The winter can be a challenging time to catch fish, but besides seasonal extremes it can also be a season of great opportunities. Angling Trust blogger Dom Garnett has a host of winter fishing tips to keep you catching, starting with some thoughts on venues and watercraft. Don’t forget to keep it safe and local right now- our Covid-19 section has a really useful at-a-glance guide to fishing in the different tiers.
1. Time your visit
Ok, so we don’t always get to pick our time off. But with a bit of planning, we can try and find conditions that will help. Given a choice of days, look for consistent temperatures or a slight rise. Experience will tell you the best hours on your favourite venues, but often the comparatively mild hours of an afternoon might be better than dawn right now, especially after a bitterly cold night! Do watch the mercury and get a decent weather app.
2. Treat yourself and stay warm
The only way to give the fishing your full focus on a bitter day is to keep warm and comfortable, so why suffer? Your head, feet and core body warm warmth are especially important. A decent hat and lined footwear are a must, but for keeping your core body warm nothing beats a bib and brace or all weather suit. You’d happily spend double that money on a new rod, so why not treat yourself this winter?
3. Focus on the achievable
Not all species or venues respond with equal relish in the cold. You’re not going to be driving for hours to fish anyway with Covid restrictions- so choose a suitable local venue and a realistic target! Fish species such as roach, chub, grayling and pike are among the more willing biters in the cold, so be pragmatic and fish for bites.
4. Find venues to beat the freeze
When the mercury really drops, of course, your hand might be even more forced. On some days in mid winter it might be a challenge to find any stillwater not frozen over! One good shout is to earmark smaller lakes that are spring-fed. Any smaller lake with reasonable depths and good stocks of silver fish or trout is a great bet, and those with decent inflows will retain clear patches even in the worst frosts.
5… or break the ice
It might look like lunacy, but if you find your local canal or commercial frozen over, you can still catch by breaking a gap in the ice! The easiest way is with a weed rake or purpose made weight on a chain. You’d be surprised how well you can catch once the fish settle down again!
6 Spend time with a depth plumb
No matter whether you’re pole fishing or legering, it’s always worth spending a few minutes to do some detective work on your swim. Rather than trying the first fancied swim, have a little explore with a depth plumb or sinker. On small stillwaters, there is almost always a deeper end, which fish will often cram into once the frosts take hold. At other times you might find areas that have only inches of extra depth, but this can be enough to hold fish.
7 Cut down on feed
Fish are cold blooded animals. They still have to eat on cold days, but at reduced quantities. Go gently with your feed. Little and often is still the golden rule, but be more sparing and feel your way in. If the fish react positively you can always add more.
8 Prevent icing up!
One angling problem for very low temperatures can be line sticking to the rod rings! This can be remedied by applying just a dab of lip balm or Vaseline. You might find some lines trickier than others- and braid is especially bad for freezing so you could consider a longer leader, for example.
9 Be fussy about bite indication
As well as eating less, fish move more slowly and delicately when it’s bitterly cold. More than any time of year, you need to dot float tips right down and use light quiver tips and bobbins where possible. Even a tiny movement can be a fish, so be ready to strike at small movements. Even pike and perch can be delicate feeders at this time of year, especially where angling pressure is high.
10. Beat the wind
While fish can follow a mild breeze through much of the year, icy winds can be a different matter. On lakes and small stillwaters in particular, you might be better off finding sheltered part of the lake where both you and the fish can avoid the worst of it.
11. Find walking paced water for a trot on the river
Icy conditions on the river can mean low, clear water, but this can be an excellent time to find species such as roach and grayling. A good tip for float fishing is not to be afraid of the flow; look for steady, walking pace water with reasonable depth and you won’t go far wrong with a stick float and bread or maggots.
12. Try a short session just into dusk
One key time to be fishing this time of year is the last hour or two of daylight and just into darkness. Rather than enduring a whole day out, try a short session as the light is going. It’s ironic that so many of us pack up at dusk as this is a fantastic time to catch big perch, chub and barbel. Instead, pack that headtorch and an extra layer.
13. Don’t give up!
Finally, persistence is definiely a virtue in winter. So often, the decisive bite arrives just as you were questioning your sanity! If you can keep going, though, you never know what might happen. One thing is for sure, whether you catch roach, grayling, pike or winter carp, most fish are at their very best condition as we reach the latter part of the season.
Tight lines out there and look out for part two of our winter tips shortly, in which we’ll look at bait and methods.