Well no, although I might not actually start my winter river fishing for a couple of months yet, it is time to get out and get re-aquainted with the rivers. Believe me, do it now before the floods come along and the river is twice as wide, full of colour and bombing through. You will learn so much more.

With a bit of luck, at the moment you are likely to still find the rivers low and clear. The weed will be up, so any clear runs will be easy to find and with the water low variations in depth will be easier to spot. Pick a nice warm sunny day, have a late breakfast and go for a leisurely stroll down the river. Don't forget those essential Polaroid glasses and a decent cap to cut down glare. With a bit of luck you might even spot a few fish!

Holding spots

Obviously, the features to take note of will depend on whether you are fishing for chub, barbel, grayling, perch, or roach. I tend to think of two types of swim though, those where the fish hold up when not in a particular feeding mood, and those where they congregate to gorge themselves. If I can concentrate my fishing time during peak hours (normally dawn and dusk) I will concentrate on feeding spots, but often this isn't the case. Many is the time when fishing distant rivers that I will have to fish through the day. Whilst sport can be a little unpredictable I head for the holding spots.

For barbel and chub you are often looking for the same swims. Go for rafts of cover, overhanging banks, and beds of the thick green stemmed onion reed. All of these spots give the fish an extra sense of security as the cover reduces the light levels. Particularly on bright days, it can be worth presenting a bait really tight to this cover as the fish will often be tightly packed right under them. Look for good spots to fish from, where you are able to drift or work a bait right into the cover. Although I don't get too hung up about water depth when looking for holding spots, it can be worth looking for very slight depressions, particularly where roach, grayling and dace are concerned.

When the fish are not in a feeding mood I also look for areas that are not particularly fast flowing. Some flow is good, as the bottom is likely to be partially gravel, which barbel in particular feel more comfortable over, but remember the fish will be trying to conserve their energy, so won't want to be swimming about too much. Do also remember that the water level is likely to be different to its present level come winter, so look for features that will come into play under different conditions. Whilst most articles advise you to look for swims that are fishable when the river is in flood, it is also worth looking for low water swims. Remember that in rivers with lush plant growth the plants will hold the water back. Come winter, with no plants and perhaps the downstream sluices wide open too, the river could be anything up to a couple of feet shallower!

Feeding spots

Proper feeding spots can be quite few and far between on many rivers. The name is a bit of a misnomer though as the fish will feed in many areas, these just happen to be the real food larders. What you are looking for are the gravel riffles. Those areas of the river where the water is very shallow and often broken. In the winter, with the level up, you can often totally miss these features, but they are incredibly important. Invertebrates, the food of river fish, live in their highest concentrations on riffles. This is because generally the water is too shallow for big fish to get onto them to gorge themselves.

When the river is high even big fish can get onto the riffles and even if the water is really heaving through and no more than a couple of feet deep they can be worth trying. More consistent though are spots just above and below the riffles where the water changes depth rapidly. Not only will food be brought to the fish lying in these spots, but because of the hydrodynamics of these spots the fish can sit close to the river bed and hardly experience any current at all. A huge larder of food and no expenditure of energy, what more could you ask for!

Whilst these changes in depth can often be quite distinct, that isn't always the case. Once shoal of dace that my friend Stuart Clough and I watched over a period of several days preferred water no more than a couple of inches deeper than the norm. Easy to spot when the river was low, but how would you find these spots when the river was six foot up and the colour of milky tea? No, get out and learn the river now. One day spent actually looking at the river will set you up perfectly for the long winter ahead.