The barbel on my local river will occasionally feed at the surface but, for the most part, they take food either drifting close to the bottom or actually on the bottom itself or even just beneath it in the soft sediment. They are well adapted for taking food this way with sensory equipment well-suited rummaging around beneath them. I suspect that most of what they eat they do not even see but identify with tactile or olfactory senses.

But of course beggars can´t be choosers and, if it is profitable for those fish to switch to another way of feeding they will do so. On the Guadalhorce they occasionally take insects from the surface and sometimes you may come across a small pod of surface feeding fish, particularly under trees or close to obstacles. On some other rivers where small fish like bleak have been introduced the gypsies may be quite taken by them and become actively predatory.

The bottom feeding tendencies of “my” barbel usually mean that small weighted nymphs will be my first line of attack when fishing for them. They like the faster reaches and shallow sills that are close to deeper pools into which they can drop back if they feel threatened. These tend to be the places I target them and a little nymph tied on a size 14 barbless hook and weighted with a small tungsten bead will normally prove acceptable.

This was how I approached things on Saturday and the little nymph duly accounted for three fish. But then I hooked some shrubs on my back cast and was dumb enough to try and whip it out with a hard pull on the rod rather than going back to unhook it. I duly snapped it off and lost it in the foliage.

Rummaging around in the fly box´s equivalent of the substitute´s bench I decided to tie on one of the lightweight nymphs I had tied up recently for carp. This nymph was a tad larger than its predecessor but it had a slim profile and was unweighted. I figured that the reduction in sink rate might be offset by the quieter entrance of the nymph into the water. Barbel will often spook when a nymph lands too close to them and weighted nymphs exacerbate the problem.

Anyway, the new nymph seemed quite acceptable to the fish. It had an advantage beyond making a less noisy entrance into the river. It sank so slowly that the fish rose up to take it with a pretty deliberate movement and this made it easier to decide when to connect on the strike.

I took three fish with it and, had I not had enough of the hot sun, I suspect might have procured a few more. The first fish was taken in a narrow channel created by a branch which deflected the current into the near bank. I could see from an elevated position that there was a single fish stationed there holding station in water about knee-deep. I cast upstream and let the nymph come to him. I was surprised by how little the nymph sank but the barbel seemed to like the look of it and lifted a few inches in water to take it.

The second fish was actively feeding in some relatively calm water on the far side of fast water. From where I was casting I knew I would only manage a couple of seconds before drag would kick in but the fish went and took it as soon as it saw it, again rising in the water to do so.

The third fish was in a little shallow cul de sac that branched off the main river. It was slowly cruising around and actively feeding. The water here was pretty turbid and I had to wait until the the fish took his head out of the margins on the far side. When he did I showed him the nymph and, again, a tell tale rise in the water signalled that the nymph had been taken. I don´t think I would have known otherwise and nor do I think I would have had him with a conventional nymph.

I´m not naive enough to think that this nymph is an answer to all my prayers.  There are certainly situations where it sinks too slowly to be useful. However on Saturday it did make a case for itself being promoted from the substitute´s bench, particularly now as the summer kicks in and the river continues to thin down.


This fella was hooked on a “conventional” beaded nymph in the fast water and he obligingly swam down into a slow flowing stretch where he could be easily landed.


After releasing the first fish that had taken the foam nymph I turned round to take a photo of where he had been stationed between the nearside obstacles and the bank. I cast to him from the elevated bank opposite. I had my work cut out to land him!


This picture is was taken looking downstream. A spit of land separates a quiet blind ending arm on the right of the picture from the main flow. There were three fish in this quiet cul de sac. I spooked two of them but managed to get the third.

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Sorry about the poor focus here. When the foam is tied in along the hook shank it gives the thing a nice “segmented” profile and then the hackle gives it a bit of “life”.

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The body is foam and it has a a hackle giving it a “spidery” appearance. It sinks quite slowly.