Find them, dob them,chase them!

Commercial fisheries have fast become my go-to winter venues, especially the likes of those that have a large head of F1s. We all like to get plenty of bites when it’s cold and with these types of venues that is exactly what you can expect. Not only are the venues good for a few bites throughout the tough months of winter, most of them will hold winter leagues. This I feel is also very important when choosing a venue to focus on during the winter. Those that hold annual winter leagues will always have a good regular attendance on any match day as anglers want to practise.

Tunnel Barn Farm hosts four different winter leagues and has been my personal venue of choice over the past few winters. Although Tunnel Barn ticks all of the boxes for a good winter match venue, it can be far from easy to win a match here.

Let me explain… although full of fish, the water temperature will have dropped dramatically and the colour drops out, leaving the lakes gin clear. The fish often don’t want to feed, don’t move very much and spook very easily. Of course it’s been written a thousand times that fishing light lines and smaller hooks is essential in winter, but other subtle little changes can make a huge difference. I feel that there are two key styles of fishing that almost exclusively have led to me becoming more consistent.

As most of you will know, ‘dobbing’ involves a single hook bait, whether that be bread, maggots, pellets or even corn skins, with no loose feed at all. For a long time dobbing in winter was often only used to flick around tight to features such as islands or marginal reeds etc; don’t get me wrong, at Tunnel Barn this is still a fantastic tactic. Find a feature with three to four feet of depth around it and it will almost certainly hold fish in the winter months, and dobbing a rig six inches to a foot off the deck will work. However, what if the only features in your peg are too shallow for the fish to feel comfortable or you simply have no features, only open water.

Dobbing in open, generally deeper water can be psychologically difficult as you can often feel that you will struggle to drop on any fish or that your hook bait is a ‘drop in the ocean’ and will never be found by any fish. Finding the fish is absolutely key to this style of fishing. If you can locate a ball of fish, dobbing is often a very quick and efficient way of building a weight.

The Fish Finder Rig
I usually set up three different rigs for dobbing, which all consist of the same 0.2g Maver MVR Finesse 3 float and 0.14mm main line to a Dual Core 4-7 elastic, the only difference being the length of the rig and the shotting pattern.

The rig I began fishing with is what I like to call my ‘fish finder’. This rig is usually my deepest of the three rigs, set only around two inches shallower than the full depth of my peg. I bulk my shot on this rig directly above my hooklength. The reason for this is that it creates an anchor point at the bottom of the rig. By doing this, anything that touches my line between the bulk and the float will give me an indication, so when dragged around my peg (essentially looking for liners) I can quickly locate the fishes’ whereabouts.

Be very careful not to strike at the liners, but bear in mind that you will get proper bites on this rig too! Either way, you will have found a pocket of fish. What you don’t want to do in any match though, is spook fish and push them away from you, so be very mindful as to how far you fish, particularly in the early parts of the match. For instance, today I have found fish to the extreme left at 11 to 13 metres and the extreme right of my peg at the same distance, but very little directly in front of me.

The fish to my left can easily push away out of reach because of the vast amount of open water provided by the corner; however, I would have more chance of the fish to my right not straying too far in a match due to an angler on my right. The fish this side could spook in either direction and could even end up swimming past me to the other ball. The fish on my left are unlikely to spook to my right as this would mean them swimming across the same path that I’m shipping the hooked fished back. With this in mind I have decided to dob to my right first, ticking over and catching odd fish here for as long as possible before disturbing the fish to my left, getting better longevity from my peg.

I may catch myself a fish or two on the first rig, but often a different presentation is required to catch more consistently. After I have found a few fish, all I need to do is find at what depth these fish are sitting at. This is where my two other rigs come into action. These are almost identical to each other, except one is longer than the other for fishing deeper water. I shot these rigs very differently to the first rig, with most of the shot in a bulk now directly under the float. I then have No11 shot spread down the line for every foot of depth; ie, if I fish the rig at three feet I will spread three No11s down the line. This creates a slow, natural fall that the fish can watch descend through the water.

What it also does is make reading exactly how deep I need to present my bait much easier. Receiving indications as the rig is still falling, missing a lot of indications or foul hooking fish usually means you are fishing too deep. It’s then a simple case of shallowing your depth until you begin to hook fish cleanly and stop missing indications. It is often surprising just how shallow fish will sit on a freezing cold day, so despite what your instincts might be telling you, just keep shallowing up! Hook bait choice is a matter of confidence but for me, a 7mm punch of bread is my go-to starting point on a 16. I always feel that if anything, bread has a tendency to pick out a slightly better stamp of fish. Maggot is also good for dobbing, particularly if you have a peg full of small F1s.

The Chase
Chasing fish in the winter (particualy F1s) is absolutely paramount! These fish know when they are being fished for and are very, very easily pushed away. I have touched on this a little in the dobbing section, but it becomes even more apparent when you are fishing full depth and feeding for bites. A very popular tactic on any snake lake is to tap in maggots from a Toss pot. This is often great to build a line and can become more and more prolific as the day goes on. However, when it becomes really cold the fish can still want to feed but become very shy to any quantity of bait. This is when you will have to go on the chase for them.

Because you’re not trying to build one line to catch numbers of fish but instead nick odd fish from several areas of your peg, we need to be feeding something that will attract fish to the area but not feed them. This is where groundbait comes into it – more specifically Dynamite Milled Expander Black! It is a low feed yet attractive groundbait, but even when mixed reasonably wet and squeezed hard, still breaks up fast!

Feeding little 8 to 10mm punched nuggets usually creates an instant response from the fish without them backing off from being overfed. Once you begin to catch a few fish it is inevitable they will drift off due to the water being clear and you will need to relocate them. However, the joys of not feeding any quantity of solid food is that when the fish do drift away, they don’t seem to go far and you can start fishing another line nearby. If you had fed maggots or even pellets the likelihood is that the fish will back away much further and you can soon chase them out of your peg and out of reach. Just one nugget might catch several fish.

As mentioned before, spooking fish is inevitable when fishing in clear water. It’s about managing and almost second guessing where the fish will push to, to create a longer lasting peg. End pegs like the one we are on today are great. They almost always hold a good head of fish but you can very easily push the fish to the angler opposite you. If I can catch enough fish in the first hour or so on a shorter pole to keep me in the race, then I would always do this for as long as possible before pushing long.

If you happen to draw in the middle of a snake lake then the likelihood is that most fish will sit between yourself and the next anglers both left and right, rather than directly in front of you. Again, it’s all about managing the situation. Chasing the fish will keep you in the match but don’t push them out of reach too early, or even worse into another angler’s peg, otherwise you risk leaving yourself biteless mid-match.

It is more often than not the last 45 minutes of a match when the fish will feed most confidently and drop their guard, so if you need to push out to the extremes of your peg to keep bites coming and chase the fish, it is best to do so leading up to the final hour. This usually prevents the fish completely leaving your peg and missing this best period. Depth is also a key thing to consider, as we have already learnt with dobbing. The fish are not always in the deepest water in the winter.

Feeding will pull fish down to a degree, but to catch consistently you need to concentrate on the depths where the fish feel most comfortable. Today I have found and caught fish while dobbing at three and a half feet over five feet of water, so I have made this 3.5ft depth my starting point when looking to plumb lines to feed and chase the fish around. I caught on this rig instantly, but as the day has gone on I have found the fish have dropped down into deeper water, finishing my day in the deepest area of my peg, which is quite typical at Tunnel Barn.

Because this chasing style of fishing is so negative in terms of feed, it also magnifies the importance to fine down your end tackle. I find spread tapered shotting patterns on light 0.2g floats, 0.10mm or 0.08mm hooklengths and size 20 (or even size 22 fine hooks) are best.
This is all necessary due to the fact that quite often the best hook bait is a single maggot and the fish you are trying to catch are moving very slowly and not heavily competing.

Today’s Session
Today has been difficult, especially with only two other anglers on the lake to pen the fish in, but it has gone exactly to plan and we have seen very typical behaviour of the fish at Tunnel Barn during the winter. I limited the use of fishing long lengths of pole in the early parts of the session, catching enough fish by dobbing a 7mm piece of bread at 11 metres down the track. Once I had searched through the area and stopped receiving indications, I simply shipped out my deepest fish finder rig a little further and this put me straight back in touch with the fish.
It became apparent very early on in the session that most fish today on the dobbing rig would be caught at three to three and a half feet, which comes as no surprise as it’s a key depth at many commercials across the country.

Before I pushed all of the fish out of my peg, I plumbed up to find areas I could start to fish with my groundbait method to chase the fish around. I caught fish from several lines starting at three and a half feet towards an island in front of me and eventually in the deepest area of my peg, 16 metres to my left in open water. I look at this winter snake lake style of fishing like a game of chess; you’re always considering your opponent’s next move and always trying to stay one step ahead. In this case however, your opponent is the fish!