Potteries angler Graham Marsden is an expert on the Shropshire and Cheshire meres.
Here he tells you how to track down fish on large open waters.
Fishing the open waters of lakes and meres can be a daunting prospect. Typically you are met with an expanse of water which – apart from marginal vegetation — has no features that might give you a clue where the fish are.
Often, though, it is in the open water where many species spend their lives — especially on waters where the banks are busy with people strolling about. Even where bankside activity is minimal, some species (particularly bream) prefer to feed well out from the margins.
Modern tackle and techniques have made it easier to cast great distances, but long-distance fishing still has its problems. It is far easier to go looking for the fish in a boat, and you can then use the most delicate of techniques that long-distance bank fishing prohibits. Make sure that you have the permission of any riparian landowners and the necessary licences before launching your punt.
Messing about in boats
Flat-bottomed punts are the best boats from which to fish. They are stable, safe, and enable you to fish from a comfortable chair. Their only disadvantage is that they are not the easiest of crafts to manoeuvre -especially when it’s windy.
If you have no access to a punt, then the next best thing is a river boat — either clinker-built or glass-fibre. River boats are not as stable or comfortable as punts but they are much easier to handle. Run silent Whatever type of boat you use, line the bottom with carpet. This serves two purposes: it deadens noise so that you are less likely to scare the fish, and it is kinder on the fish when you lay them down to unhook them.
Tie up, anchor down Anchoring the boat at both ends stops it from swinging around. Mud anchors are best. They need be no more than blocks of concrete inset with eye bolts. They should weigh between 20-30 lb (9-14kg) and be attached with nylon ropes. Make sure the ropes are at least 1.8m (6ft) longer than the deepest water in the lake.
For safety’s sake always treat boats with respect. Never stand up in them unnecessarily; never clown around and always wear a life jacket. Even the shallowest waters can be dangerous. Don’t go out when it’s rough.
Before you can find the fish you need to know a little about their environment. Making a depth chart is a great help. The easiest way is to use a sonar device. The simple clock face, depth only, read-out type is quite good enough for this. Failing this, a float and plummet are just as accurate but take much longer.
In order to make a rough chart you need to pick out landmarks around the lake. These can be trees, electricity pylons, distant hills – anything in fact.
Line up the boat so that it lies between two opposing landmarks – this positions the boat along a line. To fix your position, line up with two more opposing landmarks (at 90° to the first two). Take a depth read- ing and make a note of this on a plan of the lake. (The plan needs to have the landmarks drawn in.) By systematically repeating this process you can ‘break’ the lake into a series of grids.
What to do with the chart It is the precise character of a lake bottom that is of interest to the angler and, in particular, any feature that deviates from the plain bed of the lake.
The most common features are deep, basin-like depressions and ledges where the bottom suddenly dips away into deeper water. These are important because they are the natural feeding areas and patrol routes for many species. Bream, tench, roach and carp all love these spots. These fish in turn attract pike and perch which are able to use the features to ambush their prey.
The angler’s quarry Before choosing baits and techniques you need to decide which species to go for. It is no use fishing for tench if there are only a few in the lake. So how do you decide? One way is to find out from the local anglers, bailiffs, tackle shops and newspapers what the dominant species are. Another way is to observe the water as often as possible during the first two hours of daylight and note which species roll at the surface. (This also tells you exactly where the fish are.) If all else fails, try fishing Tdlind’ with a bait like maggots that is attractive to all types of fish (except pike) and just see what turns up. Reputation You usually find that waters gain reputations for producing certain species -becomingknown as carp, bream or tench waters, for example. So it makes sense to choose a species according to the water’s reputation and then concentrate on the features mentioned above. Fishing the ledge A swim with a distinct ledge is an excellent one to try from a boat. By anchoring back from the ledge in shallow water but within a comfortable float cast, you are out of sight of the fish but still close enough to be able to loose feed. When you hook a fish, pull it up and over the ledge as quickly as possible so that the commotion doesn’t disturb the rest of the shoal. Featureless waters Where there is no distinct ledge it is best to fish as far away from the swim as possible. Just how far away you fish depends on how far you can fire loose feed with your catapult.
On featureless waters where you have not seen any signs of fish movement – surface rolling or mud clouding – it would be wise to prebait the chosen spot for several days before fishing with samples of the hookbait.
Precisely which tackle you choose depends on the species you are after, but for roach, rudd, bream, tench, carp and perch, floatfishing combined with loose feeding is about the deadliest combination.
For calm conditions use insert wagglers; in windy conditions drift-beaters are best. Use line from 2-6 lb (0.9-2.7kg) b.s according to the size and species you are hoping to catch. Choose your hook size to suit the bait. (These are usually maggots, casters, corn, bread, or fish for pike.)