The writer will tell us about seeing barbel glide from under the lush green canopy of weed and begin to feed on the clean gravel. He may also describe how he waits for the barbel to make an appearance and begin to mop up the scattering of sweetcorn he had introduced earlier. We northern anglers can only drool at such descriptions, for the number of times we see such stirring scenes are about as often as salmon are spotted in the Mersey.

That is a slight exaggeration, for we can watch barbel feeding in very shallow, gravelly runs, close to our own bank, on sunny days when the water level is at, or preferably below, normal summer level, when it hasnít rained for several weeks. It is very accurate to say that where it is the norm to spot barbel feeding in rivers south of Staffordshire, it is quite remarkable to see them in rivers north of that county. Which is why we Ďup Ďere me duckí have to rely on reading the riverís surface to select productive swims rather than reading the bottom Ė regardless of actually seeing the fish.

The first type of swim I look for is a smooth glide with a depth of 5ft to 8ft, and if that glide meets a slack running along my own bank then that makes it better still. The glide itself, and the crease between the glide and the slack are the places to anchor your bait. Where the river bed rises quite sharply causing a smooth glide to break up and change to racy water is also an excellent barbel swim, and if that glide has lush beds of streamer weed with clear runs between, it makes it an even better barbel swim. Never ignore slack, almost still pools for barbel too, for such swims can be where you will find the bigger barbel of a stretch. Slack swims usually demand lots of patience for they rarely produce many bites, but when you do get one, watch out, it could be the fish of a lifetime!

Weirpools are a must, especially when the water is low, warm and clear and the barbel are seeking out the oxygenated water. Never be afraid to fish the turbulent, white water directly beneath the sill, for the water along the bottom may be quite calm in comparison to the surface. Weirpools are notorious for being snaggy, for the intricacies of the currents ensures that all manner of flotsam and jetsam is carried round in the eddies and backflows until the debris becomes waterlogged and sinks. As well as these snags being a disadvantage, in that they can be tackle-devouring monsters, they can also be an advantage, for they become hot-spots, specially for barbel. Location of barbel certainly becomes easier, for it is a case of find the snags and you find the barbel. But please, use sensible tackle: there are no rewards and no satisfaction for losing fish, just a possible lethal tether for the barbel that is left with a trailing hooklength.

Many northern rivers are big rivers, too wide to float fish half way or more across when the best swims lie in that area, and too far to loose-feed with conventional methods. They demand feeder tactics to get the best of them, and used correctly there is no better way of coaxing barbel to feed in a specific area than with a feeder. Forget the myth that a feeder angler is a lazy angler, or lacks skill. Anglers who use a swimfeeder as it should be used require their own kind of skill, and you have to work hard at it to make it work properly. The most successful anglers donít handicap themselves with self-imposed restrictions, such as, ĎI never fish a swimfeeder, thereís no skill in that,í or, ĎI never fish a bolt-rig, thereís no skill in self-hooking,í etc, etc, you must have heard them all sometime, somewhere. The most successful anglers use whatever will do the best job in a given set of conditions. There is nothing wrong in using preferred methods of course, but it makes no sense to ignore any method simply because it makes catching fish easier.

The skill in feeder fishing lies in the fact that you have to be able to cast accurately and be a good judge of how often to cast, for casting not only delivers the hookbait to the swim but the free feed too. How much you fill the feeder has to be gauged carefully, for this is another way of regulating how much you give to the barbel. Too little and they lose interest, Too much and they fill up and leave the swim to lie up somewhere to digest the easy meal. You never do what I see many anglers do (probably those who are judged to be lazy anglers) and that is to fill the feeder, cast out, and wait for something to happen before making another cast. And when another cast is made, casting to an entirely different area.

Itís strange, but most anglers would never dream of introducing just one helping of loose feed when fishing the float, and only throwing in another helping when there was a bite. Yet the same angler will think nothing of doing that when feeder fishing. He will also not hesitate to cast to another area of the swim with a feeder full of feed if he doesnít get a bite in the first half hour or so. But would he catapult a pouchfull of loose feed to one area of his swim, and then to another, and then another? Would he hell! So what is the point in casting haphazardly across a river, depositing loose-feed all over the place? Why have all those paths of feed lining the riverbed when there should be just the one? The idea is to draw the barbel to your hookbait, and the best way of doing that is to create one path of free feed at the head of which your hookbait lies.

So, choose the spot in the river where you want your feeder to hit when you cast. Then note a marker on the far bank that is in a direct line with you and the swim. This could be a particular tree or bush, or simply a tuft of grass. Now cast an empty feeder a few yards beyond the exact spot and slip the line under the spoolís line clip. Now wind in until you judge the feeder lies exactly in the swim, noting how many turns of the reel handle it takes. The idea is to use the line clip to brake the cast, but to retrieve a few yards of line so that when you strike into a fish you have those vital few yards to get the fish under control before the line gets down to the clip. Barbel invariably bolt off either up or downstream, rarely straight across, so just a few yards of line is enough to have beyond the line clip. Donít allow too much line though, between the line clip distance and the swim, or the feed will wash out when you wind back to the swim.

What about baits for barbel? Well, you would think that barbel are barbel are barbel, wouldnít you? And to a great extent you would be right. But there are subtle bait preferences between the barbel rivers of the north and south. Or, to be perfectly accurate, subtle differences of bait choice between southern and northern barbel anglers. Maggot, caster and luncheon meat are practically universal, but the slightly lesser barbel orientated baits are subject to regional preferences. Sweetcorn figures a lot more highly as a barbel bait in the south than it does in the north. Meatball is more a midlands and northern bait, designer pastes and boilies are used more in the south than the north, while trout pellet and worm are more north than south. Of course, all of those baits Iíve mentioned can be used on any barbel river, no matter where it lies. And bear in mind too, that trying something away from the norm for your river is often the key to better catches.

While midlands and southern rivers rise and colour to some extent following heavy rain, we get a lot of mucky water in our northern rivers. They change to the colour of stewed tea to the point where you canít see the bottom in six inches of water. Barbel can still be caught, however, and a big, smelly bait like flavoured luncheon meat or a big lobworm usually does the trick. Fish the slack water by all means but do not ignore the fast, turbulent swims providing it is possible to fish them. Dave Colclough and I had some great catches of barbel last winter fishing swims that looked like the Zambezi on a bad day. The strange thing is that the flow along the river bed is often nowhere near as fierce as it appears on the surface. So, donít ignore the chocolate coloured water and the racy swims of northern rivers this summer and autumn and the coming winter.

North, midlands, or south, clear water or murky water, barbel are a great species. So get out there and catch a few!