FACED with a cold, clear river when bites are going to be hard to come by, how do you make the most of your swim? Andy Burt has some answers, as he demonstrates at George’s Meadow on the Warwickshire Avon at Evesham.
In and age when the convenience of commercial stillwaters occupies much of our angling time, the natural environment of a river bankside still offers a unique experience that no man-made complex can compete with.
It is hard to say why, but just being beside a river like the Warwickshire Avon at Evesham seems more like getting away from it all than parking your seat box on even the most dutifully-manicured lakeside.
Yes the fishing can be challenging. But then we are pitting our wits against creatures in their truly natural environment. We are competing with their natural food sources. These fish don’t rely on pellets and other angler’s baits to sustain their lives. They live happily whether we sit down and drown a few maggots or we don’t.
Yes, catch a net of river fish and you can feel that you have achieved a great deal by simply outwitting nature. You will have presented your bait the way that they would naturally intercept food.
However, at this time of year rivers can be very hard nuts to crack, especially when there is not much rain about and the water runs as clear as a mountain stream.
On days like this you can usually forget big bags of fish, but there are still tricks to maximising your catch and we asked West Midlands river ace Andy Burt to step in and help out the readers with some timely tips to help you make the most of those treasured winter sliver fish sessions.
When we met up with Andy, the river Avon was running modestly, the only pace really being down the middle. However, the biggest hurdle to contend with was the clarity of the river, which has been a problem most of the season. But just what are the problems associated with fishing in very clear water.
“In a clear river the fish will only really want to feed properly at night and when the light fades, so to that end the late afternoon will often be the best time of the day for catching,” said Andy.
“Fish tend to shoal up very tightly in clear water and this is because they resort to safety in numbers to avoid attacks from predators. The result can be that if you are on fish you can catch a shed full if you do it right, but if you are not it will often be a struggle.
“That said you have to approach things as if it’s going to be quite difficult and take things from there. That means fishing fine and light and feeding with care and precision.”
Some venues have noted hotspots where the roach in particular shoal tightly during the winter months and at Twyford Farm they do that on the so-called island swims. However, you won’t learn a lot from catching easy fish out of an easy swim and hence Andy selected a straight section of the main river. What would Andy expect to catch from this ordinary looking peg on a day like this?
“If I can scratch out 5lb today I will be pleased,” he said. “I would expect roach to form the basis of a winter catch with perch and maybe an odd bonus chub boosting the bag.
“Normally 5lb on a cold, clear river will see you there or thereabouts for winning some coin in a match situation.”
Andy had set up a plethora of tackle including two pole rigs and two running line wagglers and one Bolognese running line rig.
To the inexperienced river angler it perhaps begged the question as to why so much tackle was required for perhaps just 5lb of fish?
Andy soon explained: “If you want to catch all day you might need to change the way you present the bait or where you are fishing in the swim quite dramatically.
“For example, one of the waggler rods is solely to look for a bonus chub up in the water, while the Bolo and other waggler rods are for running through the swim looking for roach and chub at depth.
“Then there is a pole rig for roach at depth over a tightly groundbaited area and a perch rig for the bottom of the near shelf.
“The reality is that I might actually have to use them all to scratch out that target weight. Remember, a few perch on the inside can really boost your weight, as they weigh really well at this time of year. And you can catch big chub on that as well,” said Andy.
The perch pole rig
With so much tackle on show let’s run through what Andy had set up. The perch pole rig utilised a flat float for laying the hook bait on the bottom and keeping it dead still.
“It sits in the water very nicely with all the shot on this rig well down the line about two feet off the bottom,” he said.
“Having one No8 dropper shot 12 inches off the bottom allows me to work the bait over the baited area but the area I’m fishing with this rig is quite tight and I will only feed it with a bait dropper.
“The rig is set initially to six inches over depth and there would be no need to adjust that unless it was too windy to keep the rig and hence the bait still. This perch rig uses a 0.10mm diameter hook length to a size 20 Kamasan B520 hook and elastic is a 6-8 Middy Hi Viz.”
The roach pole rig
Andy’s second pole rig also used a flat float – a 2gr wire stemmed version. This rig is intended to catch roach, the shotting being a bulk and then three No10 shot equally spread to achieve a natural fall of the hook bait through the last three feet of the rig.
“I am amazed I don’t see more anglers using light flat float rigs like this one,” said Andy.
“This rig can be set to fish on or off bottom, held back dead still, edged through slowly or run at pace.
“It’s is so very versatile and in fact can replace the need for up to three rigs. On this rig is a 0.08mm diameter hooklength to a size 22 Mustad Canal hook. Elastic is a Middy Hi Viz 3-4.”
Main waggler rig
This rig is intended for catching roach and bonus chub at depth. It uses a 3AAA Stan Bennett straight peacock waggler with the bulk of the shot used to lock the float on the line. Down the line Andy places a No8 for each foot of water and then a No10 as the final dropper shot.
“The rig is ideal for tripping bottom in the seven foot deep swim I’m facing on this occasion,” said Andy, who knows the river better than most.
“The reel line is 3lb Toray and the trace is 0.10mm Shimano Silk Shock to a size 20 Kamasan B520 hook, which is selected for its ability to carry two maggots.
“The double maggot hook bait is always a good starter to look for a bonus chub but I will soon drop to 0.09mm to a size 22 hook and single maggot if the bonus doesn’t come after the first few trots. This rig is fished with a No2 13ft Carbotec rod.”
The ‘bonus chub’ rig
Also on a Carbotec No 2 rod was the bonus chub waggler set-up, which was a smaller 2AAA version of the Stan Bennett pattern.
It is used to fish between 2-6ft deep on-the-drop, because even in winter chub will very often swim up in the water.
“If there is a greedy chub lurking well off bottom, a few runs through with this rig should find it!” said Andy.
The shotting on this rig is a bulk around the float then spread down the line are three No10 shot. Main line is 2.5lb breaking strain to a size 20 Kamasan B510 barbless hook a pattern.
“I like to use barbless patterns on my chub rigs as they nick through the maggots so easily without any damage and that can be really important when the chub are not really having it,” he added.
“On the 520s I use for roach I always pinch the barb down to achieve a similar effect.”
The Bolognese rig
The Bolo gear starts off with a Carbotec No1 at 17ft, the extra rod length being needed to control the big top and bottom float and in turn allow for a longer trot and therefore a much greater search of the swim.
The main line is again 3lb and the trace is 0.09mm to a size 22 Kamasan B520, but Andy is prepared to drop to 0.08mm as he’s fishing for roach with this rig. The float is a 3gr Trabucco ‘shoulder up’ type with a substantial bristle.
“This type of float allows you to hold back or run through to vary the presentation,” explained Andy. “It is shotted with an olivette three feet from the hook to form the bulk, then four No8 droppers below the olivette.
“With this rig I like to start by tripping bottom but I can add a few inches on or take some off to vary the presentation.”
Where to start?
So Andy certainly gives himself plenty of catching options, but where does he start?
“Feeding is the key thing but I’ll deal with that in a moment,” he said. “In terms of which rig to pick up a first, a few runs through on the bonus chub waggler rig will soon find out if there are one or two about and if you do snare one you are off to a great start.
“Don’t give it long though. If you don’t find that early chub you should drop onto the long pole rig next and work the hook bait over the feed.”
This is where you would hope to get a steady run of small roach, although the early roach Andy caught were very small indeed – just 8dr to 1oz in size.
“Sometimes these roach will have a single big maggot, but on this occasion fluoro pinkie is proving better and that can be the case when small roach are the only thing you can tempt,” said Andy as he swung in another small redfin.
Andy rates his deeper waggler as being just as important as the long pole rig.
“This is there to fish from the long pole line to well beyond it, allowing you to exploit any roach that are further out and downstream than the pole can reach. I would expect these two methods to form the backbone of the roach catching system,” he said.
“The shorter pole is there to tap into the many perch that frequent the river these days and some swims offer lots of these. The Bolo is also another tool for occasional use to see if the roach are lying much further downstream, as it allows you to search even more of the river.”
A lot of anglers automatically reject a groundbait approach in clear water conditions, but Andy says they are wrong to do so.
In fact to start the session he cupped in six balls on the long pole line. The mix comprised a bit of brown crumb as a bulking agent, plus Van Den Eynde Secret to bind and give the weight to sink the balls straight down into one tight area, and VDE Black Roach to introduce a darker element to the mix because of the clear water. It has been well documented that small fish like roach won’t settle so well over light coloured feeds in clear water, and feeding a dark groundbait in winter is probably rule number one.
Andy fed the groundbait at 11.5 metres in the hope that roach would settle over it, but also expected to catch odd perch on that line.
The initial balls contained some pinkies and a few casters plus a few big maggots.
“You do not want to feed much, just a taster of your hook baits,” revealed Andy.
The perch swim was earmarked six metres out but downstream at about a 45-degree angle to the fishing position. That put the swim at the bottom of the near shelf where the perch tend to hang out.
His choice of feed for the perch swim was two bait droppers of bronze maggots with a few reds among them. Perhaps surprisingly for a perch swim, there was no chopped worm.
“I find when it’s cold and clear, maggot is as good as anything and you will catch roach and chub over it too,” he disclosed.
To feed the waggler and bolo lines, loose feeding bronze maggots via a catapult is the key and Andy says out that early in the session it pays to spread the feed over quite a wide area of the river.
“Spreading the maggots like this helps me determine which line they are feeding on best and on hard days it also helps to get more fish looking for feed,” he advised. “You can always tighten up the feed areas later when you work out where they are lying.
“When I feed the groundbait I like to use a pole cup for accuracy and to keep the balls in a very tight area. Hopefully I won’t have to top up and catch for a long time over the initial feed but if the swim dies there are a few tricks to try,” added Andy.
“One is to use a small bait dropper to introduce a few more loose offerings like maggots. On a hard day I doubt whether they would respond to more groundbait, so be careful about introducing any more after the initial feed.
“On this occasion after the pole swim died I actually loose fed towards the latter stages so that the maggots settled over where the initial groundbait was on the river bed. To do you need to gauge the flow and aim the catapult upstream several metres. Experience helps you work out the fall rate in the given flow. It was this latter feeding that coincided with catching the better roach.”
With regard to the perch swim, Andy says that after the initial feeding of maggots and some pinkies, subsequent top-ups using the bait dropper consist of more maggots.
“The time to top up is when you have had a few fish but can’t make another bite, or if the swim hasn’t been fished for a while and you can’t get a bite there when you drop in,” he said.
This session proved to be a scratching masterclass. Andy picked up some small roach early on the pole, but the catch rate wasn’t great so the waggler at depth was tried next. That too produced odd small roach but nothing feeding in numbers.
The shallow waggler did not produce the hoped-for bonus chub, and the Bolo was no more effective than the waggler. The perch rig did produce one reasonable stripey and a few gudgeon, but Andy was basically having to keep changing to keep fish coming to the net, just as he often has to do in matches.
Late on as the light started to fade the better stamp roach started to feed and fishing the long pole with the flat float and laying 12 inches of line over depth with pinkie produced a few decent redfins to about 5 oz.
It had been a truly hard day, but Andy showed why on such occasions you need to be prepared to try several options.
Top Tip 1
When feeding a near side swim in clear water, feed at a 45 degree angle downstream rather than straight out in front of you.
Top Tip 2
Andy finds that it’s often better to feed maggot on the near side perch line than chopped worm. “I find when it’s cold and clear, maggot is as good as anything and you will catch roach and chub over it too,” he disclosed.
Venue Fact File
Warks Avon, Twyford Farm, Evesham, Worcestershire
A one-and-a-half mile, 115-peg, medium-paced stretch of the Middle Avon which is regarded by many anglers to be amongst the finest fisheries on the entire river.
Contact: Stu Gottfried on 07813 797912. He also organises the matches on the water.
Day tickets: Adults £3 on the bank, concessions £2.
Facilities: Swims are platformed and there is easy road access to most of them, good barbel, chub, roach, bream, pike and perch feature.
How to get there: It’s Just off the Evesham by pass to the north of the town, drive through the car park for the Twyford Country Park and follow the signs for the fishing.