For some reason floodwater seems to stump more river anglers than the cold, clear and frosty conditions I looked at in the first part of this two-part blog and that, to me is a mystery as flood conditions – so long as they are the ‘right’ type of flood conditions are the very best of times to be out barbel fishing – it’s when the whackers come out to play!
I guess the problem is that in cold conditions most people catch the odd chub, perch, pike or dace (and certainly grayling) but in times of flood they read about how marvellous the conditions are (often written by the likes of me) and yet they sit there in what the books and features say should be ‘perfect’ conditions and blank…time and time again.
I ought to start off by explaining what I meant in the first paragraph by the ‘right’ type of flood. In just the same way as the train operating companies have the wrong type of snow, or the wrong sort of leaf so it is with the rivers and a flood caused by snowmelt is pretty much a total waste of time. Melted snow not only drops the water temperature markedly but also carries with it any mineral salts which may have been applied to roads. The result is a bank-high, cold, grey, salty ‘soup’ which makes even grayling tricky to catch!
The right type of floodwater is bank high, or even over the banks, but it is warm (preferably following a cold spell) with a dark green to cocoa colour – and usually full of feeding barbel. So why do so many anglers struggle when they fish conditions which should be ‘perfect’? Basically I think it comes down to three prime factors, and I’m going to take a quick look at all of them.
Have you ever sat beside a flooded river, ‘perfect’ colour and with what should be a ‘perfect’ temperature – say 48F – and yet not had a bite? Sound familiar?
The problem is usually one of timing and temperature. Barbel start to feed as soon as the water starts to rise, colour and warm, indeed I’ve got a more than a strong hunch that they actually start to feed on the pressure drop that precedes the rising and warming water – and the biggest fish are often those that switch on first.
To get the best from a rising river I’m afraid you need to be out there in the torrential rain with your baits in position as the water is on the up and as far as water temperature is concerned I’d much sooner be on a river that was 42F and rising than 48F and cooling – it’s all about trends.
By the time most barbel anglers reckon the river looks OK to fish it is usually all over bar the shouting, yes you can pick up the odd fish but ‘most’ of the barbel in any given river are usually already stuffed to the gills and the water temperature has stabilised or is beginning to drop off by the time ‘most’ anglers start to fish for them. Windows of opportunity, during the winter in particular, are so very small that you just have to drop everything and go as soon as you get a hint it’s going to happen!
Swim choice seems to throw a lot of anglers too and I see an awful lot of people fishing slacks and eddies in floods. Yes, you can usually hold bottom nicely in such areas but you won’t catch a lot because the barbel just aren’t there!
Barbel are perfectly adapted to holding station in the fastest water and you have to realise that, due to water resistance, the speed of the current on the actual river bed is much slower than what you actually see on the surface. Naturally nomadic fish aside most barbel will only move if they have to, and then only as far as they need in order to feel ‘comfortable’ during even the very worst of flooding – and that usually only means a few metres away from where you would normally expect to find them in the winter.
Look for steady, ‘smooth’ water of brisk walking pace as near to where you would normally expect to get a bite – and that’s where they will be. Steady water and creases below bends and behind obstructions are well worth a look too.
I caused a bit of an uproar in the press a few years ago when I published this image of a feeder I used to fish a flooded River Loddon – with all of the added weights it came in at some 12oz – almost 14oz by the time I had packed the feeder.
Most people still cannot get their heads around the idea that a 6, 8, 10 or even 12oz lead that is only just holding bottom in a flood is fishing just as sensitively as a single shot link leger that is only just holding bottom in a gentle trickle of water.
You use enough weigh to hold bottom where you need to fish no matter how much that is – end of story!
To help hold bottom rods high and a huge loop of slack line are essential and a couple of rubber float stops a metre above your lead or feeder will help to keep and drifting weed and debris from snagging your end tackle. Yes your rod may well be bent double at times but if you can hold for a few minutes in such conditions then you are holding long enough to catch.
To finish off a few words of warning.
Flooded rivers can be very dangerous places so do be sensible, particularly in extreme conditions. Only fish sections you are familiar with, carry a phone (in a waterproof sleeve) and a good head torch, whenever possible fish with a friend – or let people know where you are and when you will be back, carry a rope and spike if you are likely to fish steep banks (I very nearly got stranded on the River Severn once…never again!) and use your landing net pole to test areas of flooded bank in front of you. Be safe, no barbel is worth risking your life for.