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.