Anglers are missing out when they ignore the potential of rivers in flood. Big bags and big fish are possible with the right approach.
Most rivers flood, and some do so quite regularly. Flooded rivers often provide an excellent chance of catching some fish, especially larger specimens, yet relatively few anglers fish such waters successfully. This is probably because many anglers do not make any real attempt to maximize their chances during a flood. Therefore they are not rewarded with many bites or fish and simply give up. Think carefully about where and when to fish in such conditions, or you too may end up believing that the fish don’t feed, or at best feed only occasionally and haphazardly.
Which kind of flooding?
Though every flood is different, there are two main types – a winter/spring spate and a summer ‘flash’ type which occurs after exceptionally heavy rainfall.
A winter flood can be unpredictable, but generally the fishing is poor while the river is rising. This is because the extra water is usually cold and it carries dirt which may clog the fishes’ gills. Whatever the reason, it puts fish off feeding. While the river is falling, however, fishing can be even better than usual.
Summer floods are almost always good news for the angler, as the extra water is not cold and it brings more food to the fish. As with winter floods, fishing is usually best when water levels begin to fall, particularly for bream, roach and dace.
During a flood, fish must use more energy simply staying still against the flow. To replace this energy they must eat more, both during and after the flood. Obviously enough, hungry fish are easier to catch. Coloured water also makes fish less wary of anglers because visibility is reduced. This lack of visibility also allows you to use larger hooks and heavier line than usual.
When the current is very fast, fish often prefer a bait fished closer to the bottom and more slowly than usual. This means you can load more shot on your line, allowing you to cast further and offer your bait more easily than with lighter tackle.
A falling river may be best, but it is still possible to catch fish on a river where the level remains high. However, the fish are not where you would normally expect to find them. The flow in the central swims is too fast for most species, so look for the fish in areas which offer protection from strong currents. The slower water close in to the bank is a good place to start, but if you want to fish the near bank, keep quiet or you’ll spook the fish. The inside of a bend is usually slower than the main current and is worth a try. Where the bank sticks out into the current there is often an eddy on the downstream side which acts as a holding ground for big fish. Slack water behind trees and bushes growing on what is usually the bank, and areas downstream of bridge supports, are also worth trying. Small feeder streams joining the main river can also be excellent. These small waterways – perhaps only a foot or so deep in normal conditions and usually holding few fish – can become real hot spots when floodwater raises the level to a few feet. When this happens, they offer fish a refuge from which they emerge to hunt for food. The best swims need not be completely slack. Those with a gentle flow of water compared to the main current are also good potential holding areas for fish. A bank-side ditch that is usually dry can become a little Stillwater haven for fish exhausted by the flood current and is often worth trying. Another area of shelter, especially for chub, is a raft of debris caught by any overhanging branches. Dropping a fat slug or big bunch of lobworms under one of these can tempt a greedy specimen. They will also take food that drifts into the raft, so try with floating crust.
The key is to look for any slack areas which offer access to the main flow and the food it carries along. If this isn’t bringing you success, remember that sometimes the biggest fish can be caught battling the current in the middle of the flow, though this is only true of fast water species like chub and barbel.
If you find you are missing bites when fishing a lobworm in flood conditions, try hooking the worm through its middle. This is not the conventional place, but it can help prevent fish grabbing the end of a worm and stealing it off the hook.
Feeding the flood
Feeding is one of the most vital yet underused tools of the coarse angler and it is no less important with rivers in flood. Because of the extra energy needed to stay in one place, fish require a lot of food, but even so it is best to begin with a ‘little and often’ approach. Fish may still be affected by the change in conditions and too much feed can quickly overfill them.
Coloured rivers can respond well to groundbaiting. The mix and texture of the groundbait obviously depend on depth and flow. Generally however, a cloud-type bait is less effective than a feed that goes straight to the bottom, breaks up and stays there for a while – unless you are surface fishing for bleak or other small fish.
If you want to use groundbait, then make sure you use it properly. It’s no good throwing in a ball or two and then settling down to fish. Keep throwing in small samples regularly – just as you would with loose feed. Fish sometimes even respond to the splash of a ball of groundbait. They seem to recognize that the disturbance means a free offering of food.
Loose feed can also be effective in flood conditions. The traditional feeds of maggots and casters can both work well, but in a very murky river casters are less effective. This is probably for the obvious reason that a dark caster is less visible than a pale maggot in the brown coloured water. Worms can also be an excellent loose feed chopped and fed into slack water swims -the juices that worms release seem to drive fish wild. If the water is deep or fast, include them in balls of ground bait, mixed as hard as you need to get it all to the bottom. Alternatively, you can fish the worms with a swimfeeder leger rig.
Hookbaits for floods
Maggot and caster can work well as a hookbait, as can luncheon meat for chub and barbel and bread flake for roach and chub. However, the deadliest bait in a flood is often the humble worm. Worms, along with other natural food animals such as slugs, insects and grubs, are washed into the river in large numbers during a flood and the wise angler – like the fish – will not ignore them.