The river watcher – how to increase your early season fishing success?

As we approach the end of the river season my mind starts to cast forward to June 15th. Here i look at tips for planning your next river season campaign by watching.In my experience the more you look the more you see!

I would say that the best time to be on a river without a rod and line is actually that period between May and late June.

The water is often low, very frequently clear and many if not most of the fish are still on or around the shallow spawning areas. This means that you can get a very good grasp indeed of the numbers and the sizes of fish of most species in and along your river.


Most of our river fish, apart from probably perch and pike, spawn around mid May and often into mid June. This means that they assemble at the start of May and frequently only leave the shallows two months later. If you’re quiet, if you have Polaroids and if you have patience, you can often see some remarkable and unexpected sights.

Of course, when fish are actively spawning, you don’t want to get too close to them in case you alarm them and interrupt the recruitment process. At all times, you treat fish with respect and if you think you are disturbing them, then I really urge you to back off and leave them alone.

Big Roach

However, I’ll be out there and I’m hoping to see some promising signs for the rest of my river fishing year. It is interesting how many times you see much bigger roach close to the spawning gravels than you do at any other time of the summer or autumn. I’ve frequently been surprised by how many big roach there sometimes are. Believe me, a group of two pounders in water two feet deep with the sun on their backs is an absorbing sight. It’s very much the same with chub. You will often see forty or fifty massed in water only just deep enough to cover their backs.

Barbel on show

It’s the mighty barbel, though, that really leave me gasping. For ninety percent of the year, big, suspicious barbel, very rarely leave cover at all. They will spend the vast majority of the river season buried away in places where you would never expect to find them. It is only during this brief spawning window that they sometimes emerge and you will be surprised by both their size and by their numbers. These are sometimes mighty fish and you even occasionally see fish that most anglers had felt were long dead and gone. This isn’t always the case.



Another way of getting to know your river at this time of the year is to go out with a big bag of micro-pellets. Scatter these in water no more than two, or at the most, three feet deep and especially over a gravel bottom. Then sit back and take your time. Binoculars are absolutely vital for this. Train them on the gravels and you will see, in all probability, a whole succession of fish moving in on the tiny particles. Probably minnows will be the first to arrive at the feast. You will then, hopefully, begin to see gudgeon, small roach, dace and even perch. Bigger fish will inevitably move in, chub probably being the leaders, always eager to sniff out any potential food bonanza. However, what has really thrilled me again and again over the last couple of years, has been the number of tiny barbel that I have observed by doing this. I guess, along one of my favourite stretches it is nothing unusual to see two or three shoals of them, often a hundred or so in number and rarely more than six or seven inches in length. Of course, these populations are very volatile because there is predation and, of course, because the fish are growing, becoming more mature and therefore more secretive. Still, your micro-pellets can give you real hope.

I’ve always felt that the best fisherman is the fisherman naturalist. It often pays simply to take time out from actually fishing to observing the fish that you are after. There is a lot of amazement in our rivers at this time of the year. 

 John Bailey