I was busy on Wednesday and couldn’t make the White Acres mid week match, by Sunday I was chomping at [&hellip
Winter Roach Fishing
Winter fishing on still waters can be at best unpredictable with perhaps the worst time being after the first heavy frosts of the year so we were quite surprised when Triana North star Shane Crompton invited us to a gin clear three foot deep fishery after the first two freezing nights of the winter with the promise of a good bag of roach. Willow Garth fishery is one of those jewels that fishes well all winter long no matter what the weather conditions and I’ll probably be lynched by the locals for letting this little secret out of the bag. There are two lakes here, both stuffed with roach which are the main quarry in the colder months. I’m going to fish on the match lake which last winter was throwing up double figure bags to most competitors on the matches with 20lb being needed to win most weeks. As well as the roach there are plenty of perch and rudd as well as some bonus tench, the odd bream and some big carp which tend to average double figures and run to more than 20lb. The second pool is more of a carp lake with plenty of doubles in it but it also holds lots of roach with one of my mates getting 20lb of them in just a couple of hours last winter and fish of 2lb and bigger a nuisance for the carp men on their boilie rigs. Even though the water is shallow and gin clear and the fact that we’ve just had the first two heavy frosts of the year there are loads of fish topping and I’m confident that with the right approach we’ll get a few. In the summer fishing in the corners, tight to the features can be productive but in the winter I like to fish in open water where I can draw fish to me with my feed and when pleasure fishing it is always worth considering where the sun warms the water most. On this lake it is on the far bank which receives any sun there is all day long so that’s where I’m going.
Tackle and Tactics
There may be thousands of roach in the lake but they’re not mugs and you have to fish and feed carefully and accurately to make the most of the fishing in the cold weather which means that the pole is the main method here when it is cold. The waggler can produce when the fish back away from pole range especially when there are a lot of anglers on the bank but we’ve pretty much got the lake to ourselves today so they should stay on the pole line. The advantage with the pole is that you can keep all your feed very tight using a pole cup and can present your hook bait exactly on top of it where any fish that are feeding will be, especially when it is very hard going, and although I’m expecting to catch a few I’ll still start cautiously keeping everything tight until I’m sure the fish are feeding well. I’m going to fish two lines today, one straight out at between 11 ½ and 13 metres with maggots and one a bit to the right a section further out with chopped worm and casters. Anglers do catch closer in but I always feel that with roach in clear water the further away from me and the racket I make on the bank I can get them feeding the more confident they will be meaning they’ll feed for longer without being spooked and hopefully the more I will catch. I’d expect the maggot line to produce fish of all sizes while the chopped worm and caster line should produce better fish with the chance of a bonus big perch, tench or even a carp. I’ll feed both lines with a pole cup to start with but once I start getting a few fish I’ll start loose feeding because even in the winter you can catch them up in the water here.
Floats and Rigs
Because it is so shallow here and traditionally shy biting roach are the target I’m going to set up as light as possible to try and maximise my chances. For my maggot line I’m using a 0.2g Triana Rosso float shotted with a small bulk 18 inches from the hook and a string of three number 11 shot strung out below. For the chopped worm rig I’m setting up a very similar rig just a bit heavier with a 0.3g Sensas Doc float and again a bulk and three droppers. I like this pattern for worm fishing because it has a cane bristle which carries the bigger worm baits better than plastic or wire. I’m also going to set up a 3×8 Chianti float set 18 inches deep with three size 12 shot spread out just in case they do come up in the water to feed. I’m using Sensas No.5 latex elastic for both my maggot rigs and a No.8 for my worm line where I might tangle with a bonus fish or two. It might sound a bit strong for roach but they’re good roach here with plenty over the half pound mark to justify my choice. I always elasticate the top three sections rather than just the top two. The extra length of elastic doesn’t alter the way it stretches and gives you a much better chance of beating any big fish you might hook.
Hooks and Line
With roach the main target species I’d like to fish as fine as I can but because of the chance of a bonus fish or two I’m going to have to take them into account and make a compromise. For both my maggot rigs I’m going to use a 0.10 diameter Triana Potenza Match Leader line with Triana Takara AT700 barbless hooks, a size 22 for my on the deck rig where the fish have more time to inspect the bait and a size 20 for my up in the water rig where you can get away with a bigger hook as the fish are competing for the bait when feeding shallow. For the worm rig where I do expect bigger fish I’m using a 0.12 diameter line direct to a size 18 Kamasan B611 hook. With worm as the hook bait you can usually get away with bigger hooks so I still expect to catch roach but the stronger line and bigger hook gives me a fighting chance should a lump come along. Bait Table I’ve brought a bit of allsorts with me today to give me plenty of alternatives should the fish prove difficult which can often be the case in the depths of winter. I’ve got a half a pint of both bronze and red maggots, a pint of casters, a tin of hemp, a quarter of a kilo of dendrobenas and a few fluoro pinkies just in case it is really hard.
I’m going to start with maggots and hemp on one line and chopped worms and casters on another and I’m going to start by keeping everything really tight with a pole cup until I get a feel for how the fish are feeding. I find hemp a great holding bait even in the winter and always like to put some in even though I’ve no intentions of fishing it on the hook. If everything goes well and I start getting a few bites I’ll start loose feeding maggots on a little and often basis to try and get the fish up in the water where I should be able to build a weight much quicker. Similarly on the worm and caster line I’ll loose feed casters once I’m getting bites.
Time for Action
There is a lot of weed here in the summer so before I feed anything I’ll have to search the bottom with a plummet to make sure I’ve got a clear flat spot, no good carefully and accurately cupping your feed into the middle of a weed bed. It only takes a few minutes before you start but can make the world of difference to your final catch, the small things are that much more important when it is hard and should not be forgotten about. Because of the awkward sloping bank here I’m going to have to set my platform up in the edge to give me a stable comfortable fishing station and as a bonus I’ll gain an extra metre meaning I can fish the same spot with a metre less of pole. I’ve found clear spots at 11 ½ metres straight out for my maggot and hemp attack and at 13 metres next to a weed bed to the right for the worm and casters.
With the traps set it is now a matter of waiting to see if the fish will feed. Sometimes on cold days it can take an hour or two for them to have a chew and sometimes they will be straight on the feed. Fortunately for me today it is the latter and I’m into a decent fish on the first drop in and I haven’t even set my landing net up, Doh! Luckily I managed to land the 6oz rudd but feel a bit of a fool after making the point about the little things being so important. A couple of 4oz roach and smaller perch in the first half hour suggest the fish are having a go and tempt me to start dripping a few maggots in with the catapult. An hour into the session and I’ve got four roach, five small perch and that rudd in the net. Not bad for these conditions but by looking at the amount of fish topping they are active and must be feeding so I should be catching more. I want to up the feed rate but need to be careful not to totally ruin the peg with too much.
A lesson I’ve learned through match fishing, especially bloodworm fishing on the canals, is to always make sure you can get bites on another line before topping up or increasing the feed on your main line so today I’m going to have a look at my chopped worm line and make sure I can get bites on it before stepping up the feed on my maggot and hemp line to try and up the catch rate. A 6oz and 8oz roach on each of the first two casts over the worm show that I am safe to up the feed rate but also suggest the worm and caster line might be my best bet today. I caught another quality roach straight away followed by a couple of small perch before ten blank minutes told me it was time to put another small cup of chop and casters in. I prefer to chop my worms as I use them in the winter, rather than chop a big batch up at the start, because I want them to be fresh, juicy and moving when I put them in. I’m only feeding 8 – 10 chopped dendrobenas with a few casters at a time to make sure I don’t overdo it. As soon as I put the second batch in I caught another three good roach straight away before another blank spell, a pattern that was to be repeated throughout the day.
Usually when you’re fishing in this way loose feeding casters over the top keeps the roach grubbing around but today they aren’t responding to them at all and I’m only getting bites straight after I cup in some more worms. I had another couple of drops over the maggot and hemp line with no great success and only a couple of small fish on my shallow rig so I committed myself to the worm line for the rest of the four hour session to finish up with a lovely bag of 15lb of good roach up to just over a pound. A very satisfying catch in, what on paper were far from ideal conditions that proves, that with the right approach big bags of silvers can be taken even in the depths of winter. Having said that though with hindsight I feel I could probably have done even better had I fished with a kinder pot fixed to the pole and fed a pinch of chopped worm after every fish. One of the great things about fishing is that you learn something on every session no matter how experienced you are and I’ll certainly remember today and try the kinder pot on my next visit to the fabulous Willow Garth fishery.
Venue Fact File
Willow Garth Fishery Arksey, Near Bentley, Doncaster South Yorkshire There are two well established lakes on the fishery offering a total of 40 to 45 pegs, both containing good stocks of quality roach that have been caught to over 2lb, as well as rudd, perch, tench a few bream and golden orfe and carp to over 20lb Day tickets are available on the bank costing £4.00 or £3.00 Juniors. Night fishing tickets are available at £8.00 Open matches are being run on Saturdays through the winter Club match bookings are welcome and dates are available for next summer. Contact: Stuart Ward on 01302 563728
How To Get There
From the A19 in Bentley (Doncaster) take the Arksey Lane towards Arksey, after approx half a mile turn left onto Stockbridge Lane. After the railway crossing turn left onto Shaftholme Road and the entrance to the fishery is through a gate on the left