With milder temperatures and the relaxation of lockdown measures hopefully in sight, it promises to be a great spring for fishing! All the same, this can be a moody time of year, especially for coarse and carp fishing. Fishing author and Angling Times columnist Dom Garnett has a host of ideas and advice to enjoy your time on the bank. Don’t forget to renew your fishing licence when it’s due (our “Which licence do I need?” article is a good read if you’re new to fishing or unsure what you need).
1. Get your timing right
Fair weather fishers will be thronging the banks on sunny days, but these conditions are not always the most productive. They are also busier than ever with the public these days on any public waterway! Where possible, go for an early start or days with plenty of cloud cover. Perhaps the exception to this is surface fishing for rudd or carp, when sunny skies can mean delightful sport.
2. Catch them on the move
With longer, lighter days and a complete change in the natural world, fish can and will move long distances from the places you found them not so long ago. This could be to capitalise on new food sources, or simply to bask in water that is warmer than it has been in many months.
Either way, you want to be open-minded and stay mobile. Taking a walk with just one rod and light gear is sensible at first, with the aim of finding the fish. Even if you’re a long session angler, take as long as you need to locate your quarry and look for signs before settling into a swim. In fact, rods can distract us from the key task of finding fish and you should think nothing about leaving them in the car for an hour or more if it helps you make a better decision with swim choice.
3. Look closer
Talking of observation and fish on the move, don’t forget to grab a pair of polarising glasses and take time just to watch the water. I’m always amazed how few anglers carry a pair, because these should stored permanently in the car, if not glued to your head!
If you do any fishing at range, binoculars are another must-have. You don’t need to spend a fortune for a functional model to really boost your natural eyesight. Fish, and nature as a whole, can be subtle and there is a lot to be said in any fishing for watching more and casting less.
4. Make friends with the wind
With the rivers off limits, lake fishing often becomes the favourite option for fans of natural venues. On stillwaters of all sizes, it’s also a time of year when the wind will have a big say on which swims produce. Given mild temperatures, I wouldn’t hesitate to try the windward corner of any lake, big or small. This might mean having the wind right in your face, so forget your own comfort if necessary!
Keep an eye on your weather app and watch the bigger picture, too, because several days of mild breeze in a similar direction can see fish like carp, bream and tench really stacked up in one area, as they find food and favourable temperatures easier to come by.
5. Bait positively, but start smaller
While the textbooks will often tell you that fish are starving after winter and starving hungry, this is not always true. If anything, early spring can be quite an unstable time, with big variations in temperature and activity levels.
The sensible answer is therefore to feel your way in to each session. By all means start with a bit of feed to kick things off, but don’t give the fish a feast until you’re confident that they’ll respond. With carp, perhaps try casting just a single small bag out or using just a dozen or so freebies around each hook bait. When pole fishing, try just one ball of groundbait to kick off a swim. You can always add more later if the fish are up for it, but let them dictate how much goes in!
6. Go the natural route with flies and zigs
One huge change in the spring is the ever increasing amount of fly life. I saw very decent hatches of buzzers and even the odd butterfly in February this year! Given how much bug life there is in most freshwater habitats, it’s a bit of a mystery why so few anglers are interested in fishing with insect copies. Savvy carp anglers are now using zig bugs, but there is a vast amount of scope with other species, too.
Grab a fly rod and the possibilities are absolutely endless. I absolutely love fishing for rudd and roach on warm, sunny days, for example- and any dark, slow sinking is perfect when you can see cruising and rising fish.
7. Have a plan B and C!
Another fact of life at this time of year is that different fish species can suddenly switch off. This is not the time or place for a close season debate- but suffice to say that on waters that are open all year round, the fish will inevitably spawn at some stage. You can’t blame them for not wanting to eat- and even if you could catch them, it’s best to move on to something else!
The mercy here is that coarse fish species spawn at such different times. Pike on shallow venues can be done and dusted by March, while tench can still carry eggs into late June. The short answer is to always have a plan B if your target fish isn’t willing. All the more reason to broaden your angling diet and pack another outfit, whether that’s waggler gear for rudd or a lure setup for perch.
8. Keep a close eye on margins and overgrown areas
After the long, cold months of winter, now is the time when the margins finally start to come alive again. The basic reasons are simple- shallow areas near the bank start to become rich in natural food, while cover also grows back to afford fish more security. One great tip here on any water is to get stuck into spots beyond the usual pegs and platforms (unless rules state otherwise). Hit the spots where fish feel safe and keep it simple with just one rod, rather than tackling those where everybody else fishes.
9. Hedge your bets and hop between spots
Another good tip to tackle up for moody, mobile fish in spring is not to gamble everything on one spot. If you are lucky enough to find a fishery that’s not too busy, an excellent approach is to bait three or four spots lightly and rove between them looking for signs of life. In clear water, baits like sweetcorn and bread are ideal, because you can easily see when the bait has been eaten. The only caveat here is that if another angler turns up and decides to fish one of these areas, you might have to make way.
10. Take extraordinary care…
Again, I’m not going to debate the close season here, but it’s worth emphasizing that fish are fragile in the spring. Personally, if I can see fish preparing to spawn I will leave them be. However, for many fish, it is not just the act of spawning itself (when they tend to be uncatchable) that is a sensitive time. In the aftermath, they might have had a few scrapes and scratches from the rigors of breeding. They may also be rather underweight and hungry!
More than any time of year, therefore, please go the extra mile to care for your catch (our blog on fish care has some brilliant tips and advice!). Keep fish in the water, or at least wet, wherever possible and handle with extreme care. You could even treat any lifted scales or ragged fins on post-spawn fish with a little dab of Klinik or another product to aid healing. Our fish are worth it!
Further spring reading
There’s plenty to read in our blog archives to give you more inspiration for the coming spring months. Below are just a small handful of the free fishing articles you might enjoy. With any luck, angling will also be able to resume on a more normal basis before too long- but please do stay safe and keep checking our Facebook page and covid support hub for the latest news and updates.