Catch More Silver Fish
Make the most of commercial silver fish at your local venue, as our commercial master Andy Geldart demonstrates a foolproof springtime approach!
On arriving at my chosen swim, I often sit down on my box and look at the water. It’s not because I’m tired from carrying my kit, though; I like to quickly establish a session plan in my head. For commercial silver fish, which I’ll be targeting here at Messingham Sands Fishery, this is absolutely essential. I’m hoping to help you establish the right areas of a swim to target at this time of year, explain the rigs and feeding techniques for each swim and, most importantly, reveal when and why you should rotate swims to keep those fish hitting your net throughout the entire session!
The Short Line
For this swim I like to fish between four and six meters out. I’ve chosen to fish with my top kit plus two sections of pole. There’s a nice depth of around six feet, and I’m also fishing on the nearside slope. I don’t mind that the bottom is still sloping away from me here. This slope is a natural gathering place for quality fish, providing cover and a supply of food that might get wafted down it from the bankside.
My bait choice for this line is casters. At the start of the session I cup in a handful of casters and then feed by hand every few minutes. My aim is to draw in loads of fish. They might be small roach to start with but as the session progresses you often find that you catch more and more bonus fish on this line of attack.
The Long Line
This is often in the deepest water I can find. On tricky days, it’s a banker for catching fish. I look to fish at around 11 metres, and generally skimmers, bream and F1s are my targets. I have found that feeding groundbait is the best ploy for drawing fish to the deck in deep water. I also like to feed this swim with quite a lot of bait at the start and try not to top up at all. This way, fish can gain plenty of confidence by grazing over the feed.
All commercial silver fish are used to eating pellets, so it makes perfect sense to use a pellet-based groundbait. My favourite mix is 50/50 pellet or fishmeal based-mix and normal groundbait. I use Dynamite Milled Expanders and Frenzied Hempseed Match Original.
To hold fish in your swim you need to add particles to the mix and feed quite a lot of bait. At the start I normally cup in eight balls and add dead maggots, casters and a small amount of chopped worms. It’s really important that the particles are evenly distributed throughout the mix to keep fish grubbing around and searching for the particles for a long time. If you were to feed just a couple of balls with this same amount of particles in, the fish would be able to eat the lot much quicker than if it’s contained in eight balls. This would mean you needed to top up sooner and you could easily spook your quarry.
A lot of commercial venues have corners, bays and attractive-looking features in the margins. Now, if you were fishing for carp, these would be areas that you would definitely target. However, such features are great holding areas for silver fish too, and a lot of people ignore them. Species such as tench, chub, big perch and hybrids often lurk under trees or beside reeds.
On this swim my favourite bait combo is chopped worms and casters, but I do have a few extra little tricks that I bring into play. It’s vital not to feed too much here. Normally the water is shallower down the edges and the fish that you are trying to catch are probably already present. On this swim, you are simply aiming to create a little interest and direct the fish to your hook bait. If you were to pile in loads of bait, the chances are that you would spook the fish. However, just a 50p-sized nugget of chopped worms with a few casters is a nice little mouthful for a few fish to move over. I normally feed this just before I try the swim and then I can hopefully catch a couple of quick bonus fish immediately.
"You are simply aiming to create a little interest and direct the fish to your hook bait. If you were to pile in loads of bait, the chances are that you would spook the fish"
I like to use a fairly light rig on this swim, allowing me to present my bait on the drop among the casters that I’ll be loose feeding. The swim is around six feet deep and I’ve opted for a 4x14 Chianti float, shotted with strung-out No10s in the bottom half of the rig. I like to set this rig a few inches overdepth. Because the bottom is sloping away from me, it’s easy for my rig to drift out past where I’ve plumbed up, which would lead to my hook bait being off the bottom. By fishing with a couple of inches of line on the deck, I make sure that these inaccuracies don’t happen. I also think that you catch a bigger stamp of fish with the bait still and on the bottom.
My rig for here is a 1g round-bodied pattern, shotted with a bulk of No8s 20 inches from the hook, with three No8 droppers below. I always use big droppers with skimmers and bream in mind because they give the tiniest of bites. This is because they tilt over to feed and don’t move your last dropper shot far, so it’s important to make sure you use a big shot to show up the bite better.
I also lay nearly all of my 6in hooklength on the bottom, so that my last dropper is just off. Simply plumb up to dead depth and move the float up five inches. This way, your hook bait is dead still and when a fish picks it up and lifts that dropper you get a clear lift bite.
In such shallow, clear water down the margins, I like a light rig. The bigger fish that live here will sit and watch a hook bait fall. My float is a tiny 4x10 Matrix Series Five pencil float, with No11 shot strung out throughout the whole rig.
I like a long length of line between float and pole tip here too. I’ve left around three and a half feet. This means there’s less risk of spooking the fish by waving the pole above their heads, especially with this lake being clear. To trick that odd bonus fish on this swim, I like to ship out and then flick the rig past the pole tip to my baited area so that the pole isn’t over the heads of the fish at all. The rig and bait then drops in nice and slowly with the tight line – hard for any fish to resist!
When And Where?
To get the most from any swim I have one very simple aim – to keep catching throughout the session. At certain times, and on certain lines, the fish may be small, but I’ll happily take them while bites are coming. At some point, or hopefully several points during the day, I know that I will enjoy a run of bonus fish.
At the start of this session I fed all three lines as I’ve detailed, before proceeding to start on the short swim with casters. You normally get a good guide as to how many fish are feeding.
As soon as you feel a swim slowing, change lines!
It took a good five minutes before I had a bite. A couple of small roach were the first fish to show and all the bites came as the bait was falling. This told me that the fish weren’t settled and feeding confidently over the bait, therefore I was reluctant to feed too much in the early stages.
Already, I was thinking about my other swims. The fact that the fish were temperamental on the short swim gave me lots of confidence to leave the long-pole swim alone for a while. There was plenty of bait out there with the eight balls I cupped in and I was sure it would take a long while for fish to settle and gain confidence in feeding over it.
I spent the fish 40 minutes of the session on the short-pole swim, catching an odd quality roach. To maintain the interest, I fed a dozen casters by hand every few minutes – enough to attract fish and keep them hunting around in the water column without overfeeding the swim. A small perch then jumped in on the act before a run of missed bites and a lost fish told me the fish had become unsettled.
I was still reluctant to touch the long line at this early stage but had the option of trying to nick a bonus fish on the edge line against the trees to my right.
Having only fed the nugget of worms there some 40 minutes before, I was reluctant to feed it again with the fishing been so hard. Instead, I decided to ping in a few casters down the edge with a catapult before baiting up to try this swim.
Shipping out, I flicked my light rig over the top past the pole tip and, just as the hook bait settled, the float dinked under… clunk! A couple of yards of yellow Matrix elastic juddered from the pole tip and I was soon netting a lovely 14oz hybrid.
Next drop-in a much bigger roach followed, before I had to wait a while for my next bite, which came from a 10oz perch.
The Resting Game
With the water being so shallow, and after the three bigger fish in quick succession, I decided to come off the margin swim and have another drop-in on the short line. I’d much rather come off a swim where I know there are still fish feeding than try and catch all the fish that are present. This way you keep an element of competition on the swim; if there’s one feeding fish, it’s likely to attract others.
I had constantly been dripping in casters short and remained reluctant to try the long line yet. I had seen the odd angler catch a skimmer or two on the long pole, but action wasn’t hectic for them. Hopefully the fish would be grazing and settling over my feed out long, gaining confidence by the minute!
The roach sport on the short pole had definitely improved too. All my bites were coming once the bait had settled on the bottom, suggesting the fish had their heads down and were settled over the feed.
"Like the other swims, it was vital to read if the fish shied away slightly"
A dozen quality roach came to the net in quick succession, but as soon as I sensed these fish getting a little wary, I was straight off the swim and had another look down the edge. A shoal of chunky little roach had obviously settled here and by pinging a few casters over the top I enjoyed a nice run of these.
Keen to try and nick a bigger fish, however, I snipped up a few more worms and potted these in, going in straight over the top to see if I’d captured the attention of a bigger resident from under the trees. It worked a treat, with another good hybrid and chunky perch hitting the net.
Triple caster - Andy's secret bait for big perch
The Witching Hour
Over halfway through the session the wind dropped and I noticed an odd small bubble pimpling on the long line. I felt this was the perfect time to nip out there and have a look. With two dead red maggots on the hook I had indications immediately – sure to be skimmers. A minute or so later, the float lifted an inch all of a sudden and I whacked into a lovely 1lb-plus skimmer. A run of these followed, as well as some clonking roach, all right on top of the feed!
Leaving the swim alone definitely paid dividends. Like the other swims, it was vital to read if the fish shied away slightly. After setting the bed of bait at the start I was reluctant to re-feed here. Instead, when it took longer to get a bite or I caught a smaller-stamp fish, I simply came off the swim and kept putting a small fish in the net from on the short swim, and nicked an odd bigger fish from my margin.
Working the three areas of the swim has resulted in a stunning 25lb-plus bag of silvers on a very harsh day. Picking these areas means you catch fish that live in different depths and areas of the swim. The chances are, there will always be fish feeding at some point on one of the lines. This means you can work around the swims, and by using the right rigs and fishing and feeding the right baits and amounts, you will constantly keep putting fish in your net!
Follow Andy's swim plans to bank stunning nets of commercial silvers like this!
Name: Andy Geldart
Sponsors: Matrix, Dynamite
Pole: Matrix Nemesis
Venue: Messingham Sands Fishery
Location: Butterwick Road, Scunthorpe DN17 3PP
Day tickets: On the bank
Contact: 01724 763647
Lee Wright explains why margin fishing needn’t always be about big baits and piling the particles in!
Do you ever find yourself fishing a certain method or tactic without putting much thought into it? Do you fish it the same way every time and then if you don’t catch simply put it down to there being no fish in the swim? Well, Lee Wright gives us an interesting insight into thinking more about your fishing.
I guess I’m what you’d call a thinking angler. I’m super critical and always looking to rationalise my fishing and work out why some things work and others don’t.
One area that I’ve put a lot of thought into recently is my margin fishing. Now it’s no secret that I’m possibly best known for my exploits on natural waters, rivers like the Soar, but I think a lot of the things you learn on natural waters can be transferred to commercials.
The one big thing I always think about is how and why fish feed and this is one area a lot of anglers fishing commercials could improve on. This style of thinking is not exclusive to margin work but that’s the area I want to look at.
So how do YOU fish the margins? I’d guess that, were allowed, it would normally involve potting in big pots of groundbait or bait and then fishing over it. Is this wrong? No! After all, go to most big matches and the majority of people will be fishing the same way. However, just because everyone does it doesn’t make it the best way of fishing.
One in the net!
I like to alter my feeding depending on the type of venue I’m fishing. On big, large, open-water venues potting in big pots of bait does work. On these venues, the fish are out in open water and only move in at certain times. If you don’t have the volume of bait to hold them then they can eat and quickly move on.
On smaller venues, especially snake lakes such as here at Makins, the fish are never going to be too far away and I think they naturally patrol the margins much more than the fish in larger lakes. In this instance, I don’t think huge piles of bait are needed. In fact, I think they actually put the fish off. On this type of venue I’ve found that feeding smaller particles and less quantity will actually produce more fish.
The baits I use are pretty similar to those I use on the rivers – maggots, casters, hemp and worms. I always carry a few pellets but I find that natural baits always work better for margin fish. Although I don’t feed masses of bait through a big cup I do still carry quite a bit for two reasons.
Attractive, yes? The ultimate bait when all else fails.
Firstly, when the fish arrive in numbers I’ll feed a small amount after everyone to keep them in the peg. This can result in getting through a decent amount in a five or six-hour session.
Secondly, I love feeding casters regularly by hand. I believe the noise of them hitting the water draws fish in better than any other bait and it also creates a larger area of bait for the fish to graze over. Potting in small amounts over this area helps the fish to home in on one area and find your hook bait.
I mentioned earlier that I don’t like to feed big pots of groundbait on smaller venues, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feed groundbait. I still have faith in it but I think that it’s always best to feed small balls that will go down and quickly break up, leaving a very neat pile of bait rather than a big area of loose groundbait. The mix you use is down to personal preference but one aspect of groundbait that is massively overlooked is colour.
Fish in snake lakes can be hard to catch and can spook easily and I like my feed to attract them but not ring any alarm bells.
Small baits don't mean small fish.
My thinking is that a pile of bright, obvious groundbait will spook some fish. So, much like we do on rivers in winter, I try to match the colour of my bait to the lake bottom. I do this by grabbing silt or clay from the margins, either with a pole cup or my hand if it’s fairly shallow, and then use various colours of groundbait to match the colour of the bottom. Using dark mixes, greens and bright orange I can match most bottoms and I also have an extra little trick. Most banks have molehills and I like to grab a few handfuls of the soil and add it to my mix. This not only helps match the colour of the bottom but also adds weight, getting it down to the bottom and keeping it there while the fish feed.
I also mix up a bag of Old Ghost Specimen Mix but I keep this separate and will often feed it with a bit of hemp and casters when I feel I need to kick a swim into life.
I can’t talk about margin fishing without mentioning rigs. For some reason, a lot of anglers fish with rigs that they wouldn’t dream of using in other areas of their swim. You’re fishing for the same fish but just in a different area of your peg, so why do people fish with massively overgunned tackle? I’m confident that I can land anything I hook on 0.14mm Matrix Power Micron and a size 18 or 16 Carp Bagger hook. You’ll get far more bites than you would on 0.18mm and a size 12 hook. I also balance my tackle and use a fairly light size 10 Stay Fresh Hollow elastic and a puller kit, which still gives me the control to land everything I could hook on a snake lake.
I’ve picked a peg in the middle of the bank on Phase 3. It’s nothing spectacular but it does have an attractive looking margin. I stake out my nets as I always do when margin fishing and prepare my bait and rigs.
I’m fishing to my right, and after potting in a small amount of maggots, casters and a ball of groundbait I have my first look with a bunch of maggots.
This mix should kick-start any swim into life!
As expected, the first half an hour is pretty slow, mainly due to the disturbance of setting up. I keep feeding casters by hand and top up with a very small amount of bait every 15 minutes.
I get my first bite after 40 minutes. A quick lift of the pole sees several feet of bright orange elastic stream from the pole as a carp makes a bid for freedom. It doesn’t take long to get it under control, though, and a nice 4lb carp is soon beaten.
I top up my swim and keep the casters going in. I like to feed a decent amount every five minutes; feed too regularly and the fish will start to come off the bottom, making them difficult to catch.
It takes around an hour and 15 minutes to get the fish coming regularly but I’m soon catching well and I manage a couple of big fish over 5lb. Unfortunately, the swim dies off around three hours into the session and I’m not sure exactly why. It could be something to do with a clumsy, heavy-footed photographer trying to sit next to my float!
Following a biteless 20 minutes, I decide to pot in some of the Old Ghost mix. It’s a really strong flavour and with a few casters added and some hemp I’m sure I can draw a few fish back.
I’ve also switched to fishing the head of two worms. They’re not much bigger than a couple of casters but I’ve found it to be a bait that works when all else fails.
It takes just 10 minutes to start getting a few indications and pretty soon I’m back into the fish. Worm seems to be working well but a switch to just two maggots on a size 18 ups my catch rate even further and I end the session with a flurry of activity.
Lee has learnt not to follow the crowds. Feeding casters by hand creates a lot of fish-attracting noise.
I’ve had close to 75lb and it’s been a great session. Feeding the smaller particles has certainly worked and with additional attraction of the casters fed by hand I’ve managed to get bites most of the day from just one swim, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
I think this has shown that if you put thought into your feeding and don’t just follow the crowd some great fishing can be on offer.
Feeding Tips -
Groundbait Tips -
Hook-Bait Tips -
Mixing Tips -
Name: Lee Wright
Sponsor: Matrix Nemesis
Lake: Makins Fishery
Location: Wolvey, Warwickshire
Day Tickets: £7.50; concessions £5.50
Contact: 01455 220877
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