River Trent barbel on the stick float

Instead of opting for the more standard, ‘easier‘ option of boilies and alarms, Alfie Naylor targets some of the Trent’s fine specimen barbel using a more forgotten, traditional method…

Words Alfie Naylor Photography Lloyd Rogers

Out of all the species in the Trent to catch a big barbel on the float has got to be the ‘Holy Grail’ and for me personally, the most adrenaline-pumping, heart-pounding excitement I’ve ever had in my fishing career.   

Most barbel anglers opt for the easy life and sit behind static baits, drinking tea and coffee in the comfort of their bivvy and bedchairs only breaking the tranquillity when the alarm screams into action with the excitement of the stereotypical three-foot twitch. 

You can take your friends barbel fishing, even newcomers to the sport. You can fish into the dark, you can catch in the middle of the day in bright sunshine and, if you are deadly serious about it, you can target specimen fish well into double-figures.  

Given all this, you have to go a long way to find fishing that’s more accessible or rewarding for the modern-day barbel angler. For some, the Trent has become the ‘easy’ river to visit. Simply turn up and cast out a feeder with a pellet or a boilie on a hair, and without much patience or skill, you can catch a few fish. 

As time goes by, however, these ‘easier’ shoal barbel receive a fair amount of angling pressure and become more difficult to catch. The fish become finicky and perhaps a little bait/rig-shy. It’s still good fishing, especially in a flood, but not quite as prolific.  

Sometimes, in summer, barbel can be ultra fussy.  The river is low and the fish have seen a multitude of baits before. Combine this with the fact you may be sat in a swim someone fished the day before, and as a first-time visitor, you might wonder where on earth it has all gone wrong, as you catch only perhaps a chub or even nothing.

Conditions are supposed to improve as autumn sets in and barbel catches pick up after the good days of August thanks to better-oxygenated water getting them to feed and move away from the weirs.  

Recent autumns have been different, however, and there’s been a turning point for barbel fishing on the Trent, the river levels have been surprisingly low, and daytime temperatures warm making the fishing much harder.  

Static baits stop working as well, and even waiting for dusk doesn’t automatically switch on the feeding response as the fish break from cover and snags under the safety of darkness. 

There has to be a way to overcome these frustrating biteless times without spending a ridiculous amount of time, and that is to give the barbel a big moving bait.

Autumn is also a good time to trot for a variety of species such as Roach are shoaling up, the chub are not far behind and perch are also targets for the trotting angler. In really fast flowing water trout or even Salmon might take you by surprise, and even small barbel are often caught. However, the bigger barbel on the float, are best left to the experts…until now.

With fast-flowing water about 80 yards upstream the main current pushes right over to the far bank moves the flow due to structure and deepens to about 8ft in a distinct channel that runs through the centre of the river. 

It’s possible in some swims to wade a quarter of the way from the margins giving you more control when trotting. The water is only waist deep here and, with the help of Polarised sunglasses, the bottom is still visible.

It requires a small cast of about 10ft of the end of a 15ft float rod to get between the weed and to the deeper channel where the float is then allowed to run perfectly down the channel you’ve fed making a long trot as far as the eye can see. 

The rain of constant pellets must keep going in, at least three or four good handfuls of pre-prepared Nutrabaits River Plus pellets per trot. Through the float goes and, while holding back hard at the tail of the run, in goes the third handful of free offerings.  

Reeling in, I always check my banded mussel/hook baits haven’t masked the point. 

With a good cast of a 6 or even 8 gram alloy Stem Avon Float helping to cast out, the whole rig flies through the air in a controlled arc. A middle or forefinger slows the line to help straighten everything out just before landing. An overcast allows for a handful of pellets to be sprayed without dragging the float offline, and with a mend of the line to keep the rod tip in touch, I let it run.

Holding back every now and again has several benefits. The main one is to keep everything in a straight line so, when striking, there’s maximum efficiency in setting the hook. A bow in the line will cause a delay as the slack is taken up. Another benefit is that it enables the bait to encourage barbel instinctively to take big moving baits like mussel meat.   

Run after run the depth of the float should be adjusted, until it is just tripping bottom or even dragging. If the float dips in the same spot several times either shallow up a fraction, or hold back over the top of whatever piece of weed or boulder is catching the rig. If the false alarm is consistent, then at least the float is being put through as it should be, and by overcoming it with tiny reductions/tweaks in rig depth or holding back, so the swim is being thoroughly worked.

If after several trots you haven’t had any indications you may begin to wonder what this float fishing for barbel is all about. Don’t lose faith because when you get it right it’s electric. The only thing to do is to keep feeding. When the float eventually dips, the strike should be met with a solid resistance. Although it can sometimes be impossible to tell right away if it’s a barbel or chub is the offender, if your prize starts kiting and feels like dead weight it’s clearly no chub. 

The first run can often be so powerful you question if your tackle will hold up and a size 6 specialist hook is the only thing connecting you to the fish will it hold out in one of the most intense fights, impulse will tell you not to pull back hard. But unlike with a barbel rod, where the harder the angler pulls the harder the fish tend to do so too, with float gear they tend to come in a little easier but not without a ridiculously hard fight. 

When the fish eventually comes over to the net cord don’t be surprised if you let out a ‘massive cheer’ or even a scream of pleasure… You have most definitely earned it! 

Fishing for barbel on the float is like fishing for a new species. With heavy consistent feeding, working the float is like trotting for no other species and the fight itself is just, well, a whole new experience.  

Catching a big barbel with a beautiful setting in the foreground makes this experience something that will live in your thoughts forever, nature comes to life at Twilight and the whole experience feels so much more atmospheric and sunset is an opportunity to reset.

Like my late grandfather once said to me… “One on the float is worth 20 on the feeder”.


  • Keep varying the depth, inch by inch intill you find the perfect depth. 
  • Don’t stop feeding on every trott, keep feeding and keep feeding and remember to feed some more. 
  • Use a strong hook and terminal tackle, or you could end up regeting your choices. 
  • Big hook baits are more visual and can single out the bigger fish. 
  • Feed 3 or 4 times on every trot


  • Rod: Daiwa 15ft powermesh specialist float rod
  • Reel: Daiwa SS1600
  • Float: Dave Harrel alloy Stem Avon Float, 6 or 8gram.
  • Hook: Size 6 Specialist 
  • Mainline: 15lb Daiwa J-Braid grand
  • Bait: Nutrabaits River Plus 4mm and 8mm pellets and a few River Plus Barrels. (hook bait fresh mussel) 
  • Essential for trotting is a bait apron or pouch.