No salmon? No problem - bring on the barbel

You won't catch many salmon in the Rother or the Arun, although a dead salmon was reported a while ago by someone walking their dog at Pulborough, writes Roger Poole of Petworth and Bognor Angling Club.

Tuesday, 29th November 2016, 2:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:10 pm
P&B club angler Stephen Gray with a 12lb 3oz barbel

Neither river is one where these lovely fish wish to spawn – they prefer the Test, Itchen or Avon, all chalk, stream-based rivers in the south. And even these famous rivers have endured decreasing numbers finding their way from the busy waters along the south coast.

But all is not lost. Various prohibitive measures have led to a slow return of the salmon, certainly in the Avon.

What can compete with a fighting salmon making its way upstream? The barbel. And before assumes that by fight we mean the taking and killing of a fish, it does not. All fish are returned safely to fight another day.

Barbel offer an angler the opportunity to catch a freshwater fish that even in the tiny Rother can run up to close on 20lb and offer such fighting resistance to the skills of the average angler that it’s become a legend in its own right.

We have barbel-dedicated clubs and anglers who spend a great deal of time seeking these lovely fish. Every barbel angler I have met have a ‘secret plan’ – mostly these involve the kind of bait needed to tempt these fish.

Barbels disturb the gravel and weed seeking food; they feed from the bottom of the river but can then quickly rise and take food from the river flow – that’s why some get caught by anglers float-fishing using the stream to take their maggot or worm bait food for chub, roach, dace and almost any other coarse fish.

Hooking a barbel this way, usually on a lower-breaking strain line and small 16 or 18 size hook, is often dramatic but ends in tears.

Barbel have been around for hundreds of years.

The Nottinghamshire Trent, the Thames and the famous Wye had huge stocks of barbel. Way back, anglers poured hundreds of worms into the river as bait to bring the shoals of barbel into the anglers’ swims.

Eventually they were introduced into other rivers, and today there are not many, certainly in the south, that don’t have any barbel.

The Hampshire Avon became famous for its barbel, as has the Stour and even the River Mole. The Rother had them introduced nearly 50 years ago, and since then they have thrived in certain places, especially where there is fast-flowing water, like the man-made “riffles” – where water levels are raised with rock and gravel to give a faster flow and provide spawning areas and ideal feeding grounds.

There are three of these ‘riffles’ in the Rother but the fish are throughout its length and can be caught almost anywhere.

The Arun, especially at the Petworth and Bognor club’s Watersfield venue, also hold barbel. They probably found their way from the Rother into the Arun where the rivers meet near Pulborough.

The Arun is full of natural food – that’s why it has so many fish in it – so barbel that are caught are healthy specimens. A 19lb one was caught last year, but patience is necessary. The most popular baitsare fishing-prepared meat or boillies of various flavours.

Watching the rod tip is vital – a slight movement indicates the fish deciding if it’s worthwhile taking what’s on offer. It can play with the bait so you must wait, but when the bait is taken the action takes off.

The rod tip swings violently round. You soon know it’s a barbel on the end. They surge up and down the river and dive into the edges, so it requires a firm hold – allow enough time for the fish to tire and it can be safely netted.

After admiring, weighing and photographing comes the most important part: these lovely fish need careful handling. They have put up a good fight and deserve to be held or returned with their heads against the flow until ready to swim away.

Petworth & Bognor Angling Club have many dedicated barbel anglers, and every year we hold the Chris Humpherys Memorial Trophy charity match where the proceeds go to a worthy cause.

Full details at


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