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Barbel on the pole!

A serious contender in match weights and guaranteed pleasure for everyone, the biography of the barbel now sees them being written into our commercial attack.

Fishery owners definitely see the value in them: plenty of bites and good sport as the temperature starts to fall.

Middy and Bag ‘em Matchbaits-sponsored Ashley Clements has certainly been enjoying what’s on offer at Forest Lane Fisheries near York – 100lb-plus match-winning bags that include a lot of barbel, carp and chub, and this sets the scene for some keenly contested battles.

The ‘barbel in stillwaters’ debate has been running for 20 years now since the early pioneers Cudmore and Makins fisheries began introducing them. Practically it works, as demonstrated by healthy growth rates, which is the real test, and also of note is that the barbel actually only needs two per cent of its body weight in food per day compared to five per cent for carp, which is in contrast to what we expect when judged by their, at times, very aggressive feeding.


Nurture every swim and the rewards will come.


A quick look at their visual condition is also a good indicator, and three years down the line at Forest Lane these fish are looking superb. Should a river fish be stocked into stillwaters? Well, when you actually analyse the situation you find they are reared in ponds anyway. Debatable or not, the barbel make for a very enjoyable day’s fishing and they didn’t disappoint today.

Ash’s visits to Forest Lane are worthy of analysis: three visits, two firsts and a second in his matches. That’s an impressive opening account, so an insight into his approach is keenly anticipated.

Today Ash is on The Furlong, a strip lake 13 metres wide and consisting of 36 pegs with margins and far bank sloping off to six feet at the deepest.

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The island action was frantic!


His plan is predominantly barbel-based although these tactics will nearly always bag the carp as well, and the silver lining is bites, bites, and bites all through the winter, with just a little curtailment in feeding regimes.

The session begins at the bottom of the near shelf, top two plus two and loose feeding maggots by hand. Interestingly it’s the only line he feeds by hand. Maggots are fed with the emphasis being a little more, less often! Keep the fish on the bottom and don’t make things difficult with little and often feeding and have the fish coming off the bottom – the barbel is built for bottom feeding, a natural hoover!

Hook bait is double maggot, which offers a bigger target and better bites are the order of the day. The rig for this initial line is a Middy Styrex Series 5 4x14 on Middy Lo-Viz 0.16mm line with a bulk of Styls set just above a 4in hooklength of 0.12mm finished with a good durable hook, the new Middy KM-4 size 20 being perfect for the demands of this busy session.

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A small float with a visible bristle is perfect.


Ash stays on this line until he feels it slipping away and the stamp of fish is either consistently on the small side or the carp are conspicuous by their absence; after all; it would be difficult to win a match with barbel alone, at least at the moment!

He moves off this initial line to demonstrate his Forest Lane far-bank tactics, which today certainly delivered in entertainment and really bulked out his catch, in particular adding those bonus carp. Is a carp really now a bonus on commercials?

The far-bank line is fished at 13 metres on the edge of the sedges, and get ready for some serious action because this venue is full of fish. This can bring its own inherent problems when trying to put together a match-winning weight. Foul hookers and your hook bait being blown all over the place are the main offenders to spoil the day.

Feeding therefore is via a Kinder pot and the key here is to counter the above; feed after hooking a fish and avoid the pitfalls of this feeding frenzy. Employing this feeding regime allows you to cleanly hook fish and in conjunction with relatively soft elastic the fish will power away, and a smooth rhythm soon evolves, again a prerequisite for building that winning weight.

The first rig here is a Middy Styrex Series 1 4x10 with a bulk just above the hooklength, nothing complicated! Ash opts for casters on this far-bank line, which he believes is the best option to capitalise on the barbel and also is the best option for chub, which are also well stocked here and certainly worth catching. The other bonus of the caster is the noise they create when entering the water, an added attractant.

Now, within a short space of time carp put in an appearance and a quick change to a second rig for this long line – a polyball and double caster fished eight inches deep – soon bags a few shallow carp but they aren’t finding the net with the same regularity as the barbel, and to demonstrate the abundance of the barbel they are even turning up shallow on this polyball rig. Although the carp are evident in the swim you need to be conscious of how much you commit to their pursuit if it’s detrimental to the flow of fish finding your keepnet.

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Casters – five-star dining for barbel.


Elastic choice is Middy 4-8 Hollow Orange to facilitate this style and allow you to quickly ship back to the top kit, where the pressure can be applied through the puller kit. Although the elastic is soft the trend for short top kits allows just the right amount of elastic and fish are also netted much quicker as they surface much closer as well.

A good tip here in a match situation is to use this time to look round and take stock of what’s happening around you and hopefully compare your progress.

To maintain his catch rate and really put in an express finish Ash primes his margin line, which can be made ready at short notice with a good large pot of maggots halfway down the shelf in two-and-a-half feet of water, the optimum depth. A move to this line results in mainly barbel and again feeding after hooking really is the recipe for success. Rig choice is a 4x12 Middy Carp Grey series 1, bulk shotted just above the hooklength and double maggot hook bait. With this line now all barbel – and they are keen to feed today – there is no need to even strike, just wait for your elastic to rip out, feed, net and repeat… easy! Well, Ash makes it look easy but it takes practice and if you are going to win matches you’ve just got to make it look easier than everyone else!

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Simple is always best.


Today’s session results in over 70lb of barbel and chub and with the additional carp Ash has bagged he has well over 100lb, and showed what superb fishing is on offer when barbel and chub are the main quarry ahead of the carp, and definitely essential to a match-winning bag. Although today has demonstrated some very viable options it’s important to gauge your own match progress, know what each line can deliver and build up that experience of knowing when to change. Plenty of practice prevails and plenty of bites can only contribute!

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It’s not every session that you come across a net of fish like this!


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