Sunday, January 24th 2021
One of the hardest fighting fish in the UK, barbel have always had a natural presence in the River Great Ouse; the current British record of 21 lb 1 oz was caught on the River Great Ouse by Grahame King on the Milton Keynes Angling Association's Adams Mill Fishery. Double figure barbel have been caught at Offord , mainly from the Black Overfalls weir pool and the Millstream, but few have been caught recently.
Barbel spawn between May and July and require clean gravel and flowing water in which to lay their eggs, but due to low water levels over the last few seasons, and the consequent lack of flow, the gravel spawning beds in the Mill Stream silted up and as a result natural barbel breeding virtually ceased.
We sought expert advice from the Environment Agency Fishery Officers at Brampton and invited them to our Fishery. After a site visit they agreed that the Mill Stream was suitable for the reintroduction of barbel and suggested some habitat improvements. Much like a salmon, the female barbel excavates a shallow hollow in the gravel with her tail and then lays her eggs, which are then fertilised by the attending males. The female then covers the eggs with a shallow layer of gravel. The eggs normally hatch within a week, but the barbel fry stay in the gravel for some time, initially living off their yolk sack before hunting and eating the tiny invertebrates that live in the gravel. Clean gravel is key to encouraging the barbel to spawn and to creating a habitat for the invertebrates on which the barbel fry feed .
We formed a work party to carry out the Environment Agency's recommendations, including removing silt from suitable areas of the gravel river bed by cleaning with a pressure jet, and then stocked the Mill Stream with 10 to 12 inch young barbel - 180 of them. Although more expensive, stock fish of this size have a better survival rate and at the same time should provide instant sport for our members. Our young barbel were bred from brood stock fish from the river Derwent, which hosts a strain of powerful fish with good growth rates that are able to reach double figures They were supplied by Epperstone Park Hatcheries in Nottinghamshire.
This is an ongoing project. We hope to re-establish a native population of barbel alongside our resident Chub, and intend to optimise the chances a successful spawning by cleaning sections of the gravel by pressure jet again next spring. We will monitor catch and growth rates of the barbel and if this stocking proves successful we plan to stock again in the near future.
The chub should also benefit from the silt free gravel.