The beginning of the river season can be a real pain!

The main problem, at least as far as barbel fishing is concerned, is that many of the fish are not properly out of ‘spawning mode’ come June 16 and rather than being distributed throughout the river in their usual holding areas many of the fish are still in and around the spawning sites and, depending upon conditions, it can take days or even weeks for them to slowly filter back to ‘normal’.

This year the opening fortnight was not just cool for the time of year, but rather wet as well (you may have noticed), and on a couple of my local rivers the barbel are still not quite back to where they should be at this stage of the season and as such they are a little harder than usual to locate and to catch.

When the barbel are a bit slow during opening fortnight salvation usually comes in the shape of the chub which, spawning earlier than barbel, are usually on or around the shallows cleaning off. Of course chub and dirty floodwater are uneasy bedfellows and this year even they were not really up for it at the start.

Flaming June indeed!

Nature usually has a way of working things out though and as I write in early July the fishing, on the southern rivers I fish, is beginning to sort itself out and it is pleasing to see a lot of debris has been flushed through and the water is high, pushing at a decent pace and beginning to reach more appropriate temperatures for the time of year.

For most of my early season barbel fishing I tend to rely on particles – maggots and casters in particular – for my daylight fishing; only really moving onto boilies and paste for after-dark work or a little later in the season. This year I had to make an exception due to the conditions and it is only now I’m beginning to get the maggots out again.

Maggot fishing for barbel does seem to confuse a lot of people but it is simple if you get three basic principles sorted and for this blog I’m going to take a quick look at how I approach it.

1. Feeding

Feeding really is the key to success with maggots and over the years I’ve found it pays to bait and wait; introducing maggots steadily over a long period of time before actually starting to fish. This pulls fish into your swim, gets them competing and will, eventually, build up a pre-occupation which makes it possible to not just catch one or maybe two fish but every fish in the shoal.

Regular re-casting with a big feeder, without a hooklength attached, is the simplest approach but be accurate or you could end up with barbel all over the river, not just in front of you where you want them.

2. Rig

Unlike maggot fishing for chub where you need to keep your hooklength as short as possible for barbel you need to employ a long hooklength for best success. How long will depend upon the river and the feeding situation on the day but I tend to start with about a metre of 10lb fluorocarbon to a size 10 or 12 hook.

3. Bait

Well maggots of course – and always hair-rigged – but the edge is the addition of one or two Enterprise Tackle imitation maggots (floating) which not only neutralise the weight of the hook but also ensure you have a hook bait which resists the attention of the bait robbing minnows, bleak, dace and gudgeon which are so prevalent at this time of year. They are pretty bullet proof when it comes to crayfish too and my local rivers are full of the critters.

The long range forecast seems to suggest we are in for an unsettled July as well but there are barbel out there to be caught – and it should get easier as the month progresses!