Quest for French Barbel

November 22, 2012

by Gareth Watkins

“The barbel affords an angler choice sport, being a lusty and a cunning fish ; so lusty and cunning as to endanger the breaking of the angler’s line.” Izaak Walton 1653

France has long been associated with carp fishing, and every year thousands of anglers from all over Europe, head for the large number of lakes and rivers spread across the country.
While it is true, the larger rivers in France hold good numbers of carp, I doubt many anglers give a second thought to alternate species also present, often considering them as nuisance fish.
But the French rivers, just as the British ones, hold a vast array of fish; one of the most interesting being the Barbel.
Barbel fishing is very popular in the UK and there are loads of rivers offering some cracking sport, the Trent, the Dove, the Wye, the Severn, the Ribble, the Ouse, the Wensum, the Avon to name but a few.
But the barbus barbus is also a native species of France and present in most of its river systems.

Over the last couple of months and seeking a change from carp fishing, I’ve turned my attentions to these fish in the rivers local to me; the Aisne & the Marne. The articles by Shaun and Pat Gillett on the Quest Baits Blog, have motivated me to give it a go, to see if I too, could catch a few.
Since I’ve been in France I have only caught the odd chub and barbel by accident, while carping on the Seine, but that was some 20 years ago. This year I wanted to set myself a new fishing goal; to catch a double figure French barbel, by design!

The main problem though, is that nobody in France fishes for barbel !!
So where to start?
I feel a bit like the original carp pioneers, testing waters, not even knowing if the fish they sought were present. Perhaps I’ll stumble across a barbel angler’s St. Cassien!

Initial forays on the Aisne close to my home only produced the odd chub. Things were going to be more complicated than I at first predicted. Just turning up at a decent looking swim on the river wasn’t a guarantee of fish.. I really had to locate a stretch with barbel in, as it became obvious they were not everywhere in the rivers.

Further research on the net and with friends, people who’d actually caught a few barbel, lead to a new swim on the Aisne in the Ardennes about 25 kms from my house. It had been nick named “Barboland” by my French mate as he’d caught a quite few while trying to tempt a carp. It seemed a very good place to start.
I decided to follow the advice given by the Quest bloggers and fished with Special Crab boilies and pellets. I used this in conjunction with a caged feeder filled with a mix of ground up mixed pellet ground bait and dry trout pellets.
My rigs were simple cage feeder rigs with a 2 foot hook link made from 12lb Proclear, with a size 8 Boilie Hook and a small bait band to retain either a 14mm pellet hook bait or a 15mm Crab boilie. The boilie could simply be threaded on with a baiting needle without the need for a bait stop.

The first few sessions on this very pretty stretch of river were positive, with three to five fish banked each session. I had caught my first French barbel by design!!
These fish were relatively easy to catch, they gave fast and powerful bites, and fought like demons, but they were only of modest size; 3lb-5lb. I was sure that after a few sessions, and several repeat captures, that the sector didn’t hold any monsters.
Time to move on!!

So it was back to the drawing board and back onto the internet! My research through several French fishing forums helped me narrow down my options; the choice fell on the Marne and the Meuse. More tips from my French fishing buddies, who’d banked fish to 4.5kg while feeder fishing for bream, lead me to an area of the Marne about 60kms from my home.

A new Start! La Marne:
The Marne is a really nice river that below Epernay is canalized and cuts though the picturesque hills of the champagne vineyards. It is moderately wide and boat traffic is not too intense. Above Epernay it is wilder and less accessible; resembling closely the Aisne in its middle reaches, where I’d started my French barbel quest.
In early September, with the help of Google Earth to locate the area I wanted to fish, I rolled up on the banks of this picturesque river.
The feeder technique that had been fairly successful on the Aisne where I had landed in the region of 25 barbel to just under 6lb was employed here too. Here though, I was hoping for bigger fish and who knows a double could be on the cards.

My first session on the Marne was very encouraging; I chose a swim on a beach in a lovely series of meandering bends, in the wild un-canalized part of the river. It looked really fantastic and the fish soon started to come. My first session saw me land 2 barbel to 4lb 8oz and 5 chub.
Later that same week I was back on the same swim. The deep far margin channel was the perfect spot. There were a lot of fish moving and the margins were full of fry. I needed a heavier feeder than the previous trip, as the river was carrying more water, but the fish soon started to take my baits. I ended the day with 11 barbel and 9 chub. The best barbel going 5lb 8oz.
I decided to try another stretch as I felt with 13 fish under my belt I should have connected with a better stamp. This swim didn’t look like it would produce the double I sought.

A new swim among the Vineyards
I moved on to the canalized reaches, below Epernay, where my mates, who knew the river well, reckoned that I stood a better chance of bigger fish.
Again Google Earth helped me locate the GPS points on the river so I could gain access by car to the best looking areas of river. I chose a sector often frequented by carp anglers where I’d heard of barbel over 10lb being caught.
My first session on a bright sunny day was very encouraging. Not only did the river look great, but I saw fish moving from my arrival and even a couple of carp boshed out on the far margin. Choice of swim was really an arbitrary affair as there are not many features and very little weed. The water is about 6-10 feet deep and the current is only moderate; 3oz holds the bottom easily.
On the first trip I caught one fish of 5lb 8oz and a brace of chub to 4lb. This first fish equaling the best I’d had from the Aisne & the previous swim on the Marne.
The next trip a few days later saw me trying a swim slightly down stream, where a friend had informed me that gravel bottom was somewhat deeper and often fished by carp anglers. Thus it would certainly have seen angler’s baits. In a trip which saw winds get to almost gale force I managed a nice fish of 5lb 14oz and a new PB chub or 5lb 12oz.

The next foray was with my two friends on a beautifully sunny and warm Sunday. The wind and rain from the previous week had abated and the river looked really inviting. I kept to the same formula, pellet and boilie fished with the feeders as before. For some reason the chub were not there but I soon had a fast run which resulted in a 6lb barbel.
This time though I’d managed to attract a hoard of bream and landed at least 20 in the 1lb -3lb bracket.
I waded through slab after slab but managed 4 barbel in total with the largest to date at 7lb 4oz, an new record for the year. I also lost a fish when the line twisted around a ring on the rod and cracked off.
During this session my French mate managed a lovely fish of 8lb 8oz. Perhaps the double I’d heard about were there after all!!
The very next day, as my wife was working I couldn’t resist a return trip on my own. I spread my rods out over the whole swim, the three of us had squeezed into the previous day, and within an hour I’d banked 3 barbel to 7lb. At one point I even had two runs at once landing a brace of fish of around 5lb each. The day saw me catch 9 fish in total, plus the inevitable load of bream.

So this is where I’m at today… After less than two months I’ve managed to find barbel on the two rivers I’ve tried and catch in the region of 60 fish.
The baits I’ve been using, pellets and Quest Special Crab boilies have been superb fish catchers. If the fish are in the swim I get action almost right away. I’ve used some of the Crab paste too on occasions to enhance the attraction of the hook baits. This has proved very successful and has resulted in fish on virtually every occasion. I have stopped the paste on swims where bream have been present as I simply use too much of it and gain no real benefit.
The autumn now is prime barbel time so I’ll be persevering for the time being on this new stretch of the Marne.
I still have the Meuse to try too, it’s a bit further afield but I’ve reports of big barbel on one stretch in particular.
The quest for the French double continues!!!


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