Dave Coster’s Fishing Diary

D

Dave Coster

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MISSING THE BUS

Spalding is only 40 minutes’ drive from where I live, and behind a big shopping centre called Springfields lies the Coronation Channel, which I’ve walked a few times while the wife enjoyed exploring the various discount outlets. On our latest trip I spotted a couple of anglers fishing with poles down by the tidal sluice. Fish were topping on the surface everywhere and the pair of locals were catching lots of skimmers and roach. I chatted with one of them and he told me the place used to be a popular match venue but was barely fished these days. He reckoned it can still produce top sport and that, apart from what he was catching, big bream and tench were a possibility as well. I returned a few days later with my mate Chris from Grantham. Conditions looked perfect but to cut a long story short, we couldn’t buy a bite between us. The water looked dead compared to what I had witnessed before, with two warring flocks of swans the only living things disturbing the surface. This prompted us to make a move to the nearby River Glen.

BACK ON TRACK



It soon became apparent where the fish had gone. The huge shoals of silvers that migrate into the smaller fens and rivers around Spalding during the colder months had obviously started moving early. The Glen at Pinchbeck was heaving. It’s only a narrow waterway, more a drain than a river, with steep dredged banks and little flow. But I’ve enjoyed some great sessions here during previous winters, particularly with the big perch, which run to specimen size. It quickly turned into a bite every put in fishing with pole tackle, mainly from small roach, skimmers and perch. A chilling wind was blowing hard downstream, which made it tricky to fish long. Chris and I mainly concentrated closer in, using maggots, casters and worms over groundbait. Towards the end of the short session, Chris caught some fair-sized perch, while when the wind dropped occasionally, he also found better roach dropping a rig close to the far bank. Other species that turned up were rudd, dace, bleak and small hybrids. A pike trashed a rig, but the monster perch didn’t show.

IN THE FLOW



The River Trent at Farndon is even closer to where I live, just twenty minutes down some back roads. The flow steadies off nicely downstream of the power station and weir, producing perfect conditions for a stick float, a form of fishing which is in danger of becoming a lost art. Many years ago, just about all anglers could be seen using sticks on the Trent, armed with several pints of maggots. But currently most people are targeting the big barbel, which entails having a couple of beefy specimen rods pointing skywards in support pods, very often with a pellet and boilie orientated attack.

It only took me 30 minutes to get bites, feeding a steady stream of hemp and casters, using a 4 number 4 capacity stick float and a size 18 hook tied to 2lb line. After that it turned into a hectic session, catching lots of pristine roach up to 8ozs and a few dace. Nothing big turned up, mainly because the river was running clear, but it was still great fun fishing this way, which keeps you active and warm during chilly winter days.

LAKE ACTION



A local angling club match was my next outing on Willow Lakes at Foston, just off the busy A1. The water was coloured after recent heavy rain and fished surprisingly well. Venue expert Alan Bilton drew the aerator peg on Hawthorne Lake, a noted bream hotspot. He continued his run of top form on this complex, finishing a clear winner with 73lb 7oz. To begin with, Alan fed maggots down the channel, catching a good stamp of skimmer bream. He then gradually worked his way across to an island, feeding further out and decent-sized carp began to boost his weight, along with more skimmers. I was a couple of pegs away and it took longer to get my swim producing, but after an hour good-sized skimmers turned up, along with odd carp. I couldn’t claw back the lead the eventual winner had built up, despite trying hard. I caught by switching between maggots and casters on pole tackle, cupping in a few micro pellets. I kept experimenting with various pellets on the hook, but strangely the fish didn’t want to know this bait, even soft expanders. A busy last hour boosted my catch to 49lb 14oz for runner’s-up spot, heading off a cluster of good backing weights.

THE OLD RIVER



I was invited by a couple of Grantham pals to join them on a trip to the Old River Nene at Benwick, just outside Peterborough. It must be thirty years since I last visited this winter hotspot. The river course here is interlinked with many fenland drains, resulting in huge shoals of fish migrating into the sheltered areas the narrow old watercourse provides. When I arrived, my mates had picked a free fishing spot opposite some gardens and boat moorings, with plenty of tree cover behind to provide shelter from the cool fenland winds. The best pegs a bit further along were already taken. It soon turned out the slow-moving river was brimming with fish, although mainly on the small side. Baits like red maggots resulted in a bite nearly every cast from a great mixture of roach, perch, bleak, dace, hybrids, skimmers and silver bream. Casters turned up a few better-sized roach, while worm on the hook brought a bigger stamp of perch and a bonus winter tench for one of our party. With so many small fish to contend with, it was almost inevitable I would end up playing a pike, which grabbed a roach on the way in. The others had similar predator trouble a few times.

A CHRISTMAS BONUS



The Match Lake at Woodland Waters was the setting for my next club outing in the winter series. The lake had been fishing well but this picturesque place turned difficult with cold rainwater going in, combined with gale-force winds. Most anglers went straight onto feeder tactics, with the pole as backup in the few sheltered areas. Some small skimmers responded early, but as the fierce winds picked up it became a struggle. I only experienced a couple of iffy takes I didn’t connect with on the feeder. The only way I could make something happen was with a five-metre whip, fished to-hand style in the deep water. I caught a few small skimmers and roach, plus a bonus perch, but was struggling like the rest, made worse by the wind blasting in my face. I eventually hooked into a proper lump that bent my whip into a hoop. I felt the carbon bottoming out and feared my light rig would get trashed, but miraculously everything held and a superb 3lb hybrid boosted my catch into second place with 6lb 10oz. Tony Smith won with three bream and bits on the feeder for 8lb 9oz.

THE BOLT HOLE




It turned bitterly cold and the winds were still strong, so where to next in order to catch some fish? I thought back to last winter and remembered the small Carp Lake at Woodies. The carp population slows down in the cold and there are masses of silver fish to target. They are not big, but provide plenty of bites when just about everywhere else has switched off. I set up a light 12ft waggler rod and a short 3m whip. The waggler tackle was aimed at anything that came along, while the whip was for a bit of fun with the numerous gudgeon the small, shallow water holds. I had an hour on the whip first, catching pongos as we used to call them. This reminded me of my canal match fishing days many years ago, where amazingly double-figure weights of these tiny fish used to be caught quite regularly. Feeding up the waggler line for the first hour did the trick, so when I switched to this method it was virtually a bite every cast for the rest of the session. A fair few net roach and skimmers, with lots of smaller fish, including perch, hybrids and rudd. I fed sweet-flavoured 2mm micro pellets like you would hemp, with a catapult, combined with casters and red maggots.

UNRAVELLING THE CANAL



I only discovered the Fossdyke Canal this year and after enjoying some great fishing on it, decided to enter the Lincoln/Whisby Angling Supplies Individual League. I started well on the first match and then slumped dramatically on the next two rounds, getting blitzed by pike. This made me rethink my approach. For the penultimate match I planned to fish groundbait and pinkies at 5 metres on the pole, expecting that area to eventually attract any predator attention. I didn’t put groundbait anywhere else in my peg, instead cupping in some chopped worm just past the middle and then catapulting casters past this, over towards the far bank pilings. I started close in on the pole and caught 50 fish before the first signs of pike moving in slowed the bites down. A quick few casts with waggler tackle found some better roach on caster, but it wasn’t quite right over there yet. A quick flurry of fish followed back on the pole, before going back out with the waggler and finding it was solid. Mainly small 2-3oz roach, a few better-sized netters, plus a big perch. I finished with 10lb 9oz and a section win, coming third overall. 11lb 6oz won it, with 11lb 4oz second. Close!

TEASING A RESPONSE



With the pandemic raging and the weather remaining windy and cold, I decided to stay close to home for the remainder of the year. I went back to try a swim on the Match Lake at Woodland Waters that I had struggled with previously, where the waggler brought me loads of bites, but very few fish. Most of these “ghost” indications as I call them are caused by roach, gently mouthing baits like maggots or casters, but then rejecting them. This is mainly a cold-water phenomenon, so I thought the long pole would be the best way of sorting it out. I intended to feed carefully, cupping in a few balls of dark groundbait laced with chopped worm and some red pinkies, feeding casters over the top by catapult. It took 30 minutes to get bites and the first two were rewarded with big roach, one just over the pound mark and one close to it. I wasn’t expecting that to happen straight away, because normally the bigger roach here don’t venture over groundbait until it has broken down into a fine bed on the bottom. This prompted me to cup in another medium-sized ball.

REPEAT PERFORMANCE



The new ball of groundbait, plus a bit more chopped worm and some red pinkies, stirred up another flurry of bites. This time it was slightly smaller roach before a decent skimmer went in my landing net. I kept dinking a few casters over my sensitive pole float.

Although this lake is quite deep, I use 0.75gr or 1gr body-down shaped floats with strung bulks of number 8 Stotz, instead of an olivette. I find the slightly strung main shotting, set a good three feet above the hook, helps the final three spread-out number 11 droppers below fall through the last layers of water nice and slowly. This often pulls an immediate bite as the hook bait settles, something that doesn’t happen so often with olivette rigs. I also use black nickel hooks, which don’t stand out as much as bronze or silver patterns. I find at this time of the year small tweaks like this make a big difference between enjoying lots of action, or sitting watching a motionless float all day.

WHICH WAY NEXT?



After that skimmer I was tempted to keep feeding regular balls of groundbait, but I have been down that route before. If you are not careful it’s easy to kill swims at this tricky time of the year after an initial good start. Cold-affected stillwaters need to be fed very sparingly, so I tried an experimental smaller ball of groundbait, but this time it didn’t work. It took ages to gain another response, dribbling in tiny amounts of casters every put in. Finally, the fish came back and I enjoyed a good end to the session, glad I had stopped feeding any crumb, because I think there was already enough in the swim. The trick at this time of the year is to interest but not over-feed the fish. I netted some more quality roach and several decent skimmers, to end up with a double-figure catch, on a day when I couldn’t see anyone else catching very much.

A CHANCE MEETING



A few days later I returned to the Match Lake, but this time opted for the deeper water down the Eastern bank. There was one other angler already setting up and it turned out to be Dave Eastwood, who writes a similar angling column to my Grantham one, but in the neighbouring Sleaford local paper. Dave had only fished the complex once before, but watching him setting up a couple of pole rigs, he looked to be on the right track. It’s always nice to chat to like-minded anglers, swopping local venues to try. It turned out Dave has permission to fish a new fishery that’s opening soon, and he has invited me along in the New Year. Back to the present time and Dave did well on yet another bitingly cold day, eking out a nice catch of skimmers, topped off with a couple of bonus proper bream. He was using new groundbaits that are made in the Midlands, by a company called Teddy Fisher. They obviously work well! As for me, I caught a lot more smaller fish on this occasion, with only one decent roach and a few bigger skimmers.

The post Dave Coster’s Fishing Diary first appeared on FishingMagic Magazine.

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Crystal Bend

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Thoroughly enjoyable read Dave.
We're very lucky to have John & yourself providing us all with your knowledge & experience delivered in an entertaining way.
With the continued death of mainstream angling press publications, this is a real treat to read both of your real, unedited thoughts.
I agree with you re strung out bulks. If it's good enough for Marcel Van Den Eynde..........
I will also try your canal pike deterrent tactic in the future.
I use the black Sensas 3405 hooks for silvers. Would this be the same hook that you use?
Also, if you don't mind me asking, what is your preferred rod for Stick Float Fishing?
Kind Regards
John
 

Dave Coster

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Correct regarding the Black Sensas 3405 hooks. I particularly like the unusual size 17 for caster fishing when targeting big fish.

As for my favourite rod for stick float fishing, it’s a 13ft high modulus nano carbon prototype, I designed to follow on from the Hardy Marksman Supero. It never happened due to Pure Fishing pulling the plug on the Hardy coarse category, but it is likely to happen under the Thomas Turner banner as a Contemporary Classic. We are looking to start this project very soon!

Best Regards, Dave
 

Crystal Bend

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The 3405's are a smashing hook Dave & excellent for Dace on the River too. They find it hard to throw the hook.
That sounds exciting re the new 13ft rod and please keep us updated on this.
Cheers
John
 

hague01

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Hi Dave.
Please excuse me asking a silly question but I have asked it before and never received an informed answer. I had over the past few years 2used emerald green hardy's, a feeder and a smuggler. Can you recall when that colour was used pre the later olive green on my later rods including the superos. Just an old mans desire to know. Thanks Alec
 

Dave Coster

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hague01,

The Superos were a similar dark green colour but I changed the whippings to a matching dark green with gold tippets. I didn’t like the see-through lighter green whippings on the original Marksmans.

Best Regards, Dave
 
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hague01

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hague01,

The Superos were a similar dark green colour but I changed the whippings to a matching dark green with gold tippets. I didn’t like the see-through lighter green whippings on the original Marksmans.

Best Regards, Dave
Cheers for that. The ones I had were deep emerald green, colour of lush grass quite unlike the olive of specialist and superos. Thanks for taking the
time to answer. Much appreciated. Alec
 
D

Dave Coster

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LOST IN LINCOLNSHIRE

I started the New Year trying a new venue a fishing mate had discovered. It was a bit off the beaten track in a place called Timberland, hidden in the depths of Lincolnshire. This was just before we were advised to fish local, although it wasn’t that far, and still in the same county where I live. It was a freezing cold morning and the back roads were treacherous – like an ice-skating rink – but I found the place okay. The owner had to let us in because Peacock Waters, as the fishery is called, doesn’t open officially until March. A quick tour revealed a well-matured, two-acre-plus lake, which was originally a clay pit. An island and backwater were frozen solid, not that it mattered because there were plenty of feature pegs to explore on the opposite, deeper side, where plenty of fish could be seen topping when we arrived. Of course, once we set up, all the surface activity ceased. There was still frost on the ground and some nasty squally showers were blowing through. This wasn’t going to be easy.

SLEAFORD DAVE



Dave Eastwood lives in nearby Sleaford and writes a similar column to my Grantham one in his local paper. It’s always interesting to exchange information on different venues in the area, because there are so many gems dotted around the countryside. This one offers holiday accommodation in normal times, comprising a static caravan and large converted barn. Such places provide a great step into angling for many. I doubt if the powers that be realise the big numbers that are introduced to the sport this way. I started my fishing on a park lake, and I don’t see many of those available these days, so mini holiday complexes have become important. Anyway, Dave tried a few chucks on feeder tackle first, finding it very deep out in the middle of the lake. He quickly decided to make the pole his main line of attack, with full and mid-depth rigs set up, which was similar to what I had decided to do. Careful feeding was to be the order of the day, going easy with groundbait and any loose gear.

TREADING CAREFULLY



I began cautiously with punched bread, feeding a soft ball of crumb at around 10 metres, towards the bottom of the shelf in around 14ft of water. This would allow me to search around on and off the deck, bearing in mind all that surface activity when we arrived. I did manage to miss a bite two feet off bottom, but there were no signs at full depth. More crumb didn’t work, so I started to feed a few casters every put in and eventually caught a 4oz roach on a red maggot, with my rig set slightly over-depth. A couple more followed before I switched to single caster on the hook. It looked like the place was waking up, so I went to see how Dave was doing just around the corner. He had started getting bites too, fishing maggots over minimal groundbait. A couple of roach were followed by this lively hybrid. The owner had told us there are plenty of bream in the lake, but I couldn’t see these feeding in such minimal temperatures. Something to look forward to when it gets warmer.

WELCOME SURPRISES



Apparently, there is also a good head of chub, with a magnificent seven-pounder recorded, along with big perch, carp to over 30lbs, and rudd to 3lbs. After a string of roach on caster, I thought I might have hooked into a chub when a fast bite turned into a proper elastic-stretcher. I had just tried a crafty winter trick of adding a pole section and laying my rig in just past where I had been feeding. Sure enough, my float sailed away and something powerful was having a good pull out in the middle of the bay I was fishing. When whatever it was neared the surface, I saw a big flash of silver and immediately thought if this was another roach, it was going to be a two-pounder. But when it surfaced a lack of red fins revealed it was a hybrid. When I eventually netted the fish it was still well received, considering the conditions. Not long after, the same thing happened again, only this time a second hybrid was a bit smaller. It’s amazing how fishing just off your feed can work so well.

NEW METHOD



Yet another lockdown, so best to stay close to home, which for me means just a few miles up the road at Woodland Waters. I had arranged to have a fish with Pete the bailiff, who keeps telling me how good helicopter rigs are at this time of the year. Being stubborn, I insisted if I was going to have a go at this method, it would be my way with a quivertip rod. I’m not about to start investing in bite alarms, rod pods, bobbin indicators and light specimen rods just yet! Pete had set up next door, while I experimented in the next peg. He had a good chuckle when he saw my rig. I had bought an off-the-shelf, ready-to-go heli rig, which was simply threaded onto my main line, followed by tying on a blockend feeder and attaching a short hook length. Pete, in his normal direct manner, told me there was too much going on. I thought the way my maggot hook bait was dangling just next to the feeder looked perfect. It obviously wasn’t because I didn’t get any interest whatsoever.

HOW IT’S DONE



To be fair, it was an off day all round, so we decided to have another go later in the week, this time with Pete showing me how to do things properly. He set up light specimen gear, comprising two rods and Optonics. Next came 40g maggot feeders, the type I’d expect to see on the nearby River Trent, not on a lake. I can’t fish like that on such a beautiful stillwater, so I set up a waggler, thinking this would be a much better bet than crashing heavy feeders out into the blue yonder. How wrong I was. It only took a few casts, and forty minutes later Pete’s bite alarms were making all sorts of weird noises. The big roach had arrived, like Pete said they would. They were obviously competing for the maggots he was putting through his blockend feeders. What amazed me most was the way the normally super-cautious big red fins were being mugged on short and quite thick hook lengths, combined with heavy wire gauge hooks. I was using much lighter tackle and couldn’t buy a bite!

CURRY CLUB



The heli set-up might have been provoking the fish to have a go when nobody else was catching, but what Pete was putting on his maggots was possibly helping too. He swears by curry powder and it’s not just a case of dumping it on his bait. He reckons the pungent flavouring peaks after three days, once a couple of tablespoons worth have been sprinkled over a few pints of maggots. His bait did look and smell good and the big roach were scoffing it up big time. I couldn’t get over the extra-short hook lengths being used, set just above big Kamasan Black Cap blockends, that had extra weights strapped on. The hook lengths were trapped between two line stops, free to rotate on tiny metal rig rings. The total weight of each doctored feeder was enough to anchor them in fast-flowing rivers and yet they were just as effective in a stillwater, cast some 50 metres out. Now I’d seen how helicopter rigs work so well, I began to contemplate how to adapt this idea to my quivertip rods.

FURRY FRIEND



This is my new mate Ralph. His owner takes him fishing, so this amazing little dog knows what it’s all about. After watching my waggler being cast out, Ralph was immediately perched by my side like a coiled spring, absolutely transfixed while watching my bright float tip. I joked with Pete that I didn’t need any electronic bite indicators with my furry version, who I’m sure would let me know if anything was going on out there. I had just lost a carp on my insert waggler rig, after the hook pulled when it woke up and went on a searing run. But apart from that bite out of the blue, nothing else had turned up for me. Even Ralph got bored in the end and wandered over to watch Pete, who at one time had both rods almost jumping off their rests, thanks to his feeding shoal of korma-loving roach. This helicopter bolt rig thing was a real eye-opener. As I watched my orange float tip sitting motionless out in the icy green water, I started to think about ways of using less heavy and smaller blockends, so they would tie in better with my lighter feeder rods. My rig format could be better too.

BIG INTRUDER



While my concentration was miles away from where it should have been, I suddenly noticed my float had disappeared. I gently lifted my rod to find something big and ponderous attached. At first I thought it was a bream, but suddenly it woke up and, like the previous lost fish, went on an unstoppable run right across the lake. I was down to my backing line by the time I managed to stop the unseen force and luckily nobody was fishing over the other side. Slowly, I got most of the line back on my reel only for the fish, which had turned into a big carp, to go running off to my left. It somehow went over both of Pete’s lines, then under a big overhanging tree and came out the other side. I was only using a 0.10mm hook length and I still can’t believe how I managed to haul everything back, including nearly pulling both Pete’s rods into the water! I finally got the lump under my rod tip and was just thinking of reaching for my landing net when my tiny hook pinged out.

TWEAKING IT



I had to go back and try this helicopter method again, only this time doing it my way and, hopefully, a lot better than the previous attempt. Remembering what Pete had said, I simplified the rig right down. This time it was going to be a short hook length attached to a small swivel bead, sandwiched between a couple of line stops, set a few inches above a small 20g Kamasan Black Cap Feeder. The hook length was formed from stiff fluorocarbon, around 6 inches long, tied to a strong size 16 eyed hook. I know some anglers use even shorter hook lengths with this method, but after a few test casts, I found nothing tangled if I set the hook bait dangling just below the feeder. For main line I was again using fluorocarbon, because I like the way this gear sinks so much faster than normal mono or braid, plus it has minimal stretch and shows up bites well. Another good reason for a slightly longer hook length was due to me using a quivertip and medium-action 12ft feeder rod.

SUCCESS AT LAST



I kept fresh loadings of maggots going into my swim every 10 minutes but didn’t have any indications for two hours. Everything appeared to be working okay, with no tangles. I even tried dropping the rig down the edge and it looked spot on, with my hook bait lying right next to the feeder. Just as I was thinking this new set up wasn’t going to work, my quivertip started bouncing around, so I gently lifted the rod into whatever was hanging on. With such a short, unforgiving hook length, I went very easy playing the fish in, feeling every nod transmitted through my quivertip rod. I eventually netted a good roach. Suddenly the swim was alive and several more roach followed, all over half a pound, plus a couple twice that size. Thick line and a heavy-duty hook were magically bringing quality fish that had been ignoring baits presented on proper light tackle, with the fish almost hanging themselves. Just goes to show that bait presentation is key to winter success.

THE PIT STOP



I love fishing small carp lakes in winter, but not for the main species, instead targeting the silver fish. Roach in particular thrive in such places and rarely get caught, simply because nobody fishes fine enough for them. This gives me the chance to try different things and at the same time enjoy bite-filled sessions, a refuelling exercise if you like, much needed after it had been such hard graft elsewhere. The somewhat misleadingly titled Carp Lake at Woodies actually holds an amazing span of different species, allowing all sorts of methods to be tried. I fancied a go with a whip for a change. I originally set up 5 metres to hand, but with extra rainwater running in, I had to shorten down my light rig and then add pole sections to get decent presentation in the shallow water. I enjoy fishing with a flick tip, because it’s super-fast on the strike, transmitting every movement from hooked fish. It took a while to get things going, regularly loose feeding a few maggots every put in.

WHIP FRENZY



Suddenly the fish arrived and then it was a bite a chuck. I had to spread the micro shot out on my light rig because the roach were taking on the drop, or just as a single maggot settled on the bottom. A size 20 hook and 0.08mm trace did the business, with lots of 2-4oz fish to begin with, but as I built the swim up bigger samples moved in. The water was quite clear, so the quality red fins were a bit spooky. In the end I found by resting the swim for a minute and double-feeding it, before laying the tackle in again, bigger fish resulted. I caught close to double figures during a frantic couple of hours. For such a heavily-fished place, it was amazing to see how pristine all the roach were. I don’t think any of them had been caught before. A great finish to a tough month, but it had been fascinating learning about the new helicopter method, which I am continuing to fine-tune. I will tell you more about this during February, as I have discovered some very interesting things along the way.

The post Dave Coster’s Fishing Diary first appeared on FishingMagic Magazine.

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John Bailey

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Readers, I'm sure that, like me, you have one or two questions you'd like to put to Dave. If so, please fire away.

My question is relatively humdrum. Dave, why do you think the Helicopter Rig is so successful, in my experience consistently bettering results with other forms of leger? Is it purely the self-hooking capacity that increases efficiency, and of course the use of multiple rods?

As I've said in another thread, having access to the mind of a genius like DC, and not making use of it would be bonkers indeed!!
 

john step

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I wonder if the self hooking properties catch fish that would have otherwise sampled an anglers bait and quickly ejected it without getting hooked.
What I am stumbling to say is, are these hookups the fish missed on quick missed bites that one gets?
Normally do we only catch the mug fish on normal light gear a lot of the time?
 
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Dave Coster

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All good questions, John & John. Since trying helicopter rigs recently, I have become so involved with the idea, that a short answer is impossible. Instead, I have turned the subject into a full feature for next week, discovering it’s not necessarily just a multiple rod technique, while also exploring the self-hooking aspect. Watch this space!

Best Regards, Dave
 
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Dave Coster

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CHALLENGING TIMES

I’ve always enjoyed using a good degree of finesse in my fishing, so I’m not a massive fan of the method, and other similar techniques that involve waiting for the rod tip to pull round. However, I don’t like sitting like a garden gnome not catching anything, so if my hand is forced, I will adapt to rigs that give me a better chance of avoiding a dry net. That happened recently when extremely cold weather slowed sport down to a virtual standstill on all local venues. Even my most trusted light line pole and running line winter rigs were failing to bring a response. During such lean times it’s always worth looking at what other anglers are doing, just in case they are making something happen. A top source of information in that area is my good friend Pete, a local bailiff who sees everything on the lakes he regularly patrols at Woodland Waters. As I mentioned in my January Diary feature, Pete is a big fan of helicopter rigs when the going is rock-hard, because they generally stir up some action.

LEARNING CURVE



My first couple of attempts at the helicopter method failed miserably. I had bought some off-the-shelf rigs that you simply thread on your main line before attaching a feeder and short hook length. I tried these with a couple of different types of maggot feeders. Everything appeared to be working okay, except I wasn’t getting any response. Pete meanwhile was crashing out much bigger and heavier maggot blockends, and it wasn’t taking long before he was netting some cracking roach. He often uses two light specimen rods with Optonics, but is equally happy with just one feeder rod and a stiff quivertip. With the two-rod approach he casts identical large feeders a long way out, but only a few metres apart, believing the big influx of maggots brings the area to life. I suspect he switches to the one-rod tactic when he thinks it will be tougher going. I’ve sat next door while he has used both methods, and have witnessed them working when nobody else has been getting bites.

SPECIAL INGREDIENT



Try as I might, I was still struggling, while Pete was enjoying plenty of action, whether using one rod or two. Time to look a bit more closely at what he was doing. On inspecting his red maggots they had a distinct, spicy aroma about them, plus they looked nicely pumped up. It was nothing fancy, just a cheap supermarket curry powder to mask the smell of ammonia and give the fish something more attractive. Makes sense, although he insisted sprinkling a couple of tablespoons of the flavouring over the maggots a few days before gained the best results. There must be something in this, because his doctored bait was pulling plenty of takes when nothing else was happening around the lake. Such a confidence-booster seemed like a good idea to me, as I sat watching a motionless quivertip. I’ve always been a bit 50-50 about bait additives, but then again, I have favourite groundbait recipes, so maybe enhancing maggots might work in a similar fashion.

ON THE MONEY



It both fascinates and niggles me that even supposedly wise old fish like big roach can fall for relatively crude tackle, while ignoring sensible light gear. This is basically what happens when heli rigs come into their own. Pete was using a ridiculously short and thick two-inch trace, and a meat hook, in comparison to what I would normally select for big red fins, yet they were hanging themselves. The more I have witnessed and thought about this, the more I realise it’s not the way you present your hook bait, it’s where you park it. It doesn’t seem to matter if a couple of maggots are attached to gear strong enough to land a tank, providing the hook bait is right on top of the feeder, amongst the free grub it’s releasing. It’s method feeder logic all over again. The fish falling for a heli set up are not stupid; it’s just a clever trap. They are used to raiding all sorts of feeder designs for free grub and normally getting away with it, only in this instance they were being properly mugged!

SERIOUS GEAR



This big Black Cap Feeder, with a heavy side lead strapped to it, wouldn’t look out of place on a fast-flowing river for targeting big chub and barbel, only here it was being used on a lake! The same lake where I use crazy light gear trying to fool a similar stamp of fish to those being so easily hoodwinked on this particular occasion. Not many anglers use big blockends on this venue. Most rely on sensibly-sized groundbait, method or pellet designs, but all of these were being ignored. A fat pig of a feeder wasn’t, piling in heaps of curried grubs! Fishing never ceases to amaze me. Other anglers dotted around the water were catching nothing with their sensible feeding, and refined pole, waggler or feeder rigs. They were all watching bemused as the guy who normally collects their day-ticket money, was now grabbing all their fish too! I was just as shell-shocked as they were. I needed to have a good think about this method, but with a view to doing it in a slightly more refined way.

BEASTLY EASTERLIES



My first task getting this helicopter lark sorted was to have a good search through my tackle room, rooting out some favourite old Black Cap blockends, along with anything else that might suit the job in hand. I found some fluorocarbon, more ready-made heli rigs, and some of the new line stops that provide better grip. By this time there was snow and ice, requiring a few days for local lakes to thaw out. My first attempts at heli rigs had appeared to operate okay, but had looked a tad clumsy. I had also noticed that some of the blockend feeders I’d tried didn’t empty maggots out very quickly; one design in particular took ages to do this. I experimented with a bowl of water and found Black Caps release bait much faster than most feeders, also being easier to operate due to their soft filler caps. I also noticed you can hardly see even quite thick diameter fluorocarbon when it’s submerged in a bowl of water, plus its stiff nature is well known to help prevent short hook lengths from tangling.

WORKING OUT



Suitably armed with curry-flavoured maggots, a good supply of blockend feeders and some new rig bits to try out, I eventually arrived on the bank again as a thaw set in. Not ideal conditions to fish lakes, when melted snow water was running into them, so this was going to be a real test for the new method I was trying to get to grips with. Pete had told me that if heli rigs were going to work, you normally got some interest after 30 to 40 minutes, when the swim has been topped up regularly. That seemed like a lot of maggots going in, at a time when the fish would be feeding less keenly than normal. I decided to use a fairly small Black Cap, also quite a light one. Anglers I had spoken to reckoned 30g feeders were about right for a bolt rig effect, combined with short hook lengths. Pete tended to go even heavier, but I wasn’t using a beefed-up rod, so a lighter 20g loading seemed okay. Also, to compensate for my toned-down approach, I tied on a longer six-inch hook length.

NUMBERS GAME



While I sat waiting for some response, I wondered how many maggots were going through my feeder each cast. Surely a few hundred? As nothing was happening, I decided to find out. With the smallest Black Cap blockend I could get 60 maggots in it loosely, or 70 if I crammed them inside. Not nearly as many as I had thought. With the next size feeder in the range, the amount increased to 80 if it was filled lightly, or 90 if the grubs were forced in. Interesting, but even more so when I started experimenting to see how quickly the maggots came out. Lightly filling a feeder resulted in everything coming out within a few seconds, also losing some bait on the cast and as the tackle descended in such deep water. Stuffing extra maggots in slowed the exit rate, meaning just about everything got to where it was intended to go, taking at least a minute for the contents to exit. With some feeder types bait didn’t come out for much longer. Black Caps were definitely best.

RIGGING RIGHT



My early heli rig attempts were too fussy and components kept moving. The first problem was standard line stops slipped too easily, with everything ending up dangling above the feeder after just a few casts. Having a couple of stops next to each other helped gain better grip, but then I remembered the new extra grip stops made from firmer TPR rubber, which brands like Matrix and Guru do. You need just one of these above the rotating hook length and two below it. What you thread on in between is important too. I initially tried beads and clever gizmos that incorporated tail rubbers, but it was making my heli rigs over-complicated. Always keep things simple if you don’t want constant tangles! I found a small swivel bead to be the answer, but the important bit was the swivel needed to have a diamond eye, which helps to push the short hook length away on the cast. Finally, hook length material must be stiff. A thick diameter fluorocarbon was the answer.

TWEAKING IT



The only other thing I needed to do with my newly simplified heli rig (apart from catch some fish with it!) was experiment with hook positions. If I had my hook bait dangling right next to the feeder on the cast, it would often wrap back around the main line. I didn’t like the idea of having an extra short hook length set above the feeder, which seemed more like sea fishing to me. I wanted to use a medium-action feeder rod, not a broomstick. In the end I found a six-inch hook length was perfect, providing I set the rotating swivel bead a couple of inches above the feeder, leaving the hook bait dangling a couple of inches below it. No tangles whatsoever, plus by having a slightly longer trace, combined with a forgiving rod, the chances of hook pulls would be greatly reduced. Suddenly my quivertip came alive, rattling rather than pulling round. No strike was required, I simply lifted into the fish, a nice roach on a carp hook and short piece of rope! Very strange by my standards!

OLD TRICKS



Something else I forgot to mention about my rig was the hook pattern. With a short, unforgiving, strong trace, I didn’t like the idea of a spade end design. I thought there would be a danger of a sharp spade cutting through the line, so I picked an eyed model. I also rate these for my tench fishing, finding I lose less fish when they dive into weed and the angle of the hook changes. Thinking about old tricks like that, I remembered the way I used to do well using floating maggots when fishing blockend feeders for far bank river chub. I had an escape-proof bait box with me and a handy bottle of Coke. For those who don’t know, if you want super-fast floating maggots, pour some fizzy drink over a neat handful. It only takes a few minutes to get buoyant grubs, which counterbalance the weight of the hook and act like a mini pop-up. I tried this and my quivertip came to life again. Yet another juddering take, where I suspected the fish had hooked itself. I was getting somewhere.

ALIEN TERRITORY



On a day when I managed to fine-tune a helicopter rig to the point where my swim came alive, I was of course happy to have added another string to my armoury. I looked around the lake and nothing was happening anywhere else. There was a cold Easterly wind, and some anglers were even packing up early. I felt a bit embarrassed really. I could literally sit on my hands and not miss the bites. This gave me mixed feelings, remembering those fantastic days on the same water when I had carefully nurtured swims to life, ending up catching some clonking big roach. Those Summer and Autumn evenings when the larger red fins moved up close to the surface, charging through my loose feed, even swirling on the surface. Light waggler or pole gear, set shallow, provided some special moments. Here I was now, cranking in similar-sized roach, hoping that their constant thumping against a feeder wouldn’t dislodge the hook. Not quite the same magical feeling I’m afraid.

The post Helicopter Rigs first appeared on FishingMagic Magazine.

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peterjg

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Dave Coster, spot on article, thanks. I've been using the mini helirig for a few years now for lake roach, admittedly it took me ages to get it sorted. I have also used the rig on canals. In April when the water warms up a bit wheat works well with the mini helirig, the wheat stops the tiddlers from pulling on the maggots and tench are also caught. Thanks again.
 
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Dave Coster

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ICE AGE

Rivers were flooded and stillwaters frozen, wonderful! But as always, my angling pal Dave Eastwood was as keen as ever, even though he had just noisily smashed a big hole in the iced-up lake. I thought we must both be bonkers, but amazingly there were also a couple of carpers and a pike angler on the water. The speccy guys used a rowing boat and oars to smash their way through, while we had a sledgehammer head attached to a short chain and long rope. This brought back memories of a match I fished many moons ago on the Oxford Canal, under similar wintry conditions. The ice had been thicker that day, and we had all worked up a sweat breaking out swims, which took ages. When the event started, some daft boater opened a nearby lock. To our horror we all sat watching as the ice holes shifted several metres down the cut, stopping exactly halfway between each competitor. It took a long time to sort that mess out! Hopefully, things would be less complicated this time.

BASIC APPROACH



After all the commotion I wasn’t expecting anything to happen quickly, deciding to keep things as simple as possible. I had set up just one full depth pole rig, cupping loose groundbait and a few casters into ten feet of water. This gently, gently approach has worked for me many times when the going was expected to be tough. The plan then was to dink in tiny amounts of casters over the top, at around eight metres, which was at the bottom of the nearside shelf. If things went okay, I would occasionally top up with more loose groundbait, which gives a nice fish-attracting cloud effect. I was surprised when my 0.75g float sailed under first put in. It was one of those strange ghost bites that happen a lot in cold water. Still a good sign that there were some fish about. It only took a few minutes more and I was catching small roach, on a single red maggot to begin with. Nothing was happening in Dave’s swim, but he had put in hard balls of feed. I told him to try clouding it.

SURPRISE ACTION



As sometimes happens in the depths of winter, after you get over the initial apprehension while scraping the frost off your car, and some feeling returns to your hands, it is possible to enjoy good fishing under adverse weather conditions. This was turning into one of those better sessions. The fish were responding, so I started feeding cloudy groundbait more regularly, to try and keep them stirred up, along with a constant trickle of casters. I began to catch chunkier roach on single shells, finding maggots were pulling smaller fish and causing missed bites. The pike angler to my right caught a jack down the margins, but the carp guys (who had by this time cleared the ice from nearly a third of the lake!) were not getting any response. Dave was catching too now, after switching to loose groundbait. He was using the uniquely-named Teddy Fisher gear, which is made in Stoke-on-Trent. It’s a nice product, especially at this time of the year, not having any fishmeal content.

NICE RESULT



Resisting the temptation to go into a more attacking mode, my careful feeding built the swim up to almost a bite every put in. I enjoyed the odd elastic-stretcher on my light pole rig, with odd roach to 10oz, but mainly what we call “stamp fish” in match angling jargon (3-6oz weight builders). The cold snap had killed my worms, otherwise I would have tried chopping a few into my groundbait mix by the halfway stage of the session. Instead, I had fed a few red pinkies, along with experimenting with a couple on my hook. A hand-sized skimmer resulted, but then smaller roach and a tiny rudd persuaded me to go back on caster. A one-pound bonus skimmer turned out to be my best fish. For the rest of the session I stuck it out with single shells, staying busy to the end. I reckoned I had close to double figures. Dave caught well the last couple of hours too, bumping one big fish on worm, which he suspected was a decent perch. With all the action I didn’t feel the cold at all.

NO SURRENDER



The big freeze just went on and on, but I had to get out on the bank. I sent a text to my mate Pete the bailiff, and he told me he was running some extra water into the small Carp Lake at Woodies, to try and thaw it out. We met up the next day and the ice had cleared. Pete attacked a small island with a hybrid feeder, targeting the bigger skimmers and carp population. I fished into the open water, looking for the numerous silvers this shallow place holds. I hadn’t fished bread for ages, so I had gone armed with a few slices and some punch crumb, thinking this might be a good way of finding fish in the extreme cold. It turned out to be a good move. I got bites straight from the off, catching loads of hand-sized skimmers and some half-decent roach. Meanwhile, Pete enjoyed plenty of action, cranking in the odd surprised skimmer, also connecting with some lively carp. Having a well-sheltered, ice-free lake like this was a godsend in the bitingly cold arctic winds.

BACK TO BREAD



Although I was catching on punched bread, it took me a while to get properly in the swing of this way of fishing, which has become an art form for many match anglers. To begin with, I had problems with the white stuff getting stuck inside my treasured old punches, before I recalled that it helps to flatten the slices down before compressing the small pellets. Then I started getting troubled by small fish, so I upped the punch size, having to wait longer for a bite, but the next fish was a better one. The skimmers got bigger, and when I remembered the popular old trick of loose feeding some hemp over the top of my crumb groundbait, the size of the roach went up too. I tried hemp on the hook and missed a bite straight away. I had a handful of tares with me and tried one of these seeds on the hook, to my amazement catching a decent roach straight away. But the bigger skimmers were busy fizzing bubbles, so I went back on a larger punch size and caught the best one so far.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT



It had been too long since I last fished with a mixture of baits like punched bread, hemp and tares for a full session, especially in the depths of winter. I really enjoyed it, and all the memories that came flooding back. My early London canal fishing days, where punch and hemp were so important. Also, when I branched into team fishing and travelled out to the fens, where these baits worked wonders, even in winter. Normally hemp and tares are considered as warm weather baits, but they can perform miracles in the cold. I think a lot depends on the density and type of fish venues hold. This subject has always intrigued me, so I will look into it again soon. I’m convinced I caught double the amount I might have using normal fare. The skimmers and roach in the recently thawed lake quickly switched onto my new bait menu. The skimmers are fussy feeders, but were completely fooled by punched bread, while the roach were similarly tricked by the hemp and tare combo.

BRANCHING OUT



There are lots of interesting holiday complexes dotted around where I live, tucked away down country roads, where you wouldn’t normally find them unless tipped off they were there. Most have fish-filled lakes and I always enjoy exploring these places. The lake at Bainside House Coarse Fishery is such a venue. It has a long overgrown island down its middle, providing lots of feature swims, plus the River Bain running past on one side. The owner has a yacht moored up which, combined with the island feature, makes the water look more like a river than a long lake. Not knowing any hotspots, I picked a nice-looking peg where I could fish close to some overhanging cover on the island. I had been doing a lot of pole fishing this month and with no ice around, fancied a go on the waggler for a change. Apart from the usual suspects, apparently the place also holds chub and grass carp. That’s why I thought fishing against the island might be the best way to pull out a few surprises.

MICROS & CASTERS



Hemp and casters used to be a favourite combination of mine for many years, but now pellets are fed just about everywhere, I sometimes use 2mm sinking expanders instead of seeds. Self-sinking expanders swell up to around 3mm after soaking, and silver fish, particularly skimmers, love them. My plan today was to simply feed casters with a catapult across to the island, while also pinging small amounts of micro pellets down the middle of the track, over to my left. That would give me a fallback option if the far bank line was slow going, or to give it a rest occasionally. As it turned out, I could have stayed with casting an insert waggler over to the island all day, because that area was solid with fish. But it was nice having a reserve pellet line, over which I could try several different hook baits to see what might turn up there. I missed a fast bite first cast across and then caught a quick flurry of hand-sized skimmers. A quick look over the pellet feed produced nothing.

CLIPPED UP



When I first started waggler fishing many years ago it was with Mitchell Match reels, which didn’t have line clips. I seem to remember hanging quite a few floats in the trees! That rarely happens these days because I can clip up with modern fixed-spool designs, much like you would do when feeder fishing. After a careful initial cast, I anchor the line and then start releasing a turn or two, until with further casting my insert waggler is landing much closer to any features. I can then wind it in a bit if I want to drop the rig deeper down the far shelf, but also explore tighter in if the fish back off. Plumbing up my second feed line over to the left – out in open water – had revealed a similar depth to what I had at the bottom of the far side shelf. The lake shallowed up there, leading into a bay. I only use a tiny piece of tungsten putty on the hook as a depth-finder with my wagglers, which is better than heavy plummets that tend to boomerang against the float’s locking shot.

FINDING SILVERS



The skimmers kept coming on my caster feed line, even taking on the drop, which is unusual in the depths of winter. Gradually I began to realise that most of these fish were not proper skimmers but instead, I suspected, silver bream. They had much bigger than average eyes and a pinkish/orange tinge to their underside fins. They certainly looked very similar to the renowned silver bream I used to catch years ago on the venue where all the various records have been caught, Mill Farm Fishery in Sussex. These fish seemed a lot more active than normal skimmers, competing up in the water for regular loose feed. A few decent roach also butted in on the action, along with a rudd and a half-pound chub. I imagined there might be some fair-sized chub in this lake, being right next to the River Bain, which apparently produces this species and some big roach. I decided to give the far side a rest and try a 4mm pellet over my closer feed line. That brought a few proper skimmers up to 12oz.

BAGGING WATER



Although I was catching well, I decided to go for a walk to get a better idea what the lake was all about. The owner, Mick Saunders, was fishing down one end and had just latched into carp number 13 of his session, pole fishing close to a big bed of rushes. He reckoned to have well over 50lbs, while a couple of other regulars were doing well, saying the carp had only just started showing after the long cold snap. The other side of the island, to where I was fishing, was wider and more likely to be where any bigger bream might live. I noted there was an electric otter fence all around the lake, which must have cost a small fortune to instal. The River Bain that flows along the far side of the complex didn’t boast many features, having been dredged into what looked more like a flowing drain, with high grassy banks. I was told a couple of long glides had produced some 5lb-plus chub in the past, but information on this small river is sketchy, to say the least. I would have to plan another visit soon. There were not many other anglers about, so I returned to my swim.

TURNING THE CORNER



After such a long and severe winter, along with all the other problems that came with it, things were finally looking up. I wasn’t catching big fish, but plenty of reasonable silver bream, skimmers and roach, with most needing a landing net. I always enjoy busy sessions like this, especially since missing my match fishing for the past couple of months. I had a good waggler session like this on the Fossdyke Canal Winter League just before the latest lockdown, catching mainly caster roach on that occasion for a section win. The league had to be cancelled after that, when I was just getting to grips with the stretches being used. I certainly would have been happy with a catch like I amassed on this occasion, which must be around the 30lb mark. Most fish came from the island, which I fed quite heavily with casters in the end, trying to find more of the chub. But that tactic only made the silver bream feed more confidently. The closer pellet line never really happened, but was worth trying.

The post Dave Coster’s Fishing Diary – February first appeared on FishingMagic Magazine.

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john step

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A good read Dave. That Bain has been a noted chub river. Not sure lately with all the otter activity. I have seen people go to watch otters on the Bain behind Horncastel Tesco!
There are loads of silver bream in this part of the world. The Ancholme,Bain, Fosdyke Witham to name a FEW. Or a FOO as they say here.
I hope your article encourages those "stay at home when its cold anglers" to get out and enjoy life.
 

Dave Coster

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The owner at Bainside House Fishery has had to install an electric otter fence. A great shame that so many small rivers like the Bain appear to be getting hit the hardest. Easy places for the predators to hunt their prey, I suppose.

Best Regards, Dave
 
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