Top all-rounder, Martin Bowler, discusses the merits of floodwater fishing for big barbel, a method that once saw him smash the British Record!

Top all-rounder, Martin Bowler, discusses the merits of floodwater fishing for big barbel, a method that once saw him smash the Great British Record!

Unleashed by storm clouds and now uncontrolled by the river, the warm rain that fell 24 hours earlier has broken the banks and spread far and wide into the surrounding fields. With this muddy run off, the water resembles the colour of a milky cup of tea, making it impossible to see the grass let alone the riverbed. What’s the point in leaving the house, especially when another log on the fire will mean the thermals can stay in the drawer? Who in their right mind would swap an afternoon of football on the TV and a comfy settee, for a damp countryside and a river out of control? Well, there’s always one fool but there is a method to the madness!


For as long as I’ve barbel fished, I’ve loved floodwater barbel fishing. The battle against the river is magnified in this wild, sometimes ferocious, state and I enjoy the challenge. I’m also acutely aware that with this tussle comes a reward because in my experience this is the time for a big barbel. A huge bronze flank rising out of the maelstrom takes some beating and the pinnacle for me with this style of fishing came when the Ouse burst its bank in ’99.

If a British record barbel doesn’t make you a convert to floodwater, then nothing will!

In the 90s my tackle was under gunned and with relatively few people venturing out in such conditions the learning curve was only completed through my own experiences and a handful of similar minded fanatics. I actually caught the record on a 1¼ test curve rod that was bent like a banana during the fight. Today a 2¼lb model that provides backbone and stops the barbel going where it wants in the fight has replaced this. The Ouse beast got stuck in a set of reeds for a while and I remember being unable to apply enough pressure. Thank god then that it decided to swim out on its own. The reels used also had small spools that although carried more than enough mono lacked cranking power and speed. On our larger rivers, I now actually use small Onyx carp reels that allow plenty of control. Their retrieve is also very fast which is vital if you want to avoid dragging the rig into the snaggy bottom when re-baiting. Line breaking strain of the past was 12lb but now I’ve learnt that the incredibly robust Syncro XT in 18lb is far better. In tea-stained water the extra diameter is irrelevant, so why take the risk?

Floodwater fishing does have an element of risk to it that I’m happy to take but I do consider every move I make and its implications. On a recent adventure there was nothing more to overcome than welly deep water and without too much effort I was ready to cast. My terminal tackle comprised of a running 5oz lead to which I had looped onto a swivel, a long 4ft length of Tungsten Loaded coated braid. In the conditions faced, I had selected a tried and trusted size 6 Continental Boilie hook to form a hair around. Modern patterns are far sharper out of the packet, but their points blunt easily when being swept over gravel, so there needs to be a compromise between this and durability. A simple hair was formed around the shank with my standard AAA shot placed 2 inches below it to aid with hook penetration. A Sticky Krill boilie was attached alongside a big smear of paste, that I had added copious amounts of Liquid Liver to, so it absolutely stunk!



A PVA bag of free offerings were attached before everything was lobbed though the air unceremoniously, landing on a defined crease line with a huge splosh! It certainly wasn’t an approach full of finesse and in a nod to my sea fishing style approach, the river grabbed the line and yanked the rod tip over. It was hard to tell the difference at that instant between barbel fishing and trying to tempt cod from the Bristol Channel!


Over the next 30 minutes flavour poured downstream and given the unseasonably warm water, a set of twitching whiskers willingly headed towards the source. Any caution often exhibited in clear water by fish had gone, after all no one would be stupid enough to be fishing today! Unfortunately for the barbel this was an assumption it shouldn’t have made and with the tasty mouthful came the bite of a hook point and barb pulling down into the bottom lip. No wonder then that the rod cranked over as the fish cursed its mistake. A washing line of debris hung from the mono and traced the barbel’s direction, at first fleeing downstream and then coming begrudgingly towards me. If there are no head shakes, simply what feels like bottom moving, then you know it’s a big barbel and of that I had no doubt. For every crank of the handle, the drag gave line, in a game of cat and mouse. I couldn’t see what I was connected to, given the water’s lack of clarity and even as the tail patterns increased on the surface, I was still to gain a glimpse. However it was worth the wait when a big beautiful barbel rose out of the flood and into the net. No wonder I have always loved this type of fishing.