Know your fishing hotspots

So what is a hotspot? Basically, it is a comparatively small area in a big-fish swim that for a variety of reasons (known and unknown) is highly productive.

Many people confuse swims or fishing positions with hotspots, and kid themselves that they are halfway to success because they have chosen a swim known to produce big fish. The most important point is to know precisely where in that swim to locate the fish, and pinpointing the fish is not easy when a lot of water is within easy range of most fishing positions.

In my experience there are three types of hotspot. First, the ‘natural’ hotspot, where fish (several species perhaps) concentrate and feed consistently. Natural hotspots probably occur more frequently on small or medium sized rivers than on large stillwaters or wide rivers and drains.

River Great Ouse
Image by Shelley & Dave via Flickr

The second type is the hotspot where fish will often stop-off or congregate to feed after mild encouragement from the angler. This type occurs in many kinds of water, both still and flowing.

The third type is what I call an ‘artificial’ hotspot, which is almost entirely created by the angler. A good example is the hotspot produced when bream fishing in a large reservoir. The angler may have only a scant knowledge of the patrolling breams’ routes, which cover many hundreds of square yards of water, but by regular and/or heavy ground-baiting the bream are ‘educated’ to feed in a particular area. In this case the hotspot may be several square yards in area, but in relation to the overall size of the water it is still comparatively tiny.

There are numerous pointers to hotspots, or rather swims containing them, and these are covered in other ‘Reading the Water’ articles. But hotspots themselves cannot be described in general terms. The best way to explain them is to examine a couple of examples.

Example 1 shows a typical gin-clear Bedforshire clay pit, where the water can be read by climbing the bankside trees. This pit is a good water for summer tench, with natural patrol routes through the weed-free channels into the more open water. Tench could be encouraged to stop and feed in certain hotspots by the careful and selective use of free bait.

It was comparatively rare for tench to accept a bait presented in the open central part of the swim. During the day, they favoured the security and shelter of the submerged tree stumps among the weed. Thus, daytime hotspots tended to be on the very edge of the weedbeds causing problems of snagging for the angler.

On warms nights, the tench would venture closer in and root around the rushes for food in l-3ft of water, so the edge of the rushes became the new night hotspot. But the bait had to be fished very close to them, as the tench would not stop long in the clear, central channel.

On hard-fished lakes like this, fish prefer to feed in areas close to the shelter of weedbeds or underwater snags, so it is hardly surprising that hotspots are often close by.

River Great Ouse
Image by The Wilky Bar Kid via Flickr

Example shows a ‘natural’ hot-spot on a small river on the higher reaches of the Great Ouse where the river is only 5-7 yards wide.

At the river’s normal winter level, the depth of the swim varied from 7-9ft, and the total extent of the swim was 18 yards. There were three natural hotspots for three species – chub, roach, and perch. It was not a case of an isolated red-letter day when the swim turned up trumps: by careful positioning and fishing all three species can be caught.

It would have taken an idiot not to identify the big chub hotspot in the downstream sector of the swim, tight to the near bank. There, the deep undercut had a depth of 6-7ft and there were natural arches formed by small hawthorn bushes. Moreover, about halfway along, there was a lovely ‘tuck-in’ or layby – possibly the result of a large willow being pulled out years before.

A certain chub holt. This hotspot always contained a few chub, perhaps just three or four, but they were invariably a good size.

In summer, Ouse perch tend to disperse, but in winter they group in small shoals, and never seem too far from the beds of ‘pipes’ left by bulrushes when they die back.

River perch seem to like a clean bottom and bulrushes usually grow in gravel. It was hardly surprising, therefore, to find the perch hotspot between the eddy on my own bank of the river and the edge of the bulrush pipe bed.

Current slowed down

Although the perch were slightly upstream, it was easy to present them with float-fished worm for the eddy slowed down the current in the hotspot. So, with much of the line kept off the water, fishing those few square feet of rich territory was more like canal fishing than normal river sport.

It is interesting that, although the eddy itself looked attractive, the perch never seemed to venture into it. The only species that seemed to stay there were minnows – another reason for the predatory perch being close by and willing to bite.

The perch lie tails off into a shortish glide about 6 yards long and with an even depth of 5-6ft. This, the ‘heart’ of the swim, was favoured by the roach.

For roach, it is most important to analyze the surface – it should be silky smooth and steady in flow. It can even be fast, but it must not have the slightest hint of turbulence. This glide was beautifully smooth and its bottom clean, except for an inch or so of silt. It was ideal for trotting except when the river was running fast, when a ledgered bait was more practical.

These two examples should have shown you the sort of features which make one place in a swim a hotspot and not another. Once you have found it, catching those elusive specimens is that much easier.