with barbel too. If I want to add some paste to the rig, it also gives more grip for the soft paste. Onto this rod i'll attach a PVA bag of extremely smelly Cheesy Garlic Halibut Pellets and a couple of crushed Code Red boilies.

I've got loads of confidence using these baits, and if there's a barbel nearby it's sure to pick up one of my hookbaits. Get out there and catch a winter barbel!