November can be the best month of the season for barbel if the water temperature is kind to us. If we donít have too many really heavy frosts and a few spells of settled conditions, and especially with a touch of colour in the river, sport with barbel can be hectic. It is the month when those big, fat, floodwater fish begin to show too.
There is no need to seek out different types of swims in November. Fish the swims with the same character you usually fish through the summer months. Just step up the lead to cope with the higher water level. But be prepared to move until you find the fish, for as the water gets colder the barbel tend to shoal up in more localised areas, leaving some swims barren. When you do find them there will usually be far more fish present than there was earlier in the year when they were more spread out along the river.
During the daylight hours, now that the minnows have all but disappeared, you can safely use maggot. Once you have found the fish, and suspect there are quite a number of them in the swim, you can feed them heavily from a block-end feeder mixed about two thirds maggots to one third hemp. But donít feed too heavily until you are sure the swim is well-populated. Take it easy at first while youíre making sure youíve dropped on a good swim. Then, once you are sure, catapult or bait-dropper a pint or so in, and a pint or so of hemp, then keep casting regularly with the feeder to keep the swim topped up.
When darkness falls you can switch to a bigger, smellier bait such as flavoured luncheon meat. Donít do this automatically though - if the barbel are still feeding on maggot then stick with them.
When itís time to pack for home donít throw your maggots in, take them home and freeze them. Add a little of your favourite flavour to a polythene bag and rub between your hands to spread it all over the inside of the bag, drop the maggots in, shake them around, tie the neck of the bag, and then drop them in the freezer. Flavour guru Archie Braddock swears by flavoured dead maggots, and heís right, barbel love them. And Archie markets a Winter Barbel flavour that is just right for the job.
Pike in Rivers
October is the traditional start to the piking season and there are still some angling clubs and associations that ban pike angling until the 1st October. A logical reason for this escapes me, but more than likely the rule harks back to the bad old days when gags and gaffs were acceptable. Still, October is the traditional start, but for me, November is my start to the pike season and there is no better place than on the rivers.
We have already had a few frosts by November and there is no doubt that pike fishing with baits rather than lures is coming into its own. Now is the time when pike slow down, when they stop chasing food as much as they have through the warmer months, and begin to lie in ambush for it. The bait fisherman, choose whether he uses live or deadbait, has the best chance of scoring with a few fish, and rivers offer the best chance of sport, for even pike have a transitional period when they have to acclimatise from summer to winter temperatures. River pike acclimatise much more quickly and they will be ready and eager to snap up a bait while his stillwater cousin remains somewhat lethargic.
To begin with, dispense with the myth that river pike are always found in slacks at the side. Pike will be where the prey fish are, and if the prey fish are feeding in fast water then the pike will be in fast water, trying to pick them off. Of course, if there is a flow with a crease, and the crease is the dividing line between the flow and a slack at the side, then the pike will take the easy option and lie in wait in the slack. If there is no slacker water then get right in there with a bait in the flow, either anchored down with a decent lead, or trotted through on float tackle.
Trotting a dead roach, dace or small chub down a slow glide is one of my favourite pike fishing methods on rivers. I use a pear-shaped pike float with the thick end at the top so that it rides the current nicely. Line is 15lb test (I see no point in using anything less) an 18in wire-trace armed with two size 8 semi-barbless trebles in the tried and tested snap-tackle style. The bait should be mounted tail down, so that when you retrieve the bait it looks like itís swimming towards you Ė do it slowly, with frequent pauses, and you could get a take!
I bulk-shot the float with SSG on the line just above the swivel that connects trace to main line, with just enough shot to help the bait to sink. I set the depth, initially at least, to about a foot off bottom and allow the bait to run through the swim at the same pace as the current. If that doesnít attract any takes then I will try holding the float back, so that the bait rises up towards the surface, and sinks slowly back when I give it some line. Do this repeatedly and it can be a real turn-on for a pike that is struggling to make itís mind up as to whether or not it wants a meal. Theyíll take simply because they are annoyed at the shear temerity of a smaller fish performing so brazenly in the vicinity of the lionís den, so to speak.
Failing that I will then slide the float down a foot and fish the bait 2ft off bottom. And then another foot shallower if that doesnít work, until Iím back where I started at one foot off bottom, which is the banker depth.
You donít need anything fancy to leger a bait for pike in rivers. A simple running leger stopped by a bead above the swivel that links an 18in long wire trace is ideal.
Next month: December Ė Perch and Dace