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At last it’s winter, and our commercial water expert has finally mothballed his animal gear in favour of a little finesse. He’s looking forward to some top-drawer feeder sport as he targets Cornwall’s silver fish on the feeder.
I’m writing with joy in my words, as we have now reached the most exciting time of the year. After seven months of fishing for carp, I can now focus on other species and put some finesse back into my fishing. I am currently preparing for the up and coming White Acres silver fish festival and our winter league, which this year has 72 anglers.
Bagging silver fish in the winter is probably my favourite type of fishing, and it’s a real bonus for me to be able to fish the winter events in and around the complex. As you can probably tell, I get to fish the winter festivals at White Acres added to my favourite type of fishing. I just can’t wait! I’m sorry to keep harking on about it but, due to the warmer climate we have down here, the winter fishing in Cornwall is probably some of the best fishing in the country.
We normally only have a dozen frosts every year and I have only seen ice on the lakes a couple of times. But it can still be hard, as our biggest problems are the heavy wind and the rain that hit us regularly as they come in from the Atlantic. I have to take all these factors into account when I’m preparing for winter fishing, so I need to rethink my tactics and tackle, because during last year’s festival we endured some massive storms with high winds that actually lifted me off my tackle box.
I’m going to concentrate on the feeder aspects of my winter plans and look at the set-ups to use that will include rigs I can swap between feeder and bomb, depending on the conditions. Years ago it was common practice for anglers to use short bomb rods called ‘Winkle Pickers’.
With this rod you were able to flick an AAA shot over the top of your loose feed to catch quality roach when conditions were hard. It’s a tactic I plan to use for this year’s campaign, because I think it’s a sure-fire winner on the right venues. I could be opening a can of worms this month, as some of the ideas I’m planning on trying over the winter are unlikely to have been fished before on some venues, and that includes White Acres.
If I feel the rigs fit in with our fishery rules, I will be able to decide with my team as to the ethics of them and what, if any , detriment there will be to our fish , which at White Acres is our main concern. Think back in time for a moment. How many times have you sat there battling against the elements with your pole and suffering bad presentation when a little 6ft rod could be an ideal alternative.
Having spent some of the past 12 months getting to grips with the many aspects of specimen fishing, I believe I can refine some of the rigs I used to give me that all-important edge in difficult match conditions. Specimen anglers work hard to keep their lines hidden by pinning them down tight to the bottom. I reckon this could be adapted for fishing the feeder or bomb when the lake is towing hard. I’m not suggesting you use 20lb “leadcore” leaders, as most carp-tackle manufacturers supply light, thinner products. Another method I’m thinking of trying is small, PVA mesh bags.
Yes, I can hear you all now saying it won’t dissolve in cold water, but you need to remember that this is Southern Angler and we get it much warmer than up north. Besides, specimen anglers will fish all winterusing PVA. It just takes a few seconds longer to dissolve, but more of this in later issues. For the purpose of this article I have decided to fish for the skimmers at Porth. It’s not the best of days, as it is dark and threatening heavy rain, but it’s ideal to test out a few other alternative ideas. Porth is a great venue, as the fish are always willing to have a munch, even in the depth of winter. I’ve set myself up on Peg 6 below the car park, which is the first peg before the woods. Although it’s easy to fish, the water is very deep just a short way out so I expect the venue’s bigger skimmers that live in this part of the reservoir to show.
A Long Tag at the end of the “plaited” leader acts as a semi-bolt rig I want to look at my groundbait mix first and, even though it’s winter, I’ve chosen a fishmeal / pelletbased groundbait as this will, I hope, push away smaller fish. This mix normally forms the recipe for all my winter silver fishing here in Cornwall. In my opinion, the two most popular groundbaits around the southwest for the winter is our own Cornish Bagging Mix and the Ringer Baits mix.
However, during the cooler months, both need to be diluted with brown crumb at this time of year. It’s noticeable that when Steve, Phil and Geoff Ringer visit us for the autumn festivals they always tend to catch a better quality of skimmer than most others and, more often than not, win their sections. I believe it’s all down to their mix. With that in mind, I start by mixing one part fishmeal to three parts brown crumb. This mix is not overpowerful, to prevent me catching 4oz to 6oz fish, but it should stop small fish from turning up and intercepting my bait on the way down.
Groundbait preparation is really important during winter, so I start by running all the mix through a flour sieve to remove any large partials that might float away from your baited area. Why sieve the mix? Hard partials in your mix take much longer to absorb water, so it will remain buoyant for longer and you could get fish follow them away from your swim as you feed. I make my mix a little on the dry side, so in the early stages of the session it will explode, forming a cloud as it hits the bottom and hopefully exciting the fish into feeding. I’m after a better stamp of fish, so I’m fishing casters, maggots, hemp and corn – all baits that you would normally associate with summer fishing. In my initial feed I’m going to add a liberal helping of hemp. I have discovered that hemp in the winter will keep fish feeding, so along with a few casters and one or two grains of corn it should keep the fish searching for longer.
W h e n choosing a feeder for winter fishing, especially when targeting silver fish, you need to think about a number of factors: shy bites, self-hooking, finesse without detection and overfeeding, plus many more. It’s important to select the right feeder, depending on target species and the venue you’re fishing. The rod also needs to be right and, as I’m only chucking short today, I’m using my 10ft Sentient carp feeder with the winter tip attached. The peg I ’ v e selected is very d e e p , about 20 feet at 12.5 metres, so I need to select a feeder that has enough weight to get to the bottom quickly. But it doesn’t want to be so heavy that fish feel the weight as the bait is picked up, causing it to back off.
Today it’s a medium Nisa, loaded with a 20g lead. As there are few holes in the feeder, it gives me the option of using a wetter mix later in the session that won’t empty before it reaches the deck. The wetter mix takes longer to drop out of the feeder, so when a fish takes the bait the extra weight will help the fish hook itself if it bolts. The lack of holes in the feeder also helps to retain the small particles of groundbait falling out of the feeder, moving feeding fish away from my baited area.
I would probably only use the wetter mix if I get the fish feeding with confidence. As skimmers, and possibly roach, are my main quarry at Porth it is fairly easy to think about the tactics to catch, but when it comes to other species at other venues, for instance Jenny’s Lake on the complex, it becomes another matter. Jenny’s holds a good head of tench, crucians, skimmers, roach and perch.
All the species in the lake feed well, even through the winter, but are easily spooked. The reason for this is that the lake is very shallow, so it’s important to decide on the right feeder. “Do I use one designed to come straight to the surface, but still have enough weight to hook the fish, or should I go for a feeder with extra weight which will help with accuracy when casting in the wind as well as hooking,” I ask myself?
With the heavier feeder, there is a risk of bumping it through a shoal of feeding fish and spooking them. The problem is, how can you balance your rig so you can hit shy roach and crucian bites when it’s blowing a hoolie? It’s never an easy choice. One of our rules at White Acres, and at many other commercial venues, is that your feeder or lead must be free running. To keep to the rules, but help me to improve my hook rate, I’m using what I call a plaited leader. It’s not easy to explain, and I hope the pictures with this article help, but the leader is doubled-up main line that is locked with a simple knot that leaves a large tag that still allows the weight to run free.
The twizzled leader imparts some resistance that is caused by the extra thickness so that fish feel it when it takes the bait. If that fails to cause the fish to bolt and self-hook, the tag at the end stops the feeder bead/swivel for a moment and that should be enough to spook the fish and ensure it hooks itself. By the way, this is a safe rig, as the feeder and swivel will slide off with ease if the main line snaps. While I’m setting up, I notice the sky is getting blacker by the minute and before the skies open up I kick-start the feature so I can hopefully catch a few early fish. I lob in half-a-dozen balls at 16 metres.
This is a big risk in the winter but, looking at the weather, if I don’t get some bait in quickly the day could be washed out, but I would not advise this normally. Hooklength for this session is 0.11mm Powerline with a size 16 PR32 attached. This is pretty substantial for the time of the year, but with fish up to 5lb a possibility I don’t want to miss out.
I’m now ready to start, but it’s now tipping it down and my groundbait is already far wetter than I would like it to be. I’m not too bothered this time, as I have already got some bait on the bottom, so I can plug the feeder a bit tighter. First choice of bait is three maggots . Normally, I would prefer dead maggots but these have started to crawl all over me and my tackle. I have little choice but to use them before they all escape. As the water in front of me is so deep,
I cast just past my feed line and allow the feeder to fall as close to where the food lies and clip up before tightening up on any slack.
To help me see any movement in my tip, I’m using an old tree stump in the water as a sort of target board. It’s tipping it down with rain, but within a few minutes my tip slowly pulls round and the first skimmer, a nice 2lb fish, is safely netted. The skimmer, however, turned out to be camera shy and as the obligatory first photo was being taken it was having none of it… and flipped straight back into the lake! Glad I wasn’t in a match. The fishing has started off at some pace, with the odd better fish following smaller skimmers. However, the harder the rain comes down, the slower the frequency of the bites. I change from maggots to casters, then to corn and back to maggot and all the knocks on my tip tell me that fish are down there are not giving positive bites.
A change to a bomb fails to bring bites and even unclipping and casting past my feed only results in what I believe are line bites. Finally, I get the tactics right by reverting back to fishing a plugged feeder full of hemp, casters and a few grains of corn and with double red maggots on the hook. Even though I’m only catching small skimmers, I’m getting one a chuck and have to admit that I’m having a great day despite the torrents of water falling around my ears. I admit to being a little puzzled as to the reason why the bigger skimmers fail to return… but it may have something to do with the Man from Atlantis who’s wading about in my peg!
Many thanks to ‘Southern Angler’ who first published this article in the Dec 2005.
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