Jon Arthur looks back on a few key lessons picked up during a recent F1 and silverfish festival held at the popular White Acres Holiday Park in Cornwall.
Light Is Right – When conditions are favourable I opt for AS3 floats from 0.1g up to 0.6g. These slim pole floats have a carbon stem that’s far less likely to tangle compared to wire, plus a fine 1.2mm hollow tip that can be dotted down easily to help you spot delicate bites. Wherever possible, I also go lighter in size as this offers much less resistance to a wary fish. I even use ultra light No12 dropper shot on my lightest rigs to help give the hook bait a really slow fall. This can be so important for attracting a fish’s attention in cold and clear water.
Beat The Glare – Although I think delicate floats are generally best, a low winter sun combined with a ripple on the water can make these all but impossible to see at times. For this reason I might also set up a thicker-topped design (such as an AS2 or Carp 5) just for when the surface glare is too severe. I may even set up red and yellow topped floats for the same swim. Combine this with a good pair of sunglasses and you’ll hopefully still spot those bites when other anglers are struggling.
Sun Chasing – Another trick is to pay attention to where the sun is at the start of the day and then try and think where it will end up. I often like to feed two swims to swap between, left and right, but you might find one of these areas is unfishable at certain times in the day. If in doubt, feed a swim where the sun is reflecting on the surface at the start. This way you can guarantee this spot will be glare free in an hour or so. One thing I have also noticed recently is when the winter sun is casting long shadows it can often be better to fish in the sunnier areas rather the shadowy spots. I can only put this down to the sunnier areas being slightly warmer and therefore helping to encourage the fish to feed.
Longer Lines – I never like to cast a direct shadow from my pole over my swim so I generally try to use a longish line of around 40cm or more above my float, so I can keep the pole to one side. I also combine this with a couple of No8 Stotz as backshot above the line to help prevent the wind from catching it. I also like to use a Ghost Kit and have recently sprayed some of my older top kits with a white primer to achieve the same effect. I know it won’t reduce the shadow but I believe it helps to decrease the pole’s silhouette against the sky. Any edge I can get at this tricky time of year is worth it.
Best Of Both – I always go for a ‘sweet fishmeal’ mix in winter rather than 100% fishmeal. By diluting the fishmeal content with a low-feed, canal-type blend you can get away with feeding a bit more generously without the risk of overfilling. I am always experimenting with mixes but my latest concoction is a bit of everything, including Dynamite Milled Expander. Sonubaits F1 Dark, Sensas Black Lake and VDE Black Turbo. Some days I even add finely sieved topsoil from my garden to dilute it even further. The main points are that it is fine, dark, sweet and fishy without being too filling.
Wonderful Worms – It always makes me wonder why I don’t fish chopped worm more often in winter on commercial venues much closer to home. It catches everything down in Cornwall and really sorts out the quality fish. In fact, if you are trying to avoid catching carp in a silverfish-only match I often find I have to cut out the worms completely as they home in on it like a magnet! Rather than big chunks I like finely minced feed and usually fish a tiny head or 10mm to 15mm segment over the top. I find these smaller pieces are taken much more readily.
Pinkie Power – Two dead pinkies or a single big maggot are my other two top hook baits. Pinkies are a must-have winter bait and I like a mixture of red and brighter flouros to experiment between. I always prepare mine before a session with hot water, rather than freezing them like most people I know, as I like them to be ultra soft and stretched out. Each to their own, but this system works really well for me!
Fine Gear – My most common hook and hooklength combo for winter F1s and silvers is a size 18 Silverfish Match to a 15cm hooklength of 0.09mm Supplex, dropping to a 20 Silverfish Maggot if things are difficult. My main line is still quite thick 0.14mm Supplex. This helps to avoid tangles and also guarantees I only lose the hooklength if I accidentally hook a rogue carp. I also switch to traditional solid elastic when it goes really cold. My favourite four winter grades are a single No5 for skimmers, No6 for deeper water and slightly better fish, doubled-up No3 for something fractionally stronger and double No4 for deeper water and bigger F1s. All of these are matched with a Side Pull Kit.
Draw Well! – This is possibly the biggest lesson you must accept when fishing a winter competition. Fish shoal up tightly when it’s cold and clear, so it doesn’t matter if you’re a World Champion or a humble club angler, if the fish are not in front of you, you cannot catch them. You will always find areas where the fish have shoaled up in numbers. This is usually the wider and/or deeper parts of a lake. However, you should also never give up as, when the light levels drop, reluctant fish begin to swim about. Even if you haven’t seen a roach, bream or F1 for over four hours I would always be ready for a late flurry of action. This happens very regularly at this time of year.