MARCH: WINTER REMAINS
First trip early March and it still felt like winter when I arrived at Birch Lake, which is just down the road at Woodland Waters. It’s basically a carp bagging pool, but when it’s cold other species get a chance to find your bait. I’ve enjoyed some nice bags of silver fish here, so this time I was going to have a good go for the skimmers, also to see if there were any proper bream to be caught. After getting back into punch fishing over the past few months, I decided to start with bread on a compromise pole rig; light enough to show delicate touches, but just strong enough for any big intruders. It was a painfully slow start, taking a good while before I got any indications. When I did finally get a bite it was from a small skimmer, followed by another a few minutes later. A couple of other anglers on the lake were catching carp, which surprised me as they hadn’t been showing and it was still bitterly cold. I tried introducing a few casters and some chopped worm…
NO ALIENS HERE
A solitary roach came to a single caster, but after that I was only getting half-bites, which I couldn’t connect with. I tried small segments of worm and the same thing happened, until I hooked what at first I thought was some bottom debris. It turned out to have claws, and was in fact a rare native crayfish. A strange prehistoric-looking thing, without the bright red hue the invasive signal version has. The creature was only just holding onto my bait, so when it let go, I quickly put it back. More strange missed bites followed, suggesting a gang of crays might have invaded my swim. I went back on bread and caught a decent skimmer straight away. The swim woke up after that, not frantic sport but most of the fish were netters, which kept me interested. I was using the same groundbait I mentioned in my recent punch fishing feature, a mix of fine cloudy white, coarser brown crumb, and some Dynamite F1 Sweet, which skimmers in particular really appear to like.
SPRING AT LAST
The sun eventually came out, the chilly breeze dropped away, and it felt a lot more pleasant. But fish don’t always appreciate nice weather and the bites petered out in the bright conditions. I kept working the swim with regular small helpings of crumb feed and eventually, as the low sun dipped behind some tall trees in the distance, I started getting bites again. Nothing on the drop; I had to let the tackle settle a good few inches over-depth, and wait a while for the float to slowly sink away. More skimmers resulted, plus a couple of jet-propelled carp that gave me a good run-around. Up until this point, I hadn’t seen any tell-tale signs from skimmers, such as the small bubbles they often fizz to the surface. But after the disturbance from that second carp, something was now stirring the bottom up. Next time the float went under, it was caused by a heavier, more ponderous fish. Several better-sized proper bream rounded off an interesting day.
Anglers living in Lincolnshire are blessed with a plethora of fabulous lakes. There are loads of holiday-style complexes offering lodges, caravan pitches, camping areas and the like, along with, in most cases, attractive fish-packed stillwaters. These places get busy in normal times and warmer weather, but off-peak they are only frequented by a few day ticket visitors. You can sometimes have these waters all to yourself. Surprisingly, my mate Dave Eastwood and I were amazed to find this beautiful local fishery completely deserted on a Sunday. When first visiting it back in the depths of winter, it soon became evident it’s stuffed with fish. On this occasion Dave set up pole tackle to target bream and skimmers. I planned a waggler attack, in a slightly less deep area, where a backwater joins the main part of the lake. Dave was getting bites straight away with his deep water groundbait approach, while it took much longer for me to get a response loose feeding.
WAY TO GO
It soon became evident Dave’s positive long pole and groundbait tactics were spot on. He was into bream quickly, fishing well down the shelf in this deep lake. I was loose feeding hemp and casters with a catapult, knowing from my previous visit that there are quality roach and big hybrids present, along with some stray chub. While Dave was bagging up next door, I initially struggled with the waggler. This prompted me to set up a groundbait feeder, casting a mix containing casters, micro pellets and chopped worm into the middle of the lake. It was a count of sixteen seconds before my rig hit bottom. It took three casts before something scoffed my double red maggot hook bait, resulting in a good bend in my 12ft feeder rod. It was a decent bream, followed by another, but after that bites dried up. I went back on the waggler and got an indication straight away. I missed that, but after adjusting the rig a few more inches over-depth, the swim came alive.
Interestingly, Dave doesn’t use any fishmeal in his groundbaits, which are from the Tommy Fisher stable, made in the Midlands. Whatever the mix was, it was working wonders, with some nice-sized slabs turning up on his long pole line. There are lots of double-figure carp in this lake, and he was managing to avoid getting bothered too much by them. The owner told me the day before a pole angler managed to land a twenty-pound carp, which is an amazing feat. While Dave put this great catch together, I enjoyed a busy couple of hours towards the end of the session, catching a string of decent roach, a big skimmer and several good hybrids on the waggler, finding casters best. In retrospect, I should have fished a peg with more depth close in. The nights had continued to stay on the cold side, and it had taken a long time to pull fish into my closer feed line. My swim at the mouth of a backwater was known to produce big perch, but not on this occasion.
Yet another interesting local lake is tucked away in the middle of nowhere. I first fished it a couple of years ago and there were half a dozen cruising shoals of stillwater chub, but they were as spooky as hell. Go anywhere near them and they totally disappeared. However, the place was stocked with more different species last year. Small carp, in particular, had stirred a lot more colour into the water. There were quite a few anglers about, so I went right down to the end of the lake, where there are no swims on the far bank. I had seen a big shoal of chub in this spot before and decided to fish a waggler. I used a simple approach, catapulting casters across the narrow arm, with a single shell on a strong size 18 hook. I began down the far shelf but missed loads of fast bites. When I eventually connected with one it was a gudgeon. While catapulting casters out, I noticed something was nosing about for them tight amongst the tufts of grass on the far bank…
FAR BANK TRICKERY
I thought it might be carp searching the rat holes for free casters. When I shallowed up my rig and brushed my waggler against the far bank grass, it soon disappeared. My rod arched around as a strong fish charged off. It kept thumping the rod tip heavily, and was far more lively than stock-size carp tend to be. I was glad I had stepped up to a 0.14mm hook length, otherwise my rig would have ended up being towed through every snaggy-looking area in the lake. Eventually I got control and a decent chub popped its head up by my landing net. I was well chuffed with that, because stillwater chub are normally extremely difficult to fool. Casting out again to the far side, it quickly became clear that I needed to get my tackle as tight in as I could to get positive bites. I think the bank over there was slightly undercut, plus it was steep – nearly a 3ft drop. I found if I got my hook bait right in, so it was resting on the ledge, this pulled a savage bite almost instantly.
JUST LIKE THAT
Once I had got things sussed, the chub kept coming. It was exactly how I used to fish the River Lea Navigation many years ago, when stretches like the Crown Fishery, Ponders End and Stonebridge Locks were alive with this species. In most hotspots, unless you put your bait right on the nose, you didn’t catch. ‘On the nose’ meant within inches of any overhanging cover, moored boats, or anything jutting out from the far side, like wooden walkways or floating pontoons. It was similar tactics on the Grand Union Canal at Cassiobury Park and Denham, where if your swim didn’t have features, casting inch-perfect against the far bank pilings also worked. Suddenly I had discovered a similar way of catching, only this time I was on a club lake, where bagging up with chub was the last thing I would have expected. Most of the fish were around the two-pound mark, but they were fighting fit and a right handful. I hardly noticed two big skimmers that butted in on the proceedings.
Yet more chilly nights put me off fishing some of the local venues I like to visit in the spring. Most are shallow and need a bit of warm weather to wake them up. Also, with a nasty Easterly wind that cuts right through you, I wanted somewhere with a bit of shelter. The tall tree bank of the Match Lake at Woodies is well protected in such conditions. It’s also deep, requiring at least top 4 pole kits to fish it properly. I like one of the early swims just past a small island, where the lake starts to shallow up, but I blanked there last visit. I played it safe and opted for the deeps, expecting the fish to be still resident there in the cold. I fished long, well down the shelf and a few inches over-depth. Although it’s around 15ft deep, I only use a 1g pole float at full depth, with a long, strung bulk of number 8s. I prefer this set up to an olivette rig. It often brings bonus bites as the hook bait settles, especially if the rig is held on a tight line. I have this tackle set several inches over-depth.
EASY DOES IT
I cupped in three balls of dark groundbait, laced with chopped worm and casters. As expected, it took a while to get bites, but gradually the swim came to life. A small roach, followed by a perch, then a decent skimmer. Red maggot and small segments of worm only attracted ghost bites, where the float tip slowly submerged but nothing was there when trying to lift into them. I also had a shallow, mid-depth rig set up. As I was regularly catapulting out casters, I tried searching up in the water. Again, another couple of missed bites, which I suspected were caused by small fish. For the rest of the session, I went back on my deep rig and found a single dark caster was best. I had to wait around 10 minutes each put in to gain a positive bite, but several chunky skimmers and one good roach followed. I occasionally topped up with more groundbait, and although the roach weren’t having a go, fair-sized bream eventually moved in to boost my catch considerably.
The good thing about fishing with someone else is you get to know a lot faster what works on new venues. I always try to do something different to what the other angler is doing, which soon reveals which tactics are most successful. On yet another interesting Lincolnshire lake I was joined by Woodies bailiff Pete, who started on the feeder, while I waggler fished the next peg along. I had planned to fish over to a big island, but it was suddenly more like winter again, with an evil East wind blowing. I postponed the island for another day, instead opting for open water in a slightly more sheltered area. It was another slow start, kicking off with a series of those weird ghost bites again. When I eventually connected with one it was a big gudgeon. Pete also had a few iffy indications he missed, switching between groundbait and method feeder set-ups. Once he found out which way the fish wanted it, he started to connect with odd carp and lively F1s.
NOT QUITE RIGHT
It turned into one of those sessions where I realised I would probably catch better by switching to the pole or feeder, but stubbornly continued with what I was doing. To be fair, it was cold and at times miserable, which doesn’t inspire changing course midway through proceedings. Pete was putting a few good fish together, and so was Sleaford Dave on the other side of the lake, also fishing a feeder. I did make the waggler work, catching some half-decent roach, small skimmers, a surprise pound ide, and in the end a bream. But there were too many barren spells, along with too many fish that came off as I tried to bully them through snaggy parts of the swim, which I think were submerged lily beds. I still managed a fair double-figure catch, but a bit like when you fish a match and don’t get it right, I went home knowing I should have caught lots more. I’m now looking forward, hopefully, to being able to fish a bit further afield in the near future.