When fishing popular public and club venues, it is highly probable that the resident fish populations have experienced a substantial array of techniques, strategies, and baits. In such situations, it is the anglers who go that little bit further in their preparations, who succeed most often. This requirement is further emphasised when fishing some commercial fisheries, where reputations of bumper catches, and/or specimen fish abound. In such waters it is often the case that the fish you seek has seen it all before, and unless you take time to outwit such fish, the blanks will outnumber the successes.

River & Stream.

The approach utilised in flowing water is in the main to select an area, and encourage the fish to move in and feed with the introduction of a steady stream of bait. Alternatively, a more mobile strategy is followed, either by spotting and stalking fish, or more often by selecting several "fishy" looking swims and baiting lightly. In this latter approach the fish can then be left to gain confidence whilst you bait the other areas prior to commencing fishing. All of these approaches are excellent under varying conditions to a greater or lesser degree, dependant upon the characteristics of the system being fished. Under the right conditions the standard application of each approach will work, but under conditions such as low summer flows it becomes a whole new ball game.

Spotting and observing fish is often easier, but bright conditions with low flows and high temperatures, also means lethargic fish. The best times are obviously early morning and again in the evening, but even then the fish can be surprisingly difficult. For instance, stretches of river where the popular approach is to stalk fish with big naturals such as slugs and lobworms, often finds chub spooking should such morsels be dropped into the vicinity of the fish. Such action would see a less experienced fish rush the bait, engulfing it as an instinctive reaction. This behaviour is often taken a stage further on some waters, where in areas of slower glides and pools, fish have a great deal of time to inspect the offering. In such situations, species such as chub, which are normally aggressive though wary of a poor approach, have learned seemingly that they have nothing to fear from morsels of tasty food having hooks in them. Providing that is, they do not take such food items into their mouths. Instead of bolting upon the bait hitting the water, the fish can be seen to swim towards it often very close to the bait. The fish may then swim around the bait as if to check whether it is attached to something. Any contact of the fish with the line will see the bait rejected, as will a bait that falls unnaturally through the water such as when weights in one form or another are added to the line. When fishing such waters, under such conditions a better option is to go for smaller baits, either naturals or particles. Best baits are redworms, which can be trundled down to the fish in a natural manner, or alternatively often-overlooked baits such as caterpillars, wax worms, or mealworms. The latter two baits mentioned, being easily purchased from pet shops, they also make a great change bait to maggots when trotting.

Fish can also often be fooled by lowering particle baits onto observed feeding areas along with minimal free offerings, once the fish move out of the swim whilst patrolling. My favourite approaches here are to either bait with hemp, and fish curried meat over this on as light a link ledger as possible, or on very hard fished waters to fish a single grain of sweetcorn dyed black, again over hemp. When using meat, I tend to flavour the bait myself. This enables various spices to be used, and the concentration of such flavours to be carefully controlled. At the same time, frying the meat in spices with a little oil helps to toughen the meat, as well as diffusing the spices though the baits. In such instances as small fish pecking baits, the toughened skin reduces the risk of the bait coming off in the water. Where meat is often used flavoured or otherwise, a bait dyed a natural green colour can pay dividends. I believe this to be due to a large number of the fish’s natural food items exhibiting various shades of green in an attempt to remain undetected by predators. Black coloured sweetcorn, I am sure, owes its effectiveness to hemp, with the fish assuming it to be a large grain. These baits have proved useful on several rivers around the country.

High Water.

Despite my suggestion of avoiding large baits during periods of low water, an absolute bonanza can be on offer, should you be able to get on the water as rain starts to fall in any significant quantity. The increase in oxygen levels seems to make fish slightly less picky, and more willing to feed on large naturals, which they now expect to be washed into waterways. I have in fact, caught both barbel and chub under such conditions, having had everything put to them rejected two hours previously. Again, this is nothing completely new, but is a tactic applied in a slightly different way. Such subtle variations are responsible for putting numbers of good fish on the bank however!

Should by chance the rain keep falling (I can’t remember when it last stopped!) bringing the rivers and streams into flood, then all is not lost. Whilst levels are high and currents swift, most species will often seek bankside shelter. This brings the fish - whatever the species - into close proximity to the angler, and hence a quiet, light-footed approach will bring rewards. Long casts even on big rivers are not required, nor are they practical at such times, and baits can often be dropped or swung into position anything from a couple of inches to several feet from the bank. Traditional smelly baits such as cheese paste, meat, and worms will all work most of the time, but you would be surprised at how well a big piece of bread flake stands out in coloured water. Such tactics led to the capture of four 3lb chub plus a fish of 4lb 2oz on the last day of the 97/98 season, and was topped off by a roach just short of the pound mark. Nothing remarkable perhaps, but not bad from a water perhaps fifteen feet wide at most. Another bait I have found useful under such conditions is trout pellet paste. This can either be made by mixing with water and stiffened with cornflower, or powdered trout pellets can be worked into a soft cheese to form a very pungent paste. Additional liquid cheese flavouring can also be added if required, as can breadcrumbs or corn flour should the bait require stiffening.

Should river banks be fairly low, and experience periods of flooding regularly during parts of the year, then fish will know that moving into the quieter marginal waters provides the opportunity to plunder a new larder of invertebrates. In fact the water need only be inches deep for fish to venture forth, and on occasions even make their presence obvious to the passing angler. In such situations a worm lightly legered on a grassy bottom will prove deadly.

Stillwaters.

During such heavy flood conditions, the same margin fished worm tactic can account for fish in lakes too. The bait can either be fished over depth with a float, or legered, as many species patrol the edge of the lake in search of swamped worms and other natural food organisms. Look again for flooded areas, especially where long grasses and reeds lie over the waters surface. In such areas perch can often be found along with roach to above average proportions. These bankside areas are certainly not simply holding areas for small fish, in fact larger specimens would be caught more often in such areas if anglers took a little more care in their general approach. I have caught several perch within a yard of the bank which have exceeded 2lb, along with a rather stunning crucian carp (though I think crossed with a common, but still superb) at 3lb 1oz.

It is well documented that fish of all species regularly patrol marginal areas during the hours of darkness. The reason being, anglers are not around in such large numbers at such a time, and hence the disturbance/threat is reduced. The fish thus feel more secure, and hence feed more freely, giving night fishing its reputation for producing highly prized catches. In areas that are less desirable in the eyes of the angling majority however, fish will often be found around bankside vegetation throughout the day. This happens even on highly pressurised waters, where the areas receiving comparatively little attention attract fish seeking sanctuary from anglers. This latter instinct is found to occur during any conditions be it flood or drought, providing cover is sufficient and disturbance minimal enough to allow the fish to feel safe.

When conditions have reversed to tepid low water however, large smelly baits are better replaced with smaller more subtle morsels. Single grains of sweetcorn are excellent in natural and dyed and/or flavoured forms. The key here is to ensure that not too much bait is introduced to the swim, as this I am sure, can and does alert the more wary individuals. It is of course normally the case that such individuals are the most desirable and largest fish present, so be warned! Other useful baits are pastes such as minced luncheon meat stiffened with crumb, this can then be flavoured if desired. Corn can also be minced in the blender, and made into a paste or introduced as an attractor feed. Good old casters work excellently, as do maggots, especially when fished in a bunch on a size 12 hook. Such a wriggling mass seems hard for large fish searching out a good meal to resist. It has caught many people big barbel in the rivers, so why not big carp and tench in stillwaters. On waters where large boilies are used in the main for carp and tench, two or three mini boilies hair rigged can persuade fish into making a mistake. This is especially so when a darker bait is used in conjunction with hemp or trout pellets as an attractor. These two attractor baits seem to be universal, and have a certain something that keeps fish coming back for more, even if they are wary. When this happens, a legered bait is a must, with the line kept nailed to the bottom with back leading. Any contact with line under such circumstances will see the fish bolt, sending bow waves going in all directions.

The down-side to using smaller baits as opposed to large boilies and meaty baits is the interference sometimes suffered from smaller fish. However not every day will see you land a new P.B. so enjoy the extra sport. At least the adrenaline starts going again as a fish moves off, registering a bite by whatever detection you choose to apply.