The bait thermometer

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The temperature has been up and down like a yo-yo over the last few weeks, anything from seriously sub-zero up to a balmy double figures.

Fish, being cold-blooded, are the same temperature as the water they swim in, so even small changes have a massive effect on them.

Whereas warm-blooded animals need to eat more when it is cold, to generate heat, the opposite is true for fish in our rivers and stillwaters.

Therefore, having a rough idea of the water temperature and whether it is rising or falling can have a massive impact on the baits you use. Even a change of 0.1ºC can make a difference to your catches.

Most of the time you won’t even need a thermometer to make your bait choice as if you keep an eye on what’s going on around you the indicators are there to see.

You should be aware that the air temperature is not necessarily a reflection of the water temperature.

For example, a warm day after several snowy ones will see the snow melt and water temperatures plummet.

It might be pleasant to fish, but your chances of catching are reduced because of the colder water. Conversely, a frosty day after several mild ones might yield surprisingly good results.

My bait thermometer has been put together to give you a guide to what baits to use, and when.

0-5° CENTIGRADE

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Once the water temperature drops this low, sport can be tough as carp will be eating very little, but on well stocked venues with the right bait you will still catch. This is the time to dig out the really bright baits – yellow, pink and white are my favourites – and pump up the flavours by using dips.

Keep your feed to the bare minimum. Often, just the hookbait is enough, as long as you are on fish, and it pays to search the swim by casting around until you find them. While you can catch carp when the temperature is this low, great sport can be had with more cold water-tolerant species, like roach, chub and ide, so it might pay to think about targeting these species instead.

TARGET SPECIES

Carp can be caught, but don’t expect to bag-up. Consider fishing for roach, chub and ide instead for a great day’s sport.

BEST BAITS

Super-bright mini-boilies, hair-rigged corn and bread discs are all really visual and work well for carp in the cold. ‘Blown’ pellets, that have a light colour, can also work, but remember to rely on the pulling power of the hookbait and keep feed to an absolute minimum.

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5-10° CENTIGRADE

From mid-November until late spring you’re likely to be confronted with water temperature in this range.

Encouraging the fish to feed confidently is what it is all about, and that means getting what you feed, and how much, spot-on. Single hookbaits will catch, but not enough to bag-up, and feeding too much will soon kill a swim so start off with a small amount of feed and keep it going in regularly.

TARGET SPECIES

Carp sport can be very good when the temperature is rising, and bream are another species that are quite cold-water tolerant.

BEST BAITS

‘Live baits’ such as maggots and worms are my first choices. Chopped worm is an exceptional attractor and will keep fish in the swim looking for food. Maggots come a close second, but don’t go overboard on the feed.

A couple of pints is enough to catch a big bag of carp.

If boilies are your thing then look for birdfood-based ones that are easy to digest, and consider using 10mm baits.

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10-18° CENTIGRADE

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I call this the ‘Goldilocks zone’ for carp and most coarse fish. The temperature is neither so cold that it will stop the fish feeding, or so hot that they will start laying up and basking. Most venues will be in this range from about May until November.

I normally switch to dark-coloured baits at these water temperatures as the fish are going to be very active and aware of their surroundings, so a bright bait won’t be needed to attract them.

TARGET SPECIES

Carp, bream and tench will be feeding hard in this range, so the Method feeder works really well, and it can pay to bait heavily.

BEST BAITS

Pellets are my number one choice. The fish will be feeding hard and coarse pellets are the ideal food for them. For bigger carp, fishmeal based boilies work exceptionally well in this temperature range.

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18° CENTIGRADE-PLUS

Carp, tench and barbel love warm water, but once the water gets this warm its capacity to hold oxygen drops massively, and it can be this instead that stops the fish from feeding. Often the carp will be basking on the top, enjoying the sun’s warmth on their backs. This is when surface fishing, the pellet waggler and fishing with zig rigs – in fact, any method that presents a bait up in the water – really comes into its own.

TARGET SPECIES

Carp on the surface and up in the water, also great tench sport early and late in the day.

BEST BAITS

Floating pellets and dog biscuits, bread crust and Zig Bugs all work well for fishing just below or on the surface. If I am fishing on the bottom then I will normally switch to particle baits, such as sweetcorn, as this passes through the fish very quickly.

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GAUGING THE TEMPERATURE

Obviously, most of us will have no idea what the water temperature is going to be before we go fishing, but we can collect a lot of clues from the weather forecast and make a pretty good prediction.

Most TV and radio reports are not precise enough. Much better are forecasts for your local area on websites such as MetCheck.

I have several weather Apps on my phone and the one I tend to use the most often is called WindGuru, because this gives a very precise and reliable forecast.

First, look at the day and night time temperatures. A big difference between these figures normally means the water will chill slightly at night, which will make the fishing harder.

Similar day and night temperatures offer much better prospects.

Next, look to see if the temperature each day is going up or down in the days leading up to your session. This will tell you the temperature trend – rising temperatures, especially in winter, mean the fishing will be better.

When you get to the bank, take the water temperature with a thermometer, and check it regularly to see if it is rising or falling. Most good tackle shops will stock both the older brass thermometers and the latest digital versions.

I prefer the greater accuracy digital variety. Used while I am fishing, this will tell me if the temperature is rising or falling.

Temperatures that are rising, even if only by a fraction of a degree, will mean the fish will be more receptive to feeding and you can use more bait.

Inside a fish...

One of the most encouraging traits of modern fishing is the greater interest anglers have in looking after the fish they catch.

But to ensure the fish you catch are released fit and strong, here is the definitive guide to a fish's internal organs so you can avoid causing any accidental damage.

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1 - Gills

Gills of fish are for breathing. The gills sit behind the gill cover and, in a healthy fish, appear a bright red colour. The gills are extremely efficient at extracting oxygen from water allowing the fish to function normally. They can extract over 80% of the oxygen in the water passing over them (average person is around 4%). This efficiency comes at a price however. To get the oxygen in, the tissue is very thin, typically just seven thousandths of a millimetre. This makes them  very fragile so the gill cover protects them from damage. Rough handling can easily damage them so anglers should try and avoid touching or handling a fish around the gills. The oxygen the fish extracts is used to ‘burn’ the food it has digested to provide the energy to survive.

2 - Swim bladder

This organ stores gas inside the fish. Its main function is to counterbalance the weight of the rest of the fish’s body. This means the fish doesn’t have to swim to stay in the water column. It effectively makes the fish neutrally buoyant. This means the fins can be used to control position with slow precise movement rather than constantly having to work to keep itself off the bottom.

3 - Weberian Ossicles

These are found only in the carp-like fish. They are bone extensions of the spine and connect the swim bladder to the fish’s ears. This connection means that the fish can hear a much wider range of sound frequencies. Fish like perch and pike don’t have these and so have less effective hearing.

4 - Ears

The ears of fish are internal with no connection to the outside world. The reason for this is simply that they don’t need to. Sound travels much better in water compared to air so the sound easily passes into the fish where their ears can detect it. Fish hear much lower pitch sounds than people but are not as good at hearing high pitched sounds. You should remember this when you’re trampling about on the bank or banging in bank sticks!

5 - Heart

This is a blood pump, just like in people. In fish, blood leaves the heart and goes directly to the gills. So when the blood arrives at the gills it is at high pressure and flowing fast. This helps to make the gills efficient in carrying oxygen and food, as well as transporting waste chemicals. The blood then travels away from the gills carrying oxygen to other body organs. However, it also means that if the gills are damaged the blood loss is quite rapid – so avoid handling fish near the gills. The heart sits under the gills usually in the V-shape formed between the two gill covers. This location ensures the heart doesn’t have to pump blood far to get to the gills.

6 - Brain

Fish brains are not massive but perfectly functional for what the fish needs. They are particularly well developed for processing sensory information such as vision, smell and sounds.

7 - Liver

The liver of most of our coarse fish is usually quite big and combines the liver and pancreas together. This organ regulates and processes the digested food. It can also break down harmful chemicals. In coarse fish it is usually connected closely with the intestine. If it gets damaged it means the fish can’t process food properly and they can waste away and die. In coarse fish fed on trout pellets it can also get quite fatty. As yet however, there is no real evidence that this does the fish any harm.

8 - Stomach and Intestine

Predatory fish have stomachs to process the ingested prey. Fish like carp and roach don’t have a true stomach and just have a long intestine. This is because they feed more frequently than predators and their natural food often comes in smaller bits. This means they don’t need a stomach to start the digestion process. Food travels down the gut and is soaked with digestive chemicals to break it down. It’s then absorbed by the intestine and transported by blood to the liver or is stored for later use.

9 - Kidney

A fish’s two kidneys are merged into one and sit right under the spine. The kidney’s main function is to act as a filter and is well developed in all freshwater fish. It basically filters the blood and allows the fish to get rid of all the water that leaks into its body across the gills and through the intestine. The rest of the outside skin of the fish is generally pretty watertight unless it gets damaged. If the kidney gets damaged by disease or pollution, the fish retains water and will bloat up because it can’t effectively get rid of the water.

10 - Spleen

A dark red organ usually located around the middle of the fish. This organ makes and stores blood and also helps to fight off infections.

11 - Gall Bladder

Produces bile which is secreted into the intestine to neutralise acid from the stomach and also helps digest fats in food. It is usually bright yellow or green depending on the colour of the bile it produces.

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Understanding the weather

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Weather can be the single biggest factor in deciding if you’ll have a good day’s fishing – or suffer a bad one.

Weather conditions will dictate if, when, and how hard the fish feed, and will also have a huge bearing on the comfort of the fisherman on the bank.

A wet or cold angler can’t be expected to enjoy his or her sport – even if the fish are biting well – but pick your day and plan your trip correctly and you’ll have a great time.

By following just a few simple rules you can turn a potential blank into a late season success to put the smile back on your face.

Weather forecasting

The weather is the number one topic of conversation for most UK citizens, but how many of us really know how to decipher the forecasts? Next time you see those big charts the weathermen use at the end of the television news, have a close look at the pressure – or synoptic – charts and interpret the ‘squiggly lines’ by looking out for the following.

ATMOSPHERIC PRESSURE

Atmospheric pressure is the force of the air pressing down on the earth’s surface and this pressure has a direct influence on the weather we receive, depending on if it is increasing or decreasing.

Atmospheric pressure is measured in inches of mercury in a barometer, or in millibars (mb) on maps.

In this country, our air pressure is typically somewhere between 980mb (low) to 1030mb (high.)

Points of the same pressure can be joined up to form lines called isobars. These form rings around high and low pressure centres.

ISOBARS

Isobars (squiggly lines) join areas of equal pressure, in the same way contours on a map join areas of equal height.

● An area of high pressure (an anti cyclone) means settled weather; an area of low pressure (or a depression) often delivers wind and rain.

● Wind direction generally parallels the isobars, travelling anti-clockwise round a ‘low’, and clockwise round a ‘high’ (the opposites apply in the southern hemisphere.) The closer the isobars on a weather chart, the stronger the winds.

FRONTS

The heavier lines with small triangles or semi-circles drawn on the leading edges indicate weather ‘fronts’ – a weather system that’s being pushed towards, or away from, the British Isles.

A cold front is the front edge of a colder air mass. It means cloud and a narrow band of heavy rain followed by colder temperatures. It is indicated on the weather charts by small black triangles. The triangles point in the direction that the front is moving.

A warm front – or the front edge of a warm air mass – generally means cloud and an extensive band of drizzle or heavy rain is on the way. It is indicated on the weather maps by black semi-circles that point in the direction the front is moving.

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● Low pressure areas are more likely to produce clouds and rain.

● High pressure areas usually mean settled, sunny weather.

● The perfect time to fish most stillwaters in the UK is when a low pressure system is coming in from the Atlantic. This means it will be mild, windy, full of cloud and probably wet, due to the westerly or south-westerly air flow. If you see this weather pattern coming up, get out there because the fish will be getting their heads down to feed.

What forecast conditions mean at this time of year

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FORECAST SUN

SUN is good at this time of year as it will heat up the top layers and shallower marginal areas of a fishery.

Target these shallow areas in the afternoon when fish have moved into them to feed.

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FORECAST RAIN

RAIN can be good if it is mild and warm and brought from either a westerly or south-westerly direction. It can add colour to the water and spark fish to feed.

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FORECAST WIND NORTHERLY

or easterly winds are bad at this time of year, especially if they carry rain. They will send air (and water) temperatures tumbling, putting the fish off their food and making fishing uncomfortable for the angler. In these conditions try to find a sheltered swim with the wind off your back. Never fish at the end of a pool with a north or east wind blowing directly in your face. Water temperatures here will be the lowest in the lake.

Remember: The power of the wind (wind chill) can reduce air temperature by 10 degrees C or more.

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FORECAST FROST

A SUDDEN, hard overnight frost is likely to put fish off the feed. They may eat angler’s baits in the mid to late afternoon when they have warmed up or acclimatised. Look for the deepest (and warmest) swims to fish in frosty conditions.

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FORECAST THUNDER STORMS

OPINIONS are mixed as to whether fish are affected by thunderstorms. We here at IYCF have had some great fishing straight after the most violent thunderstorms. Remember you must be careful in electrical storms. Carbon is an excellent conductor of electricity and you should never use or hold a pole or rod during thunder and lightning storms.

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FORECAST SNOW

PROVIDED you have proper clothing and shelter, snow can be good at this time of year. Snow can indicate either a slight rise or fall in air temperature. Snow following a sustained period of frost indicates rising temperatures that could switch the fish into feeding. They have to feed sometime – even in cold weather.

Photographing a good fish you’ve caught in the snow, will also give you a souvenir you’ll never forget.

Old sayings: Is there anything in them?

TRUE: Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in morning, shepherds warning. Weather fronts often approach the UK from the west, so a red sky at night means it’s clear to the west (you can see the sun going down) and the cloud is clearing from the east. A red sky in the morning illuminates clouds to the west, so predicting bad weather.

TRUE: Mackerel sky and mares’ tails make tall ships carry low sails. The build-up of cirrocumulus cloud (mackerel sky) can often indicate a front approaching, carrying wind and rain.

TRUE: When the wind is in the west, the fish bite the best. When the wind is in the south, it blows the bait into the fishes mouth. When the wind is in the east, the fishes bite the least. When the wind is in the north the fish don’t go forth. South and west winds are warm and mild. North and east are cold and put coarse fish off the feed and make them lethargic.

TRUE: When smoke descends, good weather ends. When a low pressure front is coming, bringing rain, smoke from chimneys will fall.

FALSE: If cows lay down in the fields, it’s going to rain. Rubbish. They’re just tired and chewing the cud!

Reading the clouds

WATCHING the sky can give you a great indication of what kind of weather to expect – if you know what to look for.

The kind of clouds above you can accurately tell you what to expect. Here’s the IYCF guide to clouds, and their meaning.

LOW CLOUDS – UP TO 7,000FT

STRATUS   This is white and basically looks like fog. It can produce a fine, penetrating drizzle. If it forms overnight, then it should clear for a fine day.

STRATUS

This is white and basically looks like fog. It can produce a fine, penetrating drizzle. If it forms overnight, then it should clear for a fine day.

CUMULONIMBUS   Towering, vertical, dark, anvil shaped at the top. Heavy showers, thunder, lightning and hailstones ahead.

CUMULONIMBUS

Towering, vertical, dark, anvil shaped at the top. Heavy showers, thunder, lightning and hailstones ahead.

STRATOCUMULUS   Dark, lumpy, mottled sky with occasional glimpses of sunlight through the gaps. Expect light rain soon.

STRATOCUMULUS

Dark, lumpy, mottled sky with occasional glimpses of sunlight through the gaps. Expect light rain soon.

CUMULUS   White and fluffy with dark undersides. Normally large and crowded together. This means showers are possible.

CUMULUS

White and fluffy with dark undersides. Normally large and crowded together. This means showers are possible.

MID-LEVEL CLOUDS – 7,000 TO 17,000FT

ALTOCUMULUS   Similar to cirrocumulus, but heaped higher and of a greyer colour – indicates occasional rain or snow.

ALTOCUMULUS

Similar to cirrocumulus, but heaped higher and of a greyer colour – indicates occasional rain or snow.

ALTOSTRATUS   A faint haze or sheet of cloud across the sky with sun visible faintly through it – may indicate light rain.

ALTOSTRATUS

A faint haze or sheet of cloud across the sky with sun visible faintly through it – may indicate light rain.

NIMBOSTRATUS   A low, dark sheet of cloud that blocks out or diffuses the sun behind it – prolonged rain within a few hours

NIMBOSTRATUS

A low, dark sheet of cloud that blocks out or diffuses the sun behind it – prolonged rain within a few hours

HIGH-LEVEL CLOUDS – ABOVE 17,000FT

CIRRUS   White and wispy, formed by ice crystals – these occur in fair weather but indicate a front approaching in 12-24 hours.

CIRRUS

White and wispy, formed by ice crystals – these occur in fair weather but indicate a front approaching in 12-24 hours.

CIRROCUMULUS   Known by many anglers as ‘mackerel sky’ these elongated puffs or strips of cloud signify that rain is on the way.

CIRROCUMULUS

Known by many anglers as ‘mackerel sky’ these elongated puffs or strips of cloud signify that rain is on the way.

CIRROSTRATUS   White, wispy, almost invisible except for a halo around the sun which indicates increased moisture in the air and rain on the way.

CIRROSTRATUS

White, wispy, almost invisible except for a halo around the sun which indicates increased moisture in the air and rain on the way.

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Stay warm in the cold

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