An angler's journal

An angler's journal

Fishing the River Severn: Barbel Heaven

The River Severn has been a long term magnet for Barbel anglers from all over the country. Although the river has all the makings of a perfect Barbel habitat, they are not indigenous the river. They were stocked by the Angling Times in the 1950s and have gone on to flourish and in doing so have made the Severn one of the best Barbel rivers in the country.

The Severn rises in the Cambrian Mountains in mid-Wales. It then flows through the Shropshire towns of Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth, passing through Worcestershire's Bewdley, Stourport and Upton before entering its tidal stage through Gloucestershire and emptying into the Britsol Channel. This journey makes the Severn the United Kingdom's longest river.

The Severn's upper reaches are prime game fishing territory although a reasonable head of coarse fish
The famous Ironbridge
are present. These include Barbel but they are not there in great numbers and it would take a local knowledge and perseverance to make a profitable campaign. As the river flows downstream into Shrewsbury then the Barbel numbers begin to increase in what is regarded as the middle reaches. Good numbers can be found in the Ironbridge and Coalport areas and day tickets are available for these stretches. However, the bulk of Barbel fishing takes place between Bridgnorth and Bewdley and is known as 'Barbel Alley' such are the volumes of fish.

Fishing the middle Severn

The river's middle reaches have everything a Barbel angler could wish for. Streamy shallows, deeper glides and everything inbetween. As a result, anglers flock from near and far to get in on the action. The Birmingham Anglers Association hold the rights to much of the middle reaches and annual membership costs only £40. Note that they no longer issue day tickets but even for a week it's not bad value. There are other options such as The Ship Inn at Highley, which offers fishing, B&B and caravan pitches as well as Kinver Freeliners who offer day tickets for their Hampton Loade stretch.

Swimfeeder is the number one method for most visiting anglers and a groundbait feeder laced with pellets and hemp together with pellet and boilie hook baits will account for many fish. In summer and
The middle Severn
autumn, when the water is clear, fishing is predictably difficult and maggots and casters will tempt finicky Barbel more readily than larger baits, especially when coupled with a longer hook-link. Trotting or rolling baits also work well in these conditions when static baits are being ignored. Meat still accounts for lots of Barbel when the water has colour or in fading light but remains underused these days. Personally, I never go Barbel fishing without it. Tackle for the Severn sees a typical 1.75lb test curve rod coupled with 10-12lb line and a strong hook to match the bait size. Keep things simple and build up your swim through regular and accurate casting. If sport is slow after a couple of hours then seriously think about moving. Barbel are never far away on the middle Severn so if you're not catching don't just sit there, go and find them.

As mentioned earlier, there are a vast variety of swims available on the river but my go to peg will always be the darker, deeper water above or below the faster, streamier stretches. These areas offer
A typical middle Severn fish
well oxygenated water and are a natural holding area for food and of course fish. In years gone by, it was not uncommon to catch 12+ Barbel in a session. The fish were typical middle Severn fish in the 3-7lb range but it was relatively easy fishing. Although these sessions are still possible, they are now considered a red letter day and it's more likely several fish will represent a good session. That said, there are increasing numbers of double figure fish being taken and a middle Severn double is a fish to be proud of when surrounded by significant numbers of smaller fish.

A lower Severn double

Fishing the lower Severn

The river below Worcester takes on a completely different character. Gone are the rapids to be replaced with a much wider, much deeper almost canal like expanse of water. There is a smaller population of Barbel here compared with upstream, but the chance of a big fish increases significantly. The Severn record was broken on the lower reaches very recently (November 2014), weighing in at 16lb 11oz. Many anglers opt for the bait and wait approach but large deposits of bait can attract the large shoals of Bream so it's best to be flexible in your approach as many methods account for fish. This could include fishing several days as part of a campaign or concentrating on an area over several sessions. Experts (not me, I hasten to add) say that rather than focusing on a specific swim, concentrate on a stretch. It's a big river and the Barbel can be quite nomadic meaning they can appear when you least expect them. I have found that the fish will patrol up and down the main channel, coming quite close in as the day ends. Night fishing, if permitted, is usually more productive in my experience. One thing worth remembering is that the river below Worcester is not heavily fished. The BAA have a few stretches with Severn Stoke being the most popular. There are a few private clubs and syndicates but given the amount of water available they hardly scratch the surface. With 20+lb Zander appearing then who knows what the Barbel potential is for someone willing to put the hours in? The lower Severn is a tough mistress to crack and blanks are to be expected, but the rewards can be well worth the effort. Perseverance pays!

The Severn is a fantastic Barbel river that offers opportunities for the novice and specimen hunter
The lower river as dusk approaches
alike. It is very accessible through reasonably priced angling clubs with plenty of water available on a day ticket. With a variety of accommodation available around the Bridgnorth and Bewdley areas it will keep anglers visiting for many years to come.

I hope that this proves useful as quick guide or a nudge in the right direction. Have a look around the rest of my blog; there are plenty of stories featuring both successes and failures. I also have a Facebook page to accompany the blog so comments and likes are always welcome both here and over on the Facebook page.


  1. A good informative piece have had many happy days and hours over the last 16years and concur with all that you've said.l love the Shropshire area and the Severn valley wishing L was back there now. Best wishes B of Bedfordshire.

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  4. Very helpful - I'm thinking of spending a few days in Bridgenorth soon, would day tickets be available at a local tackle shop?

    1. Hi, visit this tackle shop
      They'll put you right and I think they do permits as well. Hope it goes well. Be sure to let us know.

    2. you can also get day tickets from the unicorn inn hampton loade
      a great place to stay if fishing