Barbel (Barbus barbus)

Barbel are slim and streamlined - a sure sign that they are mainly river fish. Their colours are typical of the carp family they belong to, with green or brown backs, golden-bronze flanks and pale bellies, though in clear water they can be a much darker brown-black. These fish are well adapted for bottom feeding in fast-flowing rivers. Their long, pointed heads with underslung mouths are ideal for digging around in the gravel over which they prefer to live.


Although stillwater populations of barbel exist, they are far more common in rivers, especially where the flow is fast enough to prevent silt being deposited. This means they are usually found over a clean gravel bottom where they like to spawn and feed. They also prefer water with a high oxygen content so you can often find them in the outfalls of weirs.

Feeding habits

Their barbels - the distinctive feelers after which they are named - are extremely sensitive to touch and taste and so are very useful in scouring the bottom in search of insect larvae and other tasty morsels. Favourite natural foods are worms and insect larvae, crustaceans such as crayfish and shrimps, and molluscs including snails and freshwater mussels. Barbel also eat small fish, especially those living on the bottom of rivers, such as loach and bullheads.

Fish facts

Weight: Up to 7.7kg (17lb)
Average Length: Up to 90cm (3ft)
Life-span: 15 years+
Favourite waters: Fast flowing rivers
Favourite baits: Hempseed, casters, luncheon meat, large trout pellets, maggots
UK Record: 19lbs 6oz 8drms (S Curtin 2001)