French Barbel Fishing: One Year on. My Target Achieved.

November 6, 2013

A Oise barbel glides back to it’s home.

This year has been the second I’ve turned over to tracking down barbel in French rivers. I mentioned last year that after a life time of carp angling I fancied a change, a fresh challenge; and inspired by the Quest Baits lads Shaun Harrison and Pat Gillett and their barbel exploits in the UK, I decided to give it a whirl in France.
Those of you who read my article from last year will know that initially my quest was just to find barbel, any barbel in the local French rivers. The task was not easy due to the total lack of barbel anglers in France. But I soon found that the species is abundant if you fish the correct methods.

As time went on and I fished more and more areas and picked the brains of more and more local anglers about the presence of the fish I sought, I slowly started to get a picture of the possibilities.

I also found that while the species was present in large numbers in my local rivers, the majority of the fish were fairly small, in the 3lb to 5lb bracket. Throughout 2012 I did manage over 75 fish, but the largest were only in the 7lb range. It was clear that if I wanted to bag my target fish, an elusive double figure barbel, my research would need to dig deeper and my net cast wider.

19 sept04

Fast forward to the start of 2013. My research had established a few new avenues to explore on different rivers, where the average stamp was better, even if the fish were less numerous. But that suited me fine. Coming from carp angling I was used to waiting between takes for a decent fish, so this would suit me fine on the rivers.
The first part of the year was really rather frustrating, due to the abnormal amount of rain we had in northern France. The rivers were swollen and flooded for a good part of the early season. Too high and too fast for the gear I had.
I invested in a pair of 2.25lb rods and some feeders up to 6oz, which gave me a better chance of getting to grips with the conditions. But it wasn’t until June that I really was able to start to regularly fish and catch a few.

My first decision was to drop the river Marne from my list of target rivers and add the Oise instead. I’d already marked down the Meuse as a definite choice and its tributary the Semoy as well.


A beautiful stretch of the Meuse

The previous season many of my fish had fallen to relatively small baits, 12mm halibut pellets for the most part. This year I totally reviewed my tackle and bait choice, hoping that it would improve the average size barbel and ensure that if I did hook a biggie, that I’d land it.
So my rods were now as I said upped to 2.25lb, my main line was 12lb Nash Bullet with a braided or coated braid hooklink … I alternated between 15lb Sink Link and 15lb Two tone by ESP. The latter has proved so good I have pretty much settled on it as my main hooklink material. The hooks were now exclusively size 8 Continental Boilie hooks.
Bait wise, I couldn’t ignore the fact that Pat, and Shaun were catching well in the UK on boilie, so I decided to fish boilie on every trip on at least one rod. I did mess around with 16mm and 18mm halibuts as there were times when they did score better than the boilie.

 The first break through came in August on the river Meuse. The first part of the day had been a bit of a disaster as the chosen swim had been full of snags, and seen me lose 4 large feeders. A move to an urban stretch turned out to be a good one, as despite the 30°c plus heatwave,  the fish fed and I was able to break my PB at the time with my first fish over 4kg at 9lb 1oz. It was backed up with a fish just under 7lb and a couple of small river carp to just under 20lb. Significantly all the fish fell to Special Crab boilies or crab and pellet cocktail.

9lb 1oz barbel 7jul03

9lb 1oz from the Meuse

The Meuse then, had come through as I’d hoped. But if I thought I’d cracked it I’d have been mistaken as subsequent trips failed to live up to my first taste of the river and even if I caught fish to over 7lb, I didn’t seem to be any closer to my double.
As was often proving to the case, my info on decent barbel was coming from carp anglers who caught them by accident. It was however, vital info for me, as I knew too well that barbel are often sedentary fish and can get caught regularly from the same swims. And so it was in August when I got wind, of a good brace of fish from a peg on the Meuse… a double and an 8lb’er, both falling to a carper’s boilied baits.
To add to this, one of the lads on my French forum also landed a double on boilie from the same swim a few days later. So I penciled in a day on the river on this swim. Another change had been to switch to the Absolute seafood boilies.
On arrival, and due to the fact that all the best barbel had fallen to boilie I put out two rods baited with double Seafood 15mm. Bream a real pain in the French rivers, there are literally hundreds of them and any small and even not so small bait and they hang themselves. I knew that a decent barbel wouldn’t have any problem taking a double 15mm offering.
The day progressed with the odd bream none the less and a huge Ide of 5lb 13oz, all falling to boilie. Then in the late afternoon, while I was rebaiting one rod my baitrunner on the reaming rod, screamed into life. The fish was strong but like bigger carp, ponderous. It didn’t flit around like the small barbel do. When it rolled into the net I knew it was a double and at 10lb 11oz I was over the moon.

10lb11oz meuse

PB 10lb 11oz from the Meuse

My euphoria was short lived as subsequent trips to the swim and to the river resulted in smaller fish or blanks on the barbel front. I did catch some nice chub, but they weren’t what I was after. The Meuse was also a good 90 minute drive, so I decided to try elsewhere.

I had got wind of catches on the river Oise in Compiègne. Now this is a town swim, again some 90 minutes away from my home. I’m not a big fan of urban fishing, it seems rather weird going into the town from the countryside to fish, but you can only catch the fish that are there.
My first foray was promising with a fish of nearly 8lb on a really hot August day. The swim was rather awkward with large lumps of rock piled up to consolidate the banks from the wash of the very numerous barges that ploughed up and down the river. I have to say they were to prove a real pain in the proverbial. Every boat necessitated the reeling in of the rods, for fear of the line getting snagged by the propellers. These boats are loaded down to the gunnels and churn up large clouds of mud as the pass by. But I guess that is why the barbel are here in good numbers, as their food is stirred up by the barges.
Subsequent trips to other ‘non navigable’ stretches of the Oise didn’t produce any big fish and I was back to pulling out lots of 3lb to 5lb fish as I had on the Marne. I therefore returned to the town swim, which  saw me catch some nice fish with several over 8lb and an average well over 7lb. This was good fishing and rumours of doubles from the sector seemed credible. I decided that I just had to put up with the boat traffic even if it was like fishing on the “Peripherique”.


My town swim

So this is where I’m at present. I’ve found that a boilie placed in a swim with barbel will invariably be taken. I’ve caught more than 80 fish to date from 5 different rivers, including a couple of near 6lb fish from a heavily flood peg on my local river Aisne with an 8oz feeder.
We are now mid November and the rain has been heavy and persistent over the last 10 days. The rivers are too far in flood to be fishable. If they do abate a bit and we don’t get any frost I’ll be right back out.
My quest for more French doubles continues. I’ve certainly upped my average size by a significant amount with a good number of fish over 7lb this year, and a PB smashed. The vast majority of the bigger fish have fallen to Special Crab or Absolute Seafood boilies, so I think my decision to put my faith in them for 2013 has paid dividends.
The quest will continue in 2014 that’s for sure.

Tight Lines



  1. Congratulations Gareth, it’s been good to follow your hunt for barbel in France

    • Thanks Fred. Looking forward to a few winter sessions but mostly next season.

  2. Please keep the blog going – really like your writing!

    • Many thanks for your comment Hugh. No worries, I fully intend to keep writing about my fishing here in France.

  3. Wow, that picture of the Meuse is stunning.

    I often go to France on the hunt for carp but never thought about doing the same barbel, do you know of any particular hot-rivers I should look into?

    • Hi Danny,
      Yes there are lots of barbel in the French rivers. Basically all the rivers in the north east part are worth a go. The Seine, the Oise, the Aisne, the Marne and the Meuse are all rivers I’ve caught barbel from.
      I’ve had most fish from the Oise & the Marne, but the bigger fish from the Meuse & the Seine.

  4. some cracking capture photos here, a great blog post!

    • Thanks Mike, all self takes with a 20m air release.

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