“A COMMON tactic when targeting barbel is to cast out a big, single hookbait to a likely-looking area and wait for the rod to wrap round. While this will work, I prefer to cast regularly, give the fish some bait, and really attack the swim.
“It’s an approach that recently produced the best fish I’ve ever caught – a 14lb 9oz barbel from the River Don. This is a record for the venue, and came as part of a haul including 22 other fish to 12lb 5oz.
“As well as targeting specimen fish, I’m also a match angler, the highlight of my career being victory in the £25,000 Parkdean Masters. Things I’ve learned from that side of my fishing have influenced my river tactics, and while my approach isn’t what you’d call relaxing, by working the swim, you can reap the rewards.
“This was the case on my trip to the Don – a river I’ve fished since I was six years old. It was running low and clear, not exactly ideal for winter barbel, but the air temperature was mild so I knew there might be the chance of a bite or two.
“The swim I selected was a very snaggy one that most anglers avoid, but one that’s often full of fish. Knowing the stretch so well, I also knew where the clear runs were, so I could avoid any potential problems with the snags.
“I fished two rods, one with a boilie hookbait, and the other with maggots – a bait I don’t think you can beat for winter barbel. I used a 2oz maggot feeder on this rod, a 3ft hooklink, and a size 10 hook. Nuisance fish can be a problem when you’re using maggots, but by not hooking them directly, and instead cramming eight grubs on to a hair-rigged maggot clip, the smaller fish find it hard to pick up the rig.
“It’s a fairly standard set-up, but it’s the way you fish it that matters. Rather than casting out and waiting for the rod to be dragged in, the most I’ll ever leave it is 20 minutes, and I’ll do that right through the night. With the swim being so snaggy, I’m constantly sat by the rods, ready to get straight on any fish I hook.
“It’s intense fishing, and I find that if I’m tired and slacking off, my catch rate drops right off too. It shows just how important it is to keep the feed going in, and on this trip, I got through 16 pints of maggots over two nights and was constantly boshing the feeder in.
“It worked the fish into a frenzy, and on the first night I had 16 barbel! It was manic, with the rod hammering round seconds after casting on several occasions.
“I held both the two previous barbel records on the Don, and when I hooked the 14-pounder, I knew it was something special. Rather than tear off downstream, it slowly powered upstream, plodding about and staying deep.
“As soon as I saw the fish the adrenaline started flowing. I called my dad, who was fortunately awake, and he drove straight down the motorway to take some pictures.
“It was my best session to date, and attacking the swim with the maggot feeder was the key to success. I never even had a bite on the boilie rod!
“So, if you’ve got your heart set on big winter barbel, get yourself a load of maggots and work the swim properly by repeatedly casting – the results should come!”