Four top targets for the months ahead

Winter has crept over the threshold and the next few months won’t see much respite from the cold. 

So is this a time to stow the tackle away, light a log fire and dream of better times to come? 

After all, what chance have you got when the river bursts its banks and floods the surrounding farmland? Even when it stops raining, frost seems to suck the life from every lake and stream, exchanging nature’s colourful palette for gloomy monochrome. 

Despite winter’s extremes I happily rise to the challenge. Only snow melt keeps me indoors in the warm. Match your fish species to the conditions and there’s no reason why you should fail – and there’s the added bonus that your quarry is putting on weight in readiness to spawn. Now, more than at any other time, comes the chance of a personal best. 

So whatever the winter brings, it will still be worth casting a line. The biggest challenge is probably leaving home and the TV!

Now let’s take a look at four species, and how they will put a bend in your rod this winter.

For more great tips from top anglers head to this year’s The Big One Show

Target 1: Perch

The beauty of a shoal of sergeants is that they can be found anywhere – from rivers and streams to lakes and canals. So whatever the conditions you’ll have a chance of finding fish in fine fettle.  

4G8A1941 copy.jpg

My biggest tip is to make sure you fish during the short feeding period that occurs every day, regardless of temperature. If the water is clear this will be from 3pm to dusk, but all that changes if there is a tinge of colour in the water similar to that found in commercial fisheries. Then, early afternoon is best and sport tails off as darkness approaches.  

Why is this so? Well, in my opinion light levels are the trigger for perch to feed, and three factors are involved –the amount of sunlight, the clarity of the water and its temperature. Nothing in nature happens accidentally, and even if we can’t understand it, this doesn’t mean it’s a random occurrence.

Although lure fishing is still all the rage I rarely do it these days. The fact is it’s been done to death, and the perch aren’t daft enough to keep eating plastic. If you find a virgin water, great, but if not, stick to real food. Provided the water isn’t like pea soup a livebait takes some beating. Fish it on 5lb line, under a Drennan Loafer float and a size 4 Kamasan B983. If you’re unable to catch any, or rules dictate you can’t, don’t worry – I’m supremely confident with a worm, caster and red maggot combo.  

Finally, if small fish prove a nuisance, try a prawn and always remember to use a resistance-free set-up in your pursuit of perch, ‘the biggest of all fish’.

Target 2: Barbel

Barbel love a warm, flooded river. In a raging flow tactics are more akin to cod fishing but trust me, below the turbulence the fish will be feeding.  

In such conditions a big lump of paste wrapped around a boilie takes some beating, a good back-up being a lump of meat. I fish these on a size 4 or 5 Cryogen Gripper hook and 3ft of 20lb Tungsten Loaded coated braid. The rest of the tackle needs to be just as robust, especially if you’re using 5oz to hold bottom. Leadcore is great in snaggy situations – my favourite is 18lb Syncro XT.  

4G8A6420 (1).jpg

Where, though, do you cast such tackle when faced with a maelstrom? Look for creases formed by bends, cattle drinks and cribs, as well as what I describe as ‘glass water’. This is a calm section amid the turbulence and will probably indicate a smooth gravel bottom.

Provided the temperature is high, barbel will feed in clear conditions just as enthusiastically as in a big flood. For this scenario maggots in a big feeder, cast regularly, can’t be beaten.  

Come on… surely the thought of a rod hooping over in the rests is enough to make you leave the sofa?

Target 3: Grayling

Sub-zero temperatures and a clear river will put off many anglers, but these conditions are the signal for grayling to feed. Unless the water has actually frozen over you’ll have a chance. 

Nor is the species for just the lucky few who can fish a chalk stream. Even the Trent holds these beautiful fish, so do a bit of research and there’s a fair chance that you’ll have an opportunity to catch grayling close to home.


Maggots and corn form the basis of the attack with a 13ft or 14ft float rod and 4lb mainline. 

The mono must not sink and you need a big, buoyant float to stay in control. I would then bulk-shot at three-quarters depth with a couple of dropper shot below that. For corn, a size 14 hook is perfect, or an 18 with maggots. 

Putting your hookbait in the right place and feeding correctly are what count, and I wouldn’t be without a little bait dropper. Often, feeding by hand is fine but when the water deepens I want to be more accurate. This is when I reach for the dropper.

Stay mobile and try to cover plenty of water. However cold it is, rest assured there is always somewhere a grayling will be willing to feed.

Target 4: Chub

If any fish can get you out of jail it’s the chub, and a whole host of tactics will catch them.  

I prefer a clearing river, but a big smelly bait in a flood can also produce the goods.

I enjoy trotting a float and spraying maggots, but for this the water has to be on the low side. Trotting works best when a shoal is targeted. So unless I’m certain what’s in front of me I’m more likely to be roving with a quivertip. 


It’s important to use a rod with  interchangeable tips, and to choose the lightest one possible. Remember, too, that once you’ve got on 3oz or more to combat the flow there is far too much pressure on a glass tip and you’ll be wasting your time. Far better to switch to carbon and cast slightly upstream, putting a bow in the line. 

Use just enough weight to hold bottom and look for drop-backs.

Both bread and cheesepaste take some beating and can be used in a number of ways. I’m more likely to use bread with a feeder to give the added attraction of liquidised particles. With cheese I will use a link-leger and rely on the hookbait or introduce extra bits of paste by hand.

Either way, in my book, a day spent roving for chub takes some beating.