Thursday, 23 February 2017



Opting for the pole on a small river or stream with the usual prevalence of snags and other potential banana skins may seem foolhardy on the face of it.

The seasoned angler who may have fished with a pole back in the days when we referred to them as Roach Poles and flirted with thin white elastic, tiny floats, light lines and miniscule hooks would certainly find the idea questionable with memories of yards and yards of uncontrollable light elastic coming into play when a big fish took the bait under extreme, or any, conditions. I distinctly recall The Old Duffer hooking tench and carp in a side-arm off the River Nene some decades ago when the main river was a raging chocolate torrent. All the fish knew where to shelter of course, and so did he. Fibreglass pole in hand, aluminium crook and 6 or 9 inches of dangling elastic made very hard work of landing anything over a pound!

Today the pole fishing world is much changed. While the weight of poles is not much different the stiffness and power is hugely improved and the prospect of using elastics that could tow a small car is only too real.

Against that intro then the pole on snaggy streams is not so daft an idea but, that said, I would not suggest it is any substitute for an Avon rod in tight situations with snags all-round but when there is space to wield the thing, and slacks and creases to take advantage of, then it offers more than float fishing and ledgering in the conventional sense during the colder months. 

It is often the case that rivers fluctuate in depth, colour and flow for the majority of the January – early March period and this is the time when the method is at its most useful, although it does have its uses for a few fish in clear deep water too when perhaps all else would fail during daylight.

The biggest issue with fishing the ‘tip on streams is the finicky bites of smaller fish. It is not, these days, in my own modus operandi to pursue small fish anyway but it has become quite clear the vast majority of roach to this method are over 3 ounces, and often over 6 ounces, but of course it is more the effect of the winter state of river causing this; a time when ‘bits’ are less susceptible to an anglers bait for whatever reason.

4lbs 4 ounces of roach at a good stamp on an otherwise difficult day
The benefit of the pole is that innate feel for what is going on under the surface and associated instant contact with the fish.
Over the past three seasons I have been slowly working on this method each winter when circumstances allowed and eventually coming to terms with the issues and finding solutions. Some of these came from the internet, via websites and YouTube, others were worked out on the hoof, but the way I use it now is good enough to produce a few fish, and very regularly good fish, when all else available is a touch too hit and miss to be reliable.
So how does it work?
I am not big in technical stuff these days as it can very quickly get boring and so I will keep that to the point but, as I alluded to in the previous post, there is one particularly ingenious little dodge that cannot go unmentioned...
The biggest issue as with ledgering for roach is the fish feeling the rod tip and smelling a water rat. The answer is to use a separate short length of fine pole elastic, the old no2 (red) or 3 (green) will usually suit, at the top of the main line of the rig and attached parallel to it in a manner that enables the tension of the line alongside it to be adjusted, for this fairly stiff pole float rubbers about 10-15mm long plugged with an off-cut of pole float bristle do the trick. It is however far easier to look at a diagram!
The idea being that the line between pole tip and feeder is held tight so that the little slack in the mainline enables the fish to pull against the light elastic for 3 or 4 inches (75-100mm) before it meets the more solid resistance of tightened main line and pole tip/main elastic.
The other unusual part of the rig is that it does not require float, to do so would not work as the rest of the line needs to be held tight, as in normal ledgering. All one needs therefore is a simple marker and so chunky pole float bristle, fixed double-rubber, held so that the majority of it is above the water does the job...although I am about to make a further experiment here which I will report back on as, currently, this is the weakest part of the system.

The feeder end of the set-up is fairly standard. A 20g upwards cage feeder (to suit the flow) will do although proprietary ones with the weight in the base are best as this leaves the line above it in more direct contact with the business end.
The feeder is attached, via a beaded clip, on a 4" (100mm) loop to a 1 to 3 foot (300-900mm) hook-length, which in my experience usually ends up at around 18" (450mm) long, and with shot about 5" (125mm) from the hook varying from no8 to no4 again dictated by the flow and (lack or scarcity of) bites.

Finally to the main pole elastic. This does need to be heavy elastic as one needs to subdue those occasional chub. 16 seems to be ideal. This may sound heavy-handed but with the flow, the feeder and the fish a good foot will often show and, as long as those roach are handled gently to the net, there will be no concern at all about preconceived over-gunning.  

Technicalities out of the way then, the actual fishing is very simple...this is the bit that no one else explains!
Somewhat obviously the depth is plumbed with the feeder (best done before adding the hook-length) and the marker bristle ideally wants to be set around 6" (150mm) over-depth.

Personally the preferred bait (be shocked!) is bread. Coarsely liquidised in the feeder and a pinch of flake in varying sizes on the 14 or 16 spade end (for lightness) hook but, again seeking those bigger stamp fish, never smaller than a five pence piece (That said, Iobworms in low feed-content ground bait or molehill is also a good bet when the water is heavily turbid, using sections or indeed whole lob's on a 10 or 8 hook).

Let's assume, for starters, that the depth and flow suit fishing to hand, with the line, say, a foot or so shorter than the pole. The feeder is swung-out downstream and allowed to gently 'plop' through the surface about a metre below the spot where you intend to hold the float, and of course, on small streams, the background can vary massively so being able to see the marker is key in the decision.

The pole is then held tight to the feeder as it sinks against the pole in an upstream direction with the marker above the surface until it is felt to hit the bottom...and if you aren't sure whether this has occurred the feeder is too light and is being held-up by the flow...the marker can then be lowered (still on a tight line) upstream and down toward the surface until it is just touching the water, and held there. This action makes sure that the line is not vertical to the feeder which gives a more direct line from fish to marker without it feeling the feed so much and also gives a degree of latitude in holding the pole whereas a vertical marker is also very difficult to hold in place.

Bites are often very positive in fish above six ounces and sometimes will straighten the slack line parallel with the extra elastic feature such that the bite is felt on the pole before you can even react. Chub regularly do this. More tentative bites however are often magnified by just allowing the marker to hang a fraction more freely at the onset of a bite, thus allowing the fish less resistance once you realise it is interested.

3lbs plus chub on pole feeder
The strike can be straight through the line of marker to feeder and then the fish will be drawn upstream, gauging its size as you go. If it is a bigger fish, perhaps a chub, then do not hesitate to put a significant bend in the pole to keep it out of snags. The heavy elastic is incredible at not only controlling the fish but somehow the lack of a solid resistance, such as it might feel with a rod, makes the fish less likely to 'try anything silly'. This may sound odd, and until it is experienced it is hard to believe, but it is undoubtedly true that fish fight harder on a powerful rod than on an elasticated pole. I am certain they feel more 'concern' the more direct the contact, which is logical.

The second critical point when playing a fish is the need to play it out completely before bringing it too close to the bank to net it. The main failing of the pole is that, subject to the sudden last minute lunging of the fish to get under the near bank, there will be insufficient control.

Biggest chub on the method to date at three pounds, seven ounces
I have tended to find that bites will come within the first three 'drops' (they can barely be described as casts!) and, again odd though it may sound, I am happy to rove with minimal kit until I find creases and slacks that have the target fish in them. Once the fish are found sport can be very entertaining and with the fish often inclined to move around slacks under flood conditions it is often necessary to keep moving the feeder position to keep the bites coming after the initial burst of bites.

Again in my experience, a bite seems to come a certain time after the rig has been settled into the right position and I always believe, though have no actual proof other than the ever-expanding gut, that this is the time it takes for the bread to become waterlogged and soft.


Okay. All clear so far?

To the final, trickiest, but again very inventive part of the method (I can say that as I didn't come-up with the idea!). Most pole anglers will be aware of the difficulty in shipping-out a pole with bread on the hook and not losing it on the way out, or, in other situations, snagging the rig and any bait in nearside vegetation.
The above assumed fishing 'to hand' but if you need to add and remove joints to perform the task how do you keep the feeder and bait out of the water until the time is right?
The answer is, as often with these things, very simple and yet a perfect solution.
Cable ties!
Simply wrap a cable tie around the pole a few inches short of the distance between pole tip and feeder; cut the tail off leaving about 3/4" (20mm) projecting up on the side of the pole where your spare hand is (in most cases to the right) and simply hang the line off this as you ship-out. When  you get to the correct length twist the pole with tip held high until the line falls off and lay the feeder in the water once you have requisite control of the swinging weight. These are the sort of tricks, I could never fathom as my wind doesn't work in that way, very impressive thinking indeed, and it's easy to carry a few cable ties of varying length as they weight nothing. One word of warning however - it is no challenge to crush a modern pole so please do not be tempted to over-tighten they only need to grip and this can be achieved by attaching them loosely and sliding them along.
So that is about it. The feed levels and therefore sometimes feeder size will vary from river to river but experimentation on the day will soon sort this out.

Good luck, only about three weeks to go now but, with rivers continually above normal level currently, it is a method well worth the effort of adding to the repertoire in my humble view.



I am told the phrase 'red letter day' refers back to the old tradition, still practiced, of using red ink for special days on calendars and the like.

In that case I have one thing to state here: 22nd February 2017

A date when this happened on the North Oxford canal in an area I had neglected since last winter...

The best single catch of big canal roach to date.

The glow still pervades I must confess, like a Ready Brek advert of old...but with a special diamond and rubies recipe.



Myself and Russell (yes, he's back!), are intending to run a Bloggers Challenge very much along the lines of the 2015-16 model but with the added small species bleak, gudgeon and ruffe.

This time round it won't be necessary to be author of a blog so long as your fish are reported in photographic form on someone's blog (Martin!) before they are recorded on the spreadsheet.

I am seeking 'expressions of interest', as Land Agents would say, with a view to commencing at 00.01hrs on May 1st 2017, splitting the close season neatly in two. This should give us all plenty of time to seek-out suitably accurate small fish kitchen scales and for the spreadsheeet to be readied and all registered to access it.

'Can't wait!

Monday, 13 February 2017

So What Now?

Five weeks of the river fishing season remaining and priorities now fixed.

For that tail-end of the greatest of all angling challenges, to confound the prey in flowing water, every effort will be made to target them when conditions suit. Without the benefit of turbidity dawn, dusk and after dark only must prevail.

The Winter Big Canal Roach Challenge 2016/17 remains live, and will no doubt blend into spring, prior to a lake campaign when increasing air temperatures have caused that pivotal change in warmth of the water, and thus subsurface activity.

Just a few days ago a trip to a stretch of canal I fished as a schoolboy, cycling to and from tackle-laden, but certainly had not fished in the forty years since, gave up a beauty at one pound six to the usual method when trialling a new float very much suited to lift bites, my old stock now slowly diminishing.

Bream, hybrids and slightly smaller roach also followed.


The Leam.

I recently had the rather nice fortune of being asked by the Leamington Angling Association to write a few words of encouragement for people wishing to be graced by the banks of this engaging little river.

Incidentally, it has never occurred to me until now that non-locals may be inclined to pronounce the river's name 'leem' but, no, it is indeed 'lem' as in the first syllable of Royal Leamington Spa, through which it, usually somewhat stodgily, flows.

By way of endorsement it was only appropriate that practicing of that preaching followed.

One method that can be relied upon to provide some success within its wildly changeable depth, but that I didn't have space to go into in any detail in the LAA piece, is pole feeder fishing and when the river is up, coloured and cold. It gives a couple of extra dimensions in taking advantage of creases and slacks over that of the quiver-tip, namely:
• accuracy of placing bait and feed, and,
• more prospect of hitting finicky roach bites.

Last season and the season before it was trialled to good effect on stretches further upstream than the Leamington water and was immediately found, for no fathomable reason, to result in the best fish very quickly on bread but also to enable fish to be caught in the most challenging of water conditions from deep holes in which usually the hit-and-miss-ossity of any standard legering method in such tight areas of depth and flow power make it such a problem.

I have not written about this before, other than to hint at it some months ago, as it was work in progress but now I feel we are somewhere near the 'show and tell' stage.

Numerous issues have been addressed along the way and it now feels like a properly valid method to be listed alongside all the others. Given the traditional F, F & F penchant for bread and, secondarily, lobworm fishing it suits very well.

There are some clips, of varying quality, on YouTube and these certainly help but it is quite a technically tricky method and, as such, requires some explanation. It does however involve one of the most ingenious ideas one will ever come across to avoid fish feeling the resistance of the pole when biting.

Given the difficulty in explaining this in words alone I am planning a detailed post shortly. Appetite whetted? I do hope so.

Between half and a whole dozen paragraphs ago I seem to recall suggesting this section might be about the Leam, and so it is - now.

The pleasure in this type of small stream fishing is so much more than anyone can convey in words. Even the likes of David Carl Forbes and Tony Miles limited themselves largely to the 'how' rather than the 'why' when putting pen to paper on their now iconic publications on the subject.

For this humble follower of the angle the harder and more unlikely the acquisition of a bite may be, the more pleasure is to be derived in its pursuit.

Last weekend the colour remained strong, as did the flow
, and the banker roach swims were targeted. At this time our maritime climate was not struggling to burst over a trio of degrees as it has been these past few days.

Targetting known roach pegs and lowering the feeder neatly on or inside the crease line in the first swim, 8m from where I took my first Leam roach over a pound four or five seasons back, the indicator soon plunged down that hole and the wrath of a worthy sparring partner was engaged.

Now in a narrow, snag-strewn water, this was undoubtedly chubby crunch time. I use a heavy carp-style pole elastic for this job to take account of the heavy flow, depth, weight of feeder and the fish and, it may sound surprising, but the fight of even this 3lb plus chub was no match for the incredible subduing qualities of this latex. It is much easier to keep the fish where you want it as, held high over the head of the fish, the pull and power of the pole itself is cushioned but at the same time so are the movements of the fish and, as long as joints are not unshipped until the quarry is beaten, it can be netted without fear of falling foul of those habitual last minute lunges into weed and roots by your feet.

A very nice Leam chub of 3lbs 4ozs resulted followed by a couple of nice roach.

I then fished the banker swim and sat it out with coarsely liquidised bread in the feeder and nips of flakes on the hook. Roach came after two drops had put a little bait into the water and a series followed up to ten ounces for an enjoyable net of four pounds four ounces in conditions under which one would not have believed it possible without the benefit of this method.

The fish do tend to wander in coloured water, moving up and down and side to side, presumably in reaction to flow changes and it is necessary to work your way around the area on streams such as this to stay in touch. One thing is noticeable though and that is that if there are feeding fish present you will catch them immediately.

Just this last weekend produced a larger chub at 3.7.0 on an 8m Pole with this method, landed comfortably even after it went under a snag but the usual slack line trick saw him come out again. A few nice roach and the odd dace completed the scene.

A three pound chub is a noteworthy fish on the Leam these days and two in a week is a very welcome reward for applying a relatively new-found method.


North Oxford Canal

This past weekend it was seriously chilly on the bank. Although the air temperatures were higher than on frosty days beforehand, the bitter easterly breeze drove sleet into the cheeks like a dominatrix ice queen.

The first two sheltered pegs produced just a lone 10 ounce roach by way of consolation for having braved it.

The fish knew. They sat in the open water with the Siberian blow straight in the face .

I was supposed to pick The Boy Wonder up at ten (no, he hadn't fallen over) but, due to the age old communication issue with those of a certain age, would not respond to messages, so I would have been senseless not to. Just as I was losing hope anyway up popped the float in a hideous waving lift bite and, as I struck, the wished-for giant roach to ease the misery of the conditions really did appear to be fighting back. The water was clear to about 20" down, almost too clear, and so the need to stop the fish swirling on the surface was essential.

Consequently it was some time into the scrap that a hybrid of 1.8.0 came into view, not a roach but boy was it a welcome sight on that morning.

As I alluded to in a recent post, a roving shoal can suddenly present a flurry of action and four bites in four drops ensued; an immediately following 12 ounce roach; a 6 ouncer, dropped-off when I was being too ambitious, or maybe frozen, to net it, and a missed bite.

...and that was that, but glowing-faced proof that in the harshest of conditions pleasure is to be had for those sufficiently intrepid to search.


In Conclusion

In closing, one would hope that the rain continues. I note this morning that the local rivers have risen and peaked today after more rain at the weekend.

After the first deluge put the rivers very high, and over the road in places, any additional rain has been slow to enter the them due to previously waterlogged ground and freezing conditions. These factors appear jointly to affect things in that the water logging ensures that pretty much any level of subsequent rain affects the level and colour of the water and the frost locks water into the ground thus making the levels stay high and relatively stable longer due to its gradual release.


Winter Big Canal Roach Challenge 2016/17

The complete list of 1lb+ fish thus far:


Leamington Angling Association Newsletter, January 2017.

Rough River and Small Stream Fishing. David Carl Forbes (Cassell, 1977).

Big Fish from Small Streams, Tony Miles (Little Egret Press, August 2013).