Our guest blogger this month is angling author Dominic Garnett, who gives some timely seasonal advice on fishing the fantastic River Wye for two of its most obliging winter species: chub and pike.
Watching people carry rods down to the river through frozen fields or muddy puddles in January, you might easily think Spike Milligan was right when he described fishing as “complete and utter madness”. But what a cold winter morning might lack in comfort, it can more than make up for in the catch. Granted, you might have to be keen and well prepared, but this time of year can produce some exceptional fishing.
So other than extra layers and a flask of tea, what are the essentials of winter fishing on the Wye? Perhaps my other big recommendations would be a measure of determination and strong tackle; this is the time of year you might get only a couple of bites, but the result might be the best fish of the season. So which species are our best targets?
Pike: For predator anglers, the coldest Wye days are to be savoured as much as endured. There are some phenomenal specimen fish in virtually every stretch of the lower Wye too; you won’t find scores of them, but you will find terrific individual fish. Any areas of cover, snags and slack water are ideal. Generally I would try and avoid a high, coloured river if possible- although sheltered areas can still produce, but fishing can be tough.
My other recommendation would be the toughest tackle you have. Pike are not line shy here, but they are large, powerful and love snaggy areas that can be a graveyard for tackle! Don’t even think about using line or braid of less than 20lb breaking strain and a wire trace, along with a large landing net (if it can’t handle a metre long fish it’s too small!). Traditional legered baits can work well - my recommendation would be something big and stinky, like a whole small herring or sardine. But even more fun in clearer water is to bring large lures or a heavy fly fishing set up.
Chub: If there was one species you had to bank on catching any day of the year, the chub would come very near the top of the list. There might be several feet of muddy water or snow on the bank, but this beautiful, big-mouthed fish will still often fancy a bite to eat.
In simple terms chub fishing on the Wye can be excellent at any time of the season. Typical shoal fish run from two to four pounds and will fight as hard as any you’ll find in the UK! A specimen chub on the Wye is always possible however, which could be the finest looking six-pounder you’ve ever laid eyes on.
Advice for these fish would be to step up your gear from the usual quiver tip. You might also catch barbel, so a minimum 10lb main line is a good idea. Heavy leads and swim feeders of 2-3oz are also important due to the size and power of the Wye. Open water swims can also produce to float fished baits like maggots, but the mainstay of winter fishing is with heavy legering gear targeting snags and slacks. Worms and bread are a great old school baits for winter, although a smelly lump of paste or potently flavoured boilies can be capital if the water is high or coloured. Last but not least however, if you’re lucky enough to hit a clear, falling river, small lures or streamer style flies can be excellent fun.
Wye Winter Fishing Tips & further Info:
Wye fish grow bigger and fight harder than on many other rivers. Nor are they especially line shy. Check your knots and tackle up with strong gear to avoid losing the big one!
There is so much water to explore on the river, so why confine your efforts to just one spot? Try roving between swims and if you’re not catching, move every hour or so.
Be very careful around freezing or flooded water. A long handled landing net is a must to net fish without risking a dangerous slip.
If you’re new to the River Wye, or indeed new to fishing, it’s well worth booking a guide. For a modest outlay you’ll learn more in a few hours from an experienced head than you would in a whole season on your own!
For local guides as well as a range of fishing on the River Wye, see the Wye and Usk Foundation website (www.wyeuskfoundation.org) or give them a call on 01874 712 074. Besides letting anglers book some beautiful sections of river for fishing (and some very near the hotel!), this organisation carry out vital conservation work. Look out for their annual booklet, which has lots of useful information and updates!
For guided trips on the Wye near Hereford, plus more of Dominic’s words, photography and a regular fishing blog, visit www.dgfishing.co.uk