Andy Findlay is one of Britain’s best ever swimfeeder anglers. He’s innovative, understands carp and how to catch them in the cold. Now he’s revealing his secrets...
As heavy cloud scudded overhead Andy Findlay’s feeder rod lurched into a wide pulsing curve.
Despite stormy winds whipping the surface of Lake 2 at Leicestershire’s Makins fishery, ‘The Fin’ was in serious carp ‘bagging’ mode.
For three hours every cast bar two had yielded a bite and he was sitting behind a huge keepnet containing 50lb of carp.
Slipping the mesh under another battling 3lb mirror, there was no doubt the swimfeeder expert had got his winter approach sorted.
You see as far as Andy Findlay is concerned winter is not a time to fear - it is simply a change of season that needs to be thought about and prepared for.
In a nutshell, as the weather gets colder and catching fish usually gets tougher, Andy implements a series of changes to his swimfeeder tackle and techniques that are solely designed to keep the bites coming.
In this feature he reveals 10 of his most important fish-catching tips for the months ahead.
None of his ideas require you to spend a fortune on new tackle, or learn skills that would test the best anglers in Britain.
His ideas are simple to learn and easy to implement but they are fabulously effective.
Our message to you is simple – don’t worry about winter, just follow Andy Findley’s advice and you’ll keep the fish coming.
1. ACCURATE CASTING
CASTING accuracy is absolutely vital in winter.
During coldwater conditions fish don’t move around much, don’t expand energy and don’t require lots of food, you must concentrate the reduced feeding activity in one area.
Put simply if your casting accuracy is shot to pieces fish can have free meals a long way away from your hookbait.
By contrast, if your feeder always lands in the same area all your feed will be concentrated there and the fish will be drawn towards the hookbait. You’ll get more bites.
To boost his casting accuracy at the start of the session Andy threads his line through the rod rings then ties it to a small leger weight.
He then casts to the spot he wants to fish, when he’s happy it’s landed correctly he slips the line in the clip on reel spool. The leger is then replaced by the swimfeeder.
As long as he aims his cast at the same far bank feature to get the right direction, the distance of every subsequent cast will be fixed by the line pulling tight into the clip.
The feeder will land in the same place every cast.
At Makins Andy displayed the value of accurate casting.
“I’ve picked this swim because it is opposite an island with deep water running right up to it,” he said.
“Carp shoal up in winter and in this lake they pack into a few of the deepest areas near the islands.”
Replacing his leger with his feeder rig Andy’s first cast was fired at the island.
With his rod pointing skywards, to allow the carbon to cushion the feeder as the line pulled tight, Andy also dabbed his finger on the line pouring off the spool as the feeder neared its target.
Within a split second the line pulled tight, the rod tip arced and the small feeder gently flopped onto the surface.
It had landed three feet from the island margin.
“Perfect,” he said, “that’ll get a bite...” Sixty seconds later he was playing his first carp of the day!
Clipping up does have one drawback though. If you hook a really big fish that sets off like an express train, it can snap the line in the clip.
You’ve got to be prepared for this eventuality and it was noticeable Andy always kept a sideways bend in his rod and never allowed it to point directly at the fish.
If a big carp did suddenly take off round the island he could let the bend in the rod absorb the power long enough for him to quickly unclip the line as it came off the spool.
2. SHRINK YOUR HOOKBAIT
WHEN feeder fishing in summer, Andy uses hefty hookbaits to avoid the attentions of voracious roach and skimmer bream and select the bigger carp. In winter he turns this logic on its head.
“Big baits just don’t produce in winter,” he explained, “not only do the fish not want such a big meal but it also makes it harder to fine down the size of your hooks and lines. In winter I use really small punches of meat.”
To demonstrate the difference in his approach Andy punched out a typical summer hookbait using a 11mm Korum bait punch.
Then he got the two smallest sizes of punch available, 5mm and 7mm, and cored out some typical winter baits.
As the photo (below) display, the contrast is stark between the big summer bait and the mini winter offerings.
3. BE VISUAL
IN addition to being cold, Winter stillwaters share one other key characteristic – they go clear.
Pools that have had heavily coloured water all summer tend to fall clear at this time of year as feeding activity reduces in cold weather.
This greatly helps fish to feed by sight and to take advantage of this Andy makes greater use of a highly visual bait - sweetcorn.
As the sequence shows, The Fin has a specific way of presenting his hookbait. Rather than hooking his bait or stacking a couple of grains on top of each other, Andy threads the bait on his hair rig sideways.
As he explained: “Two pieces of corn laying flat on the bottom look identical to the freebies and maximises the visual appeal. The flat sides of the corn shine up from the bottom of the lake and the fish home in on it.”
4. SCALE DOWN HOOK SIZES
WHEN fishing commercial stillwaters in warm weather Andy doesn’t take chances - he uses size 10 or 12 Preston PR27 hooks. But in winter such a large hook lacks finesse.
According to Andy, the failure to scale down hook size is one of the most common mistakes anglers make: “Lots of people just don’t realise the difference hook size can make. When you’re using smaller hookbaits and the fish can inspect your rigs more easily, you must reduce your hook size.
“Instead of using a size 10 and a big punch of meat I’ll scale down to tiny pieces of meat hair rigged beneath a size 18 PR27. Believe me, smaller hooks mean more bites.”
5. CUT YOUR HOOKLINK DIAMETER
IN recent years a trend has emerged whereby hooklink lines tend to be quoted in terms of their diameter rather than the breaking strain.
The reason for this is that top match anglers have recognised that finer diameter line produces more bites.
While it might seem pointless to scale down from 0.19mm diameter line to 0.13mm, Andy is certain it makes a difference to catch rates: “Not only is thinner line less visible,” he said, “but the thinner diameter helps the hookbait act more naturally.”
6. REDUCE YOUR SWIMFEEDER SIZE
EACH swimfeeder you cast out dispenses a quantity of feed into your swim.
In summer, when fish have a ravenous appetite, using a large open-end or Method feeder is a favourite tactic for ‘The Fin’. Within reason, the larger the pile of groundbait he injects into his swim the more fish he catches.
In winter Andy reverses this thinking. When fish aren’t so hungry he cuts back the supply of food to increase the chances of one picking up the hookbait.
As the photos show (above and below), swapping from a large feeder to a small one dramatically reduces the feed you inject into your peg.
In the case of a Method feeder (above), by replacing the large Korum in-line feeder he uses in summer with the small size model, he more than halves the quantity of bait he introduces each cast.
When using his favourite winter tactic - the openend feeder stuffed with soft pellets - Andy also dramatically reduces the availability of free offerings.
In summer he uses a large cage design packed with well over 100 pellets, but by reducing the size of his feeder to a mini Drennan model he cuts the number of loosefed pellets to around 50.
7. USE A LOWER BREAKING STRAIN MAINLINE
WHAT difference can reducing the breaking strain of your mainline possibly make to your catches on the feeder?
Surely it’s the hooklink line at the business end, right next to the hook, that makes the difference?
While the diameter of the hooklength is vital Andy Findlay also believes the mainline makes a difference, not because the fish will be scared of it but because it is easier to cast accurately.
In summer, when he’s casting big swimfeeders, The Fin uses 6lb breaking strain Maxima monofilament.
It is a resilient, stretchy line that withstands the punishment of casting a heavy, loaded feeder.
But 6lb mono is a large diameter line with significant resistance as it flies through the air. In windy conditions especially this means the feeder can be dragged off line when it is cast at its target.
As Andy stressed at the start of the day, casting accurately to concentrate all the bait in one area is essential in winter.
To help him do this he respools with 4lb mono at this time of year.
Not only is it tough enough to withstand casting the smaller feeder, but the reduced diameter also slips through the air more slickly. This helps him accurately arrow the feeder at his target area.
8. BALANCE YOUR ROD
TALK to top anglers like Findlay, Nudd, Scotthorne or Hayes and they’ll often mention that they ‘balance’ their end tackle with their fishing rod - what on earth does this mean?
Put simply the term ‘balance’ is the principle of matching your hook size and line strength with the action of your rod.
For example, if you are using a big hook with large baits for big fish you should also use higher breaking strain lines and powerful rods that can cope with large specimens.
In summer, when he’s using strong hooks and line Andy feeder fishes with an old Preston barbel rod boasting a 1.75lb test curve. But in winter this quest for ‘balance’ necessitates a rod change.
Using the barbel rod with a size 18 hook and 0.13mm diameter line (approx 4lb 12oz breaking strain) is a recipe for disaster - the rod is too powerful for the line and hook. Lost fish would be inevitable.
Instead when Andy switches to lighter lines and smaller hooks he swaps over to a Korum V2 12ft medium carp feeder rod.
Available for around £90-£100 the rod is much softer and more forgiving. It allows the angler to fight a fish without placing excessive pressure on the light line or tiny hookhold.
“You don’t need to buy loads of different rods, the barbel rod and the V2 meet all my feeder requirements from summer through to winter,” the 36-year-old Barsby angler explained.
9. CHANGE YOUR GROUNDBAIT
IF you are using an open-end or Method feeder, then winter is the time to think carefully about your mix.
In summer anglers often use groundbaits containing pellets, corn and other chunks of feed to keep the carp scoffing.
But in winter such a ‘heavy’ food groundbait can be too rich for fishes limited feeding activity. Their appetites are satisfied by the groundbait before they eat the hookbait.
To combat this Andy switches to a fine textured groundbait containing lots of smell but not much food.
10. HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE HOOKBAIT
MAGGOTS are a useless hookbait for catching large fish on many commercial fisheries in summer.
The ravenous shoals of small roach, rudd and skimmers that populate most mixed fisheries will pounce on a maggot within seconds of it hitting the water.
But in winter the huge ranks of really small fish dramatically reduce their feeding intensity, this gives anglers the opportunity to use maggots to try and tease a bite.
In winter Andy often relies on dead maggots.
“I rate dead maggots in winter,” he said, “two or three dead grubs on a size 20 PR 27 hook is a visual bait that carp like eating.”
NOW TIE ANDY'S FEEDER RIG...