What's the Catch? Winter cries out for a special kind of angler

This is an extreme scene but winter does bring big challenges for anglers
This is an extreme scene but winter does bring big challenges for anglers

For many anglers, Christmas generosity from friends and family will have provided a wealth of fishing gifts, among which were books written by experienced and knowledgeable experts that were read from the comfort and warmth of home.

Coarse fishing covers the four seasons with the exception possibly forof three months in the spring when rivers and some still waters respect and abide by the traditional and necessary close season.

Without fail, winter fishing for the devout angler is the season that tests us the most: it’s hard to get out of bed, let alone venture out on a dark, cold and sometimes wet morning, layered in woollies and winter clothing to head - in my case - to either the Rother or Arun, so it’s not surprising many are happy to remain fine-weather fishermen, and I don’t blame them.

So what’s the great appeal to fishing over the winter? Certainly most of the books contain chapters designed to lure you out of bed and down to the river.

It’s challenging, for a start, and the one thing for certain is the uncertainty because it’s so dependent on the weather – not for the angler who is well aware of the cold, wind and rain but the fish themselves.

Ever since Izaak Walton first questioned whether fish have a brain, countless others have argued over this question but, to my mind, fish although lacking in brain power certainly have a natural inclination to decide when and where to feed, and winter certainly sharpens that basic instinct.

The saying ‘wind from the east fishing is least, wind from the west fishing is best’ seems to hold sway, and to prove the point I’ve spent a few days on the Rother these past few weeks, some of which were spent fishing in a cold easterly all day and I didn’t even get a bite, either when float fishing or using a feeder.

A week later from the same swim the milder weather from the south-west provided a cracking day’s fishing with three good chub, some decent roach, a few dace, a couple of perch and a sea trout eager to take my bread flake.

The water temperature was the same, the sky cloudy with no sun all day, yet the results so different – why is this?

The same thing happens when the wind changes direction, and while fishing and it’s going well, suddenly the fish stop biting and only then you notice it’s turned colder and it’s time to pack up.

It’s frustrating sometimes when river-fishing during the winter knowing that swims fished in the summer look entirely devoid of any living creatures whatsoever, never mind fish – but suddenly a robin pops into view, a kingfisher flashes by and hope spring eternal.

Despite everything I’m one of many who love winter fishing, but only when the conditions are favourable and you have to look hard at the river and seek sheltered swims away from the fast flowing water that tire fish over a period of time. They prefer a slower lifestyle and often close in where the water is deeper and where natural food like worms, grubs and invertebrates get lodged.

Chub are without doubt good winter feeders, likewise roach and of course pike – the one species anglers target from November onwards, but that’s another subject.

TV show does much to promote our sport
Barbel still like the smooth gravel runs, several being caught from our club’s riffle runs below Petworth and Shopham Bridge. And once again sea trout are on the move – you certainly recognise them as they often leap straight out of the water, they fight hard and take many a coarse anglers bait, especially bread I’ve found.

Get on yer bike to land a pike
While I prefer float fishing I think in the winter there’s a better chance of reaching those holding swims by either a ledger or swim feeder, you would need heavier shotting on a float when the river levels are higher.

Picking the right swim is important and wherever you choose make sure it’s safe to fish. Leave slippery slopes alone and make sure you tell someone where you intend fishing, keep your mobile handy and wear sensible clothes – a lifejacket would be a wise investment.

Details of where to fish on the club’s waters are available at www.sussexangling.co.uk

Roger Poole

Chairman, Petworth & Bognor Angling Club