With such a vast range of baits available, has it ever crossed your mind whether they resemble the natural food of coarse fish?
What do fish actually eat when they are not feasting on our bait? The answer can give you a better understanding of what baits work, and when.
The diet of coarse fish is affected by many things. Fish species is obviously important, but so is their size and the time of the year. Some fish are better able to make use of a sudden abundance of one type of food, while others have a more restricted diet.
Coarse fish gain most of their sustenance from eating small invertebrates – everything from tiny bloodworms to tadpoles and snails. Generally speaking, larger food items are preferred. Most will be eaten either off the bottom or picked from submerged plants, and although fish are very good at ‘sorting the wheat from the chaff’, some silt and plant material will also be swallowed. However, they gain very little nutrition from this.
Bloodworm for all
Bloodworm are found on the surface of silt and on the stems of plants. Smaller fish species such as roach pick them off for an easy meal. This is only half the story, though, as larger species may also become preoccupied with these tiny insects.
Tench and bream have a particular love of bloodworm and feed on them by hoovering up the lakebed, sorting the edible from the rest in their mouths and eating only the animals. This shows just how dextrous these fish can be. No wonder they can at times eject a hook with ease.
If you think that either species is in your swim, but you are not getting bites, tit’s possible that they are focused on bloodworm and a smaller bait could pay dividends. Red maggots or a small dendrobaena would be my choice.
Both species will move around lakes looking for fresh bloodworm beds where the amount of available food is high. This can explain the patrol routes that these fish adopt, and why some spots are more productive than others. Find a natural bloodworm bed and your chances of success will be good, especially if you plan to prebait.
Often the mainstay of the diet of carp and tench, caddis larvae come in many different forms, from species that build intricate cases from grains of sand or bits of plant stem, to those that spin underwater webs, just like spiders.
Most are around a couple of centimetres long, making them a decent mouthful for even quite large fish. Those with crunchy cases are normally found over gravel, while a case constructed from plants is great camouflage over silt, or amid weedbeds.
The most common caddis that you are likely to see emerging in numbers at this time of the year is the black sedge. This is a cased caddis found widely in stillwaters, and is often the most numerous of all the caddis species. On some lakes where I have filmed underwater the bottom can be crawling with these critters, making a very easy meal for fish.
When fish are feeding on caddis larger baits can be used, and the fish are likely to be less picky. Larger worms are worth trying, as are more easily seen baits, such as sweetcorn and punched meat.
There are dozens of species of freshwater snail. Although we tend to think mainly of freshwater mussels, because they are so large, if you take a look into the margins of any river or lake you’ll see a whole range of different sizes and species. In fact the bottom is often covered with snails.
Snails are eaten not just by carp and barbel, but other species too. Roach are lovers of small snails, but bream and tench seem less fond of this delicacy.
If you retain a carp for a while, very often you will find the remains of snail shells in the sack that the fish has passed through its body. The shells are cracked open using the strong pharyngeal teeth at the back of the throat, allowing the juicy innards to be digested.
It has long been suggested that one of the reasons hemp is so effective is because it resembles small black snails. This could well be part of the reason, but the strong taste has to play a bigger part. Boilies and bigger baits, such as meat, come into play when the fish are feeding on snails, the bigger bait being more in line with the fish’s natural diet.
The UK is home to dozens of giant reservoirs where you will struggle to see the far bank due to the sheer size of the venue.
While there is no doubt that the prospect of fishing such a huge expanse of water is daunting, the sheer numbers of fish they often hold means they are well worth your attention. But just how do you go about locating the shoals in a fishery of that size and then persuading them to feed? England star and Preston Innovations-backed angler Lee Kerry has all the answers…
“If you are looking to get away from carp and F1s then a big reservoir could be right up your street. Roach, bream and skimmers often feature heavily on waters like this, and they can be anything from small hand-sized fish to lumps that would easily smash your personal best!
“Look in Angling Times to check match results and see which species is dominating, or speak to local anglers and tackle shops to help gauge the situation.”
“The biggest shoals are likely to be well away from the bank, so a feeder approach is often best on big reservoirs. If it’s bream you are looking to catch, a simple groundbait feeder will often outscore anything else.
“Some anglers might think that for bream you need to put in a lot of bait immediately, but this isn’t the case. I prefer to build a feeder line up gradually, casting every few minutes with a small or medium-sized feeder. There’s no need to use light tackle because a lot of the fish won’t have been caught before.
“I’ll often have a 2ft-long hooklength of 0.13mm Preston Innovations Powerline and a size 16 hook. Thick lines are stiffer and lead to fewer tangles.”
“A dark groundbait is always best for bream and skimmers, as I believe they spook a lot more readily over a light bed of feed.
“My favourite mix is Sonubaits F1 Dark, as it has a strong sweet smell and is packed with fishmeal that skimmers can’t get enough of. I will also add some finely chopped worms and a few casters to the mix to keep the fish grubbing around. “It’s a matter of trial and error when it comes to hookbait – maggots, pinkies or even a worm can all have their day.”
Search the swim
“If bites don’t come quickly, it can be tempting to pile a lot more bait in to gain a response, but it is often better to explore your peg a little. Casting just 10 yards further could put you in deeper water, and that is where the fish could be held up. It may take a short while to find the shoals but if you’re on pegs that have form, you’ll never be far away from a hungry shoal.”
It can be quite difficult at this time of the year to succeed on a day-ticket water especially when the low temperatures have hit and the sun isn't quite giving off as much heat as you'd like. Gardner’s Jack Funnell however has a few tricks up his sleeve to ensure your alarms keep screaming so make sure you follow this five point plan for day-ticket waters.
1) Actively find the fish
You can’t catch what’s not there - it’s that simple! Carp won’t move very far in cold water, so you need to go to them, rather than vice versa, otherwise you’ll just end up camping, rather than fishing.
It is rare to always get the swim you hoped for but, equally, having a rigid plan can often work against you. “All lakes have a ‘go to’ area where the fish tend to congregate in winter,” Jack explained.
“They do go up into the shallows on very rare occasions, but if the fish aren’t actively showing, don’t bother.”
Another way Jack tries to find the shoals is to lead around in any empty swims. It sounds barmy, but he reckons that if the fish shoal up tightly, you can actually feel the lead bouncing through them - provided you get the cast right.
“I’ve done this and had some big hits of fish, while the lad in the next swim has blanked,” said Jack.
2) Swap mono for fluorocarbon
It sounds banal, but one tip that Jack was keen to share was the simple act of changing your mainline from mono to fluorocarbon - it can make a huge difference to your results. Mono sinks, but not as well as a good quality fluorocarbon. Jack’s favourite is Gardner Mirage.
“Using fluoro as the mainline ensures that the last few yards of line and end tackle are pinned to the deck. This guarantees that the fish will not spook off the mainline and it’s also almost invisible in water,” Jack told us.
“It is not always the latest rig or bait that makes the difference. But something much more simple! “I mean, it’s not magic, but it might just get you that couple of bonus fish on a tough day.”
3) Flavour-filled solid bags
In cold water, the carp won’t necessarily want to move to bait. Putting out 5kg of boilies at this time of year will most probably just see you prebaiting for next spring! As the fish’s metabolism is very much reduced, you need to fish for one bite at a time, not a hit of fish.
By using solid PVA bags you can slowly build a swim, as well as packing the bags with a variety of loosefeed items to create a compact trap on the lakebed. “One edge that has worked well for me is filling the bag with pellets, a few crushed Sticky Baits Manilla boilies, corn and maggots,” said Jack.
“I always have a few pre-tied, so can I cast at showing fish. Prior to casting, I inject the bag with some liquid flavour to flood the swim with attraction but little in the way of extra food content.”
4) Adjust your zigs
Although he always fishes one of his three rods on the deck, the other two will often be on zig rigs. “The biggest problem with zigs is trying to discover the exact depth at which the fish are sitting,” advised Jack.
“If they are obviously not on or near the surface I’d look to start around three-quarters depth with one rod, and slightly shallower with the second.”
He will then shorten the hooklink every couple of hours in increments of one foot at a time, so that he eventually covers all depths. “If I still haven’t had a run, then it is time to change the colour of the hookbait, cast to another area or even move swims,” he added.
5) Use maggots sparingly
Becoming more and more popular on many day-ticket waters, maggots can be devastating in the colder months. Jack, however, uses them very differently to other anglers.
“I have found that if I’m struggling for bites using boilies or corn for example, putting out a couple of Spombs of maggots can trigger the carp into feeding,” he explained.
Experience has shown the Croydon-based rod that once you get them eating, you can go back to your original hookbaits. The movement of the maggots just seems to trigger a feeding response in the fish that other baits don’t.
“I see anglers with truckloads of maggots in buckets, literally gallons and gallons,” he said.
“The problem with this is that they are both expensive and difficult to keep. I only bring three or four pints – most of which I might take home – just to use to try to provoke a couple of bites and get the swim going.”
Learn how to get a bite every cast when reaching for a waggler with Steve Ringer.
In early spring when the water is cold and clear and not quite warm enough, the fish tend to back away from the bank.
Because of this, there is no better way of picking them off than by using a waggler! The beauty of the waggler is that you can fish further out than those using 13m-16m of pole. While they’re doing that, you can fish at 20-25m on the waggler. This obviously gives you a real edge, as you are fishing a line that you have all to yourself.
Additionally, you have the benefit of no pole waving about over the heads of the fish. Despite all these advantages, I see hardly anybody fishing with rod and line in the cold. however, here’s how I do it…
On commercials there is no better bait than pellets. All species eat them, from carp and skimmers right through to roach. Today I’m on Warren Pool at Meadowlands, near Coventry, where you are allowed to feed pellets only to a maximum size of 4mm. As it happens I wanted to feed 4mm pellets anyway, so this suits me. I wet my pellets before fishing. The reason behind this is that they become heavier, which allows me to loosefeed them further than would normally be possible.
The second benefit to wetting my feed pellets is that soaking them starts the breakdown process within the pellet, which means they release a lot more attraction into the water.
Alongside my 4mm feed pellets I’m also carrying some expanders. I have two different types today – 4.5mm Ringers Cool Water pellets and standard 4mm Bag Up pellets. This gives me a couple of different colour hookbait options, with the Cool Waters being slightly lighter in colour than the Bag Ups.
Plumbing the depth
Plumbing the depth with a waggler is a lot easier than a lot of anglers think. Whatever you do, don’t cast a big plummet out into the lake. You’ll scare every fish in the vicinity. Instead, squeeze an SSG shot on to the hook and then cast that out to get the depth. This creates a lot less disturbance and at the same time gives a very accurate reading.
Little and often is the key. I don’t like to put a bed of bait on the bottom straight away, but prefer to build the swim up gradually.
As a guide I will kick off feeding 8-12 pellets every cast. In fact I normally get into a rhythm of ‘cast out, sink the line, feed and then wait for the bite’. It’s then simply a case of repeating the process throughout the session.
Of course, sessions rarely go perfectly – you need to vary your feed rate and frequency to take into account how many fish are in the swim. For instance, if the fishing is very hard I will keep up the regularity, as I believe the noise of pellets hitting the water attracts fish, but at the same time I will drop the amount down to 4-6 pellets at a time. You just have to think about what’s happening under the water and adjust your feeding accordingly.
On the subject of feeding, I’m not too worried about keeping my bait in a really tight area. One of the great things about the waggler is that it allows you to cover a lot of water, so I don’t mind feeding a decent area as opposed to a really tight spot.
This is a usually a single 4mm expander, which pretty much matches a soaked 4mm feed pellet in size so it blends in nicely with the loose offerings.
I could, of course, fish a banded hard pellet on the hook but when looking for a mixed bag I always feel a soft pellet has the edge. In the cold I do feel a soft expander pellet leads to more bites anyway.
One little tip regarding hooking an expander for waggler fishing is to make sure the hook has as much purchase inside the pellet at possible. In other words, don’t just nick it on, but instead thread it on. This just gives that little bit of extra security on the cast.
The second hookbait I like to have with me is sweetcorn. A single grain of corn often produces a bonus fish, so every now and again I will slip a grain on, even though I haven’t actually fed any.
Expanders are a very soft hookbait so if you cast with a really fast action then chances are they are going to fly off the hook. The secret to fishing expanders on the waggler is to keep the cast nice and smooth. This ensures that your hookbait is still on once the float hits the water.
It’s also important to sink the line slowly once the float has landed on the surface. Winding the float under the water at 100mph is again going to tear the hookbait off. So instead I give the rod-tip a quick flick and then a slow but firm wind to sink the line.
This way I can be sure that the bait is still on the hook. Of course if it’s flat calm then there is no need to sink the line.
Warren Pool at Meadowlands Fishery in the West Midlands lends itself perfectly to waggler fishing. It’s shallow, with just 2ft 6ins of water at around 25m. With this in mind, my float is a 5BB Drennan Glow Tip Antenna.
I love these for pellet fishing as they have a very fine tip which is very sensitive, and are easy to see in even the poorest of light.
To fix the float in place I use two AAAs and a BB, but rather than put them straight on to the 4lb mainline, which could potentially damage it and lead to a breakage, I thread some fine silicone on to the mainline first, then squeeze the shot on to that. This prevents the shot damaging the line. A 4lb Guru Pulse mainline makes a massive difference when waggler fishing. Not only does it make casting a lot easier, it also aids presentation as a light mainline isn’t picked up as readily as a heavier one by wind or tow.
I have recently started using size 14 Cralusso Fine Quick Snap Swivels to connect my waggler mainline to hooklength. These allow me to change my hooklength fast, should I need to, and are no heavier than a No9 shot. The swivel acts as my bottom dropper and above this, at 6ins intervals, I have two No9s.
For waggler fishing I like an 8ins hooklength of 0.14mm Pure fluorocarbon, with a size 16 Guru F1 Pellet hook, fast becoming my favourite in the cold! On Warren Lake I am fishing for skimmers, small stockie carp and the odd big carp, so 0.14mm is perfect. If the fish were all ‘proper’ carp, I would step up both hook and hooklength.
With the rivers closed, it’s now time to start looking at commercial waters to get your fishing fix – and there’s no better way to keep the bites coming than by fishing the feeder.
Whichever model you use, the swimfeeder is simple to fish with relatively easy rigs, and deadly accurate in terms of placing your hookbait right next to a small pile of feed at up to 60 yards range.
It’s a little early in the year to bank on catching consistently on the pole or waggler, and you can even use the same rod and reel that’s served you so well on the rivers in the past few months. Here are six things to master if you’re planning a session on the swimfeeder over the coming weeks…
1) Choose the right feeder
This is the first consideration when deciding to fish the feeder. A feeder is ideal for when the fish want a bit of bait to get stuck into, but don’t go too mad by picking a big feeder that holds a lot of pellets right now.
Minimal feed will still be best, so that means picking a smallish feeder that’ll drop just a good pinch of bait into the peg on every cast. Method or pellet feeders are both good but the Hybrid feeder from Guru has won over lots of anglers in recent years.
If the water is cold and clear, try changing from feeder to bomb from time to time. The bomb will offer minimal disturbance in the peg while giving you the option to fish a large, highly visible hookbait around minimal feed.
2) Find where the fish are
Depending on the swim, you’ll be faced with several options as to where to fish. The swim could have an island, a far bank, overhanging trees or lily pads that are just beginning to establish themselves again after winter.
All will attract and hold fish, so if your swim has any feature, cast to it. However, don’t be tempted into casting tight up to this feature, as often the water there will be very shallow.
Instead, aim to land the feeder a metre or so away, where the water will be a little deeper. In open water, make the cast to a range that you can comfortably reach and, if that is your plan, where you can feed over the top with a catapult.
3) Use bright baits
Changing hookbaits can be the key to cracking a commercial in early March, as the water will still be a little on the clear side and the fish not yet in full-on feeding mode.
Tried and tested favourites such as hard pellets and dead maggots work brilliantly for smaller fish but colour plays a big part, giving the fish a hookbait that they can easily pick out from a small patch of pellets or groundbait.
Corn is brilliant, but if you want to go down the boilie route a bright yellow, green or pink mini pop-up, dumbell or wafter-type bait can really trigger a response.
4) Feed over the top
You don’t always have to rely on the feed that’s going into the swim via the feeder to keep the fish happy. Loosefeeding pellets over the top of where you’re casting to can pay dividends too.
This is a popular ploy when bomb fishing too, introducing half-a-dozen 6mm or 8mm hard pellets over the top via a catapult every few minutes. This way you can regulate how much feed is going into the peg and work out how the fish are responding to it.
5) Use light hooks and lines
Although spring is just about here, that doesn’t mean that you should switch back to heavy lines and big hooks on a mixed fishery. Erring on the light side will get more bites over five or six hours of fishing, but a balance needs to be struck – go too light and you may get broken by a big fish, whereas too heavy and the fishing will be patchy.
For a typical mixed commercial water when F1s, skimmers and the odd better carp are likely, a hooklink of around 0.12mm matched to 5lb mainline and a size 16 or 18 barbless carp-style hook makes for a balanced set-up. Only if the peg is snaggy or the fish particularly big should you think about stepping up to heavier tackle.
6) Time your casts
With any form of feeder fishing, a big puzzle to solve is how long to leave the feeder out before recasting. On natural waters for bream, or when in search of big carp, this can be up to half-an-hour, but if you are fishing a heavily-stocked commercial water that’s home to small carp, F1s, skimmers, tench and barbel, you can reasonably expect to get bites fairly regularly. You should be aiming to build a swim up over time to create a small area for the fish to feed over.
Casting every five minutes will quickly establish feed on the deck, and if you are using small baits such as maggots and 4mm pellets you should catch within this five-minute window. Only if you change to a bigger bait in search of something that pulls back harder should you leave the rig out that bit longer.
The country’s carp waters are a largely untapped resource for pike anglers and top specimen hunter Paul Garner cashes in on the apex predators
Over the last few decades thousands of gravel pits have been developed as carp fisheries, leaving the other species there virtually neglected. Many of these lakes contain hidden gems that rarely, if ever, succumb to a boilie and bolt-rig approach, none more so than pike, which often live almost unnoticed in many carp fisheries.
As we all know, pike thrive on neglect. It is, therefore, no wonder that there is now some great sport to be had for the enterprising angler who targets these venues. Many carp fisheries operate on a day-ticket basis, enabling anglers looking for other sport to fish alongside the carp anglers for a few pounds. when the banks are much quieter, there is plenty of room to explore the untapped potential of these waters.
One such venue is Sandhurst Lake, set amid the historic Yateley complex in Hampshire. This shallow gravel pit is well known for its stock of more than 400 carp to 40lb-plus, but the other fish residing here are less well known. After hearing a whisper of some great pike sport to be had, Paul Garner decided to investigate its predator potential.
As the sky slowly begins to lighten, Paul surveys the surface of the flat-calm gravel pit looking for the tell-tale dimpling of small bait fish.
He believes this is essential for a successful day’s piking. “The water is just about at its coldest right now, but that doesn’t mean the fish are inactive. On most lakes you will find them shoaled up tight in just one or two areas. Through the day you would never know they were there, but at first and last light they will become active and can be spotted dimpling and rolling. Where the bait fish are concentrated the pike are unlikely to be far away, so it is really important to try to find the bait fish before you start.
“You will also tend to find that the wind will drop at the start and the end of the day. This makes spotting bait fish so much easier than when there is a chop on the water.”
Unfortunately, it is one of those mornings when the bait fish haven’t read the script and, as the sun rises above the horizon, Paul has still seen no signs of their presence, apart from the occasional fish in the middle of the lake. With little to go on, he decides to start fishing as the pike are likely to have a feeding spell in the early morning.
“If I don’t see any signs of bait fish, then my first port of call will be any areas with lots of features, such as overhanging trees, reedy margins, inflows, or snaggy areas. All these are possible holding features and are worth fishing. Normally, if there is a pike present I will get a take pretty quickly, so I will only stay in a swim for an hour before moving. This might sound like a lot of effort, but often the pike will be mainly in one area and I need to find them, rather than wait for them to come to me.
“Travelling light is essential for this style of fishing. All I have today is a small Nash rucksack carrying my tackle, two made-up rods, a small coolbox containing my deadbaits, a large unhooking mat that doubles as a seat, and a big landing net. I can pack up and move swims in minutes, covering lots of water even on a short winter’s day.”
With no trace attached, Paul sets the stop-knot above his float at about six feet and underarm casts to a distance of four rodlengths. He draws the rig slowly back towards the margins, feeling for weed as he goes. After two more casts, he is ready to start fishing.
“The lake is very weedy and actually quite shallow for a gravel pit. There is less weed in the margins, which is the ideal place for a pike to patrol anyway, so I am really pleased that I can fish this close in. Spending five minutes dragging the rig around is time well to check depth and assess weed growth.”
Hooking on a large smelt, Paul clips on his trace and lowers the rig into the margins, just a rodlength out. The process is repeated with the second rod, only this time a herring is cast a little further out to the edge of the weed.
After an hour without a bite, Paul unclips the traces and puts them in his coolbox before loading up his gear and moving to the far end of the lake. Here there’s a line of overhanging trees forming a canopy over the margins of the lake. Finding the water here to be slightly deeper, Paul pushes up the stop-knots on his rigs so that the floats are set at dead depth.
“Using floats not only tells you the depth of the swim, but they are also more sensitive than legering deadbaits and waiting for the alarm to go off. I use sensitive and slim pencil floats with highly visible tops, which I can see at long range. A take is normally signalled by the float lying flat before moving off as a pike picks up the bait and swims away.”
Paul explains the thinking behind his simple float rig. “Of course, you always have to use a wire trace when pike fishing. I never drop below 30lb test wire, as a slight kink may weaken the wire significantly during the fight. Just as important, though, is to use an uptrace above the weight, as this eliminates any chance of a pike catching the line and biting through it. I like to use a 30g weight semi-fixed to the swivel joining the two traces to give enough weight to stop the bait being dragged around, even on a windy day. The hook trace is then attached using a cross-lock swivel, so I can remove it instantly if I want to move swims, or to make unhooking a pike easier.”
Another hour passes and, despite his best efforts, Paul remains fishless. However, a chance conversation with a passing carp angler has Paul quickly packing away his gear and preparing to move. Apparently, the carp angler has spotted several pike cruising along the margins in front of a swim in the middle of the lake and the area is full of small roach, too.
“That’s enough information for me.” declares Paul, as he gets on the move. “If you get wind of pike then move straight away. While we might not think of pike as shoal fish, they often congregate in certain areas of a lake, so I really can’t over emphasise how important it is to keep moving until you find them.”
Ensconced in his new swim, Paul carefully swings both baited rigs into the margins. The weed is much thicker out in the lake, which probably explains why the pike are patrolling the clear channel in the margins.
After only 10 minutes the left float twitches, sending tiny rings in all directions. Paul picks up the rod and, as the float falls flat and then starts to move off, he winds down and lifts into the first pike of the day. After a spirited fight, a beautifully-marked eight-pounder is resting in the landing net.
Within minutes, the other float is sliding across the lake surface and another nice fish is soon on the bank after spending a good proportion of the fight airborne! A third fish follows soon after, before the swim goes quiet. Despite changing baits and twitching them to try to induce a take, no more fish follow and it is obvious that the short feeding spell has either finished or the pike have moved off.
Paul soldiers on, but it eventually becomes clear that three fish will be the final tally. “Unfortunately no bigger pike have shown today. I have heard of fish to over 20lb being caught here this winter, and the carp angler in the next swim has spotted some bigger fish today. Still, to catch three cracking pike on my first visit is still a good result.
“Had I stayed put in my first swim I would certainly have been more comfortable, but would have blanked. Staying mobile was definitely the right plan, as I had no idea where the pike would show up today. It might be harder work, but I have learned a lot about the features in the lake – useful information for future sessions.”
These 9 early spring tips from Jack Funnel will give you the edge over the carp in the coming weeks ahead.
Step 1. Be mobile
Getting on the fish is so important no matter what time of year it is. It seems even more essential in the spring, though, as the fish tend to move round in groups. Where there is one there are normally more.
I like to travel as light as I can, which enables me to move easily. I will move two or three times a day if I need to. I simply keep most of my gear on the barrow and will put up the bivvy once I am settled and on the fish.
Step 2. Pop-ups
I like to fish my baits popped up early in the year. There is often bottom debris and, in some lakes, fresh weed growth. I like to have my bait suspended off this kind of bottom. The fish are not yet feeding hard and have not created feeding spots. They are grazing areas and harvesting the naturals, so something well-presented on top of this is perfect.
I carry a selection of different pop-ups and some work better on different lakes. For example, on some of the lakes I fish, the fishy baits such as Krill pop-ups work best. On other waters, Signatures, which are a lot fruitier, are more productive. I know that a lot of this is to do with the acidity/alkalinity (pH) of the water, with some lakes being more acidic than others, so it is worth playing around with different ones.
Step 3. Bright hookbaits
I know it is a common belief and everyone seems to say it, but bright hookbaits are super-effective in the spring. The carp have most likely not been caught in a while and they often let their guard down. A bright, in-their-face pop-up can be enough to get a bite, and a quick one at that.
I am a big fan of the Signatures and they travel wherever I go. You get three different colours in a tub and they smell fantastic. Whatever it is, fish love them and they are my go-to hookbait in the spring.
Step 4. Check water clarity
This may sound strange but I keep an eye on the clarity of the water for a number of reasons, depending on where I am fishing. If the water is really clear, then I would be tempted to fish with zigs. This would only be the case if there was high air pressure and no fish were being caught off the bottom.
It also makes me more aware of whether or not I need to pay more attention to camouflaging my end tackle to the lake conditions. If the water is coloured, I try to focus more on smell rather than colour.
Step 5. Less can be more
Even if the fish are getting caught, I still try to go in softly with the bait. I don’t like putting in too much as it can ruin your chances. I like to try to build up the swim and, providing what you feed them is right, you can get through a lot of bait.
I like to mix sweetcorn, maggots and Manilla, and the fish love it. I would only ever bait with about half a kilo at most and if I needed to top up, I would. That age-old saying of ‘you can’t take out what you have put it in’ certainly rings true for me.
Step 6. Boost your hookbaits
I like to have my baits really pumping out attraction. As I have mentioned, I don’t always fish over a baited area to put loads of attraction in the swim, so I have to do it with my hookbaits. The sprays are great for this as they add lots more smell to the bait. They are also very thin and light and will easily penetrate the pop-up, which in turn adds more attraction without having to soak it for months at a time.
Step 7. Check the snags
Carp will use any snaggy areas or trees at all times of the year, so it is worth checking them out. If the sun is hitting these spots and is sheltered from the wind, they can be a great place to offer a bait. These kinds of areas can be carp magnets and you can often find them there at all times of the day.
These areas are usually safe from angling pressure too, so my advice would be to fish safely as closely as you can and try to lure them out with a bit of boilie crumb.
Step 8. Try out zig rigs
It has been proven time and time again just how effective zigs can be, especially in the spring. There are often thousands of hatches going on at this time of year and the fish will be gorging on insects.
What’s more, the spring sunshine is like a magnet for the carp, drawing them to the warmer upper layers of the lake. Quite often they will spend most of their time there, day and night, and offering a bait there is the only way of catching them. Again, it is important to look at the weather and see if it there is high air pressure. It is also good to see if anything has been caught off the bottom and, if not, this is the time to get the zigs out.
I carry a selection of coloured foams and play around with various colour combinations and depths. Once you have worked it out, you can be on for a really good session.
Step 9. Get up early
The fish will be showing themselves a lot, especially during the night and early morning. I make a point of being awake at around 2am, even if it is just for 20 minutes or so, and ensure I’m up for first light. It gives me a better chance of tracking down the fish and finding out where they are.
If the fish are not near me, I will move to them no matter what time it is. Time is of the essence when you’re fishing and one man’s complacency can give another angler a session of a lifetime.
It takes a real leap of faith to cast into a vast water such as Boddington Reservoir in the depths of winter and catch a number of carp – they could be anywhere!
However, there are some very simple things you can do to stack the odds in your favour. It’s true that throwing a bomb or feeder out and relying on the law of averages for a carp to find the bait will work – but that’s no good under match conditions.
Ideally, I want a bite every cast to stand any chance of winning a few quid. My 10-point plan for nobbling a few winter carp has worked time and time again. There’s nothing complicated to it, no herculean casts or fancy rigs needed. It’s all about getting the basics right and then making small changes throughout the day to get the tip to go round.
Step 1 - Set up comfortably
There are no prizes for being the first angler to catch, so take your time setting out your stall so that when you begin fishing everything will be to hand. You could be waiting up to half-an-hour for a bite so when it comes, you don’t want to be groping around for the landing net. Equally, make sure your seatbox is set comfortably.
Having pellet banders, Method moulds, pellet cones and spare hooklinks to hand is also vital, as is an array of bait and additives. That way I don’t have to get off my box and faff about looking for some pop-ups – and miss the inevitable bite!
Step 2 - Feeder or Bomb
Winter carp fishing revolves around fishing the tip, and the first decision to make is whether to use a bomb or a feeder. I’ll look at how the lake is fishing before I even arrive on the bank so I have an idea in my head as to whether the fish will want a bit of feed or not.
If they will, it’s a Hybrid feeder (above) in conjunction with my favourite hookbait, an 8mm Chocolate Orange Wafter, but if the water is cold and weights are not brilliant I’ll think about beginning on the bomb with a pellet cone and two yellow 8mm wafters – a great bait when the going gets tough.
Step 3 - The right distance
It’s unlikely that the carp will be at short range, but you don’t need to hit the horizon. Around 50m is a good starting point, so you will need a rod that can do the job – something around 12ft or 13ft. I deliberately begin by casting shorter because I know that the fish will push further out into the lake as the day goes on.
This means that my final cast of the day will often be the longest. Begin fishing at the range of your casting and you’ll only be left with the option of coming back towards you.That’s no good.
Step 4 - Clipping up
Accuracy is important when every bite is at a premium, so that means using your line clip and a pair of distance measuring sticks so you can say with certainty where you will be casting to. Often, if I catch a fish, I will throw back to the same spot to see if its mate is about but without a line clip, the cast will never be 100 per cent accurate.
Step 5 - Fish positively
You may only catch six carp in a typical winter session and end up waiting up to 40 minutes for each bite. The very worst thing that can happen in this instance is to lose the fish that you hook by gearing up too lightly with a size 18 hook and a light hooklink.
I want to be confident that when I hook a carp, I will get it in, so that means a size 10 Guru QM1 hook and a 0.17mm hooklink. Remember, it’s not about getting a bite as soon as you can, so delicate rigs aren’t as important as in summer.
Step 6 - Go left and then right
Not only do I vary how far I cast into the lake – I also change how far down or far up the swim I go. By this, I mean that I will cast 10 or 20 yards to the left or right of my starting point directly in front of me.
A carp may well be sitting just 10 yards away, but in winter lethargic fish won’t move on to the spot where your feeder or bomb is sat. By winding in and casting down the peg, however, your chances of catching are instantly increased.
Step 7 - Timing your casts
A stopwatch is a vital part of my winter match fishing carp kit as it lets me know how long the rig has been out in the swim. I pay a lot of attention to how long it takes me to get a bite, and I’ve found that between 20 and 35 minutes is the optimum time for a bite to come. Naturally I need to know at a glance when I’m approaching the ‘witching hour’.
Normally, I will wind in again after half-an-hour but if the lake is fishing very hard then I may leave the bait out another 15 minutes.
Step 8 - Method ball sizes
These are the two Method balls I use – ‘skinny’ or ‘fat’, based on how many micro pellets are moulded on to them. The skinny ball is used at the start as it puts a minimal amount of bait into the swim, working on the assumption that the carp won’t initially want a lot of bait.
If it turns out that the fish are feeding reasonably well, I’ll change to the fat ball with double the amount of pellets to give them what they want. This change tends to happen in the second half of the match when things have warmed up a little.
Step 9 - Changing hookbaits
Changing what’s on the hook can trigger a big change in what you catch at any time, but especially in winter. You may get no response on a wafter, whereas a stack of three bits of corn can see the tip fly round. We all have favourite baits and mine is an 8mm Chocolate Orange Wafter for starters.
But if I am getting no response, my next cast might see me change to a corn stack, a yellow wafter or a small, highly visible pop-up. Often, just a change in colour can make all the difference.
Step 10 - Using additives
I know a lot of anglers who think additives are nonsense but I think this all boils down to confidence – I don’t think they can do any harm, especially in winter. I always carry a bottle of Almond Power Smoke Korda Goo, which I drape on to the hookbait inside the Method ball. This releases a lasting green cloud as it breaks down.
Bread can be changed too by dyeing it from its natural white colour, and almost any hookbait on your tray can be dipped in an additive just before casting out.
We’ve had a funny winter as far as fishing on rivers is concerned, with no real floods and the extra water that comes with it, combined with short spells of mild and then freezing cold weather that adds up to testing conditions for the angler and a less than enthusiastic response from the fish!
Roach in particular have some weeks been ten a penny and then absent a few days later but one fish that’s always willing to have a go, even in clear, cold water is the skimmer. On some venues they’re a bonus but on others, they are your main weight-building fish and can give you 15lb to 20lb in a match – provided you fish correctly for them of course.
Winter skimmer fishing on a river is nothing like summer when you can bosh the bait in and fish very positively with rigs and big baits. Scaling down is needed and a different approach to how you feed must be adopted but you’ll still need a fair bit of groundbait. The idea is to tempt the fish into having a go every time you feed as opposed to introducing a big bed of bait and fishing over this all-day.
The River Ouse through Ely Town Centre is stacked with skimmers and although it isn’t a match venue as such, it bears a strong resemblance to many deep, slow flowing town centre venues that are popular in winter. With over 15ft of water on the pole line and a variable flow, it certainly isn’t a river for fishing on auto pilot as can happen when going after skimmers in warmer weather!
Pole V feeder
The first thing to consider is whether to fish the pole or feeder? You’ll catch on both of course and is such deep water, it can be tempting to pick up the rod but taking on 15ft-plus isn’t as hard as it seems provided your rig is heavy enough and the groundbait mix is stiff enough to get straight to the bottom. The pole also offers far superior presentation, allowing me to cover more of the swim and inch the float through the peg gently, tempting the fish into taking the bait. In contrast, the feeder only lets you fish the hookbait in one spot and I think you miss out on a lot of baits my limiting yourself this way.
Finding the right spot
I wouldn’t bother messing about with fishing on a shelf or a slope in winter. Bream and skimmers always prefer a flat bottom in the maximum depth and at Ely, there are two shelves before you find the main depth. I then fish just past this final shelf where the flow is at its steadiest.
Floats - go as light as possible
So in deep water, you think it’d be right to fish a big float, say of around 3g but that’s actually not the case! I’m a big fan of fishing as light as I can get away with because I think this not only produces better presentation and offers less resistance to a fish when holding the rig still but you also miss fewer bites than using a heavier float. So in my Ely peg, which has a reasonable flow, that means a 2g MP Roach using an olivette and four No 11 droppers underneath strung out to cover the final few feet of the swim. If the river was flowing more slowly, I may even consider dropping down to a 1g float.
How far overdepth?
River bream fishing does involve setting the rig overdepth but not massively in winter when bites can be very shy. I’ll plumb up and then slide the float a couple of inches up the line and that’s about it. This then allows me to inch the rig through the peg without it dragging under every time. If I was wanting to go any more overdepth, then I would be essentially aiming to hold the float dead still and I think you’d be better off fishing the feeder or a pole feeder in this instance.
There’s a bit of a nod to canal fishing with my hooks, lines and elastics and the first element is the hook, a Kamasan B511 in size 16. This is a superbly fine, light hook that’s still capable of landing a bonus perch or bream and provided that the pole elastic is soft enough, there will be no dramas from bumped fish or bent hooks! I rig up a No 6 Matrix Solid elastic through the top three of the pole and set it soft so that plenty comes out and it acts as a great shock absorber. Likewise, line is 0.14mm Matrix Power Micron to a hooklink of the same material in 0.10mm. Using a big float doesn’t mean that you have to use big hooks and thick lines too! I then have around 1.5m of line between float and pole tip to let me run the float down the peg when needed.
Cup in – don’t ball it!
Let’s look at groundbait now, perhaps the most important part of any type of skimmer fishing. Before I explain the mix, I think it is important to impress that cupping the balls of feed in rather than throwing them is vital. Throw several balls in and you cannot say with any certainty, how accurate you have been. This is fine in summer but not on a cold winter’s day. My aim is to create one spot where all of the groundbait ends up and from this I can then work around the area, either holding the rig tight on top of it or running it below or above the spot.
The magic skimmer mix
Now onto the mix. This needs to be heavy enough to go straight to the bottom in 15ft of water and I go for Dynamite Baits Frenzied Hemp Black, Silver X Roach and brown crumb in a ratio of one part Hemp Black to half a part of the other two mixes. The finished groundbait is not mega sticky to the touch but if mixed wet enough, will hold together and go straight down. To this I add a smattering of casters, dead pinkies and hemp, which skimmers love. Hookbait is simply double dead red maggot with one hooked through the flat end and the other through the pointed end.
When to top up
At the start I will pot in five balls of groundbait and from there I see how the fish respond. When the bites fade I will pop in another ball of if nothing is happening, another goes in after 20 minutes and this then sets the pattern. You can get through a lot of groundbait this way so I mix up at least three kilos for a match. What I have found in winter is that you get an initial flurry of bites from that opening hit of bait before it then goes dead. The fish are still there but they’re not feeding with any amount of positivity. You need to give them another ball to get a few of them to move back over the feed area and have a go. Typically, you can expect to catch two or three skimmers or get half a dozen indications before you need to feed again.
Work out how the fish want it
Hold the rig still or run it through? There’s no definitive answer to this and it can change from day to day. I begin by inching the rig over the groundbait area very slowly at around half the pace of the flow as this tells me immediately where the fish are in the peg – they could on top of the feed or well below it. If I catch on top of the feed then the sensible thing to do is hold the rig back on top of it but if I get a few fish below the feed area, then running will be best.
Don’t wait for the float to bury
I leave all of the float bristle on show so that I can drag a bit of line overdepth but when the water is cold, bites are never full-blooded affairs. The only indication you may get will look more like something from a little roach – they’re not though! Skimmers can be very, very shy and often with the set-up I use, the float will lift a little and then the tip sinks a fraction. Either strike at this or if holding the rig still, let the rig go slack and run for a few inches before striking as this allows the fish to get hold of the bait confidently.
Fish with Polly!
If you fancy brushing up on a bit of canal roach fishing or perhaps learning a completely new method, Mark offers fishing days on a range of venues. From group sessions to one to one coaching, birthdays or corporate days, he can offer the lot on any type of venue and any method. Bait is supplies – all you need to bring is your kit!
To book a day with Mark, give him a call on 07557 052053 or e-mail him at email@example.com and he will be in touch. Check out his website at http://www.markpollardfishingdays.com/ for more information.
There are days when fishing a float shotted with a group of shot or an olivette close to the hook will catch you a lot more fish than a strung-out, lightly shotted rig. Even in water as shallow as 2ft, a bulk shotted rig can work wonders particualrly for species like chub and barbel.
Years ago, there were very few float choices for these approaches but, in more recent times, there are plenty of choices to suit a large number of situations.
All my bulk fishing is based around three types of float patterns, and while there are different designs within these families, the basic approach is the same with a bulk and sometimes (but not always) a drop shot.
I carry a big selection of floats for this sort of work and they range in size from 2g all the way up to a 10g. Add to this equation a mix of thicknesses in the hollow bristles or balsa tops and you will quickly realise that it’s a type of fishing that requires plenty of options if you’re going to cover all situations.
Olivettes or shot?
For bulk-shotted rigs I prefer to use olivettes over shot. They are neater and less prone to tangling. The ones I use can be fixed to the line by pulling a small piece of tight-fitting pole elastic through the hole and trimming it flush with the lead.
This fixes the olivette in place and stops it moving, unless you actually want to slide it yourself.
I use these in sizes from 0.40g all the way up to 10g.
SHALLOW SWIMS (2ft - 4ft deep)
There was a time when I only used to attack these sorts of depths with a short, stubby balsa float but in recent years I’ve had a lot of success by cutting down the stems of small 2g and 3g Avon and Bolo floats.
As there isn’t much depth to play with on this sort of swim, you’re better off not using a drop shot and instead fixing an olivette or a bulk of shot about 1ft to 18ins above the hook.
When I’m fishing in this way I’m usually targeting barbel or chub, so there isn’t a need for too much finesse as the water will be fast. I use 5lb or 6lb line in these situations and tie the hook direct to the mainline.
Because these swims aren’t very deep I would always sway towards loosefeeding with maggots, casters and hemp or fishmeal pellets.
MEDIUM DEPTH (4ft - 8ft deep)
This depth is where bulk rigs are ideal for a wide variety of species. The choice of float is determined by the species that you are fishing for. If the target fish are roach and dace and the flow is slight then the No4 and No5 Bolos are perfect.
For faster moving water, I use the No1 and No2 models with thicker hollow bristles and for very fast water, the choice is either a No3 Bolo for fishing out in the river or an Avon float for close in work.
To choose the right size float, always plumb the depth carefully before you actually put a float on the line.
Check the depth close in and well out as there could be a big difference and once you’re happy that you know what the depths are at different points in the river, use 1g to 2g of float capacity for every 2ft of water. Depending on the flow, this could mean a 4g or an 8g float in 8ft of water.
Position an olivette or a bulk of shot around 18in to 2ft from the hook with a single No6 drop shot about 10in from the hook.
Most of the time I would use loose feed for this depth range but there are times when groundbait can work well in conjunction with a bulk rig. This would usually be mixed with soil to a ration of 75per cent groundbait and 25per cent soil, with a small ball every cast.
DEEP SWIMS (8ft - 14ft deep)
Bulk rigs really come into their own in very deep water, and it was this sort of situation that first alerted me to the effectiveness of the approach way back in 1992, when I watched the Italian National team practising for the World Championships in Ireland.
I learned a lot that day, and ever since then Bolo floats have played a big part in my fishing.
For slow-moving water, the choice is a larger size of No4 or No5 Bolo, and as the speed of the flow picks up, the choice is either a big No1 or No2 Bolo or a big Avon. As a general guide, 1g to 2g of float capacity for every 3ft of depth is about right so a 10ft deep swim would demand a float taking from 5g to10g, depending on flow speed.
With the bigger float I change from a No6 dropper to a No4 and it works in just the same way.
In these depths, groundbait plays much more of a part in my approaches and if the river is flowing fast I use a 50/50 mix of groundbait and soil.
The extra weight helps to get the balls of groundbait down to the bottom quickly but the balls break up fast when they’re on the riverbed, allowing loose particles like casters and hemp to attract fish into the swim.
Dave Harrell is recognised as one of the country’s best-ever river anglers. He has fished for England at World and European level and now runs his own tackle company. For more information go to: www.daveharrellangling.com
It’s all too easy to write off catching fish at short range on winter commercial fisheries as a combination of clearish water and low temperatures makes even the most optimistic of anglers resigned to catching nothing a few metres out from the bank.
But according to England star Des Shipp, you’re missing a massive trick by giving a short line the cold shoulders, especially if your venue is home to big, wily F1s that don’t get caught fishing at longer ranges on the pole or feeder.
As a match angler, Preston Innovations-backed Des knows only too well the value of feeding a fishing a swim just 5m or 6m out, even when there’s ice on the water. He’s had many matches that have sent him from zero to hero in a hectic hour’s bagging on a short pole line and the exact same principles apply to a day’s pleasure fishing that might not have yielded much fishing further out.
“Although 6m out is not a natural patrol route for F1s as such, they will still move closer to the bank as the day goes on,” Des advised. “For that reason, this short line isn’t one that you’ll empty from the word go and it may be that you only catch for 30 minutes right at the end of the day but this short period of time can produce 10 big F1s in as many chucks and turn a poor day into something that makes the grinning and bearing of winter worthwhile.”
The right distance
“The first job is to decide where to fish and my general rule is to go around a top kit of my pole plus two sections out, which is around 5m or 6m,” Des explained. “However, there needs to be the right depth here and I’d look for between 4ft and 5ft on a flat bottomed area. If the bottom is sloping at this range, that’s not ideal so I’d keep adding sections until I find a flat spot.”
Nothing but maggots
“I leave pellets and corn for fishing longer and on the short line, I use just maggots, which are brilliant for winter fishing on commercials,” he said. “It’s true that they pull in silverfish, which can be a nuisance but if the roach and skimmers are of a decent stamp, I don’t mind catching them while waiting for the F1s to have a go. I take three pints of red and white maggots plus a few fluoro pinkies.”
All in the timing
“I wouldn’t fish short for at least two hours because firstly, you won’t catch F1s at short range this quickly and secondly, I like to give my long pole or feeder line the chance to build up,” Des explained. “By working out how many bites I am getting when fishing long and how good the fishing is, I can then make the decision as to when I have a look short. By this, I mean that if I am getting lots of bites on the long pole and the fish are of a decent size, this tells me that I can expect to get bites short a lot earlier. If the fishing is hard, it might not be as solid close in.”
Have some faith!
“I’d never write off the short line as in the final hour the F1s can rock up and you can get one every drop in so early on, you may only be having a quick look short before reverting back to the long pole,” he said. “If you catch a few F1s then don’t hammer the peg by staying on it. If the bites then fade, that’s the signal to rest the short line for 15 minutes so that the fish can regain their confidence. If you only catch little fish when you change to the short line then I would also come off it quickly as there’s no point in fishing for them. You’d be better off on the long pole with pellets trying to catch an F1, carp or big skimmer.”
“Because you are fishing at short range, you can feed maggots by hand and this is good for two reasons. It makes you disciplined into feeding all of the time – using a catapult or pot takes longer and it is easy to neglect feeding short when fishing the long pole,” explained Des. “Feeding by hand takes just seconds to do and you can still fish long while doing it. I begin by feeding every four or five minutes with half a dozen maggots but will up this if there are a lot of silverfish present and I think that there’s not much ending up being left in the peg for the F1s. This is the second advantage of feeding by hand in that I can change how much and how often I feed with ease so I may go from half a dozen maggots every five minutes to 50 maggots every 15 minutes. Hookbait is double maggot (one red and one white) or a single red maggot and single fluoro pinkie.”
“I will have two rigs ready for the short line with the aim of catching just as the bait settles and then hard on the bottom,” he revealed. “The trouble with F1s is that even in winter, they will be off bottom slightly but you won’t catch them by fishing off bottom so you need a set-up that lets the bait fall slowly in the last few feet of the swim.”
“In ideal conditions, that rig uses a 4x12 F1 Maggot float shotted with a string bulk of No 10 shot in the final 2ft of the swim but I also have a positive rig with a bigger 4x14 float taking a conventional bulk and two No 10 droppers. This will come into play if the fishing is good and I am catching well.”
“Lines are 0.13mm Powwrline as main to a hooklink of 0.10mm for just F1s or 0.12mm Precision Power if there are carp about. Elastic is 9h Hollo and the hook is a size 18 PR412, upped to a size 18 PR434 if the fishing is very good but it is important to match the hook to the strength of line. By this, I mean that the 412 hook is very light and not as strong as 0.12mm line and so is more likely to break first – the 434 however, is perfect for stronger lines. The rig is then set to be fished around the body-length of the float overdepth but at times I have gone up to six inches overdepth in windy weather or on a towing lake.”
Fish past the feed
“By using 2.5ft of line between pole tip and float, I have the option to flick the rig past the feed should I be getting too many line bites or foul hooking fish by fishing over the feed,” said Des. “F1s are well-known for hanging off the back of the feed and although there may not be many there, you won’t get silly bites either.”
There aren’t many tactics that will tempt bites from sluggish commercial carp at the moment, but popped-up bread is one that can bring a response says Jamie Hughes..
With their appetites hit by the freezing conditions, mirrors and commons are proving hard to fool – but Jamie Hughes has kept the rod-tip hooping round by combining rod and line tactics and this supermarket favourite.
There’s more to it than just chucking out a bit of bread and hoping for the best, and this week the MAP-backed star reveals his winning approach with winter carp.
“It’s understandable why people would instantly go for a small hookbait but something big is much better,” said Jamie.
“It will stand out a mile in the clear water and a big carp or F1 can slurp up a big mouthful of bread with minimal effort.
“I punch out discs of bread and then thread them on to a hair rig. I will have no hesitation in using up to six discs at once to make a really obvious bait.
“The buoyancy of the bread will pop it up off the bottom. The lead will sink to the lakebed, taking the bread with it, and the bait will then pop up.
“If you use a foot-long hooklength, that is how far off bottom your bait will be presented.
“Sometimes I will place half a 6mm Bag ‘Em Matchbaits pop-up boilie on the hair rig as well to make it even more buoyant.”
Vary the depth
“The coldest water in the lake will sometimes sink to the bottom and with this in mind, fish could be sat up in the water in the warmer layers. It’s a matter of trial and error to find out where they are.
“I will start popping the bait up six inches and will keep increasing the length of my hooklength until I start getting indications.
“Don’t be surprised if you end up catching with the bread popped up three foot off the deck.”
“You might only get a handful of bites so you need to have faith that your tackle is up to landing every single fish.
“Mainline is 5lb MAP Optimum to 0.15mm Power Optex for F1s and small carp or 0.19mm for proper carp, finished off with a size 16 eyed PR36 hook.
“I also use an inline olivette instead of a traditional leger, stopped at the hooklength by a quick-change bead. . It creates less disturbance when hitting the water but is just as aerodynamic as a bomb for casting.
“I carry a range of sizes, from 4g up to 12g, but on a typical commercial fishery where you’ll only be casting 30 yards or so, an 8g olivette will do nicely.”