Each year some fish will die, and so it doesn't take many years for there to be very few fish left. So the older and bigger you get, the less of your year class will be left. This does not always follow, some times conditions will lead to an exceptional year class being formed. An example of this is the current situation found on the spate rivers of the North West of England. Here a single year class of chub have grown to an enormous average size, yet are still relatively numerous. Such freakish conditions do occur, and if the angler is willing to travel to waters where this is happening, and to fish for species which are on a high at that particular time, then a prodigious list of specimens may be caught with little difficulty.

For most people though, it is more likely that they will need to try and select the biggest fish from those found in their local waters. It is of course perfectly feasible to just go fishing as often as possible, for if you catch the small fish of a species there is generally no reason why you won't catch their bigger sisters. Angling magazines are full of accounts of anglers catching their first huge fish after fifty years of fishing, or youngsters catching a whopper on their first trip, but I prefer to catch fish a little more regularly and with a little more planning than that! So, for me, one of the key skills which differentiates the specimen hunter from other anglers is the ability to use techniques which increase the chances of catching big fish on a regular basis. The aim of this article then, is to discuss some of the techniques I use and how to get the best from them.

Sight fishing So, if it is the biggest fish that we are chasing, how can we ensure that these are the fish that we catch. Taken to an extreme, this could mean that we only fish by sight, targeting the biggest fish in the water only when we know they are in the proximity of our bait. Some times this approach is feasible, small river chub and barbel fishing, floater fishing for carp, and surface fishing for mullet can all fit in to this category. The problem with this method, good as it can be, is that conditions have to be perfect for them to work. The water must be clear, the sun out, and the fish inclined to swim close enough to the bank for you to make out the size of the fish. Although this technique cannot be dismissed, I see it as opportunist fishing. If I happen to be on the bank when conditions are perfect then this is how I will fish, but it is not a technique that forms a major part of my approach. From May until October, I normally carry a bag of floating baits in the car and have appropriate tackle with me. I always carry Polaroid glasses and a hat, so if the opportunity arises, I can take advantage of it.

Know their haunts Alternatively, the angler could fish areas where big fish have been observed in the past, have been caught repeatedly, or which provide an ideal trap. The latter method is commonly used by many anglers, based upon their own assumptions and past experience of the kind of areas that fish will frequent. Although not always wrong, most anglers probably rely too much on their preference for certain types of feature and don't listen enough to what the fish are telling them. How often do you hear someone say they are fishing on gravel bars, or on the clear runs in a river, with little knowledge of whether they are fishing in the right area. If you fish a venue frequently enough it may be possible for you to discern some long term pattern, but can you be sure that you are still getting the best out of the fishery? If you only fish the venue rarely then I would suggest that your assumptions are probably wrong more than they are right.

Some waters, particularly carp syndicates, keep excellent records of all fish caught. This can give you a clue. If the biggest fish in the lake gets caught from the "Bush" swim‚ on the day of the Spring Equinox, then you know where you should be! I know a few of my friends who have managed to track down huge fish with very little time and effort using this technique, and if the records exist, it can be an excellent short cut. Unfortunately, the problem remains that very few fisheries keep records of sufficient accuracy. Many fisheries have some record of the going baits, time of capture, and other useful information though. I always prefer to see this written down, rather than just mentioned by the local "expert". In my experience, the person most likely to tell you all about the fishing on your first few visits to a water is the last person you want to take any notice of!

The secret to developing your own pattern for a fishery, and make no mistake, other anglers may come to totally different conclusions to you, is to keep a detailed diary of events. This is the only detailed record you will have of what has occurred. Include as much information as you can, not just catches of fish, but what other anglers have caught, what baits they have used, any fish activity, bird activity, anything that may give you a clue to the workings of the water. Such a diary will eventually show you some pointers, the trouble is, you may have already caught everything you want from the water by the time it has enough information, although this is something I can live with!

Timing In my previous articles entitled Millennium Specimen hunting‚ I wrote about fishing for different species at different times of the year, but what if the biggest fish can be easier to catch at certain times? On a daily basis, the bigger fish will often feed more confidently in open water at night. During the course of a year, the bigger fish may feed more confidently during the Autumn. I must admit, I find that all fish tend to feed well irrespective of size at the same time, so you may well catch more fish when conditions are right, rather than a higher proportion of biggies. If I were to draw one conclusion about timing it would be that the really big fish do get caught when conditions appear unfavourable. This may be because they are the only fish we need to eat under such conditions, or because they are not beaten to the food by the hordes of smaller fish. Whatever the reason, it is something to bear in mind.

BIG BAITS = BIG FISH? Finally, the angler can fish with tactics that make the capture of large fish more likely. A good example of a tactic that can single out only the bigger fish is the use of large baits. As fish grow their whole bodies grow at about the same rate. So a big fish has a bigger mouth than smaller fish of the same species. It was Fred Wilton who took the big bait logic to it's conclusion and is publicly quoted as stating that big baits will attract the biggest fish. Although instinctively true, I think that enough specialist anglers have documented their approach for us to re-examine this train of thought.

The original concept worked quite well with the carp that the anglers were targeting. Here is a species which is generally bigger than the other fish in the fishery and which also varies greatly in size. If you want to avoid ten pound carp then, if you have the discipline, it is possible to use a bait that can only be tackled by a thirty pounder. Such a bait would be pretty big, certainly the size of a chicken egg. For species which vary greatly in size there is some sense in this method, but for smaller species, such as roach, there is relatively little difference in the size of the mouth of a large and small fish. This method really relies upon the degree to which the target fish differ in size from the rest of the fish in the water. For it to be truly successful, the target fish, I would hazard a guess, has to be at least twice the size of the other fish. This is rarely the case in my experience.

Another problem with the big bait method is that it is not necessarily the size of food item that the fish will naturally feed upon. This leads to two problems. Firstly, the fish will not recognise the bait as food, and secondly as the bait stands out so much from the natural food of the fish it is likely to be recognised as something odd more readily than a smaller bait. Wilton was also one of the pioneers of prebaiting, and I think it is no coincidence that the use of baits of a different size to the natural food of the fish is most effective when the bait has been heavily prebaited. The bait being a different size to the fishes natural food is one reason why the big bait method can work well at the beginning of a campaign, but it's potency quickly falls leaving the angler back at square one.

One of the main flaws in the big bait philosophy is that it is species specific. Chub have a bigger mouth than a barbel and so a bait that might only be taken by a double figure barbel can easily be taken by four pound chub. Similarly, a reasonable sized tench will take a piece of bread flake that can only just be tackled by a specimen roach.

Big baits have fallen from favour for most species, but one where I feel their use is still valid is in pike fishing. Pike are another species which vary greatly in size and there are generally far more small fish than large ones. The mouth of a thirty pounder is like a bucket and can certainly swallow a bait of a pound or more in weight. A big pike will also tend to naturally feed upon larger prey than smaller fish.

So, I hope this article gives you come pointers about how to specifically target big fish. Catching big fish is not just about luck and by thinking about your fishing it is possible to stack the deck in your favour.