Monday, 6 January 2014

Location, location, location......

How many times have you heard that old mantra...‘First find your fish’... ‘Fishing’s easy, all you need to do is put the bait in the right place’...‘Learn to read the water’...  This is all very sound advice but doesn’t this all fall far short of offering any real tangible clues to someone new or returning to fishing? I bet if we are honest with ourselves, this is an area which we could all brush up on...

I'll be honest... when you fish a new venue... the 'first find the fish' concept is daunting enough. But... Common themes appear and features commonly associated with your chosen species will stand out on other venues.

those posh jockeys from channel 4
What the hell, another one for any hard core Kirsty Allsop fans out there.

Reading the river.

Rivers are forged and carved through powerful forces. Having seen my home venue in everything from drought to flood... certain features and river bed bottoms are committed to memory... but also try and consider the forces of water carving through twists and bends in heavy spate.... A tree on an outside bend, a swirl of water round an obstacle, root systems from trees apparently long gone... all can create cavernous undercut banks or sharp depressions in the river bed... Deep spots are forged out, clean gravel polished by flow, sediment build up etc. There is generally a reason why river beds change in depth.

powerful forces at work

Effects of predation.

The effect of predation even has an impact on fish movement and location... a lovely snaggy swim plundered by otters can move fish out - or certainly put them on edge sufficiently not to feed for some time after. Cormorant predation I am certain means that fish feel less comfortable in open water.... they seek the shelter and relative safety of tree bough over head. 

Cathedral of sanctuary from comorants

Fish spotting!

Fish observation plays a critical role in my fishing season... I could watch fish for hours - its an obsession.... in fact I visit the river more frequently when I can see them - even more so in the close season. As spawning approaches, pretty much every fish along an entire system can congregate in a very small area. It’s a great chance to actually see what fish are actually in your river.

Fish will migrate around a fishery as the season progresses... however, many are actually far more territorial and can be found close by all year round. If you have seen fish in Summer, it’s likely they won’t be far away come Winter. This could be quite convenient if you have seen something special earlier in the year.

Fortune favours the brave.

Until the floods arrived, we had crystal clear conditions unusual for late autumn/early winter....a cast near the bank or just off a feature was a complete waste...... Far better to risk all and get that bait to 'brush' that tricky branch or raft... let a little slack off and allow a bait to settle under the cover... better still, fish seem to love hugging reed bank cover in these condition... but once again.. a cast needs to be inch perfect close to the bank!

The other alternative is to wait till after dark. Fishing into the night is certainly the most productive method under these conditions... This will however test your knowledge of your own river. I would only be happy doing this on my own if I was particularly familiar with the place. Perception of distance and direction are tested to the limits... Its only fishing and isn’t worth risking your life. 


Floods are a weird one... yes it’s easier to find slack water on your near bank and have caught countless fish in such conditions... but flood water  is actually quite deceptive... fast flowing flood water on the surface is actually misleading... due to drag on the river bed, the flow on the bottom may actually in fact be negligible. Chub in particular do not like boily water... I am certain having fished a few other rivers that a faster but smooth flowing piece of water can and does hold Chub - it’s just learning to fish heavier feeders or using more weight to counter the flow on the line. These conditions seem to be crying out for a bollie/bolt rig combination.

I think much could be learnt from anglers who have mastered powerful rivers like the Trent...

Ignore the obvious.

Fish obvious features... but don't get tunnel vision. Some creases seem to hold fish.... rafts seem to hold large numbers of Chub... a bit counterproductive if you want to catch bigger than average specimens (especially if your river holds lots of smaller fish as well as larger ones)....

I know this sounds stupid... but think like a fish.... would you be comfortable in such a swim.... does it offer any sense of protection? Fish need to feed and energy consumption means they are going to be pretty economical about how they go about it.

Hard to ignore swims are easy to find.

Easy to miss hot spot.

So here goes... 10 top tips for finding your fish:

1. Look for them if possible... Fish spotting really pays off. It’s far easier to do this in the close season when there is less weed growth. Study the river bed too... it will pay off in winter when it falls under jade green ribbon.

2. If you see fish in the summer, it is likely they will still be there in the winter...

3. In clear water, cast close as possible to ‘features’. Chub are unlikely to stray far from cover until hour of darkness. I would love to say 'use maggots'.... but it’s very hit and miss.... my river doesn't seem to suit the technique - but saying that it has accounted for my biggest chub to date. Seems to work better if there are fish competing.

4. Floods or pacy water... look for smooth water and for me... be prepared to try something different (heavy feeders/bolt rigs).

5. Avoid the obvious features - sounds daft - but more subtle features soon leap out at you..... A small collapsed patch of reed, a small bush.... a clear gravel patch mid river... whatever...

6. Try different parts of the river and really search productive swims. You may be catching from under the branches of the far bank tree... but you may in fact be picking up the odd patrolling chub that is actually holding up as part of a larger shoal up or down stream.

7. Think like a fish.

8. Anticipate how the flow could affect the river bed and bank.... if you can learn to read and interpret your own river... you can translate similar features to any venue. I like stretches downstream from bends - in particular those described as a dogs leg.....

9. Learn from experience and be prepared to make mistakes.... always try out that swim that 'bug you'..... Perhaps pre-bait and make an artificial hot spot over time.

10. Learn to listen to your sixth sense... that’s your experience speaking. Act on those gut instincts; I interpret this experience as your subconscious tying together all those past experiences and elements above into a coherent expression of 'it’s got to be worth a go here'...... It is certainly very rewarding when it pays off. Get into this habit... this is where your experience will really pay off.

I guess it would be untidy to have an eleventh.... it’s not so much about finding the fish - but how to approach the river. Very often, the best features are in-fact feet away from your own bank.... setting up a chair and bank stick can really make life harder if you suspect this....... I like to approach the river as if I was stalking.... Typically, you will see very little, but avoiding a shadow cast across the skyline or a heavy foot fall is equally well detected. It doesn’t happen very frequently, but be prepared for when the quiver tip fails to settle as a fish has intercepted a carefully presented bait on the drop.

It certainly ain't exhaustive. Just read through that lot and see plenty of sieve like gaps... but it’s a contribution....