Forget the weather: angling’s a winter sport too!

It’s that time of the year again. Winters bite has now firmly arrived and most, if not all of our rivers and lakes are bank high. Water and air temperatures have plummeted of late making conditions not only for the fish but also for the angler that wishes to catch them somewhat uncomfortable.    At this time of the year many anglers place their equipment in a dry shed and wait for the sun to shine before cleaning it off in readiness for the coming summer. The lads and lasses who do this don’t know what they are missing as winter sport can be very good, providing fishermen follow basic rules and know where to look for the intended quarry.    Most of my winter sessions are between three and four hours duration. Thermal clothing these days can be purchased at a moderate price and even on the coldest of days keeps you very comfortable and warm.    My father was a great advocate of winter angling and had the philosophy that the best time to fish was between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm. My experience has proved to me his theory was more or less true. Exceptional conditions will on occasions bring fish to the net in the last hour of fading light but in general I prefer to fish in winter when the light is at its best.    Fish are like most living creatures and when conditions deteriorate they will move from that habitat to one which offers more shelter and comfort. On rivers look for areas that form slack water where the fish don’t have to work so hard in flows that are not normally there. Inside bends on rivers and streams form naturally slacker areas and are always good fish holding spots.    Look for areas that are not turbulent and boiling. Areas below slip ways are also worth looking at and of course entrances to marinas and the marinas themselves. If you decide to fish one of the many new marinas that have been developed of late it is only courteous to seek permission prior to fishing. Also make sure when you leave to tidy up around you and take away empty grounbait bags, etc.    It never ceases to amaze me how an angler can take to a water, a heavy bag of bait, use its contents and then leave the empty bag behind. It makes sense, if you wish to return, respect the property of others.   Bigger lakes and loughs at this time of year can be a daunting proposition. As the metabolism of the fish slows down they often lay dormant having moved to deeper water which is often out of reach of anglers. Smaller lakes which stay accessible often fish better. Don’t expect instant results however. Feed swims with care introducing scant offering of loose fed maggots with small balls of fine crumb ground bait. Spicy additives also act as an attractant and a good cheap one is Tumeric powder. Don’t over do it as a tea spoon full per pint of maggots is plenty.    As for pike angling, we are approaching the time of year when this also can become very difficult. I deter visiting pike anglers from visiting in February and March. February sees the female fish filling up with spawn and if the weather is good spawning takes place sometime in March.    Set aside the fact that this species has other things on their minds other than chasing a bait, it is the time of the year when they are at their most vulnerable from the point of view of being handled.    Many regard pike as being the hardiest of fish but nothing is further from the truth. Rough handling when they are in the best condition often causes mortalities. If the fish are in spawn or exhausted from the spawning process they easily ‘belly up’ and die. If you do catch pike at this time of the year, handle them lightly and return them to the water as quickly as possible.    Recently the thorny issues of the River Suck rod license reared its head again. Anglers visiting the water are being asked by the local fisheries officer if the have purchased one. Almost without exception, visiting anglers are totally unaware that they are supposed to have one as all adverts in UK angling magazines for Ireland make a point of saying Irish coarse fishing is free of charge. The license covers the Suck and surrounding lakes.    Currently if you equate the price of it, euro to sterling, the annual license is dearer than the national UK license which entitles its purchaser to fish anywhere he wishes to do so in England.    In my humble opinion this makes the license to fish the River Suck pretty poor value for money. The monthly and weekly licenses are also priced in relation to the yearly ticket and there is little wonder anglers flatly refuse to buy one.    Having said all that I think it is now time to introduce a national rod license for Southern Ireland. In the past I have always been against its introduction but providing the revenue its inception brings in is used for the furtherance and upkeep of our rivers and lakes then I am all for it providing the cost is not set at some ridiculously high figure.    If it is brought in I would also like to see published annually a balance sheet of how much money the license fee has raised and more to the point where the money has been spent.    No-one I know would argue about buying one providing there cash was being well spent and getting good value for it. Fisheries boards have to a degree a valid point that because they are cash strapped some necessary maintenance cannot be carried out. There could be no excuse if extra cash was put in their coffers by the introduction of a national ticket.