Tag: lakefishing

How new tackle developments can improve your Pike fishing

Every year I am fortunate enough to gain access to a small broad that has yielded some super pike to me and my gang this century. On this trip i learned something new which could revolutionise your piking in 2019

It is an occasion we all look forward to. The promise of a big fish is part of it but not the whole. We love the quiet, the remoteness of the watery wilderness, the feeling of going back in time, even to Hereward’s day. That’s why it is called fishing what we do, not catching I guess.

The Goldcrest

Our last trip, on that bitingly cold Saturday, did not disappoint, despite day time temperatures failing to rise above two degrees. I was deep frozen all session long but, heck, who cares when there are winter wonders in the air? Best of all was the briefest of sightings of a goldcrest in the reeds. I glimpsed an exquisite vignette, a passing picture of perfection that was over far, far too soon. Still, I was sure of what I had seen and the tiny bird brought a rush of badly-needed warmth to my heart.

The pleasure of the goldcrest was somewhat offset by the absence of a barn owl visitation. For as long as I can remember the broad has been home to these glorious birds, the symbol surely of the pike angler’s wintry afternoon sport. We all of us looked and looked for the familiar vision of off-white and dusky gold that comes out to play as the sun sinks. We looked in vain and the afternoon sky darkened for us that much more quickly than usual there. You would not be disappointed, however, if you had happened to be a cormorant fan. The sky was black with them come the approach of dusk. A score of them wheeled around and around the pocket of water waiting for us to leave their larder in peace. I am sure they were settling for the night the moment our cars disappeared down the track.

A new trick – the Deeper Pro

Bond, the longest serving of all my piking pals, had a new-fangled Deeper Pro Plus to show off. I’m sure many of you know all about this strange black ball that you cast out and which transmits all manner of data onto your mobile phone as you retrieve it. It has been taking hold in the carp fishing world to help anglers understand the lake bed better and to identify fish holding spots. Of course it also identifies the presence of fish although that’s a less significant attribute for the obvious reason they constantly move about. I’m easy with the device, its no substitute for your own watercraft but in some cases it can throw up new insights. By combining this with an understanding of the water column you can really up your pike fishing game.

Bond and Ratters assess the data


I do get surprises and Saturday was no exception. As i mentioned the temperature had dropped and we had 50mph southeasterlies blowing in. In short with the help of the Deeper pro, we didn’t locate a single fish more than 10 yards from the marginal reed beds. The open water was completely barren of fish, big and small. Every single thing with fins was almost as hard into the rushes as that goldcrest had been.

Of course, that is hardly surprising when you consider. The one thing fish must do is to survive and with flocks of predators around and howling cold gales that means getting deep into cover. What an ass, and a dead ass, a roach would be to be found out in open water once dusk descends. And where the prey fish are you will generally find the pike.

A revelation

The second revelation the gadget revealed was that all the roach were small, certainly less than six inches. It is probable that the total biomass of the broad has not changed, but instead of hundreds of big roach, there are now thousands of very small ones. Larger roach simply get cherry-picked by hungry cormorants, it is probably as simple as that. Our suspicion too is that pretty much all the bream have gone too. That is not surprising when you think bream shoals prefer to hang far from the margins, in water that gives the species scant protection. True, there might be a handful of big adults left but in all probability the breams shoals of centuries past here are all but a memory.

Mortimer and Whitehouse Gone Fishing

I recently acted as consultant on the second series of BBC2’s Mortimer and Whitehouse Gone Fishing. All round the country the message was the same. Larger fish of all species in every type of venue are on the decline since the appearance of waves of European cormorants 25 years back. I spoke to brown trout guides in Wales and salmon gillies in Scotland who are at their wits end over this. The cormorant is a nationwide threat to our aquatic eco systems and we must do something about them, and soon. Please remember I speak as a member of the RSPB and every wildlife group going so I am not simply some blinkered angling firebrand.

Bob Mortimer’s first Pike a 28lb beauty

Back to the Pike

We did turn the information from our Deeper Pro to some fishing advantage. By lunch we had seen enough for us to start fishing four-inch roach deadbaits no further than three yards from the bank. We used minimal rigs with the deadbaits either freelined or on small pike floats requiring no more than 3-5 swan shot. Ian Lewis at Handmadefishingfloats has some super examples. The change in tactics paid off. Half a dozen pike to 15lb came our way to be capped by a glorious mid-20 for  mate John Gilman.

I know he drove home sporting a smile as wide as the sun that failed to make an appearance. A goldcrest and a cracking pike had made our day.

Those who know me will understand that i am a Crabtree man at heart, believing in simplicity and watercraft to catch my fish. But i also like to be open minded and pragmatic so if there is something that can help our fishing i’m always willing to try it. You probably won’t catch me casting around with a Deeper Pro but if i see you on the bank with one i might just give you a wink!

Teaching an old dog new tricks – a lesson from the carp fishing boys

Throughout my angling career i have been lucky enough to learn from the best Ivan Marks,Fred Buller,Fred J Taylor and of course my dear friend and recently departed John Wilson. But as they say you are never too old to learn and i had a great example a few weeks back when i fished with ‘two young’ guns of the carp fishing world.
For reasons I cannot divulge yet, I was down Essex way last week, on a hot carp lake. Tom and Dan were my on-the-bank experts and, blimey, were they skillful or what? Half my age or less, they made me feel like the beginner out of the three of us.

Attention to detail

Of course, my pro carp days are a quarter of a century behind me but I was never a patch on these two who, incidentally, work for the tackle giant, Nash. Blimey, I can see why they do. Their casting. Their technical mastery. Their watercraft. All extraordinary, but it was their attention to detail that I took home with me. Especially this. Cutting to the chase, their obsession with ultra needle-sharp hooks fascinated me.

You are probably like me. Whatever you fish for and however you like to fish, you know a hook is better sharp than not and you will have a good look at the point before some, if not most, of your sessions. With Tom and Dan, though, sharp has become a religion. Nash make a hook sharpening kit commercially and they use theirs to the limit. Or Dan does. Working for Nash, Tom will use a hook for just a single cast and then replace it with a new one. On a top, rough, carp water, a cast can last a good while out there, but this habit still comes in at 50p a pop. Most of us would prefer to invest in the sharpening kit, I guess, but why take hook love quite so far?

Hook Points

According to the dynamic duo, the simple fact of being in the water can blunt a hook point as the acids work on it. Reeling in can be disastrous as the hook ricochets against gravel, stones, branches or even swan mussel shells. Hooking a fish and then removing that hook can be a point killer, too, they said. You have to get that file out or tie on a new hook altogether once the fish has been caught.

These boys were fishing self-hooking rigs, so blunt hooks cannot be compensated for on the strike. They are also fishing waters where a couple of runs a season are the norm, so a take is not something you want to miss, or risk missing. Not many of us are quite fishing on such a cliff face. Or are we? Fly, bait, lure, freshwater or salt, if we put a hook into a fish’s mouth, surely we have a responsibility to land it if we possibly can.

My Tench fishing

In that department, I stink. Back in Norfolk, I looked at my tench rods, set up with feeders. The three of them were still made up from the last warm autumnal sessions after the species. Those hook points could not have penetrated a bowl of custard. The more I thought about them, I realised, uncomfortably, that the hooks probably had gone on the rigs in April and stayed there for months. That equates to hundreds of casts. Endless bait-ups. Plenty of unhooking operations and a depressing number of tench bumped, played a second and then lost.

The more I replayed my summer, the more tench I remembered coming unstuck. Don’t get me wrong I had my fair share of good fish, and i think i know a thing or two about Tench fishing, but you always wonder about the ones that got away. The takes that never turned into hook-ups. I know we all have the importance of sharp hooks lodged somewhere in our consciousness, but I bet a lot of you are as casual about them as I have been. I hope this exhortation might land you more tench, trout, tope, or whatever in the future.


I’m less apologetic when it comes to knots. Tom and Dan had a list of them up their sleeves, notably 5 turn grinners. I’m a half ‘blood’ knot slob and have been for decades. Okay, if I have to, I can muster a few specialist knots to cover occasional situations when the ‘blood’ just won’t do. Ninety five percent of the knots I’ve tied in my career, though, have been ‘bloods’, either double, single or tucked or not. Whatever variation, the ‘blood’ is almost universally reviled, but it has done me proud, almost without exception. I have suffered endless knot snobberies but still managed to put as many fish on the bank as most. Perhaps confidence in what you do is paramount.

Matching nature

Over the years, I have tended to choose flies, baits and even lures that have merged with the natural foodstuffs that fish are eating. Tom and Dan rather rubbished that, baiting up with pink and white boilies. Why not? Sweetcorn? Orange ‘blob’ flies? Fluorescent lures? On my first trip out back on the Wensum, the pink boilies that the lads gave me caught chub like I wouldn’t have believed.

So that’s what I’ll be up to for much of the winter. You will find me on the rivers with a pink bait attached to a blood-curdlingly sharp hook, tied to the line by means of a half ‘blood’ knot, of course.

I will finish where i started- you most certainly can teach an old dog new tricks,and fishing with the new generation is as valuable as the old. So get out on the bank with a few ‘young guns’ yourself you maybe surprised what you learn. And watch out for those pink boilies!

John Bailey

My top tips to improve your fishing and catch more fish.

I am asked the question ‘what are your tips for catching more fish’, more than any other in my fishing life. So in this blog i’m going back to basics to give you my insights from 50 + years of fishing on how to put more and bigger fish on the bank.

To a large extent this may sound like teaching granny to suck eggs, after all isn’t that what we are all trying to do everyday of our fishing lives and if there was a magic wand wouldn’t we all (including me) be waving it?
There are days on the bank where i’m pulling my hair out trying to work out how to catch or more often help my clients catch, when all the odds seem stacked against us.
But if i stand back and reflect on all my years of fishing experience,not just in the UK but abroad there are some principles that stand out time and again as giving me and my fishing friends and clients the edge.
That edge might only be 10% or even 5% but that can be the difference between a blank and catching or a red letter day vs a good day. It’s fair to say that sometimes these principles get a bit lost in the day to day or hour to hour of  our fishing pursuits. They may seem obvious,but sometimes we can take the things for granted that might have the biggest impact on your fishing success.

So here are my top 5 fishing tactics and tips to put more and better fish on the bank.They are essentially what i would call the fundamentals of watercraft.

1. Observation

It’s so tempting when we have limited time in our busy lives, to arrive on the bank and get a bait in the water as quick as possible, desperate to make the most of the time we have.
If there is one lesson i have learned, it is that time spent looking at and observing the water in front of me is worth its wait in gold. On rivers i will use the close season in particular to walk the river and just observe fish behaviour,as i discuss in more depth here. On stillwaters,early morning tench bubbling, carp rolling,roach dimpling ,fry scattering, flat spots where a fish has disturbed the bottom, are all signs that fish are present.. The list is endless but it requires patience and training your eye to spot these subtle signs that are so easily missed . A great example of this was last winter when we arrived at a Pike lake in freezing conditions thinking fishing might be tough. However in the first 30 mins we saw three swirls on the surface indicating Pike were moving in the upper layers. One of our group, David, decided to try a lure while others had deadbait rods standing motionless on banksticks. 5 minutes later ‘BANG’ a take which resulted in a Pike of 30lb 8oz,a pb for David!

David Chapple with a PB 30lb Pike

2. Location,Location,Location 

 Phil and Kirsty have got it spot on. 30 minutes in a swim that holds fish is going to give you that real chance of catching rather than living in hope for 5 hours in a swim with no fish .  Playing a waiting game can sometimes pay dividends but if you only have limited pockets of precious fishing time it’s a risky strategy. Local knowledge from tackle shops,blogs,friends or other club members can be invaluable.

JG surveys the water for signs of fish activity

3. Preparation 

Time spent ahead of the game getting rigs sorted,bait prepared,rods tackled up and thinking ahead about tactics means very simply more time to catch. So many times in my guiding career i’ve seen people spending precious time getting gear ready,tying hook lengths,putting rod rests in etc.That first hour on the bank might be your best opportunity in the day to assess the conditions ,observe and get a bait in the water.Quite simply put more time observing and fishing more probability of catching. There are countless times i have been able to put fish on the bank because i was able to react immediately to a situation in front of me rather than spend precious minutes getting rigs together.

4. Approach

Have a plan for how you are going to tackle the session be confident in your approach but be flexible. Fish the conditions in front of you on the bank not in the living room the night before. Do as much research based on your experience and knowledge and set out a plan of attack-bait,rigs,approach. If you turn up and conditions have changed or you see a different species rolling in your swim don’t be afraid to adapt. This is particularly true in terms of bait choice. There are countless occasions that by changing bait I have managed to turn around a blank session. Most notably switching to caddis grubs transformed a tench session and enabled me to land 30 fish,when previously bites couldn’t be had.So adaptability is one of the most important lessons i have learned over my years of fishing.

Caddis grub in its protective shell

5. Belief

I’ve had the privilege of fishing alongside some wonderful talented fishermen over the years,people like John Wilson and Ivan Marks, and the one thing i have observed is that they have real belief,conviction and confidence in what they are doing and how they are approaching their fishing.This means not that they never blank,or mess up from time to time but on balance they have the edge to catch more and better fish. So whatever your level of skill or experience give it your best and stick at it. Practice,practice,learn ,watch have patience and you will get the rewards.

#fishing #johnbailey #catchmorefish #tacticsandtips


John Bailey


Some painful fishing lessons in the sun

Naturally-born fish in clear waters under a bright sun can be a nightmare to catch. No. Make that impossible.

No 1 – the carp

It’s last Wednesday and Steve and I have crept into position on the carp lake. We are out of the northerly wind, facing a pocket of calm, warm water. Sweat is on our foreheads. Horseflies are playing around our arms and our ankles. We are watching two very large carp looking suspiciously at our piece of floating crust.

I’ve made sure that the hook is hidden and that the line close to the bread is buried under the surface film and nigh-on invisible, but the carp aren’t liking it. One, the bigger of the two, comes so, so close and simply noses it, almost letting the bait rest on its forehead. Suddenly, as though a secret word has passed between them, they swirl and power off into the depths of the lake. That’s it. The end. How on earth had those carp divined our presence?

No 2 – the chub

On the Friday, I have dressed myself up to look just like Davey Crockett and I’m pushing through the riverbank undergrowth as invisible as a man can be. I’m watching my footfall and keeping my eye on my shadow so that it never falls on the water. I haven’t even got a rod with me and I’m simply watching for chub, plotting their future downfall. Hah! Not a chance. Within the hour, I have found 10 chub, five of them I would say are pretty large. I know I have not disturbed them because I have looked at them all in detail, noting their scale patterns and any possible blemish or old wound. The point is this. I have thrown pieces of slowly-sinking flake to each one of those chub and all 10 have scattered in terrified haste. Nine barrelled off downstream and just one fled up. Catchable? Not a chance!

No 3 -the trout

It’s the weekend now and I’m with Robbie Northman. Robbie is drop-shotting expertly for big perch in a secluded mill pool. You can see his tiny, silver lure glinting about four feet down, perhaps, attracting shoals of minnows and the odd baby perch. Then, from the lilies, a massive, colossal brown trout emerges. Robbie says it’s seven pounds, I am thinking eight. The fish, spotted like a leopard, roars into the attack, its mouth agape. It’s a heart-stopping sight but the fish stops short and, in a boil of angry water, disappears. What a fish. What a dream shattered. How on earth did the alarm bells ring for it at the very last moment?

No 4 – the tench

It’s last Thursday morning, very early and I have a tench swim, all weed dragged out and heavily-baited on the previous night. It’s a cool dawn but the swim is a cauldron of bubbles produced by feeding tench. I have fed hard with boilies, chopped worm and corn so these are the baits that I am advising Anthony uses on the hook. We fish each bait in turn, but the float never dips or wavers. Calm confidence is giving way to vocalised desperation. The sun climbs higher in the sky and in the crystal water we begin to see a legion of dark shapes, tench coming in to feed and going down over the bait. We can even see their mouths working as they drift back to mid-water, munching on the food. They are balletic in their poise, their effortless elegance and completely baffling in their brain power. Our conservative guess is that there are 50 fish there in the swim and yet, we are hopelessly outfoxed. Right at the end of the session the float dips and one fish comes to the net. We suppose it is a triumph but one of sorts.

No 5 – the barbel

Finally, after two years of working on a particular barbel swim, perhaps one of the last to hold Wensum fish, I achieve my aim and actually hook one. I’m tooled up, I think, to cope with a bus. But not with a barbel of furious magnitude. My clutch is screwed spanner-tight. My 10lb line seems impossible to break, the rod, though, is my weak point. Its give, its softness is my undoing. The fish powers towards sanctuary and I face oblivion. I pile on every ounce of pressure that I can muster, almost holding the rod straight at the fleeing fish. It’s to no avail. I’d woefully underestimated the sheer, roar brutality of an enraged double-figure barbel. In previous days, I’ve been done by the brain power of my fish, this time by their athleticism.

Carp, chub, trout, tench and barbel. I’m sunburnt, crestfallen and battered by them all. Still, what on earth would I rather be doing this glorious Norfolk summer of ours?

John Bailey

An angling week that has left me with more questions than answers – part 1

When everything doesn’t go right in an angling life, it can lead to deeper questioning and sometimes more profound answers. Here i look at some vexing issues that have really got me scratching my head about my spring tench and bream campaign. 

That’s how it has been for me. And probably for you, given the outrageous ups and downs in weather systems that we’ve been experiencing these last few weeks.

If there’s one thing we all know it’s that fish appreciate stable conditions, to an extent, either good or bad. They like to know where they are if they are going to feed with anything like confidence and that goes for all freshwater fish.

The tench above were  caught by Mick and Enoka on a red letter day , which sat between many frustrating days of .. well frankly not much!

I’ve believed for two or three years now at least that a heavy baiting campaign will pretty much always switch tench and bream on when the approach is applied to our gravel pits. It’s an attack that has barely ever failed for me and I accept that it is a means of buying your way to success. Simply filling a swim in with food and waiting for the fish to congregate there isn’t the most intelligent form of fishing but it can be very productive and it virtually always is.

So, when Simon and David came down to fish with me the other Monday that was the attack that we decided upon. We spent a couple of hour’s spombing out bait – what a wonderful word that is – along a deep channel between two plateaux where fish are often seen. The whole project was set up with extreme precision, no heed for the amount of bait and the tackle was finely tuned. We sat back to wait.

And, cor blimey, did we wait. We waited all Monday, all day Tuesday and till four o’clock on Wednesday when the only run of the session was missed. We might just as well have thrown a hundred quid in coins into the swim rather than feeding it with the most lavish of fish goodies.

Simon did manage to winkle out this bream he saw feeding alone on an adjacent pit while on a break from the monotony of simply no action.

How on earth do you account for all this? The Tuesday, admittedly, was pretty dire but, still, pressure was rising and warm weather was on the way, so you would have expected the fish to have responded to that. We tried absolutely everything in our combined repertoire of skills and experiences. The only thing we did not put on the hook were caddis grubs, the bait that worked phenomenally well last spring. The reason? We couldn’t find any! Explain that? Why does a lake heave with caddis grubs in 2017 and seem completely bereft of them 12 months later?

What have been your experiences this spring so far?

John Bailey

Bailey and Tench – Catching Tench on the float

Tench are undoubtedly one of my favourite species.They signify the coming of spring in the fishing calendar and pound for pound they fight as hard as any stillwater fish. In this first of my series on the why’s and where for’s of catching tench I share my approach to tackling them on the float.

Using a float for tench isn’t some old fashioned Crabtree traditional twaddle. There are times it works better than any other method. Equally there are times when it is out of its depth, so to speak.


The perfect use for the float is when you are fishing the first drop off. Most pits have a deep gulley running around much of their perimeter. This might be 10 or more feet deep and you find the shelf dives deeply down only feet from the bank. Tench love following this feature and they love feeding along it. However, bear in mind that if the pit is very heavily fished, they might move further out.

On most occasions I will use as small a float as I can get away with. I am not casting far, five yards at the most, and I am not having to control a float at distance. On the vast majority of the lakes I know 2 BB shot floats will be more than enough. In part, I want the float and shot to land as quietly as possible and secondly I want the tench to feel as little resistance as possible too.

I will use a waggler of one sort or another and I will nearly always put the weight up around the float itself/ I might have a BB-but no more- a foot away from the hook but if I am using a small boilie as bait or something similar in weight I prefer that as my anchor rather than shot. I do not like shot on the line as tench see it and feel more resistance when they pick up a bait. Or rather suck a bait in.

These floats from Ian Lewis at Handmade Floats are the type i will aim to use .

I like to fish with the float 12-18 inches over depth. I don’t use a standard plummet because they make too much disturbance. I just nip an SSG onto the line by the hook and that will sink the smaller floats I am using. I like the line then to be quite slack from float to hook as  a tench won’t be too spooked by it if it touches it or brushes against it in passing. A tight line feels less like a weed strand and is more threatening perhaps.

I have mentioned using 10mml boilies on very short hairs and size 14 hooks as tench love them and they give casting weight and anchor weight . Other larger baits like lobs work equally well and tench love these. If I am using small baits like corn or maggots I might use a number 6 shot 6 inches up from the float as anchor if the undertow is not too great.A boilie has the advantage of avoiding small fish and you can pretty well leave it till you get a bite. The less casting, the better I feel.

A tench in the upper eights for Tim.

So, you see, I am getting close to free-lining a bait as using a float as an indication. I don’t use the classic laying on method as the pressured tench I fish for don’t like the SSG on the bed and rarely dislodge it. My approach is softly softly catches Tinca and it works. Mostly. If not, I move on and try something else.

Next in the series will be ‘Tench on the feeder’ and ‘Tench watercraft’,which is probably the most important skill of all.

John Bailey

My top tips for spring tench

The cold winds are starting to abate,so now is the time to get out there and target tench. My favourite species can be maddening to catch at times but when everything comes together they really can deliver brilliant fishing. Here are my top 5 tips to get the best out of your tench campaign.

1.Watch the weather

Northerlies and easterlies can be an absolute killer for tench. If it’s a northerly aim for sheltered bays out of the wind,if it’s an easterly and you have the option postpone till the conditions improve. If there are warm mild spells in May get out there,they don’t always last!


If the rules allow and the location is accessible pre-baiting can crack the hardest lake.Spread the baiting out to perhaps every other day for a week beforehand. I’m conscious many people don’t have the time for that so do as much as you can. Use Vitalin as a cheap base and add corn and hemp plus a hand full of pellets if possible to get the tench rooting around. The simple rule is the more you bait the more tench you attract.That’s nature.It’s like your garden bird table.

3.Hook bait

The one constant through my tenching life has been worms. Amazing! Lobs are No 1 and dendrobaenas a close No 2. They work on there own or as a cocktail with maggots or corn.I know that is not necessarily a revolutionary insight but it’s the truth. They work. Of course maggots,corn,pellets and increasingly boilees can be very successful baits in certain lakes and conditions. Lots of silver fish can make maggots or corn a problem but sometimes plastics can get over this. However the most exciting bait for me over the last few seasons has been the caddis grub. I’ll put a soft landing net in the margins to see how prolific they are in each swim and if they are I will carefully place 2 or 3 on a size 14 or 12 hook. I have had a situation where i spent 2 days on a lake with barely a bite and out of frustration i switched to Caddis and within a hour i had 4 fish on the bank and after 3 hours we had caught 20 between myself and my guiding client. So my tip here is don’t be afraid to ring the changes and experiment. Even slugs have worked for me when all other baits have failed!

4.Float vs Feeder

I would say the majority of my clients favour float fishing for tench. But there are occasions when feeders are the way to go,obviously when the fish are at distance but not always. On bright sunny days a float and line cutting through the surface can spook the tench and in this case a feeder (maggot or Method) with line pinned down on the lake bed can catch them out.

I have to confess float fishing with a centrepin is my preferred approach,up close and personal if you like. Teamed with a 14ft sensitive but robust rod and strong line 6lb minimum and if there are big tench of 8lb+ present 8-10lb line is essential. A 10lb tench fights unbelievably harder than a 6lb tench.

There is something so captivating about seeing a float disappear and playing a hard fighting tench on a pin where you are completely in touch with the fish.

My one particular tip here is perhaps obvious but often overlooked-accurately locating the depth. 2-3 inches of line on the deck is a good place to start but again don’t be afraid to extend this to 5-6 inches or more.


So that’s it. Nothing complicated but with these approaches you will succeed.Unless of course those easterlies blow in!

John Bailey