Waggler fishing for skimmers

Skimmer bream are a joy to catch, says southern match star Dave Roberts. They don’t fight much, but they are crafty fish and the satisfaction comes from trying to outwit them and build a good bag. Here he tells you how.

S kimmers are commonest in drains, lakes and sluggish rivers, where they swim around in large shoals. Intercept a shoal and you can have hours of fun – if you go about it in the right way.

They feed best in summer and autumn when the water is warm. Winter is much harder – they move around a lot less in cold water and feed for only short spells. Water clarity is also critical – you want a tinge of colour at the very least.

Ideal conditions, then, on a drain, lake or slow river are a warm, overcast summer’s day, with a gentle breeze to ruffle the nicely coloured water. The best way to build a bag of skimmers in this situation is usually to get them up in the water by constant feeding of cloudbait, then catch them on the drop with a waggler.

Groundbaiting is all

The right groundbait is essential. It must be light and fluffy, not stodgy or heavy. Pure brown breadcrumb is best, though it does no harm to add a sweet-smelling additive such as vanilla powder.

Mixed and fed properly, groundbait acts like a magnet to skimmers, drawing them into your swim from miles around. Using a large round bowl, mix a full bowl of crumb. Take at least 5lb (2.3kg) of dry crumb, as it’s surprising how much you can get through on a good day. Add just enough water so that it holds together in the air before exploding on the surface and sinking slowly in an attractive plume. And mix it before you tackle up, so it has time to absorb all the water fully – you might need to add a little more water before you start fishing to get the consistency right.

Don’t hold back when feeding – dominate the swim by attacking it little and often with the groundbait. Each cast, sprinkle a few pinkies or squatts on to the top of the crumb in the bowl, then gently squeeze out a small ‘sausage’ with one hand and throw or catapult it in. The pinkies or squatts fall slowly through the water with the cloud – a few extra tempting morsels for the bream.

Don’t worry about pinpoint accuracy. The aim is to get into a rhythm of feeding, casting, striking and catching – it’s hard to do this properly if you are trying to feed, and cast to, exactly the same spot all the time. Aim to cloud up an area roughly the size of a dining table.

Terminal tackle

In ideal conditions, use a 2-3AAA waggler with a fine insert, and shot it with three evenly spaced no.8s down the line . Use no.8s rather than no. 10s so that you get a more definite registration from each dropper shot on the insert as the hookbait sinks in the water. This makes it easier to spot bites on the drop.

Small maggot hookbaits are the order of the day, so to give the most natural presentation use microbarbed, fine-wire size 20 and 22 hooks tied to 12oz-llb (0.34-0.45kg) hooklengths (the hook size depending on the size of hookbait and how well the fish are feeding).

Don’t use barbless hooks or you will lose too many of these soft-mouthed fish as they flop and flap about on their way in.


Soft, milky white, home-bred gozzers are undoubtedly THE hookbait for skimmers. When a fish closes its mouth around one, a gozzer simply bursts, leaving the hookpoint clear for a successful strike. With shop-bought white maggots, missed bites and bumped fish are common because the bait is a bit tough. If you haven’t got any gozzers you can use ordinary white maggots, but try to get really fresh ones, and put them in damp bran to soften them up a little.

Pinkies and squatts are good change baits on the hook when bites are hard to come by. But even on good days it pays to vary your hookbait, trying single and multiple big maggots, pinkies and squatts to tempt extra bites from these clever little fish. You can also try different colours, though white is usually much the best. Punched bread is also worth a try.

Skimmer school

Start by setting the float to fish at full depth. Often this snares you a couple of quick, big fish from the bottom. The constant groundbaiting soon draws the fish up in the water, however, and before long you will start getting bites on the drop – your float won’t settle properly, or your hookbait comes back smashed without your seeing the bite. These are the signals to start gradually shallowing up until you find the best catching depth. By varying the depth throughout the session you can keep in touch with the fish, though usually you end up fishing at roughly half-depth.

Don’t despair if the action is slow to start with. Skimmers roam around a lot and will eventually come to your feed. If you start catching after half an hour or so, that is a good sign as you have drawn the fish to you, meaning they want to be there and are active and hungry.

When the fish are biting really freely, try bunching the three no.8s about two-thirds of the way down the line . When this works you get unmissable’ hangup’ bites on the drop.

One very important point – skimmers are crafty fish and are rarely fooled by poor presentation. It’s essential, therefore, to sink your line, to use a float heavy and long enough to combat any skim or drift, and to dot your float right down to minimize resistance to biting fish.

Windy ways

When it’s windy you are more likely to catch skimmers ‘on the deck’, and on the drop in the bottom half of the water, rather than high in the water.

Use a heavier, straight waggler with no insert, set the hookbait to fish at full depth -or even up to a couple of feet overdepth -and shot it down the line. Feed regularly as before, but squeeze the groundbait a little harder so that it starts breaking up at half depth rather than at the surface.

Again, good presentation is essential, so use a float big enough to beat the drift. If need be, fish up to a couple of feet (60cm) overdepth, laying line and even one or both of your dropper shot ‘on the deck’ to anchor the hookbait.

In really rough water, bigger skimmers around the 1 lb (0.45kg) mark often feed better than their smaller cousins. You can target these fish by adding casters to your groundbait and fishing on the bottom with maggot, caster or even worm on the hook.

Use a large, bodied waggler with no insert and shot. Again, if necessary, fish well overdepth and lay one or both droppers on the bottom. Slightly undershotting the float also helps counter drift. And again, squeeze the groundbait that little bit harder so it breaks up near the bottom.

If the wind is so bad that you can’t present a still hookbait, you’re really better off tipping with a groundbait feeder – but that’s another story…