The temperature has been up and down like a yo-yo over the last few weeks, anything from seriously sub-zero up to a balmy double figures.
Fish, being cold-blooded, are the same temperature as the water they swim in, so even small changes have a massive effect on them.
Whereas warm-blooded animals need to eat more when it is cold, to generate heat, the opposite is true for fish in our rivers and stillwaters.
Therefore, having a rough idea of the water temperature and whether it is rising or falling can have a massive impact on the baits you use. Even a change of 0.1ºC can make a difference to your catches.
Most of the time you won’t even need a thermometer to make your bait choice as if you keep an eye on what’s going on around you the indicators are there to see.
You should be aware that the air temperature is not necessarily a reflection of the water temperature.
For example, a warm day after several snowy ones will see the snow melt and water temperatures plummet.
It might be pleasant to fish, but your chances of catching are reduced because of the colder water. Conversely, a frosty day after several mild ones might yield surprisingly good results.
My bait thermometer has been put together to give you a guide to what baits to use, and when.
Once the water temperature drops this low, sport can be tough as carp will be eating very little, but on well stocked venues with the right bait you will still catch. This is the time to dig out the really bright baits – yellow, pink and white are my favourites – and pump up the flavours by using dips.
Keep your feed to the bare minimum. Often, just the hookbait is enough, as long as you are on fish, and it pays to search the swim by casting around until you find them. While you can catch carp when the temperature is this low, great sport can be had with more cold water-tolerant species, like roach, chub and ide, so it might pay to think about targeting these species instead.
Carp can be caught, but don’t expect to bag-up. Consider fishing for roach, chub and ide instead for a great day’s sport.
Super-bright mini-boilies, hair-rigged corn and bread discs are all really visual and work well for carp in the cold. ‘Blown’ pellets, that have a light colour, can also work, but remember to rely on the pulling power of the hookbait and keep feed to an absolute minimum.
From mid-November until late spring you’re likely to be confronted with water temperature in this range.
Encouraging the fish to feed confidently is what it is all about, and that means getting what you feed, and how much, spot-on. Single hookbaits will catch, but not enough to bag-up, and feeding too much will soon kill a swim so start off with a small amount of feed and keep it going in regularly.
Carp sport can be very good when the temperature is rising, and bream are another species that are quite cold-water tolerant.
‘Live baits’ such as maggots and worms are my first choices. Chopped worm is an exceptional attractor and will keep fish in the swim looking for food. Maggots come a close second, but don’t go overboard on the feed.
A couple of pints is enough to catch a big bag of carp.
If boilies are your thing then look for birdfood-based ones that are easy to digest, and consider using 10mm baits.
I call this the ‘Goldilocks zone’ for carp and most coarse fish. The temperature is neither so cold that it will stop the fish feeding, or so hot that they will start laying up and basking. Most venues will be in this range from about May until November.
I normally switch to dark-coloured baits at these water temperatures as the fish are going to be very active and aware of their surroundings, so a bright bait won’t be needed to attract them.
Carp, bream and tench will be feeding hard in this range, so the Method feeder works really well, and it can pay to bait heavily.
Pellets are my number one choice. The fish will be feeding hard and coarse pellets are the ideal food for them. For bigger carp, fishmeal based boilies work exceptionally well in this temperature range.
Carp, tench and barbel love warm water, but once the water gets this warm its capacity to hold oxygen drops massively, and it can be this instead that stops the fish from feeding. Often the carp will be basking on the top, enjoying the sun’s warmth on their backs. This is when surface fishing, the pellet waggler and fishing with zig rigs – in fact, any method that presents a bait up in the water – really comes into its own.
Carp on the surface and up in the water, also great tench sport early and late in the day.
Floating pellets and dog biscuits, bread crust and Zig Bugs all work well for fishing just below or on the surface. If I am fishing on the bottom then I will normally switch to particle baits, such as sweetcorn, as this passes through the fish very quickly.
GAUGING THE TEMPERATURE
Obviously, most of us will have no idea what the water temperature is going to be before we go fishing, but we can collect a lot of clues from the weather forecast and make a pretty good prediction.
Most TV and radio reports are not precise enough. Much better are forecasts for your local area on websites such as MetCheck.
I have several weather Apps on my phone and the one I tend to use the most often is called WindGuru, because this gives a very precise and reliable forecast.
First, look at the day and night time temperatures. A big difference between these figures normally means the water will chill slightly at night, which will make the fishing harder.
Similar day and night temperatures offer much better prospects.
Next, look to see if the temperature each day is going up or down in the days leading up to your session. This will tell you the temperature trend – rising temperatures, especially in winter, mean the fishing will be better.
When you get to the bank, take the water temperature with a thermometer, and check it regularly to see if it is rising or falling. Most good tackle shops will stock both the older brass thermometers and the latest digital versions.
I prefer the greater accuracy digital variety. Used while I am fishing, this will tell me if the temperature is rising or falling.
Temperatures that are rising, even if only by a fraction of a degree, will mean the fish will be more receptive to feeding and you can use more bait.
There is a common myth among non-anglers that fish have very short memories that can be measured in seconds.
If you fish, or work with fish, you will know that this is complete fiction and that fish not only have memories but are also quite quick learners.
If you have ever kept fish then you’ll know they very quickly suss out when it’s feeding time. It may be that, like dogs, they also recognise their owners!
I know that fish can recognise different people.
I’ve seen fish in aquariums ignore people passing their tanks at feeding times but when the guy who fed them came near the tank they were all up and ready to be fed.
This guy always wore the same brown coat, so presumably he was quite distinctive, but this illustrates my point that the fish didn’t simply react to the presence of people at feeding time. They knew that there were other factors involved to accurately predict when they were going to be fed.
Research carried out on fish and their memory has shown that they are capable of remembering events that occurred years in the past.
Some fish have been trained to gather around a particular spot in response to a bell and then released into the wild. A number of fish still responded to the sound and congregated at the spot a year after their release.
If catch records from fisheries are examined they often show that specific fish are caught at a particular time of year from a specific spot.
This would suggest that the fish remember that a particular food will be available at a specific spot at a specific time of year.
This all points to fish having a pretty good memory, for a creature which isn’t endowed with the biggest or most advanced of brains.
Spotting the differences
Fish are quite a diverse group of animals and, even in the UK, the variety of different lifestyles that fish have adopted means that their behaviour can be very different.
However, they all show behaviour indicating they learn and remember experiences.
Research has also shown that fish can remember being caught and will often shy away from baits and rigs that they have previously been caught on.
This is particularly true in really clear conditions when the fish are likely to get a really good look at any bait presented.
This research also shows that if the fish are well looked after during capture then they are more likely to be caught again.
This is presumably because the whole process of being caught wasn’t sufficiently upsetting for the experience to have really embedded in the memory.
It is also true that some fish are caught far more often than others which suggests that these fish are happy to be caught in return for getting extra food!
Research has shown that these fish are often at the lower end of the pecking order and is called the ‘desperado effect’.
These fish will often repeat behaviours that other fish higher up the order avoid, because it’s a way of getting more food.
Research has shown that fish not only ‘recognise’ their mates but are aware of their place in the shoal as well
There is also no doubt that fish know other individuals – carp are often seen together with ‘favoured’ friends. These partnerships can last weeks or even years in some cases.
Shoaling fish have a specific place within a shoal with their ‘mates’ around them.
If you remove a fish from this shoal and put it back a short time later it will return to the same place in the shoal. If they didn’t have a memory how would they know where to go?
Some people have suggested that this actually improves shoaling behaviour because the fish get familiar with the fish around them and how they behave under certain conditions. They can predict one and others behaviour.
The larger, and presumably older fish, in a group are often the most cautious. Presumably, this is how they got to be so large, with the less cautious having been eaten at an early age!
The older fish also have a lot more experience and so will be more wary of baits in regular use.
Many fish show homing instincts and so if they are moved around a fishery they will return to their original location after being released.
River fish also move around a river to different locations during the day. They may have different spots for feeding at different times of the day, then move to another location before dusk where they presumably feel safer at night.
This indicates that the fish remember these areas and associate them with specific times and conditions which increase their chances of finding food and surviving.
Know your target
All these behaviours indicate that fish do have good memories and that they are capable of learning about their environment and surroundings in some detail.
If we take the time to learn and observe these behaviours it can only improve our watercraft and chances of catching fish.
The fish you catch are perfectly adapted to living in an aquatic environment, so the second they leave the water you are responsible for their continued well-being.
To ensure a fish’s safe return and recovery we need to be aware of what changes occur when we take it out of water.
In this month’s Waterlife I’ll detail what happens when a fish is hooked, and show you how you should care for it and return it to fight another day.
How fish fight
Once hooked, a fish will try to escape, and its first reaction will be an instinctive dash away from the spot where it was hooked.
After this initial dash the fish tries to escape using pure swimming speed and strength, maybe trying to get to the safe haven of a nearby feature.
All this activity requires energy and, with fish, this comes from its muscles. Fish have a far greater muscle mass than we do, something that’s needed to move efficiently in water.
The main muscle used in this escape attempt is ‘white muscle’, which makes up the majority of the fish’s body mass.
It generates a huge amount of energy, which gives the fish its ability to accelerate. But white muscle isn’t very efficient, and runs out of fuel very quickly.
Different fish species have different levels of white muscle, and this affects their ability to fight.
Pike, for instance, have very high levels of white muscle to give them the blistering acceleration they need to catch other fish.
However, they haven’t got much of another muscle type – red muscle – which releases energy more slowly and delivers the ability to fight for longer.
Looking after your fish
During the successful capture and release of fish, scientific studies have shown that a number of factors are brought to bear. These include:
Hooks: Barbless or micro-barbed patterns are easiest to remove and cause the least trauma to the fish.
A scientific study showed that the survival of deeply hooked trout was far greater if the barbed hook wasn’t actually removed. The presence of the hook may prevent the fish from feeding in the short term, but modern high carbon hooks rust and break down quickly in water, so the fish can often shed them a short while after capture.
Line breaking strain: Low breaking strain lines mean fish are played more conservatively and so for longer, leading to a greater level of exhaustion. Be fair to the fish and use lines that are strong enough to land it promptly.
Landing nets: Netting a fish may be essential, but you must use a net with a mesh that minimises the potential to damage the fish’s skin by removing mucus and scales.
The old-style knotted mesh nets shouldn’t be used, because they can rub scales off fish. Instead, use one of the modern, softer mesh nets designed to wrap the fish in a soft, wet fabric.
Handling the fish: The fish should be unhooked in the water or placed on a soft, wet mat to minimise damage to the skin and mucus layer surrounding it. It is also important to use wet hands to hold a fish while restraining it to remove a hook, because dry hands or cloths suck moisture and mucus off the fish and can even remove scales.
Handling time: The time out of water is critical to survival for most fish. In average conditions, a fish shouldn’t be kept out of the water for more than 30 seconds. More tolerant fish like carp can survive longer, but don’t take advantage of this hardiness – they should still be returned to the water with all speed.
The time fish can spend out of water is much reduced under warm conditions, because the increased temperature means the fish is using more oxygen.
In extremely cold conditions don’t keep fish out of water very long, otherwise their gills can freeze solid.
Recovering the fish: One of the most important aspects of safely returning a fish is holding it in the water until it can swim off strongly.
If its breathing or swimming is erratic, hold it in a current or gently move it to generate a water flow over the gills. This will speed its recovery.
The fish should be released into an appropriate area, so avoid strong currents that may cause it to over-exert itself again. You should also avoid warm, shallow water where there is less oxygen for the fish to breath.
Keeping fish in keepnets can help the them to recover as long as they’re not going to get caught up, or damaged by, any lumps in the mesh.
The next time you hook a bait remember one thing – the fish you’re trying to catch will probably be able to taste the metal it’s made from!
To help you understand this amazing ability, in this feature I’m explaining all about a fish’s sense of taste…
How fish taste
Some people find it difficult to separate the senses of taste and smell. After all, as fish live in water, surely taste and smell are the same thing?
Well, the fact is the two senses are different.
A fish has a very well developed sense of smell located inside its nostril. A fish also uses an array of taste buds to taste things in its environment.
Most taste buds on a fish are located on the lips, the roof of the mouth, gill arches and barbels but not, funnily enough, on the tongue.
Measuring just one 50,000th of 1mm, these microscopic sensors are tiny bumps that poke through the fish’s skin and protective mucus.
Taste buds can be triggered when they touch things, so the sense of taste is used on things the fish has picked up in its mouth or bumped into.
The sensitive tip is the bit that reacts to specific chemicals.
These taste buds, like ours, are sensitive to sweet, sour, salt and bitter chemicals. A fish’s taste buds are particularly sensitive to acidic tasting chemicals but their sensitivity to sweet and salt is generally less than ours.
Taste buds are also sensitive to the same chemicals as the fish’s sense of smell. So amino acids, bile acids and sugars all trigger the taste bud and tell the fish what they have found is food.
Betaine, for instance, an additive used by specimen carp anglers and which is naturally found in fishmeal, is one of several chemicals that trigger a strong response from the taste buds, so sparking a robust feeding response.
Baits which give off chemicals which trigger both senses of smell and taste will also provoke a strong feeding response.
This explains why fishmeal-based pellets, pastes and boilies are so effective – they have a smell and taste fish are massively stimulated by.
A lot of fish also have taste buds on their bodies. Scaleless fish like catfish have taste buds all over their bodies. Simply bumping into something can allow the fish to taste it.
Carp have taste buds scattered all over their head, barbels and on their fins. These body taste buds don’t release the strongest signal but they are good enough for a fish to know it’s bumped into something edible.
The taste buds which give off the strongest response are in and around the mouth.
The taste filter
Cyprinid fishes, like carp and roach, also possess a fleshy, muscular area on the roof of their mouths, called the palatal organ, which is covered in millions of taste buds.
When a fish sucks in food it uses this organ at the back of their mouth to taste it.
As soon as the palatal organ touches and tastes something edible, it automatically grips the particle of food.
With the edible stuff held tightly, the fish is free to reject the non-edible wreckage by blowing it out of their mouth. Edible particles are then swallowed.
If stones are sucked in with the food the palatal organ holds these while the edible particles are swallowed before blowing out the unwelcome stones.
It is no coincidence the pharyngeal teeth that mash up the food are located right next to this area. Once food has been filtered, it’s passed straight into the pharynx to be crunched up.
The palatal organ is probably the main reason why carp were once thought to be almost uncatchable and why the advent of the hair-rig has had such a big impact on the number of carp that are caught. Let me explain.
Carp have a very sensitive palatal organ, a large mouth and a strong exhale.
If such a fish sucked up a bait placed directly on the hook and tasted the metal the hook was made from on its palatal organ, they would reject the bait and easily blow it out of their mouth before the angler had any indication of a bite.
However, with a hair-rig the bare hook is free to prick the fish on its way out of its mouth as the fish tries to get rid of the bait, this massively increases the number of hook ups.
Scientific research has even shown that the sensitivity varies within a species – different strains of carp will have differing preferences for food.
One scientific study showed that European carp have a sweeter tooth than Asian carp.
Fish will also learn that particular tastes are associated with food and can develop a taste for unusual flavours not found in the wild.
Are fish attracted to the sweet aroma of strawberries or do they swim a mile? Dr Mark Burdass reveals the facts about what fish can smell and how bait flavourings can help you catch them...
THE IMPORTANCE OF SMELL
Underwater visibility is very poor in many fisheries so a good sense of smell is vital in allowing fish to find food.
What many anglers don’t realise is that smell is not only important in food location but, it also helps fish find a mate, detect predators and find fish they’re related to.
HOW DO FISH SMELL?
A fish’s highly tuned sense of smell is mainly based on a set of well developed nostrils located on the snout.
These nostrils, or nares, are complex structures and if you look closely you’ll see there are usually two holes, an inlet and outlet, on each one.
There are often flaps or fans which separate the two holes and also push water into the nostril as the fish moves.
Water moves in, usually by a pumping action caused by the fish’s breathing, and travels down to a folded structure called a rosette where all the sensory organs are located.
The number of sensory cells on this rosette can be as many as 500,000 per square millimetre.
The folding of tissue in the rosette creates a bigger surface area, making more room for sensory organs, but there are big variations between the smell sensitivity of different species.
For example, a pike can have less than nine folds per rosette while an eel can have 90.
Because eels also have a much denser coating of receptors, their sense of smell may be 1000 times better than a pike.
HOW FISHES NOSTRILS WORK
WHAT CAN A FISH SMELL?
The chemicals that fish can detect are varied but it’s those that the fish uses to find food which are of interest to anglers. The key substances are amino acids and bile acids. These will trigger feeding in most fish.
Amino acids are found in food items and some leak into the water, giving a scent trail for the fish to follow.
In fact, natural foods like worms and snails, which have no real smell to us, actually ‘leak’ low level amino acids into the water which fish can locate.
Salmonids (salmon and trout) have a limited smelling range but cyprinids (carp, roach, barbel, bream etc) have greater sensitivity to amino acids. They are far more likely to be stimulated by baits and additives with natural aminos.
Less well known are substances called bile acids. These are chemicals excreted by fish after they have digested their food, so their presence indicates feeding activity has taken place in an area. This can trigger other fish to search for food in the same spot.
The creation of bile acid is one of the reasons why regular loosefeeding is effective and why prebaiting a swim for a few days can often guarantee action.
Fish can also sense many of the chemicals we add to baits to make them more appealing.
If a new food with a unique smell is introduced to a fishery and the fish have learned that it’s food, they will soon search out that smell to find the food they associate with it.
It is unlikely to be the smell itself that a fish is attracted to, more the connection between the smell indicating the presence of food. However, as the bait is used more as a hookbait, they may begin to associate the smell with being caught rather than food. The bait will lose its attractiveness.
MORE ATTRACTIVE BAITS
Fish are able to detect these chemicals down to incredibly low levels although the mere presence of these in your bait will not guarantee success. There are lots of other things to consider.
For example, are the chemicals actually leaking out of your bait? What other scent trails are disguising the smell in the water? Is there a water flow which is carrying the trail? Are fish moving around sufficiently to find the bait? Has this scent been used a lot in the fishery and are the fish wise to it? Have the fish tuned into another source of food and are ignoring the presented bait and its scent?
Recent research on amino acids and their use as attractants has shown that, for most species, there is no single amino acid that gives the best result – a blend of aminos is what you’re after. But a blend that is good for tench may be less so for carp.
ARE FLAVOURINGS USEFUL?
Natural bait flavourings, containing amino and bile acids, are likely to be the most reliable chemicals to boost your bait. It’s also likely that adding lashings of flavour may work against you. Species with a highly folded smell rosette, such as cyprinids, can locate chemicals at very low levels. It is quite possible that loading a bait with a very high level of synthetic flavour may repel, rather than attract them. But, whatever bait you’re flavouring must have a good food value in its own right. Fish will soon stop eating a substance that has been enhanced with flavour but which has little nutritional value for them.
Remember though, even if a bait has a great food value and a great smell, it must still be cast in the right place to work. There is no such thing as an irresistible flavour and as long as that continues, the challenge of catching fish will remain.
Fisheries scientist Dr Mark Burdass has a warning for you – fish might not have ears that you can see but they can hear almost every noise you make. So tread lightly...
MOST anglers are aware that fish can pick up vibrations because they have both ears and a lateral line which can pick up any disturbance.
The problem for most anglers is that water is an excellent conductor of sound and vibration. A clumsy angler can rapidly denude his chosen swim of fish by driving up in the car, slamming the door then dumping his gear on the bank.
Then, when all but the most tolerant fish have been spooked off, he bangs in some rod rests and bank sticks for good measure. He then wonders why he hasn’t had any bites for a few hours!
Our freshwater fish can be divided into two general groups – the hearing specialists and the non-specialist.
The specialists are the cyprinids such as carp, roach and tench. All these fish have their ears hard-wired to their swim bladders by a series of bones from the spine.
This connection means that they increase their hearing range considerably, because sound is actually created by rapid changes in pressure.
This means that the air in the swim bladder will be affected more than the surrounding body of the fish. The connection to the ears passes on these vibrations so the fish can sense the sound.
A human can generally hear between 20 and 20,000 Hertz, (Hertz is a measure of sound frequency, or pitch). The average cyprinid can hear between 5 and 2,000 Hertz so they can tune into lower, deeper sounds than us but not up to the higher frequencies.
This means fish can probably detect someone walking much better than we can but would struggle to hear a bite alarm.
The non-specialists include fish like perch and pike. These species don’t have a connection between the swim bladder and their ears so they cannot hear sounds much above 500 Hertz.
These fish are often sight specialists relying on their hearing as a secondary sense. A recent scientific study showed that hearing specialists are particularly badly affected by noise from boat traffic. It seems excess levels of noise interferes with their ability to feed, while the non-specialists were unaffected.
All fish have a pair of ears – just behind the skull – and, as in people, they are responsible for hearing and balance.
But unlike our ears those on a fish don’t have any obvious outlet to the outside world. Floppy ears on a fish would be no use at all because they pick up sound from water so well without them.
This could also cause the fish a problem. As the fish itself is mainly constructed of water, a sound vibration may pass straight through it without the fish being able to sense it.
To allow the fish to hear, the noise or vibration must affect the relevant bits of the fish differently.
Hence the connection of the ears to the swim bladder, because noise travels differently through air than water.
In all fish ears there are also three bones called otoliths which are much denser than water.
These will also pick up the sound vibration differently to the rest of a fishes body.
The lateral line picks up low frequency sound and water movement close to the fish. It works by having a series of blobs of jelly in the lateral line under the skin which are disturbed by water movement or sound. Sensors in the blobs of jelly note the movement and pass this information to the brain.
Fish can also determine the direction of the sound as they have two ears and a lateral line on both sides of their body. The slight time delay between the two sides is enough for the fish to work out which direction the sound came from.
So, it’s best to keep quiet even though fish can become accustomed to loud noises if they occur regularly. I fish a lake close to a busy railway line and they are not upset by the regular rumbling of trains – but will spook easily by the sound of me setting up my fishing chair.
Stuart Walker and Bob Roberts have travelled half way round the world chasing big fish. From the Cauvery river in southern India to the Nepalese border in the Himalayas; from the Nubian desert to the Canadian Rockies, they’ve chased fish and shared untold adventures. Here's their story concentrating on the life of river barbel, told by Bob Roberts
It was on one of these trips that we decided we really should be filming our exploits. Many dream of making these trips, few actually follow through and it’s important to capture the memories when you do, if only to show your grandchildren.
So we bought a video camera, and the results, are remarkable. We had no training, no background in filming or editing, yet Stu and I seemed to share a knack for capturing those special moments. Some of our earliest footage was even shown on Sky TV!
After we finally came back down to earth we needed a new challenge – to make a film here in the UK. We love barbel fishing and it was almost by accident that the Barbel Days and Ways DVDs were born.
Trouble is, we don’t do things by half. We set out to make something really special, something that would push the boundaries of what had been seen before and the logical way was to go right into the barbel’s domain; to film them close up so that we could actually hear what they were doing, never mind watch.
But I’m racing ahead. First, we had to invest in more equipment. We had to locate the waters where we could get really close to the fish, waters that were clear enough to see what was going on – not easy in Yorkshire.
Had anyone said that Stu and I would spend more than 50 days watching and filming barbel in the space of a year without wetting a line I would have said they were crazy. But it’s so easy for something like this to turn into an obsession. You learn so much from close-up observation and the more you learn the more you want to know. Trouble is, you can’t waltz into Waterstones and ask for the latest book on ‘How to film barbel underwater’ because it simply doesn’t exist.
We had to improvise, work everything out for ourselves and make plenty of costly mistakes before we got it right.
We had to modify commercially available underwater filming equipment and even created an underwater monopod that enables us to look down on fish using a cut-off bank stick and a paving slab!
Our equipment is compact, fairly unobtrusive and operates silently but we don’t have monitors and the camera cannot be manoeuvred once placed in position. That means we haven’t a clue what we’ve filmed until we download the footage later.
It only takes a single strand of weed to drape itself on the camera to ruin a day’s shooting and we cannot even be certain that the camera is level – it could be pointing slightly upwards or set on a tilt when the riverbed is uneven, which is extremely frustrating. But worst of all, the angle of view is limited, rather like wearing blinkers. Anything that happens six inches to the left or right might be missed.
Paul Garner’s excellent article starting on page 34 shows you how to catch a barbel. Filming from the riverbed helps us to clearly understand why some tactics work and why some simply don’t.
Here’s a baker’s dozen of tips based on lessons and observations made while filming our Barbel Days And Ways DVDs:
Lesson One: Hush - be quiet!
Let’s start right at the very beginning. We were the first angling film makers to put effort into recording the actual underwater sounds rather than the overdubbed tinkling streams and swish, swish of the fishes tails that others have used. What a shock we got. The underwater camera could clearly pick up our voices as we were talking on the bank and if the camera could pick up the sound then it stood to reason that fish could also hear us.
Not only do you need to avoid making heavy footfalls or dropping items on the ground, you really should be talking in hushed tones and whispers.
Lesson Two: Fish are noisy eaters
If that wasn’t eye opening enough the first truly dramatic revelation was about to hit us. We were baiting with pellets and the first fish to home in on them were chub.
In they came to sweep up the pellets and suddenly the noise was unmistakable as they crunched up hard pellets in their pharyngeal throat teeth.
Sound travels remarkably well in water and minutes after the chub began chomping, up popped a barbel, quickly followed by his mates. After filming this in numerous different swims it became obvious that chub are more bold than barbel but the noise of feeding chub stimulates barbel into feeding.
It became apparent that a barbel doesn’t have to be directly downstream of your feed to find it, providing there are chub around.
Incidentally, chub respond to the noise made by anything that falls on the water surface, often dashing in to intercept food items as they fall through the water.
Barbel can be heard when they feed, too, but the sound of their chewing is at a lower frequency.
Lesson Three: Stones are a pushover
The sound doesn’t end there, either, because barbel appear to love rooting around in the stones, happily rolling pebbles as big as a man’s fist with their snouts.
That was another interesting observation. We all used to think that the barbel’s head is shaped like it is for streamlining purposes, but it’s not. The snout is for digging and when we buried handfuls of pellets beneath coarse gravel the barbel swept in, presumably homing in on the scent of the baits, and began digging. In next to no time they had dug a hole in the bottom with their snouts to get at the pellets.
You will be amazed by how much noise is generated as barbel root around and disturb rocks and pebbles.
Lesson Four: Choose your swim wisely
We have been able to observe how baits behave in the flow and it shocked us to see how pellets, in particular, absorbed water before rolling away downstream.
On clean sandy bottoms or fine gravel it wasn’t unusual to see all our bait washed away by what were relatively slow currents and it made us think how often we had been left fishing single hookbaits.
As a result of our filming we now always try to fish over coarse gravel, pebbly or stony areas because we can be certain that some bait will lodge in the crevices.
Lesson Five: Gone in 60 seconds
We were also quite surprised to see how quickly a shoal of barbel could mop up our baits. It’s often suggested by ‘experts’ that we should bait a swim and wait an hour before fishing.
Don’t be surprised then if you don’t get a bite because chances are your bait has either been eaten or washed away! We have filmed barbel moving in on a baited swim within two minutes of us stopping using the bait dropper.
Lesson Six: Get them preoccupied using the right feed mix
This is why we have developed a special barbel pellet feed mix with Allan Parbery at Mistral Baits. It’s not actually available as I write but it will be in time for next season.
We have taken six different types and sizes of pellets from the current Mistral range and it is recommended you mix the pellets 50:50 with cooked hempseed. Barbel really do love hemp which encourages them to root vigorously for each last grain. It’s a lot cheaper than pellets alone which is a bonus.
Some of the pellets in our mix are only 2mm in diameter and they break down very quickly. Indeed, each pellet breaks down at a different rate so there is always some leakage of flavours and the pellets will range from hard to a soft mush depending on how long they have been in the swim.
It’s all about getting fish preoccupied with looking for food and drawing more fish into the swim and holding them there for as long as possible, which brings me to social behaviour.
Lesson Seven: De-bunking the bullying theory
I wish someone would pay me a thousand pounds for every time I’ve heard talk about barbel moving into a swim and bullying the other fish out.
I’d probably be a millionaire but it’s complete bunkum, honestly! Barbel, chub, bream, carp and even minnows feed side-by-side without the slightest care in the world.
Feeding chub stimulate barbel into feeding. The reason why chub activity ceases in a barbel swim is because they are hopeless at picking up static baits and much prefer to intercept falling and moving baits. We see this time and time again when we are filming.
Lesson Eight: Throwing caution to the wind
Another thing that surprised us was how barbel lost their caution when you got them feeding well. It was not unusual to wade into the river several times as we repositioned the camera.
We have footage of barbel sheltering under a bush not four feet from where Stu is stood in the river and they are just waiting for him to get out of the way so they can get back to the bait. Once, they were back on the feed before he got back to dry land.
Lesson Nine: Does your hooklink come up short?
We learned so much about rigs and how we present our baits, too. Asubject that we are still learning even more about.
One incredible surprise has been the number of times a barbel can pick up a bait on a short hooklink and get away with it – especially if this is attached to a bolt rig.
The evidence is there for you to see for yourself on the DVDs and, as a result, I’ve spent the whole of this season using hooklinks that are three foot long and I rarely miss a bite. Nor do I ever deep-hook a fish.
We have become very conscious of the barbel’s reaction to end tackle and to rig materials in particular.
I used to be a fan of fluorocarbon hooklinks but I revised my views and changed tactics after watching barbel spook away from it on numerous occasions.
Lesson Ten: “Boo!” – that scared you...
Barbel appear to have little fear of supple hooklinks, even thick ones that they can quite obviously see. We’ve filmed them with both weed and a braid hooklink draped over their noses yet they show no alarm. However, when they touch a fluorocarbon line, which is not only quite stiff but practically invisible in water, it really spooks them. It’s like someone has crept up behind them and shouted, “boo!” Sinking braid and a running rig is now my choice.
Lesson Eleven: Back to the drawing board with back leads
If we take the presence of line to its conclusion we enter a key area when it comes to rig presentation and spooking fish.
The point where your reel line rises from the bottom is clearly where barbel may run into a taught line that can cause them to flee. By ensuring your feeder lies at the upstream perimeter of the baited area the chance of a fish touching the line is reduced but not totally eliminated. You need to take great care over accuracy when positioning your end tackle.
Some anglers use back leads to effectively pin another metre of line to the river bed. This seems a great idea but in reality the river bed is seldom flat – there are pebbles and stones, bits of weed and debris, so more often than not your line is actually held up just off the bottom and acts like a trip wire. Often, we’ve seen fish brush this line and flee.
The trouble is, it only takes one panicked fish to bolt and the entire shoal will follow. It’s a nightmare, especially on pressured rivers where fish spook easily.
Lesson Twelve: Telegraph lines
Another point that I’ve never seen mentioned anywhere before is that a taught line makes a noise. I’m sure you’ve played fish on windy days and heard your line singing in the wind. Well, your line makes a noise like that in the water and the fish can definitely hear it.
Lesson Thirteen: A bag of tricks?
There’s no doubt that barbel anglers were quick to adopt one of the carp anglers’ favourite methods – hooking on a pellet-filled PVAbag each time they cast out so the hookbait is then surrounded by a neat pile of free offerings.
The theory is that a barbel will be more prone to making a mistake and it sounds a brilliant idea, but few have properly thought this through.
PVAbagging can be an expensive waste of time, effort and money not just because your bunch of baits would probably drift off on the current in many swims but because the PVAbag often never gets there.
Solid PVAbags contain air and therefore they are quite buoyant. It was quite a shock when we first filmed this – our bag waved around like a kite a foot off bottom. Only when the bag began to melt did it release the pellets which were immediately swept away by the current, landing miles away from the hookbait. Sometimes, the point where the bag is hooked melts quickest and the whole bag detaches from the hook and floats off downstream.
If you are going to use PVA, choose a stringer or a mesh bag. Don’t use bags in deep water (in summer) because the mesh through which the hook is nicked may melt before the lead hits bottom in warm water.
Did you know that stillwaters, lakes, meres, estate lakes and even commercial fisheries are rarely absolutely still? When the wind blows strange things happen to the water underneath the surface...
Even the faintest breeze can have an affect on the lake itself because, like Newton once said, for every reaction there is an opposite reaction.
So, the wind blowing over the surface of any lake anywhere is bound to affect the water immediately underneath those moving air particles and that affect is to create water movement. In other words, the dreaded undertow.
Everone who has ever floatfished a stillwater when it's windy will have, at some point, suffered from the affect of undertow.... those times when your float willl not stay still and keeps drifting through the swim making presentation really awkward, but worse still, makes your bait move unnaturally.
Here's you'll find out a whole lot more about undertow, what happens under the water, how it works and what to do to beat it and carry on catching even in the strongest wind...
a Surface water movement direction
b Wind direction
c The water slams into the end of the lake and is returned along the lake bottom
d Frequently the strongest tow is found close in and weakens as you go further out
e On some waters, the wind pushes the water around the lake circles
f Undertow, most of the time, will generally return in the opposite direction to the wind
g Undertow direction
RIG FOR PICKING UP THE TOW
If you have tow moving in the opposite direction to wind, this is the ideal scenario as it makes it easier to keep that bait still. Surface water movement is counteracted by tow along the lake’s bottom, so if you put your shot in a bulk in this area it will hold steadily in the swim.
RIG FOR AVOIDING THE TOW
When the wind and tow are in the same direction you get presentation problems. With the extra ‘push’ your float will scurry through the swim far too quickly, providing poor presentation. You might pick off the odd fi sh with the bait moving, but you really need to slow that bait down and present it still. It really is important to do this and having line on the bottom can secure your bait.
Imagine you are pole fishing on a lake and your float is moving against the direction the wind is going. What’s going on here, then? (diagram, left) Well, it’s the undertow! When you have wind blowing against the lake this encourages the surface water to run in a particular direction. And then, when it reaches the far bank, currents are transferred to the bottom, so what happens is that the currents go back in a reverse direction, circulating water within the lake.
Remember, it’s not always fixed either, with currents and tow moving in different ways, sometimes even in circular fashion like a tumble dryer. And before all this talk of circulating currents puts you off, remember that undertow is a good thing, as water movement introduces oxygen into the water, encouraging fish to feed.
Beating undertow when fishing a waggler...
Although this is near impossible, there are a few things you can do to slow your rig right down whenever fishing in a strong wind and equally strong undertow...
Sinking your mainline between float and rod tip helps. To do this either cast further than you require, dip the rod tip under the water and wind the rig back really quickly to force the line under the surface. Alternatively, cast out, straighten your line, dip the rod tip right under the surface and strike the rod upwards quite sharply.
Using a very long waggler helps too as this ensures that your line is positioned further under the surface.
Fishing overdepth can slow your float down dramatically too, but choose your bait wisely as heavy baits can become snagged on underwater blanket weed. One of the best baits is a single caster, set so that the hook is worked right inside the bait, ensuring that the hook point doesn't show.
Anchoring the rig to the lake bed also helps. Fish overdepth and add a No8 or two onto the hooklength so that the shot drags along the bottom, slowing the passage of the float down. To do this correctly you'll need to use a straight peacock waggler as this will have enough buoyancy in the tip to keep the float above water when the shot trundle along the bottom.
If all else fails...
Get your feeder rod out and start legering instead!
The freshwater fish in our lakes, ponds and rivers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but this diversity is not the result of random chance.
Body shape and fin location have evolved to allow the fish to perform and operate effectively in the environments they live.
Living in water is not at all like living in air. There are many specific differences such as the fact that water is 800 times denser than air, so moving in water takes a lot more effort. This particular factor means that fish have to optimise their bodies to allow movement. This situation becomes a lot worse when you consider that in moving rivers and streams, just maintaining position consumes energy.
The main powerhouse for movement comes from a fish’s tail, which acts like a propeller at the back of the fish. Different species have different tail shapes and this is also linked to how and where a fish is moving.
Riverine fish tend to have deep, sharply forked tails, which reduce the ‘drag’ which would otherwise hold the fish back when it moved. The forked nature means that the surface area of the tail is relatively low so there is less surface for the water to stick to when the fish moves at speed. This means a riverine fish in moving water can efficiently beat its tail for relatively low energy input because the drag on the tail is low. However, forked tails generally provide less power per sweep so need to be moved more rapidly to achieve movement.
Shallow forked tails generate more energy per sweep of the tail but create more drag, so fish that generally move around in stillwaters have less forked tails. This allows them to accelerate for short periods with lots of power, but they don’t maintain these top speeds for long because it uses too much energy.
The body shape of the fish also gives a clue as to where it lives. Torpedo-like body shapes are highly efficient in terms of moving in water, so fish that live in fast flowing rivers have this characteristic. Fish like barbel and chub epitomise this body shape and they have evolved to live in rivers and streams. They have low-drag bodies and allow the fish to have high muscle content in their bodies which actually generates the power.
This torpedo shape can be even more accentuated in a pike. These fish rely on their ability to rapidly accelerate to capture other fish. The cylindrical body shape allows efficient movement in water and most of the fins are positioned at the back to provide propulsion for rapid acceleration.
The broader, deeper body shapes such as bream and roach are less suited to moving in fast-flowing rivers but they have other advantages, one of which is camouflage. Their broad scaly flanks actually reflect the light around them, which means their bodies act as mirrors so the fish blends in with its surroundings. This principle, that fish have evolved millions of years ago, is now the same that has been used to design camouflage suits for the military! So the fish has balanced the problem of drag and slower movement against the need to avoid being eaten.
The type of scales and the levels of slime on fish also reflect the types of environment they live in. Tench have small scales with lots of slime and spend most of their time near the bottom and around snags which means they tend to bump into stuff more often.
The small scales are less easy to knock off and the extra slime protects the fish’s skin against damage. Larger scales such as those on roach and rudd are more sensitive to damage but are more efficient as mirrors and therefore give better camouflage in open water.
The lateral line is very obvious on most fish and is part of the fish’s sensory system which allows it to detect movement around it, and to hear low frequency sound.
The level of development of this system is often related to need, so in a fish like carp it clearly runs down either side of the body. However, in a pike, the system also extends to the head.
This ensures that pike are able to detect water movement directly ahead of them and can focus to pinpoint the exact location of their prey.
One of the most encouraging traits of modern fishing is the greater interest anglers have in looking after the fish they catch.
But to ensure the fish you catch are released fit and strong, here is the definitive guide to a fish's internal organs so you can avoid causing any accidental damage.
1 - Gills
Gills of fish are for breathing. The gills sit behind the gill cover and, in a healthy fish, appear a bright red colour. The gills are extremely efficient at extracting oxygen from water allowing the fish to function normally. They can extract over 80% of the oxygen in the water passing over them (average person is around 4%). This efficiency comes at a price however. To get the oxygen in, the tissue is very thin, typically just seven thousandths of a millimetre. This makes them very fragile so the gill cover protects them from damage. Rough handling can easily damage them so anglers should try and avoid touching or handling a fish around the gills. The oxygen the fish extracts is used to ‘burn’ the food it has digested to provide the energy to survive.
2 - Swim bladder
This organ stores gas inside the fish. Its main function is to counterbalance the weight of the rest of the fish’s body. This means the fish doesn’t have to swim to stay in the water column. It effectively makes the fish neutrally buoyant. This means the fins can be used to control position with slow precise movement rather than constantly having to work to keep itself off the bottom.
3 - Weberian Ossicles
These are found only in the carp-like fish. They are bone extensions of the spine and connect the swim bladder to the fish’s ears. This connection means that the fish can hear a much wider range of sound frequencies. Fish like perch and pike don’t have these and so have less effective hearing.
4 - Ears
The ears of fish are internal with no connection to the outside world. The reason for this is simply that they don’t need to. Sound travels much better in water compared to air so the sound easily passes into the fish where their ears can detect it. Fish hear much lower pitch sounds than people but are not as good at hearing high pitched sounds. You should remember this when you’re trampling about on the bank or banging in bank sticks!
5 - Heart
This is a blood pump, just like in people. In fish, blood leaves the heart and goes directly to the gills. So when the blood arrives at the gills it is at high pressure and flowing fast. This helps to make the gills efficient in carrying oxygen and food, as well as transporting waste chemicals. The blood then travels away from the gills carrying oxygen to other body organs. However, it also means that if the gills are damaged the blood loss is quite rapid – so avoid handling fish near the gills. The heart sits under the gills usually in the V-shape formed between the two gill covers. This location ensures the heart doesn’t have to pump blood far to get to the gills.
6 - Brain
Fish brains are not massive but perfectly functional for what the fish needs. They are particularly well developed for processing sensory information such as vision, smell and sounds.
7 - Liver
The liver of most of our coarse fish is usually quite big and combines the liver and pancreas together. This organ regulates and processes the digested food. It can also break down harmful chemicals. In coarse fish it is usually connected closely with the intestine. If it gets damaged it means the fish can’t process food properly and they can waste away and die. In coarse fish fed on trout pellets it can also get quite fatty. As yet however, there is no real evidence that this does the fish any harm.
8 - Stomach and Intestine
Predatory fish have stomachs to process the ingested prey. Fish like carp and roach don’t have a true stomach and just have a long intestine. This is because they feed more frequently than predators and their natural food often comes in smaller bits. This means they don’t need a stomach to start the digestion process. Food travels down the gut and is soaked with digestive chemicals to break it down. It’s then absorbed by the intestine and transported by blood to the liver or is stored for later use.
9 - Kidney
A fish’s two kidneys are merged into one and sit right under the spine. The kidney’s main function is to act as a filter and is well developed in all freshwater fish. It basically filters the blood and allows the fish to get rid of all the water that leaks into its body across the gills and through the intestine. The rest of the outside skin of the fish is generally pretty watertight unless it gets damaged. If the kidney gets damaged by disease or pollution, the fish retains water and will bloat up because it can’t effectively get rid of the water.
10 - Spleen
A dark red organ usually located around the middle of the fish. This organ makes and stores blood and also helps to fight off infections.
11 - Gall Bladder
Produces bile which is secreted into the intestine to neutralise acid from the stomach and also helps digest fats in food. It is usually bright yellow or green depending on the colour of the bile it produces.
Carp farming has a long history and most of the carp stocked into UK fisheries are produced in controlled conditions.
The farming process can be split into two basic phases. The first is the hatchery where the brood fish are spawned and the eggs and fry are produced, and the next phase is the on-growing process which is happens in ponds.
In this first of two articles I will look at the how the carp are spawned and the eggs produced.
Brood fish are generally four years old and have developed gonads which are ready to spawn. In the wild, this is governed by temperature. For farming, the process needs to be more timely and so a hormone is used to induce them to spawn.
This means that the whole process is more predictable and fish held in warm water all year round can be spawned at any time throughout the seasons.
Carp fry start off very small and incredibly fragile. In the wild, very few make it beyond just a few days.
This early period of their lives has the highest mortality rate with less than one in a thousand fish surviving the first few weeks.
From an economic fish farming viewpoint this level of mortality is far too high so it is necessary to intervene in the fry rearing process and offer the baby fish vital protection to ensure more of them survive.
In last month’s Waterlife I detailed how a carp’s egg is collected and fertilised, once hatched out of the egg, the fry has its own yolk to live on for two or three days.
It then needs to start eating.
Carp fry of a few days old are so undeveloped that they cannot digest pelleted foods.
These first-feeding fry need to be fed on live food, on a farm they are fed on tiny shrimp-like creatures called artemia.
These are also just a day or so old and are less than 0.5mm in size which is just perfect for carp to eat.
These tiny shrimps are hatched in large quantities from dried eggs and then fed directly to the carp fry.
However, artemia is very expensive and so it can only be used for a few days t give the baby fish a healthy kick-start.
Beyond this time the carp fry are then stocked out into freshly flooded fish farm ponds. These ponds will have bloomed up with tiny planktonic animals that are the perfect food for the carp fry.
Once in the ponds, the newly stocked carp start hoovering up these tiny animals and grow rapidly.
Once again, by intervening in the early stages of fish growth and ensuring the baby fish have a ready supply of the right kind of food, fish farmers can dramatically increase the survival rates of the young carp.
After just a few weeks the rapidly growing fish will be big enough to enjoy another change of diet as they can start to eat tiny pellets, this will further boost their growth.
These pellets are packed with protein which further enhances the babies growth and survival rate.
One important factor in feeding these small fish is they don’t have stomachs to store and digest food in, this means they prefer their food constantly drip fed to them during the day.
Automatic feeding machines are often used on rearing ponds to govern the feeding of the baby fish.
Believe it or not, experiments have proved that if the fish are fed the same amount of food spread over the day, rather than in two large meals, they will actually grow better by about 20%.
During the summer period the fish grow rapidly in the warm water. There are often a lot of fish in the ponds and the weight of stock can rapidly increase with the growth of the fish.
Once again this can create a problem as the levels of oxygen available to the fish can be reduced by the sheer weight of carp living in there, particularly at night.
To ensure the best survival rate, oxygen levels in the ponds are carefully monitored and aerators are used to keep plenty of oxygen in the ponds.
Once winter sets in, the specially reared young carp will grow much less but they will already have grown sufficiently well enough in the protected environment of the fish farm to be able to survive the cold.
At a time of the year when the natural mortality rate of fish fry peaks again, the farm-reared carp will be big enough to survive until warmer weather returns.
The following spring, these one year old carp are classified as ‘C1 fish’.
The maximum growth potential of carp is rarely achieved in outdoor pond farms, even with the extra feed and good water quality.
It is only in warmer countries than here, or if the carp are grown indoors with the water being heated and constantly maintained, that they reach their maximum potential.
In a trial at Sparsholt College we have managed to grow carp to 20lb in under two years by feeding them good food in warm temperatures!
Fish mouths differ among species. Knowing how they work helps us catch.
Successful angling is often all about understanding how and when fish feed. If we understand how fish actually take bait into their mouths we can better prepare and present the baits designed to catch them.
Our coarse fish have quite a variety of different methods of taking in food, and so different bait types work for different species of fish. They also have different adaptations to help them take in food. You may have noticed some fish have mouths which telescope out – like carp – while in others such as pike this is not so obvious. However, all fish when feeding form their mouths into a tube shape to get the food in.
To do this they have evolved a really complex set of bones, tendons and ligaments. These all work together to allow the fish to feed more effectively. By simply looking at a fish it would be difficult to see how complex it all is but a fish skeleton reveals all. One of the fundamental problems that all fish have to overcome is how to actually get the food into their mouths. This isn’t as simple as you might first think. The problem is a simple one – the food is in or on the water and the fish’s mouth is also full of water! So how do they encourage the food to move into their mouths?
Most fish use suction as the main method. By sucking in the water around their mouths the food is also taken in. To generate the suction they do two things. First, they expand the inside of their mouths and their gill covers. This creates an enlarged space inside the mouth. The edges of the gill covers remain sealed against the body so the only way the water can get in to fill this new space is through the mouth.
Some fish such as carp are very good at this and enhance the effect by having mouths which protrude in a long tube. However, it’s not simply forming the right type of tube with their mouths that makes this work. The power of the mouth pump itself is very important and this is due to the size of the gill covers and how the inside of the mouth is set up. Carp have a very powerful pump which is very effective at sucking in food from very deep sediment.
So the shape of the mouth and the pump creates a directionally focused water current where the food is taken. It also allows them to dig down into sand and mud and suck up food items buried quite deep.
Fish can also reverse the water flow and so blast water into the soft sediment to reveal food hidden underneath. It also allows the fish to extend its mouth to pick up food away from its head. This form of feeding is very common in carp and gives the characteristic ‘blows’ seen in shallow water as the sediment is blasted from the bottom by the carp.
One of the main reasons for using a hair rig is that carp are very good at blowing stuff back out of their mouths if they don’t like it. So a normal bait, with very little of the hook showing, can be blown back out without hooking the fish. The fish has sucked in the bait and blown it out before you’ve had a chance to strike! But, with a hair rig, the hook is free to make contact as it’s on its way out!
Fish that don’t have protruding mouths have to get much closer to their food before they can suck it in. Carp are certainly the best at digging down into the bottom ooze with tench and bream next.
Carp and fish related to them have a special filtering mechanism at the very back of their mouths called the palatine organ that allows the fish to sort out food from the mud and stones they suck up.
This, however, isn’t the only way that fish can get food into their mouths. Perch, for instance, can rely on a very strong suction and large mouths to suck in their prey. This draws in the prey to the back of their mouths where it can be trapped. This very powerful suction is enhanced by large gill covers as well. They can also engulf their prey, accelerating quickly and opening their mouths at the last second. The perch flares its gills open at the same time to allow water to flush straight through the mouth as the prey is swept along with it. Many anglers will have noticed that perch will often be hooked towards the back of the throat because they suck the bait up so strongly.
So knowing how fish feed helps us present baits in the best ways to catch them.
Suck and blow - How fish feed
A rapid fall in water temperature is the worst scenario for winter fishing.
Fish hate rapid temperature change and, when a sudden cold snap kicks in, most species tend to go right off the feed.
Dr Mark Burdass says: “When water temperature falls below 4ºC most of our coarse fish shut down. Some native species like pike and chub will feed intermittently but non-native species like carp are particularly affected.
“At a temperature of 4ºC the affected fish will often shoal together in the warmest spot they can find and stay there virtually dormant.
“Locating these fish is vital because no amount of groundbaiting will draw these fish to you. For the best chance of catching you have to find them and drop a bait right on their noses.
“These fish don’t actually need to feed, but it’s like tempting them with a sweet. Put a bait right in front of them and one of them will eventually eat it.”
Mark, a lecturer in fish science and behaviour at Hampshire’s renowned Sparshalt College, explained that, in these conditions, fish location and the use of visual hookbait like sweetcorn, is far more important than heavily flavoured bait.
Fish will feed slightly more freely in a prolonged spell of cold weather where water temperature has remained constant. They will move for short periods to find food.
Best times to fish
1. Water temperatures above 6ºC and weather is settled
2. Water has been 4ºC for four or five days
3. In the afternoon, when the sun has warmed up the shallow areas of a water
4. When water temperatures begin to rise, no matter how cold it has been beforehand
5. When wind swings into the south or west and brings slightly milder weather.
Feeding temperature guide
6°C – 7°C Fish feeding moderately well
4°C – 5°C Fish still aware and feeding intermittently
2°C – 3°C Fish becoming dormant. You’ll struggle!
1°C – 2°C Fish virtually inert
Many match and specialist anglers now carry a thermometer.
Water temperature will dictate how much – if anything – they’ll feed. They also want to know if the water temperature rises during the session. A temperature rise – even by half a degree – will spark fish to feed.
There are a number of angling thermo-meters on the market, including the highly sensitive, digital Rivertherm model (below) capable of measuring both air and water temperature.
Alternatively, get a metal-cased thermometer (above) designed to be pushed into the ground to record soil temperature. Tie a length of cord to it and and lob it in.
All fish respond directly to the weather and different species feed more keenly than others in the cold.
Pike and chub are two of the main target species when the frost is crunching underfoot.
Here’s our temperature guide to Britain’s most popular fish.
Carp are a warm water species and only grow and reproduce in water temperatures of 15ºC, and above. They can be caught all year round but feeding activity slows down from the first frosts. From this point carp become far less active and often shoal up in the warmest areas, or seek out warmer thermal layers (thermoclimes). Locating fish is key as there may be large areas in lakes and commercial pools devoid of fish. If you do locate them, they may only feed for short periods. Below 4ºC, carp are generally unwilling to feed.
An iconic summer species. In colder water conditions – from late October to April when water temperature dips – the tench slows down its body mechanism and effectively hibernates. It has little or no need to feed.
There are exceptions, notably in heavily-stocked commercial pools where some tench occasionally continue to feed through moderately cold weather.
Roach are one of the few species that will feed freely throughout the cold weather.
Like most other species, roach won’t feed following sudden water temperature drops of more than one or two degrees (after a hard, overnight frost, for example.)
However, in periods of sustained cold weather, the roach is a good target for the angler as it will compete for food up in the water.
More active in summer than winter as they digest their food quicker, and therefore eat more often. Some specialist perch anglers maintain that big stillwater perch rarely feed when the water temperature falls below 4ºC (39ºF.)
Perch in rivers feed harder throughout the colder months because running water tends to have a more stable temperature that is less susceptible to large fluctuations you get in stillwaters.
Bream are very much like carp and can be caught through 12 months of the year, though sport does tail off in the colder months.
Well known as a shoaling species, bream move around more readily than carp when water temperatures dip and location is again the key issue in catching them. While carp tend to stay shoaled in the same areas in colder months, bream will move about from day to day, or week to week.
The chub is the king of cold-water species. Chub stuff themselves with maggots and casters on the coldest day. Many day ticket commercial pools now stock chub to keep anglers catching throughout the hard winter months.
Chub can be caught at all depths but, if you fire in bait regularly, they will come up in the water to compete in snatching slow-falling freebies like maggots.
Sudden falls in water temperatures are guaranteed to knock barbel sport on the head, both in rivers and commercial stillwaters.
Barbel will feed happily in cold-water conditions, providing the water has been at a settled, low temperature for a period of days.
Just as barbel stop feeding in response to a cold snap, even a tiny rise in water temperature can spark them into feeding furiously, especially if it is coupled with a rise in water level.
Another warm water species, the rudd is at its most active in the spring, summer and autumn. As soon as water temperatures nosedive, the rudd’s metabolism slows down.
Rudd can still be caught in winter, especially on heavily-stocked commercial pools, but they aren’t worth targeting.
These powerful predators won’t expend lots of energy chasing a meal, but if you drop a bait on a pike’s nose, or inch it past it, it will swallow it.
Big static sea deadbaits that leach off loads of flavour, or lures worked slow and deep just above the holes in the weed where pike like to lay up, are favourite.
Livebaits (where allowed) tethered below a pike bung or under a slow-moving drifter float, will also produce big fish.
Weather can be the single biggest factor in deciding if you’ll have a good day’s fishing – or suffer a bad one.
Weather conditions will dictate if, when, and how hard the fish feed, and will also have a huge bearing on the comfort of the fisherman on the bank.
A wet or cold angler can’t be expected to enjoy his or her sport – even if the fish are biting well – but pick your day and plan your trip correctly and you’ll have a great time.
By following just a few simple rules you can turn a potential blank into a late season success to put the smile back on your face.
The weather is the number one topic of conversation for most UK citizens, but how many of us really know how to decipher the forecasts? Next time you see those big charts the weathermen use at the end of the television news, have a close look at the pressure – or synoptic – charts and interpret the ‘squiggly lines’ by looking out for the following.
Atmospheric pressure is the force of the air pressing down on the earth’s surface and this pressure has a direct influence on the weather we receive, depending on if it is increasing or decreasing.
Atmospheric pressure is measured in inches of mercury in a barometer, or in millibars (mb) on maps.
In this country, our air pressure is typically somewhere between 980mb (low) to 1030mb (high.)
Points of the same pressure can be joined up to form lines called isobars. These form rings around high and low pressure centres.
Isobars (squiggly lines) join areas of equal pressure, in the same way contours on a map join areas of equal height.
● An area of high pressure (an anti cyclone) means settled weather; an area of low pressure (or a depression) often delivers wind and rain.
● Wind direction generally parallels the isobars, travelling anti-clockwise round a ‘low’, and clockwise round a ‘high’ (the opposites apply in the southern hemisphere.) The closer the isobars on a weather chart, the stronger the winds.
The heavier lines with small triangles or semi-circles drawn on the leading edges indicate weather ‘fronts’ – a weather system that’s being pushed towards, or away from, the British Isles.
A cold front is the front edge of a colder air mass. It means cloud and a narrow band of heavy rain followed by colder temperatures. It is indicated on the weather charts by small black triangles. The triangles point in the direction that the front is moving.
A warm front – or the front edge of a warm air mass – generally means cloud and an extensive band of drizzle or heavy rain is on the way. It is indicated on the weather maps by black semi-circles that point in the direction the front is moving.
● Low pressure areas are more likely to produce clouds and rain.
● High pressure areas usually mean settled, sunny weather.
● The perfect time to fish most stillwaters in the UK is when a low pressure system is coming in from the Atlantic. This means it will be mild, windy, full of cloud and probably wet, due to the westerly or south-westerly air flow. If you see this weather pattern coming up, get out there because the fish will be getting their heads down to feed.
What forecast conditions mean at this time of year
SUN is good at this time of year as it will heat up the top layers and shallower marginal areas of a fishery.
Target these shallow areas in the afternoon when fish have moved into them to feed.
RAIN can be good if it is mild and warm and brought from either a westerly or south-westerly direction. It can add colour to the water and spark fish to feed.
FORECAST WIND NORTHERLY
or easterly winds are bad at this time of year, especially if they carry rain. They will send air (and water) temperatures tumbling, putting the fish off their food and making fishing uncomfortable for the angler. In these conditions try to find a sheltered swim with the wind off your back. Never fish at the end of a pool with a north or east wind blowing directly in your face. Water temperatures here will be the lowest in the lake.
Remember: The power of the wind (wind chill) can reduce air temperature by 10 degrees C or more.
A SUDDEN, hard overnight frost is likely to put fish off the feed. They may eat angler’s baits in the mid to late afternoon when they have warmed up or acclimatised. Look for the deepest (and warmest) swims to fish in frosty conditions.
FORECAST THUNDER STORMS
OPINIONS are mixed as to whether fish are affected by thunderstorms. We here at IYCF have had some great fishing straight after the most violent thunderstorms. Remember you must be careful in electrical storms. Carbon is an excellent conductor of electricity and you should never use or hold a pole or rod during thunder and lightning storms.
PROVIDED you have proper clothing and shelter, snow can be good at this time of year. Snow can indicate either a slight rise or fall in air temperature. Snow following a sustained period of frost indicates rising temperatures that could switch the fish into feeding. They have to feed sometime – even in cold weather.
Photographing a good fish you’ve caught in the snow, will also give you a souvenir you’ll never forget.
Old sayings: Is there anything in them?
TRUE: Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in morning, shepherds warning. Weather fronts often approach the UK from the west, so a red sky at night means it’s clear to the west (you can see the sun going down) and the cloud is clearing from the east. A red sky in the morning illuminates clouds to the west, so predicting bad weather.
TRUE: Mackerel sky and mares’ tails make tall ships carry low sails. The build-up of cirrocumulus cloud (mackerel sky) can often indicate a front approaching, carrying wind and rain.
TRUE: When the wind is in the west, the fish bite the best. When the wind is in the south, it blows the bait into the fishes mouth. When the wind is in the east, the fishes bite the least. When the wind is in the north the fish don’t go forth. South and west winds are warm and mild. North and east are cold and put coarse fish off the feed and make them lethargic.
TRUE: When smoke descends, good weather ends. When a low pressure front is coming, bringing rain, smoke from chimneys will fall.
FALSE: If cows lay down in the fields, it’s going to rain. Rubbish. They’re just tired and chewing the cud!
Reading the clouds
WATCHING the sky can give you a great indication of what kind of weather to expect – if you know what to look for.
The kind of clouds above you can accurately tell you what to expect. Here’s the IYCF guide to clouds, and their meaning.