After 6 months on the Stillwaters it is nice to be getting back onto some moving water, fishing for some truly wild fish.
Hopefully from now onwards (as the weather generally worsens) the banks will be less crowded and as always at this time of year the barbel and chub will be in their peak of condition.
From now until the end of the season you can expect to encounter some of the most challenging river conditions and the worse that the English weather can throw at you. With this in mind I have listed a few things, which although simple have helped me put more fish safely on the bank through many previous winters.
The use of long hooklengths is something that has brought me a lot of barbel over the years and is something that I see very few anglers ever do.
With more and more carp anglers having a go at barbel fishing, the standard approach seems to be to use a shortish hooklength with a heavy lead / feeder (as though carp fishing). This is fine during the summer months when the rivers’ are low and carrying very little debris, but from now onwards when the leaves start falling and other debris get washed into the river, fishing with short hooklengths will very often lead to your hook bait getting masked in rubbish or your lead collecting a massive ball of rubbish.
To counteract this problem I will use a long mono hooklength of anything up to 6ft (I use Berkeley XT clear). To me this gives much better presentation and hardly ever does the hookbait become masked.
I have heard some anglers voice concerns about deep hooking fish doing this, but I can honestly say of the hundreds of barbel I have caught using this method I have never hooked one more than say ¼” inside the mouth.
I put this down to the fact that I am using a sharp bare hook, as I always fish with either a hair or a bait band. Maybe if the hook was buried in a bait the result would be different, but put it this way, if I deep hooked a fish I certainly wouldn’t use the method again.
A method I will use wherever possible is upstream feeder / ledger fishing. I will fish a long way upstream as long as I am not interfering with anybody else. This is a method I very rarely see used by other anglers but it is one I have had a lot of success on.
I think it gives a better presentation and with a slight bow in the line ensures most of the line is on the bottom and not bellowing up in the flow as can happen whilst fishing downstream.
Also because of the way the current acts on the line very often you can get away with leaving the bait in longer during flood or heavy debris conditions.
In deep rivers such as the Lower Severn the rod fished out in front or slightly down stream picks up a lot more debris than the rod fished well upstream.
I believe this is due to the fact that the line going straight across the current produces a much bigger affected surface area for rubbish to collect than the upstream line which is basically ‘cutting a straight line’ through the current.
I can think of a couple of swims on the Warwickshire Avon and Lower Severn that have produced a lot of double figure Barbel for me, that would have produced next to nothing if I had not been prepared to fish a good way upstream.
The one has a submerged island that cuts a lot of the flow off, so is perfect to fish upstream to. The other has a huge mid-river snag, if you fish downstream to it you end up losing loads of tackle. Fish upstream to it and its no problem and the fish are also easier to land. Once you get the balance of this method right it can prove very effective.
One of the most important things to bear in mind whilst fishing through the winter is your own safety.
With the river levels constantly up and down the banks can be extremely treacherous so the utmost care must be taken. Some anglers use spikes and ropes but I personally prefer to use a long landing net handle to safely net fish.
After years of using telescopic match type poles that snapped every season I finally came across a piece of kit, which I have had for the last five years. This is a very robust but lightweight extendable pole made by a company called Redport that I bought from The Tackle Box. This pole which extends from 6 foot to about 10 foot cost about £40 and as been worth every penny. When combined with a strong 36” net this gives me a reach of approximately 13 foot. If I can’t net a fish safely with this set up then I won’t fish the swim.
When fishing on the river through the winter you will be faced with a lot of inclement weather and to fish effectively and enjoyably you will need to be comfortable, warm and dry.
It’s not like carping where you can get inside your sleeping bag in your bivvy when the weather turns nasty.
With this in mind you will need a good fishing suit. I have been through a few over the years but by far the best one I have found is the Sundridge Igloo suit. This suit is very waterproof, exceptionally warm and being ‘soft’ is very comfortable to wear. It is also breathable so providing you wear breathable gear underneath you will not sweat too much whilst walking any distance along the river.
I know this suit is expensive (about £190 for the bib and brace and jacket) but it will last you years and will keep you warm and dry. I have tried other cheaper and equivalent priced suits and have been deeply disappointed when they have fell to bits and have either let the water in or not been warm enough.
So just a few thoughts, although only simple (like most of the best things in fishing) these are things that have made my winter fishing both more effective and enjoyable.