John Bailey: Time to plan your return

John Bailey with a grayling.

John Bailey with a grayling. - Credit: Archant

Are we there now? Is there spring really in the air? Has the freeze of the last part of January actually let us free? Can we boldly go back to the waterside? With fingers crossed, with bated breath – if you'll pardon the pun. Let's say yes.

After all, February is immediately around the corner, the nights are visibly drawing out and it will soon be snowdrop time. If we do get more tough weather then the chances are it will be fleeting, so I'm taking the sunny view that the worst of our trials and tribulations are over.

The stillwaters are only just breaking up from their ice mantle, so let's look at the rivers first. They're not going to be easy, even though the air temperatures are way up on what they have been. Don't forget, a lot of the water in our rivers now is actual snow melt and that inevitably forces temperatures down dramatically. You've also got to think of the noxious element of the run-off as well. A lot of what the council has been piling on our roads these weeks past is going to end up in those favourite swims of ours. Further, it's hard to know the potential damage the cold weather has wreaked. What will be the predation situation I'm wondering? And have our fish moved, perhaps into deeper, slower water? Now is the time to find out.

A lot of us just want bites after a period of enforced lay-off and if that's the case, if you know of any dace swims, that's where I'd head. Next to grayling, dace must be our most obliging river fish, happy to have a go in nearly all water conditions. They respond best to trotted baits and now the air temperature has warmed up, you can do without the gloves and fish a bit more actively than simply watching a quiver tip. You can try whatever bait you like for dace, but maggots are seldom beaten.

We tend to think of chub, too, making a mouth for a bait during any water conditions you care to name, but that's not always the case.

Chub can certainly be on the friendly side, but the chances are you are going to have to work for them for at least a couple of weeks before warm air temperatures really begin to translate into warmer water. It's at times like this that I really favour a maggot attack.

Chub will take big baits admittedly, but what they can't resist is a steady stream of maggots. Once again, you're trotting and all you have to do is up the hook size and strength of your line a bit. I'm quite happy on a size 16 and three or four-pound bottom for pretty well all chub at this time of the year. Remember to keep your tackle balanced though because any chub will really power for that bankside marginal weed raft.

Most Read

Roach are just that little bit more reluctant to start feeding with gay abandon.

I guess if you are going to pick up roach in the next few days, it's probably going to be best to look for them either early or, more particularly, late on in the day. Roach, like all fish species, can surprise you and I've picked them up in bright sunshine in bone-grindingly cold February conditions, but give me a milder day with the light going out of it and I'm a lot happier.

Let's not even think of barbel yet. We've just got to keep our fingers firmly crossed for a very mild February and we might begin to see them poking their barbels at us again come March. This, of course, is a time for real monsters if the weather is kind. We'll come to this possibility, though, in a few weeks, perhaps when we see what the weather has got in store for us.

I'm expecting the lakes to completely thaw out within the next 48 hours or so and if they do we could really be on for a pike bonanza.

Of course, pike feed under the ice, but I can't count the number of times that real success has come my way after a big thaw. Prey fish are more active, the grebes are diving again, making up for lost time, and the whole predatorial cycle begins to kick in. Once again, given the fact that spawning time is not far ahead, look out for some very heavy fish over the coming few weeks. Of course, a big female, full of eggs, poses an extra burden of responsibility upon us. We've got to treat these large females with massive amounts of responsibility. Keep weighing and photography to an absolute minimum and get those fish back fast.

Hand in hand with the pike, I'm expecting the perch to do very well over the next few days, too. I'll never be persuaded that there is a better way of catching stripeys than ground baiting heavily with maggots and fishing a big lobworm in amongst. If I'm on a stillwater, I'll let the lobworm fall through the water column pretty well without any extra weight. That wavering, twitching worm falling through clear water often entices big fish out from underneath tree cover especially. Make sure, though, your bite indication is right up to scratch because nobody wants a deep-hooked perch.

We're massively premature to be talking about carp in anything like numbers, but let's not forget that if February does go on to be warm, they can really respond well. I can think of mild Februarys in the past that have given tremendous carp action. If that's the case, for me, the added bonus is that the tench could be expected to start feeding properly in the first few days of March.

Amazing, isn't it, that one minute we're digging our cars out of our driveways and the next we're thinking about tench fishing?

That's the beauty of our East Anglian climate I guess. Our fishing life changes wildly almost week to week. That's also the beauty, I think, of being a multi-species fisherman. If you're a jack of all trades type of angler, then there is always something new to be looking forward to.

Blimey, talking about tench, it isn't going to be long before the trout stream open up and the mayfly begin to appear. Happy days are here again.