One of angling’s big questions – do you stick or do you move?

This great pike fell to John Bailey and David Lambert, only after they had moved for the 10th time i

This great pike fell to John Bailey and David Lambert, only after they had moved for the 10th time in the day. - Credit: Archant

As an angling guide, there are some questions that I'm asked almost each and every trip out, especially now chub and pike are so firmly on the winter radar. But it's with stillwater fly fishing that I want to begin.

Many years ago, when I first started out with the fly rod, I fished a three-acre commercial trout water and loved it. There was one character, called The Fishmonger, who always monopolised one spot, generally the best, where he fished metronomically all the day through. He rarely left without a polythene bag groaning to the weight of slaughtered rainbow trout.

My mentor in those times told me this was completely the wrong approach. This particular day, he led me to a small hill overlooking the water and told me to sit down and simply watch and contemplate. We considered where the wind was coming from and whether the sun would break through the clouds. He advised me to think where the deep water was and where there were banks of weed. He told me to think about the impact of the inflowing stream and he commented that the swallows and swifts were feeding on a fly hatch on one particular part of the lake. He explained to me how fishing is a test of your imagination and your empathy with the natural world. He stressed that you will always get the game wrong, but the big focus is to be in it in the first place. The Fishmonger, though successful, he dismissed as a nobody, blind to everything the lake was telling him.

I've tried to take these words with me throughout my angling life, but it's particularly hard now we are in the throes of our winter piking. If sport is deadly slow, does this mean you are on fish which are not feeding or, rather, are there no fish in your area? Perhaps you reel in your dead baits to move along the bank at the very moment when their scent has aroused a couple of big fish into predatory action. All the while your dead baits have been giving out that delicious scent and to move now might be undoing all that good work.

Alternatively, you move half a mile along the bank or you row a quarter of a mile across the broad and suddenly you are into fish. But perhaps, again, the pike have just started feeding. After all, pike are notorious for this. They're off one minute and then someone flicks a switch and the pike come on all across the water. To be truthful, when I have been successful, there are many times when I have not a clue as to why.

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It's much like chub fishing. There's a belief that if a chub is in the swim, then it will probably take a bait within the first 10 seconds or, at most, 10 minutes. This is often true, but equally often it's false. Sometimes you can pick up chub here and there every time you move swim, but on other occasions you really have to sit it out, waiting especially for a big one, to make up its very fastidious, fickle-mind.

I do have a bit of an answer here. Personally, I like to bait one or two swims periodically throughout the session knowing I can come back to them at dusk. The rest of the time, I'll tend to keep on the move, covering as much water and as many fish as possible. That's something of a compromise I am happy to live with.

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In the end, whether to stick or move is never going to be simply explained. In part, it's about how much time you've got. It's also about what particular fish you are after. Sometimes a massive fish demands you sit it out. I think it's also a question of your nature.

For what it's worth, I'm a roamer. I was like that as a kid and it would seem I'll be like that for ever more. I guess my results have not suffered.

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