Lake margins are often unfairly neglected in favour of the open water farther out.
The lengthening days and warmer weather of spring mark the start of renewed weed growth around lake margins. The water has been cold and barren during the winter months but now it warms quickly and once again becomes attractive to the fish. The lush, weed-filled margins of still waters offer fish an ideal environment where they can spawn, hide from predators and find rich feeding.
While many lakes look similar on the surface, their underwater topography can be very different. It is this that decides whether the fish are present in the margins or not.
Worked-out and flooded pits have become a common sight since World War II – the demand for sand and gravel has increased dramatically for house and road building. Pits are renowned for producing big fish, but they aren’t all the same and the best lakes to search out are those that have been in existence the longest.
Older pits not only contain fish that have had enough time to grow big, but their margins tend to be steeply angled, restricting weed growth to the very edge. This ensures the fish move in extremely close to the bank and are easier to locate and, in theory, catch.
Old pits often have a pronounced marginal shelf along which species such as tench and carp — and chub if they are present — like to patrol in search of food. In clear-water pits you can see fish working backwards and forwards along the length of the shelf, sending up small clouds of silt each time they stop, upend and root around. Fish spotting is best done on sunny days, early in the morning when there are fewer anglers about. A pair of polarising glasses and a peaked or brimmed hat help to eliminate surface glare.
Recently there has been a trend towards landscaping the banks of pits, making them safer and more attractive to the eye. Gently sloping margins are a feature of such pits. These encourage marginal weed to grow farther out into the water so that the fish are less inclined to move in close.
THE WEED-FRINGED MARGINS OF A LAKE IN SUMMER
Man-made lakes – including the ornamental waters frequently found on old estates – are often formed by blocking the course of streams. Typically their profile consists of an area of marshy shallows where the feeder stream runs in, deepening progressively up towards the dam at the other end.
The bottom of such lakes normally slopes smoothly from side to side and end to end, often with a deeper central channel – the old stream bed. Consequently, most of the margins are shallow and shelve only gently away into deeper water, making it unlikely that fish venture near the bank. The only area offering deeper water under the bank is off the dam wall.
On the surface
On lakes it pays to keep a look out for certain surface features which could help you track down fash.
Weedy areas are the obvious place to look. Beds of broad-leaved, floating plants such as lilies or amphibious bistort are a source of food and cover for surface feeders like carp.
Masses of aquatic plants such as Canadian pondweed and spiked water-milfoil are a common sight around many lake margins. These plants provide shady, well-oxygenated regions where bottom feeders like tench and bream thrive.
Reeds and rushes can make access to the water difficult for the angler, but if you can manage to get a bait tight up to these areas you’ll be rewarded with specimen rudd, roach or perch – especially if there is a reasonable depth of water close in. Barren, weedless margins may still be worth a try if there is a ledge where the shallows drop steeply into deeper water. You can tell whether this is the case either by looking to see if there is a sudden change in the colour of the water – from light to dark – at the edge, or by plumbing. If there is a ledge, try the deeper water for tench, carp and bream.
Trees overhanging the margins provide extra cover for fish and an additional source of food when land creatures such as beetles and caterpillars fall from the branches and leaves.
Wind also has an effect on fish location. Fish often gather on the windward shore of a lake where all the food is getting washed up. So a shelf along a bank on to which the wind is blowing is well worth a try. Bankside disturbance at popular lakes causes the fish to avoid the margins and stay well out from the bank. However, as soon as the fishery becomes quiet they venture close in. It is best to fish such waters early in the morning or, if allowed, at night. When in a confident mood chub and carp move into mere inches of water and feed with their backs exposed.
Margin baits and tactics
The baits and tactics to use for catching fish in the margins vary depending on the species you are after and the time of day. Baits such as sweetcorn, worms, bread, maggots, casters (fished over a bed of hemp) and boilies all score. Freelining, float fishing (laying-on) and legering -including the successful bolt rig set-ups -all take fish.
A once popular and exciting method for catching margin-feeding carp after dark was to freeline a piece of crust just out from the bank, keeping all the line between bait and rod tip off the water. The technique may have fallen from favour in this high-tech age, but it still works and sets the heart pounding as the crust disappears in a great slurp.
Perch and pike, too, are attracted to lake margins by the presence of other species and can be caught on natural baits or artificial lures. Surface working plugs cast along the margins in search of pike generally prove to be more productive than casting way out into the lake, and takes are usually pretty spectacular.
Casting a lure parallel to the bank and working it along the margins improves your chances of a take much more than casting into open water. Each time the lure edges close to a weedbed it may get grabbed. An excellent bait to use for chub cruising in the shallows at night is whitebait. You buy these frozen from many supermarkets. Hook one or two whitebait through the head and fish the bait among a handful of loose offerings – and don’t be surprised if you hook a carp! You’ll see bites more easily if you use a bobbin (if freelining or legering) or a float with a Betalight.