Heavy rain can make for challenging fishing, but with the right mindset, it’s still possible to enjoy some great sport! From successful spots and tactics to staying safe on the bank, we have some excellent tips to keep you catching this winter.
You know that feeling. You’ve been waiting an age to go fishing, but on the day in question, conditions look horrible. The banks are muddy, the water has jumped up a few inches or even a few feet. Your chosen venue suddenly looks like a different world, but is it still worth tackling up?
Is it worth bothering to fish a flooded river, faced with foul weather or dirty water?
Let’s be honest here, we live in a country with a notoriously wet and unpredictable climate. If we were to sit and wait for our preferred conditions, we’d cancel at half of our trips! It’s also worth noting that even the most challenging weather brings opportunites. Find the right spot and the fish might be bunched up in large numbers, or be sitting right under the bank within easy reach.
So the short answer is yes, you can still catch fish in floods. It might just take a change of mindset and some preparation. Here are eleven essential tips to get you fishing safely and successfully.
1. Find the right spot
Knowing how to fish a flooded river often begins with your experience from more normal conditions, along with a simple question: where do fish hide when the river level shoots up?
The short answer tends to be anywhere they can escape the full brunt of the flow. Bends, slacks and obstructions are all worth a look if they offer shelter. Rather than attempt the hopeless task of anchoring a bait in a rushing torrent, though, one of the best tactics is to try close in, right under the rod tip! Any undercut banks or features that provide sanctuary from the main flow are a real giveaway.
Lastly, be sure to get onto Google Maps or better still Google Earth and look for spots where fish will hole up. Marinas, flood arms, connected canals and lakes, and other sheltered locations are all likely places to explore.
2. Respect the water and stay safe!
Besides modifying tackle and rigs, it’s also vital to keep safe in flood conditions! No fishing is worth your neck, so try to avoid any spots with slippery slopes or where dangerous currents are found close to the bank.
Some anglers take extra precautions on the steep banks of rivers such as the Severn and Wye. One of these is to carry a rope and “dog spike” in any swim that involves a slope. It might look drastic, but could save your life! Another must is decent footwear with grip soles; treat yourself to quality because basic trainers can be lethal on slippery surfaces! If still in any doubt, you could also wear a buoyancy aid or lifejacket on the bank.
It’s also good practice to try and fish with a pal and let others know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. The bottom line has to be safety. We all sense how risky any given situation is, but it’s another thing to listen to these instincts and be sensible. Please don’t risk your life for fishing!
3. Adapt your tactics.
Another golden rule of flood fishing is to tackle up to the conditions. This can often mean putting your own preferences second to those of the fish. This tends to mean scaling up heavier and stronger; fish like barbel are already hard fighters in normal conditions, but with the prospect of surging currents and added debris in the swim you simply must be ready!
In terms of baits and rigs, one advantage of floods is that fish will be less picky about your presentation. And with nearly zero visibility, you can be bolder and use thicker lines and larger weights and hooks than usual.
4. Leave a scent trail
With chocolate coloured water, finesse goes out of the window and fish will rely more heavily than ever on scent to feed. This means large baits are the order of the day, whether that’s a huge chunk of luncheon meat for chub or a whole fresh herring for pike. Be bold and bear in mind that it could take a little longer than usual for the fish to find your offering.
5. Make it a wrap
Talking of scent, another great tip is to try a paste wrap, which is a cracking way to draw fish to your boilie of pellet hookbait. Your paste recipe should be thicker and less easy to wash away than your standard mix- and don’t be afraid to create a real gob-stopper of a finished offering! Chub and barbel are not delicate feeders, so give them a mouthful.
6. Match the “hatch” with a worm
What do fish expect to find on a high river? Well, many worms get washed from fields during grim, wet weather, so these are a fantastic bait for various species. In fact, a large lobworm, perhaps fished next to a feeder full of broken pieces, is an absolutely classic floodwater bait.
7. Forget about fly or lure fishing in coloured water?
Ok, so smelly bait makes perfect sense in a flood, but can you still catch on lures or even flies? That might depend on the venue. Some chalkstreams and other rivers clear very quickly, or retain some visibility even when high. The Itchen and Hampshire Avon are two classic examples of this.
Otherwise, you might have to be bold and try something larger and louder than usual? Large lures with bags of vibration might just work, as might big, bright flies with the presence to shift some extra water. Another good tip for the fly angler is to explore further upstream than usual or try the tributaries. It’s amazing how much clearer a river can be a mile or so further, while streams up in the hills might retain clarity even when the valleys are brown!
8. What comes up…
Must come down, as the saying goes! If you have a choice of days and the forecast suggests a clear pattern, do try to time your visit just before or a day or three after the worst weather. That’s not to say you won’t catch on some really horrid days, but the hours just before a river comes up, or indeed the period when a river is clearing after a flood, can be deadly! If you can hit a river just as the clarity returns, this can be especially brilliant. For any hungry fish, the effect must be rather like turning the lights on again.
9. Keep searching
Another common factor in flooded rivers is how much the fish tend to concentrate in groups. The stronger the flow becomes, the more this will happen, sometimes leading to huge numbers of fish in limited space.
The fish might have deserted their usual haunts, so unless you’re getting bites or have huge confidence in a particular swim, it’s always worth roving and covering a few spots in a day.
10. Sort your wet weather gear!
Filthy weather and sodden fields demand extra care with your gear. Waders might be needed just to get across the fields in the worst conditions! No gear is completely waterproof in the very worst weather, but a bib and brace is a great investment that could make the difference between being comfortable and feeling like a human teabag!
Another great shout is to always include a foul weather bag in the boot of your vehicle. Dry spare clothing, warm socks and a towel can be a priceless blessing after a tough session.
11. Use technology to help fight the floods
These days we’re blessed with so many useful apps and monitoring pages, it’s unreal. That said, even the best of these are only useful if you use them correctly and take time to study them a little. Google Earth is another excellent shout for finding likely spots, such as connecting lakes, tributaries and flood defences where fish concentrate during high water.
Other useful apps and site include:
Met Office app – for the latest forecasts, plus flood warnings.
River Levels UK – Brilliant to monitor water levels and patterns on hundreds of rivers across the UK!
Get Fishing has features including some great free instructional videos, along with a special map feature to find fisheries in your area.
Tight lines and stay safe out there this winter!