In his popular weekly blog for Angler's Mail, Colin Mitchell shares his top ten winter fishing tips to make the most of every session.
AS the weather changes from autumnal to winter so too does our fishing.
The changeover between seasons may be a bit later this year but it’s still one that brings significant changes for anglers. Between the milder autumn and then colder winter comes a spell when fishing is tricky. The fish haven’t adjusted and they become finicky.
You could enjoy a real red letter day but you are just as likely to suffer a blank or struggle, but once the proper cold weather clicks in and fish have got used to frosts, a bit of extra water with maybe some extra colour you can start thinking about enjoying decent sport once again.
There will still be some anglers who may as well pack up their gear until next summer unless they learn to adapt. Despite decades on the waterside when I have seen everything from the best angling to the worst I am still dismayed at some of the basic mistakes that are made, particularly at this time of the year.
Here, in no particular order, are some of the pitfalls to avoid if you want to catch a few more fish, ones I have spotted anglers doing wrong over the past two weeks. Turn these things to your advantage – they’re great winter fishing tips…
If the fish are fussy they don’t want that much feed. There are no hard and fast rules about what is right and wrong… you have to work this out for yourself. But it doesn’t take a genius to understand that you don’t keep larruping in bait if the fish aren’t really feeding. Little and often is the best guide – but also think about feeding to bites. That is, feed and when you catch a fish, or two, feed again. If you get a few bites and miss them, feed again as what was in your swim may have eaten what you fed.
You always have to get presentation of float, feeder and hook bait right no matter what the weather. But where you might have sneaked a few lucky fish on bad presentation in summer it is highly unlikely to work now. Think fish… try to get your bait to act naturally. Slow falling or nailed to the bottom, both will work on their day but please do not just chuck out. It is definitely worth laying your rig out to the side of your pole and holding the line tight. You will be amazed at how often this brings a bite when nothing else works.
If you are not getting bites don’t sit there like a dummy. Work at your fishing. Try casting to a different spot. Alternate feed patters. Loose feed, groundbait, chop worms… go through the various options. One thing that works more often than not is moving your bait. Lift a pole rig a fraction, tweak a feeder or leger a little, reel in a waggler very slightly, hold back a top and bottom float on a river… that little bit of extra movement can make a lethargic fish pounce.
WATCH THE DOT
Dot floats down until you can barely see the tip. Sometimes fish hardly move when they take a bait at this time of year – or quickly reject a hook if they feel slight resistance. Last week I caught some lovely roach with barely a pin head of a pole bristle showing and the anglers around me couldn’t catch. Even that pinhead hardly moved yet a firm upward lift of the pole hooked them – although not every time!
Go for a smaller hook and thinner diameter lines for traces. Swims which appear devoid of fish suddenly spring to life with more delicate gear. But – sometimes it can pay to think smaller bait but keep a bigger hook. When I was catching those roach mentioned above I was missing a lot of bites. Once I felt the fish were a bit more confident I went from a 20 to a 16 but kept on a single maggot. Wrong in theory I know, but it worked… another reason for experiments.
HAVE A WAGGLE
Too many anglers have caught poleitus. They can’t put it down and think it is the dogs for every situation. But when the water is that bit clearer in winter fish move further out – chase them with a waggler. Also, because there is no pole waving around above their heads the fish can become a lot more confident in these clearer conditions.
SEARCH AND FIND
Quite often you will find that fish back off your feed in winter. You are catching, you feed and then the bites stop. It might be ten or 20 minutes later but then you start to catch again – feed as you know you should and the bites stop again. Back to the roach session above – when the bites stopped I fed and then added an extra section to my pole and caught. I know… I was fishing away from my feed but this is where the fish had gone before returning to my feed line around 15 minutes later. It is also worth trying to the side of your feed area.
QUIETLY DOES IT
At this time of year shadows from walkers and foot fall from inquisitive passers-by or other anglers can send fish scurrying for cover even more than normal. Try to find an out of the way swim so you get as little disturbance as possible – don’t stick to those nearest your car!
HEAD FOR COVER
The leaves may have fallen from the trees but even bare branches give fish some cover – protection in their eyes from predators and a hidey hole in bright conditions. Fish as close as you can, but make sure you have the right gear to get them out. You can fish a bit heavier than in open water as the fish should be a bit more confident about having a munch.
FULL OR EMPTY
Fish tend to shoal up in certain areas in winter, usually known hotspots and town centre swims which tend to be a bit warmer. Find the fish and you will score. If you can’t get bites move – there is every chance there are no or every few fish in that area. This applies on all venues from rivers through canals to stillwaters. Remember though that a change to better conditions, usually over a period of three days or more, will bring fish on the feed.
Finally, don’t give up because it is cold. Winter fishing can be very rewarding. A handful of fish at this time of the year is as satisfying as a bag full in summer. And the fresh air is lovely when you are wrapped up in the right gear.
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