Like it or not, we have a three month lay off from the rivers every Spring and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. For many of us anglers who go coarse fishing this merely gives us either a chance to catch up with domestic chores or, for the sensible and luckier ones amongst our numbers, it means a change of species as we move to the lakes and canals. However, don’t ignore the river just because you can’t fish it.
Before I go any farther please check with your angling club whether or not you are allowed on the banks during the lay off, some permit it some don’t. If you do want to go for a look around then a phone call to the club secretary in advance may well be worthwhile to either gain permission or to at least let him know who is wandering along the banks whilst fishing is prohibited.
That out of the way, my first recommendation is to make certain that you have a decent pair of polarized sunglasses, they are imperative.
Without them you will just see reflections on the water but with the you will see through most of the glare and be able to make out fish and just as important, features.
Knowledge of the features on your section of river is just as important as spotting fish for several reasons, not least that the fish will move yet the features tend to remain for many seasons. If you have an idea of the make up of the river bed then you are half way to deducing where the next bite may come from.
I find April and May the best months for feature finding as the algae and weed that tends to colour the water and obscure our view is yet to form. If we have a period of dry weather with a bit of sunshine to assist with visibility a whole underwater world can be on display and whilst the rivers banks are quiet, the fish are generally quite easy to locate. A few pellets dropped into likely spots will often bring hungry fish out within seconds.
So what are you looking for? My simple answer to that is ‘anything out of the ordinary’. If you consider your river bed to be fairly even, consisting of gravel, stones and a few scattered rocks then you find an area as shown in it is worth investigation.
What had happened here was that a tree just upstream and out of camera shot, had caused a shift in the current and a swirling crease had scoured the river bed clean of algae etc. This may look like a good spot to fish however, that scouring action will have also torn many invertebrates from their homes within the stones and, for the fish, pickings may well be better elsewhere. There is also the bright, pale river bed that is left and fish will stand out against that making them feel insecure. This was all driven home to me as I was looking at the feature and I saw a couple of barbel happily feeding over the darker, untouched river bed yet they stopped short of the cleaned area only to drop back and have another feeding run over the dark area. This colour change on the river bed was invisible at the start of the season but, when I fished there I was confident and found that a bait farther down the swim worked very well indeed.
Above, there’s another feature that isn’t obvious for much of the year but a walk in the Spring revealed this dramatic drop off close to the near bank. Subsequent fishing sessions found that barbel loved to tuck in against the almost sheer drop off whilst big chub were content to bask and feed along the crease that it caused on the outer edge. It has been a real hot spot at times whilst being walked past by the majority of anglers.
This is just a glimpse into a vast area of intrigue and exploration and I guarantee that you will find plenty of areas that you may have missed before and it will fill your head full of plans for the new season. Some years the fish are less easy to spot but when you do find one just sit back and watch what it does in its unpressurised state, then give it some food and again just observe, you’ll have nine months in which to try and catch it.
Occasionally you will come across a shoal of fish like here. I suspect that they were in that spot as a prelude to spawning but, interestingly, the one feature they gathered around was a modest boulder that just pushed the current up a little and caused a boil on the surface. They were milling about up and down the area but that was the focus of their attention.
Again, come the new season, although I never saw this many fish gathered at one time, I caught plenty of barbel from this spot proving just how invaluable a little bit of homework can be.
If during your wanderings you find evidence of anglers poaching during the close season then please report it to your club secretary and the Environment Agency, don’t let the few spoil it for the rest of us.
Varying light conditions may deem some shades of polarised glasses useless, when the sun tips low and daylight is fading a lighter shade lens is usually more productive on cutting out glare and lightening your view. The yellow also helps pick out dark objects such as shadows on the river bed, giving you better indication of fish and structure. Instead of carrying many different pairs of glasses to the river I opted for a pair of Airflo Interchangeable polarised glasses a while back, these have interchangeable lenses which can be swapped in varying light conditions.