Prize fish from gravel pits

For the angler who does his homework and knows how to spot the fish, clear water gravel pits can yield specimens of many species.

Gravel pits are relatively young, dynamic environments where high natural food stocks can combine with low fish stocks to produce specimen carp, tench, bream, roach, rudd, perch and pike. Some pits fish better than others, however, and it pays to plan ahead if you want to go after ‘the big one’.

Water colour

Permanently coloured pits are generally full of small to medium size, relatively easy-to-catch fish that stir up mud as they feed around the banks and on the bottom. Plant growth is limited because little sunlight gets through the silty water and this in turn means natural food supplies are low and fish are small.

Permanently clear water, on the other hand, lets sunlight penetrate and so has flourishing plant and insect life that pro- vides plenty of food for the fish. Such pits typically have hard, gravel banks and small populations of larger than average fish.

A planned approach

Most gravel pits are large, featureless looking stretches of water that can leave the angler wondering how on earth to start planning any kind of approach.

Rather than just turning up, plonking yourself down at a likely looking swim and fishing blind, it’s best to be methodical. Try to visit the pit before you fish and take with you a pencil, sketch pad, compass, polarising sunglasses, binoculars and rod and reel for plumbing.

The best time to go is the second week of June, just before the start of the new season. If you go any earlier, the fish are likely to be spawning and this gives a false impression of where they might be later in the year. Arrive as near to dawn as possible: fish activity is greatest at sunrise and waters are usually calm first thing in the morning.

Draw a rough outline of the pit, showing any bays, peninsulas or islands. Mark fixed reference points such as buildings, large trees or telegraph poles. sketch in any weed, reed or lily beds and prominent bank-side features like overhanging trees.

The bottom line

Plumb the depth from different spots at different distances from the bank to build up a contour map of the bottom. Most pits have an average depth of around 2-2.5m (6-8ft) because, after gravel is extracted, most trenches are back-filled to prevent them being dangerously deep.

Gravel pits are like no other waters, however. Their depths can vary from as much as 5m (16ft) to only 0.6m (2ft) in the space of a few metres. This is because when pits are dug, gravel bars are left between the worked out areas.

As well as any bars, mark the gulleys, depressions and plateaux you find. Look out for underwater snags: some pits are dug ‘dry’ which means water is pumped out as the gravel is extracted and small trees can grow. Once the pit is flooded, these trees remain below as shelter for fish and snags for tackle!

Looking for fish

Tread quietly and keep an eye out for fish. Carp, tench, roach and rudd often come close to the margins at dawn. Feeding carp and tench sometimes send up bubbles. Look out for fish leaping and rolling: carp sometimes leap clear of the water while tench, bream, roach and rudd more often roll. A spray of scattering fry, meanwhile, indicates perch or pike on the prowl.

Concentrate first on the north-east shore. The prevailing wind in the British Isles is a south-westerly and this pushes warm water and food to the opposite bank, making it an ideal fish location.

Bars and islands are also important fish-holding areas. They act as natural food traps and their sloping sides give fish a feeling of security from predators (and anglers!).

Where there are two or more bars running alongside each other carp, tench and bream use the channels as highways. In hot weather, carp bask in the shallow water on top of the bars at a safe distance from the bank.

Other good spots for most fish are points jutting out from the bank. These indicate underwater ridges that, like the bars, act as natural food traps. The bays between them are usually shallow and weedy, which makes them likely warm-weather haunts for carp, tench and rudd. Bream and large roach tend to prefer deeper, more open water.

Reeds, weedbeds and lily pads are good for carp, tench and rudd, while overhanging trees are magnets for skimmer bream and small roach and rudd. These shoals of prey fish in turn attract the predatory perch and pike.

CarpBars, islands, points, weedy margins, baysLegering; freelining; float fishing
TenchBars, islands, points, weedy margins, baysLegering; swimfeedering; float fishing
BreamBars, islands, points, open waterLegering; swimfeedering
RoachBars, islands, points, open waterLegering; swimfeedering; float fishing
RuddBays, weedy marginsFloat fishing
PerchSnags, weedy margins, under treesFloat fishing; live and dead baiting; spinning
PikeSnags, weedy margins, under treesLegering or drifting live or dead bait; spinning

Fishing techniques

Because gravel pits contain specimen fish of many species, it doesn’t pay to fish too fine. For carp you need an ll-12ft (3.3-3.6m) rod capable of casting up to 70m (77yd) yet soft enough to cope with battling fish under the rod tip. Basic methods are fishing at range with boilies or stalking individual fish in the margins. Good baits for margin fishing are sweetcorn, floating crust and floating dog biscuits. • For tench and large bream an lift (3.3m) Avon-type rod and 4-6 lb (1.8-2.7kg) line are needed. Good baits are maggots, casters, bread, worms and sweetcorn. Best methods are long range legering and swim-feedering or, for tench lurking near weedbeds and lily pads around the banks, float fishing. • For roach and rudd a standard 13ft (3.9m) float rod and 2 lb (0.9kg) main line are fine for close-in fishing. When fishing for roach at a distance, try legering or swim-feedering. Use an lift (3.3m), light-action swimfeeder rod with a selection of push-in quivertips, and 3-4 lb (1.4-1.8kg) main line.

Best baits are maggots, casters and sweetcorn. • For perch use a light float rod close-in. Good baits are maggots, worms or casters. For big fish, try spinning or a small dead-bait close to a snag. • For pike good methods are legered and float-drifted live or dead baits, though plugs and spinners can also be effective. • •

When to fish

In clear gravel pits, the fish can see the angler so they are generally cautious and reluctant to feed during the day. Only at night do they become less wary and move into the margins to feed.

For the biggest fish, night is therefore usually the best time for carp, tench, bream and roach. For specimen rudd, perch and pike try dawn or dusk. Always make sure that night fishing is permitted on the water. Time of year Most gravel pits fish best from July onwards (when fish start accepting anglers’ baits again after the close season break) and reach their peak form around September. Except for roach, pike and sometimes perch, sport on most pits dies away in the winter months. Fish quite often feed strongly when they are building up strength prior to spawning in the last few weeks of the season. This is especially true of shoal bream in the 2-3 lb (0.9-1.4kg) class.

Prize fish from gravel pits