Unless they are polluted,or netted thoroughly and frequently, all running and enclosed waters will eventually hold a head of fish. They get there as fish eggs carried on the legs of wading birds, or by simple migration of fish in rivers. Small feeder streams, running into lakes, will carry fry into new areas where they become adult and breed.
The fish species will vary depending on whether the water is still or flowing, and whether it is a cold, fast-flowing mountain stream, the quiet reaches of a lowland river meandering through Hat country, or the open, brackish expanse of an estuary. The game fishes such as salmon and trout and their relatives inhabit fast, well-oxygenated rivers, whereas the carp and its relatives -and indeed most of the coarse species – inhabit slower, murkier waters. Pike, chub and dace live side by side with the game fishes, but are equally at home in slow-flowing rivers. Perch can be found in almost all kinds of (lowing and still waters.
In general the owner of a fishery can manipulate it to hold the species he wants to catch in the pursuit of his sport. Careful fishery management can maintain those species, but without the constant attention needed, some species will disappear, some will be reduced to a few large solitary specimens, and others, such as the rudd, can multiply so fast that the whole population is composed of small, stunted adults.
Rivers and streams form a large proportion of the water fished by anglers, and they hold a wide variety of fish. Bream,carp, roach, pike, perch and the smaller species are found in the slower areas, while barbel, chub, dace, grayling and the game fishes occupy the fast waters. There is also some interchange where waters of different types meet.
Where the river is rich in weeds such as starwort, crowfoot and ribbonweed, the fish are usually fat and well fed. Insects, shrimps and other small creatures on which the fish feed live among the weed and the weedbeds also make ideal spawning sites for a wide variety of fish.
Above: Fishing float tackle for barbel in the slacker water at the tail of the weir stream can be a useful tactic. It is essential to keep a tight line between the rod and the float in such waters. A float of the Avon type is a good choice.
In the fast scours and channels between thick weeds the dace and grayling are found, while tucked under the weeds, particularly under the long fronds of ribbonweed. will be barbel and chub. These wary fish may only be seen when they emerge to feed, popping out to intercept a tasty morsel that has come down with the current form higher upstream.
A deep channel close to a reed or rush-fringed bank, perhaps shadowed with overhanging willows and alders, will always hold fish. Perch and the occasional pike lurk in the margins along the edge of the rushes and in the submerged roots of bankside trees.
Most rivers have a variety of swims, or sections that suit different species. Weirpools, for example, are places favoured particularly by barbel: they are found close to the weir-sill under the cascade of white water. Barbel also haunt the well-aerated water flowing through the pool, where they hug the gravelly bottom, their low-slung jaws and powerful bodies using the flow to hold them down. Big chub also prefer last water where they snap up food items swept round in the eddies. Weirpools always hold a wide variety of fishes, for there are swims to suit them all – turbulent water, eddies, fast runs, slacks, deeps and shallows. A weirpool offers all-year-round fishing, but it is best in the summer months because the water is better oxygenated. The tail of the weir is a particularly good fishing area. Mere, different streams and currents from the weir converge, and the bottom is shallower and clean. Fish can rest without effort and feed on the matter gently swirling about.
Below: This weir on a big river offers the angler a variety of swims, including fast waters best fished by legering, and eddies and slacks which suit float tackle.
Where the strength of flow eases and the river widens out over shallows at the downstream end of the pool the conditions are ideal for chub, dace and barbel. When they are feeding, the perch and pike come hunting here. knowing that the small fish they prey upon will be present.
Pools and deeps
A steady flow over a deepish pool will sometimes attract and hold a shoal of roach, and a few chub may be spotted hovering just below the surface. Barbel can be expected on (he beds of these pools so long as t here is some How over them.
Fairly deep, broad rivers with a steady How of water are generally noted for bream. The fish may be found almost anywhere on the middle reaches where there are deep holes. and also in large bays.
Smaller rivers, which How steadily throughout most of the year, often have Jeep holes close to the bank which have been scoured by winter torrents. These places can hold many species, including perch and pike.
Roach prefer deepish waters, not too fast, with a gravelly bed and weedbeds near by. Slow eddies and laybys, off the main How. also attract roach. In all these quiet areas the angler’s approach must be one of great caution. At the first sign of any unnatural movement the quiet backwaters will empty of fish.
Bridges create swims that will hold a variety of fish. The bridge supports constrict the flow of water, causing the current to speed up. This creates sheltered eddies on the downstream side where perch and pike lie. At the lower end of the faster How, other species such as chub, barbel, bleak and gudgeon can be found.
Obviously. bridges are also very useful access points, enabling sections of bank to be fished which would be unreachable without some means of crossing the river. But those swims within the immediate vicinity of the bridge are always well-fished -because many anglers are reluctant to walk too far! You may find that it pays to walk about a mile from the access point to find a quieter swim.
The slower waters of a river on the inside of a bend are often found to harbour bream, tench, barbel, a shoal of roach and perhaps the smaller species such as gudgeon. In the faster water on the outside of the bend. where over the years the How has scoured a cavern under the bank. swim chub, barbel, dace and roach. keeping out of the main flow,
Swims that hold certain species in the summer may completely change their character in the cold months. The How often increases, and the summer weed growth dies off because of the drop in temperature. Different swims are formed and other fish move in.
In times of Hood, after heavy. prolonged rain or the melting of heavy snowfalls, fish are put off their feed for awhile. But eventually hunger causes them to become active and they make their way into sheltered swims, quiet laybys, lock cuttings and even into the Hooded fields. Here they can find rich pickings among the insects and worms.
Above: Weir streams and the upper reaches of rivers are often well-oxygenated, and hold plenty of fish – particularly during the summer.
You must move with caution along the bank of a stream, for the clumping of boots will certainly scare off all the fish in the vicinity. Also, when walking along a bank, keep as far from the edge-as possible. Even if you do not create vibrations your shadow on the water will be enough to put the fish down. The clear, shallow waters of a stream can give the impression of looking into an aquarium. The fish can be seen-and the fish can see the angler. All movements should therefore be slowed down to avoid scaring the quarry. Try to keep below the horizon, whatever it is – whether bushes, trees or a raised bank.
Above: Confluences, between small rivers in particular, greatly increase the area of fishable water, and may have a variety of swims.
When specimen hunting on these smaller waters the wily angler always creeps stealthily along the bank, taking advantage of all available cover. Once a fish has been spotted it is advisable to keep well upstream and work the tackle down to it.
Streams invariably have a lively flow, with clear channels between weeds where chub, dace and grayling can be found. Overhanging willows olten have a small shoal of chub in residence, and these fish especially need a very cautious approach if the angler is to hook one.
A confluence is a meeting of waters where two rivers join, or where a feeder stream enters a lake or the main river. At most confluences there is a wide area, or pool, of fishable water.
Weed growth may be present where there are eddies or slacks. These are likely places to hold fish.
An inflow from a cannery or a milk-bottling yard will offer rich feed for shoals of fish, which may include quality roach. To catch these fish in such swims you must offer them suitable baits, related to the diet they have become accustomed to.
The lower reaches of tidal rivers will hold a few saltwater estuarial species in addition to the coarse fishes. In the lower part of the estuary there will be mainly bass, mullet, eels and flounders, the last species being able to travel many miles upstream into freshwater.
Of the coarse fish, it is the dace and roach that are considered to do best in the tidal freshwater reaches. On some rivers these fish are to be found in quite large shoals and usually in swims about a rod’s length out.
Sport in these waters can depend on the flow. Some rivers fish best on the outgoing tide, while others are better when the water is rising.
Above: Tidal rivers offer good sport, for they often contain sea fish such as flounders and mullet as well as familiar coarse species.
Most canals offer excellent fishing opportunities, but they also vary considerably when it conies to fishable areas. Some have many miles in regular navigable use, while others are closed to traffic, abandoned and choked with weeds and vegetation. Lock gates may be broken and rotting. the banks unkempt and falling in.
Yet even these dying canals may still retain a few deep pools populated with roach, tench and soon. In some cases anglers have kept miles of canal open and fishable by constant weed clearing. Clubs that have acquired the canal fishing rights often organise working parties to clear weeds and obstructions, repair banks and piles, and create productive swims.
Sections of some canals may be featureless, with little aquatic plant growth. Finding a swim in these areas is not easy and it is often done on a trial
and error basis. Plumbing the depth is always useful here and by this means the angler may find a hole inhabited by some good fish. A small bed of waterlilies or a patch of weeds may offer an indication of a roach swim.
Originally all canals had a deepish centre channel and a shallower shelf by each bank. On navigable canals weeds and rushes grow on these shelves and a gap in the vegetation could well be a productive swim. Along the edge of the shelf the roach and tench may be rooting about, while pike and big perch patrol along the edge of the weeds. Bream generally shoal in the middle whore it is deeper.
Occasionally there will be other species in some places, such as gudgeon and eels. These fish seek patches of hard gravel over which they forage. Where there is a more luxuriant weed growth you may find carp and chub.
The time spent fish watching is always worthwhile, for even though the fish themselves may not be seen, bream, tench and carp send up groups of small bubbles while they root about in the silt looking for edible items.
Pike and perch often disclose their presence when small fry scalier in all directions across the surface as one of the predators lunges towards them.
Perch are to be found in the vicinity of locks, either in shoals of small fish or solitary specimens. Wooden lock gates and rotting piles are well worth fishing near if you are seeking perch.
On some canals there are places near wharves and locks where the water is extra-wide. These areas are called pounds, and they allow barges to pass, or to moor without blocking the canal. The activities of people there meant that fish came to know the areas as possible feeding places, and they can be well worth investigating.
There will also be swims worth fishing near locks where boats still go through, for the movement of the water as the lock gates open and close stirs up food and attracts lish. Because of the increasing number of holiday craft using the canal waterways more sections are kept open, and the channels are not allowed to become choked with weed. These sections become stirred up. making it difficult to see the fish.
The roving angler may come across a rotting hulk, which is another very likely place to find lish. These quiet places have to be approached with great caution if the lish are not to be disturbed, and the angler should keep as far away from the swim as possible. In general, though, fishing on canals is close-range work, and float tackle is better than legerrigs.
It is not possible to learn everything about a lake on your first visit. Each subsequent session there will add to your store of knowledge about the water. The more one fishes a water the more one gets to know its moods and the movements of the fish, and as time passes your catches should improve. Knowledge can also be gleaned from other anglers who may have fished the water for many years, but pick your time carefully when you pose your questions, for no angler wants to be distracted when he is expecting a bite at any second!
Knowledge of a water is not gained just by fishing. Spend time looking round the banks, and get to know the underwater contours. This is essential for fish have regular patrol routes from one area to another.
Contours can best be studied from a boat, but alternatively you can use the bankside trees. A fair survey can be made by climbing into a tree for a good view; by wearing polarised sunglasses you will gain a lot of information on what is happening beneath the surface. The darker areas often indicate deeper water, but these places are not necessarily the best for catching fish, which invariably move into the shallows when feeding. Periods of drought should not be wasted, as at these times the water level may drop dramatically and you will be able to obtain a lot of useful information about the lakebed.
Lilypads and rushes protruding from the surface can produce giveaway signs of feeding fish. A shoal of rudd may be spotted as it splashes on the surface, and carp will be clearly seen as they cruise about, occasionally allowing a dorsal (in to appear above the surface. A carefully presented floating crust might well become a centre of interest for these fish.
On lakes, good swims can be found round the places where feeder streams enter the water. The movement aerates the water, small fish are attracted to the spot and roach and bream shoals occasionally move in. Pike and perch are also to be found here, feeding on the smaller fish.
There are times when fishing into the wind is effective, for the wind blows floating material into the bank. This surface drift causes the lower layer of water to move in compensation, and the movement along the bottom stirs the mud and with it various aquatic life, so fish can be expected to feed there.
Reading the banks can be as informative as reading the water. Popular swims can often be recognised by the well-trodden margin where the grass has been trampled. Rushes may have been broken to create gaps through which to fish. This does not mean, however, that it is a good swim; it may be part of a regularly fished match venue. If you know matches are held there it is wise to avoid them on weekends, when most matches take place.
On lakes with extremely clear water sport can often be slow. One answer to this is night fishing, which may bring better results. Before actually going night fishing the lake should be visited in daylight so that you can become familiar with the place. Walk the bank, note the steep parts and the crumbly areas. Select the swim in daylight, loo, and even practise a few casts to find the depth. On the night when you intend to fish, try to arrive before darkness to that the rods and tackle can be assembled and your fishing station settled. Before that, of course, make sure that night fishing is allowed on the lake!
Small, shallow lakes, mere ponds, are very often rich in natural food for fish. As well as the usual Stillwater species, crucian carp thrive in these confined waters. Another fish found here is the rudd, and small ponds can easily become over-populated with small adult rudd. Eels and the occasional big perch may also live in these shallow ponds.
Below: Small natural or well-established ponds, not too deep, suit the tench; the best swims are often among the lily beds.
Old-established reservoirs are like natural lakes. These waters can be Hooded valleys or huge, man-made concrete bowls. All hold fish, and some harbour exceptional specimens.
Inlets and outlets are often marked by concrete structures, and below the waterline these are usually covered by weed harbouring snails and aquatic insects. These make perfect food for fish, which are never far away. At the same time the predators, pike and perch, will be nearby preying on the smaller fish.
The sloping banks of some reservoirs can be dangerously slippery, but they are worth fishing, for they hold all kinds of insect life upon which fish feed. The dam wall, where the water is deepest, is often out of bounds to anglers, so be sure to check any noticeboards.
The demand for gravel and sand over the years has created a large number of huge, sometimes very deep holes in the form of worked-out pits. Many have been left to nature, which soon shows in the form of reeds, rushes,grasses and bordering shrubs, all of which lake over and disguise the unsightly scars. Many gravel pits have been extremely well landscaped. almost right from the sunt of gravel extraction. Some pits have been planted with ten-year-old trees round the banks and the water has been slocked with quality lish such as roach, carp, pike and perch.
Because the gravel pit lakes are mainly on private land, or properly owned by the gravel companies, most of the waters are rented out to angling associations. The members ol these bodies are usually responsible for the maintenance of the banks and control of the lish stocks.
The depths of gravel pits vary considerably. Some are very deep, which means that rooted aquatic plants may be restricted to the edges. Some pits are generally shallow and have deepish channels, depending upon how the gravel was extracted. These pits make line fisheries, with swims of varying depth 10 suit different species.
Alder bushes and willows that have become established round the banks afford shelter from wind and provide a screen to give anglers cover. This bankside vegetation is really valuable to anglers when the banks are low. Some lish feed close in to the bank and to catch I hem anglers must keep well back and use the vegetation as cover.
The quality of the water in pits is usually excellent and clear. When looking for a swim, look around in the vicinity of the weedbeds. If there are lilypads present, fishing close to their large floating leaves can be successful. for most lish are attracted by the cover from the plains and the food items they find among the vegetation.
Because depths vary so much it will pay to spend time walking the bank. Using the plummet in a systematic manner will enable you 10 draw a plan of the pit which will prove invaluable when you are choosing swims.
Early season fishing on a gravel pit is usually best for tench. Through the summer big carp will be the lish logo for, and as autumn approaches and winter begins the roach, perch and pike will be the main quarry.
Below: Gravel digging has created many still waters in areas where natural lakes are infrequent. Well established gravel pits, stocked with quality fish, are very-popular with angling clubs.
Most gravel pits hold tench. Some of the heaviest recorded specimens have come from these waters, which are ideally suited to the tench’s lifestyle. Early morning and late evening are the best fishing limes, when the tench come in close to the bank to feed. Many of the good tench swims in gravel pits are close to weedbeds.
Carp fishing methods can range from fishing the margins to long distance casting. Where the reeds or rushes spread out in a thick mass from the bank in the shallows it indicates a useful swim for perch. These colourful predators feed on the small fry which congregate in the cover of the stems and leaves.
Most fish species are inactive during the winter, and the pike, perch and sometimes roach offer the best sport. If the temperature drops to freezing point, Stillwater fish tend to stop feeding and the fishing can become very difficult.
Above: The banks, holes and Below: An old gravel pit develops channels left in the pit bed by the like a natural lake, with dense gravel extraction machinery create patches of lilies and thick reedbeds a good range of swims. that harbour a variety of fish.