Fly Fishing for Barbel


Barbus barbus

Fly Fishing for Barbel

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Tell some anglers you’re fly fishing for barbel and you may well be met with raised eyebrows. Grit your teeth and carry on regardless – it can be done and the pay-off is an almighty scrap with one of the most handsome fish in the river.

Barbel are river dwellers, feeding on invertebrates and small fish. They form close-knit shoals and soon detect any hint of trouble, so if you catch one, the chances of a quick encore in the same spot are slim.

It’s a fish that makes you wonder if the name ‘rainbow’ is wasted on trout. Barbel can exhibit every shade from ivory to jet black: bronze, orange, gold and even coral.

And they have brains to go with their beauty. They will thoroughly check out every type of fly put in front of them and if you hook one, don’t expect the airborne acrobatics you get with trout and salmon. A barbel heads to the river bed instead, seeking out the snaggiest hiding place it can find.

How to fly fish for barbel

Barbel feed close to the river bed, hoovering up food. The ‘whiskers’ that hang from their mouths suggest that their eyesight needs tactile help in detecting food, so get your fly as close to the fish as you can.

Cast-and-hope fishing won’t work with barbel. You need to see your prey, so you want clear water flowing over a stony-bottomed river. 

As you wade, look for fish that are turning here and there in the current, seeking food. Shrewd as barbel are, they can be oblivious to wading anglers when hungry, so you can get quite close. 

Avoid detection by approaching them from downstream, because they feed facing into the current.

Fishing heavy flies close to the river bed in flowing water calls for a deft touch that only comes with practice. You have to cast your fly far enough in front of the fish that the fly reaches the river bed just as the current drags it within the barbel’s range of vision.   

If the fly settles on the bottom, a twitch of your line to move it closer should spur the fish to take it. 

A hooked barbel will give you one of the fights of your life but don’t be surprised if it simply hugs the river bed, using its large fins to resist you. Don’t just heave endlessly and risk a snapped line or rod. Reposition yourself occasionally to apply pressure from a different angle.

What are the best flies for barbel?

Most of the time, matching your fly to the environment you’re fishing will be more important than matching it to what the barbel are eating.

It needs to be heavy and uncluttered so that it reaches the river bed quickly without getting snagged there.

While any tungsten-beaded nymph pattern can work, try patterns with dumbbell eyes that are tied behind the hook shank, rather than on the same side as the hook bend. This encourages the hook to land with its point facing upwards, rather than digging into the river bed.

Weighted Caddis Nymphs should always be in your fly box for this type of fishing, as caddis (aka sedge) features regularly in the barbel diet. 

Barbel can also ‘tune in’ to small fish from time to time, especially if minnows are spawning. So make sure you take a few small streamer patterns with you, and fish them just off the bottom.


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Locations where you can fly fish for Barbel

The River Wye

One of Wales' most iconic rivers.

Atlantic Salmon


Brown Trout





Sea Trout

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Countries where you can fly fish for Barbel

🇩🇰 Denmark

🇫🇷 France

🇩🇪 Germany

🇮🇹 Italy

🇳🇱 The Netherlands

🇬🇧 United Kingdom

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Flies that you can use to fly fish for Barbel



Czech Nymph

Hare's Ear Nymph

Pheasant Tail Nymph

Prince Nymph

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Guides, workshops and more specialized in fly fishing for Barbel

Hooked on Fly Fishing

The Netherlands 🇳🇱



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