To keep catching throughout the course of a season now means adapting or modifying your techniques constantly to take the barbel off guard. Today the barbel anglers repertoire of methods includes many more techniques than we would have ever thought possible, but one method that is still extremely rarely applied is the use of balls of groundbait for barbel.

The idea of using groundbait for barbel is nothing new. Our forefathers were able to call upon any number of complex mixtures of bait for attracting and holding barbel. When you remember that they were, for the most part, using natural baits in rivers that were not only deep, but that actually flowed, there was a need for balls of bait which got down quickly. In more recent times, our European cousins have used various groundbait mixes for barbel. Having tried a few I reckon the continental barbus must have a different palate to ours, but it does go to show that there is nothing new in fishing.

I used groundbait in a limited way a decade ago when first fishing for the barbel in the River Ouse. These big fish in a small river saw anglers on the bank every day and to be successful it was essential to offer the fish something that they were not only stimulated by, but which did not alarm them. Mixtures of particles worked well, as did groundbaits, but unfortunately, I ran out of fishing time before perfecting my mixes. Years later, whilst fishing the River Ribble, groundbait again played a small part in my barbelling, but again I was able to keep the fish coming without having to develop this idea.

The barbel angler in 2001 needs every trick in the book and so with a new Winter campaign looming it has been time to really get to grips with groundbait and for the first time use this as my opening gambit.

There is no need to get over-complicated, after all it is likely that you will be the first angler on your stretch of river to use this method. My favourite groundbait at the moment is Leeda's Method groundbait, which contains that magic ingredient for barbel, fishmeal. Barbel, like most coarse fish absolutely adore fishmeal based baits, particularly in the warmer months of the year, and I would be very hesitant to use a groundbait that did not contain a good proportion of this ingredient.

To bulk the method mix out I add to it 30% brown crumb and 20% crushed hemp. Instead of using river water to knock up my groundbait, I keep the water left over from cooking my hemp and maize and use this instead, as a lot of the attractors in the seeds will be released into the water. Leave the mix to ferment in an air-tight container over-night and you will have a lovely, almost alcoholic smelling groundbait. If you want, add some cooked hemp at this stage, although this is not essential. Be careful not to make this mix too stiff. Ideally, the balls of bait will hold together long enough to reach the river bed before breaking down quickly to form a carpet of tiny particles. If in doubt, try experimenting in the river margins to see what kind of reaction you get.

The only downside with using the groundbait mix described above is that you have to carry it to the river wet. The extra weight is certainly worth it though, and in my experience you need less groundbait than you would particles, so at least some of the weight is off-set. When I get to the river I kick-off with half a dozen balls of groundbait fed into each swim that I intend to fish through the evening. The secret is to judge where the groundbait is going to end up. Remember, round balls of bait sink quicker, but do tend to roll around more than flat ones, so be careful that you know where your bait is going to end up.

After this initial bombardment you have two choices. You can either introduce another small ball of groundbait every half hour or so, or use an open end feeder to put the bait tight to the hook bait. On larger rivers where you are not fishing in dense weed, or close to snags, the feeder is definitely the best option, but as I tend to fish smaller rivers where almost every barbel picks up weed at some stage during the fight, I tend to loose-feed.

Another useful tip is to make some of the groundbait much stiffer than the rest and mould a lump of this around your ledger weight. Don't be afraid to shorten the hook length right down to a couple of inches when doing this as often the barbel will come right up to the balls of feed and consume any bits as they fall off as they drift downstream.

As I said at the beginning, there is nothing new about using groundbait for barbel. We do have the benefit of better quality and more attractive ingredients, but even so this is a tried and tested barbel catcher. If the barbel in your river are getting wise to the same old methods you might like to give it a try. Alternatively, give me a ring on 01394 610 399 and arrange a days one-to-one tuition into the finer points of the art of groundbaiting for barbel.