Winter barbel fishing can also be fast and furious, if only for short periods. On many rivers stretches which are filled with anglers all summer long suddenly become deserted after the first frosts. All of these factors have meant that my barbel fishing year has rarely begun before September over the last few years.

Apart from the few days when the barbel feed with gay abandon, winter barbel fishing demands a slightly different approach to that used during the summer months. During the warmer months my approach revolves around whipping the barbel up into a feeding frenzy by adopting "little and often" baiting. A small amount of bait introduced to the swim every few minutes will be enough to keep the barbel looking for food, but frustratingly too little to fill them up.

When you can build a swim up in this way over several hours, catching barbel can become childs-play. This technique relies upon several factors. There must be several fish (although they need not all be barbel) in the swim, the barbel must be prepared to feed for a period of a few hours or more, and it must be possible to bait quite accurately. In winter, one or more of these factors cannot be satisfied and this technique then becomes much less effective.

When the north wind chills the bones, barbel can still be caught. Although there is a chance of a fish at any time of the day, being on the river from just before dusk to an hour into dark will give you the best chance.

Location is not normally a problem, the barbel are creatures of habit and will not stray far from their autumn haunts. The problem is that the feeding spell will often be very short and so the little and often baiting will not work. Also, although the barbel will eat something, one mouthful may be enough to fill them up. So rather than rely upon mass baiting, when the water is cold I switch to fishing just single baits which give me the best chance of catching at least one fish. The trouble with fishing single baits is that there is little to attract the barbel to the bait.

Most baits have some smell to them, but just think how easier it would be for the fish to locate the bait if there was a strong flavour trail for them to follow. This would give the impression of a bed of bait, but when the barbel actually finds the bait there is no option, just the hook bait. I generally use two baits for much of my winter barbel fishing. Luncheon meat takes flavours and colours well and can be made to stand out very easily.

One of the simplest methods for increasing the catching power of your meat is to sprinkle some tikka masala powder over the bait the night before a session. Some of the spices will be absorbed into the surface of the bait and released slowly into the water. There are also several other powdered and liquid attractors available from Action Baits, John Baker, Archie Braddock and several others. Using these additives is really easy and they really do work.

The other option is to make a special paste bait. Again, several commercial paste baits are available, all of which will catch fish. I normally use the Action Baits range (I get them for free), but other baits are just as good, I'm sure. The beauty of paste baits is they can be moulded into any size or shape you want and also the flavour release can be controlled a little more easily than with meat. Just having something a little different to offer wary fish is a good enough reason to have a lump of paste in your bag. Other baits will catch winter barbel, but for fishing short sessions after dark, I find these baits allow me to spend my time worrying about location, rather than whether the barbel like my bait!