Targeting big barbel, it is not just a relativism for philsophers of extreme fly fishing but a matter of searching them in the right places and using the correct technique. Our friend Marcello has offered to guide us to the right place. We talk of big fish and the tackles are to be sized accordigly, to cope with this powerful and wonderful fish (in the picture above 10 feet rod for line #7).
We are not discouraged by the negative weather forecast and the determination will proof us right. After the first casts and fine tuning of the nymph, the first strike. Marcello is the first to spot where the school is "grazing".
The well known power of the barbel can be a hard test for your rod. It just takes to have one of them at the end on the line to understand this concept. The use of light tackles (4 or 5) could be counterproductive for the health of your rod ...
... especially if one comes across a school of barbel like the one of today, where the average weight ranges between 4 to 8 pounds.
With some practice one can spot the school or even the position of the single fish. The glimmering of the golden flanks or the jumping out of the water are precious indicators. We experienced several times this day, barbel rising and jumping out of the water: what we interpreted at first glance like signs of big trout turned out to be barbel, perhaps trying to get rid of waterfleas or leeches.
The strikes keep on going with a pace that I could not have imagined, considering that each fish takes us from 10 to 20 minutes of hard fight.
The barbel are anyway a bit demanding in terms of taste, not all the imitations are taken, some turn out to be far more productive then others. We had good results with big light-coloured stoneflies and especially with what I named the Barb' o' Mat. You can find the dressing of this latter along with the tying instruction on this web in the FlyBox section.
And the Barb' o' Mat offered the most impressive fight. At a point in time I realise I have hooked something much more powerful then any other fish today. Something that is literally glued at the bottom. For a good 10 minutes, in spite of my attempt to force him, there is nothing else I can do then wait for his decision to move. Even though we caught already huge fish today, this seems to play in the heavy weight league. Eventually he decids to change his perspective. Just that now he starts to head downstream, the first 10 meter fly line goes out, then other 10. When I reach the backing, I have no other choice then to start wading downstream but he seems to get more and more powerful. I decide to try and force him a bit. After all I have got a powerful rod and a thick leader. But the barbel carries on with his incredibly powerful run downstrean .. then the line tension slackens ... I reel back my line and verify that the weak point has been the hook, which failed the stress and open up like tin.
The presentation of the nymph should always happen very close to the bottom. The barbel use their strong mouth to turn stones and pebbles in search of juicy larvae, like stoneflies (above left a Perlodidae) or caddis (right a Hydropsyche).
They like places with strong and sustained current, thus it is not always easy to get the fly right down to the bottom.
To work at best at the right depth I mount 2 nymphs, one heavier as dropper and that works reverse, to avoid as much as possible hooking the bottom. The second nymph, a bit lighter, at the end of the leader, so that it looks like a larvae captured by the current and free rolling on the stones.
Handle them always with a lot of care, free their soft mouth delicately and most of all practice the Catch & Release, an entire ecosystem will be thankful.
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