The two weather conditions that strike fear into most river anglers, Indeed most anglers full stop, are ‘frost’ and ‘flood’ and this season we have had more than our fair share of both! In this two-part blog I’m going to be taking a quick look at both and, hopefully, be removing some of that fear from them.
As far as weather conditions are concerned it’s sudden change that switches most fish off so it is always likely you will struggle – whatever you fish for – on the first morning of a hard frost following an otherwise mild, or settled spell. Give it a day though, and another frost, and things are usually looking up – following a third sub-zero night and by day four you should, all things being equal, be bagging up as consistent conditions, no matter what they are, encourage fish to feed.
Cold conditions are associated with high pressure systems during the winter months and this usually means bright, sunny conditions with dropping and clearing water; not the most ideal of conditions but by scaling down and giving some thought to your presentation you should get a few bites. Subtlety of presentation really is the key to success and many anglers I see out on such days are just fishing too heavy for the conditions; by scaling down your hook size and line diameter you WILL get more bites.
Yes, you do need to find a balance between the size of fish you are targeting, the nature of the swim you are fishing and the tackle you are using as there is no point whatsoever in using gear that will get you bites if you are subsequently not able to safely land the fish you hook. Think of every swim you fish in terms of a ‘risk assessment’ and clip on a hook length appropriate to the situation; remember too that the rod you use is key to what you can ‘get away with’ as a nice, soft, forgiving tool will cushion those frail hook lengths and small holds whereas a stiffer, more powerful rod will not.
Your exact choice of tackle will, of course, depend upon what you are fishing for. For me, and I suspect for most river anglers, cold, clear conditions mean chub, grayling or perhaps dace fishing.
As far as chub fishing is concerned bread and maggots are the key baits in cold and clear conditions and my starting point for maggot fishing is usually along the lines of 4lb main line with a 2 – 3lb fluorocarbon hook length and a size 18 hook and, coupled with the right rod, I find this perfectly adequate in most reasonably open water swims for fish up to 7lb. I step up a little for my bread fishing, simply because of the nature of the bait, with 4lb line straight through to a 10 usually my starter. If there is a touch of colour in the water cheese paste comes into play, fished on the same tackle as for bread.
My grayling gear is essentially the same as that which I employ when maggot fishing for chub, save that I tend to keep my hooklength around 2lb breaking strain with a size 18 or 20 hook. There really is no need to go any heavier, indeed it is a liability.
Most river anglers tend to shy away from barbel when there is frost on the ground but, providing the cold snap has persisted for a few days, there is most certainly the chance of one and I have landed them so many times when chub fishing in what most would consider to be highly inappropriate conditions that these days I will sometimes specifically target them in known holding swims.
I’ve not yet had a barbel in the snow, as per that ‘iconic’ photograph of Ray Walton with a big Royalty fish, but I’ve certainly had them from rivers with iced margins and a hard frost underfoot. Just because the textbooks say you need a water temperature of at least 43F and rising doesn’t mean it is necessarily so.
Barbel, like most wild creatures which are expending energy rather than shutting down totally and hibernating, need to re-fuel and if temperatures are consistent – no matter how cold – they will feed if you put a bait in the right place.
Interestingly most of the barbel I have caught in extreme cold have taken breadflake – yes, I am mostly fishing flake for the chub in such conditions – but it is food for thought!
The only other bait which comes into play for me at times when the going is very cold is a milk protein paste and if I’m actively fishing for barbel, rather than chub, it is usually my first choice – although it does have a habit of pulling chub like it’s going out of fashion!
Providing you are appropriately layered as far as your clothing is concerned and you keep mobile there really is nothing to worry about when the mercury bottoms out. I’ve caught numbers of chub when sections of the river I’ve been on have actually been frozen solid and the air temperature has not got above minus five all day – and grayling will feed when it’s a lot colder than that!