A Beginner’s Guide to Fish Care

Releasing your quarry unharmed is one of the most important things any angler can learn. Dominic Garnett shares essential tips to help you safely catch and release your fish so that they’re ready to do battle another day!

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If a fish has fought hard, you may need to support it in the water until it gets its breath back
Image source: Dom Garnett

While it’s great to learn all about rigs, methods and tactics for big fish, one of the most important aspects of modern angling is one of the least written about. Handling and releasing your catch safely should be one of the first things an angler learns; sadly it’s not always the case.

Why do we release fish in the first place? It’s simple. To preserve our sport. If we took our catch home every time we went fishing, we would soon run out. That’s the reality of living on a small island country with lots of anglers and only so many fish to catch! A fish that is dead cannot give another angler pleasure. It cannot grow bigger or, crucially, breed and produce more fish. Furthermore, there is a deep satisfaction in returning a fish safely, knowing it will live to fight not just another day, but possibly many years.

Preparation and essential equipment

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Featured product: the new Leeda Rogue Carp Unhooking Cradle from Fishtec is just £39.99

Besides the right gear, good fish care is all about anticipation and being prepared. Do you know where your forceps or scales are at a moment’s notice? Is your tackle strong enough, and have you earmarked a safe place to land a fish in advance?

Having the right gear is another must. Two of the most commonly neglected pieces of equipment are the correct unhooking tools (a pair of pliers is no good) and the right landing net (a generous sized net of soft mesh). A large, quality landing net also doubles as a good investment for retaining fish in the water for short periods. Last but not least, nobody fishing for carp, pike or other larger species should be without an unhooking mat or cradle – and many clubs and fisheries won’t let you fish without one.

Many anglers also debarb hooks or use barbless patterns these days too. In 90% of situations, barbless is best. The possible exception is with large fish, the argument being that a barbless can move around and cut more during a long fight. In this situation, I believe a “bumped” hook is best (i.e. one where the profile of the barb has been reduced by pliers, but there is still a slight “bump”). This stops the hook moving around during the fight, but can still be removed without any tearing.

12 golden rules of fish care

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The right way to pose for a quick picture; low to the ground and with a mat underneath
Image source: Dom Garnett

When it comes to safely handling and releasing fish, there are a few golden rules. Advance knowledge and preparation are key here; the time to wonder about best practice is not when a fish is kicking on the bank! Here are some of the universal rules of responsible catch and release angling:

Always handle fish with wet hands: This avoids removing their protective slime. NEVER use a towel. You will notice fish behave much better if you have wet hands (think about it – they have come from somewhere cold and wet, while your paws are dry and warm!)

Always have the right tools: You should never fish without the means to extract a hook. For small fish, a disgorger is the answer and for larger species, forceps are better. If you fish for pike, these should be a minimum of 12” long. Buy quality and always pack a spare set (they are easy to lose on the bank and lots of companies make the damned things green or dull coloured!)

Use sensible tackle: A totally knackered fish is a fish in danger. Try not to play your quarry to exhaustion, but be as quick as reasonably possible. Large fish like carp, pike and barbel need strong gear. If the fish has fought like fury, you could give it a few seconds to rest in the water before you handle it.

Handle fish carefully and as little as possible: The less faff the better here. The more handling, the more slime you remove and the more risk.

Be prepared: Have your unhooking equipment, camera and other essentials ready and close to hand at all times.

Keep time out of water to a minimum: If you want to weigh a fish or take a picture, you can always keep it immersed using your landing net (or perhaps in a carp sack briefly) while you set up the shot and zero your scales. Avoid keeping your catch out of water for more than is absolutely necessary.

Use the right net: Landing nets are often essential for all but the smallest fish. Avoid small nets and harsh mesh materials (modern rubberized mesh is excellent). A large net can also be used to briefly retain your catch in the water to let it recover or give it a breather if you want to take a picture.

Never stand up or walk around while holding a big fish: A fish dropped from standing height is often a dead one; it may swim off, but you will have damaged its internal organs. Instead, kneel with it over the mat or the water for safety. And use your net to carry fish back to the water, lowering gently back.

Handle with care (cradle, don’t clench): A fish is a living thing, not a bragging item. Hold it as you would a little baby, not some macho trophy. If it’s really heavy, supporting closer to your body is safer than thrusting out to the camera. Try to “cradle” a large fish, and avoid clenching or squeezing around the throat area because this is where many of the vital organs are.

Weigh safely and keep your catch wet: The easiest way to weigh a fish is in the net, and then deduct the weight of your net later. Make sure the fish is lying “flush” (i.e. evenly in the bottom of the net with no fins trapped) before lifting the scales. Specimen hunters often prefer a sling. If you use one of these, make sure it’s well doused with water.

Lower, don’t drop: Although non-anglers will ask if you’re going to “throw” it back, this is not something a caring angler would ever do. Every fish should be lowered back into the water if humanly possible. If the spot is awkward and this is impossible, use your net to lower the fish back safely.

Support if necessary: Sometimes fish will swim off strongly right away. Other times they may be tired and need some help. If a fish has battled hard, never just let go of it right away. Hold it upright in the water for a few seconds to let it recover (this could be a few minutes for some fish).

First aid for fish

Last but not least, some anglers go even further with fish care, especially for carp, by applying a little first aid. Products such as Klinik can disinfect any nicks from hooks or scale damage, assisting recovery. Gel-based products are the most effective, as they stick to the target.

Another tip for those who need to retain a net of small to medium fish for photography is to use a little clove oil mixed with water and douse the fish; it is a natural anesthetic and calms them down. In fact, Environment Agency staff have been known to use it in fish surveys to de-stress fish.

Pike and other special cases…

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The right way to do it: cradle and support your catch , avoid dry hands or clenching at the throat.
Image source: Dom Garnett

Another important point to make in our guide is that not all fish are created as tough as each other. Carp, the most cared for of the lot, are tough as old boots (obviously this is still no reason not to treat them with total respect!)

Grayling, trout and others can be very brittle though, and need extra care. Pike are perhaps the most misunderstood and fragile fish of all, in spite of their fierce appearances. For a thorough guide to pike unhooking and handling, it’s well worth checking out the Pike Angler’s Club’s code of safe practice.

What about sea fish and stocked trout?

While coarse anglers are very much at the forefront of catch and release, a lot of sea and game anglers are now just as passionate about fish welfare. Indeed, if you’re not going to eat it, why on earth wouldn’t you want it to go back unharmed?

Most coarse fish, and indeed many wild game fish, are protected by law these days and removing them is a criminal offence. However, with some stocked trout, as well as sea fish above a set of minimum size limits, you may choose (or be obliged) to take the fish.

We would strongly advise returning slow-growing and precious fish such as salmon and bass, even if you may legally take them. But if you must kill, do it quickly and humanely – a “priest” is the tool to do it, with a short sharp blow to the skull on the top of the head.

How else can we make sure fish go back safely?

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We all have a responsibility to protect our fish stock
Image source: Dom Garnett

Feelings can run quite high when it comes to catch and release practice these days. Facebook pictures of fish handled with towels or without an unhooking mat in sight quickly attract a barrage of critical and angry comments.

While we all want to see responsible fishing, there should be no place for abuse. We can learn from each other and often those targeted by angry comments on social media are just inexperienced, rather than deliberately cruel. Don’t immediately castigate those who show poor practice – the last way to make anyone listen and learn is to start a fight with them. Be helpful and friendly, and remember you were once inexperienced too.

There are of course other cases where anglers know the rules but are still negligent or even criminal – and we can and should help to protect our waters. On the vast majority of coarse fisheries, taking fish is illegal and you should report any poachers or law-breakers to the Environment Agency hotline. The number is 0800 80 70 60 – have it stored on your phone!

We all have a part to play in protecting the sport. It might seem ironic, but the folks who want to stick a hook in fish are usually also their greatest protectors. We will inevitably cause fish some brief stress, but with modern barbless hooks and careful handling, virtually every fish we catch will swim off happily and continue to thrive. I should know. There are several times when I’ve re-captured the same fish years later, bigger and in rude health. What a great feeling!

Read more from our blogger…
A weekly Angling Times columnist, Dom Garnett is also a South West fishing guide and author of several books, including the Amazon Bestseller Flyfishing for Coarse Fish, Canal Fishing and his recent book of angling tales Crooked Lines. Read more at www.dgfishing.co.uk

A Beginner’s Guide to Feeder Fishing

Excellent for a huge variety of bottom-grazing fish, the swim feeder is a useful tool for any keen coarse angler to master. Dom Garnett’s handy guide to feeder fishing is packed with useful tips, rig diagrams and years of practical knowledge that he’s picked up on the bank from other legendary anglers…

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Choose the correct swim feeder for the conditions.
Image source: Dominic Garnett

In the evolution of coarse fishing, the swim feeder has to be one of the all-time greatest angling gadgets. In a nutshell, the feeder attracts fish to your hook, helping you to land real net-fillers like bream, tench and carp.

But what exactly is a swim feeder (often shortened to just “feeder”)? The original swim feeder was simply a plastic capsule filled with holes, designed to release free bait down near the fish as efficiently as possible. Feeders are also used to overcome challenges such as ugly weather and deep or distant swims, where throwing in bait accurately or fishing a float are impossible.

Let’s start our guide by looking at the basic types of swimfeeder and what they are designed for.

Basic types of Swim Feeder 

The Maggot Feeder

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Maggot feeder

Ah, the good old “plastic pig”. These come in various sizes and designs, but all do the same job: they release free live bait on a sixpence, right next to the maggots on your hook. Sometimes also called a ‘blockend feeder,’ the ends are blocked up to prevent the grubs escaping too early. Still mighty effective after all these years.

The Open End or Groundbait Feeder

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Open-end feeders. Be sure to balance your rod and tackle with the feeder size

These feeders are ideal for accurately introducing groundbait into your swim. You simply squeeze your crumb mix in place and cast out. They come in various designs and sizes, from great big beasts that will hold in a current, to miniature models suitable for more cautious winter fishing.

The Cage Feeder

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Larger holes release bait quickly creating an attractive cloud for shallow swims.
Featured product: Korum cage feeders from Fishtec.

Quite simply, this is a groundbait feeder with bigger holes. When would you use it? Well, there are times when it is an advantage to release your free bait more quickly, rather than hard on the bottom. This feeder will do just that, creating an attractive cloud to draw the fish in. Ideal for shallower swims and summer fishing, these work beautifully with mashed bread as well as crumb type groundbait.

The Method Feeder

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This can be lethal for most larger bottom grazers.
Featured product: The method feeder from Fishtec.

An ingenious development, this feeder works quite differently to the others. The flatbed design is fixed in place rather than running freely on the line. Simply shape your sticky groundbait (look for a special “method mix” or add an egg or two to render your usual favourite crumb stickier) around your Method feeder. Then you can either bury your hook bait inside or let the hook sit just an inch or two away from the mix. The fish attack the feeder to dislodge the food, unwittingly pick up your bait and tend to hook themselves. It’s a fairly foolproof way of fishing; in fact the only thing that can go wrong is your rod getting pulled into the lake if you’re not right on it.

Further specialised feeders…

The feeders we’ve covered so far are more than enough to keep you busy. However, if you’ve got the bug and want to try some more, there are a few others that are worth a mention.

The pellet feeder is mainly used for commercial fisheries and offers a perfect little scoop of pellets to the fish. The banjo feeder, named because of its shape, is similarly designed to accurately present a tidy little nugget of freebies with your hookbait right in amongst it. Some of these feeders are elasticated, which helps cushion the impact of carp takes, which can be quite savage.

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Featured product: The Guru Pellet Feeder from Fishtec is spot on for commercial carp and F1s.

And finally – the biggest brutes of the lot – specimen or specialist feeders. These cater for more extreme scenarios, like when you want to deliver a much bigger payload and leave it there for longer periods. They’re also good for big rivers and fast currents. A three or four ounce model that clings flat to the bottom is just what the doctor ordered. You’ll need to make sure you’ve got the right rod and tackle to cope with one of these though – correctly balancing your rod, line, feeder and hook size is the holy grail of feeder fishing.

Feeder fishing tackle

Once you have a rough idea of the type of feeder that will suit your favourite venue, you’ll need to decide which rod and tackle to use. Sadly there isn’t one rod that will do the lot, although most of your feeder fishing will be with a quiver tip rod – the one with the brightly coloured tip section to help spot the bites when you’re legering (fishing right on the bottom with something weighty like a lead or feeder, as opposed to float fishing). Here are some of your options.

The light feeder or “picker” rod

At the lighter end of the spectrum there are some neat little rods of 7-10ft with nice fine tips. These are spot on for shorter range fishing, on both commercial pools and natural venues. You’d typically match one with a smallish reel loaded with 3-5lb line for roach, chub or bream fishing, and perhaps slightly heavier line for carp and tench. If you want to flick a feeder out 20 yards with perfect accuracy, this is the puppy. Sadly, with the modern stranglehold of carp fisheries, this style of rod is getting harder to find- so be prepared to look around.

Medium/all round feeder rod

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Featured product: The Shimano Forcemaster from Fishtec would fit into the all-round category and covers a lot of bases for less than £40

Next up, we have a longer all rounder. This could be a fair bit longer, say 12 or 13ft, if you’re aiming for the horizon on a big lake or river. Lighter models are ideal for classic species like roach, bream and chub. They work well with lines of 4-6lbs and a good range of feeders, excepting the very heaviest.

Heavy or method feeder rod

If you’re going to smash out a beefy method feeder or an extra large helping of groundbait, this is the rod for you. It can cast weights that would smash lighter tips, not to mention coping with those savage bites you get from carp as they bolt against the weight of a feeder.

You wouldn’t think twice about combining one of these with a bigger reel loaded with lines from 8-10lbs. Heck, if you’re casting big payloads a long way, you may want a shock leader – a thicker last few yards of line to handle the strain of casting big weights without the dreaded crack-off (not a city in Poland but that horrible moment when your line breaks on the cast.)

Which quiver tip?

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A typical quiver tip; this one has an isotope added for night fishing.
Image source:
Dominic Garnett.

Just to confuse things even more, most quiver tip or feeder rods come with a selection of interchangeable tips. Like a full rod, they often have a test curve rating, in ounces. Obviously the higher the number, the stiffer the tip is. Use your common sense to pick the right one: a flat calm lake and shy biting fish would call for a slender, highly sensitive tip. A powerful river and heavy feeder would call for something much stiffer.

Feeder rigs

Running feeder, longer hook-link

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Image source: Fishtec

Best suited for: Traditional species (roach, dace, bream, tench) and weedy/ clear waters.

For fish that don’t always charge off with the bait, a longer, finer hook-link is the way to fish. This could be as little as a foot to 18” (30-45cm) over a clean bottom. But if fish are shy or the water is weedy, a longer hook-link up to 4 feet helps the bait settle delicately without digging into the bottom. Sometimes using a longer link and bait like bread will earn you extra bites while the bait sinks through the water too.

Semi-fixed feeder, short hook-link

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Image source: Fishtec

Best suited for: Bigger fish that tend to hook themselves (carp, tench, bream, barbel.) Commercial fisheries & carp lakes.

This is the modern, more typical way to fish on stocked fisheries or natural waters with a good head of bigger fish. To maximize this effect, try a really short hook-link (as little as 2-3”!) Hair-rigging gives the best presentation and hook-up rates, and with a big feeder, heavier line and a bait such as double boilie, this type of rig can also work for larger carp.

Warning! Is your rig safe?

Please beware. This rig comes with two dangers: the rod getting pulled in, or dodgy setups leading to breaks and tethered fish. This is why we call this a “semi” fixed rig. Most modern feeders have a sleeve that will snugly lock your hook-link in place via a swivel. Secure enough to hook fish, this makes the feeder easy to dislodge for a fish should you break off!

The ‘in-between’ rig (running feeder, fairly short hook-link)

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Image source: Fishtec

Of course, we can make good general rules, but there are always exceptions. Some specialist roach anglers use a heavy feeder and short hooklink for distance fishing, just as canny carp anglers will try a longer trace for spooky carp that have wised-up to the classic heavy weight and short hooklink combo.

I was shown this rig by legendary specimen angler Bob James, and it has seldom let me down. It’s dead simple, provided you get the proportions right, and is simply brilliant for barbel, tench and all the bigger species. It’s not as crude as a method-type rig, allowing fish to move off a little more with the hookbait. It tends to work a little like a “bolt rig” – a common set up where the fish feels the weight, “bolts” and hooks itself.

The combination of double mini-boilie and small specimen hook is extremely effective – often far better than standard specimen rigs. I believe this is because smaller hooks, such as a 10 or a 12, penetrate with far less force than a carp-sized hook such as a heavy gauge 4 to 8. I’m not sure why, but two smaller boilies often work better than one big one, too.

There are many more specialised feeder rigs you might also try, once you’ve got the hang of it. The helicopter rig is good for tangle-free long range fishing. Heck, some anglers have even used floating feeders, or used a pole to drop a method feeder in the margins for carp. I’m not going to dictate how it’s done; but I would recommend getting familiar with the basics before going too crazy.

Practical tips

Cast accurately, cast often

The whole aim of fishing the feeder is to attract the fish to your hookbait. Two things are really important. The first is to recast on a regular basis to build up the feed and draw the fish in. It’s no use casting out and doing nothing for hours; the fish will just lose interest. Keep recasting at least every five to ten minutes.

The other vital thing to remember is accuracy. If you send free bait in here there and everywhere, the fish will disperse rather than gather in one spot. By all means, try the odd cast on the edge of your feed area. Sometimes the bigger fish are cagier and don’t muscle right into the thick of it. But my best advice is to line up with a marker on the far bank and concentrate on casting repeatedly to the same area. See our tips section below for more advice here.

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A nice bag of fish on the feeder in wretched conditions! With heavy wind and rain, it would have been impossible to float fish.

How to spot bites on the feeder

We’ve already looked at quiver tips, which, as the name suggests, will shudder and twitch as you get interest from the fish. But when should you strike? In my experience it’s best to avoid the tiny little shivers and shudders; these are just nibbles and fish that are testing the bait. Instead wait for the tip to pull round a little further, or to pull forward and hold.

The truth is that you should play it by ear. One day, say when fishing for roach and skimmers, you might hit quite gentle bites and find success. However, if there are big bream or tench in the swim, it’s usually best to follow the classic advice and “sit on your hands” until the tip whacks right round. A lot of the earlier shudders and taps will just be fish disturbing the feeder and brushing the line.

Of course, if you use a semi-fixed rig or shorter hooklength, there is often no need whatsoever to strike! Just stay vigilant, ignore the smaller taps and be ready to pick up the rod when a fish hooks itself. You can’t really miss it – and don’t leave your rod unattended or you’ll feel a right plank if it gets dragged into the lake.

Top 10 Feeder Fishing Tips

  1. Stay vigilant and hang on to your rod. Get in a comfortable position so you’re ready to pick up the rod in a flash (try resting the butt of the rod in your lap).
  1. Always bait the hook first, then fill up your plastic when using a maggot feeder. Otherwise you’ll have maggots falling into your lap as you bait the hook.
  1. Get into a routine of casting accurately and often (you could even set a stopwatch!). Each time you send the feeder out, you are in effect ringing the dinner bell again. Active anglers catch more than the lazy brigade!
  1. Do you suffer from tangles on the cast? If so there are two things you could try. One is the loop rig. Another answer is to use a little anti-tangle sleeve. These slip over any small swivel and help keep everything straight and tangle-free.
  1. Use a snaplink so you can change feeders through the session. This way you can go heavier if the wind picks up, for example, or perhaps switch to a smaller model or a straight lead if you want to cut back on the free feed.
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A nice barbel on the feeder; a two ounce model was needed on this occasion to tackle a wide river swim with a strong current.
Image source: Dominic Garnett.

  1. Try the feeder for carp and barbel in place of the usual leads. It could save you a fortune on PVA bags and is often the better method, because it encourages you to keep casting and attracting fish, rather than just plonking a rig out and waiting.
  1. Your reel’s line clip is the easiest way to keep hitting the same mark with the feeder. If big carp are about this could be a bad idea though… you could try tying a marker with braid or whipping silk to keep track of the distance instead.
  1. A bit of DIY can be handy for improving your feeders. You could make the holes bigger, or tape them up for a slower release of bait. You could also add extra weight. Tinker as you see fit.
  1. So far we have not discussed when NOT to use a feeder. At close range, or in shallow water it could be the wrong method- especially when the fish might be easily spooked.
  1. Last but not least, don’t assume swim feeders are only for general coarse fishing. Virtually every fish likes free food, right? Bigger feeders are also good for sea and pike fishing. Think outside the box (or should that be feeder?) and the results can be brilliant.

For a quick, simple and visual guide to feeder fishing use our infographic below:

More from our blogger…

Dominic Garnett’s books include Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide and his recent collection of fishing tales Crooked Lines. Find them along with his regular blog at www.dgfishing.co.uk or as Kindle e-books via www.amazon.co.uk

A Beginner’s Guide to Fishing Piers, Harbours and Breakwaters

Offering easy access to deeper water, piers and other man-made structures provide great fishing for beginners and experts alike. Dominic Garnett shares his top tips for getting the best from these venues.

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Andy Mytton and Paulina Garnett fishing tight to the pier’s structure.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Like many other sea anglers, I have a soft spot for piers and other structures. It was at a local harbour many years ago, in fact, that I really caught the sea fishing bug. Having had precious little luck from local beaches, the vantage point of the sea wall proved a revelation. No longer was I hampered by my limited casting skill and basic tackle; a ragworm lowered close-in led to rod-rattling bites and species I had never caught before. It was a huge confidence boost and without this breakthrough, I may well have abandoned sea fishing altogether and stuck to fresh water.

Since those early days, I have fished a wide range of piers, marinas and sea walls. I love the variety they offer. I also love being able to fish close in, because with the shelter and structure provided you can often ditch the broom handle rods and get maximum sport with much lighter tackle. In short, these venues offer big advantages and something to catch all year round.

Piers, promenades and other manmade hotspots

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Wrasse love structure and cover, and are one of several species you can find around most piers and harbours.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

While my main focus will be piers and breakwaters, I should start by saying that the same rules apply for various spots on the coast. Sea walls, harbours and any marks that offer depth and shelter are ideal. Most of these venues offer free fishing, although some piers require a modest day ticket fee.

You can expect to catch a variety of fish. The summer months are busiest, as mackerel, bass, pollack and other species come close in to hunt fry and sand eels. Winter months bring shoals of whiting, pout and sometimes codling. But there are also species you’ll find more or less all year round, such as wrasse and various rock fish (see Fishtec’s Guide to UK Sea Species for a general guide to catches by season).

Besides online resources, the local tackle shop is probably the best place to pick up advice. However, there’s no substitute for just heading out to test different methods and talking to locals. As these venues tend to be public, the locals may well have friendly advice and be willing to share their ‘insider’ knowledge.

Typical tackle for piers and structure fishing

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With no need to cast miles, light tackle is ideal for catching smaller fish from man-made venues.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

The gear used to fish man-made venues can vary from the toughest beachcaster to ultralight lure fishing tackle. As there’s little need to thump a lead out to the horizon, it’s usually possible to use lighter tackle than usual.

Starting with basic tackle for traditional methods, you can scale down the typical beachcaster for a shorter pier rod or even a carp rod (Leeda produce some ideal affordable rods, including a sea fishing pier model, for under £30). This will suffice for bottom or float fishing. If the sea is rough or the bottom is snaggy, you might err on the side of caution and start with 10-15lb line.

For much of the time though, lighter tackle will suffice and I often use a lure fishing rod. Dropshot or LRF tackle is an absolute delight for mini species (typically with 5-6lb braided mainline and a 4lb fluorocarbon trace), while a medium lure rod, typically coupled with 10lb mainline, will handle larger lures, longer casts and harder fighting fish.

On the subject of larger fish, you would also be well advised to include a dropnet or long handled landing net (Daiwa make an LRF net handle that extends to 5.9m), if you are to safely land that three-pound wrasse or surprise bass!

Common tactics and catches

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Mackerel are superb fun on light tackle; and much less wasteful than using feathers.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

For many shore anglers, the main event each summer is mackerel – the perfect beginner’s fish. Beachcaster and feathers work a treat, but I find it crude and quite wasteful. After all, how many of us really need to take more than half a dozen mackerel home? Much more fun is a light spinning rod, with a float rig or spoon or metal lure such as the classic Dexter Wedge. These fish are a revelation on light tackle. Try different depths until you find the level of the fish.

Pollack and bass can also be caught from piers, which is another great reason to pack a spinning rod. In fact, I often use a 9-10ft rod in the 10-40g bracket for either lure or float fishing. The sliding float is a classic method (click here for rig diagrams from britishseafishing.co.uk), with a strip of fish for mackerel and garfish, or perhaps a ragworm section or live prawn for wrasse, bass and other species.

I tend to fish standard beach gear and leger tackle less from piers and structures, but this depends on the location. If there are lots of snags, losses can be high. Nor is it always necessary to use big leads and hooks- and you will get far more bites on light tackle. In fact, when I do leger I find smaller hooks and lighter traces much more productive. I would only step up my traces above 10lbs if I was targeting larger bass, wrasse or conger.

Perhaps the most common mistake I see, is the use of crude tackle. The brutal truth is that sea fish are not as big as they once were and you will get far more bites on lighter lines and hook sizes from 1 to 8 (carp hooks are excellent) than you will on old fashioned shore rigs and hooks of 1/0 or bigger (although I would make an exception for large baits and night fishing for the big stuff).

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Scale right down and there are lots of mini-critters to provide fun on your typical dropshot or light lure gear
Image: Fishing with the General

Last on the list, but often my first choice method, LRF (Light Rock Fishing) tackle is a joy to use for all manner of smaller species. Pack plenty of smaller worm style lures and little shads and you might catch anything from pollack, to wrasse, pout and sea scorpions.

Tides and locations

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Early and late sessions can be best of all, especially if you hope to catch fish such as bass and other low light feeders.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Walk along most piers and you will find two typical habits: anglers tend to fish at high tide and head straight for the end of the pier. There is nothing wrong with this, but you will catch along most parts of these structures so there’s no need to fight for a space at the end.

A rising tide is a good time to fish as the rising water brings in bait fish, followed closely by predators. The top of the tide is ideal for mackerel, garfish and other species; look out for shoals of prey and fleeing fish. If high water falls at dawn or dusk, even better.

Besides the fish we could class as “invaders”, which may only be present to feed for a spell, there are also many “residents” that live around the structure at all states of tide. As the tide drops you can still catch these fish, although you might need to scale your gear down.

The best spot is often right under your feet, tight to the structure, whether that means the legs of the pier, or the rocky bottom of a sea wall. In fact, it often amazes me how far anglers will cast when there are so many fish that lie closer in. Fry, crabs, shrimps and other prey all love the sanctuary of cover, so why not cast where the fish expect to find dinner?

That said, you will also find patches of sand and broken ground around manmade structures that are worth casting to. Clean sand may well provide habitat for flounders, plaice and other species less keen on rocky ground.

Further tips for piers and manmade structures

  • You will only realise the full potential of any venue by fishing at different times and states of tide. Be bold and try different rigs and conditions.
  • On busier venues, do watch out for others’ lines and respect fellow anglers. If you’re courteous, you will quite often pick up tips and advice from locals.
  • For some species, night fishing is superior to daytime hours. This is certainly true for fish like bass, dogfish and conger.
  • Mackerel and garfish are often easy to catch if they are present, but depth is crucial. Experiment until you hit them; typically mackerel will be at ten to fifteen feet, garfish a little shallower.
  • We’ve said nothing of mullet so far, but these are another worthy quarry- and a nice way to enjoy using your coarse fishing tackle at sea.
  • Jetties and the sides of boats are also very much worth targeting, but do be considerate and mindful of other water users.
  • Light tackle is ideal to get kids and beginners catching, right under their feet. Avoid crude tackle though, and scale down to hooks from size 4-10. Barbless patterns are much kinder to the fish, and easier to remove if wolfed down. Drop shotting with a section of worm or Isome can be especially deadly.

Five venues to try in the South & South West

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Brixham Breakwater
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

While I couldn’t hope to cover the huge number of piers and sea defences across the UK, here are five of my favourites across the south and south west:

Swanage Pier

A classic Victorian pier with lots to explore for a £4 day ticket (£1 for kids). Try right amongst the legs for wrasse and mini species, or cast out a float or lures for mackerel.

Weymouth Stone Pier

Weymouth is packed with manmade features, but the pier is especially productive. A great summer spot for mackerel and garfish.

Brixham Breakwater

You have both an outer and inner side to target on this lengthy sea wall. The outer side is perfect for mackerel and pollack; the sheltered inner has many small wrasse and the chance of a conger at night.

Mountbatten Breakwater, Plymouth

Get right among the rocks and this is a wonderful mark for LRF tackle, with the likes of sea scorpions, wrasse and even the odd topknot.

Brighton Marina

A big, imposing structure with plenty of species to go at. For youngsters and beginners, there are plenty of pout and smaller fish right under the walls. Bass are much scarcer, but try a large bait at night for the chance of a big one.

Catch more from our blogger…

Based in Devon, Dom Garnett is an author and regular blogger and columnist. You can read his “Far Bank” column every week in the Angling Times, while his website www.dgfishing.co.uk has his books and regular blog, which features sea, coarse and fly fishing.

A Beginner’s Guide to Eel Fishing

How would you like to try your hand at angling for one of the world’s most mysterious fish? You’ll have to stay up late to bag an eel, but it’ll be well worth the effort because they’re ferocious fighters.

Tempted? Read on as the author of The Eel Angler, Barry McConnell gives the lowdown on this most slippery of customers.

My largest UK eel to date at 9lbs 2oz
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

Perhaps it’s because they resemble a snake as much as a fish, that so few anglers target eels. But wriggly and slimy though they are, they’re also a fascinating creature about which we still know relatively little.

Scientists are almost certain the European eel breeds over 4,000 miles away in the Sargasso Sea – although to this day, nobody has ever actually witnessed them spawning. The tiny elvers drift to the UK on the ocean currents and once here, follow flowing water upstream, taking them inland. They venture up streams, rivers, canals, and ditches exploring every tiny rivulet as they strive to populate our fisheries. Eels even find their way into stillwaters by wriggling through trickling overflows.

A 6lb 12oz eel
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

The eel is a wild fish that manages its own stocks, populating every type of water including gravel pits, reservoirs, meres, ponds, and glacial lochs. No other species of fish inhabits such a diverse range of habitats making eel fishing an exploration or an adventure into the unknown. While the new age of carp angling has trended towards managed, stocked fisheries which name the biggest fish and tell anglers how many 20s, 30s they can catch, eel fishing is the exact opposite. There is rarely any information available, and often the local anglers don’t even know if there are any eels around or not.

Into the Unknown

My first ever 3lb eel
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

From vast, 200ft deep, windswept glacial lochs to shallow, muddy, little farm ponds choked with weed, the excitement of the unknown inspires me to fish a wide variety of venues in search of eels. I started on easier waters with a high population of eels and it took me two years to break the 3lb barrier. By that time I had the eel fishing bug, a.k.a. slime fever. My biggest eel in the UK is 9lbs 2ozs.

If you’re a beginner, it’s best to start on waters that are known to hold eels. Here it will be possible to catch a few and learn as you progress. Very big eels are extremely rare and pursuing them may involve targeting waters with no history of any eels ever being caught. Specimen eel angling is only for the select few who pursue this branch of the sport with a level of dedication that borders on obsession. But while not for amateurs, you never know, perhaps (like me) you’ll get the bug…

Identifying eels

4lbs 7ozs
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

The UK rod and line record for the European Eel is 11lb 2oz, but most eels are less than 3lb in weight. I was happy catching two pounders when I started. The eel is slow growing and takes ten years to grow to 1lb in weight. Eels of 4lb and upwards are regarded as specimens and may be 40 years old. A 3lb eel may be 36 inches long and eels over 9lb can be over 45 inches long with a girth like a drain pipe. Young eels are generally an olive-green colour and have small eyes. Larger, mature specimens have a purple-pink-silver hue. As the eel reaches its time to migrate back to the Sargasso Sea its pigmentation turns to a silvery sheen and the eyes grow large like saucers. These are known as silver eels.

There have been problems with a decline in the eel population over the last 20 years. Because of this, in England and Wales, the European Eel is now a protected species and it is no longer legal to take or to kill one. All fish must be returned to the water alive. Scotland has banned fishing for them altogether and so too have parts of Ireland.

Feeding habits and baits

Upon populating a water, eels have the unique ability to develop different head shapes according to the type of food available. If there are lots of invertebrates present, the eels develop narrow heads to enable them to feed on tiny items. If there are lots of fish and fry present, the eels develop wider heads suited to preying on fish. Both types of eels may be present in the same water.

The common lobworm is an effective bait for eels
Image: Shutterstock

Lobworm is the most popular eel bait, and broken lobs (cut one lobworm into six or seven short pieces and put on the hook) is the most effective. Dendrobaena and other types of redworms are also a good bait for eels; they are easier to get hold of than lobs and will keep better in warm weather. Small, 3-5-inch-long fish are a very good bait. They can be used live, dead or cut up into sections. My preference is a dead one, freshly killed with its head snipped off to release more scent trail into the water. The eel has an incredible sense of smell and will scent out the bait.

Eels will feed on a wide variety of food and other baits like luncheon meat, cheese and squid. Mussels and prawns work well too. I find that the pre-cooked frozen ones are best as they are firmer than uncooked ones which helps them stay on the hook. Sometimes they can be just as effective as the old favourites – worms and dead-baits. Many eel anglers bait the swim with dead maggots, but I have been successful without any baiting-up.

Eel fishing tackle

The joy of fishing for eel is that it is a powerful fighter. It will swim backwards and pull strongly against the rod in a tug of war. A strong rod is necessary to move a big eel and specimen hunters prefer 2 ½ and 3lb rods. It is possible to land eels on lighter rods and so don’t despair if you only have a 1.5lb rod. That will do for starters.

Lines of 10lb to 15lb are matched to the job and a wire trace is necessary for big eels and wide-mouthed eels as their teeth will slash through softer hook-length materials. The eel’s eye is very close to its lip and because of this, hooks size 6 is the best size. Any bigger and the gape of the hook is so wide that the point can penetrate the eels eye and cause damage. Any smaller and you risk pulling out of larger, hard-fighting fish.

A size 6 hook is the perfect middle ground for safe eel fishing
Image: Shutterstock

Barbless hooks are used with fish baits and a piece of elastic band can be added to keep the bait on the hook. With worms I prefer a micro-barb hook because having crammed a barbless hook full of worms, they keep wriggling off as I try to put a piece of elastic band on! A large landing net is necessary as eels are long fish. To land an eel with a smaller net you have to get its tail into the net first the eel will back into the net. This can be difficult but is achievable with a bit of practice.

Bottom bait rigs

A basic free-running ledger rig
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

Simple free-running ledger rigs are standard when fishing the bait on the bottom for eels.

On loosely presented set ups, eels have a habit of backing up a few inches and swallowing the bait without the take registering. To deter this, and to reduce the chance of a deep hooking, it’s best to keep the hook length short and the line tight to register each movement. An instant strike will also reduce the chance of eels swallowing the bait. Even after taking all these precautions, some eels will still be deep-hooked when using a basic free-running ledger rig.

The basic ledger rig converted to a semi-bolt rig
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

Further steps to reduce deep-hooking include the semi-bolt rig. This is a basic link ledger with an extra bead and a stop knot added. The principle is that the eel has a short distance of free-running, low-resistance until the stop-knot butts up to the bead, hopefully pricking the hook into the fish before it has swallowed the bait. It is fairly successful but not 100%. Other anti- deep -hooking systems currently being field tested by National Anguilla Club members include the use of circle hooks, semi-resistance rigs, and of T-bars or gobstoppers fitted to the trace just above the hook, to preventing the eel gorging the bait.

Mid-water rigs

The Dyson Rig for fishing in mid-water
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

Another popular and very effective method is to present the bait in mid-water using an off-bottom rig. The Dyson rig is preferred by most eel anglers. This resistance-free and adjustable rig presents the bait above the lake bed, and can present it abovevoiding weed growing on the bottom, it is also resistance-free and adjustable. A rotten bottom is essential with this rig, so that if the lead gets stuck, the weaker line will break and the rig can be retrieved.

Eels tend to shy away from resistance and may eject the bait if things don’t feel right, therefore free-running rigs, along with lightweight, resistance-free indicators are preferred. A simple lightweight bobbin hanging on the line between reel and butt ring will suffice, or better than that is the purpose-built, resistance-free, adjustable indicator, The Rollover Indicator, as used by most of the leading eel anglers today. Available from www.zandavan.co.uk where a video can be viewed showing how it works.

Handling and unhooking eels

A 5lb eel
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

The eel should be handled gently so as not to stress the fish. An unhooking mat and damp hands are the order of the day. Calmly lay the eel on the mat; treat it gently so it stays calm and is easier to unhook. If an eel has swallowed the bait, do not shove a disgorger or forceps down its throat. The throat is obviously narrow in such a thin fish and the eel has all its vital organs and main arteries at the back of its throat where any poking around may injure the fish which may then bleed to death. The best option is to cut through the trace, leaving the barbless hook in the eel which will usually be able to work it loose and spit it out.
The eel is largely a creature of the night and though you can also catch one in the day-time, it is best to stay on into the hours of darkness to get the better sport, to get the ‘feel of the night’, and to enter the world of the true eel angler. Those of you that get the eel angling bug may care to join the National Anguilla Club where you can meet like-minded eel angling fanatics who strive to improve eel angling techniques and conserve the eel.

Further reading: The Eel Angler

The Eel Angler by Barry McConnell

If you want to read more on this subject I have written a book The Eel Angler, published in 2012. It tells the story of my eel angling learning curve, the progression from beginner to specialist. It’s a big book and includes chapters on Australia and New Zealand where eels over 20lb were landed. It is a full-colour book with lots of photos and has received some top reviews. The last few are still available from www.zandavan.co.uk. Also available is my latest book, Channel Zander, published in 2017.

A Beginners Guide to Bream Fishing

Familiar right across the UK, the common bream is a net-filling catch for match, pleasure and specimen anglers alike. Here, Dom Garnett provides handy tips and advice on how to catch them.

Abramis brama, or the common bream
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Of all the coarse species you might find in your local waters, bream are perhaps the most common “net-sized” fish of all. They bite well and grow to a good average size; and while they have a reputation as weak fighters, they are a different prospect on light tackle.

There are, of course, different sorts of bream, but for our purposes we are dealing with Abramis brama, the common or bronze bream of freshwater. This is occasionally confused with the silver bream, which rarely grows much more than a pound and looks rather like a young common bream or “skimmer”. However, the silver bream is less widespread, has darker fins, and a proportionally larger eye.

A really ancient-looking canal bream, just an ounce under seven pounds
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

I guess you could say the bream is a bit of a love or hate fish. They’re lazy, lolloping things. They seem to live half their lives in slow motion, and enjoy stealing baits intended for carp. But I have always appreciated them. As a kid, they swallowed up whole summer evenings, and a good one was a fish to be prized. Catching a really big one is a great challenge – and those over ten pounds take on a whole new majesty.

The habits of bream

Common bream are fish with very specific habits – useful to help us find and target them. Firstly, they are bottom dwelling fish- as you can see from their body shape and downturned mouths. They are also a fish that form shoals of anything up to a hundred or more strong, meaning that they can be caught in great numbers. Where you find one you may well find many, and as even modest adult bream weigh three to five pounds, there could be a large catch on the cards.

Most of the time the bream is a fish of deep, slow water. On rivers, you can expect them in slacks and gentle currents with good depth. On stillwaters such as lakes and reservoirs you will often find them further out from the bank, in the deepest water. They’ll feed over both silt and gravel, where they’ll grub for bloodworms, snails and other natural food.

Dour, overcast conditions tend to provide good bream fishing
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Bream are fish that patrol regular feeding routes in order to graze. Not that they eat all the time; dour, overcast days tend to be most productive. You may even see them rolling at the surface late in the day, and night fishing is also a good plan for the really big ones. The trick is finding where and when they feed, because once you do they can be easy to catch in numbers.

On more open waters, another good tip is follow the wind. Breezy conditions are ideal for bringing them onto the feed. On large lakes you will often get a good catch by fishing with the wind in your face – a deep bay with the wind blowing into it is the ideal spot to catch bream.

Tactics and tackle

Since they don’t fight especially hard, the angler who targets bream will want to use sensibly light tackle to get a decent bend in the rod. Various tactics work.

You could use pole or waggler tackle where distances aren’t too great, but the most common method for bream is probably the swimfeeder. A large open-end groundbait feeder or method feeder is ideal. A quivertip makes ideal bite detection, although specimen tactics with two or three rods can also be employed if the fish are large and there’s a long wait between bites.

Open-end groundbait feeders are ideal when targeting bream
Image: Shutterstock

Just occasionally, other tactics work too. Clear summer rivers can make for exciting stalking tactics. It’s lovely watching them feed, and simple baits like corn and bread are easily spotted on the bottom as you watch the fish home in.

Slightly stranger tactics have also been known to work. I’ve had accidental bream on lures, as well as some (by design) using sinking flies! Again, rivers are the best place to try this, where the bream tend to be more keen-sighted and active.

Bream can be finicky on occasion, but you’ll get plenty of bites on sensibly light tackle. Typically, hook sizes from 10-14 are used, although you could go a bit larger for the biggest specimens, or finer for skimmers. Main lines are typically 5-10 pounds, with hook lengths from 4-8lbs as a rough guide. As I’ve said, bream are not incredibly strong or line shy and your main reason for fishing heavier could be the risk of hooking a big tench or carp.

Baiting for bream

Bream don’t tend to be super fussy about what they eat and lots of baits will work. But you do need to feed plenty if you are to catch a good net of fish. Bream can eat a lot; and if you imagine that even a modest shoal of bream could be a dozen strong and average four or five pounds, you need plenty of food to keep their interest for any length of time.

Groundbait is a must. You can bulk this out with plain brown crumb to stop things getting expensive, but several kilos may be required for a serious session, and prebaiting is also an excellent idea.

You should try to include a variety particle baits in your mix, too. Frozen sweetcorn, or bulk items like buckwheat and rice are nice and cheap, should you want to bait up for a really big catch. If you’re settling in for a day session, you can use less feed. A couple of kilos of groundbait would still be a good idea, along with three to four pints of free offerings to get them used to your hookbait.

Hook baits for bream are varied, but don’t feel you need expensive or special kinds. Sweetcorn is excellent and avoids tiny fish. Maggots are good too – and for bream, dead maggots are often better than live. Four or five on a size 10 hook is a cracking bait. Worms are also excellent, especially redworms and you can use two or even three, broken and tipped with a caster. I almost always add chopped worms to my groundbait too, because they attract bream like nothing else.

Worm and caster is a great bream bait
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Aside from these, several alternatives are also worth having. Bread works brilliantly in clear water or anywhere you might be lucky enough to stalk the fish. Pellets and boilies are also now part of the bream fishing scene – and anywhere that sees lots of these baits introduced for carp is likely to produce good bream on them too. Double 10mm boilies have worked very well for me, as have cocktails such as a boilie tipped with a worm.

Patience and preparation

Bream fishing is often a waiting game. If the fish are around and hungry, sport can be hectic. But until they move in, you must wait. It is usually best to bait up accurately first and then fish over the top, rather than feed on top of the fish.

They can take a while to arrive, but it’s rare to catch just one bream when they do
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Prebaiting is often a good idea too, and accounts for some of the really huge bream nets of a hundred pounds and over. Go for cheap feeds, be positive and accurate, and you could have a truly memorable session on your hands.

Once bream are in your swim, you will often get line bites. These can be a funny sideways movement on the float, or a sudden bulge and then drop back on the feeder. With practice, you can spot most of these and wait for a true bite. Usually deliberate and unmistakable, you will see the float plod under decisively, or the quiver tip wrap right round. With specimen gear, the bobbins will lift and hold – although you may also get repetitive little lifts or ‘funny business’ if a fish tries to rid itself of the hook rather than charging off. If in doubt, lift and feel for the fish.

The joys of bream

It’s fair to say that not everyone loves bream. On heavy tackle, they don’t do a lot. But on a light rod, or in a river current, they put a nice bend in your gear and are lovely to catch.

Other things about bream are less appealing. They are one of the slimiest fish going and will really skank up your nets! This slime can also clog up your hook length, so do clear it off after each catch.

Bream are quite docile on the bank, but deserve respect like any other fish. Do treat them to a well dampened unhooking mat if you don’t want to find out about their legendary sliminess, and if you are retaining them in a keepnet, pick a large model and stake it out fully. They can suffer in hot weather too, so do be mindful of how long you retain them.

A fine double figure bream. These can be old, precious fish so treat with care
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

The size of a true “specimen” bream really varies. For those fishing large pits and reservoirs a double figure fish is the challenge, and these are amazing looking creatures. Across many of our rivers and smaller waters though, a six-pounder is a good fish, and one of seven or eight could be a really ancient specimen, so don’t be blinkered into thinking that only a “double” is a big bream – it depends on the venue.

Wherever you find bream though, enjoy them because they are one of our classic coarse fish. And while they’re not as fashionable as carp, they will give you some great sport on lighter tackle. Happy bream fishing!

More from our blogger…

Regular Fishtec blogger Dominic Garnett is also an Angling Times weekly columnist and author of several books including Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide and his most recent book of angling tales Crooked Lines. You can find more of his words and photography, along with signed editions and fishing gifts at www.dgfishing.co.uk.

A Beginner’s Guide to Night Fishing for Carp

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You’re unlikely to see the full potential of any carp water until you have night fished it.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Are you ready to tackle carp after dark? The small hours can be the best time of all to trick a wary specimen. We asked Dom Garnett to share some sound advice and practical tips for staying comfortable and catching carp at night.

Establish your pitch

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Ready for the night: traps set and everything in position.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Even the most welcoming looking swim can become a dark, mysterious place at night. Get to know your swim by day before you go overnight. Have a cast around and take particular note of any snags. Arrive in good time if you can, so you are completely comfortable in the spot before nightfall.

Bivvies and home comforts

Look after your back with a high quality carp fishing bedchair.
Featured product: TF Gear Dave Lane Hardcore Bedchair from Fishtec

To night fish regularly with any success, you need to get tooled up for nights on the bank. You can night fish under just a brolly in the summer, but if you’re serious, get a decent bivvy (you can get a good one these days from around £100) and your essentials in order. Do your back a favour and get a good quality bed chair too.

Accuracy is key

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Solid PVA bags give confidence for a clear presentation.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

If you can, cast out and get your baits exactly where you want them before nightfall. If you’re leaving a rig out for many hours, you want to be absolutely confident you are weed free and presentation is spot on. Solid PVA bags are excellent for a clean delivery every time.

Big baits & simple rigs

If you have your heart set on a big carp, you really don’t want to be disturbed by smaller fish. Bait up with a man-sized, tough bait to avoid the attentions of other species. Tying new rigs or tinkering with your gear is a nightmare at night, even by head torch. Do yourself a favour by sticking to what you know and having a supply of spares ready to go.

Keep warm

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Keep warm and comfortable with a decent sleeping bag and thick socks.
Featured product: The Trakker Big Snooze Plus Sleeping Bag from Fishtec

Even in the summer, it can get really cold in the early hours of the night. It is imperative you keep warm! Pack a decent sleeping bag and a thick extra pair of socks. If you are a real softie, or like winter fishing, a hot water bottle is a rare pleasure on a cold night.

Food and drink

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A stove is a wise investment to keep you warm and fed.
Featured product: The TF Gear Thermo Lite-Stove from Fishtec

Another great way to keep your body heat levels up is to prepare hot food and drinks. Keep it simple with tins of soup, bacon, bread and tea or coffee. A well-maintained gas stove is a useful piece of kit for day or night.

Winning margins

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If you’re quiet, carp like this common will come really close in at night.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Don’t feel like you need to heave your bait out miles after dark. Even on pressured waters, carp come much closer to the bank at night. I’d always have one rod close in.

Line management

How many rods and lines should you put out at night? Don’t always assume more is the best policy. Three can be used (if you have the right license!) on big waters, but for tighter swims and channels, stick with just two. You’ll also want to sink each of your lines out of the way, so backleads are a great idea.

Light sources

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A good-quality head torch is invaluable when excitement strikes!
Featured product: The Ridgemonkey Headtorch from Fishtec

Always carry at least two light sources when night fishing. A quality head torch is a must- and I keep mine in the same place always, to be grabbed at a moment’s notice. I also keep a hand torch and small lantern. I wouldn’t be unduly worried about light when making a bite to eat or baiting up, but I do try to keep light disturbance to a minimum.

Ready for landing

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A lovely mirror carp, landed in the early hours.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

With a bit of luck, you’ll get that sudden run in the early hours and bank a big fish. But first you must be ready. Have your net within reach and an unhooking mat nicely spread out with tools and scales to hand. Have a camera and self-take set up ready and a means to briefly retain the fish if you must.

Things can be chaotic in the excitement of a big catch, so keep your wits about you and watch where you put things down! Night fishing is all about this sudden excitement though, and the mysterious time when angling dreams really can come true. In fact, it’s probably fair to say you’ll never see the full potential of any carp water until you have night fished it.

A Beginners Guide to Roach Fishing

A common yet challenging catch for most of us, roach are a viable target for any angler. Dominic Garnett offers a host of tips and advice on how to catch this attractive species.

Fishtec-Roach1

Beautiful, obliging and found all over the UK: what’s not to like about the roach?
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Is the roach Britain’s most undervalued fish? In the midst of current mania for carp and other heavyweights, many anglers appear to have forgotten this humble species. And yet once upon a time it was very different. In the early 80s, when I first began fishing, everyone fished for roach. They were common as muck, but fickle and fast biting enough to test the angler. In my case, the species has a lot to answer for, because a Thames roach was my first ever catch.

Alas, how times change. These days I see fewer and fewer anglers trotting or tip fishing for roach, dace or bream. Carp and predator anglers now dominate. But what cracking sport (and vital skills!) they are missing out on in their hunt for bigger, more fashionable fish. Not that I’m complaining – because this neglect means that we live in an excellent period for roach fishing. Indeed, much of the time you will find yourself fishing for roach with little or no competition from other anglers.

Where to find roach?

A pole angler plays a nice sized fish; roach are often common on manmade lakes.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Although roach have diminished in some areas because of habitat loss or predation, they are still incredibly widespread across Britain and indeed much of Europe. Their great adaptability explains this; they are equally adept at living in still or flowing water. They also have an incredibly wide diet and feeding habits, from grubbing through bottom weed to rising for insects.

On a majority of stillwaters, roach are not only present but widespread. On smaller commercials and canals, try fishing just down the “shelf” where the shallow water of the margins drops away deeper. On larger lakes, you may find them anywhere – from near the bottom to topping at the surface. Look for signs of them swirling and rising early and late in the day.

For many traditional anglers though, the spiritual home of roach fishing is on a river. You are likely to find them in good numbers too; but while they inhabit a variety of swims they do seem to like a healthy flow. Whether it is a steady run of water with reasonable depth or the lively, oxygen-rich waters of a weirpool, you will tend find them in or near the current.

Another classic place to find them is any “crease” on the river (a term we use to indicate where faster and slower water meet). Roach love these areas because the current provides them with food and oxygen without them having to battle against the quickest currents.

Roach fishing methods

So, once you have an idea where to find them, how do you catch roach? The methods are almost as varied as the venues themselves. For most anglers, float fishing is the most enjoyable method of all. Pole fishing is very popular on canals, ponds and other stillwaters and allows the use of sensitive floats and delicate tackle. That said, the waggler is also a good all round method with rod and reel.

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A sensitive float fishing set up is fun and effective for roach.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

On rivers, perhaps the most enjoyable technique of all is stick float fishing for roach with a match rod and classic centrepin reel (although a fixed spool is also fine). Using the current to gently trundle a bait to the fish is fun and effective, while you throw in regular helpings of bait to encourage the shoal.

On larger waters, or indeed tricky river swims, legering is also a key roach fishing method. A simple open end or maggot feeder is a good ploy for larger specimens, especially. It’s fair to say that the larger roach tend to sit closer to the bottom than their younger mates, hence legering can be quite “selective”.

Whichever method you choose, roach are no suckers for crude gear. On numerous occasions, while coaching or just watching from the bank, I’ve seen youngsters or beginners struggling because they were armed with thick line and large hooks. Switching to fine line and smaller hooks is usually enough to lose the frowns and see their fortunes change quickly!

As roach are quite sensitive fish and not the hardest fighters, you can get away with pretty light tackle. Reel lines are typically three to four pounds, with fine hooklengths of two to three pounds strength. Keep hooks smallish too; for winter fishing and finicky fish, a size 20 or 22 wouldn’t be too tiny. For a big roach though, a fine wire 10 or 12 hook would not be too big. It’s all a matter of bait and context.

Last but not least, you should never be blinkered into using just one tactic for roach. There is no single “perfect” method, just the best for the conditions and location you are fishing on the day. Some of the most enjoyable roach fishing I’ve ever had has been using fly tackle and small nymphs or dry flies; brilliant fun and often effective when other methods aren’t working. Equally though, if you have your heart set on a big roach and fish large waters such as gravel pits and reservoirs, you could try scaled down specimen tactics.

Fishtec-large-roach

Don’t be blinkered; this cracking roach of 1lb 9oz was fooled with a wet fly.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

What is the best bait for roach?

Because roach have such a wide diet, the range of bait you can use is pretty big. On many rivers and canals where there is public access, my number one bait would be bread. It’s a brilliant, highly visible bait that fish will readily accept just about anywhere, whether you liquidise a fine feed and use punch on a tiny hook, or mash up a few slices for feed and use a good pinch on a bigger hook.

A close second would probably be maggots or casters. Maggots are a great all round roach bait and by feeding them in regular, small quantities, you can get roach really queuing up for your hook bait.

Casters come in handy for picking out the bigger roach. Indeed, where maggots attract every tiddler going, casters are subtler and deadlier for their bigger relatives.

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Casters can help pick out the better roach where little ones demolish maggots.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Other classic roach baits include several less fashionable offerings. Hempseed is one of them. Feed this steadily until the fish become confident – there are days when it is unbeatable for good-sized roach. Elderberries are even more old school, not to mention free to gather and brilliant in late summer!

As for other baits, the list goes on and on. Worms are highly underrated and a whole redworm or half a lob can pick out fine roach. Last but not least, if you go roach fishing where carp angling is popular, small boilies, pellets or hair-rigged corn are all worth a shot.

Tips for catching roach

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They’re not always massive, but roach are delightful fish to test your angling skills
Image: Fishing with the General

What is the secret to catching quality roach in significant numbers? The crucial factors are fishing in the right spot with good presentation, and feeding regularly to get their confidence up. The feeding is especially important, because it is this that draws fish into your swim and, done correctly and consistently, will steadily encourage bigger fish to drop their guard.

It can be a challenge hitting roach bites, admittedly, so it always pays to be alert and to experiment. Bites can be fast or downright sneaky, so don’t always assume the float needs to go right under before you strike! Generally, although you can leave the tiniest shivers, if the float or quiver tip pulls and holds, you should strike. Don’t be afraid to experiment though- because you might need to hit bites early one day, let them develop a little more the next.

While little roach can be suicidally bold, the bigger ones definitely take more skill and patience. They tend to hold deeper than their shoal mates, and are more cautious, often keeping more distance from threats than their smaller pals. Try casting to the edge of your “feed area” every so often to bag a bigger one. If you are trotting, you are likely to hit the better fish right at the end of each “trot”, since they are likely to hold back a little more cautiously, rather than charging up for the feed like the little ones.

Timing and conditions are also crucial with roach. The good-sized fish dislike high light levels, for example, especially in clear and natural waters. Overcast days will tend to be better than bright, clear conditions. Many anglers could also catch better roach by changing their clocks. The best time of day to fish for roach is very often the last hour of light, when the shyer fish get a bit bolder and are less spooky.

Small roach can be easy, but catching the better ones or amassing a large catch takes skill and practise. A little context should also be applied here too. Big roach are never evenly spread and some regions are better than others. It took me many years to catch my first two-pounder.

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Fish of dreams: This two-pounder took legered bread flake.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

To this day, I would consider any roach of a pound or over an excellent fish, wherever you find it. A two-pounder is the fish of a lifetime for most of us, while a three-pounder is an absolute wonder that most of us will never see.

Let’s not get carried away with specimens and figures though, because roach fishing proves that fishing isn’t just about pounds and bragging rights. Indeed, I may have targeted much bigger species since my early years on the Thames, but would still consider a good day’s roach fishing among the greatest pleasures in angling. Size really isn’t everything, and these are wonderful fish to sharpen your reflexes and angling skills.

Further reading:

If you’re interested in finding out more about roach fishing, there are some excellent sources to try. For those who want a more thorough understanding of the species, Dr Mark Everard’s The Complete Book of the Roach is a good read with further advice. Should you want to try and catch roach from your local towpath, or indeed try fly fishing for the species, our blogger’s books Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide and the Amazon Bestseller Flyfishing for Coarse Fish are also well worth a read.

You might also find some of the author’s other Fishtec articles useful, including Dom’s Beginner’s Guide to Canal Fishing and 10 Ways to Feed More Effectively.

A Beginners Guide to Fishing for Catfish

Ebro catfish

Fishing for cats is not for the faint-hearted.
Image courtesy of Simon Howells

With brute power and a bad attitude, catfish are an exciting target species. Fishing for cats is not for the faint-hearted. Wels fanatic and former Ebro guide Jim Sutherland offers some handy advice.

The Wels catfish

Wels-catfish

The Wels catfish could be the biggest fish you ever catch.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Whether it’s their sheer strength, or one for your bucket list, fishing for catfish is an exhilarating experience. They represent not only a mysterious, deadly quarry, but for many anglers, the chance to catch your biggest ever freshwater fish.

Of course there are many catfish species all over the world, but for the purposes of this article we are referring to the Wels, or European catfish (Silurus glanis). A voracious hunter and scavenger, these beasts can grow to a formidable size. On the River Ebro, Spain, where I used to guide for the species, they run to over 200lbs. But in the UK, many waters now hold fish to 40lbs and bigger.

Whatever your reasons for seeking catfish, they are a beast that demands a special, considered approach. There are not many fish that will strip line at such an alarming rate, or ask so much of your tackle. Here are a few golden rules to get you off the the right start.

Preparation, confidence and respect

catfish

Catfish are becoming more common right across the UK. Dom Garnett caught this one from Anglers Paradise, Devon. Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Preparation is essential for any successful angler. Where do you begin this challenge? Finding waters that hold a reasonable supply of catfish is the best start. It’s no use heading to a venue with just one or two rumoured monsters. You could have a long old wait and no doubt the novelty will dwindle after the second night and you’ll start to wonder why you bothered.

Initially at least, stick to a water that holds a good head of catfish that vary in size. Up to about 40lb would be a good start. But always be prepared for the unexpected, because catfish are often a bit of an unknown. I’ve fished waters and managed to winkle out monsters that the owners had forgotten about or didn’t even know existed!

One excellent source of information is the Catfish Conservation Group. They have a list of catfish waters. I would always pick one nearer to home before you think of venturing further afield. You may have to persevere for a while to catch your first cat, so targeting a fishing venue closer to home will allow you to focus your efforts.

Tackle for catfish

fishing-for-catfish

Catfish fight powerfully! Your tackle must be up to the job.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Catfish are a powerful species that will punish any weakness in your tackle, so you must have complete confidence in your gear. Carp tackle will often suffice, but you need to step up your lines and other gear to handle them.

Rods: Choose a rod that can double up for the larger carp, as most waters will hold a possible PB, so again, expect the unexpected! Go for a 13ft 3.5tc. There is a nice range on the market but remember, these rods do the job and you will have a lot more pleasure when fighting the battle. You don’t need a telegraph pole to catch cats!

Reels: I prefer big pit reels for catfishing. The simple reason being that these creatures can easily tear off 100m of line on one run. You have been warned! If you are night fishing, you can set your baitrunners a little tighter than for carp, to help set the hook. Be sure to set your drag carefully.

Line: It must be a robust braid, as they will take you to places on a lake that only they know. Behind trees, islands, gravel bars and the last thing you want is to lose your quarry because you opted for the cheap seats! Go for a 20-30lb breaking strain as a minimum.

The Business End: You have a choice between an inline lead or lead clip. I usually use both options on my two rods. Inline is better for distance casting I find, although cats are not always far from the bank. In fact, they will patrol close in at night.

When fishing to snags close in, a lead clip system that will dump your weight during the fight is the best system. This should help avoid getting weeded or smashed up. I tend to use 3.5 or 4oz leads for cats, as this weight tends to hook them straight away so there’s no need for a vicious strike on the rod – you can just lift into them.

catfish-tackle

Don’t be caught out – have the right tackle.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Hook link and bait: You can use large boilies, or even small dead or live baits where permitted, but I tend to like pellets. I hair rig two 21mm halibut pellets on one rod and three on the other. Why, you may ask? As I’ve said, you should sometimes expect the unexpected, big carp! I use a catlink of about 23inches and 70lb breaking strain. The catfish have teeth like very coarse sandpaper and they will do their utmost to chew through your leader!

Should you be fortunate enough to capture a fish, do always double-check your rig for wear and tear before recasting. You’d be surprised at the number of fish lost due to blunt hooks or a frayed bit of hook link. Use about a 4inch hair, or even longer, as you can always take up the excess by wrapping it around the hook. The pellet can be hard up against the hook if need be.

I always like to have a few pellets soaking in halibut oil for hook bait. Soak these for a week, as you might have to rely on the aroma to attract your quarry. A 9-ply pva stringer with around 5-7 pellets around your hook bait usually works a treat.

In terms of other bait, I would always recommend groundbaiting for cats. Fishmeal based mixes are ideal, as are any crumb mixes that will also draw in small prey fish. Cats can eat a lot, so you can also introduce plenty of free offerings, such as large pellets and fishmeal boilies. Prebaiting can also be well worth the effort.

catfish-eyesight

Catfish have poor eyesight and are avid night feeders.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Hooks: Use either a BP Special size 1 or 2, or an Eagle Claw size 4. Always make sure you are allowed to use these hooks on a venue. If there is a size restriction, a nice wide gape carp hook will do the job nicely.

Backleads: It’s always worth pinning the line down with captive back leads and these will drop off when you lean into the fish. It’s not that catfish are line shy, but more the case you want it pinned out of the way, because these are big, clumsy fish! You don’t want spaghetti junction at 3am.

Night fishing: A tidy rod pod or two bank sticks, fully alarmed, is ideal for catfishing. Bite alarms are very useful, given that I find late evening, night, and early morning the most productive time. You can’t beat the warm summer nights, when catfish will be at their most active in the year.

Respect!

catfish-glove

You’ll need a large landing net or a glove to land your fish.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

So you’ve hooked your catfish, the next question is how the heck are you going to land it? We come back to the golden rule of preparation. You have two choices here. A large landing net or a glove. I always opt for the glove method but it can feel a bit unnatural at first.

If using the glove method, make sure you have some idea of the hook hold. You don’t want to run the risk of a late night outing to A&E! The fish is likely to be tired so it will feel heavy. Don’t be fooled. Tap the cat on the head, should its mouth be shut, and it will oblige. Put your hand into the mouth and position your thumb under its chin. It will feel like a suitcase handle but stay alert. They can catch you out and it’s not unusual to get a broken wrist from 100lb+ fish.

For most beginners to catfishing, the net is the way. Pack an extra large triangular-headed net, fully anticipating a fish that could be six to eight feet long! A large, well-padded unhooking mat is also a must.

A strong, quality pair of long nosed forceps is a must for unhooking, In spite of their mean appearances, catfish can be quite docile on the bank. But you must take charge of the situation, so be positive and keep the fish under control.

Always have your mat and unhooking tools together, and a spot to take your picture worked out beforehand. It’s essential not to stress the fish in any way and get it back to where it belongs ASAP. When releasing, hold the fish and give it a couple of head rubs. You can even kiss it if you are that way inclined (just don’t tell the wife)! The fish will tell YOU when it is ready to swim off – and what a moment – to see that monster say goodbye with a sudden wrench of power. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but you simply can’t help respect a creature like that.

100lb plus river Ebro catfish!

A Beginners Guide to Match Fishing

Ever fancied testing your skills in the match angling scene? It can be a great buzz, not to mention a sure way to improve your fishing skills. Dom Garnett has some useful advice and match fishing tips to share, with additional pictures from Jamie Lee.

Dom Garnett fishing on riverbank

They’re not for everyone, but matches add an extra excitement to your fishing.

Although it’s something I do once in a while rather than every week these days, I can highly recommend match fishing as a way of improving your angling skills. Many readers associate my name with humorous fishing stories and my exploits mixing coarse and fly fishing methods; but it is less well known that in my younger days I was very much smitten with match fishing.

My first efforts began as a teenager back in the mid 90’s when I arrived at a canal fishing contest with my ragged-looking seatbox and pole to take on the grown-ups. I learned an important lesson that day: if you’re friendly and ask questions, even the guys who want to beat you will often share information and set you on your way.

On that particular match, I amazed myself as well as the regulars, as my catch of mostly perch and eels scooped a section win – and I instantly understood the buzz of match angling. Nearly thirty years on, I am a more occasional match angler, but many of the lessons stuck and are still with me today.

How to Start Match Fishing

Before you even begin to enter competitions, it’s important to consider if you’re ready for it. You needn’t be a champion, but matches are no place for a complete beginner. A good rule is to start by looking for matches fished on venues you know and where you are confident of catching fish.

There are two main types of match to enter: a club match and a so-called open match. Open matches tend to be held on well-stocked day ticket fisheries these days, and are called ‘open’ because they’re open to everyone.

Entry fees and prizes can be high. The money involved may draw some very skilled anglers, as well as locals who know the water like their own back yard. Not ideal for someone starting out.

Dom Garnett with net full of fish

Matches are won on weight of fish, rather than numbers or individual specimens.

A club match is likely to be a far better first experience. These are held by local fishing clubs, often on more traditional waters like rivers and canals. They’re usually friendlier, involving fewer anglers and lower entry fees and prizes.

Lower prizes mean that the anglers tend to be more helpful and the atmosphere is more relaxed. There will still probably be some very good local anglers, but you have a realistic chance to compete on club level.

Match Fishing Methods and Waters

Man sitting by lake fishing

You’ll need to be versatile to compete in matches; but pole fishing is often essential

One of the first rules of match fishing is that you must be prepared to adapt your methods. It is no use fishing the waggler if all the winning weights are coming on the method feeder, for example.

Of all the methods you’re likely to need to compete, the pole is probably the most important. This is simply because it offers unrivalled finesse and presentation at shorter distances. That said, local club matches might just as easily require you to catch on the stick float or the method feeder, or use baits that you wouldn’t normally consider.

In short, match fishing will quickly challenge your skills and force you to improve at various methods. You’d be sensible to pick matches that suit your strengths at first, but you’ll need to be a good all-rounder if you want to develop.

Match Fishing Rules and Essentials

So how does a typical fishing match work? You must let the organiser know you want to fish. You’ll need to book a place, and pay an entry fee. The entry money from each angler goes into a pot, with the winner and runners up getting the prize money.

There may also be “optional pools”. These are additional prizes you can compete for, if you are feeling confident.

Matches are usually organised into groups of anglers called “sections”. For example, a match of 24 anglers might be divided into three sections of eight. This ensures some fairness, because even if you draw in an area where it is very difficult to win outright, there will still be a prize for beating your neighbours.

Every match has its own rules, so do familiarise yourself with these. If you fail to do this, the official regulations could lead to disadvantage or even disqualification to you!

One classic example I can think of is a local club with a special rule on pike. In most club and open matches, pike don’t count. But my local club’s canal has so many tiny jacks, they include these in the tally.

In one of the biggest annual matches, a visiting angler caught a pike of 5-6lbs. Not knowing the rule, he immediately released the fish that would have won him the whole event! The moral is simple: know the competition rules!

The Draw

Before the match, you’ll be allotted a numbered spot (better known as a “peg”) at random. The draw is always exciting. You can try to be early or late in the queue, but most of us like to be early, because this way you have a chance to draw any peg still available in the match.

Cross your fingers and go for it. Ask the other competitors where your peg is if you’re not sure, and if it is a good spot. You’re likely to get different opinions, but don’t despair if it isn’t a “flyer” (the term match anglers use to describe a really good mark where you have a chance to win the match).

You might also draw a lot called the “scales peg”. Each section requires an angler to act as an official at the end of the match who will weigh each competitor in the section.It is an extra responsibility but it’s also a good way to see what’s being caught, and chat to other anglers at the end of the match. Do point out to others if its your first time, because they are sure to help you out.

Starting the Match

Fish bait being added to water

Accurate baiting up is a must, but you must only feed once the match has started!

In the time before the match starts, set your tackle up, get comfortable and carefully assess your peg. Plumbing the depth is a vital step here, both to suss out where the fish might be and to get your float rigs set at the perfect depth.

Every match will have an allotted start and finish time, signalled by a whistle, hooter or a good old fashioned cry of “all in!” or “that’s it!” to start or end proceedings. Before the opening signal you must not bait your hook or introduce any bait at all!

Once the match starts, most anglers will start by feeding some bait. You can certainly overdo the amount you put in, but it is usually good to be positive, not to mention as accurate as you can be. More on this in our tips section!

The Main Event

During the match itself, concentration and the ability to read the peg are vital. Few match anglers have only one plan, because even a usually reliable tactic might not go as planned on the day. This is why anglers tend to fish several different “lines” in the same swim.

You might try a short line at just four metres to start with, for example, but also put some bait further out. Really skillful anglers will sometimes juggle as many as six different areas, moving between them when bites dry up in each patch.

Contests tend to last four or five hours, but shorter evening matches are also popular in some areas. Keep track of the time, and plan an overall strategy. Five hours is a long time, and on most venues you’d be very lucky to keep catching for the whole contest from just one peg.

Anglers with catch net

Catches are weighed at the end of the match. Now is a good time to see what has been caught and ask your fellow anglers a few questions. (pic: Jamie Lee)

Match Fishing Tips

The world of match fishing is a varied and challenging one, but some golden rules apply to most matches.

  • Perhaps the best tip is not to be too disheartened if you fare poorly at first.
  • There is a lot to learn, but by listening carefully, asking questions and watching others, you are sure to improve. And even if you don’t become a regular match angler, I guarantee that the experience will make you better at fishing.
4 fishing rods

Preparation is key in matches. Here, an angler has set up several rigs- marking accurate depths in correction fluid is a classic match angler’s tip (pic: Jamie Lee).

  • You can learn a lot just by watching skilled anglers at work. It’s not as much fun as fishing, but just doing the rounds at an event, or perhaps even going to a contest as a spectator can be a great way to pick up tips and learn new skills.
  • Little details count for a lot in match fishing. Whether it is having your float dotted right down, feeding bait accurately, or practicing unhooking fish and rebaiting quickly and efficiently, the small things add up.
  • Always think about where you can improve or save time, even if it seems quite a small difference. In the end, no match angler has a magic wand. But the competitor who does lots of things a little better than the average angler will gain a big advantage!
  • Practise very much makes perfect in match fishing. Even when pleasure fishing, you can be trying out different rigs, baits and approaches. For example, what happens if you step up your loose feed? Can you tempt different species by making your rig sink faster or slower? Does a change to a bigger or different bait result in a better stamp of fish? Keep asking these questions and your results will improve.
  • Perhaps the most important skill in match fishing is feeding. Doing this accurately is crucial. Feed too much and you could kill the swim; feed too little and the fish might go to someone feeding more aggressively. Do experiment and try to gauge what the fish want on the day. Usually little, often and accurate is a good way to start.
  • Presentation is another key part of match fishing. Finer lines and smaller hooks tend to earn more bites. You don’t have to fish with gear that risks a break off every other cast, but it is worth refining what you do. Get into the habit of using lower diameter lines and smaller hooks than you might for a pleasure fishing bash. For shy-biting fish, it can make a huge difference.
Fish in net

Cute presentation is a must, because it will get you more bites.

  • Think about your swim and the different areas or “lines” you fish carefully. By keeping these at different angles, well away from each other, you can avoid inadvertently spooking your quarry as you play a fish. For example, if you have a line simmering nicely at five metres to your right, the last thing you want to be doing is dragging fish through it every time you get one on your ten metre line.
  • Keep a diary and note down your mistakes and successes and what you learned each match.
  • Last but not least: the best thing about match fishing is that you never stop learning. Do chat and compare notes with others, while reading all that you can. Sources like Angling Times and Match Fishing Magazine are excellent, not only for match results but for tips and advice from the best, such as Dave Harrell, Steve Ringer and Bob Nudd.

Further Info

For more features, photography and a range of books and gifts, check out Dom Garnett’s new website at www.dgfishing.co.uk. For match reports and results, head to simplematchfishing.co.uk. And if you’ve got any good match tips or stories to share, let us know on our Facebook page.

A Beginner’s Guide To Commercial Fisheries

Perch

Perch are plentiful in many commercial fisheries

Commercial fisheries provide accessible sport for a whole range of popular species, while offering consistent fishing for everyone.

Read this great advice and top tips on fishing day ticket lakes from author and angling coach, Dom Garnett, to get you started.

Commercial fisheries are some of the easiest and most accessible locations of all. This is especially true for those who are newer to the sport, or returning to angling after an absence.

But even experienced anglers will visit them for a bite-filled day out. When rivers are flooded or the going is tough on so called “natural” waters, day ticket lakes provide welcome and consistent sport.

Accessible, bite-filled fishing

Roach

Roach are present on most commercials and offer sport all year round.

There are many kinds of day ticket fishing lakes across the UK. Many “commercial fisheries” have certain characteristics in common. They’re generally man made, relatively small in size and with high stocks of fish, from small roach and perch to larger carp. They often have better access than natural waters, with well-marked spots or platforms to fish from.

‘Traditional’ anglers may scoff, but these safe and relatively easy fishing lakes have several advantages. For one thing, you tend to pay by the day. There’s no special membership is, and discounts are often available for juniors and pensioners. Anyone can fish these waters.

They have plenty of smaller fish to keep kids happy, while those less mobile won’t have to carry gear for half a mile to get a decent spot.

Many anglers (and their families) also appreciate the fact that a lot of them have toilets, shelter and even somewhere to buy tackle and a cup of coffee on site.

However, in our discussion of “commercial” lakes, we should also add that there are a great variety of other venues that also share similar characteristics. The same tactics and advice discussed here will also ring true for many other locations, including park lakes, village ponds and small stillwaters run by fishing clubs.

How to fish a typical commercial style fishery

Angler with fish in net

You should have no problem finding fish in a commercial lake

Perhaps the best thing of all about day ticket lakes is the sheer number and variety of fish present. Unlike on a river or a big reservoir, you should have few problems finding the fish and getting bites. But just because there are plenty of fish to catch, it doesn’t mean that you can simply turn up and cast anywhere.

The first step to tackling a commercial lake is to do a little homework and have a good look round. Chat to the owner and other anglers; these fisheries tend to be friendly places where regulars will share advice. Sources such as websites and forums are also handy. They can tell you a lot about the best areas to fish and which baits and tactics to use.

Hot Spots and Features

Angler near bank

You needn’t fish far out on a commercial. Sometimes the bank itself is a good feature.

Not all “swims” (the term anglers use for individual spots on the lake) are equal on any lake, so it’s always a good idea to have a walk round and a think before you set up.

It’s true that some lakes can look rather bare or uniform, but many have tempting features such as islands, overhanging trees or lily beds. All of these will hold fish. You may also see obvious signs on a quick walk round, such as fish cruising or clouding the bottom as they feed.

Other features are invisible at first glance. For example, the depth can vary greatly- and areas that offer something different or a sudden change can help you find the fish. The shallows or “margins” can be a great place for summer fishing, for example, when fish such as carp and tench will come very close in to feed. But when it’s colder, the fish might be holding a little further out where there’s deeper, warmer water.

Ready, steady, fish

Angler on bank

There’s no need to cast miles out from the bank on a commercial lake

So you’ve found a spot you like the look of. You might already have seen signs of fish. But how should you start fishing? Another nice thing about commercials is that various different techniques will work. Nine times out of ten, however, my advice would be to try float fishing first, whether you try rod and line tactics or bring a pole.

The float is a great way to get plenty of bites. It’s also an ideal method to test the water’s depth. This is the most important task of all. See our Beginners guide to float fishing to learn how to do this correctly, along with other useful float fishing skills.

The fish will seldom be far from the bank on most day ticket lakes, so don’t feel you need to cast miles out. Often, you will be fishing within two or three rod-lengths of the bank.

Many lakes have shallow water at the edge and then a shelf or slope where things get deeper, dropping from say two feet to four feet of water. This is an excellent place to start, because the fish love this “drop off” where food tends to collect.

Which Tackle is Best for Commercial Fisheries?

Angler with fish in net

With balanced tackle, you’ll still land that bonus net filler.

A common mistake I see on commercial lakes is anglers using thick line and large hooks. These can make the fish suspicious. By far your best bet is to tackle up with balanced tackle with the finesse to get plenty of bites, but enough power to do battle with bigger fish.

For most pleasure fishing I would recommend a float or match rod, 4-5lb strength main line, and a finer hook length of 3-4lbs strength. For pole anglers, a size eight, or light to medium hollow elastic would be sensible to deal small carp as well as bread and butter species like roach and perch.

Hook sizes will depend on bait, but typically you won’t want to go much smaller than an 18 or bigger than a 12. Most commercials insist on barbless hooks – and that you have a soft unhooking mat to lay larger specimens on without damaging them.

What are the Best Baits for Commercial Fisheries?

Pink and white maggots

Maggots will bring plenty of bites

Another great thing about day ticket lakes is that many baits will work, including many that are cheap or even free. The first I would try is the humble maggot, simply because no other bait will get you more bites from all species. A few worms from the compost heap are also a great shout, because fish of many kinds, including the bigger ones, love them.

Other baits high on the list would be sweet corn and bread. Pellets are convenient, and ideal to use both thrown in to attract the fish and to catch on. Hard pellets don’t go on the hook though, so you’ll want some soft pellets for the hook or a packet of “pellet bands” to hold the harder baits in place.

It’s always a good idea to bring more than one type of bait, because you might find one works better than the rest. It’s also sensible to take a few bigger baits, like larger pellets or chunks of luncheon meat, in case you are getting lots of tiddlers and want to try something that only a bigger mouth can manage.

Whichever choices you make, be sure to throw in some bait too, besides just using it on the hook. Anglers call this “loose feeding” and it can make the difference between getting the odd bite and catching fish all day. The reason is that bait thrown into the water will attract more fish than just casting out with a single offering.

You don’t need to go crazy, but it is worth throwing in small amounts of bait every few minutes. If you do this often, the fish will start to compete for the bait and you’ll get lots of them in your swim.

Do try and be accurate and keep casting and adding bait to the exact same spot, because this will draw the fish to one area, rather than scattering them everywhere.

8 top tips for fishing commercial lakes

Angler on lake bank

Late afternoon when everyone else has gone home can be a great time to fish

  1. Float fishing is a great method, but one common mistake is to have too much float showing. You should apply shot until just the coloured tip is showing. If too much float is sticking out of the water, the fish will struggle to pull it under and will often reject the bait before you have a chance to strike.
  2. Many anglers will find a comfy spot and sit in it all day. This is fine if you’re getting bites, but never be afraid to move if you’re not catching. It might take you a little trial and error, and several sessions, to work out the best spots on any lake.
  3. Always test the drag on your reel BEFORE fishing. The drag is the mechanism adjusted on the back or front of your reel that controls how easily line will be let out when a fish pulls hard. Avoid making it very loose, but it should start to click and give out line well before you risk getting broken off. The worst time to adjust it is when you’ve just hooked a big fish!
  4. In case you get that surprise monster, never leave your rod unattended on the bank. If you’re several yards away, or not paying attention, your rod could be pulled into the lake. I have seen this happen more than once!
  5. A lot of anglers will pack up in the late afternoon and go home for tea, but the best time to fish on many commercial lakes is the last hour. As the light drops, the fish tend to feel safer and more confident. They also get used to anglers throwing their leftover bait as they leave! In fact, I’ve seen locals turn up just as the regulars are leaving, and go from swim to swim catching lots of fish where others have just finished.
  6. If there are two of you fishing, try different baits and methods side by side. It’s a sociable way to fish, and great for working out the best tactic on the day.
  7. Be gentle with your catch. On commercial lakes, fish could be caught several times in their lives. They deserve our respect. Always handle them with wet hands and never hold them while standing up or walking around. The safest way to return a lively fish is often to simply lower it back in the landing net, so there is no risk of dropping it.
  8. Whether you read paper magazines or online articles, there is plenty of handy information out there. However, little beats a session with a coach if you’re starting out or returning to the sport. In the space of a few hours you can learn good habits and techniques that might take you several seasons to figure out on your own!

Further tips and top angling reads

We hope the advice in this blog comes in handy on your next session. However, the subject of tackling commercial fisheries is a broad one, so here are some useful links to give you further food for thought. Enjoy your fishing, and remember to share your commercial fishery catches on the Fishtec Coarse Fishing Facebook Page.

Angling Times: How to Catch Roach From Commercial Fisheries

Fish on Friday: Top Tips for Carp on Commercial Fisheries

Anglers Mail: Top 5 Winter Baits for Commercial Fisheries

More from our guest blogger:

The author of many articles and acclaimed fishing books, including Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide and his latest collection of angling tales Crooked Lines, Dom Garnett is a qualified angling coach based in Devon. Find more words, photography and his regular blog at www.dgfishing.co.uk

All images copyright Dom Garnett