Catching fish off the top – early season surface frolics!

Fishing for Carp off the top is a well-practised summer tactic – but it can work for many species,and earlier than you think in the season.

The surface of any water, whether river or still, is the most sensitive of zones. Fish are always wary of coming to the top for various reasons. Firstly, they are uniquely vulnerable to overhead predation when they leave the security of deeper water. Perhaps as vitally, the surface layers of any water are also very vulnerable to weather changes. A sharp shower, a change of wind, a passage of sleet, all these things can dramatically alter temperatures in this top water layer.

Early season action

Between May and well into June, you are never quite sure what the weather is going to bring but, when it’s benign, it is well worth looking for top water action. Fish in stills and on the rivers are really feeding hard during this period and they are very aware of all food sources wherever they might find them.

On the stills, I suppose we are generally looking at carp and perhaps rudd for surface fishing. I know it’s traditional to follow the wind in carping circles but in my experience, the secluded bays and water sheltered by islands, for example, are where you will find most fish close to the surface in the early part of the summer. Give me a nice warm day with little wind and it’s worth looking for carp and rudd, of course, in those secluded little back waters. What are they doing there? In all probability they are feeding on naturals. If the water is shallow, they might well be browsing on invertebrates and blood worms but they will still have half an eye on anything that might be happening on the surface. What will be on their minds are hatching flies, perhaps caddis of one sort or another. However, they will also be aware of any food you might introduce and floating pellets are about as good as anything.

Surface baits on rivers

On the rivers, from June 16th, chub are very vulnerable to a surface bait. That’s partly because they are still in shallow water after spawning and voraciously hungry. Probably the best tried technique is simply allowing flotillas of pieces of crust to trundle off downstream, especially along shallow gravels. Almost certainly, if chub are present, they will begin to show interest. I have often caught chub on floating crust at a distance of eighty yards plus. It’s quite a task getting a big fish back that distance in quick, shallow water, believe me.

Try a Popper for Chub

Perhaps the ultimate in excitement is fishing for these shallow water chub on the surface with an artificial popper and fly gear. It’s exactly the same technique as I use down in Spain for black bass. I like a popper about two or three inches long and I’ll cast it into the slower water and then retrieve it with jerky, fast pops. Chub will almost always come to investigate and they will often follow the popper for a yard or two before making their mind up. When they take, it’s explosive and the fight on a five-weight trout outfit is something you will remember.

Fishing on the surface can be an exciting and effective tactic for many species – give it a go!

John Bailey