For Mark Pollard, there’s no finer sight than a big bag of shimmering redfins glistening in the sunshine.
The prolific match angler and silverfish expert is a dab hand at putting such a net together, a catch like that pictured in the following few pages.
Here he gives his 10 vital steps to roach success on the pole on a variety of stillwater venues this spring including commercials, big natural lakes and park lakes such as the one he was targeting today, Furzton Lake in the centre of Milton Keynes.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned long pole angler, you’re bound to take plenty from his sound advice. Over to you Mark…
1. Pick your spot
Where you choose to fish your pole line and put your bag at the start of the session is often a deal breaker. Too close and you might not get bites, too far out and you’ll make it harder than you need for yourself.
If you’ve got a coloured lake with a good ‘chop’ on the surface caused by the wind, you’re more likely to be able to catch closer. However, if it’s clear or calm, you’ll probably have to fish a bit further out as the water is still quite cold.
A range of 11m-13m is a good starting point, especially on these larger stillwaters and park lakes. Fishing at this distance usually puts you out beyond any shelves and on to a flat bottom. On a small, well-stocked commercial fishery you’ll probably be able to catch on a short pole.
2. Use dark groundbait
At this time of year I’m still a fan of using a dark groundbait mix for roach. My choice is a simple even quantity of Dynamite Frenzied Hempseed Match Black and Silver X Roach. The Silver X gives it a bit of food value and is quite an active mix, while the Hempseed groundbait darkens the mix and is hemp-based, great for roach.
To this I add casters and a bit of tinned Frenzied hempseed. Unless you kill them beforehand, you can’t add maggots to balls of groundbait because they’ll break up the balls and generally wreak havoc!
When deciding how many balls of groundbait to feed remember this – you can’t take out what you’ve put in, but you can build up the peg gradually! It’s far better to cup in, say, two or three large balls cautiously, than blow the peg immediately with too much groundbait.
3. Elastics and setting up
A No.4 Matrix solid elastic is my choice for roach on stillwaters – there’s no need to go lighter. I put a light elastic like this through the No.2 section and a bit of the No.1, which is cut back for my pole bush. This is enough cushion for small fish but isn’t so stretchy that it will be difficult to swing and land fish.
You can’t do this for heavier elastics and bigger fish, however, because your elastic won’t have enough stretch in it! If bigger roach and the occasional bonus fish were on the cards, I’d use a grade five or six through the full top three kit.
4. Swing your rig
There are various ways of getting the bait to the bottom and presenting your offering to the fish. You can lower a pole rig straight down vertically, which you might do if you’re looking to catch all your fish hard on the bottom with the shot bulked. Or, you can lay the whole lot in horizontally straight out on the surface, which can be good for catching fish on-the-drop as the bait falls through the water, with the shot spread out shirt-button style.
The best way I’ve found, however, is to lift the pole and swing the rig out beyond the tip away from you. Let the rig land in a straight line then keep a tight line to the float and the bait will swing in an arc back towards you. Let it go slack as the bristle cocks upwards. This is a great way of catching a slightly bigger stamp of fish which seem to sit on the far perimeter of the main feed.
5. Avoid slim floats
Although you could use a slim float for roach, and many do, I like something with a bit of body on it such as a rugby ball shape, to hold the line tight against. On these bigger waters a slim float would get carried around in the tow and wind, offering poor presentation. I like to have control of the rig and today, for example, in 5ft of water, I’ve gone for a 0.75g MP roach as I’m fishing on the bottom.
6. Light hooklengths
Roach aren’t daft wherever you go and light tackle is still needed to fool them. On a big natural style venue such as this I’ve got a 6in length of 0.08mm (1.7lb) as my hooklength, although I wouldn’t drop lower than this on a stillwater. On a really coloured venue where bigger fish are on the cards, I would consider stepping up to 0.10mm (2lb). As long as these are matched and balanced with light elastics you shouldn’t get broken. Where barbed hooks are allowed, I prefer the Kamasan B511 in a size 20 if it’s difficult, or an 18 if I’m bagging.
7. To loosefeed or not?
Do you pick up your catapult and fire in some bait or not? In my book it all depends where you’re catching fish. If you’re only getting bites on the bottom then don’t be inclined to loosefeed, just rely on the groundbait to keep the fish there on the deck where they are easier to catch. You can top up with a small tangerine- sized ball of groundbait in the cupping pot whenever the swim starts to slow up.
However, if the fish are taking the bait on-the-drop, before the rig has a chance to fully settle, you might catch quicker by loosefeeding maggots or casters little and often. Use a lighter float and spread the shots out but bites will be harder to hit when the fish are moving about at various depths off the bottom.
8. Use an olivette
An olivette weight is a great way of shotting a pole float. It’s compact and means you don’t have to attach loads of shot to the line in a huge bulk. Use an olivette for heavier pole floats of 0.75g (4 x18) and above (for lighter floats a group of shot is more versatile). I like an inline olivette fixed with two No.10 shot or Stotz either side. I’ll use a size slightly lighter than the actual weight of the float so that I can spread out three or four shot beneath it. An olivette is usually placed between 18in and 2ft away from the hook itself.
9. Lubricate your elastic
A bottle of pole elastic lubricant is useful with smaller-sized solid elastics. Applying it keeps the elastic working smoothly because it can stick and jar in the pole, causing lost fish on small hooks. It’s not so important with thicker hollow elastics and large diameter pole bushes. Squirt the lubricant into the thick end of the pole section and pivot it upwards so it runs down the pole. You can also pull the elastic out with the tip underwater to help it work.
10. Entice a bite
Lifting the float out of the water and lowering it back down to settle again is a great way of bringing a quick bite when pole fishing for carp. It also works surprisingly well for roach, because it shows the bait to any nearby fish. You only need to bring the float 6in or so above the water’s surface, then gently lower it down again to a fishing position. Don’t simply let go of it and let it drop down.
Let me set the scene – you draw a peg with an island in front of you at 25m. It’s out of pole range, but looks perfect for a chuck on the feeder, so the first thing out of your bag is the feeder rod.
Well, that could be a big mistake! As the water starts to clear, casting a feeder into shallow water is a recipe for disaster, due to the disturbance it causes.
That doesn’t, however, mean the island is now a no-go area. You just need to change your approach.
Enter the waggler. The beauty of this tactic is that it causes a lot less disturbance and you can also work the swim a lot better.
Steve's 6 tricks for catching on the waggler
1. Insert tops - Sensitive wagglers are crucial at this time of year as they offer less resistance for spotting shy bites.
2. Use a simple rig - the tiny snap link swivel allows the float rig to ‘fold’ on the strike which helps hit more bites.
3. Long hooklengths - you’re looking to get a long, slow, natural-looking fall of your hookbait through the water.
4. Clip up - there’s nothing worse than chucking your rig into far bank vegetation and ruining your swim!
5. Vary your hookbaits - I always start on my ‘banker’ bait of double maggot and switch to pellets after I’ve fed.
6. Feeding- I don’t tend to need to feed my swims straight away as I’m casting to spots I know already hold fish.
Go light for more bites
If I were fishing to the island in the summer it would without doubt be with a short, dumpy pellet waggler.
At this time of year I need something more refined, which is where loaded, insert wagglers come into their own. Drennan Glow Tip Peacocks are a real favourite as they are easy to see in even the lowest light conditions.
I also always prefer to use loaded floats as I find they cast a lot more accurately, plus I don’t have to put big shots on the mainline which can, of course, damage it.
I attach the waggler using a snap link swivel. This means I can quickly change the float should the wind get up, plus the snap link also allows the float to fold on the strike, something I believe helps in terms of hitting bites.
To fix the snap link in place I use Guru line stops, two below the float and one above. The two below takes the impact of the cast and prevents the float moving.
Directly below the line stops I have my shot, and because the float is loaded I only need a small bulk of No8s to set the insert tip at the required level.
In terms of float size its all about using the lightest I can get away with. I like to use a light reel line too, and 4lb Guru Pulse is my favourite. This has a diameter of just 0.18mm which makes accurate casting even with a light float a whole lot easier.
How deep to fish?
You might be wondering how deep to fish – well, I always like to kick off at about 60cm.
I don’t like to plumb the depth as I feel the disturbance this creates can push fish out of the swim. I’d much rather my first cast is one with a bait on as opposed to one with a plummet!
Of course, 60cm is probably overdepth against most islands but this doesn’t worry me. Most bites tend to come on the fall so the hookbait being well away from the float is no bad thing.
I always tie 50cm hooklengths for waggler fishing. I feel this helps with presentation as it gives a slow, natural fall of the hookbait.
Line choice all depends on the size of fish. Today, on Molands at Packington, I’m looking to catch carp from 3lb to 10lb, plus some
With this in mind I have opted for 0.15mm N-Gauge – light enough to not put the F1s off while at the same time still giving me a good chance when I hook a carp.
Hook is a size 16 LWG, either eyed or spade depending on my choice of hookbait – eyed for pellets and spade for maggots.
Hitting the spot
When fishing the waggler to an island it’s all about getting your hookbait to land tight to the bank. Doing this off the cuff isn’t easy so for that reason I like to use the line clip on my reel.
The carp tend to be tight to cover at this time of year, so being accurate is all-important, as is avoiding the far-bank vegetation!
Of course, if I want to move along the bank and cast to a new spot I will simply remove line fromthe clip and re-engage only when I’m happy with where I’m casting.
Mug before feeding
Surprisingly, at the start of the session, I don’t actually like to feed, preferring to ‘mug’ a few early fish by working my way up and down the island, casting to different spots.
What I like to do once I get a bite is cast back to the same spot. Nine times out of 10, where there is one fish there will be two.
In fact you will normally get a flurry of bites once you get one in a spot before the fish move, then it’s a case of having to find them again.
I think at this point it’s important to remember that carp love islands because they offer cover, so you don’t always need to feed to try and pull them into the swim.
That said, once I have finished working my way up and down the island I will look to start feeding a few hard 6mm pellets to try and pull a few feeding fish into the area.
As a rule I will feed three to four pellets every four minutes or so, just to try and create a little bit of noise without putting loads of bait on the bottom.
I will then look to fish both on the bait and just off it. Quite often, although I am feeding a spot, I don’t actually catch there. Instead, a metre or two to the left and right can be better.
I’m sure this is because fish come to the feed but owing to the water being clear they don’t want to sit right under it.
Start on maggots…
When it comes to hookbaits I like to try and restrict it to two – maggots and 6mm hard pellets.
Corn can be deadly at this time of year but I like to try and keep things simple.
Normally I will kick off with double maggot on the hook prior to feeding, as I feel this is a better dobbing bait and is more likely to get a reaction should I drop it close enough to a fish. I will then look to switch to a hard pellet once I am feeding a few.
To me it makes sense to match the hatch by fishing on the hook the same as what I’m feeding.
When fishing the waggler tight to cover, you tend to find that most bites come on the drop, usually within 10 seconds of the float hitting the water.
For this reason it’s important to keep casting on a regular basis. Leaving the float out and waiting for bites rarely produces, in my experience.
It’s also well worth giving the float a twitch once the initial bite time has passed.
A quick turn of the reel handle will cause the hookbait to rise and fall in the water, and this little bit of movement can be all it takes to prompt a bite.
All-rounder Julian Chidgey shows how to use a simple two-pronged attack to bank big summer tench from the margins
Standing beside the lake at dawn, it was difficult not to marvel at the sight of two large tench feeding just inches from the bank, sending up clouds of mud as they twisted and turned on their heads in the search for food. The weather was forecast to be sunny and hot and, knowing how the species loves to exploit the natural food larder created by warm, weedy margins, I was looking forward to pitting my wits against these fish at close quarters.
Traditionally, my home county of Devon is not the happiest of hunting grounds for specimen anglers, but in recent years a number of excellent fisheries have sprung up which offer increasingly rich pickings for big-fish hunters.
Emperor Lakes, at Loddiswell in South Devon, is one such place and, along with huge carp and catfish, big tench running into double figures are on the menu for visiting anglers.
My plan for the day was to use both float and feeder tactics to target them from what is probably the best feature in any lake – the margins.
The float comes first
For the first part of the session, before the sun had risen too high in the sky, I intended to fish using a sensitive float rig. I rigged up a 14ft float rod with a small 0.4g pole float, but with so many reeds and lillies fringing the margins, I chose not to use a hooklink, opting instead to fish my 6lb reel line straight through a size 14 barbless hook.
After plumbing the depth and finding 3ft of water right beside the bank, I placed a small bulk of shot at two-thirds depth, with two No.10 ‘dropper’ shot below that. Having lightly primed the swim with a couple of handfuls of maggots, casters and corn, I baited the hook with a bunch of red maggots, a simple bait that no tench can resist.
Lowering the bait into position I watched the float settle as the rig fell through the water column. Within seconds it began twitching and shaking, before dipping slowly away as the first of a succession of small roach took the bait and was swung to hand.
Avoiding the ‘nuisance’ fish
It was clear that a more selective bait was required if I was to get through to the tench. The hook was duly hidden inside two grains of corn and the new offering was lowered into the water. Little happened for the next hour, but finally the float slid away and a firm strike was met with the type of dogged resistance that could only come from a tench!
I piled on the side-strain to keep the fish out of the roots as angry swirls boiled on the water’s surface. Soon, a long green flank broke the surface as the first tench of the day was landed. At 6lb, it was a great start, so I topped up the swim with loosefeed, checked the hookpoint, rebaited and cast once again. While many species are spooked by disturbance, tench are quite different, and will often investigate such things, and sure enough the float slowly sunk from view 20 minutes later. A fish of similar size was soon landed after another great tussle on the float rod.
In summer, carp and tench spend a lot of time in the margins.
The far margin beckons
By now it was mid-morning and the sun had risen high enough to send the temperature soaring. With action from the near-margin dying off, my eyes were drawn to the far bank, which was equally blessed with marginal cover but now had the advantage of being shaded from the sun. Being too far to reach with my float, I set up a second outfit comprising a 1.5lb test curve rod and a reel carrying 8lb line. On to this I threaded a small Method feeder below a foot of tungsten rig tubing to keep the line pinned down. The rig terminated in a four-inch hooklength and two grains of artificial corn.
For the Method mix I took a bag of 4mm pellets, mixed them with a little lake water and left them to soften slightly. I simply put my hookbait in the mould, followed by a handful of the now slightly tacky pellets, and then pressed down to complete the package.
I gently lobbed the rig towards the far bank, a foot from the marginal cover, and put the rod on a bite alarm. Taking in the sun, I sat back to concentrate on the float, so when the alarm screamed into life 15 minutes later I was caught on the hop.
As soon as I picked up the rod it arched over as what was clearly another tench made a mad dash along the far margin, making the line ping off submerged lily stems in the process and sending my heart into my mouth. Thankfully, the run was short-lived, and another cracking tench, this time a slim-bodied male fish, was soon lying in the landing net.
1. Hair-rig one or two grains of rubber corn on a short hooklink. Wide-gape hooks work well.
2. Dampen your pellets with lake water and leave for 10 mins. Once tacky put them in a mould.
3. Take the Method feeder and press it down firmly into the plastic mould full of pellets.
4. Release the feeder from the mould. The bait should be just visible. It's ready to cast out.
Finish with a flourish
As the sun reached its highest point in the sky, unsurprisingly the action died completely, but I was confident that as the light levels and humidity began to fall later in the day that there would be a chance of further fish. Sure enough, as the shadows lengthened, the margin float began to show signs of tench returning to the vicinity, with the odd bleep from my bite alarm telling me the same was happening over on the far margin. By the time I was thinking of calling it a day and heading for home, the tally of tench had doubled to six – making for a superb day’s sport.
But as I broke down the float rod and slid the sections into the holdall, the lake had one further treat in store for me. A series of sharp bleeps from the alarm signalled a drop-back bite, and as soon as I picked up the rod I could tell I was connected to the best fish of the day. I was relieved when it rolled into the net and, lifting the fine fish onto the unhooking mat, I was surprised by the depth of the perfectly-conditioned female tench. At just an ounce shy of 7lb it wrapped up a fantastic summer session on a stunning lake.
Tench may be a species most people associate with springtime, but they will feed hard until the end of autumn and can be caught using the most simple of float and feeder tactics that anybody can master.
Fish with Julian
Julian Chidgey offers guided fishing adventures for various species at lots of venues across the country. Check out julianchidgey.blogspot.com for full details of the services offered.
Urban ‘cuts’ hold their fair share of angling surprises, as Nick Speed demonstrates in emphatic style on a prolific free stretch in Sheffield
Inching his delicate pole float ever closer to the branches trailing into the water on the opposite bank, Nick Speed braced himself for a carp bite.
The mass of concrete, cars and congestion in the immediate vicinity suggested that he wasn’t tackling a snag-infested island swim on a commercial fishery, but his local urban stretch of canal.
Sat scarcely 100m from the hustle and bustle of Meadowhall Shopping Centre and the M1 motorway, a quiet day’s fishing was the last thing topflight matchman Nick Speed expected on the Sheffield canal.
However, it was a sacrifice he was more than prepared to make for a chance to lock horns with some of the mythical inhabitants of this much underfished waterway.
Inner city sanctuary
At just 3.9 miles long, it’s certainly one of the UK’s shorter canals, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in fish quality.
Nick and his friends have had some huge catches of plump 1lb-plus roach from the venue, plus good tench and bream hauls. But Nick had much bigger things in mind today.
“Sheffield has a big population of anglers who think nothing of travelling 30 miles out of the city to catch carp, but they’ve got some big fish on their doorstep which they could catch for a fraction of the price from this canal, where the fishing is free!” said Nick.
“On a warm summer’s day you can see the carp swimming around near the top or spot tail patterns on the surface. Anglers sometimes hook them on conventional light canal tackle but stand no chance. So today I’m going to go all out for them with the kind of stepped-up gear that I’d use on a commercial carp water,” he added.
Bait and wait
The peg Nick had chosen was close to a basin in the canal – a spot where he knew carp had been caught before. Having already seen signs of big fish in the area shortly after his arrival earlier that morning, his confidence was high.
Directly opposite his pitch, an overhanging tree and a line of bramble bushes shaded the water – providing what looked like the ideal spot to ambush a carp on heavy tackle. But, as Nick was quick to point out, hooking a fish in such an environment would only be half the battle.
Two expander pellets make a great bait for canal carp, as does a grain of corn.
With double-figure fish a distinct possibility, landing one without it taking him into any submerged snags, or breaking him by running hard down the canal, was likely to prove the hardest part.
In addition to his pole rig, Nick had also set up a Method feeder rod, which he planned to cast down towards the basin to his left, as he explained.
“I’m not going to go over for a carp straight away. Instead, I prefer to feed the swim to get any big fish present settled and confident over the bait. I’ve introduced a full pot of 4mm hard pellets and a few bits of corn over the exact spot I plumbed up, which is about 2ft 6in deep just inches from the brambles. This is a decent depth to fish in – if it was really shallow a big carp might not be confident feeding here. So I’ll leave the spot alone for an hour or two and have a few casts with the feeder rod and go down the centre with the pole,” he said.
Fish from the start
Nick kicked off the action by taking some decent roach and hybrids on casters from the middle of the cut but, after a couple more pots of prebait had been introduced to the far swim and given time to settle, he was itching to try for a big carp.
He picked up his pole, impaled a grain of corn on to his size 14 hook and shipped the stout rig across to the brambles. For a couple of minutes after the float had settled, nothing happened, but Nick was unperturbed.
“I half expect to have to wait a while. Targeting large fish on a venue like this can require a bit of patience,” he said.
No sooner had the words left his lips, however, than the action began with a bang. The fluorescent orange tip of his float didn’t dip, wobble or slide sideways to give any warning of what was to come – one second it was there, the next it was not. Blink and we would have missed it.
Nick’s reaction was instant and on the strike his white elastic sailed out of the pole tip as a powerful fish tore off angrily down the canal. Such situations require swift action from the angler if disaster and disappointment are to be averted, and Nick reacted by immediately shipping his first few pole sections back and on to the roller behind him to pull the fish away from the hazardous far side.
With the fish still heading sideways at a rate of knots, Nick was forced to take further action, pulling his pole apart half way down so that he could point it towards the fish at a slight angle and prevent any potential expensive breakages.
As he did so, the unseen lump began plodding around in the relative safety of the central track and finally Nick could afford to take a breath or two. With the carp’s power slowly subsiding, he broke down the final section of his pole as the fish neared the net.
What looked every ounce a double-figure mirror carp popped to the surface, looking almost as surprised as Nick, who scooped it up at the first time of asking. It had felt like far longer, but a quick check of the watch revealed that from bite to netting, the drama was all over in less than 90 seconds!
“This carp is at least 12lb!” Nick yelled, grinning from ear to ear.
“When you get one on a venue like this it tends to be on the large side, and you can see why you need strong lines and elastics. I can’t believe I’ve hooked one so quickly but it shows how important it is to let the fish settle on the bait. If I hadn’t done that I might not have got a bite from this fish, or worse still, I could have foul-hooked it,” he added.
A passing family of cyclists had stopped to watch the commotion unfold and, as Nick lifted his creaking landing net on to the bank to unhook his prize, it was greeted with the customary ‘that’s a big one’ comments!
This brought a smile from Nick, and soon they carried on their way, suitably impressed with what they had just witnessed emerge from their local waterway.
Nick was far from finished, however, and after checking his hookpoint and the rest of his rig for any damage, soon had another bait on the spot.
Five minutes later, the neon orange float tip shot from view again, and carp number two was attached. This one scrapped even harder than the first, but the combination of Nick’s angling prowess and well-balanced and strong set-up won the day and another dark-coloured, double-figure mirror carp was scooped up by the waiting net.
After such a purple patch of action, Nick’s luck changed a short while later when, soon after hooking into a third carp from underneath the bramble bush, it shot at full speed into the nearest trailing branches, and broke his rig.
“That one was an absolute zoo creature!” he said. “You can’t expect to get every one of these fish out because they are so big and wild, but I’m going to tighten up my No.16 latex pole elastic so that hopefully it doesn’t happen again. I’ll re-feed the peg with another cup of pellets and corn and give it a rest for a while because that lost fish will have disturbed the swim,” he added.
Once again, the patient approach paid off, and in the final couple of hours of the session Nick landed another three carp at staggered intervals, the biggest two of which pulled the scales down to 13lb-plus.
His final tally of five double-figure mirror carp, each an almost identical colour and shape to the next, made for a truly remarkable catch from a Northern canal.
However, such amazing surprises can be found swimming in most of the UK’s inner city waterways. But, as Nick had proved, finding them is only half the battle – you’ve then got to land them!
As he slipped each carp safely back into the canal, Nick was left to reflect on what had been a true red letter day. Not only had it been great British fishing, it had been great British fishing for free!
Fish the Sheffield canal
This stretch of the Sheffield canal at Tinsley is called ‘Plumpers’ and is easily accessed, being less than a minute from junction 34A of the M1. There is plenty of parking outside the Tinsley Transport Café and American Golf (sat nav co-ordinates S9 1UP). The venue produces well all year-round, with huge nets of roach on hemp and casters a distinct possibility. Bream and tench are also present in good numbers further down the stretch.
Warren Martin shows why it pays to have several different baiting approaches up your sleeve when fishing for big summer carp ‘down the edge’
There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to fishing the margins for commercial carp. The first, and perhaps more traditional tactic, is to use a mixture of fairly big particle baits, such as 4mm or 6mm pellets, sweetcorn or meat. Those who favour this approach tend to build the swim gradually and expect the fish to turn up.
The second, somewhat ‘new school’ tactic is to cup in large volumes of loose groundbait containing just a sprinkling of hookbait samples. This is perhaps setting up more of a ‘bait and wait’ scenario.
But which one is better? The answer to that question is that each set-up has distinct advantages over the other, as well as shortfalls. To attempt to identify these strengths and weaknesses, we headed to Norfolk’s Barford Lakes complex to meet up with top matchman and former Fish O’Mania winner, Warren Martin.
New school ‘rules’
Angling, like many sports, is subject to trends, and margin fishing is no exception. The current trend for many anglers tackling the margins in search of carp is to pile in plenty of loose groundbait and then present a large single hookbait over the top, the idea being to give the fish a target to home in on.
The main advantage of this approach is that there is very little solid food to satisfy the feeding fish, just a huge cloud and carpet of smell, flavour and attraction. Your hookbait sits prominently in the centre of this loosefeed like a cherry on a cake.
Another plus-point is that you are able to feed very heavily, helping to attract the biggest carp in the lake with little fear of overdoing it.
“I love to feed heavily and really attack a swim, that’s why I’m a fan of using loose groundbait,” said Warren. “Sometimes I use as much as ten kilos or more in a session!”
The idea behind this tactic is for the large carpet of crumb to attract the carp, which slowly graze over it sucking up the groundbait, rather than charging around looking for solid food items. This leads to less foul hooking and better peg management.
The downside to the loose groundbait attack is that it only tends to work late in the day, when the fish are naturally looking to come into the margins to slurp up the unwanted bait and groundbait bowl contents thrown in by departing anglers.
In contrast, ‘old school’ margin fishing tactics dictate the use of particles, usually pellets and sweetcorn or cubed meat, fed on a little-and-often basis. The big advantage of using this approach is you are able to drip-feed the swim all day, fishing for one bite at a time, and so are unlikely to run the risk of pulling in too many fish at once, a scenario which leads to foul-hooking problems.
This approach enables you to fish the margins right through the entire day, rather than having to wait until later.
The only real danger with this tactic is that by feeding particles all day, there is the distinct possibility that you can overfeed the area and the amount being introduced must be strictly regulated.
“It sounds barmy, but with the groundbait approach I would think nothing of topping the swim up with one or two full 250ml cups, and yet with the particle approach I will only be feeding 30 to 40 small pellets and a dozen kernels of corn to kick the swim off, and then a third of that amount as a top-up,” said Warren.
“Even though it looks meagre in food value terms, the pellets and corn will be much more filling than even three or four cups of crumb. It’s something to be mindful of when you’re margin fishing.
“It’s all about gauging what you are catching and the speed that you are doing it, so you are able to manage your swim effectively.”
When it comes to choosing between the two tactics, Warren often likes to adopt both if the swim he is in enables him to split his attentions between both the left and right margin.
However, if he had just one margin that was fishable he would go for the loose crumb option first, feeding it in the last 60 to 90 minutes of his planned session.
A marginal call
Visit any decent commercial venue during a match and most anglers will be using long poles of around 16 metres. The fact is that many of them will inadvertently be ‘casting’ over the top of a lot of carp which may be cruising or feeding much closer in.
This is because the margins, especially on heavily-fished commercials is where the big fish can often be found. They have grown wise to the fact that over the years, this to be the place where a ready supply of ‘safe-to-eat’ food can be found.
This may take the form of natural offerings such as berries and bugs that fall off overhanging trees, aquatic life in and around the reedbeds or left-over bait heaved into the swim by departing pleasure and match anglers.
Add to this the fact that the margins also offer the fish a degree of safety and shelter, and it’s easy to see the appeal of these areas to the carp.
“It is well-documented that carp love to feed in and around features and there is no bigger feature on any lake from a tiny farm pond to an inland ‘sea’, than the margins,” said Warren.
“Fish, particularly big ones, love to come and feed very close in. It is a place for natural food as well as being an area where they feel safe, so they are often very easy to trip up.”
Three steps to success
There are three ‘golden rules’ to follow when targeting the margins. Fish as far away from your peg as possible (along the margin), present your bait over a flat-bottomed area and then fish as tight to the bank as possible.
The first rule speaks for itself, and regarding the second, Warren looks to find a flat bottom offering a depth of around 18 inches. This, in his mind, is the perfect depth, and when a large carp comes into the swim, it has to have its mouth close to the deck to prevent its back being out of the water. In deeper swims the fish can come in at half depth or go down, feed and rise up to half depth to swallow it. This all leads to the dreaded foul-hooking problems that you are trying to avoid.
If the margins in your swim are deeper, Warren will feed his groundbait in solid balls rather than loose crumb in a bid to keep foul-hooking to a minimum.
The third golden rule – fishing the rig as tight as you can to the marginal plant or reed growth – is arguably the most important, to the extent that Warren will even use garden shears to trim foliage to facilitate his aim.
“If you fish the rig out from the bank, even six inches, carp have room to get in behind the rig and you will be plagued with foul hooking.
“If I had to choose between fishing a spot that was shallower than the magical 18 inches but tight to the bank, or further out from the bank in exactly 18 inches, I would choose the former every time,” said Warren.
“It is surprising how shallow a depth you can catch fish in, but if you allow them to get around the back of your rig, you are inviting trouble.”
Tackling up for the job
The main consideration here is strength. As already mentioned, the margins are home to some of the lake’s biggest fish and to tackle them using undergunned kit is a recipe for disappointment. Of course, it’s easy to overdo it and go in too heavy, something that Warren also recommends avoiding.
“There are plenty of bespoke margin poles on the market that are designed for targeting big fish down the edge, but any decent strong pole will do, as will a rod and line. Poles just help you get better presentation,” said Warren.
As far as his terminal tackle is concerned, Warren starts off with a size 14 solid elastic, which is ample for a water like Barford where there are no underwater snags to worry about. His mainline is 4lb Maxima, a product he has a lot of faith in.
“I’ve used it for years. The 4lb version is only 0.15mm in diameter, plus I once tested it on a line puller and found that it consistently broke at over 9lb. If I were to use the equivalent breaking strain in a hi-tech mono, I would have to use a diameter of 0.20mm or 0.22mm.
“My hooklink section is made from a high-tech mono, however, simply for better presentation, and I’m using a size 14 hook, with the bait fished at dead depth.”
After accurately plumbing up his left-hand margin, which was to be the line fished over groundbait, Warren then left it alone without feeding, turning instead to his particle line.
Do not to feed too early and then leave a line alone for hours as you have no way of gauging what’s happening – fish-wise – in that area. This is why he plumbs, but doesn’t feed.
Cupping in 40 or so 4mm pellets and 12 kernels of sweetcorn, he lowered in his rig and awaited the first bite, which came from an 8oz roach a few minutes later.
Topping the line up with a pole pot of loosefeed every five minutes or after every fish, Warren spent the first couple of hours being plagued by small fish and large F1s, until his first ‘proper one’ appeared, a stunning common carp weighing around 7lb.
Continuing on this line for a further hour, Warren took another carp of a similar size, before switching his focus over to the groundbait line.
He kicked it off with four full loaded cups of loose crumb, then left it for 10 minutes to give the fine bed of bait time to attract the attentions of any passing fish.
The reaction was markedly different from that received on his particle line, with his very first drop-in resulting in a fine carp just into double-figures hoovering up his quadruple dead red maggot hookbait.
Two more big cups of loose groundbait were promptly cupped in, which quite quickly brought another two fish to the net.
After a short period of relative calm, the pole was almost dragged out of Warren’s hands as what was clearly the biggest fish of the session was hooked from the shallow spot right against the reeds.
After a powerful fight, a common carp of over 15lb eventually surfaced, beaten and ready for netting. It proved to be a fitting end to a fascinating session, during which Warren had provided a valuable insight into the merits of having two approaches when targeting big summer carp from the margins.
The final scores on the doors for the session showed that the particle approach had produced the greater quantity of fish, although in terms of size, the groundbait tactic had won hands down.
However, Warren was keen to point out that on another day, the reverse could apply.
“We could come back tomorrow and fish another peg and a drip-fed approach with pellets and corn might do the damage. That’s fishing for you and why it pays to have several strings to your bow,” he concluded.
A 2lb-plus roach would rank as the ‘catch of a lifetime’ for many fishermen, but how do you best target one of these magnificent creatures? Dai Gribble reveals his approach...
Specimen-sized roach are the ‘Holy Grail’ of targets for many anglers. No matter how hard-nosed they are, few fishermen can remain unmoved by the sight of such a magnificent creature.
“It’s like suddenly seeing a domestic cat the size of a tiger!” joked Dai Gribble.
“They’re not supposed to be that big,” he continued, while retelling the story of catching his first 3lb roach.
Though they are very rarely caught from rivers these days, big stillwater redfins are not as hard to track down as you might at first think.
Many gravel pits and reservoirs house big roach, and an increasing number of day-ticket carp lakes can also boast good stocks of the species, which tend to thrive well on the neglect afforded to them by most visitors to such venues.
To find out how to go about targeting big stillwater roach once a suitable venue has been located, we joined Dai on the banks of Bluebell Lake at the famous day-ticket complex of the same name in Tansor, Northamptonshire.
Picking a suitable venue
It’s safe to say that Dai knows what he’s talking about when it comes to big roach. He has landed five fish over 3lb (including a current personal best of 3lb 7oz) as well as dozens over the 2lb mark.
Dai was lucky enough to be a member of Willow Lake on the Linch Hill complex in Oxfordshire during the early 2000s. At that time, this particular gravel pit was throwing up many big fish which, with no pike present, were able to grow to a ripe old age without the fear of being predated upon.
Traditionally, gravel pits have always been among the best waters for targeting big roach, principally because they are rammed with natural food and also see a lot of protein-rich carp baits introduced, which help them to pack on further weight.
However, in Dai’s opinion, commercial day-ticket waters are also starting to deliver many specimen-sized examples of the species.
“Commercials will start to overtake the gravel pits as the number one place to target big roach,” he said. “Most have no pike present, plus the sheer number of anglers visiting such waters also means that the cormorants and goosanders stay away, so the roach are able to grow big, unmolested.”
The first stage in preparing to target big roach is to do a little homework. Every year loads of big roach ‘hang themselves’ on carp anglers’ boilie rigs, so asking them about the track record of a water is always a good starting point.
The internet is also a vital tool in the quest for information. Most fishery websites and online forums will yield a water’s roach fishing history, and you can always enquire with the lake’s owners too.
Arriving at a potential venue before dawn is also advisable, as you will often see roach ‘dimpling’ on the surface, giving their presence away. “They don’t roll, like tench and bream do, but they dimple - it’s almost like a drop of rain falling onto the surface,” Dai explained.
Being close to the bottom of the food chain, roach generally favour open water so they have good escape routes from potential predators. This is not always the case though, as they will at times scour every corner of the lake looking for food. Good places to introduce bait are anywhere that natural food will collect. This could be at the bottom of gravel bars, depressions in the lakebed, or areas where there is even the slightest depth change.
Another key consideration when big roach fishing is to find a clean area of the lake bottom. Roach will feed in and around weed, but where the lakebed is clean you will be able to present you rigs so much better.
When it comes to water depth, as a starting point Dai looks to fish areas offering around half the maximum depth of the lake he is on.
“I tend to avoid the deepest and shallowest parts of a lake, and anywhere between around eight and 15 feet is the perfect sort of depth,” he said. “However, this is only a guide. If you see fish dimpling in a deeper or shallower area, move to them as they won’t come to you.”
Tackle and rigs for roach
Fishing gravel pits often requires reasonably long casts to be made, and Dai uses 1.1lb test curve rods that can punch a 2oz swimfeeder 70yds or more if necessary.
The end of the mainline is where his rigs get interesting and, somewhat unique. A six-inch length of 12lb Power Gum is attached to the mainline using a swivel (if rules allow) while the opposite end is attached to a two-foot length of 12lb fluorocarbon. The Power Gum acts as a shock absorber to cushion the jagged fight a big roach gives, while the fluoro is used as a leader because it sinks well and is almost invisible in water.
Dai likes to target roach using helicopter rigs, and to do this he uses a purpose-built gizmo from Korum (a Ready Heli-Kit) that takes all of the hassle out of the job. To this he attaches a very short 2in-3in hooklink made from of 0.13mm high-tech mono, terminating in a size 18 hook. To finish it off, he then attaches a 2oz blockend feeder to the end of the leader.
The reason for his ultra-short hooklink is that roach tend to peck at baits. If longer links are used, the fish can easily pick up and reject the hookbait without the angler knowing, or feel resistance from the feeder and reject the bait.With such short hooklinks, once the fish picks up the bait, they are more often than not hooked against the weight of the feeder, giving a drop-back bite at the rod end. To amplify this, Dai uses Solar Quiverloc indicators, although heavy bobbins will do a similar job.
“The rigs need to be fished tight, so that the self-hooking drop-back works correctly,” Dai explained. “It may look crude, but there is no better leger rig for targeting big roach.”
Maggots reign supreme
All roach, regardless of size, are suckers for maggots. Although tradition dictates that casters are better for targeting big fish, they are too fragile to use with legering tactics, either smashing on the cast or being ravaged by small fish in the swim. Maggots make for a far more robust choice of bait.
“I’ve tried using fake maggots and casters in the past and although they are second to none for targeting tench, roach will not tolerate them,” said Dai. “I’ll occasionally use fake corn if the fish are feeding well, but not very often.”
To make his maggots ‘stand out’ in the swim, Dai likes to flavour them. Everyone has their favourites, and Dai is a big fan of Sonubaits’ F1 Liquid. Rather than simply pouring it over the maggots in a bait tub, which can mean a few get drowned in flavour while most remain untouched, Dai prefers to first pour the flavour into a plastic bag. This is scrunched up so that the inside is coated with the liquid, before a pint or two of grubs is put in to the bag. He then inflates the bag and shakes the contents, so all of the maggots get an even coating.
“You are not looking to provide a huge flavour trail in the water, just a slight whiff to tickle the fish’s taste buds,” said Dai.
When it comes to how he likes to fish a session, Dai often prefers to err on the side of caution, and doesn’t introduce lots of bait at the start of his session. Instead, he relies solely on the maggots being introduced via the swimfeeder, and usually only recasts after each bite.
“While a large carp might eat 2kg of bait in a day, a big roach may only consume a feederful of maggots, so too many casts could overfeed the swim before you’ve even caught,” he said.
This simple baiting approach, combined with his tailormade rig and flavoured maggots, have helped Dai to catch more than 70 roach over 2lb, plus five over the magical 3lb barrier. If you follow his tried-and-tested advice then angling’s greatest prize could soon be heading your way.
Rod: Korum Xpert 1.1lb – “A rod designed specifically with smaller specimen fish in mind, such as perch and roach. They are quite ‘tippy’ and perfect for feeder work too.”
Reel: Korum KMR 3000 – “A powerful little reel which boasts a freespool mechanism and a micro-adjustable front drag.”
Mainline: Korum 6lb Xpert Reel line
Hooklink: Preston Innovations’ Reflo Powerline 0.13mm (4lb 12oz) z Hook: size 18 Kamasan B980 eyed z Hookbaits: red and white maggots z Flavouring: Sonubaits’ F1 Liquid – “A sweet flavour that roach adore.”
How to flavour your maggots
To get the best out of the flatbed feeder you need to nail the basics. Rob Wootton answers questions on the 10 areas many anglers struggle with.
Since it first burst on to the scene in the 1990s the flatbed Method feeder has swiftly evolved into the ultimate carp-catching device on commercial venues.
Fishing a hookbait tucked in the middle of a frame filled with loosefeed has helped to improve presentation, increase catch rates and make casting tangle-free. It’s one of the simplest techniques to master, yet too many anglers still fail to get the fundamentals right, says match star and IYCF regular Rob Wootton.
Judging by the number of questions Rob gets asked on the bank, there are plenty of areas of confusion: What size of feeder should I use? Should I fill the frame with pellets or groundbait? How long should my hooklink be?
All these small details make a big difference, so Rob’s mission during a recent visit to Boddington Reservoir was to address the 10 questions he gets asked most often. With the tactic coming into its own from spring onwards, his answers are sure to help you put more fish on the bank.
Q What size of feeder should I use?
A common mistake is to use a feeder which is too light, for example 15g or 20g. I don’t use anything less than 30g because this weight allows you to cast easily and more accurately. If you’re casting to an island slope it anchors in place and doesn’t roll down the slope like a lighter version will.
So, up to 40 yards range I like a 30g feeder. For ranges of between 40 and 60 yards I step up to the 36g Guru X-Safe model, and for very long casts over 70 yards I use the same feeder in the 45g version. Some large venues, like this reservoir, are subject to strong undertows so sometimes you may need a 45g feeder just to hold bottom even at short to medium range.
With regard to the size of the frame, most companies do a small and large feeder. At least 80% of the time I use the smaller one because it’s surprising how much feed goes around it in one go. In open water in the height of summer I would use the larger feeder to introduce more bait.
Q What bait should I put around my feeder?
“This choice can ultimately make or break your session at this time of year, because you can quite easily overfeed carp. It isn’t quite as important in the height of summer when fish are feeding aggressively on all kinds of baits. You have three options – neat micro pellets, groundbait or a combination of the two.
Plain 2mm and 3mm micro pellets are my main choice at this time of year (I think groundbait puts too many particles in the water in spring). Pellets break down quickly, even in cold water, so your hookbait is soon exposed and ‘fishing’. In deep, open- water lakes pellets are far better because you need a high food content to hold fish in such a wide area. Soak micropellets for a couple of minutes, use a fine net as a riddle, and they will soon be ready to pack on a feeder.
When the water really begins to warm up in May or June, I make the switch to groundbait. This creates a lot of activity in the peg, and you want a heavy groundbait that will sit on the bottom and not waft around all over the place. I pick two fishmeal versions and mix them in even parts – Dynamite Swim Stim Green and Dynamite Marine Halibut. If you’re just fishing for carp you could increase the percentage of the Halibut.
GROUNDBAIT AND PELLET MIX
Groundbait on its own is good when the fishing is harder because there is nothing for fish to eat except the hookbait. But usually I mix soaked micro pellets and groundbait together, 50:50. This gives the best of both worlds – the attraction of groundbait and the holding power of pellets, so carp don’t become preoccupied with one bait or the other. When it gets to October and the water starts to go clearer again, switch back to pellets.
Q Are inline or elasticated feeders best?
Elasticated Method feeders are generally better because the elastic cushions the fish’s lunges and results in fewer hook-pulls. Inline feeders bounce about up and down the line and can lead to lost fish. However, because standard elasticated feeders are fixed on the line I would only recommend them for advanced anglers who are confident they won’t crack off on the cast and leave a fixed feeder in the lake for a fish to pick up. If in doubt, it’s better to use the Guru X-Safe system feeders which are elasticated through an inline tube in the middle. If your line does snap above it, the feeder itself will run up the line. Always check fishery rules first because many smaller commercial waters only permit the use of true inline feeders.
Rob is a big fan of the Guru X-Safe flatbed feeders.
Q Where do I cast?
The colder and clearer the water is, the further out from the bank carp will sit. So on a large venue, I’d cast a good 50 or 60 yards, unless there’s an underwater feature such as a deep hole or sunken island somewhere in the peg.
As it gets warmer, fish come closer to the bank looking for food. I’d catapult 6mm or 8mm pellets in at 30 to 40 yards, and try fishing over the top of that.
When you have an island in front of you it’s the obvious place to cast to. On a shallower featureless far bank, the warmer it is, the tighter to the island you should cast. In the height of summer fish will come into inches of water to feed!
However in cold weather fish further down the shelf in the deeper water. I would only cast tight to an island at this time of year if there was a reasonable depth (3ft-plus) and reed cover.
Q Do I need a powerful rod?
There is a misconception that you need a powerful rod for fishing the Method.
Times have changed – it’s more important to have a light to medium rod which is soft enough to avoid pulling the hook out. This kind of rod can quite easily beat hard-fighting carp in no time at all. Generally, the medium-rated tip of your rod is best with the Method.
Here’s a very brief guide to the rods I like to use:
Short casts up to 20 yards: Shimano 9ft Speedmaster Commercial Feeder
Medium casts up to 50 yards: Shimano 11ft Speedmaster Commercial
Long casts of 60 yards-plus: Shimano 12ft 6in Beastmaster BX Commercial Distance
You don't need a powerful rod to beat fish such as this. An 11ft version is fine!
Q What selection of hookbaits should I take with me on a session?
Carp aren’t used to being caught on bread on the feeder so it’s treated with less suspicion. It’s great in cold weather because the fish suck up the loose pellets without realising there’s a hookbait in there. I like to fish two or three punched 8mm pieces.
Boilies are great when fish are feeding hard. Go for an 8mm or 10mm version, and my favourite colours are red or yellow. White boilies also work very well for bream. Use pop-up boilies or dumbells – a great choice when there is weed or snags on the bottom.
My number one choice in summer, when softer baits can get destroyed by silverfish. I like a 6mm pellet for small carp and F1s and an 8mm one for bigger carp. Pellets are best on the hook when you’re using pellets around the feeder as well.
Cut into strips and then use a bait punch to create tubed sections. These can then be hair-rigged. Just like bread, carp aren’t used to being caught on meat on the Method and it is a very effective way of picking out the bigger commons and mirrors in summer.
A great hookbait for F1 carp and skimmers. For some reason two dead reds nicked on to the hook get the best response. Always use dead maggots with groundbait, or a groundbait and pellet mix. You must kill the maggots first or they will crawl into the silt!
Q What length and strength of hooklink is best?
To answer this, you have to consider how carp feed on the Method. Generally, they sit a few inches above it and suck bait directly upwards. If your hooklength is too short there won’t be enough leeway in the line to allow a carp to take your bait without feeling something suspicious. Likewise, if your hooklength is too long the line will be too slack and a carp might be able to ‘get away with it’, spitting the bait out without being hooked.
With this in mind I consider four inches to be the optimum hooklength for the Method, especially for F1 carp and small to medium-sized mirrors and commons. Bigger double-figure fish are more cautious and will sit further above the feeder so to target them I use a longer (6in) hooklength, as I do for bream.
As far as line strength is concerned, err on the side of caution by using slightly heavier than you would do on the float. There’s a lot of pressure on the tackle with this technique so it needs to be up to the task. Normally, a 6lb or 8lb mainline is ideal.
Hooklength Fish size/species
4lb (0.14mm) F1 carp, other carp to 3lb
5lb (0.16mm) Carp to 4lb, bream
6lb (0.18mm) Carp to 8lb
8lb (0.20mm) Carp to 10lb from open water
10lb (0.22mm) Carp to 10lb-plus, snaggy swims
Q How do I use my mould to position my hookbait?
Method moulds are great for loading your feeder with bait and they let you put your hookbait exactly where you want it. If you want it to sit right on top of the pile of bait, put it in the mould first, then add your pellets or groundbait. This is a good ploy when fish are attacking the feeder and bites are coming straight away.
If you have to wait for bites, or if silverfish are pestering you, bury the hookbait. Add a layer of pellets or groundbait to the mould first, then put your hookbait on top, before finishing it off with the main consignment of loose bait. With groundbait you only need to press the feeder into the mould a couple of times – any more and it won’t break down quickly enough. Pellets break down quickly no matter how hard they are squeezed!
Filling it up when bagging...
If bites are coming quickly, place the bait at the base of the mould before the feed goes in.
Your hookbait sits right on top of the feeder, so it will quickly come free for a fish to suck in.
Filling it up when waiting a long time for a bite...
In deep water or when waiting a long time for a bite, add a layer of feed before the hookbait.
It will be contained in the feeder but will soon become exposed as the bait breaks down.
Q How long should I leave it between casts?
This really depends on how the fish are responding on the day, so in winter and early spring I tend to leave it out for much longer than in summer. Because presentation is so good with a flatbed Method feeder, you can be confident leaving it out for longer periods. A really good tip is to keep an eye on your watch for how long it takes to get a bite after casting out. If you notice that it takes at least 15 minutes after casting to get a bite, it’s no good becoming impatient and reeling in after 10 minutes! In summer I cast a lot more regularly, especially when fishing up to islands. Fish come to the noise and I’m looking to build the peg up with plenty of feed so I might cast every two minutes or so.
What a result! Five cracking carp fell to Rob's Method tactics at Boddington Reservoir.
Q How should I attach my bait to the hair?
There are various types of bait stops and bands to keep your hookbait on the hair but I stick to just two. For hooking hard pellets I use a small bait band. Just open the band up with your fingers or with a specialist banding tool, and insert the pellet. For softer baits I tie the hair-rig with a Korum Quick Stop. This has a spike at one end and a hollow opening at the other, meaning you can push it from the hollow end, through a soft bait, and use it as a stop once it pokes out the other side. This is great with bread and meat. For boilies I use a thin bait drill to put a hole through the centre, and then I push the Quick Stop through. I think normal hair stops which fit into loops are too fiddly.
Bait bands (left) and Quick Stops (right) are used on the hair.
Rod: 11ft Shimano Speedmaster Commercial Feeder – “With the medium tip fitted this rod has a lovely through-action which today has helped me to beat carp to 12lb with ease. There was no danger of pulling the hook out”
Reel: Shimano X Aero Baitrunner 4000FA
Mainline: 6lb Shimano Technium – “I use this for most of my Method feeder work, unless I’m fishing to a snaggy island, in which case I’ll step up to 8lb”
Hooklength: 6lb Aspire Silk Shock
Hook: Guru QM1 – “These circle hooks are perfect for the Method. I use size 14 for large baits such as bread, meat and boilies, and a size 16 for pellets”
Hookbaits: bread, pellets, boilies, meat and dead maggots z Loosefeed: micro pellets and Dynamite Baits’ groundbait
For more expert advice on fishing tactics click here
It's my favourite time of year again when the festival season starts.
In fact, as one event finishes I’m already planning for the next and I’m determined to add to my tally of wins this season.
Now, a lot of people ask me what the key to success in these festivals is, as in ‘why do certain people consistently do well?’
The obvious answer to this is that they draw well, and while to an extent this is no doubt true (you can’t win off a bad peg) there is definitely a lot more to it than that.
Anyway, this got me thinking, and in this week’s column I’m going to look at some of the things that I believe make a difference when it comes to doing well in a festival.
Some of these points may seem slight, but at the end of a five-day festival they can help you put an extra point or two on to your score, which can make a big difference when it comes to making the magical top ten at the end of the week – the margins really are that fine.
PREPARATION – DON’T FAIL
‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ is a motto I have always believed in, and never has it been more apt than when it comes to fishing a festival. My preparation starts weeks in advance and takes the form of tying hooks and rigs, and changing reel lines and pole elastics.
This might seem excessive, but as far as I am concerned nothing can be left to chance – a lost five minutes in a match through having to tie a new hook on can make the difference between winning a festival or not.
For this reason, at the start of a match I will often set up duplicate rigs so that, should I trash one while I’m fishing, I can literally just pick up another top kit and drop back in again with no time being wasted.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, as in anglers who make their rigs on the bank yet still do well, but they are likely to be the ones who have an ‘if only’ tale to tell at the end of the week.
GET BAIT CHOICES RIGHT
At White Acres there are bait limits, and although these are generous in the extreme (eight pints) they can still cause problems.Many anglersaren’t positive enough – they will take a pint of meat, plus a pint each of corn, 2mm pellets, 6mm pellets, maggots and casters.
They try to hedge their bets by covering all bases.
The problem is that by taking a single pint of lots of different baits you don’t have enough of any one bait to do anything with!
I decide what bait to take by drawing my swim and then formulating a plan of attack.
If I draw a peg with an island cast and open water in between I’ll look to take three pints of 2mm pellets for Method work to the island, two pints of meat (which should cover me for long and short on the pole), plus two pints of casters, which can be used to mix with the meat as feed or to target silvers. Finally, I’ll also have a pint of dead red maggots for down the edge.
FISH TO YOUR STRENGTHS
One of the biggest mistakes anglers make on a festival is to try and fish methods outside their comfort zone. If they draw a peg that they are told is a pellet waggler peg, even if that isn’t a method they are strong at, they go there and fish it anyway.
They then struggle due to lack of confidence, whereas if they had taken on board what they had been told but adapted it to suit how they wanted to fish, they could still have caught a decent weight.
A brilliant example of this occurred a few years ago. When Gwinear was used in the festivals I drew peg 13 and won the match with 137lb caught at 5m and down the edge.
The next day Will Raison drew the same peg and after talking to me went and won the match again with 139lb! The difference was, Will caught long on the pole shallow, which just goes to show that when the fish are there you can catch them in whatever way you want to!
DON’T NEGLECT SILVERS
To win a festival at White Acres, four out of five results count and, more often than not, the scoring is so tight that the fifth result comes back into play when there is a tie.
Over the five days the chances are you won’t draw five fliers – normally you will have three great pegs that look after themselves, one average peg that you turn into a winner and one potential disaster.
Nine times out of ten it’s the disaster peg that makes the difference between winning a festival and finishing out of the frame.
The disaster peg can, though, on occasion be turned into a winner by daring to be different.
The problem is most anglers, myself included at times, will go all out for glory by trying to catch carp that just aren’t there in the numbers required to catch the weight needed to win a section.
The better percentage game is to target anything that swims. For instance 20lb of silvers and two carp can be a section winning catch in a hard area.
PREPARE TO MAKE CHANGES
Although I always have a plan, that doesn’t mean I’m not prepared to change it if things aren’t working out. A change of plan can come about for a variety of reasons –
it might be something I sense during the course of the match, like the carp coming up in the water when I’m fishing on the deck.
More often than not, though, it will be something I notice someone else doing. I like to keep an eye on the anglers around me as you can learn a lot from what others are doing. For instance, if I’m catching long on the pole but thinking about coming short, I can look around to see if anyone is actually catching short – if not, I can safely assume I’m better off staying long.
If someone starts emptying it down the edge then the same applies. So yes, looking around can be distracting, but at the same time it can help massively in terms of making the right decisions at the right time.
At White Acres festivals the results from the previous day are posted up on the wall, so once you draw your peg you can see what it produced the day before.
This is great in one way, but a lot of anglers end up beaten before they start when they look at the results and see that their peg has produced next to nothing the previous match.
Obviously, it isn’t nice to see your peg last in section, but you need to stay positive and think that today is a new day and fish have fins and can and will move. I know I am guilty of having a good moan should I draw badly, but I will still come up with a plan of attack to achieve the result I need.
The angler who fished the day before may have had a bad match, or just got it wrong. It happens all the time, so rather than taking the result from the day before as an excuse, treat it as a challenge and go to the swim with a positive attitude – you never know what might happen!
Pigeon-chested and fit to burst with spawn, stillwater roach all over the country are piling on the ounces – but what is their favourite meal?
Sweetcorn? A great bait, but not quite on the top table. Maggots? To win a bite there is little better but (and it’s a big but) it is not selective in terms of stamp of fish. Surely it has to be casters then, accompanied by a side dish of hemp? A classic combination I’d always be happy to use, but still not my number one choice.
A decade ago I wouldn’t have picked this bait, and at the time some experts said roach didn’t like them, but we have ‘trained’ the fish to adjust to them and they now relish fishmeals with a dollop of oil. Yes, if you want a top roach bait on stillwaters then look no further than pellets.
I’m unsure whether this ‘junk food’ is good for fish, but it’s almost viewed as their natural diet on some fisheries, especially commercials with a large head of carp. To be honest, though, after months of struggling on our rivers, I’m just happy to see roach whatever they are fed on, and their fuller figures at this time of year can point to a new personal best.
Once I favoured winter roach fisherman, but now April is my purple patch, so last week Wayne Little strolled down the hill towards the lake with this species firmly on our minds. We passed a few daffodils that were brave enough to expose their heads in a defiant blaze of yellow to the bitter easterly gusts and sub-zero windchill.
We, on the other hand, were swathed from head to toe in numerous layers, and soon we were scanning the water for signs of fish.
For the roach, daybreak brings with it a temptation to ‘prime’, and once one broke the surface it was a fair bet that a large percentage of the lake’s population would be sitting below. We watched and waited for no more than a minute before ripples came into view.
Staying mute, not difficult given the scarves wrapped around our faces, we simply nodded, knowing full well what this sign meant, and headed off to a couple of swims that would take in the disturbance.
I didn’t want to take my gloves off, but without doing so I simply couldn’t fish. At least I had rigged my Drennan Classic rod up at home in the garage when my fingers weren’t so numb!
The detachable dolly butt section transforms it into a two-piece rod, which allows a pre-rigged outfit to be carried with ease.
The reel line was of a stout 4lb breaking strain, tough enough to deal with extracting big fish from a lake that still held a fair amount of weed.
Importantly, however, I had degreased the line with washing-up liquid to ensure that it would sink – vital when floatfishing a stillwater, especially with a crosswind. My float of choice was a heavy 4g glow-tip insert waggler that could be easily cast a fair distance, attached via a float adaptor should I need to change it for a lighter or heavier pattern.
Locking this widget in place weren’t split shot, but small float stops. These would allow the cocking weight to be used at three-quarters depth, helping to pull the bait down quicker because conditions strongly suggested that catching roach on the drop today would be out of the question.
Finally, I attached the hooklength via a loop-to-loop knot, and being a big fan of ready-tied rigs it was no surprise that I chose to use Drennan Silver Fish Bandit, in the 4lb line/size 14 hook combination.
I admit that my set-up could, at face value, appear crude but the roach I was targeting had spent their whole life competing with the carp and seeing carp anglers’ tackle. I also firmly believe that you can step up your gear if you’re using a relatively large bait because while the natural appearance of, say, a maggot is impeded by a large hook and strong line, these do little to affect the look or behaviour in the water of a pellet.
I had taken along two varieties of 8mm pellets – the first was purchased from the local tackle shop and was a high-oil trout version, while the second contained more flavour. Richworth Xtracta pellets may have a barbel pictured on the packet but they will catch everything with fins!
By using a reasonably large bait I would be able to avoid the attentions of the smaller roach, and sometimes it pays to be prepared to accept few bites in order to eventually land the specimen you are seeking.
The plan now was to recast every five minutes, feeding a dozen pellets each time. Why? Well, I’ve found too many times that a freshly cast bait is extra- attractive for it to be a coincidence. Everything was now set, with Wayne mirroring my approach, and the only thing left to do now was catch a roach.
The weather was horrible and the method simple, even crude, but did that mean that the sport was poor? Of course not.
A pellet addiction is a hard habit for a roach to kick and the string of big blue and silver flanks heading in our direction reflected that.
If more proof were needed Wayne then supplied it with a magnificent creature of well over 2lb. Roach cannot resist a pellet – that much is certain – so why not prove it yourself this coming weekend with a palmful or two of silver?
Stillwater roach fishing tips
1 To fish a pellet, use either a bait band or drill it and mount it on a standard hair.
2 When waggler fishing on stillwaters, always degrease your line with washing-up liquid so that it sinks.
3 When targeting specimen roach, 8mm seems the perfect pellet size – any smaller just draws in too many smaller nuisance fish.
4 Cast regularly – roach seem to home in on a freshly cast bait.
5 Make sure you take a Starlight so that you can fish into darkness if possible, as this is often when the big roach feed.
A big bream sliding towards the landing net is one the most impressive sights in angling.
Targeting them can seem daunting, partly because of the time and effort involved in fishing large stillwaters, but also because ‘going’ venues for the species are few and far between. However, there are plenty of specimen bream out there, and catching them is easier than you might think.
CHOOSING YOUR VENUE
The most important decision is choosing the right water. If you don’t already know of one, you will find that tackle shops and carp anglers are usually mines of information.
Double-figure bream are present in a number of stillwaters, but fish of 15lb or more can be difficult to track down.
However, relatively little is known about our big bream stocks, and most never get caught, so that lonely gravel pit near you could easily contain the bream of your dreams. Pioneering new waters can take time, but the satisfaction of finding your own fish is worthwhile.
FINDING THE FISH
Bream shoals are inherently nomadic, and they can travel huge distances. On large low-stock waters, location is everything. Fortunately, bream often give away their position by rolling, particularly at dawn and on humid evenings. Splashy rolls or ‘head and tailing’ are excellent signs and usually indicate feeding fish.
You may also see ‘porpoising’, which tends to mean travelling fish, and fish milling around on the surface on hot days. While neither mean feeding fish, both are vital clues to location.
If you can’t see them, then it can pay to focus on deeper areas of the lake in spring and autumn, and shallower areas in summer. Find out where the fish spawn – usually the same areas as carp and tench – and fish there when it warms up in April or May. Also, follow warm winds, especially in autumn, and look for weed-free areas because bream won’t feed among weed.
Don’t concentrate on bar systems in lakes. They are useful to know about, but areas of light silt and steady depth are better for sustained feeding.
Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t necessary to fish at huge range. I have had most success within 60yds.
Above all, don’t allow your tactics to be ruled by theories. Each water is different, and there is no substitute for getting in tune with your venue by looking, experimenting and learning.
FEEDING THE SHOALS
It’s well known that bream shoals can consume a huge amount of bait. As with carp fishing, heavy baiting is not essential, but can help hold fish long enough for multiple catches to be made.
The good news is that it doesn’t need to be expensive. A mix of Vitalin and trout pellets flavoured with molasses and corn steep liquor is extremely effective. And 15kg of Vitalin, 10kg of pellets, five litres of molasses and a litre of CSL can be bought for as little as £50 – that could be a whole season’s supply!
This can all be mixed with lake water to the required consistency, and boated out, spodded, or moulded into balls.
While boilies, pellets, maggots, casters and worms are all effective hookbaits, sweetcorn has established itself as an outstanding bream bait over the years. It’s cheap, easily available and fishes exceptionally well over Vitalin (which contains sweetcorn).
While ‘real’ corn is great, I have found that when fished with plastic alternatives, it is almost always the fake kernel that gets taken first. There are theories about fish oils in plastic attracting bream, but I feel it is more to do with the increased visibility.
Popped-up baits also work well. When faced with a bed of bait, bream will often take the most visible item first. In the spring of 2009 I fished a tough gravel pit with popped-up plastic corn on one rod, and boilie and maggot on the other. At the end of spring I had caught more than 30 double-figure fish on the popped-up corn, and only one on the bottom baits. Popped-up baits can also be presented over the silty bloodworm-rich areas that bream love.
MAKING THE CONNECTION
Bream are not adept at ejecting rigs, so there is no need to be clever. My favourite set-up consists of two grains of buoyant plastic corn on a hair rig, with a size 12 curve shank hook and 3ins of 12lb fluorocarbon. This is presented helicopter style. The angle created by the fluorocarbon exiting the eye, together with the weight of the leader results in reliable hookholds.
I fix the hooklink close to the lead when fishing a clean lakebed, and further up the leader if there is weed or deep silt. On waters with poor water clarity, I opt for a bottom bait fished on clear areas with critically-balanced real and artificial corn.
I hope this provides some motivation to get out there this spring and target a new personal best. There is little more exciting than big bream rolling at dusk, indicators rising and falling to liners, sitting on the edge of your chair, then seeing the bobbin finally creep up to the butt. Good luck, I hope your next bream is a monster!
The two deep lakes of Fields End Water are teeming with carp, and for much of the year they are targeted with pellet wagglers and feeders by the fair-weather angling brigade.
But when it’s cold the lethargic state of the bigger fish gives other species a look-in, in the shape of some fantastic sport with roach… big roach. Largely ignored and untouched, these fish pack on weight in such waters to the point where many now top the 1lb mark, and it’s a similar story on day-ticket commercial venues up and down the country.
But how do you target a big catch of commercial redfins? Rob Lincoln was happy to show us at the Cambridgeshire fishery.
“The sad thing about it is that nobody targets these fish. Today many anglers would be happy to sit it out for one or two carp, but I came here last month and caught over 30lb of good-sized roach and loved every minute of it.
“Nowadays if somebody catches a roach on a fishery like this they put a boilie or big piece of meat on to try to get away from them!”
Traditional baits were the order of the day for Rob, in the form of maggots and casters. The Pit is a relatively deep commercial with around 10ft of water out on the 13m pole line, and it was a good 20 minutes into the session before his float tip slipped beneath the surface of the pit.
A prompt upward strike saw the welcome appearance of his No5 elastic, and the first roach of the day was on.
The next fish took 10 minutes to arrive and the next just five minutes, as sport slowly began to improve. Pretty soon decent roach were coming more or less every cast.
“This is typical roach fishing. It can take a while, but the peg just gets better and better. I’m potting in a couple of balls of groundbait regularly to force fish down to the bottom where I can catch them more easily, because loosefeeding is drawing them up in the water,” he said.
His new Maver All Around Elite pole was working overtime as it fizzed in and out of the lake, bringing in a succession of fish. But being a match angler at heart, Rob knew there was a way to catch faster – his close-in line. This had been loosefeed from the start by hand, in the hope that the cover of the reeds to his right would encourage the roach to feed with confidence.
“I’ve brought some casters along to see if I can catch some bigger roach for the cameras. They seem to have worked on the hook on the long pole, so hopefully I can catch even faster down the inside. It’s a much easier depth to catch fish in here at just 4ft,” he said.
Ten casters were flicked effortlessly to the spot 5m out and his rig was laid over the top. Scarcely had his bait touched the bottom before it was taken by a fine fish topping the 1lb mark which put up a good account of itself on his light tackle.
With the light starting to fade, the big roach were coming thick and fast but more snow was on its way and the electric session was called to a halt.
“Some anglers will go a lifetime without a catch like this on a natural venue, but this has taken just four hours on my local Fields End Fishery. Those casters have certainly done the business. Why don’t you give them a go on your local commercial? You might just get a surprise or two!” said Rob.
“I think it’s important to concentrate fish on the bottom in the deep water on the long pole, so I’m going to kick off with six balls of groundbait. I’m using Sensas Gros Gardons, which means big roach, and I’ve added a few casters to my mix, too. Always cup your groundbait in when feeding only a few balls, for accuracy,” said Rob.
Big and little floats
The Maver Drift float is Rob’s choice for the 10ft swim, in a 1g size. Over 12ins long, with a very long antenna bristle and stem, it makes the rig extremely stable. The strike is very direct because of the bristle size - short bristles cause resistance when the fat float body hits the surface tension on a strike.
Shotting is simply an olivette with four No11 droppers strung out at 6ins intervals below it.
His hooklength is 0.08mm to a size 20 hook.
At the other end of the spectrum, his margin roach rig features a tiny 4 x 8 Elite Series 8 float with a wire stem. This is shotted with strung-out No12s.
There used to be a time when winter fishing for the match angler revolved around roach on canals and rivers or carp on commercials – but how times have changed!
An explosion of skimmers everywhere has seen this fish, normally a reliable summer feeder, become the prime target for many and you’ll see from results that this species is becoming quite dominant in matches, especially on carp waters when the big fish aren’t playing ball.
My England team mate Steve Gardener has talked about the emergence of skimmer waters in his area of the South East, and it’s a phenomenon seen elsewhere too. Woodland Lakes in North Yorkshire is currently seeing bream outperform carp at the scales, and I could count a dozen other waters where the same is true.
Whatever the reasons, all I know is that as a match angler who fishes every weekend, skimmers provide me with almost guaranteed bites, and as those in commercial fisheries are of a good average size you can soon build a weight that you couldn’t with small roach.
So how do you go about catching them? Well, you hardly have to alter your tactics from the typical warm weather approach. By scaling down slightly and cutting back on feed you’ll get a pretty good response in all but the coldest of weather, and while the bloke after carp might sit watching a motionless tip for hours on end, you’ll always be putting something in the net.
To show just how dominant skimmers have become, I’ve come to a typical commercial water, Rycroft Fisheries – just down the road from my house in Derby – where silverfish matches are being won with 30lb of the species.
I have two ways of catching them in mind, one a very classic old-school method and the other giving a big nod to the world of carp fishing.
Because I could hook a carp on winter commercials, my rigs aren’t super-fine in terms of lines and hooks. Scaling right down will get you more bites but you’ll rarely get any bonuses in the net and you’ll run the risk of more tangles when fishing at speed. That’s no good when every minute counts.
A 0.12mm mainline to a 0.10mm hooklength of Sensas Feeling line and a size 18 Kamasan B911 F1 barbless hook will land anything you might hook but still be fine and light enough for finicky fish. Couple this with a light-grade hollow elastic through the top-2 of the pole and you’ll have plenty of stretch to prevent hook pulls and bumped fish.
Floats need a bit of weight to give good presentation and a still bait in windy weather, so I’d aim for a rugby ball-shaped model of around 0.4g to 0.6g (the Sensas Jean Phillipe or Jean Francois is my choice) with a fairly fine, slim plastic bristle dotted down to leave around a centimetre showing.
This is shotted with a simple bulk of shot 18ins from the hook and then three or four No11 dropper shots spaced down to the hook to give a slow fall of the bait in the final foot of the swim. Skimmers will watch a bait as it falls, especially in clear water. Rigs will be set around half a float-length overdepth to give stability.
THE LATE SHOW
Bream and skimmers have many things in common with carp, one being their liking for feeding very late in the day, often as the light fades and you’re struggling to see the float! That makes the final hour of any match the prime time to catch well, so even if you have a slow start to your match there’s no need to panic.
Just because you’re fishing a well-stocked lake doesn’t mean you’ll catch from the word go, and it’s often a case of slowly building the peg up over those opening few hours, laying the foundations for when the skimmers do get their heads down. That’s done with careful feeding and a lot of patience.
Never be tempted to put more bait in to try and make something happen because, in my experience, it rarely does. Bide your time and keep an eye on your watch for those golden final few hours.
The good thing about skimmers is that normally they give you a sign that they’re in the peg, be it a few small bubbles or a small lift or dink on the float before it goes under. Often you’ll get a line bite that slowly pulls the bristle down until it almost sinks before popping back up. This is because skimmers sit a few inches off bottom and up-end to take a bait, rubbing into the line and moving the float.
I know this is a theory that Alan Scotthorne subscribes to, and when it happens, don’t let your focus wander or be tempted to strike too early. Be patient – wait for a proper bite.
WORKING THE BAIT
We’re always taught that skimmers and bream like a still bait. This is why the feeder is such a good way to catch them but when fishing the tip, a good trick is to twitch the feeder a few inches with half a turn on the reel handle to induce a bite.
The same principle applies to polefishing in my book, and that means a simple lift of the rig out of the water by three or four inches before very slowly lowering it back in. If the fish are having it, the float should bury just as the rig settles.
Likewise, you can try dragging the rig a few inches to the left or right before allowing it to settle back down. This can work especially well on days when the water is cold and the fish are lethargic and not swimming around searching for your hookbait.
‘Go easy' would be my main bit of advice on this front. To start with a single ball of groundbait the size of a small orange, holding a little chopped worm and a few dead maggots, goes in on one line and a third of a large pole cup of soaked micro pellets is fed on the other.
This is it until I need to feed more, generally indicated by the presence of small fish or no bites at all. If I catch a carp, this tells me that a lot of the feed may have been eaten by that big fish so I’ll put in a similar amount again.
The only other feed that goes in will be a few casters loosefed over the groundbait line every 10mins-15mins. However, if you’re catching well then there’s no harm in potting in small but regular amounts of feed to keep the fish happy.
Sensas Magic is a well-tested brand that takes some beating, and to this I’ll add a pinch of chopped worm and some dead maggots to give the fish larger food items to pick out. These will also attract any bonus perch in the area into your swim.
I’m still a firm believer that commercial bream like sweet feeds with just a hint of fish. That’s why the recently-launched Sensas Sweet Fishmeal range of mixes are just the job.
A kilo bag will be ample for a winter match, mixed on the fluffy side so it breaks down quickly in the swim.
Skimmers love groundbait, but if there’s been one big trend in the past decade it’s been their love of fishmeal. That’s not just confined to commercials either, as pellets and fishmeal groundbaits are starting to work on canals and drains too! For that reason you’d be daft not to have pellets play some part in your winter skimmer approach. Typically I’ll put in two long pole lines to feed old and new if you like – pellets on one and groundbait on the other. Pellets are simply soaked Sensas 2mm micros potted in.
A vital decision involves picking the right hookbait, and you won’t go far wrong with maggots, casters and pellets. On the pellet front you can forget all about big 6mm offerings as these are just too big for a 6oz skimmer and you’ll miss loads of bites – 4mm expanders are miles better, prepared with a pump so they’re super soft, and these should be hooked across the grain of the pellet as you can see in the picture above. This ensures they’ll stay on even when you miss a bite.
For the groundbait line caster is a selective bait that picks out the bigger fish. Use a single or a double and always go with a darker bait, but for regular bites to keep the catch rate ticking over red maggots take some whacking. More and more I find myself using dead maggots over lives.
Maybe it’s the fact that they don’t move once in the water and don’t attract small fish, or perhaps it’s because a dead maggot is incredibly soft compared to a live one.
I don’t know what the reasons are, but a double bait fished overdepth will more often than not mean that when the float goes under there’s something worth having on the other end!
THOSE PESKY CARP
Unfortunately, commercial fisheries mean carp and it’s rare that you’ll fish any bait for skimmers in winter and not encounter at least one or two big fish. They’re a great bonus if you can get them out but their aggressive nature can ruin a peg and scatter the skimmers – and there’s little you can do to stop these carp turning up.
You’ll know it’s happened when the peg goes very quiet and the smaller fish vanish. The only bit of advice I can give if you want a carp-free day is to go very easy on the feed and not leave any substantial amount in the peg for them to gorge on.
One big problem among anglers on commercials in winter is not striking at every movement of the float.
Perhaps this stems from childhood, when we’re taught to wait for the float tip to disappear completely before striking, but all I know is that on a cold day on a commercial fishery there are times when you’ll freeze to death before that float goes right under.
Whether you’re fishing the waggler or the pole, bites will be shy. The water temperature on the majority of British lakes and pools is still struggling to rise, and fish are lethargic as a result, mouthing the bait rather than gulping it down with gusto. The end result is that even with a float dotted down to an almost invisible pimple, your ‘bite’ may be a barely discernible dip that normally you wouldn’t give the time of day.
Strike, however, and you may be pleasantly surprised, especially on the waggler where a thicker tip to the float means less chance of a classic ‘sail away’ bite.
What with deciding on the right feeding strategy, and countering any tow that there may be on the lake, mastering the waggler can be hard work – harder than setting up 13m of pole – but on a clear, cold water it can be unbeatable.
Winter fish will be shy and not keen on feeding particularly aggressively, and this often shows up on the float tip as a little dip or ‘dink’ that
if you didn’t know better you would ignore, waiting for the tip to completely disappear.
Do this, though, and you’re missing out on extra fish that could make all the difference when weights are low.
I sometimes get funny looks for striking at the slightest indication, but if this gives me even three more fish than the bloke next door, that’s three I wouldn’t have had if I’d followed the crowd and waited. Even with the float tip showing as just a speck it won’t go under every time, so get tuned in and don’t let your concentration wander.
So, with your tackle all ready to go, the next thing to think about is where to fish. Plainly you don’t want to be dropping the float on the long pole line, as that defeats the object of setting up the waggler rod in the first place. However, nor do you want to be hitting the horizon, where tackle control and accurate feeding become all but impossible.
A happy medium is the best solution, and with a standard match-type catapult I can feed maggots and casters around 25m out into a lake, even with a slight head wind, so that’s where 99 times out of 100 I’ll fish. Very rarely will the lakebed be anything other than completely flat here, and I know I can feed and cast comfortably without using overly heavy floats.
Inevitably, some of your loosefeed will go past where you’re fishing but rather than worry about it, I use this overspill in my favour and in the later stages of a match cast a metre or so past where I’ve been chucking all day.
The better quality fish often back off from the commotion slightly and a few casts further out can catch a stamp of fish you’ve not seen all day. Likewise, a cast or two dropped short can bring similar results.
LET IT TOW!
I’ve been fishing long enough to know that perfect flat calm days for waggler fishing are few and far between and there will always be a breeze blowing. The only question is how strong the wind is and what this means for the angler. An undertow is created on lakes where the wind ripples and moves the top layer of the water until it hits the bank at one end, forcing this moving column deeper into the lower layers and making it ‘flow’ back in the opposite direction.
This can be murder for float control but there are a few things you can do to try and neutralise the effects as best you can.
The first is to add more depth to the rig, sometimes as much as six inches. You can also group more shot closer to the hook to put more weight down the line for extra stability, and a third option is to leave a little more float tip showing and let the rig drift slowly through the swim, dragging a bait set overdepth.
On some occasions, however, a little natural movement in the rig can give you a lot more bites from small carp, roach and bream. As long as the float isn’t ripping through like a stick float on the River Trent, I wouldn’t be too alarmed.
Basically, take no prisoners! You’re fishing with a soft enough rod to prevent crack-offs and you’ll never forgive yourself if you pull half-heartedly at bites, miss them and lose the match by a couple of pounds.
A full-blooded overhead strike is just the job, sweeping the rod right back – only if the swim were really shallow would I swap to a sideways strike low to the ground.
DES'S FEEDING TIPS
You'll probably be faced with two choices on the feed front – loosefeed or groundbait. Fishery rules may dictate this and rule out the crumb, so I’ll split feeding into each category relevant to the lake you’ll be fishing. Each needs a slightly different approach, as they have two very different jobs to achieve.
When crumb is off the menu, loosefeed is the only remaining option, and it needs to be heavy enough to reach where I’m fishing. Pellets are fine for just carp, but on a mixed lake, where fish like skimmers and hybrids play just as important a part, maggots cannot be beaten.
A couple of pints of reds, whites and fluoro pinks are ample for a winter match and if I think roach are going to play a part, I’ll swap one of those pints of maggots for casters. I’ll then feed around a dozen baits every cast but only once pouchful each cast, not two or three, no matter how many fish might be in the peg.
Because I’ll not leave the float in the swim for more than five minutes at a time, though, this way of feeding becomes fairly regular and soon builds up a swim. What it can’t do is build up a bed of bait in a tight spot as it would if I were fishing groundbait, but I will try and keep my loosefeed as tight as possible around the float.
CRUMB BY CATTY
Some anglers prefer to feed groundbait by hand but this can be hard work! I use a small catapult for introducing small, soft balls on a regular basis.
By pulling the elastic back to the same spot each time, I know the balls will land in roughly the same place.
I’ll feed a walnut-sized ball every 15mins or so when fish are feeding well, as little as once every 30mins if it’s slow, and because groundbait is aimed at species such as skimmers on commercials, a fishmeal mix like Sonubaits F1 Supercrush is ideal. Mix it damp enough to hold together all the way out to the float without breaking up.
This time of year carp have a tendency to shoal up tightly, which in turn leads to some massive winning weights in matches.
But while headlines are grabbed by 70lb, 80lb and even 100lb catches, it’s the low back-up weights that tend to tell the real story as anglers sit it out for carp in areas where there simply aren’t any!
I have to admit I have never been a fan of sitting for just one or two bites in five hours. I always prefer to keep busy, working at the swim and trying to make something happen.
So when the going is tough I will play the percentage game, and if I’m not the angler lucky enough to be on the ball of carp then I will target silverfish rather than sit all day and hope a carp picks up my bait.
Basically I will have a quick look for carp at the start of the match and if that doesn’t pay off, or I don’t get the impression there are many carp there, I will fish for roach, skimmers and even perch, with maybe just a quick look again for a carp at the end of the match as the light fades.
The silvers, though, are the key. One carp on its own is likely to win me nothing, but a weight of silvers plus that carp can mean a possible framing weight on a gruelling day.
And rather than fishing negatively, as you’d expect in winter, I opt for a positive approach to targeting the silvers on commercials.
Being positive is crucial if you want to catch the sort of weight that’s needed to beat the carp men!
LOOK FOR DEEPER WATER
The key to putting together a big weight of silvers is normally to catch them short, but at this time of year, with the water being clear, quite often the skimmers and roach will push out into deeper areas where they feel safer.
Take today at Meadowlands as a prime example. At 9m I have just four foot of water, which for me just isn’t deep enough when there is even deeper water further out.
For this reason I have eventually settled on fishing at 13m where there is just over six feet of water. Of course, the right depth is totally venue-specific as some waters are deeper than others, but if yours offers increased depth further out then this is usually the area to target.
USE POSITIVE RIGS
Rig choice depends totally on depth, but for 6ft-8ft of water I will look to fish a 4x18 float, in this case a Colmic Jolly which is a tried and trusted pattern for silverfish.
I use 0.15mm Guru N-Gauge mainline. This might seem on the heavy side, but heavier line is stiff and results in fewer tangles, something which can otherwise be a problem when shipping out at speed.
My hooklength is 6ins of 0.10mm line to a size 18 Gamakatsu Maggot hook, which is perfect for single caster and single or double maggot hookbaits.
Shotting pattern is a standard bulk and three droppers, with the bulk set at 24ins from the hook and the droppers made up of No 10 shots being placed at 6ins intervals below this.
Depending on how the fish are feeding I might look to vary my shotting pattern.
For instance, if bites are coming once the float has settled then I will look to move the bulk down closer to the hook in order to get the hookbait to the catching zone that bit quicker.
DOUBLE YOUR CHANCES
Choice of elastic when targeting silvers on a venue where a carp could turn up is always a tricky one, but for me there is nothing better than a doubled-up No4.
This is soft enough to deal with quality silvers but at the same time it gives me a better-than-average chance should a bonus carp come along.
It also allows me to swing in decent silvers when they are the right size, and this can make a big difference to my catch rate.
LAYING THE RIG IN
When I’m fishing for both roach and skimmers I find that a lot of bites tend to come as the rig settles.
For this reason I like to lay the rig in and then hold the float on a tight line so that the hook bait falls in an arc.
Bites then usually come as the float settles, and if for any reason I don’t get a bite then I will simply lift the rig out and lay it back in again – this is a speed tactic that saves time shipping in and out.
Of course, this doesn’t always work and there are days, particularly with skimmers when they want the bait nailed – but it’s definitely something to try, particularly when there are a lot of fish in the swim competing for the bait.
It’s all about playing the percentage game, and it keeps me active all match.
My positive winter bait tray usually consists of casters and maggots, but on waters with a decent head of skimmers I’ll add pinkies and groundbait too.
Casters hold the key to a big weight of silvers as they attract a larger stamp of fish than maggots.
Pinkies, normally dead, are added to the groundbait and although they are small, roach and skimmers love them. They also give me another hookbait option.
For silvers I like a 50:50 fishmeal mix of 50-50 Ringers Natural and Swim Stim Natural. Both are pellet-based and I find they attract a better than usual stamp of fish.
HOW MUCH TO PUT IN
To kick the swim off I introduce two balls of groundbait laced with casters and dead pinkies.
After 45 minutes looking for a carp elsewhere in my peg while the silverfish line settles, and providing I’m not on a pile of carp, then it’s time to work out the best way to feed the swim for silvers.
This decision is governed by the species present. If I drop in and skimmers seem to be the main species I will look to fish the initial feed out before topping up once the swim starts to fade.
PACK IN THE CASTERS
Timing is critical – too many anglers don’t re-feed until the swim is totally dead.
Topping up for skimmers is best done by potting in another ball of groundbait, this time with casters into a Satsuma-sized ball.
This process is repeated throughout to keep fish coming.
If roach are the dominant species I will loosefeed over the top with a catapult as roach prefer bait falling through the water.
I find 15-20 casters on a regular basis is about right to start although if it becomes clear there are a lot of roach present then I might look to up this to try and increase my catch rate and draw a bonus fish or two into the swim.
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.
CARE AND UNHOOKING A PIKE
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.
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…
WHERE TO FISH
Chub can be found in almost every English, Welsh and lower-Scottish rivers and streams. They have bred well and many numbers of chub of decent sizes are targetable across the country with 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).
STATES OF THE RIVER
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.
METHODS FOR SUCCESS
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.
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.
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.
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.
BAITS TO CATCH CHUB
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.
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.
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.
TACKLE FOR CHUB FISHING
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.
If you’ve never caught a pike before but you wish to start fishing for pike, you’re in for a real treat as they offer the angler great sport throughout the winter when some of our freshwater species refuse to bite.
Although some pike are caught by accident, while fishing for smaller species like roach, rudd and perch, most pike are caught by design by anglers specifically targeting predators.
There are two baits that will catch pike. The first is live or dead fish, the second is to use imitation baits that resemble fish or water creatures.
Both types of bait are as productive as each other – it depends on any given day which bait produces the most fish, but generally speaking fishing with artificial baits produces the greater numbers of pike, while real fish produce the larger pike.
Also, lure fishing for pike using artificial baits is the better method to adopt to locate the pike too because lure fishing, by its very nature, covers more water and therefore there’s more chance of your bait passing a hungry pike at some point as it’s being worked around the lake, river or canal.
The basic essentials
Regardless of which technique you favour, there are certain things that a pike angler needs to have in order to cope with unhooking, caring for, landing and generally enjoying a session fishing for pike. Here’s what you will need, and explanations as to why you’ll need them…
This is a must have item of tackle for any predator angler. If you see the rows of razor sharp teeth you’ll quickly see why. Those teeth will cut your hand if you aren’t careful, and as they are so sharp it will bleed for a long time.
A pair of long-nosed forceps (generally around 12in long) are perfect for slipping between a pike’s jaws or up through its gill covers to remove hooks embedded in the jaw or mouth.
Another must-have item of tackle that can be used to cut a wire trace cleanly if the need arises. They will come in extremely useful when a pike is hooked awkwardly or when a set of treble hooks become lodged within your landing net and you need to cut the wire to free the hooks.
An absolutely vital piece of equipment for any predator angler because both pike and zander will easily cut through normal monofilament and braided hooklengths if their teeth slip across them. So, in order to prevent this happening and to stop the pike from becoming tethered to treble hooks you must use a wire trace of at least 10in. And that applied to both lure fishing and bait fishing methods.
Large landing net
An ordinary spoon landing net – the sort you’d normally use when fishing for general fishing – isn’t large enough for pike. You’ll need to invest in a large triangular specialist landing net to safely hold and cradle a large pike when lifting it from the water. A net having a strong 6ft handle coupled with folding 36ins arms will be large enough to hold specimen pike with room to spare.
First aid kit
Even the most experienced pike angler will receive cuts and grazes from the pike’s teeth and gill rakers when unhooking and landing pike. And those cuts don’t heal quickly so to save bleeding all over your rod, reel and clothing it’s best to carry a few plasters, antiseptic hand wipes and even a few tissues to help treat any wounds you may get.
Both braid and mono are ideal for pike fishing so long as they are up to the job. If you intend fishing with a mono mainline then opt for a line of 12lb or even 15lb breaking strain, and if you’re intending to use braid, go for a 30lb breaking strain.
Powerful rods and reels
The type of rod and reel that you’ll need is determined by the style of pike fishing you want to do – lure fishing or bait fishing. But regardless of the style they will need to be quite powerful because pike are hard-fighters and can reach weights of over 30lb. You’ll find more in-depth info about these below…
Lure fishing tackle for pike
Lure fishing for pike is a very mobile and active technique that requires very little tackle. All you need is a rod, reel, a few trace wires, everything from the list above and a varied selection of lures. And that’s all.
Rods for lure fishing
They are sometimes called spinning rods, sometimes called lure rods and sometimes called plugging rods – they all perform similarly in that they have plenty of power through the middle to the butt and have flexible tip sections.
They are short rods generally between 6ft and 10ft of varying power. The power of a lure rod is indicated by the rod’s casting weight. On the blank of the rod you’ll find some figures such as 5-25g, 15-40g or 30-60g. Those are the optimum weight of lures that the rod will cast, so the higher the weight, the more powerful the rod will be. Normally, the longer the lure rod is, the more powerful it tends to be.
A great starting point for a beginner to pike fishing would be a rod having a length of around 8ft and a casting weight of around 15-40g as that will provide enough power to cast most general purpose lures and also have enough power to stop and control sizeable pike.
Reels for lure fishing
There are two trains of thought when it comes to picking the perfect lure fishing reel. Most anglers prefer the simplicity of a reliable fixed spool reel, while some prefer to use multiplier reels. We would strongly suggest steering away from multiplier reels if you are a newcomer to lure fishing as they are complicated to set up correctly and can cause a lot of problems when casting.
By far the best choice would be a small fixed spool reel in the 2500 and 3000 size. A compact front drag model is ideal as they are small and lightweight, but a rear drag reel will definitely suffice.
The right line
Given the choice between using mono or braid, there is only one clear winner – braid. This supple, ultra-thin material is the perfect choice because it has no stretch, unlike mono. This means that as soon as you begin winding the reel’s handle after casting, or as soon as you flick the rod tip down, your lure will move. This enables the angler to impart truly magnificent action upon the lure, making it jerk rapidly, flick over slowly, rise up gracefully and dive down rapidly.
What’s more, as braid has no stretch you will be able to feel any plucks upon the lure because braid has the unique ability to transmit indications from the lure to the rod tip.
And finally, braid is much thinner than mono when compared like for like. A 30lb braid will be many times thinner than a 30lb mono so you’ll be able to cast loads further with braid than you would with mono.
Trace wires for lure fishing
An incredibly crucial piece of kit that every lure angler should use as they prevent the fish biting through the line and trailing lures around in their mouths. Traces can be bought at very little cost, or they can be made at home to your own specifications using only a few components.
The perfect lure fishing trace wire should be supple, 10in long, 30lb breaking strain and feature a swivel at one end and a snap link at the other so you can change your style or size of lure in a second without having to re-tie a trace.
The right lures
There are literally thousands of different lures on the market – all manner of different shapes, sizes, weights, configurations and patterns. Some are plastic, some are metal, others are rubber while some are wooden. But whatever the make-up they are all designed to do one thing – imitate an injured fish or water creature to make the pike react, think it’s an easy meal approaching and snap at it.
Bait fishing tackle for pike
Again, strong tackle is key to successful bait fishing for pike, not only because the fish can be enormous and extremely powerful, but also because the baits required to catch the fish are quite large and heavy. This means that you’ll ideally need super strong rods to cope with the stresses and strains of casting such baits as a whole roach, half a mackerel or a sardine. Here’s a typical rundown of the tackle ideal for pike fishing with bait…
Rods for bait fishing
If you have a 2.5lb test curve carp rod – or two - you’re well on your way to being able to successfully tackle pike with baits. Carp rods are widely used by pike anglers who fish at close to medium range as a 2.5lb test curve carp rod is more than capable of casting a small fish bait such as a little roach, a small smelt, a 4in section of lamprey and such like.
But if you wish to use bigger baits and be able to cast a bait a long way then you’ll need proper pike rods that have test curves of 3lb. These rods will be able to launch baits a long, long way and that will allow you to cover a lot more water and therefore stand a higher chance of catching more pike.
Reels for bait fishing
Again, carp reels are okay for pike fishing. It’s the size of the spool that’s all important as you ought to be using either 12 or 15lb mono or 30lb braid as the mainline in order to cope with catching these powerful fish, often close to weed and snags.
A large free spool reel is perfect, but those extra-large big bit style specialist reels are even better because their spools are enormous. This means that line will peel off the spools really easily, creating very little resistance and therefore increasing the distance of your casts.
Traces for bait fishing
Again, these are absolutely crucial to prevent damage to fish and breakages. You could buy traces already made up or you could tie your own. They are really simple to create.
Bite indication when bait fishing
There are two ways to achieve this. You could either floatfish or you could leger. Floatfishing will require specialist, highly buoyant balsa floats while legering requires bite alarms and drop-off indicators to clearly show when you have had a take.
There are two kinds of float used when predator fishing – those for presenting deadbaits on the bottom and those which suspend livebaits off the bottom. They are very different to one another.
The floats for deadbait fishing have swivels on the base and are very long and thin – they are often called deadbait ‘pencils’. Floats for livebaiting are short, fat floats that have a whole through the centre where the line passes. They are very buoyant in order to hold the bait off the bottom.
When legering it’s important to use a bite alarm coupled with a drop-off indicator. The alarm will provide an audible sound when you get a run and the drop-off indicator will tell you whether the pike has picked up the bait and swan away or towards you.
Unhooking pike and zander
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.
Here's how it's done...
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!
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.
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.
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
HOW DO I UNHOOK PIKE SAFELY?
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.
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.
WHERE TO FISH
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.
PICKING THE RIGHT SWIM
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.
WATCH THE WEATHER
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.
THE BAIT TO TAKE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
HOW TO FISH
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…
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.
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!
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.
Picture the scene; my latest pupil, David Booth, begrudgingly helped one more of his mates to land yet another barbel from the River Severn.
Looking downstream to where his gear lay, his heart suddenly sank as his eyes locked on to his still dry landing net. A curious mixture of jealousy and longing overcame him, as brutal as a smack in the face.
Having put in over 200 rod-hours and thrashed the water to foam on every major barbel river in England, David’s landing net still hadn’t welcomed one of the graceful, hard-fighting whiskered torpedoes that he longed to catch.
Ever since he was a boy, David has loved river fishing. The draw of running water and the chance to catch a truly feral fish – like a barbel – seemed much better than targeting some podgy, lake-bound carp, tench or bream.
Falling away from the sport in his teens to concentrate on marriage, family and career, the 47-year-old master baker returned to angling four years ago, but he’s still to realise his 40-year dream of catching a barbel.
Recently, he thought he’d finally done it. When fishing on the Severn, his rod hooped over and a very strong fish tore off upstream.
Playing the fish to the net, David’s hopes were once again dashed as a beautifully marked, white, orange, black and gold koi carp of 10lb rose to the surface and flopped into his waiting net.
Now at the end of his tether and with thoughts of long, lean whiskery barbel filling his every waking moment, he called me to help finally put him in contact with his long awaited prize.
Arranging a day on the River Trent, a stretch owned by Scunthorpe Police Angling Club, I set about trying to help David exorcise his barbel demons and help realise his 40-year fantasy.
Here’s how we got on…
Why target weir pools for barbel?
In his search for a barbel, I first wanted to offer David some watercraft skills.
When faced with a foaming, rushing, frothing mass of water that is a weir pool, it’s hardly surprising that many anglers don’t know were to start.
The combination of fast, powerful water and snags can be quite daunting. But weirs are probably one of the finest areas to fish for barbel, particularly during the really warm months, because the constant crashing of water forces huge amounts of oxygen into the river.
Furthermore, the force of the river over the weir’s sill scours the bottom clean, revealing a gravely bottom. It is this combination of fast, well– oxygenated water and a gravel bottom that attract barbel in considerable numbers.
The best area to target barbel is just in front of the sill, right in the pool’s main flush. They can also be found at the tail of the weir pool.
Weir pools don’t only contain barbel. The swirling water and constant food supply coming over the sill is attractive to all species of fish which can be found in different areas of the pool (see diagram below).
I replaced David’s 10ft leger rod with my longer 13ft model. By setting the rod at a 45-degree angle to the bank (beachcaster-style), the longer rod helps keep more of the mainline out of the flow. This allows me to use a lighter feeder to hold bottom because less line in the water means there is less water pressure pushing against the rig, which could force it to bounce down the swim.
I haven’t had a great deal of experience targeting barbel, so I decided to attack the river using old-school, match-style tactics, rather than using more modern methods with boilies, PVA and groundbaits.
My approach would revolve around the use of a Kamasan Black Cap Blockend feeder.
I had modified the feeder by cutting a couple of groves in the side with a pair of scissors to enlarge the holes. This allows the bait of hemp and either caster, or 4mm pellets, to easily wash out of the feeder.
The weight of the feeder is dictated by the flow of the river. Weir pools can be quite powerful, so I kicked off with a 50 gram (2oz) feeder.
The only unusual addition to my rig was a nine-inch length of 14lb powergum. This helps prevent the fish from shedding the barbless hook on the take and during the fight when they use the weight of the feeder to throw the hook.
The powergum is doubled-up at one end and it is this doubled-up end which is attached loop to loop to the mainline.
Running on the powergum is a bead to protect the swivel knot and a snaplink bead.
The hooklink is 18 inches of 0.18mm (6.5lb) and the hook is a size 14 Drennan Barbless carp for 14mm banded or hair-rigged pellets, or two or three casters.
For smaller pellets, I use the same hook but in a size 16.
How to upstream leger
With the weir to the left, and the river running from left to right, we’re going to have to make a 30-yard cast upstream to drop the feeder half a rodlength off the weir sill where the barbel live. The rod is then put in a rest pointing skywards. This is known as upstream legering.
I’ll be teaching David to fish for drop-back bites where the tension in the rod tip caused by the river pulling against the line is suddenly released by a fish hooking itself and dislodging the feeder. The result is the rod tip springing back smartly to the straight position, rather than being yanked downwards as you’d normally expect.
The idea of upstream legering is to deliberately allow the current to form a big bow or sag in your reel line from the rod tip to where the feeder lands. If your line was cheese-wire tight, the power of the river would drag all but the heaviest feeder out of position.
he bow in the line effectively reduces the water pressure on both the line and feeder, allowing you to hold bottom with a much lighter leger weight and fish with a lighter quiver tip rod, rather than a big, heavy Avon-type tip. All you have to do is strap extra lead weights – known as ‘dead cows’ – to your feeder until it just holds bottom.
I started off with a 50g Drennan Black Cap maggot feeder, but this was too light. Adding a 1oz (28g) ‘dead cow’ perfectly balanced it. Now the slightest touch on the hookbait will dislodge the balanced feeder, sending the rod tip springing back and driving the hook point home.
Sometimes the rod tip will go over, depending on which way the hooked fish runs, and the rod can be virtually ripped off the rest. But, you’ll find that you get more drop-back bites with this upstream legering technique. Either way, both types of bites are unmissable!
As we’re fishing match-style, I’ve decided to use smaller particle baits like hemp and caster, with maybe a little pellet, rather than boilies and pastes.
Hemp and caster is a classic barbel bait combination and has sadly been all but forgotten these days in favour of designer baits. But, the combo caught well in the 70s and 80s and it still works supremely well today.
The great thing about using small particles is that the force of the river helps to move them downstream, leaving a trail of food items that will help to draw fish up from five or six pegs away.
The other advantage of these baits is that once the barbel start to eat them confidently, they will stay in the swim all day trying to pick up every single bit of hemp and caster from the bottom.
Once you get the barbel feeding like this, they become unbelievably easy to catch because they are preoccupied by food. They don’t even notice you pulling one of their mates out of the shoal around them, such is the power of particles.
I’ll be loading the feeder with 70 per cent hemp and 30 per cent caster, and then will be looking to cast every five minutes to lay down a good bed of bait.
I’ve also brought some 4mm pellets as a change to the casters. If we put pellet in the feeder, I’ll fish a hair-rigged pellet on the hook to complement these freebies.
I’ll only swap over to pellet if the small fish – little chub – are smashing the casters before the barbel have a chance to get at them.
Living the dream…
We kicked off the swim with casts every couple of minutes for the first quarter of an hour to get some bait down. Then, we reduced casting to every five minutes. And it didn’t take long before David’s quivertip was starting to show signs of there being a diner in the swim. Several knocks, bumps and line bites saw the tip quivering like a jelly.
“Sit on your hands until it goes,” I commanded.
A couple of minutes later, the tip lurched forward slightly, before springing violently straight. Hit it! A hefty strike saw David with his first barbel of the day on the end of his line.
Getting the fish under control after its initial powerful run, he was doing well…when disaster struck.
The rod sprang straight and the fish was gone. He’d had his reel’s clutch set too stiff and the barbel had snapped the hooklink. What a nightmare. It looked as if David’s dreams might still remain unfulfilled.
But after retackling and hooking another three casters on to the hook, we set about rebuilding the swim and the barbels’ confidence.
After two hours, things were looking grim. Then, the rod showed a huge drop back bite and he was into a fish again. This time there were no mistakes and, after a short but brutal fight, David had his first ever barbel under his belt – a fine 5lb Trent fish.
Building on this success, David went on to take another similarly-sized fish, finishing the session with a flourish.
At the end of the day, David’s huge grin showed it all. He looked like the cat that had got a gallon of cream. He had finally realised a personal goal and accomplished a 40-year dream.
It reminds me of when I fulfilled a long held dream and won my first world championship, but that’s another story…