Six steps to help you bag up this weekend

Roach, bream, carp, tench, barbel, rudd, perch, orfe, crucians, goldfish, ide, chub... just a few of the species you’ll now find in many commercials. 

There are now so many different fish species in our stillwaters that you can often put together a real mixed catch with more than its fair share of surprises. Selecting the correct baits and rigs and you can keep your options open so when that float next goes under you’ll never be sure what’s on the hook. 

It’s a pleasant change to a day of carp, carp and more carp – as four-times World Champ Bob Nudd knows only too well. The name of the game on such fisheries is bites, and he’s not bothered if they’re from roach, bream or carp. Adopt a flexible approach with baits to suit and you can maximise your swim’s potential and introduce a bit of spice to your fishing this weekend

Always have extra options and lines to drop into. On a typical commercial, any far-bank or island cover will hold carp and F1s, and I’ll fish tight up to this as fish will feed in coloured, shallow water right now. 

If you get line bites in a depth of 2ft-3ft you can go up the shelf even further to eliminate these. Look for gaps in reed beds where you can get really tight to the bank, or try a shallow rig next to the reeds themselves.

A second line aimed at smaller fish should also go in. I like to fish this fairly close, where I can feed comfortably by hand. That that usually means using my top kit and two main pole sections. This puts me at the base of the near shelf on most fisheries, just into the deepest water on a flat bottom. A hard, flat bottom means I can feed a ball or two of groundbait to attract fish.

The margins can be a banker spot for bigger carp later on in the day, and although we are only just into April, fish will feed confidently. I like to leave my margin swim for as long as I can – the longer you can feed it without fishing it, the better it is likely to be! 

Even if you can see fish, it’s often best to leave them for a while to really settle on the feed, and I’ll fish a margin swim fairly close to me with a few sections of pole, so I can loosefeed it by hand. Bunches of maggots, pellets, corn and meat are the best baits. 

In high summer, maggots would only pull in little fish, but now they’re a must-have bait. A pint or so of reds is ample to loosefeed lightly on that short line, and I’ll throw in probably 15-20 at a time. Doing this can encourage fish such as roach and F1s to come up in the water. Maggots are also a great bait to slip on to the hook when sport goes off the boil elsewhere in the swim. 

Gone are the freezing days of winter when a few soaked micro pellets trickled in is the order of the day. On these fisheries, you must step up to larger, hard pellets for feed, such as 4mm or 6mm sizes. These bigger, heavier pellets create more fish-attracting noise and also lead to fewer line bites. You can usually feed these pellets straight from the bag dry, but if they float try adding a small amount of water to dampen them off. 

Seeing as you could be catching such a mix of fish it is important to tailor your hooklength to the size of fish you expect to catchSo for silverfish there’s no need to go ultra-fine – I use 0.10mm (2lb) which also gives me a fighting chance of landing bonus carp and barbel. For carp in a mixed fishery I use 0.14mm or 0.15mm lines (both around 4lb) which also means I can get bites from finicky species such as F1s

For roach fishing I’d normally use a No4 or No5 elastic but on mixed commercials this is far too light. Instead I stick with the No5 elastic, but I double it up through the entire top kit of the pole.

It’s very soft across the first few feet which come out, so you don’t bump off silver fish, but then the power kicks in and gives you a bit of backbone for those bigger fish that might come along. 

On my carp rigs, however, there’s no messing around. I use Browning Stretch 7 hollow elastic, which is a medium to heavy grade.Fishing with a puller kit will also help you no end. This gives me a bit more control at the netting stage because hollow elastics tend to be very stretchy. 

How to catch more roach on a waggler

Silverfish are notorious for spooking easily, but there are ways of helping a shoal to settle.

One of them is to put the pole away and switch to the waggler. Waving a long length of carbon over the top of a big group of roach, rudd, perch and skimmers can put them off feeding at this time of the year. This week England star Darren Cox reveals his top tips for keeping the bites coming on the waggler...


Essential baits

“When it comes to fishing for roach and rudd on the waggler there are only two baits I will consider – maggots and casters. “Maggots work well when the going gets tough, with casters a better option when you are getting more bites and better stamp fish. “In order to get the shoals competing you need to be really busy with the catapult, firing out 10 freebies every minute or so.

“That said, you may have to cut it back to half that amount at times as the fish could go into a frenzy every time you feed, brushing against the line, moving the float around and giving false bites. “Reduce the feed and the fish will settle down, picking out the few freebies that are present and, in-turn, increasing your chances of them finding the hookbait.”

Light tackle

“Roach are incredible at sensing any resistance in a rig and once they feel something isn’t right, they’ll leave the peg and feed elsewhere.

“To combat this you need to use really light tackle, and 3lb mainline to an 0.10mm or 0.12mm hooklength and a size 18 Kamasan B911 F1 will help trip up a fish every chuck. Always dot the waggler to a pimple to reduce the chances of fish ejecting the bait before you have chance to react.

“Rod choice is also important and one with a soft tip will cushion the strike and reduce fish losses. I use a A Garbolino G System Match 13ft Light Waggler.”

Shotting patterns

“I use two shotting patterns on the waggler, and it is a matter of trial and error on the day to find out which one is best for the session.

“The first aims to get the bait to the bottom quickly. It has a small bulk set a couple of feet from the hook. This will be a starting point, but as soon as I start missing bites it means the fish have come shallow and it is time to change.

“The second set-up has No10 shot strung out down the line. This makes the bait fall slowly and helps me pick off fish on the drop. I will come off bottom a foot to start with, and come even shallower if I continue to miss indications.”

Venue knowledge

“Doing a little homework on the venue will definitely help your catch rate and one of the most important bits of information you can gather relates to the stamp of fish stocked.

“If you are fishing on a lake that has roach averaging 6oz but you are catching them at half that size, then you should make changes to try and increase the stamp. Little tweaks such as altering the depth, changing hookbait and adjusting the position of your shot on a strung-out pattern could achieve this.”


How to catch a net of bream

March and April are historically the months when bream and tench really begin to feed in earnest.

The pages of Angling Times are filled with massive single fish or big nets of smaller specimens, and already bream have begun to figure heavily in readers’ catches. Every day that passes means longer daylight hours, combined with the clocks going forward at the weekend, and that means more sunshine and warmer water temperatures.

Combine this with preparations for spawning and it’s no wonder that early-spring is seen as a bit of a bonanza for catching bream. The feeder remains king of them all for catching a net of bream on natural waters, so if you’re a bit rusty when it comes to fishing the tip, here are six essential bits of advice to help you get stuck into a shoal of slimy slabs!  


Step 1) Choose the right feeder!

Gone are the days of using a standard open-end feeder for bream if you want to cast a long way. A small open-end or cage is fine for a 30-yard chuck, but if you need to cast further then look to invest in some of the modern rocket or distance feeders (below) on the market. 

These are wire cage feeder swith the weight built into one end. They cast smoothly in the wind and will fly a long way. What size you pick depends on how far you need to go, and the conditions, but don’t force the cast – it should be a comfortable one to ensure accuracy.


Step 2) Go the distance

The water will still be a little clear and that means the chances of catching bream at shorter ranges are slim. You need a decent cast of upwards of 50yds to find the fish. 

In open water this should put you in a decent depth but it’s worth counting how long it takes the feeder to hit bottom so you can work out how deep the swim is. As a guide, every second that it takes to get down equates to around a foot of water if using a standard 30g feeder. Around 6ft should be the minimum depth you’re looking for.

Step 3) Try using braid

The water will still be a little clear and that means the chances of catching bream at shorter ranges are slim. You need a decent cast of upwards of 50yds to find the fish. 

In open water this should put you in a decent depth but it’s worth counting how long it takes the feeder to hit bottom so you can work out how deep the swim is. As a guide, every second that it takes to get down equates to around a foot of water if using a standard 30g feeder. Around 6ft should be the minimum depth you’re looking for.

Step 4) Pick the right groundbait

Whether you use a fishmeal mix or a sweet one will depend on the venue you are fishing, as some waters respond to fish while on others it can be a turn off. 

If you are unsure, go down the classic route with a sweet mix combined with brown crumb. On waters where fishmeal works, a 50/50 blend of fishmeal and sweet will do the job. Mix this on the damp side so it stays in the feeder on the cast, but riddle it off to ensure no large lumps are left when it’s time to fish. It is also worth including some dark groundbait somewhere along the line in clearish water.

Step 5) Give them lots of goodies

Although we’re not yet at the time of year when loading a feeder with chopped worm and caster will work, you still have to make sure that some freebies are included in the groundbait mix in order to keep the bream feeding actively. Chopped worm and caster remains number one, but remember to chop the worm quite finely to release as much scent into the water as you can. 

Micro pellets are another good addition on waters that see a lot of pellets used. If this isn’t the case, then dead maggots are a good substitute and a few grains of corn won’t do any harm. For the hook, two or three dead maggots will let you feel your way in, but worm will always pick out the bigger bream.

Step 6) Patience pays

You rarely catch bream immediately even in the height of summer, so this is definitely the case in March and April, when the fish aren’t fully in the feeding groove. 

It’s reckoned that no bites in the opening hour of a session is a good thing, as this will allow you to build up a feed area without spooking any fish by catching them too early. However, if you get two hours into the day and haven’t caught it’s time to rethink the plan. 

Casting further can work, as can the odd cast closer to you. A great trick is to chop some worms into a mush and pile these into the swim, relying on the scent cloud to attract a few bream into the area.

The diet secrets of fish with bait expert Dr. Paul Garner

With such a vast range of baits available, has it ever crossed your mind whether they resemble the natural food of coarse fish? 

What do fish actually eat when they are not feasting on our bait? The answer can give you a better understanding of what baits work, and when. 

The diet of coarse fish is affected by many things. Fish species is obviously important, but so is their size and the time of the year. Some fish are better able to make use of a sudden abundance of one type of food, while others have a more restricted diet. 

Coarse fish gain most of their sustenance from eating small invertebrates – everything from tiny bloodworms to tadpoles and snails. Generally speaking, larger food items are preferred. Most will be eaten either off the bottom or picked from submerged plants, and although fish are very good at ‘sorting the wheat from the chaff’, some silt and plant material will also be swallowed. However, they gain very little nutrition from this. 

Bloodworm for all

Bloodworm are found on the surface of silt and on the stems of plants. Smaller fish species such as roach pick them off for an easy meal. This is only half the story, though, as larger species may also become preoccupied with these tiny insects. 

Tench and bream have a particular love of bloodworm and feed on them by hoovering up the lakebed, sorting the edible from the rest in their mouths and eating only the animals. This shows just how dextrous these fish can be. No wonder they can at times eject a hook with ease. 

If you think that either species is in your swim, but you are not getting bites, tit’s possible that they are focused on bloodworm and a smaller bait could pay dividends. Red maggots or a small dendrobaena would be my choice.

Both species will move around lakes looking for fresh bloodworm beds where the amount of available food is high. This can explain the patrol routes that these fish adopt, and why some spots are more productive than others. Find a natural bloodworm bed and your chances of success will be good, especially if you plan to prebait.


Crunchy caddis

Often the mainstay of the diet of carp and tench, caddis larvae come in many different forms, from species that build intricate cases from grains of sand or bits of plant stem, to those that spin underwater webs, just like spiders. 

Most are around a couple of centimetres long, making them a decent mouthful for even quite large fish. Those with crunchy cases are normally found over gravel, while a case constructed from plants is great camouflage over silt, or amid weedbeds. 

The most common caddis that you are likely to see emerging in numbers at this time of the year is the black sedge. This is a cased caddis found widely in stillwaters, and is often the most numerous of all the caddis species. On some lakes where I have filmed underwater the bottom can be crawling with these critters, making a very easy meal for fish. 

When fish are feeding on caddis larger baits can be used, and the fish are likely to be less picky. Larger worms are worth trying, as are more easily seen baits, such as sweetcorn and punched meat. 


There are dozens of species of freshwater snail. Although we tend to think mainly of freshwater mussels, because they are so large, if you take a look into the margins of any river or lake you’ll see a whole range of different sizes and species. In fact the bottom is often covered with snails. 

Snails are eaten not just by carp and barbel, but other species too. Roach are lovers of small snails, but bream and tench seem less fond of this delicacy. 

If you retain a carp for a while, very often you will find the remains of snail shells in the sack that the fish has passed through its body. The shells are cracked open using the strong pharyngeal teeth at the back of the throat, allowing the juicy innards to be digested. 

It has long been suggested that one of the reasons hemp is so effective is because it resembles small black snails. This could well be part of the reason, but the strong taste has to play a bigger part. Boilies and bigger baits, such as meat, come into play when the fish are feeding on snails, the bigger bait being more in line with the fish’s natural diet.

Bag up on silverfish and bream by visiting your local reservoir!

The UK is home to dozens of giant reservoirs where you will struggle to see the far bank due to the sheer size of the venue.

While there is no doubt that the prospect of fishing such a huge expanse of water is daunting, the sheer numbers of fish they often hold means they are well worth your attention. But just how do you go about locating the shoals in a fishery of that size and then persuading them to feed? England star and Preston Innovations-backed angler Lee Kerry has all the answers…

Target species

“If you are looking to get away from carp and F1s then a big reservoir could be right up your street. Roach, bream and skimmers often feature heavily on waters like this, and they can be anything from small hand-sized fish to lumps that would easily smash your personal best!

“Look in Angling Times to check match results and see which species is dominating, or speak to local anglers and tackle shops to help gauge the situation.”


“The biggest shoals are likely to be well away from the bank, so a feeder approach is often best on big reservoirs. If it’s bream you are looking to catch, a simple groundbait feeder will often outscore anything else.

“Some anglers might think that for bream you need to put in a lot of bait immediately, but this isn’t the case. I prefer to build a feeder line up gradually, casting every few minutes with a small or medium-sized feeder. There’s no need to use light tackle because a lot of the fish won’t have been caught before.

“I’ll often have a 2ft-long hooklength of 0.13mm Preston Innovations Powerline and a size 16 hook. Thick lines are stiffer and lead to fewer tangles.”


“A dark groundbait is always best for bream and skimmers, as I believe they spook a lot more readily over a light bed of feed.

“My favourite mix is Sonubaits F1 Dark, as it has a strong sweet smell and is packed with fishmeal that skimmers can’t get enough of. I will also add some finely chopped worms and a few casters to the mix to keep the fish grubbing around. “It’s a matter of trial and error when it comes to hookbait – maggots, pinkies or even a worm can all have their day.”

Search the swim

“If bites don’t come quickly, it can be tempting to pile a lot more bait in to gain a response, but it is often better to explore your peg a little. Casting just 10 yards further could put you in deeper water, and that is where the fish could be held up. It may take a short while to find the shoals but if you’re on pegs that have form, you’ll never be far away from a hungry shoal.”

Five point plan for success when fishing a day-ticket water!

It can be quite difficult at this time of the year to succeed on a day-ticket water especially when the low temperatures have hit and the sun isn't quite giving off as much heat as you'd like.  Gardner’s Jack Funnell however has a few tricks up his sleeve to ensure your alarms keep screaming so make sure you follow this five point plan for day-ticket waters.

1)  Actively find the fish

You can’t catch what’s not there - it’s that simple! Carp won’t move very far in cold water, so you need to go to them, rather than vice versa, otherwise you’ll just end up camping, rather than fishing.

It is rare to always get the swim you hoped for but, equally, having a rigid plan can often work against you. “All lakes have a ‘go to’ area where the fish tend to congregate in winter,” Jack explained.

“They do go up into the shallows on very rare occasions, but if the fish aren’t actively showing, don’t bother.”

Another way Jack tries to find the shoals is to lead around in any empty swims. It sounds barmy, but he reckons that if the fish shoal up tightly, you can actually feel the lead bouncing through them - provided you get the cast right.

“I’ve done this and had some big hits of fish, while the lad in the next swim has blanked,” said Jack. 

2) Swap mono for fluorocarbon

It sounds banal, but one tip that Jack was keen to share was the simple act of changing your mainline from mono to fluorocarbon - it can make a huge difference to your results. Mono sinks, but not as well as a good quality fluorocarbon. Jack’s favourite is Gardner Mirage.

“Using fluoro as the mainline ensures that the last few yards of line and end tackle are pinned to the deck. This guarantees that the fish will not spook off the mainline and it’s also almost invisible in water,” Jack told us.

“It is not always the latest rig or bait that makes the difference. But something much more simple! “I mean, it’s not magic, but it might just get you that couple of bonus fish on a tough day.”

3) Flavour-filled solid bags

In cold water, the carp won’t necessarily want to move to bait. Putting out 5kg of boilies at this time of year will most probably just see you prebaiting for next spring! As the fish’s metabolism is very much reduced, you need to fish for one bite at a time, not a hit of fish.

By using solid PVA bags you can slowly build a swim, as well as packing the bags with a variety of loosefeed items to create a compact trap on the lakebed. “One edge that has worked well for me is filling the bag with pellets, a few crushed Sticky Baits Manilla boilies, corn and maggots,” said Jack.

“I always have a few pre-tied, so can I cast at showing fish. Prior to casting, I inject the bag with some liquid flavour to flood the swim with attraction but little in the way of extra food content.”


4) Adjust your zigs

Although he always fishes one of his three rods on the deck, the other two will often be on zig rigs. “The biggest problem with zigs is trying to discover the exact depth at which the fish are sitting,” advised Jack.

“If they are obviously not on or near the surface I’d look to start around three-quarters depth with one rod, and slightly shallower with the second.”

He will then shorten the hooklink every couple of hours in increments of one foot at a time, so that he eventually covers all depths. “If I still haven’t had a run, then it is time to change the colour of the hookbait, cast to another area or even move swims,” he added.

5) Use maggots sparingly

Becoming more and more popular on many day-ticket waters, maggots can be devastating in the colder months. Jack, however, uses them very differently to other anglers.

“I have found that if I’m struggling for bites using boilies or corn for example, putting out a couple of Spombs of maggots can trigger the carp into feeding,” he explained.

Experience has shown the Croydon-based rod that once you get them eating, you can go back to your original hookbaits. The movement of the maggots just seems to trigger a feeding response in the fish that other baits don’t.

“I see anglers with truckloads of maggots in buckets, literally gallons and gallons,” he said.

“The problem with this is that they are both expensive and difficult to keep. I only bring three or four pints – most of which I might take home – just to use to try to provoke a couple of bites and get the swim going.”

Get a bite every cast with these waggler tactics

Learn how to get a bite every cast when reaching for a waggler with Steve Ringer. 

In early spring when the water is cold and clear and not quite warm enough, the fish tend to back away from the bank. 

Because of this, there is no better way of picking them off than by using a waggler! The beauty of the waggler is that you can fish further out than those using 13m-16m of pole. While they’re doing that, you can fish at 20-25m on the waggler. This obviously gives you a real edge, as you are fishing a line that you have all to yourself.

Additionally, you have the benefit of no pole waving about over the heads of the fish. Despite all these advantages, I see hardly anybody fishing with rod and line in the cold. however, here’s how I do it…


On commercials there is no better bait than pellets. All species eat them, from carp and skimmers right through to roach. Today I’m on Warren Pool at Meadowlands, near Coventry, where you are allowed to feed pellets only to a maximum size of 4mm. As it happens I wanted to feed 4mm pellets anyway, so this suits me. I wet my pellets before fishing. The reason behind this is that they become heavier, which allows me to loosefeed them further than would normally be possible. 

The second benefit to wetting my feed pellets is that soaking them starts the breakdown process within the pellet, which means they release a lot more attraction into the water. 

Alongside my 4mm feed pellets I’m also carrying some expanders. I have two different types today – 4.5mm Ringers Cool Water pellets and standard 4mm Bag Up pellets. This gives me a couple of different colour hookbait options, with the Cool Waters being slightly lighter in colour than the Bag Ups. 

Plumbing the depth

Plumbing the depth with a waggler is a lot easier than a lot of anglers think. Whatever you do, don’t cast a big plummet out into the lake. You’ll scare every fish in the vicinity. Instead, squeeze an SSG shot on to the hook and then cast that out to get the depth. This creates a lot less disturbance and at the same time gives a very accurate reading. 



Little and often is the key. I don’t like to put a bed of bait on the bottom straight away, but prefer to build the swim up gradually.

As a guide I will kick off feeding 8-12 pellets every cast. In fact I normally get into a rhythm of ‘cast out, sink the line, feed and then wait for the bite’. It’s then simply a case of repeating the process throughout the session. 

Of course, sessions rarely go perfectly – you need to vary your feed rate and frequency to take into account how many fish are in the swim. For instance, if the fishing is very hard I will keep up the regularity, as I believe the noise of pellets hitting the water attracts fish, but at the same time I will drop the amount down to 4-6 pellets at a time. You just have to think about what’s happening under the water and adjust your feeding accordingly. 

On the subject of feeding, I’m not too worried about keeping my bait in a really tight area. One of the great things about the waggler is that it allows you to cover a lot of water, so I don’t mind feeding a decent area as opposed to a really tight spot. 


This is a usually a single 4mm expander, which pretty much matches a soaked 4mm feed pellet in size so it blends in nicely with the loose offerings. 

I could, of course, fish a banded hard pellet on the hook but when looking for a mixed bag I always feel a soft pellet has the edge. In the cold I do feel a soft expander pellet leads to more bites anyway. 

One little tip regarding hooking an expander for waggler fishing is to make sure the hook has as much purchase inside the pellet at possible. In other words, don’t just nick it on, but instead thread it on. This just gives that little bit of extra security on the cast. 

The second hookbait I like to have with me is sweetcorn. A single grain of corn often produces a bonus fish, so every now and again I will slip a grain on, even though I haven’t actually fed any. 

Hookbait (left) and feed – wetted 4mms. 

Hookbait (left) and feed – wetted 4mms. 


Expanders are a very soft hookbait so if you cast with a really fast action then chances are they are going to fly off the hook. The secret to fishing expanders on the waggler is to keep the cast nice and smooth. This ensures that your hookbait is still on once the float hits the water. 

It’s also important to sink the line slowly once the float has landed on the surface. Winding the float under the water at 100mph is again going to tear the hookbait off. So instead I give the rod-tip a quick flick and then a slow but firm wind to sink the line. 

This way I can be sure that the bait is still on the hook. Of course if it’s flat calm then there is no need to sink the line.

The Set-Up

Warren Pool at Meadowlands Fishery in the West Midlands lends itself perfectly to waggler fishing. It’s shallow, with just 2ft 6ins of water at around 25m. With this in mind, my float is a 5BB Drennan Glow Tip Antenna. 

I love these for pellet fishing as they have a very fine tip which is very sensitive, and are easy to see in even the poorest of light. 

To fix the float in place I use two AAAs and a BB, but rather than put them straight on to the 4lb mainline, which could potentially damage it and lead to a breakage, I thread some fine silicone on to the mainline first, then squeeze the shot on to that. This prevents the shot damaging the line. A 4lb Guru Pulse mainline makes a massive difference when waggler fishing. Not only does it make casting a lot easier, it also aids presentation as a light mainline isn’t picked up as readily as a heavier one by wind or tow. 

I have recently started using size 14 Cralusso Fine Quick Snap Swivels to connect my waggler mainline to hooklength. These allow me to change my hooklength fast, should I need to, and are no heavier than a No9 shot. The swivel acts as my bottom dropper and above this, at 6ins intervals, I have two No9s. 

For waggler fishing I like an 8ins hooklength of 0.14mm Pure fluorocarbon, with a size 16 Guru F1 Pellet hook, fast becoming my favourite in the cold! On Warren Lake I am fishing for skimmers, small stockie carp and the odd big carp, so 0.14mm is perfect. If the fish were all ‘proper’ carp, I would step up both hook and hooklength. 

How to get early season feeder success!

With the rivers closed, it’s now time to start looking at commercial waters to get your fishing fix – and there’s no better way to keep the bites coming than by fishing the feeder. 

Whichever model you use, the swimfeeder is simple to fish with relatively easy rigs, and deadly accurate in terms of placing your hookbait right next to a small pile of feed at up to 60 yards range. 

It’s a little early in the year to bank on catching consistently on the pole or waggler, and you can even use the same rod and reel that’s served you so well on the rivers in the past few months. Here are six things to master if you’re planning a session on the swimfeeder over the coming weeks…

1) Choose the right feeder

This is the first consideration when deciding to fish the feeder. A feeder is ideal for when the fish want a bit of bait to get stuck into, but don’t go too mad by picking a big feeder that holds a lot of pellets right now. 

Minimal feed will still be best, so that means picking a smallish feeder that’ll drop just a good pinch of bait into the peg on every cast. Method or pellet feeders are both good but the Hybrid feeder from Guru has won over lots of anglers in recent years.

If the water is cold and clear, try changing from feeder to bomb from time to time. The bomb will offer minimal disturbance in the peg while giving you the option to fish a large, highly visible hookbait around minimal feed. 

2) Find where the fish are

Depending on the swim, you’ll be faced with several options as to where to fish. The swim could have an island, a far bank, overhanging trees or lily pads that are just beginning to establish themselves again after winter. 

All will attract and hold fish, so if your swim has any feature, cast to it. However, don’t be tempted into casting tight up to this feature, as often the water there will be very shallow. 

Instead, aim to land the feeder a metre or so away, where the water will be a little deeper. In open water, make the cast to a range that you can comfortably reach and, if that is your plan, where you can feed over the top with a catapult.

3) Use bright baits

Changing hookbaits can be the key to cracking a commercial in early March, as the water will still be a little on the clear side and the fish not yet in full-on feeding mode. 

Tried and tested favourites such as hard pellets and dead maggots work brilliantly for smaller fish but colour plays a big part, giving the fish a hookbait that they can easily pick out from a small patch of pellets or groundbait. 

Corn is brilliant, but if you want to go down the boilie route a bright yellow, green or pink mini pop-up, dumbell or wafter-type bait can really trigger a response.

4) Feed over the top 

You don’t always have to rely on the feed that’s going into the swim via the feeder to keep the fish happy. Loosefeeding pellets over the top of where you’re casting to can pay dividends too. 

This is a popular ploy when bomb fishing too, introducing half-a-dozen 6mm or 8mm hard pellets over the top via a catapult every few minutes. This way you can regulate how much feed is going into the peg and work out how the fish are responding to it.

5) Use light hooks and lines

Although spring is just about here, that doesn’t mean that you should switch back to heavy lines and big hooks on a mixed fishery. Erring on the light side will get more bites over five or six hours of fishing, but a balance needs to be struck – go too light and you may get broken by a big fish, whereas too heavy and the fishing will be patchy. 

For a typical mixed commercial water when F1s, skimmers and the odd better carp are likely, a hooklink of around 0.12mm matched to 5lb mainline and a size 16 or 18 barbless carp-style hook makes for a balanced set-up. Only if the peg is snaggy or the fish particularly big should you think about stepping up to heavier tackle.

6) Time your casts

With any form of feeder fishing, a big puzzle to solve is how long to leave the feeder out before recasting. On natural waters for bream, or when in search of big carp, this can be up to half-an-hour, but if you are fishing a heavily-stocked commercial water that’s home to small carp, F1s, skimmers, tench and barbel, you can reasonably expect to get bites fairly regularly. You should be aiming to build a swim up over time to create a small area for the fish to feed over. 

Casting every five minutes will quickly establish feed on the deck, and if you are using small baits such as maggots and 4mm pellets you should catch within this five-minute window. Only if you change to a bigger bait in search of something that pulls back harder should you leave the rig out that bit longer.


How to catch pike on a day-ticket water!

The country’s carp waters are a largely untapped resource for pike anglers and top specimen hunter Paul Garner cashes in on the apex predators

14 - The sport was fast and furious, once Paul found the fish.jpg

Over the last few decades thousands of gravel pits have been developed as carp fisheries, leaving the other species there virtually neglected. Many of these lakes contain hidden gems that rarely, if ever, succumb to a boilie and bolt-rig approach, none more so than pike, which often live almost unnoticed in many carp fisheries.

As we all know, pike thrive on neglect. It is, therefore, no wonder that there is now some great sport to be had for the enterprising angler who targets these venues. Many carp fisheries operate on a day-ticket basis, enabling anglers looking for other sport to fish alongside the carp anglers for a few pounds. when the banks are much quieter, there is plenty of room to explore the untapped potential of these waters. 

One such venue is Sandhurst Lake, set amid the historic Yateley complex in Hampshire. This shallow gravel pit is well known for its stock of more than 400 carp to 40lb-plus, but the other fish residing here are less well known. After hearing a whisper of some great pike sport to be had, Paul Garner decided to investigate its predator potential. 

Travel light

As the sky slowly begins to lighten, Paul surveys the surface of the flat-calm gravel pit looking for the tell-tale dimpling of small bait fish. 

He believes this is essential for a successful day’s piking. “The water is just about at its coldest right now, but that doesn’t mean the fish are inactive. On most lakes you will find them shoaled up tight in just one or two areas. Through the day you would never know they were there, but at first and last light they will become active and can be spotted dimpling and rolling. Where the bait fish are concentrated the pike are unlikely to be far away, so it is really important to try to find the bait fish before you start.

“You will also tend to find that the wind will drop at the start and the end of the day. This makes spotting bait fish so much easier than when there is a chop on the water.” 

Unfortunately, it is one of those mornings when the bait fish haven’t read the script and, as the sun rises above the horizon, Paul has still seen no signs of their presence, apart from the occasional fish in the middle of the lake. With little to go on, he decides to start fishing as the pike are likely to have a feeding spell in the early morning. 

“If I don’t see any signs of bait fish, then my first port of call will be any areas with lots of features, such as overhanging trees, reedy margins, inflows, or snaggy areas. All these are possible holding features and are worth fishing. Normally, if there is a pike present I will get a take pretty quickly, so I will only stay in a swim for an hour before moving. This might sound like a lot of effort, but often the pike will be mainly in one area and I need to find them, rather than wait for them to come to me. 

“Travelling light is essential for this style of fishing. All I have today is a small Nash rucksack carrying my tackle, two made-up rods, a small coolbox containing my deadbaits, a large unhooking mat that doubles as a seat, and a big landing net. I can pack up and move swims in minutes, covering lots of water even on a short winter’s day.” 

Float fishing

With no trace attached, Paul sets the stop-knot above his float at about six feet and underarm casts to a distance of four rodlengths. He draws the rig slowly back towards the margins, feeling for weed as he goes. After two more casts, he is ready to start fishing. 

“The lake is very weedy and actually quite shallow for a gravel pit. There is less weed in the margins, which is the ideal place for a pike to patrol anyway, so I am really pleased that I can fish this close in. Spending five minutes dragging the rig around is time well to check depth and assess weed growth.” 

Hooking on a large smelt, Paul clips on his trace and lowers the rig into the margins, just a rodlength out. The process is repeated with the second rod, only this time a herring is cast a little further out to the edge of the weed. 

After an hour without a bite, Paul unclips the traces and puts them in his coolbox before loading up his gear and moving to the far end of the lake. Here there’s a line of overhanging trees forming a canopy over the margins of the lake. Finding the water here to be slightly deeper, Paul pushes up the stop-knots on his rigs so that the floats are set at dead depth. 

“Using floats not only tells you the depth of the swim, but they are also more sensitive than legering deadbaits and waiting for the alarm to go off. I use sensitive and slim pencil floats with highly visible tops, which I can see at long range. A take is normally signalled by the float lying flat before moving off as a pike picks up the bait and swims away.”

Paul explains the thinking behind his simple float rig. “Of course, you always have to use a wire trace when pike fishing. I never drop below 30lb test wire, as a slight kink may weaken the wire significantly during the fight. Just as important, though, is to use an uptrace above the weight, as this eliminates any chance of a pike catching the line and biting through it. I like to use a 30g weight semi-fixed to the swivel joining the two traces to give enough weight to stop the bait being dragged around, even on a windy day. The hook trace is then attached using a cross-lock swivel, so I can remove it instantly if I want to move swims, or to make unhooking a pike easier.” 

Chance conversation

Another hour passes and, despite his best efforts, Paul remains fishless. However, a chance conversation with a passing carp angler has Paul quickly packing away his gear and preparing to move. Apparently, the carp angler has spotted several pike cruising along the margins in front of a swim in the middle of the lake and the area is full of small roach, too. 

“That’s enough information for me.” declares Paul, as he gets on the move. “If you get wind of pike then move straight away. While we might not think of pike as shoal fish, they often congregate in certain areas of a lake, so I really can’t over emphasise how important it is to keep moving until you find them.”

Ensconced in his new swim, Paul carefully swings both baited rigs into the margins. The weed is much thicker out in the lake, which probably explains why the pike are patrolling the clear channel in the margins. 

After only 10 minutes the left float twitches, sending tiny rings in all directions. Paul picks up the rod and, as the float falls flat and then starts to move off, he winds down and lifts into the first pike of the day. After a spirited fight, a beautifully-marked eight-pounder is resting in the landing net. 

Within minutes, the other float is sliding across the lake surface and another nice fish is soon on the bank after spending a good proportion of the fight airborne! A third fish follows soon after, before the swim goes quiet. Despite changing baits and twitching them to try to induce a take, no more fish follow and it is obvious that the short feeding spell has either finished or the pike have moved off. 

Paul soldiers on, but it eventually becomes clear that three fish will be the final tally. “Unfortunately no bigger pike have shown today. I have heard of fish to over 20lb being caught here this winter, and the carp angler in the next swim has spotted some bigger fish today. Still, to catch three cracking pike on my first visit is still a good result. 

“Had I stayed put in my first swim I would certainly have been more comfortable, but would have blanked. Staying mobile was definitely the right plan, as I had no idea where the pike would show up today. It might be harder work, but I have learned a lot about the features in the lake – useful information for future sessions.” 

9 Early spring tips to give you the edge over the carp!

These 9 early spring tips from Jack Funnel will give you the edge over the carp in the coming weeks ahead. 

Step 1. Be mobile

Getting on the fish is so important no matter what time of year it is. It seems even more essential in the spring, though, as the fish tend to move round in groups. Where there is one there are normally more. 

I like to travel as light as I can, which enables me to move easily. I will move two or three times a day if I need to. I simply keep most of my gear on the barrow and will put up the bivvy once I am settled and on the fish.

Step 2. Pop-ups

I like to fish my baits popped up early in the year. There is often bottom debris and, in some lakes, fresh weed growth. I like to have my bait suspended off this kind of bottom. The fish are not yet feeding hard and have not created feeding spots. They are grazing areas and harvesting the naturals, so something well-presented on top of this is perfect. 

I carry a selection of different pop-ups and some work better on different lakes. For example, on some of the lakes I fish, the fishy baits such as Krill pop-ups work best. On other waters, Signatures, which are a lot fruitier, are more productive. I know that a lot of this is to do with the acidity/alkalinity (pH) of the water, with some lakes being more acidic than others, so it is worth playing around with different ones. 

Step 3. Bright hookbaits

I know it is a common belief and everyone seems to say it, but bright hookbaits are super-effective in the spring. The carp have most likely not been caught in a while and they often let their guard down. A bright, in-their-face pop-up can be enough to get a bite, and a quick one at that. 

I am a big fan of the Signatures and they travel wherever I go. You get three different colours in a tub and they smell fantastic. Whatever it is, fish love them and they are my go-to hookbait in the spring. 

Step 4. Check water clarity

This may sound strange but I keep an eye on the clarity of the water for a number of reasons, depending on where I am fishing. If the water is really clear, then I would be tempted to fish with zigs. This would only be the case if there was high air pressure and no fish were being caught off the bottom.

It also makes me more aware of whether or not I need to pay more attention to camouflaging my end tackle to the lake conditions. If the water is coloured, I try to focus more on smell rather than colour. 

Step 5. Less can be more

Even if the fish are getting caught, I still try to go in softly with the bait. I don’t like putting in too much as it can ruin your chances. I like to try to build up the swim and, providing what you feed them is right, you can get through a lot of bait.

I like to mix sweetcorn, maggots and Manilla, and the fish love it. I would only ever bait with about half a kilo at most and if I needed to top up, I would. That age-old saying of ‘you can’t take out what you have put it in’ certainly rings true for me. 

Step 6. Boost your hookbaits

I like to have my baits really pumping out attraction. As I have mentioned, I don’t always fish over a baited area to put loads of attraction in the swim, so I have to do it with my hookbaits. The sprays are great for this as they add lots more smell to the bait. They are also very thin and light and will easily penetrate the pop-up, which in turn adds more attraction without having to soak it for months at a time. 

Step 7. Check the snags

Carp will use any snaggy areas or trees at all times of the year, so it is worth checking them out. If the sun is hitting these spots and is sheltered from the wind, they can be a great place to offer a bait. These kinds of areas can be carp magnets and you can often find them there at all times of the day. 

These areas are usually safe from angling pressure too, so my advice would be to fish safely as closely as you can and try to lure them out with a bit of boilie crumb. 

Step 8. Try out zig rigs

It has been proven time and time again just how effective zigs can be, especially in the spring. There are often thousands of hatches going on at this time of year and the fish will be gorging on insects. 

What’s more, the spring sunshine is like a magnet for the carp, drawing them to the warmer upper layers of the lake. Quite often they will spend most of their time there, day and night, and offering a bait there is the only way of catching them. Again, it is important to look at the weather and see if it there is high air pressure. It is also good to see if anything has been caught off the bottom and, if not, this is the time to get the zigs out. 

I carry a selection of coloured foams and play around with various colour combinations and depths. Once you have worked it out, you can be on for a really good session.  

Step 9. Get up early

The fish will be showing themselves a lot, especially during the night and early morning. I make a point of being awake at around 2am, even if it is just for 20 minutes or so, and ensure I’m up for first light. It gives me a better chance of tracking down the fish and finding out where they are.

If the fish are not near me, I will move to them no matter what time it is. Time is of the essence when you’re fishing and one man’s complacency can give another angler a session of a lifetime.