I’ll rarely go to a carp match in winter these days without a bulging bag of hookbaits stacked on top of my barrow and that’s because when I’m fishing for just a handful of bites, making a change and hitting upon the bait that the fish want on that given day can turn a blank day into a potential winner.
Too often I see anglers sticking to the same hookbait for the full five hours, working on the assumption that eventually, the carp will find the bait and take it and while that might work in summer, when the water is cold and clear, the chances of this happening are minimal to say the least.
The preferences of carp can change in the space of a week and by that, I mean that when bread may have won the match on one weekend, seven days later it could be a banded pellet or a yellow mini pop-up that catches. Keep on casting the same bait and you’ll simply never maximise the full potential of the peg.
I do have my winter favourites though and Wafters are king in my opinion but bread, corn, a pop-up and even a piece of meat can be the bait of the day depending on conditions and in many instances, the venue you’re fishing.
So this week I’m going to talk through the bait that goes into the van when I’m bound for Barston Lake or Boddington Reservoir, both home to big carp that aren’t the easiest to catch in winter…
Unless I was fishing for F1s or skimmers, I rarely consider using maggots as a hookbait. They’re not much use when I’m waiting up to half an hour for a bite especially if the lake holds lots of roach as these little fish will soon chew a bunch of maggots into skins without a touch registering on the quivertip. They’re really only a last resort if I can’t get a bite on anything else – you’re better off saving them for the pole on F1s venues!
If your venue sees lots of hard pellets fed by anglers fishing the pole or pellet waggler in summer and autumn then a hard 8mm pellet fished in a band could do well as the carp in these waters will accept them as part of their regular diet. They’re small fish-proof and so can be left out for a long time but their lack of colour I think works against them when you’re trying to get the hookbait to stand out.
A winter bait that’s as old as the hills and actually works better in clear water than coloured. A stack of three or four pieces of corn fished on a hair-rig is impossible for a feeding carp to miss and you can even use a piece of fake floating corn if rules allow to slightly pop the stack up off bottom. I always use plain yellow corn as I’ve never found that red or orange colours gives me that much of an advantage.
Much-used by pole anglers for dobbing on snake lakes bread also makes a superb winter bomb bait on big lakes and like corn, it is very visual to the fish. The one down side is that it won’t stay on the hook for ever and can be whittled down by little fish so if you lake is home to plenty of roach, it may not be the best bet. I fish five or six pieces of 8mm punch on a hair-rig and always go for Warburton’s thick-sliced white in the orange bag. One word of warning with bread though - it will fluff up to several times its size when soaked so ensure that you hair is long enough to leave a gap between the bait and hook when the bread is fully fluffed up.
We’re talking standard bottom baits here in 8mm or 10mm sizes but I do think that the plain old boilie has now been overtaken by the Wafter or pop-up. That’s not so day I won’t take them with me for a change bait with orange being a particularly good colour. Ringer Baits have also developed some ‘washed out’ boilies that are faded in colour and so look like they’ve been on the lakebed for ages to a carp, thus not arousing their suspicion. Early tests with these have been promising.
Presenting a hookbait two inches off bottom waving around offers a totally different presentation to the fish, one that can make a huge difference. An 8mm bright pink colour has been very effective in recent years but they rarely work when used with a Method feeder so I use them on the bomb when fished alongside a small PVA bag of pellets or with the pellet cone.
Here it is – the bait that won best match bait in the recent Angling Times awards and even I couldn’t have predicted how popular these would become! A Wafter is basically a pop-up that when fished on a hair-rig becomes critically-balanced to sit just off bottom, meaning that when a fish takes the bait, it feels no resistance as it would from a bottom bait. The chocolate orange variety is bright orange and stands out a mile although on some venues the yellow versions catch well but I’d always start on a single 8mm orange bait when fishing the Method or Hybrid feeder.
Keeping mobile and scouring miles of river in a day is the best way to keep warm this winter and chub are the ultimate species to target when adopting this proactive approach.
Tiny rivers that weave through stunning countryside settings are often the perfect place to employ a roving attack, with many enthusiasts of this style often visiting over a dozen swims in a session. A short spurt in one spot will soon provide indications as to whether a greedy chub inhabits the peg and if it does, you can bet your bottom dollar that a carefully presented hookbait will soon be engulfed.
WHERE TO FISH
Chub can be found in almost every English, Welsh and lower-Scottish rivers and streams. They have bred well and many numbers of chub of decent sizes are targetable across the country with hundreds of waters giving up 5lb specimens, and many prime rivers providing the angler with chub to over 6lb.
They can be found in deep and powerful rivers such as the Trent, Severn, Thames and Wye, through to tiny little backwaters that you could wade or even jump across. So there’s a high chance that you can find chub a short drive away from your home. A good start is to ask at your local tackle shop or keep an eye out in our 'where to fish' section of the Angling Times each week to help you find venues.
It is no secret that chub love to lie close to cover and there is no shortage of it on the river, with stacks of swims home to sunken trees, overhanging branches and clumps of brambles. Add to that a mixture of fast glides and gentle slacks and you potentially have hundreds of little areas that look incredibly inviting. The diagram below shows you some classic chub holding features. Click on it to enlarge..
The good news is chub are one of the least fussy species in our waterways. However, there are some days when one bait out of five is the only one they want so taking a few change baits with you on the bank is a good idea. The top baits for chub in winter are generally, cheesepaste, meat, bread flake, maggots, lobworms, boilies and paste but thats not to say other homemade and natural varieties such as a big black slug are not worth trying on the day. When the river is coloured cheesepaste is tough to beat and has accounted for some monster fish in the past. Find out how to roll your own here.
Minimal tackle is required for the ambush to end in success, with a rod, landing net, unhooking mat and a small bag of terminal tackle all that you need to carry. Bogging yourself down with too much gear will only discourage you from moving swims which will in turn mean you get less bites. On some stretches where there is bankside vegetation to rest your rod on you may not even need to take a bank stick! Travelling light will also mean you are more stealthy and less likely to spook shy fish.
Keeping things simple is the key to success with chub. Having too complicated a rig can also make it difficult to re-tie another in cold weather should you experience a breakage or tangle. A simple link leger rig is all you need to catch a few chub and some of the sport's top anglers still use this tradtional setup to catch fish in excess of 8lb. Tie a small loop in some strong mono and cut the other end to around two inches in length before pinching two or three SSG onto it. Thread the loop end up the line and prevent it from sliding down to the hook using a float stop or small swivel (see rig diagram below). A float stop will also allow you to alter the length of your hooklength at any time if you are fishing straight through with your reel line. This setup also makes it easy to change to another hook pattern if you decide to dramtically change hookbaits during a session. If you are planning to fish with baits like cheesepaste and bread a large hook say an 6 or 8 is perfect for burying the hook in the bait. Just make sure you fish a fairly powerful carp style variety with a thick wire gauge as chub are powerful creatures and can easily bend a hook shank. As for your line, this depends on how snaggy the river is and also the size of chub in it. Generally a line of around 6-8lb mono is more than beefy enough to cope with the biggest of chub you'll encounter on UK rivers.
FEEDING & TACTICS
There are many different options on offer here. A small cage feeder with liquidised or mashed bread in it can prove deadly during the winter. On days where the fish are more easily spooked than sticking to the link leger and feeding by hand is sometimes better. In this scenario a handful of mashed bread, created by soaking some cut slices heavily in water, or some small nail size blobs of cheesepaste fed into the likely areas should bring you success. A great tactic especially when there are few anglers on the water is to walk away from your car, feeding all the likely looking spots as described above. When you've fed enough areas, say 10, you can then walk back on yourself fishing all the spots you have baited. If you dont get a bite within half an hour, move on. If you prefer to use maggots or worms than feeding regularly by hand or a baitdropper is better.
Continue down for our top ten chub fishing tips...
Rain can sometimes be the match angler’s best friend when rivers are low and clear and in desperate need of freshening up but on the flip side, a downpour can wreck a well-honed match plan overnight, ruining a perfect-looking river in hours and producing blanks aplenty.
I’ve been there plenty of times, fishing matches where one fish could win and a bite, let alone something in the net is worth shouting about! However, on the right venue, heavy rain that changes the game can actually present a match-winning opportunity, especially if there are bream and barbel about.
My local Warks Avon around Stratford is a prime example of this. On a normal day I would expect to be fishing for roach and chub but when the rain comes down and the river rises and colours up, these two species vanish. They’re replaced instead by skimmers, hybrids, bream and if you’re lucky a barbel. Changing your plans and of course fishing the right areas in the first place can actually produce better fishing than if the river was in perfect nick.
You’ve got a good peg - what now?
If you are lucky enough to get on a bream peg, the job is still far from done and even before you unzip the rod bag, the first consideration is where to fish in the peg. I look straight away for any large amount of slack water, whether that is caused by a bay or water running off of a bend. The point where a river opens out from narrows is also a guaranteed bream area.
The swim I’m fishing on the Avon has just that, slack water close to the far bank created by a slight bend and I know from experience that there’s also a silt bed here. This silt will be full of natural food like bloodworm and bream won’t move far from here. To find a silty bottom, cast a feeder or bomb out and wind it slowly back across the riverbed. Resistance caused by the lead digging into the silt tells you that you have found what you’re looking for.
The feeder is king
Rod and line is the only option for tackling a slack at range and the waggler just won’t present the bait still enough so it’ll be an out and out feeder job.
My rig for a river like the Avon is nothing special, made up of the feeder running on the mainline that has a short four inch twizzled length above the hooklink, which creates a bit of a semi bolt rig effect. Mainline is reliable old 6lb Maxima, the feeder being a 30g Garbolino wire cage. Hooklink is 2.5ft or 3ft of 0.16mm Garbo Line, this length putting the bait ell downstream of the feeder which is where you often find bigger bream sat below the feed picking off particles.
That only leaves the hook to pick and I can’t fault a size 13 Kamasan B711. All of this sounds like powerful kit for bream fishing but in coloured water I honestly think that the fish are not wary of big hooks and big baits. I also don’t want to lose what I hook!
Cage or plastic feeder?
I prefer a cage feeder over a plastic model as they empty quicker but also don’t flex in flowing water as a plastic feeder can, which gives false indications on the tip. A wire cage feeder also adds more overall weight to hold bottom, doing away with the need for add-on weights. Around 30g is ample to hold bottom in a slack so long as you have the rod pointed up in the air keeping as much line as possible off the surface where the strongest flow is.
Add some fishmeal
With colour in the water, bream will feed my scent and not eyesight so a groundbait to go in the feeder needs something powerful to stop them and that means fishmeal. I’ll mix up a ‘normal’ bream blend of Sensas Lake and Feeder but also add a good helping of Bait-Tech Marine Halibut Mix. If the river was low and clear though, the Halibut would go as I’d expect to catch roach, dace, chub and perch as well as bream. Not in water the colour of tea though! This is mixed relatively dry to empty out of the feeder quickly.
Packed with goodness
Keeping with the positive theme, I try and cram each feederful with as many particles as I can if I draw on some bream. That’s simply casters, chopped worm and dead maggots that lace the groundbait because a 5lb bream can demolish a feeder of bait in one go. Imagine this happening with a dozen fish in the area and you can see how much feed needs to go in.
Too many anglers put an initial hit of feed in, catch a few and then stop getting bites. They then sit and wait, hoping that the bream have backed off and will return but on a coloured river, the reason is more likely to be that there’s no food left! You have to be attacking.
On the hook
Nothing can beat worms on a coloured river and while a dendra or lobworm tail are good, I swear by two large redworms tipped with a dead red maggot. Redworms wriggle like mad and a bream can pick them out far quicker than three dead maggots.
Keep the bait going in
I’ll cast every five minutes even if I’m not getting bites to keep the bait going in on a regular basis as you have to be positive. Clipping up and aiming to a far bank marker will put the feeder in the right place each time.
If I cast and get a knock on the tip immediately then this tells me that the fish are not backing off and that they want the feed so you need to try and read the timing of the bite, if I am left waiting five minutes for an indication then the fish could be backing off.
That’s a bite!
With the rod up in the air, a bite from a bream will either be a big drop back as they move the feeder or a couple of taps on the tip followed by a positive pull. The key is to make sure that the fish is on and that means not striking too early. Always let the bite develop fully.
Six feeders of bait go in at the start and I would expect indications quickly. If nothing happens after half an hour but I am getting small fish knocks then this tells me more bait needs to go in so out goes another six feederfuls. If nothing is happening at all then it will be a bit of a waiting game so you’ll need to leave the feeder out for longer and wait. Provided you have drawn a bream peg and conditions are right, there’s no reason why they won’t feed.
Bonus fish are always worth their weight in gold on any type of venue, even more so in winter when 5lb can cover to the top four at the end of a match but dividing your time between catching bread and butter weight-building fish and spending time in search of a bonus is a delicate tight rope to walk.
Waste too much time fishing for a carp and drawing a blank and you’ll fall behind whereas if you don’t give it enough time, you’re not doing the swim justice. This is common on venues where there are lots of skimmers but also a good head of big carp that can really knock your weight up a few notches.
All in the timing
So when do you have a go for a carp and for how long? There’s no text book written about this and each day is different. However, one thing always remains the same in that carp normally feed best in the opening and final half hour of the match so I would devote this time to fishing for lumps! After this, I will be fishing for carp and F1s much as I would if I was after big perch on a canal – having a quick look every 20 or 30 minutes. You only need the quiver to go round once and you’re in business. One or two casts in the maximum I would make each time.
Bags of promise!
I don’t even consider using a feeder or groundbait to catch carp. I’ve found that big fish much prefer to feed on ‘hard’ baits, namely pellets. Add groundbait and you only draw skimmers in, which are what you don’t want to catch. So pellets it is and although you could use a Method or pellet feeder, these would involve feeding dampened softened pellets, which is a recipe for attracting skimmers too!
That only leaves me with PVA bags to get the feed close to the hookbait. By filling Avid PVA Stocking Mesh with a mix of 4mm and 6mm Sonubaits F1 hard pellets and a few 2mm hard krill pellets, the carp and F1s are presented with a small pile or crunchy goodies right on top of the hookbait. I make my bags up the night before and load each one with enough pellets to fill up a small Cad Pot – the finished bag should be around the size of a 50p piece.
Go the distance
Only on an odd occasion will a carp or F1 venture onto my skimmer feeder line and experience tells me that the big fish much prefer to sit well out into the lake away from any commotion. That means winding up a big cast of perhaps 60m, where you can find your own water. This basically means fishing a line that those anglers around you aren’t. This way you will have any fish on the area coming to your feed and your feed alone.
The longer you can cast, the better your results will be so you may have to blast the rig a long way but in general, a 50 or 60m cast is comfortable and far enough. However, you’ll need a more specialised rod than a standard 11ft bream rod to hit the spot. That means digging the 12ft Preston Innovations Equis Feeder rod out of the holdall to really put some backbone into the chuck, especially when there’s a PVA bag attached to the rig.
Stepped up tackle
You could hook a 15lb carp on this rod so you don’t want to lose it. That is reflected in the tackle used, made up of 5lb Preston Powermax mainline with an 8lb shockleader and a 50cm hooklink of 0.17mm Powerline finished off with a size 14 PR27 eyed hook to hair-rig baits. Because I’m not using a feeder, I fish an inline Match Cube bomb of 1oz or even 1.5oz. Inside this I run an elasticated Interchange Stem to help make the rig even more self-hooking. Many fisheries won’t allow elasticated bombs or feeders but where allowed, I want to use them. If not, I simply run the bomb on the mainline.
Because there’s only a small patch of bait for the carp to home in on, I like to give them a bit of a helping hand by fishing a bright hookbait. Again, hard is best to avoid trouble from skimmers and pretty much all I need is a tub of 8mm Sonubaits Band ‘Ums, which are hard dumbbell-shaped pellets in a range of colours.
As a guide, the red Krill or orange Band ‘Ums are excellent for carp and F1s when the fishing is good but if sport was slow in cold weather, I’ve caught more by changing to a white or yellow bait.
Threading the bag
If I was casting short then I wouldn’t hesitate to nick the PVA bag directly onto the hook but this is no good for a long cast, as the bag will rip off the hook. The solution is to thread it down the hooklink and onto the hook as this will hold in place perfectly. Here’s how to do it:
1 Take a latched baiting needle and pass it through the bag
2 Now hook the loop of your hooklink into the needle’s latch and close
3 Run the bag down the hooklink off the needle
4 Pull the bag onto the baited hook, leaving just the bend showing
Winter feederfishing for bream can so often revolve around tiny little changes making a big difference and nowhere more so is this true than in the distance you fish at.
Plug away on one line and you will catch to begin with but when the bites die off, too many anglers keep at it more in hope than anything else that the bream will return. The truth is that they rarely do but nor is it the case that they have stopped feeding. Very often, the fish will simply have moved a few yards further out or even closer to the bank.
This can be down to clarity of the water and the pressure that’s being put on the fish when a few of their mates get caught but when the tip stops moving, don’t just sit there. Wind in, take a few turns off the reel or add a few and get back in. The change is often immediate!
The Main Lake at Barston Lakes is a typical example of this change. I’ve fished plenty of matches when the bites have stopped and you have to follow those bream around. It’s common at Barston for the bream to move closer onto a long pole line that pole anglers commonly fish and you almost need to have two separate lines on the go at once, allowing you to chop and change.
The right distance
To kick off with and provided the water has a bit of colour in it, I will begin fishing at around 26 turns on the reel. This is a comfortable distance to cast but far enough out to encourage a number of fish into the swim. When it all goes quiet, it simply needs line adding or taking off the cast and I firstly go longer, only by four or five turns. If this doesn’t work then the fish may be closer in so I drop the cast to around 20 turns. Again, if this draws a blank then I may need to throw even further than I did. At some point though, you will find the fish and catch them.
Two feeders for two jobs
Although Method feeders catch a lot of bream in the summer at Barston, in winter I think the fish want groundbait at opposed to pellets so the cage feeder is the answer. The Main Lake is relatively shallow so a cage or plastic open end works well and my favourite is the Preston Innovations Plug It in the small 20g side, heavy enough to reach the spot but without putting in too much bait.
I will have a second rod set up though and this uses an in-line Cage feeder with a shorter hooklink. The reason for this is that because the bream are used to seeing Method feeders with the bait close by, they often attack the feeder to get the bait - the short tail puts the hookbait nearby. You’ll know if this is happening when using the Plug It feeder and longer tail because you will get a sharp knock on the tip very quickly after casting and then nothing. Then it’s time to change!
Things are relatively simple on this front with 4lb Power Max mainline to a 50cm link of 0.11mm Powerline (shortened to 8-10 inches for the inline Cage) and a size 16 PR412 hook. I do use a shockleader though, even with mono as it gives me a bit more poke when playing a bonus carp or F1 under the rod tip. This is several metres of 8lb Korum reel line. The rig itself runs on the mainline with the feeder on one of my home-made feeder links above a six inch length of twisted line to eliminate tangles. Needless to say I clip up to make sure I’m on the right spot each time.
It is easy to get an old favourite rod out of the bag every time but different lengths will make fishing so much easier. I have three of the new Preston Innovations Equis rods ready to go in my bag and for relatively short range, the 11ft model, a classic bream rod will do. However, if I need to cast beyond say 30 turns, then you will struggle to be super accurate unless you scale up to the 11ft 6in rod – that extra six inches really does make all the difference! There’s also a 12ft rod for really long casts when the water is clear and cold. Winter bream fishing in my experience is about distance and not depth – find the range that the fish are feeding at. The depth is irrelevant really.
Bloodworm and joker
These are baits that can stop a lot of anglers in their tracks. They think it’s too expensive and difficult to use but both are simply not true. A match pack of worm and joker is cheaper than buying half a kilo of worms and two pints of casters and you don’t have to faff around with leam to use it. Both are so natural to fish compared to casters or maggots and in winter when every bite counts, this is crucial.
The joker goes into my groundbait while bloodworm is used in bunches on the hook alongside dead maggots and pinkies. You don’t need to be packing the feeder with lots of goodies at this time of year so there’s no place for micro pellets, chopped worm or casters!
Three types of groundbait
Plain groundbait is okay to use when you are catching but in clearing water, I find that you need to put something in the feeder that makes something happen. Damp leam is the answer as this will put a bit of a cloud into the water that the fish can’t help but investigate.
So on my tray I have a bowl of just Sonubaits F1 Dark groundbait, a second bowl that is 50/50 F1 Dark and damp leam and finally a bowl of just leam. I’ll switch to leam when the swim seems dead or if I am changing lines and want to get things going quickly. When I’m catching again, I go back to just groundbait. To these feeds I will add a good helping of joker, not loads of the stuff but certainly enough to hold the fish when they arrive.
Dead maggots and fluoro pinkies are my starting bait as a single maggot or double pinkie but as soon as I can, I want to get onto bloodworm. When I am catching well, I then make the change to five or six worms crammed onto the hook, perhaps tipped with a dead pinkie. Bream love bloodworm and once they find it, they can very rarely resist it!
Feel your way in
How long should you leave the feeder out there for? Surprisingly, the answer is not too long as I think that if the fish have been drawn in, a bite shouldn’t be long in coming. I don’t bosh in several feeders of bait at the start, preferring to build the swim simply with what’s in the feeder on each cast and I wait 10 minutes between chucks. If you are catching though, this will be much quicker and so you will be getting the feed in faster.
As the weather cools, there is no better tactic than bomb and pellet.
Massive catches can be taken with this combination at many waters up and down the country.
It’s almost as if as soon as the carp start to feel the cold, they decide to have one last hard feed before winter sets in.
There is no better bait than big hard pellets, in different sizes. At big waters like Boddington, where the carp average 8lb, I’d use a minimum of 8mm pellets, sometimes going up to 10mm pellets for feeding at a longer distance.
If I was fishing a water with smaller carp I would adjust the size of my pellets accordingly.
Every day is different but I always take six pints of pellets with me. It’s rare I will feed that many, especially when it’s cold. It’s all about ‘feeling your way in’. If there are a lot of carp present I will increase the feed but there’s no point lashing pellets in if you are getting no signs or bites.
So the message is to take plenty of pellets, but just because you have them doesn’t mean you have to feed them all.
When dealing with big fish it’s important to have the right rod for the job. I’ve spent quite a bit of time working with Daiwa to design the perfect tool for double-figure carp, and the result is the Team Daiwa 11ft Power Method Feeder rod.
The rod has bags of power for both playing fish and casting, and is fitted with the proper rings for the job. For bomb work I use the 2oz tip, which has oversized eyes to cope with heavy mainlines.
MY BOMB SET-UP
My set-up for bomb fishing couldn’t be simpler. I use the neat and tangle-free Guru X-Safe bombs, which have the benefit of elastic to help prevent hook-pulls when playing big carp.
Bomb weight depends on how far out I want to fish, but at Boddington and the like I will normally opt for the 1.1oz version. Hooklength is 0.22mm Guru N-Gauge, which is strong enough to handle just about any carp you’re likely to hook!
I like to vary the length of my hooklength. If the fishing is hard, I will fish a long hooklength of 24ins or so in the hope that a carp might follow the hookbait down as it falls slowly through the water.
However, if the carp are feeding well I’ll shorten the hooklength right down to 12ins.
The reason a short hooklength makes the rig more positive is that a carp has less room to move once it sucks the hookbait in before it feels the weight of the lead and the hook is pulled home.
If the fish are feeding hard on the pellets they will already be on the bottom, grubbing about for loose offerings, so a short hooklength makes perfect sense in this situation. My choice of hook for big pellets is a size 10 QM1.
HOW TO FEED
On big waters, always feed as far out as you can. If you can fish that little bit further out than those around you you will always have an advantage.
It’s almost like creating your own end peg!
I always start off with the philosophy that ‘you can feed more bait but you can’t take it out’, so I’ll always err towards caution at the start.
As a guide I’ll kick off feeding six to eight pellets every couple of minutes, just to see what happens.
If I start to get signs and catch a fish or two I’ll increase the feed slightly to see what response I get. If I then get more signs and bites, I’ll increase it even further.
My thinking around hookbaits has changed somewhat this year, with a few more options added to my armoury.
My starting point is to always ‘match the hatch’ and fish the same on the hair as what I’m feeding. Even so, one hookbait that rarely lets me down is a big 12mm Robin Red hard pellet, especially at Boddington.
I think there are two reasons why it works so well. First, size.
At 12mm it really stands out among the loose offerings and gives the carp something they can really home in on. Second, colour. Many commercials are coloured, and I have always felt red is highly visible in coloured water.
The new kids on the block when it comes to bomb and pellet fishing are Ringers Wafters. I have enjoyed great success with two 8mm Pellet Wafters on a size 10QM1 hook, which balances them perfectly. Then there’s the brilliant 10mm Orange Wafter. I have no idea why this works so well on the bomb over pellets but believe me, it does! Another angler tipped me off about their effectiveness in this situation and he wasn’t wrong!
If you’re struggling for a bite on the bomb, or if carp are there and you aren’t catching them, try an Orange Wafter on the hair. You might be surprised at the results.
When using bomb and pellet tactics I have always caught a lot of carp by fishing just past my feed.
I believe that on pressured waters carp sit a little way off the main loosefed area, moving in and out and picking up free offerings as they do so.
To take advantage of this I cast the bomb around 5m past the loosefeed. However, to give my hookbait a bit of extra attraction I also to have a rod set up with an Impact Bomb on.
These bombs are designed to hold a few wetted-down micro pellets which then explode off the lead on impact with the water and give my hookbait that bit more pulling power.
For Mark Pollard, there’s no finer sight than a big bag of shimmering redfins glistening in the sunshine.
The prolific match angler and silverfish expert is a dab hand at putting such a net together, a catch like that pictured in the following few pages.
Here he gives his 10 vital steps to roach success on the pole on a variety of stillwater venues this spring including commercials, big natural lakes and park lakes such as the one he was targeting today, Furzton Lake in the centre of Milton Keynes.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned long pole angler, you’re bound to take plenty from his sound advice. Over to you Mark…
1. Pick your spot
Where you choose to fish your pole line and put your bag at the start of the session is often a deal breaker. Too close and you might not get bites, too far out and you’ll make it harder than you need for yourself.
If you’ve got a coloured lake with a good ‘chop’ on the surface caused by the wind, you’re more likely to be able to catch closer. However, if it’s clear or calm, you’ll probably have to fish a bit further out as the water is still quite cold.
A range of 11m-13m is a good starting point, especially on these larger stillwaters and park lakes. Fishing at this distance usually puts you out beyond any shelves and on to a flat bottom. On a small, well-stocked commercial fishery you’ll probably be able to catch on a short pole.
2. Use dark groundbait
At this time of year I’m still a fan of using a dark groundbait mix for roach. My choice is a simple even quantity of Dynamite Frenzied Hempseed Match Black and Silver X Roach. The Silver X gives it a bit of food value and is quite an active mix, while the Hempseed groundbait darkens the mix and is hemp-based, great for roach.
To this I add casters and a bit of tinned Frenzied hempseed. Unless you kill them beforehand, you can’t add maggots to balls of groundbait because they’ll break up the balls and generally wreak havoc!
When deciding how many balls of groundbait to feed remember this – you can’t take out what you’ve put in, but you can build up the peg gradually! It’s far better to cup in, say, two or three large balls cautiously, than blow the peg immediately with too much groundbait.
3. Elastics and setting up
A No.4 Matrix solid elastic is my choice for roach on stillwaters – there’s no need to go lighter. I put a light elastic like this through the No.2 section and a bit of the No.1, which is cut back for my pole bush. This is enough cushion for small fish but isn’t so stretchy that it will be difficult to swing and land fish.
You can’t do this for heavier elastics and bigger fish, however, because your elastic won’t have enough stretch in it! If bigger roach and the occasional bonus fish were on the cards, I’d use a grade five or six through the full top three kit.
4. Swing your rig
There are various ways of getting the bait to the bottom and presenting your offering to the fish. You can lower a pole rig straight down vertically, which you might do if you’re looking to catch all your fish hard on the bottom with the shot bulked. Or, you can lay the whole lot in horizontally straight out on the surface, which can be good for catching fish on-the-drop as the bait falls through the water, with the shot spread out shirt-button style.
The best way I’ve found, however, is to lift the pole and swing the rig out beyond the tip away from you. Let the rig land in a straight line then keep a tight line to the float and the bait will swing in an arc back towards you. Let it go slack as the bristle cocks upwards. This is a great way of catching a slightly bigger stamp of fish which seem to sit on the far perimeter of the main feed.
5. Avoid slim floats
Although you could use a slim float for roach, and many do, I like something with a bit of body on it such as a rugby ball shape, to hold the line tight against. On these bigger waters a slim float would get carried around in the tow and wind, offering poor presentation. I like to have control of the rig and today, for example, in 5ft of water, I’ve gone for a 0.75g MP roach as I’m fishing on the bottom.
6. Light hooklengths
Roach aren’t daft wherever you go and light tackle is still needed to fool them. On a big natural style venue such as this I’ve got a 6in length of 0.08mm (1.7lb) as my hooklength, although I wouldn’t drop lower than this on a stillwater. On a really coloured venue where bigger fish are on the cards, I would consider stepping up to 0.10mm (2lb). As long as these are matched and balanced with light elastics you shouldn’t get broken. Where barbed hooks are allowed, I prefer the Kamasan B511 in a size 20 if it’s difficult, or an 18 if I’m bagging.
7. To loosefeed or not?
Do you pick up your catapult and fire in some bait or not? In my book it all depends where you’re catching fish. If you’re only getting bites on the bottom then don’t be inclined to loosefeed, just rely on the groundbait to keep the fish there on the deck where they are easier to catch. You can top up with a small tangerine- sized ball of groundbait in the cupping pot whenever the swim starts to slow up.
However, if the fish are taking the bait on-the-drop, before the rig has a chance to fully settle, you might catch quicker by loosefeeding maggots or casters little and often. Use a lighter float and spread the shots out but bites will be harder to hit when the fish are moving about at various depths off the bottom.
8. Use an olivette
An olivette weight is a great way of shotting a pole float. It’s compact and means you don’t have to attach loads of shot to the line in a huge bulk. Use an olivette for heavier pole floats of 0.75g (4 x18) and above (for lighter floats a group of shot is more versatile). I like an inline olivette fixed with two No.10 shot or Stotz either side. I’ll use a size slightly lighter than the actual weight of the float so that I can spread out three or four shot beneath it. An olivette is usually placed between 18in and 2ft away from the hook itself.
9. Lubricate your elastic
A bottle of pole elastic lubricant is useful with smaller-sized solid elastics. Applying it keeps the elastic working smoothly because it can stick and jar in the pole, causing lost fish on small hooks. It’s not so important with thicker hollow elastics and large diameter pole bushes. Squirt the lubricant into the thick end of the pole section and pivot it upwards so it runs down the pole. You can also pull the elastic out with the tip underwater to help it work.
10. Entice a bite
Lifting the float out of the water and lowering it back down to settle again is a great way of bringing a quick bite when pole fishing for carp. It also works surprisingly well for roach, because it shows the bait to any nearby fish. You only need to bring the float 6in or so above the water’s surface, then gently lower it down again to a fishing position. Don’t simply let go of it and let it drop down.
Let me set the scene – you draw a peg with an island in front of you at 25m. It’s out of pole range, but looks perfect for a chuck on the feeder, so the first thing out of your bag is the feeder rod.
Well, that could be a big mistake! As the water starts to clear, casting a feeder into shallow water is a recipe for disaster, due to the disturbance it causes.
That doesn’t, however, mean the island is now a no-go area. You just need to change your approach.
Enter the waggler. The beauty of this tactic is that it causes a lot less disturbance and you can also work the swim a lot better.
Steve's 6 tricks for catching on the waggler
1. Insert tops - Sensitive wagglers are crucial at this time of year as they offer less resistance for spotting shy bites.
2. Use a simple rig - the tiny snap link swivel allows the float rig to ‘fold’ on the strike which helps hit more bites.
3. Long hooklengths - you’re looking to get a long, slow, natural-looking fall of your hookbait through the water.
4. Clip up - there’s nothing worse than chucking your rig into far bank vegetation and ruining your swim!
5. Vary your hookbaits - I always start on my ‘banker’ bait of double maggot and switch to pellets after I’ve fed.
6. Feeding- I don’t tend to need to feed my swims straight away as I’m casting to spots I know already hold fish.
Go light for more bites
If I were fishing to the island in the summer it would without doubt be with a short, dumpy pellet waggler.
At this time of year I need something more refined, which is where loaded, insert wagglers come into their own. Drennan Glow Tip Peacocks are a real favourite as they are easy to see in even the lowest light conditions.
I also always prefer to use loaded floats as I find they cast a lot more accurately, plus I don’t have to put big shots on the mainline which can, of course, damage it.
I attach the waggler using a snap link swivel. This means I can quickly change the float should the wind get up, plus the snap link also allows the float to fold on the strike, something I believe helps in terms of hitting bites.
To fix the snap link in place I use Guru line stops, two below the float and one above. The two below takes the impact of the cast and prevents the float moving.
Directly below the line stops I have my shot, and because the float is loaded I only need a small bulk of No8s to set the insert tip at the required level.
In terms of float size its all about using the lightest I can get away with. I like to use a light reel line too, and 4lb Guru Pulse is my favourite. This has a diameter of just 0.18mm which makes accurate casting even with a light float a whole lot easier.
How deep to fish?
You might be wondering how deep to fish – well, I always like to kick off at about 60cm.
I don’t like to plumb the depth as I feel the disturbance this creates can push fish out of the swim. I’d much rather my first cast is one with a bait on as opposed to one with a plummet!
Of course, 60cm is probably overdepth against most islands but this doesn’t worry me. Most bites tend to come on the fall so the hookbait being well away from the float is no bad thing.
I always tie 50cm hooklengths for waggler fishing. I feel this helps with presentation as it gives a slow, natural fall of the hookbait.
Line choice all depends on the size of fish. Today, on Molands at Packington, I’m looking to catch carp from 3lb to 10lb, plus some
With this in mind I have opted for 0.15mm N-Gauge – light enough to not put the F1s off while at the same time still giving me a good chance when I hook a carp.
Hook is a size 16 LWG, either eyed or spade depending on my choice of hookbait – eyed for pellets and spade for maggots.
Hitting the spot
When fishing the waggler to an island it’s all about getting your hookbait to land tight to the bank. Doing this off the cuff isn’t easy so for that reason I like to use the line clip on my reel.
The carp tend to be tight to cover at this time of year, so being accurate is all-important, as is avoiding the far-bank vegetation!
Of course, if I want to move along the bank and cast to a new spot I will simply remove line fromthe clip and re-engage only when I’m happy with where I’m casting.
Mug before feeding
Surprisingly, at the start of the session, I don’t actually like to feed, preferring to ‘mug’ a few early fish by working my way up and down the island, casting to different spots.
What I like to do once I get a bite is cast back to the same spot. Nine times out of 10, where there is one fish there will be two.
In fact you will normally get a flurry of bites once you get one in a spot before the fish move, then it’s a case of having to find them again.
I think at this point it’s important to remember that carp love islands because they offer cover, so you don’t always need to feed to try and pull them into the swim.
That said, once I have finished working my way up and down the island I will look to start feeding a few hard 6mm pellets to try and pull a few feeding fish into the area.
As a rule I will feed three to four pellets every four minutes or so, just to try and create a little bit of noise without putting loads of bait on the bottom.
I will then look to fish both on the bait and just off it. Quite often, although I am feeding a spot, I don’t actually catch there. Instead, a metre or two to the left and right can be better.
I’m sure this is because fish come to the feed but owing to the water being clear they don’t want to sit right under it.
Start on maggots…
When it comes to hookbaits I like to try and restrict it to two – maggots and 6mm hard pellets.
Corn can be deadly at this time of year but I like to try and keep things simple.
Normally I will kick off with double maggot on the hook prior to feeding, as I feel this is a better dobbing bait and is more likely to get a reaction should I drop it close enough to a fish. I will then look to switch to a hard pellet once I am feeding a few.
To me it makes sense to match the hatch by fishing on the hook the same as what I’m feeding.
When fishing the waggler tight to cover, you tend to find that most bites come on the drop, usually within 10 seconds of the float hitting the water.
For this reason it’s important to keep casting on a regular basis. Leaving the float out and waiting for bites rarely produces, in my experience.
It’s also well worth giving the float a twitch once the initial bite time has passed.
A quick turn of the reel handle will cause the hookbait to rise and fall in the water, and this little bit of movement can be all it takes to prompt a bite.
All-rounder Julian Chidgey shows how to use a simple two-pronged attack to bank big summer tench from the margins
Standing beside the lake at dawn, it was difficult not to marvel at the sight of two large tench feeding just inches from the bank, sending up clouds of mud as they twisted and turned on their heads in the search for food. The weather was forecast to be sunny and hot and, knowing how the species loves to exploit the natural food larder created by warm, weedy margins, I was looking forward to pitting my wits against these fish at close quarters.
Traditionally, my home county of Devon is not the happiest of hunting grounds for specimen anglers, but in recent years a number of excellent fisheries have sprung up which offer increasingly rich pickings for big-fish hunters.
Emperor Lakes, at Loddiswell in South Devon, is one such place and, along with huge carp and catfish, big tench running into double figures are on the menu for visiting anglers.
My plan for the day was to use both float and feeder tactics to target them from what is probably the best feature in any lake – the margins.
The float comes first
For the first part of the session, before the sun had risen too high in the sky, I intended to fish using a sensitive float rig. I rigged up a 14ft float rod with a small 0.4g pole float, but with so many reeds and lillies fringing the margins, I chose not to use a hooklink, opting instead to fish my 6lb reel line straight through a size 14 barbless hook.
After plumbing the depth and finding 3ft of water right beside the bank, I placed a small bulk of shot at two-thirds depth, with two No.10 ‘dropper’ shot below that. Having lightly primed the swim with a couple of handfuls of maggots, casters and corn, I baited the hook with a bunch of red maggots, a simple bait that no tench can resist.
Lowering the bait into position I watched the float settle as the rig fell through the water column. Within seconds it began twitching and shaking, before dipping slowly away as the first of a succession of small roach took the bait and was swung to hand.
Avoiding the ‘nuisance’ fish
It was clear that a more selective bait was required if I was to get through to the tench. The hook was duly hidden inside two grains of corn and the new offering was lowered into the water. Little happened for the next hour, but finally the float slid away and a firm strike was met with the type of dogged resistance that could only come from a tench!
I piled on the side-strain to keep the fish out of the roots as angry swirls boiled on the water’s surface. Soon, a long green flank broke the surface as the first tench of the day was landed. At 6lb, it was a great start, so I topped up the swim with loosefeed, checked the hookpoint, rebaited and cast once again. While many species are spooked by disturbance, tench are quite different, and will often investigate such things, and sure enough the float slowly sunk from view 20 minutes later. A fish of similar size was soon landed after another great tussle on the float rod.
In summer, carp and tench spend a lot of time in the margins.
The far margin beckons
By now it was mid-morning and the sun had risen high enough to send the temperature soaring. With action from the near-margin dying off, my eyes were drawn to the far bank, which was equally blessed with marginal cover but now had the advantage of being shaded from the sun. Being too far to reach with my float, I set up a second outfit comprising a 1.5lb test curve rod and a reel carrying 8lb line. On to this I threaded a small Method feeder below a foot of tungsten rig tubing to keep the line pinned down. The rig terminated in a four-inch hooklength and two grains of artificial corn.
For the Method mix I took a bag of 4mm pellets, mixed them with a little lake water and left them to soften slightly. I simply put my hookbait in the mould, followed by a handful of the now slightly tacky pellets, and then pressed down to complete the package.
I gently lobbed the rig towards the far bank, a foot from the marginal cover, and put the rod on a bite alarm. Taking in the sun, I sat back to concentrate on the float, so when the alarm screamed into life 15 minutes later I was caught on the hop.
As soon as I picked up the rod it arched over as what was clearly another tench made a mad dash along the far margin, making the line ping off submerged lily stems in the process and sending my heart into my mouth. Thankfully, the run was short-lived, and another cracking tench, this time a slim-bodied male fish, was soon lying in the landing net.
1. Hair-rig one or two grains of rubber corn on a short hooklink. Wide-gape hooks work well.
2. Dampen your pellets with lake water and leave for 10 mins. Once tacky put them in a mould.
3. Take the Method feeder and press it down firmly into the plastic mould full of pellets.
4. Release the feeder from the mould. The bait should be just visible. It's ready to cast out.
Finish with a flourish
As the sun reached its highest point in the sky, unsurprisingly the action died completely, but I was confident that as the light levels and humidity began to fall later in the day that there would be a chance of further fish. Sure enough, as the shadows lengthened, the margin float began to show signs of tench returning to the vicinity, with the odd bleep from my bite alarm telling me the same was happening over on the far margin. By the time I was thinking of calling it a day and heading for home, the tally of tench had doubled to six – making for a superb day’s sport.
But as I broke down the float rod and slid the sections into the holdall, the lake had one further treat in store for me. A series of sharp bleeps from the alarm signalled a drop-back bite, and as soon as I picked up the rod I could tell I was connected to the best fish of the day. I was relieved when it rolled into the net and, lifting the fine fish onto the unhooking mat, I was surprised by the depth of the perfectly-conditioned female tench. At just an ounce shy of 7lb it wrapped up a fantastic summer session on a stunning lake.
Tench may be a species most people associate with springtime, but they will feed hard until the end of autumn and can be caught using the most simple of float and feeder tactics that anybody can master.
Fish with Julian
Julian Chidgey offers guided fishing adventures for various species at lots of venues across the country. Check out julianchidgey.blogspot.com for full details of the services offered.
Urban ‘cuts’ hold their fair share of angling surprises, as Nick Speed demonstrates in emphatic style on a prolific free stretch in Sheffield
Inching his delicate pole float ever closer to the branches trailing into the water on the opposite bank, Nick Speed braced himself for a carp bite.
The mass of concrete, cars and congestion in the immediate vicinity suggested that he wasn’t tackling a snag-infested island swim on a commercial fishery, but his local urban stretch of canal.
Sat scarcely 100m from the hustle and bustle of Meadowhall Shopping Centre and the M1 motorway, a quiet day’s fishing was the last thing topflight matchman Nick Speed expected on the Sheffield canal.
However, it was a sacrifice he was more than prepared to make for a chance to lock horns with some of the mythical inhabitants of this much underfished waterway.
Inner city sanctuary
At just 3.9 miles long, it’s certainly one of the UK’s shorter canals, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in fish quality.
Nick and his friends have had some huge catches of plump 1lb-plus roach from the venue, plus good tench and bream hauls. But Nick had much bigger things in mind today.
“Sheffield has a big population of anglers who think nothing of travelling 30 miles out of the city to catch carp, but they’ve got some big fish on their doorstep which they could catch for a fraction of the price from this canal, where the fishing is free!” said Nick.
“On a warm summer’s day you can see the carp swimming around near the top or spot tail patterns on the surface. Anglers sometimes hook them on conventional light canal tackle but stand no chance. So today I’m going to go all out for them with the kind of stepped-up gear that I’d use on a commercial carp water,” he added.
Bait and wait
The peg Nick had chosen was close to a basin in the canal – a spot where he knew carp had been caught before. Having already seen signs of big fish in the area shortly after his arrival earlier that morning, his confidence was high.
Directly opposite his pitch, an overhanging tree and a line of bramble bushes shaded the water – providing what looked like the ideal spot to ambush a carp on heavy tackle. But, as Nick was quick to point out, hooking a fish in such an environment would only be half the battle.
Two expander pellets make a great bait for canal carp, as does a grain of corn.
With double-figure fish a distinct possibility, landing one without it taking him into any submerged snags, or breaking him by running hard down the canal, was likely to prove the hardest part.
In addition to his pole rig, Nick had also set up a Method feeder rod, which he planned to cast down towards the basin to his left, as he explained.
“I’m not going to go over for a carp straight away. Instead, I prefer to feed the swim to get any big fish present settled and confident over the bait. I’ve introduced a full pot of 4mm hard pellets and a few bits of corn over the exact spot I plumbed up, which is about 2ft 6in deep just inches from the brambles. This is a decent depth to fish in – if it was really shallow a big carp might not be confident feeding here. So I’ll leave the spot alone for an hour or two and have a few casts with the feeder rod and go down the centre with the pole,” he said.
Fish from the start
Nick kicked off the action by taking some decent roach and hybrids on casters from the middle of the cut but, after a couple more pots of prebait had been introduced to the far swim and given time to settle, he was itching to try for a big carp.
He picked up his pole, impaled a grain of corn on to his size 14 hook and shipped the stout rig across to the brambles. For a couple of minutes after the float had settled, nothing happened, but Nick was unperturbed.
“I half expect to have to wait a while. Targeting large fish on a venue like this can require a bit of patience,” he said.
No sooner had the words left his lips, however, than the action began with a bang. The fluorescent orange tip of his float didn’t dip, wobble or slide sideways to give any warning of what was to come – one second it was there, the next it was not. Blink and we would have missed it.
Nick’s reaction was instant and on the strike his white elastic sailed out of the pole tip as a powerful fish tore off angrily down the canal. Such situations require swift action from the angler if disaster and disappointment are to be averted, and Nick reacted by immediately shipping his first few pole sections back and on to the roller behind him to pull the fish away from the hazardous far side.
With the fish still heading sideways at a rate of knots, Nick was forced to take further action, pulling his pole apart half way down so that he could point it towards the fish at a slight angle and prevent any potential expensive breakages.
As he did so, the unseen lump began plodding around in the relative safety of the central track and finally Nick could afford to take a breath or two. With the carp’s power slowly subsiding, he broke down the final section of his pole as the fish neared the net.
What looked every ounce a double-figure mirror carp popped to the surface, looking almost as surprised as Nick, who scooped it up at the first time of asking. It had felt like far longer, but a quick check of the watch revealed that from bite to netting, the drama was all over in less than 90 seconds!
“This carp is at least 12lb!” Nick yelled, grinning from ear to ear.
“When you get one on a venue like this it tends to be on the large side, and you can see why you need strong lines and elastics. I can’t believe I’ve hooked one so quickly but it shows how important it is to let the fish settle on the bait. If I hadn’t done that I might not have got a bite from this fish, or worse still, I could have foul-hooked it,” he added.
A passing family of cyclists had stopped to watch the commotion unfold and, as Nick lifted his creaking landing net on to the bank to unhook his prize, it was greeted with the customary ‘that’s a big one’ comments!
This brought a smile from Nick, and soon they carried on their way, suitably impressed with what they had just witnessed emerge from their local waterway.
Nick was far from finished, however, and after checking his hookpoint and the rest of his rig for any damage, soon had another bait on the spot.
Five minutes later, the neon orange float tip shot from view again, and carp number two was attached. This one scrapped even harder than the first, but the combination of Nick’s angling prowess and well-balanced and strong set-up won the day and another dark-coloured, double-figure mirror carp was scooped up by the waiting net.
After such a purple patch of action, Nick’s luck changed a short while later when, soon after hooking into a third carp from underneath the bramble bush, it shot at full speed into the nearest trailing branches, and broke his rig.
“That one was an absolute zoo creature!” he said. “You can’t expect to get every one of these fish out because they are so big and wild, but I’m going to tighten up my No.16 latex pole elastic so that hopefully it doesn’t happen again. I’ll re-feed the peg with another cup of pellets and corn and give it a rest for a while because that lost fish will have disturbed the swim,” he added.
Once again, the patient approach paid off, and in the final couple of hours of the session Nick landed another three carp at staggered intervals, the biggest two of which pulled the scales down to 13lb-plus.
His final tally of five double-figure mirror carp, each an almost identical colour and shape to the next, made for a truly remarkable catch from a Northern canal.
However, such amazing surprises can be found swimming in most of the UK’s inner city waterways. But, as Nick had proved, finding them is only half the battle – you’ve then got to land them!
As he slipped each carp safely back into the canal, Nick was left to reflect on what had been a true red letter day. Not only had it been great British fishing, it had been great British fishing for free!
Fish the Sheffield canal
This stretch of the Sheffield canal at Tinsley is called ‘Plumpers’ and is easily accessed, being less than a minute from junction 34A of the M1. There is plenty of parking outside the Tinsley Transport Café and American Golf (sat nav co-ordinates S9 1UP). The venue produces well all year-round, with huge nets of roach on hemp and casters a distinct possibility. Bream and tench are also present in good numbers further down the stretch.
Warren Martin shows why it pays to have several different baiting approaches up your sleeve when fishing for big summer carp ‘down the edge’
There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to fishing the margins for commercial carp. The first, and perhaps more traditional tactic, is to use a mixture of fairly big particle baits, such as 4mm or 6mm pellets, sweetcorn or meat. Those who favour this approach tend to build the swim gradually and expect the fish to turn up.
The second, somewhat ‘new school’ tactic is to cup in large volumes of loose groundbait containing just a sprinkling of hookbait samples. This is perhaps setting up more of a ‘bait and wait’ scenario.
But which one is better? The answer to that question is that each set-up has distinct advantages over the other, as well as shortfalls. To attempt to identify these strengths and weaknesses, we headed to Norfolk’s Barford Lakes complex to meet up with top matchman and former Fish O’Mania winner, Warren Martin.
New school ‘rules’
Angling, like many sports, is subject to trends, and margin fishing is no exception. The current trend for many anglers tackling the margins in search of carp is to pile in plenty of loose groundbait and then present a large single hookbait over the top, the idea being to give the fish a target to home in on.
The main advantage of this approach is that there is very little solid food to satisfy the feeding fish, just a huge cloud and carpet of smell, flavour and attraction. Your hookbait sits prominently in the centre of this loosefeed like a cherry on a cake.
Another plus-point is that you are able to feed very heavily, helping to attract the biggest carp in the lake with little fear of overdoing it.
“I love to feed heavily and really attack a swim, that’s why I’m a fan of using loose groundbait,” said Warren. “Sometimes I use as much as ten kilos or more in a session!”
The idea behind this tactic is for the large carpet of crumb to attract the carp, which slowly graze over it sucking up the groundbait, rather than charging around looking for solid food items. This leads to less foul hooking and better peg management.
The downside to the loose groundbait attack is that it only tends to work late in the day, when the fish are naturally looking to come into the margins to slurp up the unwanted bait and groundbait bowl contents thrown in by departing anglers.
In contrast, ‘old school’ margin fishing tactics dictate the use of particles, usually pellets and sweetcorn or cubed meat, fed on a little-and-often basis. The big advantage of using this approach is you are able to drip-feed the swim all day, fishing for one bite at a time, and so are unlikely to run the risk of pulling in too many fish at once, a scenario which leads to foul-hooking problems.
This approach enables you to fish the margins right through the entire day, rather than having to wait until later.
The only real danger with this tactic is that by feeding particles all day, there is the distinct possibility that you can overfeed the area and the amount being introduced must be strictly regulated.
“It sounds barmy, but with the groundbait approach I would think nothing of topping the swim up with one or two full 250ml cups, and yet with the particle approach I will only be feeding 30 to 40 small pellets and a dozen kernels of corn to kick the swim off, and then a third of that amount as a top-up,” said Warren.
“Even though it looks meagre in food value terms, the pellets and corn will be much more filling than even three or four cups of crumb. It’s something to be mindful of when you’re margin fishing.
“It’s all about gauging what you are catching and the speed that you are doing it, so you are able to manage your swim effectively.”
When it comes to choosing between the two tactics, Warren often likes to adopt both if the swim he is in enables him to split his attentions between both the left and right margin.
However, if he had just one margin that was fishable he would go for the loose crumb option first, feeding it in the last 60 to 90 minutes of his planned session.
A marginal call
Visit any decent commercial venue during a match and most anglers will be using long poles of around 16 metres. The fact is that many of them will inadvertently be ‘casting’ over the top of a lot of carp which may be cruising or feeding much closer in.
This is because the margins, especially on heavily-fished commercials is where the big fish can often be found. They have grown wise to the fact that over the years, this to be the place where a ready supply of ‘safe-to-eat’ food can be found.
This may take the form of natural offerings such as berries and bugs that fall off overhanging trees, aquatic life in and around the reedbeds or left-over bait heaved into the swim by departing pleasure and match anglers.
Add to this the fact that the margins also offer the fish a degree of safety and shelter, and it’s easy to see the appeal of these areas to the carp.
“It is well-documented that carp love to feed in and around features and there is no bigger feature on any lake from a tiny farm pond to an inland ‘sea’, than the margins,” said Warren.
“Fish, particularly big ones, love to come and feed very close in. It is a place for natural food as well as being an area where they feel safe, so they are often very easy to trip up.”
Three steps to success
There are three ‘golden rules’ to follow when targeting the margins. Fish as far away from your peg as possible (along the margin), present your bait over a flat-bottomed area and then fish as tight to the bank as possible.
The first rule speaks for itself, and regarding the second, Warren looks to find a flat bottom offering a depth of around 18 inches. This, in his mind, is the perfect depth, and when a large carp comes into the swim, it has to have its mouth close to the deck to prevent its back being out of the water. In deeper swims the fish can come in at half depth or go down, feed and rise up to half depth to swallow it. This all leads to the dreaded foul-hooking problems that you are trying to avoid.
If the margins in your swim are deeper, Warren will feed his groundbait in solid balls rather than loose crumb in a bid to keep foul-hooking to a minimum.
The third golden rule – fishing the rig as tight as you can to the marginal plant or reed growth – is arguably the most important, to the extent that Warren will even use garden shears to trim foliage to facilitate his aim.
“If you fish the rig out from the bank, even six inches, carp have room to get in behind the rig and you will be plagued with foul hooking.
“If I had to choose between fishing a spot that was shallower than the magical 18 inches but tight to the bank, or further out from the bank in exactly 18 inches, I would choose the former every time,” said Warren.
“It is surprising how shallow a depth you can catch fish in, but if you allow them to get around the back of your rig, you are inviting trouble.”
Tackling up for the job
The main consideration here is strength. As already mentioned, the margins are home to some of the lake’s biggest fish and to tackle them using undergunned kit is a recipe for disappointment. Of course, it’s easy to overdo it and go in too heavy, something that Warren also recommends avoiding.
“There are plenty of bespoke margin poles on the market that are designed for targeting big fish down the edge, but any decent strong pole will do, as will a rod and line. Poles just help you get better presentation,” said Warren.
As far as his terminal tackle is concerned, Warren starts off with a size 14 solid elastic, which is ample for a water like Barford where there are no underwater snags to worry about. His mainline is 4lb Maxima, a product he has a lot of faith in.
“I’ve used it for years. The 4lb version is only 0.15mm in diameter, plus I once tested it on a line puller and found that it consistently broke at over 9lb. If I were to use the equivalent breaking strain in a hi-tech mono, I would have to use a diameter of 0.20mm or 0.22mm.
“My hooklink section is made from a high-tech mono, however, simply for better presentation, and I’m using a size 14 hook, with the bait fished at dead depth.”
After accurately plumbing up his left-hand margin, which was to be the line fished over groundbait, Warren then left it alone without feeding, turning instead to his particle line.
Do not to feed too early and then leave a line alone for hours as you have no way of gauging what’s happening – fish-wise – in that area. This is why he plumbs, but doesn’t feed.
Cupping in 40 or so 4mm pellets and 12 kernels of sweetcorn, he lowered in his rig and awaited the first bite, which came from an 8oz roach a few minutes later.
Topping the line up with a pole pot of loosefeed every five minutes or after every fish, Warren spent the first couple of hours being plagued by small fish and large F1s, until his first ‘proper one’ appeared, a stunning common carp weighing around 7lb.
Continuing on this line for a further hour, Warren took another carp of a similar size, before switching his focus over to the groundbait line.
He kicked it off with four full loaded cups of loose crumb, then left it for 10 minutes to give the fine bed of bait time to attract the attentions of any passing fish.
The reaction was markedly different from that received on his particle line, with his very first drop-in resulting in a fine carp just into double-figures hoovering up his quadruple dead red maggot hookbait.
Two more big cups of loose groundbait were promptly cupped in, which quite quickly brought another two fish to the net.
After a short period of relative calm, the pole was almost dragged out of Warren’s hands as what was clearly the biggest fish of the session was hooked from the shallow spot right against the reeds.
After a powerful fight, a common carp of over 15lb eventually surfaced, beaten and ready for netting. It proved to be a fitting end to a fascinating session, during which Warren had provided a valuable insight into the merits of having two approaches when targeting big summer carp from the margins.
The final scores on the doors for the session showed that the particle approach had produced the greater quantity of fish, although in terms of size, the groundbait tactic had won hands down.
However, Warren was keen to point out that on another day, the reverse could apply.
“We could come back tomorrow and fish another peg and a drip-fed approach with pellets and corn might do the damage. That’s fishing for you and why it pays to have several strings to your bow,” he concluded.
A 2lb-plus roach would rank as the ‘catch of a lifetime’ for many fishermen, but how do you best target one of these magnificent creatures? Dai Gribble reveals his approach...
Specimen-sized roach are the ‘Holy Grail’ of targets for many anglers. No matter how hard-nosed they are, few fishermen can remain unmoved by the sight of such a magnificent creature.
“It’s like suddenly seeing a domestic cat the size of a tiger!” joked Dai Gribble.
“They’re not supposed to be that big,” he continued, while retelling the story of catching his first 3lb roach.
Though they are very rarely caught from rivers these days, big stillwater redfins are not as hard to track down as you might at first think.
Many gravel pits and reservoirs house big roach, and an increasing number of day-ticket carp lakes can also boast good stocks of the species, which tend to thrive well on the neglect afforded to them by most visitors to such venues.
To find out how to go about targeting big stillwater roach once a suitable venue has been located, we joined Dai on the banks of Bluebell Lake at the famous day-ticket complex of the same name in Tansor, Northamptonshire.
Picking a suitable venue
It’s safe to say that Dai knows what he’s talking about when it comes to big roach. He has landed five fish over 3lb (including a current personal best of 3lb 7oz) as well as dozens over the 2lb mark.
Dai was lucky enough to be a member of Willow Lake on the Linch Hill complex in Oxfordshire during the early 2000s. At that time, this particular gravel pit was throwing up many big fish which, with no pike present, were able to grow to a ripe old age without the fear of being predated upon.
Traditionally, gravel pits have always been among the best waters for targeting big roach, principally because they are rammed with natural food and also see a lot of protein-rich carp baits introduced, which help them to pack on further weight.
However, in Dai’s opinion, commercial day-ticket waters are also starting to deliver many specimen-sized examples of the species.
“Commercials will start to overtake the gravel pits as the number one place to target big roach,” he said. “Most have no pike present, plus the sheer number of anglers visiting such waters also means that the cormorants and goosanders stay away, so the roach are able to grow big, unmolested.”
The first stage in preparing to target big roach is to do a little homework. Every year loads of big roach ‘hang themselves’ on carp anglers’ boilie rigs, so asking them about the track record of a water is always a good starting point.
The internet is also a vital tool in the quest for information. Most fishery websites and online forums will yield a water’s roach fishing history, and you can always enquire with the lake’s owners too.
Arriving at a potential venue before dawn is also advisable, as you will often see roach ‘dimpling’ on the surface, giving their presence away. “They don’t roll, like tench and bream do, but they dimple - it’s almost like a drop of rain falling onto the surface,” Dai explained.
Being close to the bottom of the food chain, roach generally favour open water so they have good escape routes from potential predators. This is not always the case though, as they will at times scour every corner of the lake looking for food. Good places to introduce bait are anywhere that natural food will collect. This could be at the bottom of gravel bars, depressions in the lakebed, or areas where there is even the slightest depth change.
Another key consideration when big roach fishing is to find a clean area of the lake bottom. Roach will feed in and around weed, but where the lakebed is clean you will be able to present you rigs so much better.
When it comes to water depth, as a starting point Dai looks to fish areas offering around half the maximum depth of the lake he is on.
“I tend to avoid the deepest and shallowest parts of a lake, and anywhere between around eight and 15 feet is the perfect sort of depth,” he said. “However, this is only a guide. If you see fish dimpling in a deeper or shallower area, move to them as they won’t come to you.”
Tackle and rigs for roach
Fishing gravel pits often requires reasonably long casts to be made, and Dai uses 1.1lb test curve rods that can punch a 2oz swimfeeder 70yds or more if necessary.
The end of the mainline is where his rigs get interesting and, somewhat unique. A six-inch length of 12lb Power Gum is attached to the mainline using a swivel (if rules allow) while the opposite end is attached to a two-foot length of 12lb fluorocarbon. The Power Gum acts as a shock absorber to cushion the jagged fight a big roach gives, while the fluoro is used as a leader because it sinks well and is almost invisible in water.
Dai likes to target roach using helicopter rigs, and to do this he uses a purpose-built gizmo from Korum (a Ready Heli-Kit) that takes all of the hassle out of the job. To this he attaches a very short 2in-3in hooklink made from of 0.13mm high-tech mono, terminating in a size 18 hook. To finish it off, he then attaches a 2oz blockend feeder to the end of the leader.
The reason for his ultra-short hooklink is that roach tend to peck at baits. If longer links are used, the fish can easily pick up and reject the hookbait without the angler knowing, or feel resistance from the feeder and reject the bait.With such short hooklinks, once the fish picks up the bait, they are more often than not hooked against the weight of the feeder, giving a drop-back bite at the rod end. To amplify this, Dai uses Solar Quiverloc indicators, although heavy bobbins will do a similar job.
“The rigs need to be fished tight, so that the self-hooking drop-back works correctly,” Dai explained. “It may look crude, but there is no better leger rig for targeting big roach.”
Maggots reign supreme
All roach, regardless of size, are suckers for maggots. Although tradition dictates that casters are better for targeting big fish, they are too fragile to use with legering tactics, either smashing on the cast or being ravaged by small fish in the swim. Maggots make for a far more robust choice of bait.
“I’ve tried using fake maggots and casters in the past and although they are second to none for targeting tench, roach will not tolerate them,” said Dai. “I’ll occasionally use fake corn if the fish are feeding well, but not very often.”
To make his maggots ‘stand out’ in the swim, Dai likes to flavour them. Everyone has their favourites, and Dai is a big fan of Sonubaits’ F1 Liquid. Rather than simply pouring it over the maggots in a bait tub, which can mean a few get drowned in flavour while most remain untouched, Dai prefers to first pour the flavour into a plastic bag. This is scrunched up so that the inside is coated with the liquid, before a pint or two of grubs is put in to the bag. He then inflates the bag and shakes the contents, so all of the maggots get an even coating.
“You are not looking to provide a huge flavour trail in the water, just a slight whiff to tickle the fish’s taste buds,” said Dai.
When it comes to how he likes to fish a session, Dai often prefers to err on the side of caution, and doesn’t introduce lots of bait at the start of his session. Instead, he relies solely on the maggots being introduced via the swimfeeder, and usually only recasts after each bite.
“While a large carp might eat 2kg of bait in a day, a big roach may only consume a feederful of maggots, so too many casts could overfeed the swim before you’ve even caught,” he said.
This simple baiting approach, combined with his tailormade rig and flavoured maggots, have helped Dai to catch more than 70 roach over 2lb, plus five over the magical 3lb barrier. If you follow his tried-and-tested advice then angling’s greatest prize could soon be heading your way.
Rod: Korum Xpert 1.1lb – “A rod designed specifically with smaller specimen fish in mind, such as perch and roach. They are quite ‘tippy’ and perfect for feeder work too.”
Reel: Korum KMR 3000 – “A powerful little reel which boasts a freespool mechanism and a micro-adjustable front drag.”
Mainline: Korum 6lb Xpert Reel line
Hooklink: Preston Innovations’ Reflo Powerline 0.13mm (4lb 12oz) z Hook: size 18 Kamasan B980 eyed z Hookbaits: red and white maggots z Flavouring: Sonubaits’ F1 Liquid – “A sweet flavour that roach adore.”
How to flavour your maggots
To get the best out of the flatbed feeder you need to nail the basics. Rob Wootton answers questions on the 10 areas many anglers struggle with.
Since it first burst on to the scene in the 1990s the flatbed Method feeder has swiftly evolved into the ultimate carp-catching device on commercial venues.
Fishing a hookbait tucked in the middle of a frame filled with loosefeed has helped to improve presentation, increase catch rates and make casting tangle-free. It’s one of the simplest techniques to master, yet too many anglers still fail to get the fundamentals right, says match star and IYCF regular Rob Wootton.
Judging by the number of questions Rob gets asked on the bank, there are plenty of areas of confusion: What size of feeder should I use? Should I fill the frame with pellets or groundbait? How long should my hooklink be?
All these small details make a big difference, so Rob’s mission during a recent visit to Boddington Reservoir was to address the 10 questions he gets asked most often. With the tactic coming into its own from spring onwards, his answers are sure to help you put more fish on the bank.
Q What size of feeder should I use?
A common mistake is to use a feeder which is too light, for example 15g or 20g. I don’t use anything less than 30g because this weight allows you to cast easily and more accurately. If you’re casting to an island slope it anchors in place and doesn’t roll down the slope like a lighter version will.
So, up to 40 yards range I like a 30g feeder. For ranges of between 40 and 60 yards I step up to the 36g Guru X-Safe model, and for very long casts over 70 yards I use the same feeder in the 45g version. Some large venues, like this reservoir, are subject to strong undertows so sometimes you may need a 45g feeder just to hold bottom even at short to medium range.
With regard to the size of the frame, most companies do a small and large feeder. At least 80% of the time I use the smaller one because it’s surprising how much feed goes around it in one go. In open water in the height of summer I would use the larger feeder to introduce more bait.
Q What bait should I put around my feeder?
“This choice can ultimately make or break your session at this time of year, because you can quite easily overfeed carp. It isn’t quite as important in the height of summer when fish are feeding aggressively on all kinds of baits. You have three options – neat micro pellets, groundbait or a combination of the two.
Plain 2mm and 3mm micro pellets are my main choice at this time of year (I think groundbait puts too many particles in the water in spring). Pellets break down quickly, even in cold water, so your hookbait is soon exposed and ‘fishing’. In deep, open- water lakes pellets are far better because you need a high food content to hold fish in such a wide area. Soak micropellets for a couple of minutes, use a fine net as a riddle, and they will soon be ready to pack on a feeder.
When the water really begins to warm up in May or June, I make the switch to groundbait. This creates a lot of activity in the peg, and you want a heavy groundbait that will sit on the bottom and not waft around all over the place. I pick two fishmeal versions and mix them in even parts – Dynamite Swim Stim Green and Dynamite Marine Halibut. If you’re just fishing for carp you could increase the percentage of the Halibut.
GROUNDBAIT AND PELLET MIX
Groundbait on its own is good when the fishing is harder because there is nothing for fish to eat except the hookbait. But usually I mix soaked micro pellets and groundbait together, 50:50. This gives the best of both worlds – the attraction of groundbait and the holding power of pellets, so carp don’t become preoccupied with one bait or the other. When it gets to October and the water starts to go clearer again, switch back to pellets.
Q Are inline or elasticated feeders best?
Elasticated Method feeders are generally better because the elastic cushions the fish’s lunges and results in fewer hook-pulls. Inline feeders bounce about up and down the line and can lead to lost fish. However, because standard elasticated feeders are fixed on the line I would only recommend them for advanced anglers who are confident they won’t crack off on the cast and leave a fixed feeder in the lake for a fish to pick up. If in doubt, it’s better to use the Guru X-Safe system feeders which are elasticated through an inline tube in the middle. If your line does snap above it, the feeder itself will run up the line. Always check fishery rules first because many smaller commercial waters only permit the use of true inline feeders.
Rob is a big fan of the Guru X-Safe flatbed feeders.
Q Where do I cast?
The colder and clearer the water is, the further out from the bank carp will sit. So on a large venue, I’d cast a good 50 or 60 yards, unless there’s an underwater feature such as a deep hole or sunken island somewhere in the peg.
As it gets warmer, fish come closer to the bank looking for food. I’d catapult 6mm or 8mm pellets in at 30 to 40 yards, and try fishing over the top of that.
When you have an island in front of you it’s the obvious place to cast to. On a shallower featureless far bank, the warmer it is, the tighter to the island you should cast. In the height of summer fish will come into inches of water to feed!
However in cold weather fish further down the shelf in the deeper water. I would only cast tight to an island at this time of year if there was a reasonable depth (3ft-plus) and reed cover.
Q Do I need a powerful rod?
There is a misconception that you need a powerful rod for fishing the Method.
Times have changed – it’s more important to have a light to medium rod which is soft enough to avoid pulling the hook out. This kind of rod can quite easily beat hard-fighting carp in no time at all. Generally, the medium-rated tip of your rod is best with the Method.
Here’s a very brief guide to the rods I like to use:
Short casts up to 20 yards: Shimano 9ft Speedmaster Commercial Feeder
Medium casts up to 50 yards: Shimano 11ft Speedmaster Commercial
Long casts of 60 yards-plus: Shimano 12ft 6in Beastmaster BX Commercial Distance
You don't need a powerful rod to beat fish such as this. An 11ft version is fine!
Q What selection of hookbaits should I take with me on a session?
Carp aren’t used to being caught on bread on the feeder so it’s treated with less suspicion. It’s great in cold weather because the fish suck up the loose pellets without realising there’s a hookbait in there. I like to fish two or three punched 8mm pieces.
Boilies are great when fish are feeding hard. Go for an 8mm or 10mm version, and my favourite colours are red or yellow. White boilies also work very well for bream. Use pop-up boilies or dumbells – a great choice when there is weed or snags on the bottom.
My number one choice in summer, when softer baits can get destroyed by silverfish. I like a 6mm pellet for small carp and F1s and an 8mm one for bigger carp. Pellets are best on the hook when you’re using pellets around the feeder as well.
Cut into strips and then use a bait punch to create tubed sections. These can then be hair-rigged. Just like bread, carp aren’t used to being caught on meat on the Method and it is a very effective way of picking out the bigger commons and mirrors in summer.
A great hookbait for F1 carp and skimmers. For some reason two dead reds nicked on to the hook get the best response. Always use dead maggots with groundbait, or a groundbait and pellet mix. You must kill the maggots first or they will crawl into the silt!
Q What length and strength of hooklink is best?
To answer this, you have to consider how carp feed on the Method. Generally, they sit a few inches above it and suck bait directly upwards. If your hooklength is too short there won’t be enough leeway in the line to allow a carp to take your bait without feeling something suspicious. Likewise, if your hooklength is too long the line will be too slack and a carp might be able to ‘get away with it’, spitting the bait out without being hooked.
With this in mind I consider four inches to be the optimum hooklength for the Method, especially for F1 carp and small to medium-sized mirrors and commons. Bigger double-figure fish are more cautious and will sit further above the feeder so to target them I use a longer (6in) hooklength, as I do for bream.
As far as line strength is concerned, err on the side of caution by using slightly heavier than you would do on the float. There’s a lot of pressure on the tackle with this technique so it needs to be up to the task. Normally, a 6lb or 8lb mainline is ideal.
Hooklength Fish size/species
4lb (0.14mm) F1 carp, other carp to 3lb
5lb (0.16mm) Carp to 4lb, bream
6lb (0.18mm) Carp to 8lb
8lb (0.20mm) Carp to 10lb from open water
10lb (0.22mm) Carp to 10lb-plus, snaggy swims
Q How do I use my mould to position my hookbait?
Method moulds are great for loading your feeder with bait and they let you put your hookbait exactly where you want it. If you want it to sit right on top of the pile of bait, put it in the mould first, then add your pellets or groundbait. This is a good ploy when fish are attacking the feeder and bites are coming straight away.
If you have to wait for bites, or if silverfish are pestering you, bury the hookbait. Add a layer of pellets or groundbait to the mould first, then put your hookbait on top, before finishing it off with the main consignment of loose bait. With groundbait you only need to press the feeder into the mould a couple of times – any more and it won’t break down quickly enough. Pellets break down quickly no matter how hard they are squeezed!
Filling it up when bagging...
If bites are coming quickly, place the bait at the base of the mould before the feed goes in.
Your hookbait sits right on top of the feeder, so it will quickly come free for a fish to suck in.
Filling it up when waiting a long time for a bite...
In deep water or when waiting a long time for a bite, add a layer of feed before the hookbait.
It will be contained in the feeder but will soon become exposed as the bait breaks down.
Q How long should I leave it between casts?
This really depends on how the fish are responding on the day, so in winter and early spring I tend to leave it out for much longer than in summer. Because presentation is so good with a flatbed Method feeder, you can be confident leaving it out for longer periods. A really good tip is to keep an eye on your watch for how long it takes to get a bite after casting out. If you notice that it takes at least 15 minutes after casting to get a bite, it’s no good becoming impatient and reeling in after 10 minutes! In summer I cast a lot more regularly, especially when fishing up to islands. Fish come to the noise and I’m looking to build the peg up with plenty of feed so I might cast every two minutes or so.
What a result! Five cracking carp fell to Rob's Method tactics at Boddington Reservoir.
Q How should I attach my bait to the hair?
There are various types of bait stops and bands to keep your hookbait on the hair but I stick to just two. For hooking hard pellets I use a small bait band. Just open the band up with your fingers or with a specialist banding tool, and insert the pellet. For softer baits I tie the hair-rig with a Korum Quick Stop. This has a spike at one end and a hollow opening at the other, meaning you can push it from the hollow end, through a soft bait, and use it as a stop once it pokes out the other side. This is great with bread and meat. For boilies I use a thin bait drill to put a hole through the centre, and then I push the Quick Stop through. I think normal hair stops which fit into loops are too fiddly.
Bait bands (left) and Quick Stops (right) are used on the hair.
Rod: 11ft Shimano Speedmaster Commercial Feeder – “With the medium tip fitted this rod has a lovely through-action which today has helped me to beat carp to 12lb with ease. There was no danger of pulling the hook out”
Reel: Shimano X Aero Baitrunner 4000FA
Mainline: 6lb Shimano Technium – “I use this for most of my Method feeder work, unless I’m fishing to a snaggy island, in which case I’ll step up to 8lb”
Hooklength: 6lb Aspire Silk Shock
Hook: Guru QM1 – “These circle hooks are perfect for the Method. I use size 14 for large baits such as bread, meat and boilies, and a size 16 for pellets”
Hookbaits: bread, pellets, boilies, meat and dead maggots z Loosefeed: micro pellets and Dynamite Baits’ groundbait
For more expert advice on fishing tactics click here
It's my favourite time of year again when the festival season starts.
In fact, as one event finishes I’m already planning for the next and I’m determined to add to my tally of wins this season.
Now, a lot of people ask me what the key to success in these festivals is, as in ‘why do certain people consistently do well?’
The obvious answer to this is that they draw well, and while to an extent this is no doubt true (you can’t win off a bad peg) there is definitely a lot more to it than that.
Anyway, this got me thinking, and in this week’s column I’m going to look at some of the things that I believe make a difference when it comes to doing well in a festival.
Some of these points may seem slight, but at the end of a five-day festival they can help you put an extra point or two on to your score, which can make a big difference when it comes to making the magical top ten at the end of the week – the margins really are that fine.
PREPARATION – DON’T FAIL
‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ is a motto I have always believed in, and never has it been more apt than when it comes to fishing a festival. My preparation starts weeks in advance and takes the form of tying hooks and rigs, and changing reel lines and pole elastics.
This might seem excessive, but as far as I am concerned nothing can be left to chance – a lost five minutes in a match through having to tie a new hook on can make the difference between winning a festival or not.
For this reason, at the start of a match I will often set up duplicate rigs so that, should I trash one while I’m fishing, I can literally just pick up another top kit and drop back in again with no time being wasted.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, as in anglers who make their rigs on the bank yet still do well, but they are likely to be the ones who have an ‘if only’ tale to tell at the end of the week.
GET BAIT CHOICES RIGHT
At White Acres there are bait limits, and although these are generous in the extreme (eight pints) they can still cause problems.Many anglersaren’t positive enough – they will take a pint of meat, plus a pint each of corn, 2mm pellets, 6mm pellets, maggots and casters.
They try to hedge their bets by covering all bases.
The problem is that by taking a single pint of lots of different baits you don’t have enough of any one bait to do anything with!
I decide what bait to take by drawing my swim and then formulating a plan of attack.
If I draw a peg with an island cast and open water in between I’ll look to take three pints of 2mm pellets for Method work to the island, two pints of meat (which should cover me for long and short on the pole), plus two pints of casters, which can be used to mix with the meat as feed or to target silvers. Finally, I’ll also have a pint of dead red maggots for down the edge.
FISH TO YOUR STRENGTHS
One of the biggest mistakes anglers make on a festival is to try and fish methods outside their comfort zone. If they draw a peg that they are told is a pellet waggler peg, even if that isn’t a method they are strong at, they go there and fish it anyway.
They then struggle due to lack of confidence, whereas if they had taken on board what they had been told but adapted it to suit how they wanted to fish, they could still have caught a decent weight.
A brilliant example of this occurred a few years ago. When Gwinear was used in the festivals I drew peg 13 and won the match with 137lb caught at 5m and down the edge.
The next day Will Raison drew the same peg and after talking to me went and won the match again with 139lb! The difference was, Will caught long on the pole shallow, which just goes to show that when the fish are there you can catch them in whatever way you want to!
DON’T NEGLECT SILVERS
To win a festival at White Acres, four out of five results count and, more often than not, the scoring is so tight that the fifth result comes back into play when there is a tie.
Over the five days the chances are you won’t draw five fliers – normally you will have three great pegs that look after themselves, one average peg that you turn into a winner and one potential disaster.
Nine times out of ten it’s the disaster peg that makes the difference between winning a festival and finishing out of the frame.
The disaster peg can, though, on occasion be turned into a winner by daring to be different.
The problem is most anglers, myself included at times, will go all out for glory by trying to catch carp that just aren’t there in the numbers required to catch the weight needed to win a section.
The better percentage game is to target anything that swims. For instance 20lb of silvers and two carp can be a section winning catch in a hard area.
PREPARE TO MAKE CHANGES
Although I always have a plan, that doesn’t mean I’m not prepared to change it if things aren’t working out. A change of plan can come about for a variety of reasons –
it might be something I sense during the course of the match, like the carp coming up in the water when I’m fishing on the deck.
More often than not, though, it will be something I notice someone else doing. I like to keep an eye on the anglers around me as you can learn a lot from what others are doing. For instance, if I’m catching long on the pole but thinking about coming short, I can look around to see if anyone is actually catching short – if not, I can safely assume I’m better off staying long.
If someone starts emptying it down the edge then the same applies. So yes, looking around can be distracting, but at the same time it can help massively in terms of making the right decisions at the right time.
At White Acres festivals the results from the previous day are posted up on the wall, so once you draw your peg you can see what it produced the day before.
This is great in one way, but a lot of anglers end up beaten before they start when they look at the results and see that their peg has produced next to nothing the previous match.
Obviously, it isn’t nice to see your peg last in section, but you need to stay positive and think that today is a new day and fish have fins and can and will move. I know I am guilty of having a good moan should I draw badly, but I will still come up with a plan of attack to achieve the result I need.
The angler who fished the day before may have had a bad match, or just got it wrong. It happens all the time, so rather than taking the result from the day before as an excuse, treat it as a challenge and go to the swim with a positive attitude – you never know what might happen!
Pigeon-chested and fit to burst with spawn, stillwater roach all over the country are piling on the ounces – but what is their favourite meal?
Sweetcorn? A great bait, but not quite on the top table. Maggots? To win a bite there is little better but (and it’s a big but) it is not selective in terms of stamp of fish. Surely it has to be casters then, accompanied by a side dish of hemp? A classic combination I’d always be happy to use, but still not my number one choice.
A decade ago I wouldn’t have picked this bait, and at the time some experts said roach didn’t like them, but we have ‘trained’ the fish to adjust to them and they now relish fishmeals with a dollop of oil. Yes, if you want a top roach bait on stillwaters then look no further than pellets.
I’m unsure whether this ‘junk food’ is good for fish, but it’s almost viewed as their natural diet on some fisheries, especially commercials with a large head of carp. To be honest, though, after months of struggling on our rivers, I’m just happy to see roach whatever they are fed on, and their fuller figures at this time of year can point to a new personal best.
Once I favoured winter roach fisherman, but now April is my purple patch, so last week Wayne Little strolled down the hill towards the lake with this species firmly on our minds. We passed a few daffodils that were brave enough to expose their heads in a defiant blaze of yellow to the bitter easterly gusts and sub-zero windchill.
We, on the other hand, were swathed from head to toe in numerous layers, and soon we were scanning the water for signs of fish.
For the roach, daybreak brings with it a temptation to ‘prime’, and once one broke the surface it was a fair bet that a large percentage of the lake’s population would be sitting below. We watched and waited for no more than a minute before ripples came into view.
Staying mute, not difficult given the scarves wrapped around our faces, we simply nodded, knowing full well what this sign meant, and headed off to a couple of swims that would take in the disturbance.
I didn’t want to take my gloves off, but without doing so I simply couldn’t fish. At least I had rigged my Drennan Classic rod up at home in the garage when my fingers weren’t so numb!
The detachable dolly butt section transforms it into a two-piece rod, which allows a pre-rigged outfit to be carried with ease.
The reel line was of a stout 4lb breaking strain, tough enough to deal with extracting big fish from a lake that still held a fair amount of weed.
Importantly, however, I had degreased the line with washing-up liquid to ensure that it would sink – vital when floatfishing a stillwater, especially with a crosswind. My float of choice was a heavy 4g glow-tip insert waggler that could be easily cast a fair distance, attached via a float adaptor should I need to change it for a lighter or heavier pattern.
Locking this widget in place weren’t split shot, but small float stops. These would allow the cocking weight to be used at three-quarters depth, helping to pull the bait down quicker because conditions strongly suggested that catching roach on the drop today would be out of the question.
Finally, I attached the hooklength via a loop-to-loop knot, and being a big fan of ready-tied rigs it was no surprise that I chose to use Drennan Silver Fish Bandit, in the 4lb line/size 14 hook combination.
I admit that my set-up could, at face value, appear crude but the roach I was targeting had spent their whole life competing with the carp and seeing carp anglers’ tackle. I also firmly believe that you can step up your gear if you’re using a relatively large bait because while the natural appearance of, say, a maggot is impeded by a large hook and strong line, these do little to affect the look or behaviour in the water of a pellet.
I had taken along two varieties of 8mm pellets – the first was purchased from the local tackle shop and was a high-oil trout version, while the second contained more flavour. Richworth Xtracta pellets may have a barbel pictured on the packet but they will catch everything with fins!
By using a reasonably large bait I would be able to avoid the attentions of the smaller roach, and sometimes it pays to be prepared to accept few bites in order to eventually land the specimen you are seeking.
The plan now was to recast every five minutes, feeding a dozen pellets each time. Why? Well, I’ve found too many times that a freshly cast bait is extra- attractive for it to be a coincidence. Everything was now set, with Wayne mirroring my approach, and the only thing left to do now was catch a roach.
The weather was horrible and the method simple, even crude, but did that mean that the sport was poor? Of course not.
A pellet addiction is a hard habit for a roach to kick and the string of big blue and silver flanks heading in our direction reflected that.
If more proof were needed Wayne then supplied it with a magnificent creature of well over 2lb. Roach cannot resist a pellet – that much is certain – so why not prove it yourself this coming weekend with a palmful or two of silver?
Stillwater roach fishing tips
1 To fish a pellet, use either a bait band or drill it and mount it on a standard hair.
2 When waggler fishing on stillwaters, always degrease your line with washing-up liquid so that it sinks.
3 When targeting specimen roach, 8mm seems the perfect pellet size – any smaller just draws in too many smaller nuisance fish.
4 Cast regularly – roach seem to home in on a freshly cast bait.
5 Make sure you take a Starlight so that you can fish into darkness if possible, as this is often when the big roach feed.
A big bream sliding towards the landing net is one the most impressive sights in angling.
Targeting them can seem daunting, partly because of the time and effort involved in fishing large stillwaters, but also because ‘going’ venues for the species are few and far between. However, there are plenty of specimen bream out there, and catching them is easier than you might think.
CHOOSING YOUR VENUE
The most important decision is choosing the right water. If you don’t already know of one, you will find that tackle shops and carp anglers are usually mines of information.
Double-figure bream are present in a number of stillwaters, but fish of 15lb or more can be difficult to track down.
However, relatively little is known about our big bream stocks, and most never get caught, so that lonely gravel pit near you could easily contain the bream of your dreams. Pioneering new waters can take time, but the satisfaction of finding your own fish is worthwhile.
FINDING THE FISH
Bream shoals are inherently nomadic, and they can travel huge distances. On large low-stock waters, location is everything. Fortunately, bream often give away their position by rolling, particularly at dawn and on humid evenings. Splashy rolls or ‘head and tailing’ are excellent signs and usually indicate feeding fish.
You may also see ‘porpoising’, which tends to mean travelling fish, and fish milling around on the surface on hot days. While neither mean feeding fish, both are vital clues to location.
If you can’t see them, then it can pay to focus on deeper areas of the lake in spring and autumn, and shallower areas in summer. Find out where the fish spawn – usually the same areas as carp and tench – and fish there when it warms up in April or May. Also, follow warm winds, especially in autumn, and look for weed-free areas because bream won’t feed among weed.
Don’t concentrate on bar systems in lakes. They are useful to know about, but areas of light silt and steady depth are better for sustained feeding.
Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t necessary to fish at huge range. I have had most success within 60yds.
Above all, don’t allow your tactics to be ruled by theories. Each water is different, and there is no substitute for getting in tune with your venue by looking, experimenting and learning.
FEEDING THE SHOALS
It’s well known that bream shoals can consume a huge amount of bait. As with carp fishing, heavy baiting is not essential, but can help hold fish long enough for multiple catches to be made.
The good news is that it doesn’t need to be expensive. A mix of Vitalin and trout pellets flavoured with molasses and corn steep liquor is extremely effective. And 15kg of Vitalin, 10kg of pellets, five litres of molasses and a litre of CSL can be bought for as little as £50 – that could be a whole season’s supply!
This can all be mixed with lake water to the required consistency, and boated out, spodded, or moulded into balls.
While boilies, pellets, maggots, casters and worms are all effective hookbaits, sweetcorn has established itself as an outstanding bream bait over the years. It’s cheap, easily available and fishes exceptionally well over Vitalin (which contains sweetcorn).
While ‘real’ corn is great, I have found that when fished with plastic alternatives, it is almost always the fake kernel that gets taken first. There are theories about fish oils in plastic attracting bream, but I feel it is more to do with the increased visibility.
Popped-up baits also work well. When faced with a bed of bait, bream will often take the most visible item first. In the spring of 2009 I fished a tough gravel pit with popped-up plastic corn on one rod, and boilie and maggot on the other. At the end of spring I had caught more than 30 double-figure fish on the popped-up corn, and only one on the bottom baits. Popped-up baits can also be presented over the silty bloodworm-rich areas that bream love.
MAKING THE CONNECTION
Bream are not adept at ejecting rigs, so there is no need to be clever. My favourite set-up consists of two grains of buoyant plastic corn on a hair rig, with a size 12 curve shank hook and 3ins of 12lb fluorocarbon. This is presented helicopter style. The angle created by the fluorocarbon exiting the eye, together with the weight of the leader results in reliable hookholds.
I fix the hooklink close to the lead when fishing a clean lakebed, and further up the leader if there is weed or deep silt. On waters with poor water clarity, I opt for a bottom bait fished on clear areas with critically-balanced real and artificial corn.
I hope this provides some motivation to get out there this spring and target a new personal best. There is little more exciting than big bream rolling at dusk, indicators rising and falling to liners, sitting on the edge of your chair, then seeing the bobbin finally creep up to the butt. Good luck, I hope your next bream is a monster!
The two deep lakes of Fields End Water are teeming with carp, and for much of the year they are targeted with pellet wagglers and feeders by the fair-weather angling brigade.
But when it’s cold the lethargic state of the bigger fish gives other species a look-in, in the shape of some fantastic sport with roach… big roach. Largely ignored and untouched, these fish pack on weight in such waters to the point where many now top the 1lb mark, and it’s a similar story on day-ticket commercial venues up and down the country.
But how do you target a big catch of commercial redfins? Rob Lincoln was happy to show us at the Cambridgeshire fishery.
“The sad thing about it is that nobody targets these fish. Today many anglers would be happy to sit it out for one or two carp, but I came here last month and caught over 30lb of good-sized roach and loved every minute of it.
“Nowadays if somebody catches a roach on a fishery like this they put a boilie or big piece of meat on to try to get away from them!”
Traditional baits were the order of the day for Rob, in the form of maggots and casters. The Pit is a relatively deep commercial with around 10ft of water out on the 13m pole line, and it was a good 20 minutes into the session before his float tip slipped beneath the surface of the pit.
A prompt upward strike saw the welcome appearance of his No5 elastic, and the first roach of the day was on.
The next fish took 10 minutes to arrive and the next just five minutes, as sport slowly began to improve. Pretty soon decent roach were coming more or less every cast.
“This is typical roach fishing. It can take a while, but the peg just gets better and better. I’m potting in a couple of balls of groundbait regularly to force fish down to the bottom where I can catch them more easily, because loosefeeding is drawing them up in the water,” he said.
His new Maver All Around Elite pole was working overtime as it fizzed in and out of the lake, bringing in a succession of fish. But being a match angler at heart, Rob knew there was a way to catch faster – his close-in line. This had been loosefeed from the start by hand, in the hope that the cover of the reeds to his right would encourage the roach to feed with confidence.
“I’ve brought some casters along to see if I can catch some bigger roach for the cameras. They seem to have worked on the hook on the long pole, so hopefully I can catch even faster down the inside. It’s a much easier depth to catch fish in here at just 4ft,” he said.
Ten casters were flicked effortlessly to the spot 5m out and his rig was laid over the top. Scarcely had his bait touched the bottom before it was taken by a fine fish topping the 1lb mark which put up a good account of itself on his light tackle.
With the light starting to fade, the big roach were coming thick and fast but more snow was on its way and the electric session was called to a halt.
“Some anglers will go a lifetime without a catch like this on a natural venue, but this has taken just four hours on my local Fields End Fishery. Those casters have certainly done the business. Why don’t you give them a go on your local commercial? You might just get a surprise or two!” said Rob.
“I think it’s important to concentrate fish on the bottom in the deep water on the long pole, so I’m going to kick off with six balls of groundbait. I’m using Sensas Gros Gardons, which means big roach, and I’ve added a few casters to my mix, too. Always cup your groundbait in when feeding only a few balls, for accuracy,” said Rob.
Big and little floats
The Maver Drift float is Rob’s choice for the 10ft swim, in a 1g size. Over 12ins long, with a very long antenna bristle and stem, it makes the rig extremely stable. The strike is very direct because of the bristle size - short bristles cause resistance when the fat float body hits the surface tension on a strike.
Shotting is simply an olivette with four No11 droppers strung out at 6ins intervals below it.
His hooklength is 0.08mm to a size 20 hook.
At the other end of the spectrum, his margin roach rig features a tiny 4 x 8 Elite Series 8 float with a wire stem. This is shotted with strung-out No12s.
There used to be a time when winter fishing for the match angler revolved around roach on canals and rivers or carp on commercials – but how times have changed!
An explosion of skimmers everywhere has seen this fish, normally a reliable summer feeder, become the prime target for many and you’ll see from results that this species is becoming quite dominant in matches, especially on carp waters when the big fish aren’t playing ball.
My England team mate Steve Gardener has talked about the emergence of skimmer waters in his area of the South East, and it’s a phenomenon seen elsewhere too. Woodland Lakes in North Yorkshire is currently seeing bream outperform carp at the scales, and I could count a dozen other waters where the same is true.
Whatever the reasons, all I know is that as a match angler who fishes every weekend, skimmers provide me with almost guaranteed bites, and as those in commercial fisheries are of a good average size you can soon build a weight that you couldn’t with small roach.
So how do you go about catching them? Well, you hardly have to alter your tactics from the typical warm weather approach. By scaling down slightly and cutting back on feed you’ll get a pretty good response in all but the coldest of weather, and while the bloke after carp might sit watching a motionless tip for hours on end, you’ll always be putting something in the net.
To show just how dominant skimmers have become, I’ve come to a typical commercial water, Rycroft Fisheries – just down the road from my house in Derby – where silverfish matches are being won with 30lb of the species.
I have two ways of catching them in mind, one a very classic old-school method and the other giving a big nod to the world of carp fishing.
Because I could hook a carp on winter commercials, my rigs aren’t super-fine in terms of lines and hooks. Scaling right down will get you more bites but you’ll rarely get any bonuses in the net and you’ll run the risk of more tangles when fishing at speed. That’s no good when every minute counts.
A 0.12mm mainline to a 0.10mm hooklength of Sensas Feeling line and a size 18 Kamasan B911 F1 barbless hook will land anything you might hook but still be fine and light enough for finicky fish. Couple this with a light-grade hollow elastic through the top-2 of the pole and you’ll have plenty of stretch to prevent hook pulls and bumped fish.
Floats need a bit of weight to give good presentation and a still bait in windy weather, so I’d aim for a rugby ball-shaped model of around 0.4g to 0.6g (the Sensas Jean Phillipe or Jean Francois is my choice) with a fairly fine, slim plastic bristle dotted down to leave around a centimetre showing.
This is shotted with a simple bulk of shot 18ins from the hook and then three or four No11 dropper shots spaced down to the hook to give a slow fall of the bait in the final foot of the swim. Skimmers will watch a bait as it falls, especially in clear water. Rigs will be set around half a float-length overdepth to give stability.
THE LATE SHOW
Bream and skimmers have many things in common with carp, one being their liking for feeding very late in the day, often as the light fades and you’re struggling to see the float! That makes the final hour of any match the prime time to catch well, so even if you have a slow start to your match there’s no need to panic.
Just because you’re fishing a well-stocked lake doesn’t mean you’ll catch from the word go, and it’s often a case of slowly building the peg up over those opening few hours, laying the foundations for when the skimmers do get their heads down. That’s done with careful feeding and a lot of patience.
Never be tempted to put more bait in to try and make something happen because, in my experience, it rarely does. Bide your time and keep an eye on your watch for those golden final few hours.
The good thing about skimmers is that normally they give you a sign that they’re in the peg, be it a few small bubbles or a small lift or dink on the float before it goes under. Often you’ll get a line bite that slowly pulls the bristle down until it almost sinks before popping back up. This is because skimmers sit a few inches off bottom and up-end to take a bait, rubbing into the line and moving the float.
I know this is a theory that Alan Scotthorne subscribes to, and when it happens, don’t let your focus wander or be tempted to strike too early. Be patient – wait for a proper bite.
WORKING THE BAIT
We’re always taught that skimmers and bream like a still bait. This is why the feeder is such a good way to catch them but when fishing the tip, a good trick is to twitch the feeder a few inches with half a turn on the reel handle to induce a bite.
The same principle applies to polefishing in my book, and that means a simple lift of the rig out of the water by three or four inches before very slowly lowering it back in. If the fish are having it, the float should bury just as the rig settles.
Likewise, you can try dragging the rig a few inches to the left or right before allowing it to settle back down. This can work especially well on days when the water is cold and the fish are lethargic and not swimming around searching for your hookbait.
‘Go easy' would be my main bit of advice on this front. To start with a single ball of groundbait the size of a small orange, holding a little chopped worm and a few dead maggots, goes in on one line and a third of a large pole cup of soaked micro pellets is fed on the other.
This is it until I need to feed more, generally indicated by the presence of small fish or no bites at all. If I catch a carp, this tells me that a lot of the feed may have been eaten by that big fish so I’ll put in a similar amount again.
The only other feed that goes in will be a few casters loosefed over the groundbait line every 10mins-15mins. However, if you’re catching well then there’s no harm in potting in small but regular amounts of feed to keep the fish happy.
Sensas Magic is a well-tested brand that takes some beating, and to this I’ll add a pinch of chopped worm and some dead maggots to give the fish larger food items to pick out. These will also attract any bonus perch in the area into your swim.
I’m still a firm believer that commercial bream like sweet feeds with just a hint of fish. That’s why the recently-launched Sensas Sweet Fishmeal range of mixes are just the job.
A kilo bag will be ample for a winter match, mixed on the fluffy side so it breaks down quickly in the swim.
Skimmers love groundbait, but if there’s been one big trend in the past decade it’s been their love of fishmeal. That’s not just confined to commercials either, as pellets and fishmeal groundbaits are starting to work on canals and drains too! For that reason you’d be daft not to have pellets play some part in your winter skimmer approach. Typically I’ll put in two long pole lines to feed old and new if you like – pellets on one and groundbait on the other. Pellets are simply soaked Sensas 2mm micros potted in.
A vital decision involves picking the right hookbait, and you won’t go far wrong with maggots, casters and pellets. On the pellet front you can forget all about big 6mm offerings as these are just too big for a 6oz skimmer and you’ll miss loads of bites – 4mm expanders are miles better, prepared with a pump so they’re super soft, and these should be hooked across the grain of the pellet as you can see in the picture above. This ensures they’ll stay on even when you miss a bite.
For the groundbait line caster is a selective bait that picks out the bigger fish. Use a single or a double and always go with a darker bait, but for regular bites to keep the catch rate ticking over red maggots take some whacking. More and more I find myself using dead maggots over lives.
Maybe it’s the fact that they don’t move once in the water and don’t attract small fish, or perhaps it’s because a dead maggot is incredibly soft compared to a live one.
I don’t know what the reasons are, but a double bait fished overdepth will more often than not mean that when the float goes under there’s something worth having on the other end!
THOSE PESKY CARP
Unfortunately, commercial fisheries mean carp and it’s rare that you’ll fish any bait for skimmers in winter and not encounter at least one or two big fish. They’re a great bonus if you can get them out but their aggressive nature can ruin a peg and scatter the skimmers – and there’s little you can do to stop these carp turning up.
You’ll know it’s happened when the peg goes very quiet and the smaller fish vanish. The only bit of advice I can give if you want a carp-free day is to go very easy on the feed and not leave any substantial amount in the peg for them to gorge on.
One big problem among anglers on commercials in winter is not striking at every movement of the float.
Perhaps this stems from childhood, when we’re taught to wait for the float tip to disappear completely before striking, but all I know is that on a cold day on a commercial fishery there are times when you’ll freeze to death before that float goes right under.
Whether you’re fishing the waggler or the pole, bites will be shy. The water temperature on the majority of British lakes and pools is still struggling to rise, and fish are lethargic as a result, mouthing the bait rather than gulping it down with gusto. The end result is that even with a float dotted down to an almost invisible pimple, your ‘bite’ may be a barely discernible dip that normally you wouldn’t give the time of day.
Strike, however, and you may be pleasantly surprised, especially on the waggler where a thicker tip to the float means less chance of a classic ‘sail away’ bite.
What with deciding on the right feeding strategy, and countering any tow that there may be on the lake, mastering the waggler can be hard work – harder than setting up 13m of pole – but on a clear, cold water it can be unbeatable.
Winter fish will be shy and not keen on feeding particularly aggressively, and this often shows up on the float tip as a little dip or ‘dink’ that
if you didn’t know better you would ignore, waiting for the tip to completely disappear.
Do this, though, and you’re missing out on extra fish that could make all the difference when weights are low.
I sometimes get funny looks for striking at the slightest indication, but if this gives me even three more fish than the bloke next door, that’s three I wouldn’t have had if I’d followed the crowd and waited. Even with the float tip showing as just a speck it won’t go under every time, so get tuned in and don’t let your concentration wander.
So, with your tackle all ready to go, the next thing to think about is where to fish. Plainly you don’t want to be dropping the float on the long pole line, as that defeats the object of setting up the waggler rod in the first place. However, nor do you want to be hitting the horizon, where tackle control and accurate feeding become all but impossible.
A happy medium is the best solution, and with a standard match-type catapult I can feed maggots and casters around 25m out into a lake, even with a slight head wind, so that’s where 99 times out of 100 I’ll fish. Very rarely will the lakebed be anything other than completely flat here, and I know I can feed and cast comfortably without using overly heavy floats.
Inevitably, some of your loosefeed will go past where you’re fishing but rather than worry about it, I use this overspill in my favour and in the later stages of a match cast a metre or so past where I’ve been chucking all day.
The better quality fish often back off from the commotion slightly and a few casts further out can catch a stamp of fish you’ve not seen all day. Likewise, a cast or two dropped short can bring similar results.
LET IT TOW!
I’ve been fishing long enough to know that perfect flat calm days for waggler fishing are few and far between and there will always be a breeze blowing. The only question is how strong the wind is and what this means for the angler. An undertow is created on lakes where the wind ripples and moves the top layer of the water until it hits the bank at one end, forcing this moving column deeper into the lower layers and making it ‘flow’ back in the opposite direction.
This can be murder for float control but there are a few things you can do to try and neutralise the effects as best you can.
The first is to add more depth to the rig, sometimes as much as six inches. You can also group more shot closer to the hook to put more weight down the line for extra stability, and a third option is to leave a little more float tip showing and let the rig drift slowly through the swim, dragging a bait set overdepth.
On some occasions, however, a little natural movement in the rig can give you a lot more bites from small carp, roach and bream. As long as the float isn’t ripping through like a stick float on the River Trent, I wouldn’t be too alarmed.
Basically, take no prisoners! You’re fishing with a soft enough rod to prevent crack-offs and you’ll never forgive yourself if you pull half-heartedly at bites, miss them and lose the match by a couple of pounds.
A full-blooded overhead strike is just the job, sweeping the rod right back – only if the swim were really shallow would I swap to a sideways strike low to the ground.
DES'S FEEDING TIPS
You'll probably be faced with two choices on the feed front – loosefeed or groundbait. Fishery rules may dictate this and rule out the crumb, so I’ll split feeding into each category relevant to the lake you’ll be fishing. Each needs a slightly different approach, as they have two very different jobs to achieve.
When crumb is off the menu, loosefeed is the only remaining option, and it needs to be heavy enough to reach where I’m fishing. Pellets are fine for just carp, but on a mixed lake, where fish like skimmers and hybrids play just as important a part, maggots cannot be beaten.
A couple of pints of reds, whites and fluoro pinks are ample for a winter match and if I think roach are going to play a part, I’ll swap one of those pints of maggots for casters. I’ll then feed around a dozen baits every cast but only once pouchful each cast, not two or three, no matter how many fish might be in the peg.
Because I’ll not leave the float in the swim for more than five minutes at a time, though, this way of feeding becomes fairly regular and soon builds up a swim. What it can’t do is build up a bed of bait in a tight spot as it would if I were fishing groundbait, but I will try and keep my loosefeed as tight as possible around the float.
CRUMB BY CATTY
Some anglers prefer to feed groundbait by hand but this can be hard work! I use a small catapult for introducing small, soft balls on a regular basis.
By pulling the elastic back to the same spot each time, I know the balls will land in roughly the same place.
I’ll feed a walnut-sized ball every 15mins or so when fish are feeding well, as little as once every 30mins if it’s slow, and because groundbait is aimed at species such as skimmers on commercials, a fishmeal mix like Sonubaits F1 Supercrush is ideal. Mix it damp enough to hold together all the way out to the float without breaking up.
This time of year carp have a tendency to shoal up tightly, which in turn leads to some massive winning weights in matches.
But while headlines are grabbed by 70lb, 80lb and even 100lb catches, it’s the low back-up weights that tend to tell the real story as anglers sit it out for carp in areas where there simply aren’t any!
I have to admit I have never been a fan of sitting for just one or two bites in five hours. I always prefer to keep busy, working at the swim and trying to make something happen.
So when the going is tough I will play the percentage game, and if I’m not the angler lucky enough to be on the ball of carp then I will target silverfish rather than sit all day and hope a carp picks up my bait.
Basically I will have a quick look for carp at the start of the match and if that doesn’t pay off, or I don’t get the impression there are many carp there, I will fish for roach, skimmers and even perch, with maybe just a quick look again for a carp at the end of the match as the light fades.
The silvers, though, are the key. One carp on its own is likely to win me nothing, but a weight of silvers plus that carp can mean a possible framing weight on a gruelling day.
And rather than fishing negatively, as you’d expect in winter, I opt for a positive approach to targeting the silvers on commercials.
Being positive is crucial if you want to catch the sort of weight that’s needed to beat the carp men!
LOOK FOR DEEPER WATER
The key to putting together a big weight of silvers is normally to catch them short, but at this time of year, with the water being clear, quite often the skimmers and roach will push out into deeper areas where they feel safer.
Take today at Meadowlands as a prime example. At 9m I have just four foot of water, which for me just isn’t deep enough when there is even deeper water further out.
For this reason I have eventually settled on fishing at 13m where there is just over six feet of water. Of course, the right depth is totally venue-specific as some waters are deeper than others, but if yours offers increased depth further out then this is usually the area to target.
USE POSITIVE RIGS
Rig choice depends totally on depth, but for 6ft-8ft of water I will look to fish a 4x18 float, in this case a Colmic Jolly which is a tried and trusted pattern for silverfish.
I use 0.15mm Guru N-Gauge mainline. This might seem on the heavy side, but heavier line is stiff and results in fewer tangles, something which can otherwise be a problem when shipping out at speed.
My hooklength is 6ins of 0.10mm line to a size 18 Gamakatsu Maggot hook, which is perfect for single caster and single or double maggot hookbaits.
Shotting pattern is a standard bulk and three droppers, with the bulk set at 24ins from the hook and the droppers made up of No 10 shots being placed at 6ins intervals below this.
Depending on how the fish are feeding I might look to vary my shotting pattern.
For instance, if bites are coming once the float has settled then I will look to move the bulk down closer to the hook in order to get the hookbait to the catching zone that bit quicker.
DOUBLE YOUR CHANCES
Choice of elastic when targeting silvers on a venue where a carp could turn up is always a tricky one, but for me there is nothing better than a doubled-up No4.
This is soft enough to deal with quality silvers but at the same time it gives me a better-than-average chance should a bonus carp come along.
It also allows me to swing in decent silvers when they are the right size, and this can make a big difference to my catch rate.
LAYING THE RIG IN
When I’m fishing for both roach and skimmers I find that a lot of bites tend to come as the rig settles.
For this reason I like to lay the rig in and then hold the float on a tight line so that the hook bait falls in an arc.
Bites then usually come as the float settles, and if for any reason I don’t get a bite then I will simply lift the rig out and lay it back in again – this is a speed tactic that saves time shipping in and out.
Of course, this doesn’t always work and there are days, particularly with skimmers when they want the bait nailed – but it’s definitely something to try, particularly when there are a lot of fish in the swim competing for the bait.
It’s all about playing the percentage game, and it keeps me active all match.
My positive winter bait tray usually consists of casters and maggots, but on waters with a decent head of skimmers I’ll add pinkies and groundbait too.
Casters hold the key to a big weight of silvers as they attract a larger stamp of fish than maggots.
Pinkies, normally dead, are added to the groundbait and although they are small, roach and skimmers love them. They also give me another hookbait option.
For silvers I like a 50:50 fishmeal mix of 50-50 Ringers Natural and Swim Stim Natural. Both are pellet-based and I find they attract a better than usual stamp of fish.
HOW MUCH TO PUT IN
To kick the swim off I introduce two balls of groundbait laced with casters and dead pinkies.
After 45 minutes looking for a carp elsewhere in my peg while the silverfish line settles, and providing I’m not on a pile of carp, then it’s time to work out the best way to feed the swim for silvers.
This decision is governed by the species present. If I drop in and skimmers seem to be the main species I will look to fish the initial feed out before topping up once the swim starts to fade.
PACK IN THE CASTERS
Timing is critical – too many anglers don’t re-feed until the swim is totally dead.
Topping up for skimmers is best done by potting in another ball of groundbait, this time with casters into a Satsuma-sized ball.
This process is repeated throughout to keep fish coming.
If roach are the dominant species I will loosefeed over the top with a catapult as roach prefer bait falling through the water.
I find 15-20 casters on a regular basis is about right to start although if it becomes clear there are a lot of roach present then I might look to up this to try and increase my catch rate and draw a bonus fish or two into the swim.