The 16th of June is what almost every angler dreams about once the season slams shut.
A date that can only be described as ‘magical’ for many of us that love angling and who love the rich, natural and sometimes un-spoilt rivers our country is famous for.
Waking up on the morning of the 16th and the start of the river season is like nothing else you’re ever likely to experience, or at least nothing you can actually get close to fully dressed!
People rarely understand the magic do they? Least of all your better halves, but for something that promises much often fails in its ability to deliver, for most.
We much rather tell ourselves it was simply not our fault, blaming everything and everybody but ourselves, well it’s just easier that way isn’t it?
The facts are fish have been surviving on natural food for the best part of 3 months and angler’s baits are often neglected as a food source once the season begins. Fish are naturally surviving on plankton, water snails and small invertebrates not big boilies. So where lays the answer?
Educating the fish, days or sometimes weeks before the season opens is in my opinion an integral part of relaying the fish’s senses – feeding on bigger items of food not found naturally in a river. Baits that are used in angling such as boilies are high in nutrition and protein, important in a fish’s diet to grow (much like us humans). Without this there is rarely much manoeuvre to grow unless there’s plenty of natural food which tends to be more common in ponds and lakes.
Training barbel to start accepting your baits readily is all about educating them again, sometimes, a venue full of big fish rarely feed on anything artificially made such is the high population of natural food. Fortunately rivers are blessed with ‘current’ and flow, something that barbel, big or small must fight against on a daily basis in order to find their food.
By barbel’s very nature they swim so need to eat, rest is temporary giving them respite from turbulent or fast flows in a crease or backwater. Barbel will expel energy looking for food in the summer months, so the hunt for food is necessary to replace what is lost.
Barbel and chub in particular will often be found venturing into the main bulk of the flow to search for food, before resting, back on the inside of the slower water, this area is most commonly known as a ‘crease’.
A ‘crease’ is an area between faster and slower water, this can often be created by bends in the river or bankside obstructions such as fallen trees etc.
Of course some species of fish naturally like slacker and slower water such as Pike, Zander and Perch, in fact anything predatory, roach will also thrive in water such as this and with that a Predator will often follow, waiting to ambush!
A food chain, a soap opera every character plays a part in our river systems, each species have their ways of feeding individually, or as a shoal.
When choosing a location a ‘recce’ of the river you intend to fish on the first day of the season is important, environments change. Bankside erosion create new swims, equally your favourite swims could be damaged by floods and/or high winds that will often uproot trees making them unobtainable.
I make a point of searching new areas at the start of every new season, this is generally when the river levels are at their lowest so mapping features out like a sandbank for example, even the very thing you’re standing on such as gravel makes a great spot to mark down.
Water levels do not stand still; they will rise and fall with rain that’s trickling into the river from a sodden plain or hilltop. Generally when waters are high and swollen the gravel bank in which you stood could now be full of very warm flood water, thus making this an area of interest particularly for barbel.
Barbel, like many coarse fish rely heavily on their scent and their ability to seek out crustaceans that can sometimes be buried amongst the gravel or large stones, searching amongst these large stones do not bother them as they simply toss these out the way with their snouts intent on getting to the food.
With this in mind it’s important you’re choosing an area that hold the fish you’re targeting, of course experience of seasons gone by gives you the best insight but, asking at your local tackle shop can give you a head start.
Once you’ve decided on the stretch and are happy that the barbel you’re targeting are present, using a 3 step process will help you make those important decisions a little more clearly.
1. Find a stretch that holds barbel!
2. Find swims that could hold barbel!
3. Bait those swims!
By following these rules there is little left to chance, you’ve explored and found the areas of interest. You know where the barbel prefers to feed and what features they may prefer to hide up in.
Baiting more than one spot of interest gives you more than one opportunity, also if you arrive on the morning of the 16th and one spot is taken, the second or third may not be. I often look for areas that are furthest away from car parks and/or areas of less worn banks, this is a sure sign of little angling pressure.
I target these areas first and look for swims that hold barbel characteristics such as ‘creases’ and ‘glides’ which are very smooth runs (almost like a pane of glass to look at) with little or no breaks on the surface layer such as boils breaking this pattern. Boils on the surface will often mean there’s an obstruction under the water causing this motion and is always a potential hazard! The best ‘glides’ are always uninterrupted which often signifies gravel or sandy bottoms, both of which are good for barbel.
So, you have now chose a stretch in which to start your campaign, 3 – 4 swims that look like they could hold barbel, and you are now set to embark on a pre-baiting mission.
When pre-baiting it’s important to realise that learning fish or educating them if you like is a gradual process, it’s simply not done over a day or two but sometimes a week or more. Much like us humans fish do not learn straight away, they learn by continuity and supplies of what I call ‘free meals’ (sorry school is on the brain) and the more they believe what they’re eating is actually ‘free’ the more confident they will become and potentially more barbel you could potentially catch. Over time this can be a nice safe place for the fish to eat, they’ve been educated and learnt this way, why would they not?
Barbel, indeed any fish feeding on what you’re offering to them on a continual but gradual basis will work in three ways.
1. Fish are seeing and are actually learning it’s meant to be eaten
2. Gaining the fish’s confidence in the bait you’re offering them
3. Keeping them there!
When pre-baiting I pay particular attention to not include items that would break down easily or quickly. I believe this is important in an area or swim that you choose essentially you want that bait to stay where you put it until it is eaten by the barbel. Items such as pellets are a common mistake a lot of people tend to make during a baiting campaign. Pellets will always break-down regardless, so it does pay to actually think about this fact.
I will use a combination of particles within a mix that I will either throw out by hand or use a catapult. As you can see from the picture the items include; sweetcorn, maize, hemp and chopped & whole boilies, I will also include some luncheon meat into the mix as well by breaking bits off with my fingers. Notice all the items in this picture will not break down which will simply stay on the bottom of a medium paced river quite well until the fish find it.
It’s very important to realise that the longer you take to prepare and prime your swim before the start of the season the better. As a rule I tend to stick to a 1 – 2 week principle where during that time I am visiting every morning and evening, dropping in a couple of handfuls in each swim. Of course if you can only manage once a day then maybe drop in 4 – 5 handfuls in each swim, just to keep the fish in your area and searching for food.
I will on the last week of the baiting campaign double the quantity I am dropping into the swims e.g. six handfuls in each swim (bearing in mind I am feeding twice a day).
Continue this process up and till the 16th and fish the swims alternatively until you arrive on the fish, with conducive conditions barbel will be easy to catch and be right onto the source of your pre-bait. I have never had this approach fail (touch wood) and had many great starts to the season using this pre-baiting philosophy.
Of course many anglers will have slants or different interpretations of this guide, but by using a logical, methodical and a sensible approach to pre-baiting your hard work will be rewarded.
Let me take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and prosperous new season