Sussex's winter anglers aim to catch anything but a chill

As you read this article, no doubt fortified by a warm drink and a cosy fire, those hot and sultry days of summer seem an age away.

Tuesday, 17th December 2019, 12:58 pm
Well-known angling writer Martin James, a member of P&BAC and a renowned small river specialist, using a 1940s split cane rod and 50s reel

No longer are we sitting by a tranquil pond watching water lilies and reeds twitch as carp and tench grub around for food, and long gone are the days when bite alarms screamed, or rod tips shot round as another carp headed for the nearest snag.

Now, as winter approaches, it’s time for anglers to consider other tactics, wear sensible clothes and above all target a different species, preferably ones that like the cold. It’s also a time to abandon the ponds and head for the rivers.

Top of that species list must be the grayling. Although technically classed as a game fish it appears no-one told the grayling and therefore, in reality, it behaves as a coarse fish, breeding during the coarse fish closed season and at home eating a worm or maggot as much as a dry fly.

Find some clean, fast-paced river, trot a maggot down and await the battle. The ‘lady of the stream’ is no lightweight either, with the current record standing at just over 4lb.

Literally fast on its heels, if nowhere near as big, is the dace. This beautiful little bar of silver is widely spread, and both the Arun and Rother have large numbers.

In the summer they can be caught easily, providing you can get past the hoards of bleak and minnows, but come the winter they dominate and although this is a small fish – the record is just over a pound - their beauty lies in the manner of catching them.

Trotting a stick float down river, watching it like a hawk and then having the reflexes of a cobra to hit the fast bite will keep the blood pumping. Catches of 30-40 dace in a session are quite common.

For those craving bigger specimens then living alongside that lovely dace is its close cousin the roach, another species that does not mind the cold one bit, and that small river warrior the chub.

Frankly there is no limit to a chub’s capacity to eat anything. With its cavernous mouth it will happily chomp through maggots, lob worms, slugs, boilies and probably its favourite bait, a big piece of bread flake.

Find a big snag in the river or let your bait drift below an underhanging bush and hang on to your rod. When a chub bites you will know it. The same tactics work equally well for the mighty barbel and, although they are small in number, they grow very big - our best this season is a veritable monster of over 19lb.

Lastly, winter is the best time to target our waters’ number one predator, the pike. Cold water seems to sharpen their appetite. Many a dace angler has had a fish ripped off the hook by a ravenous pike, while match anglers have seen keepnets attacked for much the same reason.

So, if you want to keep warm, try a roving approach, casting a small spinner into likely spots. Don’t forget to use strong line and a wire trace because our waters contain pike to over 30lb and they have an impressive array of sharp teeth that easily cut through line.

Whatever your choice, enjoy the crisp winter days and the sheer beauty of being outside – and if the weather is truly horrible then there is always that hot drink and fire and the thought of what new bit of gear Santa might bring.

by Steve Penticost

Petworth and Bognor Angling Club