Fishing Overhangs

Heavily overgrown or undercut banks, rafts of debris and trailing trees or branches can sometimes make fishing difficult, but these overhangs can often produce spectacular sport ‘Where there be willows there be chub.’ These are reputedly Izaak Walton’s words, and the observation is generally true. If chub are present in a river and there are overhangs of willow along its banks, it is fairly safe to assume that the fish will be taking advantage of the cover.

When branches break and fall into a river, the broken portion often roots itself at the twiggy end and forms a second overhang or tunnel which remains unfishable for most of the year. To see chub from above in such a setting, without being seen oneself is both interesting and frustrating. When chub are so placed, they seldom venture far for food; many simply lie and wait for whatever the current brings them.

Fishing for chub

Falling leaves, dying vegetation and rising water cause rafts of debris to pile up and make the holding spot more secure. As the debris builds up and the raft becomes bigger, the current may be affected and the chub lured into the more open water immediately below it. With that amount of cover above their heads, the chub probably feel as safe as they did when they were tucked away under the overhanging branches; the difference here, of course, is that they can be caught.

By easing a float tackle down to the edge of the raft and allowing it to come to rest on the upstream edge, the bait can be made to swing underneath and in to the fish’s vision. Sometimes the bite which follows is devastating and oniy speedy reflexes, strong tackle and a powerful sideways pull on the rod will win the tug-of-war that ensues. This is not the kind of fishing to be practised with small hooks and fine lines—or a weak heart.

Concealed banks

Overhangs are not necessarily willow branches, and the fish beneath them are not always chub. Sallow and hawthorn bushes often grow outwards from a vertical bank, and although not always trailing their branches into the water, they offer shade and shelter for many other species.

I know one particular length of sheer bank on the River Kennet where hawthorns and brambles lean outwards over the water for several feet. The bank itself is completely concealed, but it is possible to trot a float close to it through the overhang. For much of the time the current is such that the float disappears from sight into the overhang and there have been many times when I have found myself with a dace, roach or small chub on the hook when retrieving to make a fresh cast. This is not the most positive form of fishing but obviously it makes sense to strike at the end of each trot just in case.

When I first began searching for chub on the Upper Ouse, the whole business was puzzling and frust-rating. It was different from any other kind of fishing I had practised before and it took me a long time to recognize the fact that, in summer, whole stretches of that overgrown river were little more than huge overhangs. Nettles, brambles, briars, woody nightshade and thistles all leaned over the bankside and formed long tunnel-like sanc-tuaries for the chub.

Hearing fish feed

Here and there the bank was undercut as well, considerably increasing the area of overhang. It took some time and a number of duckings (when I stepped too close and onto what looked like a solid bank, but what was in fact tangled overhang) for me to realize that there were vast areas of water close to my own bank which could not be fished without drastic clearance. In a situation where few fish could be seen in open water, there was only one conclusion to be drawn: these overhangs were the main holding spots in many of the otherwise barren-looking stretches.

In season trees and bushes drop-ped berries, grubs and caterpillars of various kinds and it was fascinating to sit and listen to the fish feeding. There was no way of watching them at the time. Sensible and planned trimming eventually helped to make certain areas fishable. It was a big temptation to cut out all the offending herbage, but I had seen too many ‘improvements’ of that kind before. Removing the cover would move the fish too.

Ideal spots for perch

When the green reedmace beds die off in autumn, their individual stems bend downwards in an inverted V- shape. Those patches near the bank, growing as they do in clean gravel areas, lean out and down to form overhangs that stay until really heavy flood water rips them out. These reedmace ‘bendovers’ are ideal spots for perch. They are not easy to fish and tackle losses (because hooks invariably catch up in the bent-over tops) are likely to be high, but such swims can be very rewarding.

It is not worth risking expensive floats, nor is it even necessary to use them. A small piece of quill will suffice. The important lesson to learn is that there should be no attempt to retrieve lost tackle—at least until the end of the day. A piece of quill costing a few pence matters little; a sophisticated float costing ten times as much has to be considered. Do not fish overhangs of this kind if you dislike using cheap floats and hate losing expensive ones.

Overhangs are also found on canals, lakes, ponds and reservoirs. One of my favourite overhangs, alas no longer there, grew out of the stonework of an old bridge. It was an elder bush and when the berries were ripe I could sit and watch the big roach waiting for them to fall. If I picked a handful and trickled them in, the water seethed with fish racing towards the bumper crop.

Even so, the fishing was not easy. The roach were not hard to hook, but they had to be hauled clear and lifted out of the water. Any attempt to use a landing net meant that I had to show myself, and a lost fish sent the remainder back under the bridge. The same thing happened some years ago on a local reservoir. An elder bush overhanging the water, with its laden branches actually in it, attracted and held shoals of roach for as long as the berries remained. Elderberry bonanzas of this kind are obviously shortlived, but they offer a great catch if the chance is seized. It is also an excellent idea (with permission from the water authority where necessary) to create your own overhangs where none exist. Clubs would do well to plant bankside shrubs and bushes instead of cutting them out to make more peg space, as is usually the case. Any kind of cover that will help attract fish towards the bank has to be of benefit to a fishery; driving fish farther out by removing overhangs makes no sense at all.

Pike lies

Fallen trees, overhanging limbs, large trees leaning with their whole trunks over the water (eventually to fall in completely) are often indications of good pike lies. Branches break off from the overhanging trees when winter gales take their toll, and these broken limbs, half-in and half-out of the water, make even better lies for pike.

I do not know where the attraction is. There is good cover from which to ambush passing fish but, in my experience, bait do not often inhabit such areas. Even so, tall tree overhangs really do produce pike. I prefer to fish them with offset, so-called weedless, single-hooked lures and very slowly worked deadbaits.

The area around many of these tall overhangs is usually pretty foul and in old lakes, dead timber, silt and rotting vegetation ought to put fish off the feed, but for most of the year the pike seem to hunt happily in their vicinity. Only when leaves are falling fast and lying thick on the surface, as well as beneath it, do the fish go away.

This is true of nearly all overhung Stillwater areas. Falling leaves make fishing difficult and the fish themselves are said to sicken and go off their feed. I have never been able to satisfy myself that fish are actually sickened by falling and decaying leaves, but it is a fact that heavily overhung Stillwater areas seldom fish well in autumn.

Similar areas on big rivers are not so affected. Where the current sets nicely under the big overhanging trees on the far bank of the Upper Thames, chub can distinguish bet-ween drifting leaves and floating crusts. These are superb spots for fishing floating baits and the object should be to tease the hookbait into following the current naturally and on the same line that a free-floating crust would take.

Little variations in the current’s strength whisk them off course more often than not because of the amount of loose line present. But once the hookbait has been coaxed to travel under the overhangs on the far bank at the correct speed, it will disappear with an almighty swirl and no preliminaries.


In the shadow of the overhang, out of the main current, chub suspend near the surface. They are not in serious feeding mood but if a grub or insect drops from overhead, they will obey a natural instinct to engulf it. The object of dapping is to pre-sent an insect as naturally as possi-ble from above. It is not easy, though on hot summer days it can be very effective.

Having caught a supply of in-sects—grasshoppers or daddy long legs—poke the rod tip through the overhang and lower the bait. Tangled tackle often results, unless the whole of the terminal tackle is wound round the rod tip, and the rod then rotated to unwind it.

It makes little sense to use anything but the strongest tackle to present a dapped bait since the line does not touch the water at any stage, and a hooked chub has to be held hard and netted at the nearest vantage point. It is better if a friend can net the fish when the opportunity arises.

Chub literally hook themselves on dapped baits and there is no need to strike. Any attempt to do so will certainly cause problems.

The number of fish lost is likely to be high, but if a strong line is used the chances of breakage is greatly reduced. Escapees then simply straighten hooks and are not left trailing lengths of line.