Barbel - Barbus barbus

About the Barbel.
The species of barbel common to many UK rivers is referred to as the Common Barbel or barbus barbus in Latin. It is a large freshwater fish that belongs to the carp family Cyprinidae and has many relatives in the Barbus genus.

Barbel are one of the hardest fighting fish (pound for pound) found in UK rivers, it is a species to be treasured.

Barbel Identification

The barbel is a long, slender and powerful fish with large pectoral fins, bright scales and a large broad forked tail. It has a small but long head and its eyes are located high up on either side.

It is similar to the carp in shape and characteristics and its muscular streamlined body is perfect for powering through strong currents and fast flowing waters.

The adult barbel is generally a golden brown or bronzy colour with a dark green coloured back. It has a golden yellow colour on its sides, which fades to white on its belly. The fins are tinged with a shade of red or sometimes orange. The barbel has a strong serrated spine leading from its dorsal fin and care must be taken as it may become caught within the netting and break.

Young barbel have dark brown spots on their body and may be mistaken for gudgeon at this age, although gudgeon only have two barbules as opposed to four. Young barbel are considered mature after around four or five years, by which time they have usually reached a length of between 25cm - 75cm.

It is difficult to confuse the barbel with any other fish due to its stunning colouration, but for those who may be unsure, just focus your attention to the fish's mouth.

Barbel have two pairs of sensory barbules around their underslung mouths, which they use to search for food on the floor of the riverbed. The smaller pair of barbules is located at the tip of the snout and the two longer ones at the corner of its leathery mouth.

The shape of the fish's head and mouth is ideal for rooting and digging around on the bottom of gravely beds and their barbules are extra sensitive to taste and touch thus immediately searching out any kind of food.

Barbel Habitat

The barbel is a freshwater fish that is native to Europe, Asia and Africa.

In the UK large quantities of barbel are found in the River Trent, Great Ouse, Hampshire Avon, Severn, Wye and Teme.

Barbel are not found in Ireland or Scotland and were originally only native to rivers whose course ran to the North Sea. However, due to its popularity as a sport fish, barbel was introduced into many other UK river systems during the 1960's and 1970's, where in some of these rivers they have thrived. The River Severn and the Hampshire Avon are now massively popular for barbel fishing; yet the fish here are the offspring of stocked and not native barbels.

This species of fish dwell in well-oxygenated, fast moving rivers with gravel or stony bottoms, which is where they feed and also where the females lay their eggs. It is not uncommon, however, for barbel to thrive in slower moving waters as well.

Larger quantities of barbel will be found where the water flows faster and where there is more oxygen within it. This could include areas such as downstream from a weir or even under the weir, on the outside bend of a river where the water is turbulent, in deep steady glides and in sections of a river where deep water is forced to pass through a narrow bottleneck.

Barbel generally choose to rest in areas where there is an abundance of streamer weeds or small trees lining the river edge under which they can conceal themselves from predators and preying anglers.

Natural Barbel Food

Barbel feed on bottom-dwelling creatures such as molluscs, worms, crustaceans, insects and some small fish such as loach, minnows, lampreys and bullheads. They have strong back teeth with which they crush the shells of crayfish, mussels and other crustaceans.

Most of their feeding takes place at night when they are more active and therefore they may not take the bait during daytime hours. They are also more enthusiastic feeders from early spring onwards.

Barbel Reproduction

Barbel reproduction usually takes place between April and July. The barbel gather together in large numbers and make their way upstream where the female lays her eggs in shallow gravel beds. The eggs take approximately 14 days to hatch from being fertilised, after which they are generally left to fend for themselves if they are not eaten by other fish including their own species.

The Barbel's Vital Statistics

  • Average weight: 2lb - 7lb (1kg - 3.2kg)
  • Average length: between 25cm and 1m
  • Specimen weight: anything over 10lb
  • Life-span: 15 years or more
  • Current UK barbel record: 21lb 1oz (River Great Ouse)
  • Our member's current best: 3lb 2oz 0dr (River Teme by Rich)

Rivers with big barbel include:


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