When you approach the river and opt for a particular swim, how careful is your entrance? What is your thought process as you descend the bank to your chosen spot and what effect has your arrival and on the resident fish population? I put it to you that the first five minutes in a swim has the strongest bearing on your overall day success rate.
Let us first look at how to do it wrong. You struggle up to your peg, stand bolt upright in your white T shirt as you have a quick look around for the best place to sit then drop your heavy load of coarse fishing equipment and bait before slumping into your chair. In the modern parlance – epic fail!
First there is the visibility factor. I am not one for wearing Realtree or second hand clothes from the armed forces as I feel they are unnecessary but wearing subdued colours such as greens and browns will help you to blend into the surrounding foliage. More important is to remain below the skyline if possible as any movement against the bright background of the sky is easily visible to all fish and, if they see you they may well spook. I know that at this point some of you may well be thinking that barbel are a bit more tolerant than chub and are less prone to spooking from noise and movement, and I’d have to agree however, we are talking about the first moments in the swim and you have yet to get the fish’s heads down and onto bait. Should you spook the ultra wary chub they will quickly leave and take the barbel with them, from then on you are playing catch up and hoping that the fish will recover their nerve and come back. So, lesson one is to approach as quietly as possible whilst keeping a low profile. Put your gear down quietly and, very importantly, watch where your feet are landing; on the Wye, where I mainly fish, there is a lot of loose stone and gravel which is very difficult to creep over, in swims where you can view the fish, it is possible to see just how disastrous a few heavy footfalls and kicked stones can be as the tails of fish disappear downstream.
Our thoughtless angler is now on his feet and noisily sorting his gear and thinking about giving the barbel a meal. Very often this is a fatal mistake as the temptation to lob out a big feeder, bait dropper or handful of bait overcomes his need to have a think about it first. Before you put any bait in you have to ask yourself a few questions the first being location. Where are you going to position your bait? Is that the best spot or just the easiest spot? If it looks good, can you hold out there or is the current going to push your bait away from your loose feed? It doesn’t take a minute to have a test cast and see of the spot you want to fish can be done so with the gear you have with you, much better to do that and maybe decide to fish a little closer in where the current is less powerful or where there are less snags.
Another ‘location’ factor is to ask yourself ‘where does everybody else fish?’ If the fish are used to getting caught from the obvious part of a swim then, by simply fishing above or below that point you may find the fish less wary of your gear.
Once you have made the decision you can think about bait. Throwing or catapulting free offerings is fine when you know the depth and pace of the river but I see so many anglers doing it without any thought it beggars belief. To start with, different baits have different densities so they will fly from the hand or catapult differently and will not reach the same distance for the effort used. Mix hemp and corn and give it the full elastic and you will see the hemp run out of steam and land in a shower whilst the corn tends to go beyond it. This is the same when you mix different sized pellets or pellets with dense boilies, your baited area has a very uneven spread of bait. This is further exacerbated when your baits hit the water as the dense items will sink quickly, especially if they are spherical boilies whereas the smaller and lighter objects will be carried farther downstream. It is worth reminding you that the Elips pellet is so shaped to make it fall slowly through the water to give captive salmon a better chance of eating them before they land on the bottom and foul the bed of the lake where they are farmed. You may be dropping your lead where you think your bait is landing whilst the fish are feeding merrily on your free offerings well downstream of your hooked sample.
Of course, the differences in bait densities can be used to our advantage as the lighter offerings will travel further downstream and pull fish to feed in front of you but make sure that this is done on your terms and that you understand what is happening beneath the surface.
So far, by just a little extra thought, we have hopefully turned a hit and miss approach into a considered and accurate one which is far more likely to get you a bite. I would however, suggest that long before you get to introducing bait into the swim you spend some time just watching the river. In a turbulent river the current can change from moment to moment, the crease that looked ideal as you first arrived can swing or pulsate and move by quite some distance, a nearside current can become a back eddy. This phenomenon does not occur on all rivers but the Wye is a wild and fast flowing river with many moods. To put all your eggs in one basket and bait the so-called ‘hotspot’ then find that it has moved can frustrate your efforts and yourself. Time spent in observation is rarely wasted.
Likewise, when you do eventually introduce your first bait samples, have a look see. Can you see the bottom? Maybe you can see some way into the water, is it enough to see the tell tale flash of a turning barbel? To see your chosen species in your swim is a huge lift to confidence but do you then follow immediately with your end rig or do you wait a little longer? I suggest that if you see signs of feeding fish in the swim the longer you leave it before actually fishing for them can be a major advantage as the fish, if fed correctly, will gain confidence and will feed much harder making a multiple catch or the capture of the biggest shoal member much more likely. If you doubt this then consider the number of times when you have arrived at a swim and caught a barbel within ten or twenty minutes causing you to sit back and think ‘this is going to be easy’ only for the swim to die for a long period, maybe the rest of the day. The fish you caught may well have been a modest size and almost certainly was accompanied by several or many similar fish yet you were unable to tempt them, the reason? You caught too soon and they spooked.
If I catch a very quick fish from a swim I am in no hurry to get my bait back out there, if I do have another cast and get a second barbel I will add a little bait and go for a stroll or just sit and watch for 30 minutes to an hour. This may seem excessive but, if I have chosen to stay in that swim all day then I want it to produce fish all day and by catching and resting it gives the fish a chance to return to their feeding and regain their confidence after each capture. Get the timing right and the fish will keep coming regularly, get it wrong and you will get bored waiting.
So remember the rule – get the first five minutes right and the rest of the day should fall nicely into place.