How to win your first festival


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.


‘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.



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.



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!



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.



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!

How to catch skimmers in winter


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.


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.


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!


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.


How to catch big roach in matches


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!



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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


Matt Hayes: How to catch pike


As winter arrives and prey fish shoal up, pike go on the prowl. Even if you’ve never fished for them Matt Hayes has the advice you’ll need to enjoy a winter of great predator sport. This is the best time of the year for pike, don’t miss it...

Tales of monster pike are etched in the annals of angling history.

Numerous giants have been caught over the magical 40lb mark, but the legends of huge predators have been even more impressive.

In 1896, a dead pike was washed up on the shores of Dowdeswell Reservoir, near Cheltenham, it was said to have weighed over 60lb. Now that is a BIG pike!

Folklore has it that pike have been responsible for the disappearance of dogs, swans and even errant children!

Yep, it is fair to say that pike have inspired more than their fair share of crazy stories. However, many years ago Angling Times did run a true story of how a 100lb German Shepherd dog staggered out of a lake with a 14lb pike clamped to one of its front paws!

In this feature I won’t be using a dog’s leg as bait, but I will reveal how easily you can catch pike this winter. The next four months is THE time to target these magnificent predators, even if you’ve never caught one don’t be put off giving pike fishing a go, it could really lift your winter fishing.


Pike fishing, especially on stillwaters, can be all about location. Basically, you can’t catch what isn’t there.

Where to head for on a water all depends upon the time of year. In November, when there’s still plenty weed growth, pike congregate in weedy areas, that are three to six feet deep, as the water is warmer. These places also provide camouflage, enabling pike to ambush prey fish. Once December hits, and the first frosts bite, target water of at least six to 15 feet.

Other parts of the lake to try are where there is some kind of structure or feature. Islands, ledges, sunken trees, bars, plateaus or clear patches surrounded by weed are all good. Not only does structure attract pike but it also draws in prey fish.

Imagine 100 people in an empty field, with a tree in the middle. The chances are that every one of those people would stand underneath it.

Fish are the same. Anything on a lake that’s different will attract them as it provides shelter, cover and somewhere to launch an attack on prey fish.

If your water is featureless, there are a number of other clues to look for. Scan the water for sprays - this is when small fish scatter across the surface - or where lots of roach or small bream are topping and rolling. If you find the prey fish, you’ve done half the job of locating the pike.

Another great tip, that is never mentioned by pike anglers, is to look for grebes working and diving. These fish-eating birds feed on the same species as pike, if they concentrate on an area of the lake the chances are the pike won’t be far away.



Stillwater pike are hugely affected by the prevailing weather conditions. The perfect conditions for deadbaiting are sustained periods of low barometric pressure, mild temperatures, a bit of a chop on the water and a reasonable amount of cloud cover.

High pressure fronts that bring bright sunny days and sharp frosts are a killer when it comes to pike action. In these conditions, their feeding spells will be very sporadic, normally reduced to either dawn or dusk.

Changes in pressure front are very important. Pike are like living barometers, they know the day before that a changing weather front is on its way.

These conditions can really spur them into a feeding binge, especially if it is a steady pressure fall. This explains those days when it seems all wrong – bright, clear and sunny – and you catch loads of pike. They have felt the weather change coming.

Although, it sounds like they only feed when the day is perfect, don’t let this put you off. As long as there is a bait in the water, there is always a chance. Pike are strange creatures with many different senses that can be triggered by the smallest of condition changes.


When it comes to the terminal end, you MUST ALWAYS use some form of wire trace as the hooklink when pike fishing.

They have razor sharp teeth and they WILL cut through the heaviest monofilament or braid. My trace wire choice is 24lb or 28lb Drennan. I always use these around two foot long, again, if you use them any shorter a pike could take the whole trace into its mouth and cut the mainline.

Hook choice is either size six or size eight semi-barbless trebles. Semibarbless means only one of the hooks has a barb while the other two are barbless. The barbed hook goes into the bait, while the two barbless hooks make the trebles easier to unhook.

The other thing I always use with my traces are Fox Bait Flags. These small, red rubber flags add a splash of colour to the bait and help nail it to the hooks during the cast.

My last point concerning traces is that after every pike you catch carefully check the trace for kinks. If the trace resembles a strand of curly hair, it needs to be changed.

These kinks cause weak points in the wire and it will then snap under little tension, leaving the end tackle in the fish.

My float rig


If you are new to pike fishing, using a float rig is a good start. You don’t need expensive alarms and drop-off indicators and it’s a very exciting way to catch pike.

The floats I use for deadbaiting are fished bottom only, similar to a waggler, but the depth is controlled with the use of a stop knot rather than split shot.

To fish the float effectively you’re looking to fish the bait up to two feet overdepth. Fishing them further overdepth can lead to fish being deeply hooked.

To plumb the depth, cast out the rig and see how the float sits.

If the float cocks but sits low in the water and begins to drift, the stop knot is set underdepth.

If the float lies on its side, the rig is set too deep.

Retrieve the rig and slide the stop knot up or down the mainline, depending whether the rig is set too deep or shallow.

Recast until the float just cocks. At this point, with the split shot resting on the bottom, the rig is set two feet overdepth.

You can then carefully tighten up to the shot, anchoring the bait on the deck. The line is pulled at a slight angle and will be in direct contact with the hookbait.


Pike baits are legion. In my experience, their success or lack of it depends greatly on the amount of angling pressure the water has seen.

If the water is only lightly fished, then classic baits like mackerel, herrings and sardines are an excellent first choice. Packed with oils and salty body juices, there are not many pike that will turn their noses up at one of these pungent baits.

Fished whole, or as half baits, their silvery skins also ensure they are very visible baits, especially in clear water.

If the lake you’re targeting receives a lot of pike angling pressure and the pike have become a bit wary of classic sea baits, then it is time to use something a bit more unusual. Smelts fill this gap perfectly and are fantastic on all waters.

With a distinctive cucumber smell and soft flesh, pike adore them. The only thing I will say is try to get the biggest smelts that you can. Bigger is always better.

Neville Fickling sells my favourites, he calls them ‘Turbo Smelt’. These fish are around 10 to 12 inches long and have helped me to land some of my biggest fish to date.

If you cannot get smelts, don’t despair, other great change baits include eel section, lamprey or even squid.

Another bait that I’m never on the bank without are FRESHLY FROZEN coarse baits. They need to be as fresh as possible and I will only use a dead roach that has a blue-silver sheen to it.

To achieve this, if you freeze your own baits, wrap each one individually in cling film and freeze them flat, this keeps the bait in top condition. I won’t use baits that have scales missing or which are white from freezer burn.

An extra tip, when fishing whole baits, is to pierce both sides of the fish before you cast in.

Take a pair of scissors or a blade, and puncture the bait along its flank a couple of times. Don’t go mad, you’re not Psycho’s Norman Bates; you just need three holes each side to release the bait’s body juices into the water.

My leger rig


My leger set up is a rig that my old mate, Mick Brown, showed me years ago.

The two main problems encountered by pike anglers when legering are tangles and weed. By using a leger rig with a bomb link two to three feet longer than the trace, you eliminate tangles on the cast.

The inertia of the cast causes the trace and the long bomb link to fly apart and fly through the air like a helicopter. Once the lead hits the bottom, you can tighten right up to the lead.

As the bomb link is free running, the fish won’t feel the weight when it takes the bait. A resistance-free rig is important as pike hate resistance and will quickly eject any bait that they feel is wrong.

The paternoster rig is great for fishing on the deck, or for presenting livebaits or pop-up deadbaits over weed (see diagram).


Pike have very hard mouths. To illustrate this imagine trying to hook the inside of a thermos flask! To hit and hook every pike, as soon as the float makes any unnatural movement, get ready with the rod.

Count, 1,000…2000…up to 5,000, then point the rod at the fish and wind VERY QUICKLY until the mainline is as tight as possible. At this point, STRIKE HARD!

When I say hard, I mean hard. Don’t strike as if you would into a carp or chub, but a good, heavy pull. Really give the rod a hefty tug right round in order to pull the hooks into the pike’s jaw.

The strike itself should be forceful enough to clear the bait off the hooks and transfer them into the pike. If you strike like you would with a waggler you’ll only end up pricking the fish, the hooks will bounce out and the pike will drop the bait. The result equals a missed bite.

Failing to strike runs correctly is the main reason pike anglers miss bites.


Even though they look vicious, pike are very delicate animals and they need to be unhooked, cared for and returned to the water quickly. No one should go pike fishing without the correct unhooking gear, you owe it to the fish.

You need a good quality pair of forceps that are at least eight inches long, a pair of cutters for cutting the points off awkwardly placed hooks and a well-padded unhooking mat.

Follow my guide (below), to unhooking. Once the fish is unhooked, return it to the water ASAP, holding it by the tail until it has fully recovered and is able to swim away strongly.

How to unhook pike

1. Flip the fish onto its back. Slip your hand carefully under its gill plate and carefully open its jaws.

2. Using some long forceps, carefully clamp the forceps onto the bottom hook’s shank and twist to remove it.

3. Having removed the bottom hook, repeat the same process to remove the top treble from the pike’s mouth.

How to catch chub in winter


If you are looking to carry on fishing rivers and streams throughout the winter months there’s one fish that you should target and that’s the chub. Here’s a mass of fishing and bait tips, tactics and advice that is sure to help you catch plenty of chub – one of our most obliging cold water 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 100s 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.

But we don’t have ever single stretch of water on this website, so why not ask at your local tackle shop to see if there’s flowing water near you where you can catch a chub or ten?


Once you have found a river or stream that holds chub, you’ll have to work out where would be the best place to fish, and that depends upon whether you are faced with a wide river or a smaller stream.

Chub tend to move around quite a lot on bigger rivers in the hunt for food, so you have a chance to draw chub into your swim with regular feeding, but chub on small rivers, streams and backwaters tend to hide in certain areas so a good understanding of watercraft will pay dividends to locating those fish.

Whether you are fishing a big river or a small stream, chub seem to love the same old features: Overhanging trees provide sanctuary and a place to launch an attack on passing prey. Barges and boats, and floating weed rafts provide the same cover. Undercut banks around the outer edges of sharp corners are a well-known chub hiding spot, as are marginal weeds and cabbages. You will also find chub tucked up behind streamer weed and rocks, behind and under bridge stanchions, and within the slack water alongside a crease in the river (where slack water meets fast water).



Although chub can be caught in a raging flood, that isn’t the best time to try to catch them. The very best time to catch chub – and all river species - is when the river is fining down after a flood. That’s the time when all the silt and sediment held in the river by a flood is swept away and the water clears again. This is when the fish will be able to see their food better, and they will need to move out of the small side streams and eddies where they took sanctuary from the raging torrent and head back into the main river to seek out food.

All other times when the rivers are running at normal pace with normal colour and good for chub too as the fish will be feeding and acting normally during these periods.



The three best methods for a successful river and stream chub fishing session are to use float or feeder or specialist methods. Pole tactics do work, but they never seem to get the same results as the other three methods mentioned.

Float tactics

Either a stickfloat, chubber, Avon or waggler trotted through a loosefeed and primed swim can bring lots of chub to the net on larger rivers. A constant stream of loosefeed maggots or casters will soon bring those chub to your swim where you can reap the rewards.

Prime places to try stickfloats, chubbers and Avons are straight sections of river known as glides. Better still are those straight areas where tributaries join the main river as here the fish will sit waiting fro food to wash by.

If there’s a row of moored boats on the far bank, or overhanging trees in a line, try casting a waggler towards them and run the float right alongside them. You’ll have to pay close attention to the amount and speed of line you pay out from the reel to ensure the float doesn’t start drifting away from the boats or trees/bushes, but get that right and you could be on for a decent catch of quality chub hiding underneath the features.


Leger tactics

Legering works well on big rivers through to tiny streams. It’s a great way to catch chub and can be incredibly productive so long as you use the right set-up.

Chub are very shy creatures and care must be taken not to spook the fish so although a large feeder filled to the brim with casters, maggots or hemp will work well on the River Trent, Wye and Severn, the same tactics will do more harm than good on a small stream or tributary. On those sort of waters a little Arlesey bomb would be best, swung in to the swim with a gentle plop so as not to disturb the fish.

When legering across a big river with a substantial flow you’ll need plenty of lead to hold the bottom and fish with the rod pointing skywards to keep as much line out of the water as possible, to prevent the flow knocking the feeder out of place.

The best quivertips to use will be carbon ones, and stiff ones too as they will stand a chance of remaining fairly rigid as the river current tugs on the mainline.

When tackling a small stream or tributary you will be able to use much more delicate tackle and more sensitive quivertips as both the flow and distance to be cast will be drastically reduced. On these rivers an 11ft Avon rod with the quivertip top section would be perfect.

You will also be able to touch leger and free-line your baits on smaller rivers. Touch legering involves holding the mainline between finger and thumb to feel for bites, while freelining involves dropping fairly weighty baits into likely-looking holes and letting the bait roll under its own weight under features and into deeper holes in the river bed.

Legering on small rivers and streams often requires stalking and moving swims quite a lot as you may only catch one chub from each swim so it’s best to travel light with just enough tackle in a rucksack and use a folding chair to sit on as these are much easier to carry than seatboxes.


Specialist tactics

Fishing for chub using specimen tactics is really easy. In fact, if you’ve ever fished for carp using bite alarms and semi-fixed bolt rigs you’ll know exactly what to do.

Basically this style of fishing is best done on bigger rivers and involves heavy leads, attached to the line using a semi-fixed set-up, and cast out and left until the chub takes the bait and hooks itself against the weight of the lead.

You’ll need to know how to hair-rig the baits as this technique tends to work much better than side hooked baits, and you’ll need a selection of heavy flat leads, some safety clips (available in most good tackle shops) and some braided hooklength material if you wish to camouflage your rig.

After casting out the rigs you will need to place the rods on bite alarms and set the reel’s free-spool mechanism to allow the fish to run with the bait.

The best rods to use for this style of fishing are Avon rods incorporating the float top section. You’ll be able to get away with using 1.25lb test curve Avon rods, but 1.5 or even 1.75lb test curve are slightly better as they offer better casting potential with the heavier leads needed for some rivers.



One well known fact about chub is that they will eat just about anything from tiny bottom dwelling crustaceans to small silverfish. They really don’t care as long as these giant-mouthed fish get a meal.

Their almost compulsive instinct to snatch at anything that drifts past their lairs is great for us anglers in that we can use almost anything as bait to catch chub, but obviously there are some real firm favourites, and they are detailed below…


These are a classic bait for chub. Each time a river floods the extra water pushing downstream will scour away the river banks and nearby fields and wash lobworms into the river. Chub soon find them and devour them whole as they drift past, and that makes the giant lobworm a completely natural meal for a chub.

Lobworms are best hooked through the saddle using a size six hook. Half a lobworm should be hooked through the broken end using a size 12 hook.


The fishmeal scent trailing from a large halibut pellet cannot fail to attract chub. The best pellets to use are large ones that require drilling with a nut drill so they can be hair-rigged and set so they just touch the bend of a size 8 hook.

The good thing about using a large drilled halibut pellet is that smaller species cannot take the bait while it’s sat at the bottom of the river.

Pellets are now becoming a very popular chub and barbel bait on well fished rivers such as the Trent, Wye and Severn and usually bring very swift results now that the fish are used to finding them on the bottom.

Cheese paste

This is a classic chub bait. A very smelly chunk of cheese paste is one of the very best small stream and river chub bait as it offers enough weight to be swung into the swim and rolled underneath weed rafts and under overhanging bushes right towards the noses of any waiting chub.


Luncheon meat

Another classic chub bait that can be fished either as cubes or torn chunks, on specialist or leger rigs is humble luncheon meat. You could use it straight from the tin, or tear it or cube it the night before fishing and flavour it with spices by coating and lightly frying it.


A single, double or even a big bunch of maggots is one of the best trotting baits for chub. Simply loosefeed plenty of maggots well upstream of where you think the chub will be lying and allow them to drift into the swim, and follow them with your floatfished maggot hookbait. You’ll soon see the float go under as a large chub sucks up your wriggling bait.


A large chunk of bread flake can be fished upon a leger or a float rig. It’s buoyancy coupled with the bright colour makes the bait flutter enticingly over the river bed making a very attractive and visual bait that the chub will see for yards.

When fished with small handfuls of mashed bread (bread mixed with water and broken into pieces) this can be a very deadly combination on both large and small rivers.


Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but boilies are definitely one of the best baits to use for really big chub since specialist anglers have been introducing them into river systems across the country.

Brown fishmeal based boilies tend to be the best, with Nutrabait’s Trigger a firm favourite among anglers hunting for a personal best chub.

As boilies are hard baits, they will need to be hair-rigged. See the link above to find out how to tie the knotless knot hair rig.



Chub tend to be found among snags

You won’t need anything out of the ordinary when it comes to fishing for chub. The average size you are likely to encounter is around the 3lb mark, but the problem anglers face is that chub tend to be found among snags. This means that you should use fairly strong tackle to ensure that you land every chub that you hook.

Mainlines should be around the 6lb mark and you could fish the line straight through to your hook if you wish, or use a hooklength of around 5lb or more.

Float rods need to be fairly powerful to be able to control a hooked chub against the flow and stop it from reaching any weed, plus the rod needs to be long too. A 13ft, 14ft or even 15ft rod is perfect as they will give you excellent float control and plenty of leverage when controlling big chub near the net as they do tend to surge towards marginal snags at the end of the fight.

Leger rods should be powerful to combat strong flows and have robust carbon push-in quivertips for the same reason.

Use a size of hook to suit the bait you are fishing with, but remember to use strong hooks as chub can pull your string a bit and will quite easily straighten fine wire match hooks if you are not careful.

How to avoid deephooking pike while deadbaiting


If the majority of pike you catch are hooked deep within the fish’s gullet, you are doing something wrong. Here’s how to ensure that the pike you catch are either lip-hooked or easy to unhook...

The ideal scenario

When pike fishing, every fish you catch should be enjoyed during the fight, unhooked quickly and safely, and returned to the water to grow on and fight another day. The only way to ensure this is to be on your guard, use the correct rigs and strike quickly as this helps prevent the recurring problem of pike being deep-hooked.

Why pike are deep hooked

There is one glaringly obvious reason why pike are deep-hooked, and that’s at the very top of this list, but there are some others too, which are easily rectified...

● You haven’t struck soon enough.

● Your rig isn’t sensitive enough.

● The method of bite indication isn’t up to scratch.

● You weren’t paying attention.

Be on your toes

We have seen it so many times; would-be pike anglers fishing large expanses of water with their rods scattered along the bankside, sometimes up to 50 yards away from their seated position. This is asking for trouble as a pike can snaffle a bait and turn it around to engulf it in a split second. If you have to run to your rods after a bite, there is a very high chance that the taking pike will have swallowed the bait and the two sets of trebles way before you pick up the rod. So what’s the alternative?

The answer is easy. If you really feel that you must fish your baits a long way away from each other, why not walk the rods up the bank, cast out and then walk then rod back again, with the bale arm open? Then you can tighten up the line, place the rods in rests – if you are float fishing, or on the alarms if you are legering – right alongside your seat. It’s so simple to do, so nobody should need to position their  rods miles away from their seat. They are only asking for an accident to happen.

Use a sensitive rig


ALL PREDATORS detest resistance. If they feel a substantial force pulling back when they take a bait they will drop it immediately, so it pays to use a sensitive rig whenever pike fishing. However, a sensitive rig is more likely to prevent you deephooking a pike.

When legering use a paternoster rig that utilises a wide-bore run ring upon a long paternoster, and after you have cast out and the rig settles, tighten up as much as you can to the lead. This ensures that as soon as the bait is taken, the bite is registered at the rod end.

If you are floatfishing with your bait on the bottom, set your float a couple of feet overdepth and use an unloaded, bottom-end pike float rather than a loaded version. Unloaded floats show bites better than loaded versions as they rise and lay flat on the surface if a pike lifts the bait off the bottom.

Loaded floats won’t register this type of take as well as they will remain upright and sink only when the pike moves off with the bait. During the time between picking up the bait and moving off with it, the pike may well have turned the bait and swallowed it.

Braid certainly helps too, especially when you are legering at range as any movement on the bait will be transmitted straight to the bite alarm due to braid’s low-stretch properties.

Use the right bite detection

WE HAVE already covered floatfishing tactics earlier – unloaded floats are best for the novice predator angler – but when it comes to bite detection while legering, you are best to use a loud, sensitive alarm coupled with a drop-off indicator. Ideally use a drop-off indicator that has adjustable weights to ensure the line is kept tight when fishing at range.


Cast the rig out and tighten up as much as you can. Now release the bale arm and clip the drop-off indicator to the main line, underneath the spool. Leave at least a couple of inches of space between the indicator and the spool to allow for movement when a pike takes the bait.

Your alarm should be positioned between the butt and the second line guide and turned up to full volume. Now you’re ready to detect the slightest movement of the bait caused by a taking predator.

Be on your guard

A PIKE can engulf even the largest of deadbaits quicker than you can respond to a take, and as this can happen at absolutely any point during a session you cannot afford to take your eyes off your float. Keep those alarms turned right up and pay attention throughout the session. Radios should be left at home or kept as quiet as possible.

If you cannot concentrate on a float for a full day, invest in some bite alarms and drop-off indicators as £30 minimum is little to pay for peace of mind and ultimately the pike’s welfare.

But the best advice will come from an angler who knows how to pike-fish correctly and knows how to unhook pike, so if you can, tag along with an experienced predator angler and learn from them at the bankside. There’s simply no experience like first hand experience


To remove the hooks from pike you will definitely need at least the following: a pair of long-nosed pliers, a pair of short pliers, an unhooking mat and the confidence to place your fingers within the pike’s mouth.

Removing the hooks from the gaping jaws of even the smallest pike can prove awkward, but not if you follow this step-by-step guide...

NOTE: The pike’s gill rakers are extremely delicate, and extremely sharp. Try to avoid touching them with either your hand or your forceps. Damaged gill rakers bleed profusely, putting the pike under undue stress.

When straddling a pike to unhook it pay attention to the fish. If it struggles while your hands are within the gill covers you will cut yourself. By placing your knees alongside the pike’s body you will feel when it is tensing and preparing to wriggle. Now’s the time to quickly remove your hand and fingers from the gill covers.

1. After netting the pike, place it on a cushioned unhooking mat, turn it on its side and straddle it gently. Don’t sit on it!

1. After netting the pike, place it on a cushioned unhooking mat, turn it on its side and straddle it gently. Don’t sit on it!

2. Put your fingers together and your hand flat. Work your hand up through the gill cover, keeping your hand pressed to the inside of the gill cover.

2. Put your fingers together and your hand flat. Work your hand up through the gill cover, keeping your hand pressed to the inside of the gill cover.

3. Keep your hand flat and gently prize open the pike’s mouth by pulling the gill cover outwards. This won’t harm the pike.

3. Keep your hand flat and gently prize open the pike’s mouth by pulling the gill cover outwards. This won’t harm the pike.

4. Now find the hooks and use your forceps to remove them quickly. You may have to pass the closed forceps through the gill rakers to reach the hooks.

4. Now find the hooks and use your forceps to remove them quickly. You may have to pass the closed forceps through the gill rakers to reach the hooks.

How to fish winter commercials


Here’s our extensive fishing guide to help you keep on catching on pole, waggler and feeder on commercial carp fisheries during the colder winter months.

It’s packed with handy hints, tips and advice that is sure to keep your float going under and your quivertip slamming around.

So, whatever style of fishing you prefer, take a good look through this in-depth guide and you’ll soon know exactly what changes you need to make to ensure you keep busy on the bank throughout November to April.


This is absolutely key to ensuring that you continue having fairly hectic sessions that will not only boost your confidence, but help keep you warm too as there’s nothing worse than sitting motionless for hours in damp and cold conditions!

Three key tips we can give you here:

Fish a commercial that you have fished during the summer.

Fish a commercial that’s well stocked with not only carp, but also roach, skimmer bream and chub if you can.

And choose a commercial that’s not too deep – average depth of 4ft with 2ft margins will be ideal.

Here’s the reasons why we suggest you follow those tips when picking a particular winter commercial water…

If you fish a certain venue in summer you will know where the lilies are and where any weed beds might well be. You’ll also know the depths of some swims so that will provide a lot of knowledge that will put you ahead of the game when picking a swim.

Carp will hold up within or very close to submerged lily stems and weeds during the winter – and that’s well worth remembering.

Picking a venue that’s heavily stocked with fish is an obvious one, but nevertheless some anglers keep on trying to catch from venues that are already difficult to fish in the summer – they don’t stand a chance when it’s cold!

The depth of the venue is key, and if there are shallower parts and deeper areas of around 4ft you are onto a winner because the fish may well be in the deeper water first thing in the morning (as the water will be warmest there) but then if it’s a sunny day with little wind the water will warm up significantly in the shallow areas and that’s where the carp will move during the afternoon.


Watercraft, past experiences in the summer and asking the right questions will all play an absolutely crucial role in finding the fish in winter.

When you arrive at the water, ask the bailiff or the owner where the fish were caught yesterday. It’s dead simple and it could put you on masses of carp.

If there’s no-one to ask, then watercraft and previous experiences come into play.

Watch the water closely to see any signs of life. Look for swirls, clouded water, bubbles – anything that could give away the presence of any carp. Even just the one small swirl at the surface could give away a huge shoal of fish as they pack together tightly during the winter so where you find one carp you’ll normally find masses of them.

Finally, past experiences will tell you where the lilies and weeds were during the summer. If you haven’t got anyone to ask and you see no signs of fish life, head for areas that used to be weedy as the carp won’t be too far away from those spots.


If you’ve got just the one day to go fishing and you’re going to go regardless, most of this section doesn’t count as you’ll not have a choice. But if you’ve got a week off and you could go any time during that break, choose your day wisely.

The very best time to go to a commercial carp water during the winter is after a few days of settled and mild weather. That’s when the water temperature will have risen and the fish will have become a little more active.

Note any direction of wind too. A southerly breeze is perfect as it brings with it milder temperatures and the promise of better sport.

If there is a wind blowing when you arrive at your lake, opt to fish with the wind hitting your back. Not only will you be more comfortable (as you can set up a brolly for protection) but the fish may well be sitting it out in the sheltered part of the lake as it will be warmer there.

We regularly use the internet for weather forecasts and there really is none better than Metcheck. It’s a free website that has provided us with near perfect forecasts for years.


Less is more when it comes to commercial carp water fishing when it’s cold. Basically, you won’t need much bait, and below is a list of the typical feed and hookbaits that really work on a stillwater in winter and why. We don’t recommend you take them all – three feed baits will see you through a typical session.



Two tins will be enough. This sweet-scented bait is brilliant in the cold. Why? Because the smell disperses easily and will draw fish into your swim readily, plus the bright colour can be easily seen by fish. There’s no need to flavour it – just use it straight from the can. But remember to take your can home, or bin it properly. Carp, chub, bigger roach and skimmer bream love sweetcorn.

Fluoro pinkies.JPG

Fluoro pinkies

These brightly coloured mid-sized maggots are brilliant when it’s cold as they stand out well in the clear water, they don’t fill the fish up and all commercial fishery species are fond of them. One pint of fluoro pinkies should be more than enough for a day.

Chopping worms.JPG


One of the very best attractors during cold weather is chopped worms. Dendrobaenas are by far the best for chopping up because they can be bought in bulk fairly cheaply, they emit lots of attractive juices and the worms are large enough to provide you with a multitude of different sized pieces to use on the hook.

The chopped worm pieces can be introduced by hand in the margins, cupped in over your pole line or added to your groundbait each time you fill the feeder up or throw a ball in.

Punch crumb.JPG


A small chunk of bread flake works wonders on clear coldwater commercials. It stands out well and because of the lightness of bread, it flutters down to the bottom very slowly, ensuring that any nearby carp, roach or skimmer bream can see it and make a move to take it.

Bread is best fished in conjunction with a punch crumb groundbait, available from all good tackle shops. This groundbait needs mixing very carefully and it should be riddled after mixing to remove any large lumps.

Expander pellets.JPG


Both hard pellets and soft expander pellets will catch fish when its cold. If you do intend to use expander pellets on the hook, you should feed hard pellets as well to hold the fish in your swim.

Expander pellets are available pre-prepared, or you could simply pump them yourself.

The best feed pellets to catapult or cup in to your swim around your expander pellet hookbait are small ones – 4mm is about right during winter. The reason you should use smaller pellets is because they won’t fill the fish up so readily, and they break down quicker than large pellets to release a scent trail through the water.



These are well known fish-catchers when it’s cold. Half a pint of good quality casters (meaning a varied selection of light to dark colours) will be enough as they don’t wriggle into the bottom silt, so they won’t vanish out of your swim. Feed them very sparingly, or simply just use them as a change bait over the top of your loosefed fluoro pinkies or chopped worms.



Cubes of shop-bought luncheon meat work very well for winter carp. From half-centimetre to 2cm cubed chunks, they all work very well indeed. But care must be taken when fishing meat in winter as it is a very filling bait so only use chunks of meat on the hook and fish it over either small feed pellets (4mm or even micro pellets are best), or fish it over meat that has been cut into thin slices and pushed through a maggot riddle to form tiny morsels that can be squeezed into small nuggets and fed by hand, or introduced via a pole cup.


There are a few fundamental changes you will need to take into account to ensure you keep catching throughout the winter, and they are all detailed right here…

Fining down

You may well have heard this phrase mentioned a lot when anglers talk of winter fishing. Basically it means whatever tackle you used in summer, reduce it for winter fishing.

If you used size 16 hooks in summer, use size 18 or even 20 in winter. If you used 0.14mm hooklengths in summer, use 0.12mm or even 0.10mm in winter. And straight wagglers should be replace with insert wagglers as they are more delicate to help spot tentative bites.

The same goes for pole floats too – use a slightly lighter rig than you would normally use in the summer, incorporating small micro shot rather than an olivette or bulk shot.

Quivertips need scaling down too - use the lightest glass tips you have to see those shy, gentle bites. You may even need a target board positioned at the tip of your rod so that you can see the bites.

Your pole elastic and reel mainlines can be reduced in strength too as the fish aren’t going to fight anywhere near as hard during the winter. No12 elastic maximum and 4lb mainline should do the trick on most commercials during the winter.

Swap power float rods for normal waggler rods, and Method feeder rods for straightforward leger rods.

Split shot pole rig.JPG

Start on the bottom

If you are float fishing, always start your session fishing with your bait set overdepth as the fish are far more likely to be swimming around close to the bottom. As the session progresses you might get more bites if you use a shirt button style shotting pattern so that your bait falls gently through the bottom half of the water to get bites on the drop.

Feed very little

Tentative feeding is key in winter. Just a pinch of fluoro pinkies, casters or pellets, or three grains of sweetcorn is all it will take when you reach for your catapult or pole pot. And only re-feed your swim after you get a fish or you may end up simply filling the fish up with your loosefeed rather than catching it!

Light feeding.JPG

Search the water

Finding the fish is the hardest part of winter commercial fishing, and one of the best ways to find them is to use a leger rod and an Arlesey bomb. Create a simple leger rig, use a fairly light 2ft-long hooklength of around 0.12mm diameter high-tech line and a grain of sweetcorn on as size 18 hook.

Cast the rig out to a likely looking spot a fair distance from your peg and tighten up the line gently to create a slight bend in the quivertip. Now wait for 5 minutes to see if you either get a bite or spot a line bite.

Bites will be the usual ‘pull round’ of the quivertip, while line bites are quick plucks on the tip made by fish swimming into your submerged mainline.

If you start to see line bites that means there are fish in front of you, but they are somewhere closer than where you cast, so retrieve the rig and cast 10ft or so shorter than you did before.

Keep doing this until your rig lands amongst the fish and you start to get proper bites. And when you’ve found one carp, you’re very likely to find many more as they shoal together in winter.

Many match anglers use this searching technique during the winter, and may matches have been won using it too.