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River Fishing – A guide to getting started

Are you thinking of going for a trip to the river but find yourself filled with trepidation because you have never fished running water before?  Well I want you to relax.  Let us take the mysteries out of the decision and guide you towards the best way to approach the day.

The most exciting time of the year.  A new fishing season begins.

I have been fishing for 60 years and there is still nothing that gets me more excited than going on my first river session of the season.  I labour for days beforehand getting my tackle ready. Checking line, cleaning reels, tying rigs, tying hooks, making sure my shot dispensers are full and generally polishing everything that doesn’t move and usually everything that does too.

Weeks can be spent considering where to go, often requiring an excited drive to check personally if the pegs are clear of vegetation.  Of course the real reason is just to spend some time gazing at the water hoping to see evidence of fish, but if I find the water is overgrown perhaps I will plan which tools to bring with me to facilitate the cutting out of clear access down to a favoured peg.

The weather forecast will also be scrutinised, particularly for the period immediately before my trip, just to ensure there are no high winds or thunderstorms expected.  Hand-in-hand with checking the weather I make note of the river levels information every day in the lead up, just to make sure there are no unexpected floods. Overkill you may think, but on my local River Severn there can be heavy rain in Wales that we don’t get in the Midlands and unless you check you would have no idea about it until it works its way downstream.

You can clearly now understand that I do everything I can to ensure I have a good trip.  It is no great problem to me because I find that I love the preparation and anticipation almost as much as the fishing itself. Almost.

I think at this point I need to reveal my guilty secret.  Please don’t tell anyone, but I do this preparation virtually EVERY time I go on the river.  I am so excited and look forward to it so much that I cannot stop myself.  I know my angling friends secretly think I’m loco but… I will just have to live with it.

A beautiful, deep, steady, reed fringed stretch of river. What better place could there be on a sunny summer’s day?

A beautiful, deep, steady, reed fringed stretch of river. What better place could there be on a sunny summer’s day?

Why do I love fishing the river so much?

When you were a child did you ever hang precariously over the sides of a bridge, gazing into crystal clear water, mesmerised as shoals of fish swam by? I used to spend hours hoping to see the bigger fish, perhaps a chub or even a monster roach.  Barely discernible underneath the showstoppers an experienced careful eye could also see gudgeon and stone loach hugging the bottom.

Not being afraid of getting grubby I would see if I could scrape some worms out of the ground, or catch a grasshopper or a beetle, anything that I could throw in to elicit a feeding response.  It was always the same, the small dace, roach and perch would dash in to take the first bite and the bigger fish would hang back, wary, wise, clever.

Those childhood experiences taught me a little about fish behaviour.  If that was happening in crystal clear water it was probably similar to what happened in coloured water. Now that I am older and wiser I take those lessons learnt as a child with me every time I go fishing.  I am still as mesmerised by what might be going on beneath the surface as I ever was.

Added to that there are few things more pleasant than being by the side of a river, watching the water as it flows past. Even non-anglers get pleasure from just being there.  I can spend hours doing no more than this, enchanted by a chance glimpse of fish swimming by, watching happily as birds fly over and dreaming of the chance to do what is, for me, the most pleasant thing of all, trotting a stick float to try and actually catch myself one of those denizens of the deep.

River fishing

Added to that there are few things more pleasant than being by the side of a river, watching the water as it flows past.

Ready for your first trip fishing on the river?

Environment Agency License.

If you are a newcomer to fishing a river then the first thing you need to do is ensure that your paperwork is in order. I am going to assume that you already have experience of fishing commercial waters and that you have your Environment Agency Licence, which is a prerequisite even if you want to catch fish out of your own garden pond.  Without an EA license you simply cannot fish inland water anywhere in the UK, even if you own it.

Paying for your day.

The next thing you need to do is to arrange for permission to fish the venue you select.  Unlike commercial fisheries where you can just rock up and pay the man, most rivers need a little more pre-planning.  Virtually every fishable stretch of river in the UK is managed by an organisation of some sort, but there is rarely a man waiting at the gate to take your money.

The simplest way to gain access to river fishing is to fish a day ticket water, many so called ‘town waters’ are run this way.  Very often the water in and around a town is managed by the local council and they will sell day tickets. Some stretches are even free to fish. Don’t dismiss this idea because many ‘town stretches’ are great places to fish and can be very convenient.  Beware, though, because day tickets must occasionally be purchased in advance and it will be essential that you do so before you start fishing.  Happily, on many venues the ticket can be purchased on the bank where an angler can pay when the bailiff comes along.

Angling Association waters.

If you really want to get away from the crowds you may feel that you prefer to avoid town waters. Most stretches of river are managed by angling associations, both big and small.  In my own area the Birmingham Angling Association, one of the biggest angling associations in the country, manages large stretches of many rivers in and around the Midlands, particularly the Severn and the Warwickshire Avon.  The BAA does not sell day tickets, so to fish their waters you must purchase yearly membership.  Conversely the smaller associations in the area, such as Stratford AA and  Royal Leamington AA do provide stretches of the Avon that are fishable on day tickets which can be purchased bankside, on the day.

You will need to check out your own area to establish what waters are available and who manages them.  Your local tackle shop should put you straight and there is a tremendous amount of information available online.  A visit to the website of any angling association will reveal what waters are available, how to pay, and usually it will provide you with a map of the water.  The information normally outlines directions, parking places and access down to the water, as well as a suggestion on what species can be expected and what bait & methods work best.

Make sure you get all the information you need nice and early before the day, that way you can plan your attack, getting the right tackle and bait ready and it will only add to the pleasure of your trip.

This is a photograph taken of an old fishing guide to waters. It is typical of the information that they provide. Although this particular handbook is no longer printed, all the information is still valid and can now be found online.

This is a photograph taken of an old fishing guide to waters. It is typical of the information that they provide. Although this particular handbook is no longer printed, all the information is still valid and can now be found online.

River levels: check before you go.

Before you go fishing on a river always check the river levels.  This is not so important in the middle of summer but many rivers will carry far more water in autumn and winter.  You may live near a tidal river, so a knowledge of the tide tables for your area will be important.

This is a copy of a screenshot that I made earlier this year as I was planning a trip to Stourport on Severn.  Bewdley is the monitoring station immediately upstream from Stourport and can be used to accurately show the state of the river.  As can be seen the graph shows the past five days and this one shows a forecast for the next twenty-four hours.

Before you go fishing on a river always check the river levels.  This is not so important in the middle of summer but many rivers will carry far more water in Autumn and Winter. 

Before you go fishing on a river always check the river levels.  This is not so important in the middle of summer but many rivers will carry far more water in Autumn and Winter. 

Not all stations will give a prediction so knowing where it is raining, how heavy it is going to rain and whether this will affect your own section of river is something that you will need to take into account.  The lowest readings shown here for Wednesday and Thursday are approximately the expected average Winter Level.

As can be seen on this graph the forecast is for it to peak at two metres higher a week later.  For my type of fishing this is too much flood water and I did not attend.  I personally don’t have the skillset to cope with an extra six feet of water, but there are those intrepid anglers who relish trying for barbel and chub under such conditions.

Flowing water: fishing rivers is a different kind of challenge.

There will be many anglers out there who have never seriously fished a natural venue. This might particularly apply to the younger generations, perhaps, who have grown up with commercial fisheries which are a ready-made and wonderful opportunity to catch lots of fish right on their doorsteps. The world has changed from the days when kids like me used to leave home at the crack of dawn, play in the fields all day and return home tired and hungry.

These days, if dad does take the kids fishing, it will invariably be on commercial water.  They are safe, controlled and stuffed with fish, so why wouldn’t you?  Not so many children grow up into the kind of teenager who will naturally want to fish wild rivers, pools and canals.

Bluebell Lakes - River Nene

River fishing: the main differences.

Commercial fisheries bring their own challenges and it certainly takes a great deal of skill to regularly catch more fish than those around you, but they are different to rivers in so many ways.  Commercial fisheries are run by an owner/manager who wants you to have a good day, so you always know there are lots of fish in there.  You also generally know the depth of water to be expected and you know that a standard pole rig, usually the length of a top-two, will generally sort it out.

There will be a decent car park that won’t break your car’s suspension and access down to the water will be a straightforward trolley push, or you may even be able to park right behind your peg. When you get to that chosen peg it will not be overgrown, and there will invariably be a solid level platform to set your seat-box on. Happily there will also often be toilets on site, and in some cases a nice café and tackle shop.  A river is usually none of those things, with the biggest difference of all being that a water will flow.

Different day, different river.

A river can be different every time you go.  The depth changes with rainfall, as does the strength of the flow.  Huge rafts of weed or bits of tree will come floating by in evidence of events taking place far upstream.  Some pegs are precarious, fully testing the mud feet and adjustable legs on your box; no flat level platforms here.  You may have to resort to a little cutting back of vegetation just to gain access.  There will be other users such as boaters, kayakers, paddle-boarders, and even swimmers who feel, quite correctly, that they have just as much right to be there as you do.

The cattle drink. A matter of respect.

There are many pegs known as ‘the cattle drink’ because that is exactly what happens there.  If you are afraid of cattle and are unused to rural ways you may want to avoid these pegs.  Set your stall out here and you need to be aware that you may be surrounded by bovines that will not take no for an answer.  If they want to drink they will enter the water despite your presence. They may even be curious about you and come over for a look at what you are doing.

You need to respect these other river users at all times, adapt to the conditions on the day, and once you are in the right ‘headspace’ set about the real challenge that faces you.  ‘How do I catch a fish?’

The cows that make Cheshire cheese famous, but beware if you are fishing when they need a drink!

If they want to drink they will enter the water despite your presence.

Catch expectations when fishing rivers: set a realistic target.

If you are familiar with commercial venues you will often approach a day’s fishing with the mindset of ‘how much will I catch today?’  On a river you might be better off thinking ‘will I catch today?’  The first challenge when river fishing is to catch your first fish and the second challenge is to catch your next.

Consequently we anglers must adjust our expectations when fishing a river.  It is a red letter day to catch 20lbs of fish in a day and it is far more usual to catch only five pounds of fish, or even less.  I have won contests with just five pounds of fish.

An exceptional day on a river.  A very mixed bag of small fish weighing around ten pounds.  Not every day is like this, which makes it all the more special when it happens.

River fishing is not all about the weight.

The overall weight of the fish you catch on a river is not the point.  It takes more skill, more guile and requires greater understanding of our art to catch a few roach on a river by trotting a stick float than it does to catch 100lbs of carp from a commercial venue.  I realise that is a big statement, and it is only my opinion, but, having done both I can only reflect upon how I feel.

The rewards of catching five pounds of roach and the level of satisfaction that you too might feel are hopefully the reason you are reading this article.  The whole experience of fishing a river, working out how to feed, where to run your float, how deep to fish, how fast to let your float run down, when to hold back hard and when to let go, is the pinnacle of coarse fishing for me.  But don’t just take my word for it, there are many top flight anglers who have declared, many in written articles, their preference for catching a few river roach over anything else.

Fishing a river: hot summer days.

Although I am beside myself with excitement and anticipation for the start of the season, the truth is that the river rarely gives up its best for the first few weeks.  Just like on commercials, the fish in rivers will go on a feeding spree in summer.  Actually hooking those fish is far more difficult on flowing water.

In a dry summer the water runs low and often gin clear, and although it is glorious to fish in the intense heat with Mother Nature at her most verdant, those two conditions rarely deliver any red-letter days.  The fish will spot end tackle from a distance, devouring the free offerings, but can be tremendously difficult to get onto your hook.  In still waters the feeding fish will stir up the bottom and provide a cloud that masks end tackle. This doesn’t happen in rivers.

Like thousands of other anglers I still fish the river in summer, and I still thoroughly enjoy myself, but I know that bites really do have to be worked for… but then that’s just part of the fun!

River fishing

In a dry summer the water runs low and often gin clear, and although it is glorious to fish in the intense heat with Mother Nature at her most verdant, those two conditions rarely deliver any red-letter days. 

Fishing rivers in autumn and winter.

For the best float fishing experiences you will find that autumn and winter can be far more productive.  If you go on a day shortly after a period of rain, when the water level is dropping and the muddy colour that the rain has washed into the river is just beginning to diminish, the conditions for float fishing can be perfect. We anglers call this ‘fining down’ which refers to the clarity returning to the water.  An overcast day helps because of the lower light levels.  When the fish are able to see the bait, but there is still sufficient colour in the water to disguise an angler’s tackle, there is a ‘sweet spot’ when catch rates will be at their best.

Autumn and winter fishing often proves to be cold and wet, so don’t forget to wrap up warm. It might be muddy underfoot, so be extra careful negotiating the banks. Unfortunately it might also rain heavily so you need to steel yourself against these poor conditions and think positively, the rewards will come.

A Winter’s Tale.

To illustrate my point perhaps I should relate a tale about a trip I took one winter to Pershore on the River Avon.  It was quite a few years ago and a younger version of myself chose to fish the furthest peg from where the car was parked.  This meant making a very long trek downstream, carrying all my tackle on my back, down a very muddy overgrown path.  The day was freezing and I could hardly feel my fingers, so much so that setting up my two rods, one stick and one waggler, was excruciatingly painful.

I clattered my frozen fingers several times with my catapult as I sprayed maggots to the far side of the river.  That day a grown man cried, I must admit.  When my rod rings kept on freezing, so much so that I had to keep stopping every five minutes to apply glycerin to them to free them, I wondered what on earth I was doing there.  Everything was conspiring against me and I decided fairly quickly that I was probably not going to be there too long.  I was eager for an early bath.

That early bath was calling me right up until the point when my 4AAA  insert waggler disappeared positively on its tenth run down along the far bank, and it proved to be the first of 20 chub I took that session.  What a glorious day!  I didn’t have it all my own way, I couldn’t catch a chub on every single run down, it was still very challenging, but I remember that I caught almost every cast thereafter, even if it was just a bleak.  The chub made me work hard for them and I realised that, had I surrendered to the conditions, I would not have known what I was missing and never have enjoyed the rewards.

A pair of chub, part of a catch made on a cold winter’s day.  These days don’t happen as often as you might wish, but that’s what makes it so special when it does.

A pair of chub, part of a catch made on a cold winter’s day.  These days don’t happen as often as you might wish, but that’s what makes it so special when they do.

To catch lots of fish, first catch one

For a first timer fishing a river it will be highly unlikely that you will experience a day similar to my Pershore experience.  Far better if your ambition is to set out to catch just one fish, no matter what size or what species.  You will likely have years in front of you to target bigger fish and heavy bags.  Setting your expectations at a realistic level will make your day much more enjoyable, so for now forget ambitions of monsters, just learn to catch one fish.

In all likelihood the first species you will catch on a river will be a roach or a dace.  You may well have never caught a dace before so that in itself ought to be a thrill.  Other small fish you might expect to catch will be bleak, perch, gudgeon, small chub (we call them ‘chublets’) and possibly small bronze bream (skimmers), maybe even silver bream.

Using a stick float approach when fishing rivers

My suggestion to the first time river angler is to just set up one rod and learn to fish a stick float.  For many anglers this is the ultimate expression of their skills, it is what you will probably grow to love the most, so why not start as you mean to go on?

There is a great deal of satisfaction to be had in correctly setting up a stick float, ‘trotting’ it downstream, feeding a few maggots on every run and controlling your float correctly until you eventually get a bite.  The ongoing challenge of river fishing will be to repeat the whole process and catch a second, and third.

The importance of good presentation.

A stick float is attached at the top and bottom, usually with float rubbers, and it is essential to shot your float down as far as you can, using multiple small shots rather than a few heavy shots.  It is true for all fishing, and especially important when stick float fishing, that the more float sticking above the surface the more effort will be required for a fish to pull it under.  If a fish feels resistance when it takes your bait it will spit out the bait long before you ever see the float disappear.

Use a fine mainline as this will not only allow you to cast further but your hookbait will also drop through the water more naturally.  On a river, when using a stick float, every bite will usually occur with your bait moving; your primary challenge is to make that movement as natural as possible because the more natural your hook-bait looks, the more readily the fish will take it.

Fine tackle is the order of the day when fishing rivers

To aid natural presentation the whole stick float set-up needs to be delicate.  Small hooks tied to a very fine hooklength are essential. Many top class river anglers will start their day with 1lb hooklengths tied to a 20 hook, and use a 1½ lb reel lines if the fishing is hard.  They may go down to ½ lb hooklengths and size 24 hook.  Tackle this light is unheard of on commercial waters and can prove challenging to use.  A steady smooth casting style, gentleness on the strike, and a well balanced set up will reduce tangles, breakages and frustration.

When shotting a stick float these slotted leads are perfect. 

When shotting a stick float these slotted leads are perfect.  They are easy to fit on the line and work perfectly well with the fine lines needed for stick float fishing because they slide easily without damaging the line.  I use them most frequently in size No8 and smaller.

Understanding shotting patterns.

When shotting a stick float it is better to string out multiple very small shot in ‘shirt button’ style.  You can use No8 shot as a starting point but you should then use even smaller sizes as you work your way down to just above the hook.  Multiple shot, spread evenly along the line, will help enormously in preventing tangles, especially for anglers coming to terms with river fishing for the first time.

As you gain experience you can easily push two or more shot together to form a mini bulk to get your bait down more quickly, all the while retaining the option to spread them out again as required.

Understanding the size of floats.

In deeper swims, or in faster flowing water, you will need to use a bigger float than in a steady shallow swim.  A bigger float carries more shot and more shot will resist the effects of the flow and get your hookbait down to the river bed positively and more quickly.  If you do not apply weight to your line it is quite possible that your hookbait would never actually get to the bottom of the river, potentially constantly being lifted and swirled about by the flow.

Three stick floats by different manufacturers showing the approximate weight that each float will carry.  The two upper floats clearly show how many No4 shot they carry.  Rather confusingly the Drennan float at the bottom is a No4 Big Stick and the weight it carries is shown as the number of BB shot required.

Three stick floats by different manufacturers showing the approximate weight that each float will carry. 

The two upper floats clearly show how many No4 shot they carry.  Rather confusingly the Drennan float at the bottom is a No4 Big Stick and the weight it carries is shown as the number of BB shot required.

Selecting the correct size of float for your swim.

As a ‘rule of thumb’ you will require a float that takes one No 4 shot per foot of water.  Thus, if your chosen swim is six foot deep you should select a 6×4 float as your starting point.  The first number is the approximate amount of shot required and the second number is the size of those shot.

Bossing the swim.

Be aware that if the flow is powerful you will possibly need to select an even bigger float to counter that extra flow.  I would recommend that if you have doubts ALWAYS go for the bigger float.  A bigger float is more stable, less capricious in the flow, and allows an angler to ‘boss’ the swim.  The term ‘bossing’ the swim simply means you feel you are in charge, and not being dictated to by the conditions.

Stick floats: using the correct number and size of shot.

Even though a float might be a 6×4 size, do not be tempted to actually use six number four shot as your shotting pattern.  This will lead to many more tangles.  The numbers written on a float are just a guide to the size of the float.  Most stick floats have the amount of No 4 they require indicated on the side, but this does not mean you have to actually use No 4 shot.

Far from it.  As stated earlier, because the rule of thumb is to use one No4 per foot of depth, it has become convention to use No4 as the indication for the size of float, but it is NOT the rule as to what shot you should actually apply. Some manufacturers will size stick floats, particularly the larger sizes, by the number of BB shot they carry.  Waggler floats are more often sized by the number of AAA they carry.

These days I prefer to use the slotted types of shot in the smaller sizes rather than round split shot.  I find them softer, easier to put on the line, and I am less likely to drop them.  The earliest of this type here are the styls, then came stylers, then slot shot and finally central shot.  They are all basically the same and do exactly the same job.  I use these almost exclusively for shotting pole floats too so they are extremely versatile for me.

These days I prefer to use the slotted types of shot in the smaller sizes rather than round split shot. 

These days I prefer to use the slotted types of shot in the smaller sizes rather than round split shot. 

It is a good general rule to try to use nothing bigger than No8 shot.  A No8 shot is less than half the weight of a No4.  So, taking our 6×4 float as an example, you would be better off if you actually shot it first with approximately twelve No 8 shot and then add as many No 10 or even No 12 shot as needed to dot it right down.

The aim is to get the float down so that only a ‘pimple’ is still showing above the surface. Tapering your shot from biggest to smallest as you work your way down towards the hook is the standard accepted format.  Remember, if conditions require, you can always push several shot together to create a mini-bulk during your session.

Plumbing the depth on a river: easier than you might think.

Top flight anglers will spend a great deal of time plumbing their swims.  They will be looking for changes in depth, clear runs, snags, and will want a very detailed understanding of the topography of the area they are fishing.  This in-depth preparation gives them a great insight into what lies in front of them and can ensure they make the most of their opportunities. They don’t call them top flight anglers for nothing.

Exactly the same float is being used here but because multiple small shot are applied to the line the angler has the opportunity to vary the way the bait is being presented to the fish.  By holding back hard the example on the left will allow the bait to ‘waft’ up off the bottom in a tempting manner.  The right hand example keeps the hookbait pinned nearer the bed of the river and gets down more quickly.

When shotting a stick float it is better to string out multiple very small shot in ‘shirt button’ style. 

If you are a newcomer to rivers I believe that you do not particularly need to worry about setting the exact depth, or even applying the exact number of shot, right from the start.  By all means check the depth immediately in front of you to get an approximate idea, but then you can complete the picture sufficiently by other means.

You can get a reasonable idea of the correct depth as you run your float down the swim.   See how it performs, and if it goes under take off a little depth.  If it goes down smoothly add a few inches until it begins to drag under.  Similarly, once you are happy with the depth you can easily add or subtract shot to fine tune your presentation until you are happy.

Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Often a river has varying depth, not only from one bank to the other but also along its length.  This means that in your chosen swim you can go from shallow into a deeper part, or vice versa, as you go downstream.  Starting off by fishing at full depth is a good approach as many fish will be caught by letting the hookbait trip along the river bed.

You can also fish overdepth, dragging line along the bottom to slow the float down.  Just as with stillwater fishing the fish may well rise up off the bottom trying to intercept the bait.  Consequently you should experiment by shallowing up as you can catch fish at all depths, not just on the bottom.

It is also perfectly acceptable to ‘overshot’ your float so that it sinks, and for you to then hold the float back, making it travel more slowly than the flow of the river, causing the float to rise up so that it emerges from under the surface.  Sometimes this very balanced control of a float is required and can be deadly because it causes your hookbait to rise and fall too, tempting a fish into taking.

There are odd times when the fish will pull anything under no matter how you shot your float and no matter how fast you let it go downstream.  Every day will be different.  Your challenge is to find out what approach works best.  It will take thousands of casts, in many swims, over several years, before you can call yourself an expert with a stick float, and then you will probably be mistaken to do so!

One of the pitfalls of constantly casting and retrieving a stick float is line twist.  Your hookbait spins like a propeller as you wind in, and you can end up with a spinning tangle on the end of your line.  These Snap Swivels (below) are the antidote.  Tie one of these onto the end of your mainline then attach your hooklength by putting the loop over the hook on the swivel.

Treat the swivel as if it were your bottom shot (the micro size is the equivalent to a No10).  I only ever use these two sizes (micro and mini) and I find they completely negate any line twist.  Several other manufacturers make them too such as Cralusso and Preston, and I find they all work really well.

One of the pitfalls of constantly casting and retrieving a stick float is line twist. These swivels solve the problem.

One of the pitfalls of constantly casting and retrieving a stick float is line twist. These swivels solve the problem.

Choosing a rod to fish a river

Ultimately, you would hope to own and use a very light, super-slim, 13’ tip action rod designed for light float work, but if you are migrating over to the river from years of fishing commercials then just use your longest pellet waggler.  It might ‘bump off’ some of the smallest river fish but it will suffice.  You don’t want to be spending money on tackle for a one-off trip until you are sure it is a style of fishing that suits you.

Reel choice for river fishing

You will also need a smallish reel, though once again, press one of your existing reels into action.  A size 2500 will be ideal though you can get away with a 4000 size and above if you absolutely have to.  The issue will always be the overall weight of the tackle in your hand.  Unlike many other forms of coarse fishing, stick float work requires the rod to be held virtually constantly.  You can manage for a while but you will need to rest a while when your arm becomes as big as Popeye’s.

My own matching pair of Drennan 13’ Acolyte Ultra Compact rods are fitted with matching Abu Premier 704 Closed Face reels.  I very much prefer closed face reels for fishing rivers and these are very lightweight. This rod and reel combination can be fished with all day long.

My own matching pair of Drennan 13’ Acolyte Ultra Compact rods, both fitted with matching Abu Premier 704 Closed Face reels.

My own matching pair of Drennan 13’ Acolyte Ultra Compact rods, both fitted with matching Abu Premier 704 Closed Face reels.

Line choice for river fishing

One thing you will have to consider is using some fine new reel line.  My suggestion is that you put at least 75 m of 3lb breaking strain line on to a reel.  This is thin enough to give a decent presentation without being so thin as to keep breaking.  This is especially important if you are using a pellet waggler rod as it will not have the cushioning of a purpose built light float rod.

You can get away with 4lb breaking strain line or possibly up to 6lb breaking strain, but as you progress up to thicker lines your chances of catching will be reduced.  Thicker lines severely change the way your rig performs, the way it runs through your rod rings and how it peels off your spool.

The ultimate ‘dream’ set up would be to use 1lb mainline with a ½lb hook length but these two are so fine and fragile that they are all but impossible for most anglers.  Remember, every time you increase the size of your hook, or the diameter of your line, you are affecting the potential to catch.

A selection of river floats on winders. Having rigs ready prepared on winders is something that works for rivers just as it does on commercial waters.

A selection of river floats on winders. Having rigs ready prepared on winders is something that works for rivers just as it does on commercial waters.

FAQs

Can I use a keepnet on the river?

Yes.  I don’t know of a coarse river where any such restrictions apply.  Indeed, for many anglers, the delight in being able to see, and photograph, your catch at the end of the day is a very big part of the pleasure.  Ensure your net is well anchored, especially in a strong flow, otherwise it can be carried away, and always ensure it is fully extended to allow the fish sufficient room to manoeuvre.

It is good practice to wash your nets when you return home as this will reduce the possibility of transporting any diseases from one water to another.  Particularly important if you partake in matches on a commercial venue after you have used your net on a river. It is also a good idea to dry your landing net and keepnet in the sunshine as this also kills any harmful bacteria which may be present on the nets.

It is my first time on a river, what bait should I take, and how much?

I think the main bait to take as a newcomer to river fishing is maggots.  Locally I think bronze maggots work best but you will need to talk to your local tackle dealer about your own particular waters.

As the aim of your first ever river session is to catch fish, any fish, you will find maggots are by far the best for this.  I would personally take half a pint of maggots for every hour that I am planning to fish. This will be enough for your first gentle approach and give you a starting point. On some days you may run short of bait, and on others you will take bait home with you.

Experienced match anglers have been known to use a gallon of maggots in a five hour match when chub are the target.  Hopefully there will be plenty of opportunity during future fishing sessions where you might elect to try this approach.  As you gain experience you will also want to move on to other baits such as casters and hemp, and even bigger baits such as pellets, bread and meat.

How much will my Environment Licence cost?

There are various licences available, it’s best to read our article on fishing licences.

What is the approximate cost of a day ticket?

The price of a day ticket can vary but will rarely be more than £10.  In my own local area the day ticket to fish Leamington waters is just £3.50.  There are very often concessionary licences for juniors and those over 65 years old.

What size hooks should I use on a river and can I use a barbed pattern?

Barbed hooks are permitted on most rivers.  There may be some authorities which do not allow barbed hooks so anglers must always check if there are any such rules in place.

As a general rule the hooks used on rivers will be smaller than those used on commercial water.  This is not only because the average size of fish caught in rivers is smaller but also because a more delicate presentation is required.  Of course there are exceptions when bigger fish might be targeted on a river, but it is not unusual for an angler to start off with a size 20 hook and go down to a 22 or even a 24 size hook if the day is hard.

I have a hook wallet with multiple packets of hooks ranging from 24s up to 16s.  I have another hook wallet that I don’t use unless I am targeting barbel or chub and it contains sizes 14 up to 10 all tied to stronger nylon. I always use a micro-barbed hook on rivers and I am convinced that I land more fish as a consequence.  Dace in particular can easily slip a barbless hook.

My own favourite hook patterns for river fishing.  I often buy my hooks ready tied like this but equally many more of my hooks are tied by me at home in order to get the pattern I want combined with the line I want.

My own favourite hook patterns for river fishing.  I often buy my hooks ready tied like this but equally many more of my hooks are tied by me at home in order to get the pattern I want combined with the line I want.

Conclusion.

There is little doubt that many anglers are returning to fishing rivers after a long period when they were out of fashion.  Hopefully if you have never fished a river before you will have read this article and it will have inspired you to give it a go.  If you are one of the potentially returning anglers I hope my story has stirred old memories and that you are inspired to dust off your old float rods, put some new line on that old Mitchell Match reel, and get out this June for a glorious day trying to catch that first fish of the season, and then another, and then another…

Chris Smith
Written by Chris Smith
With over sixty years of angling experience under his belt, Chris got hooked on fishing by catching perch and roach from his local Fens Pools. Having fished his first match at the age of eight, Chris was a keen club angler for 30 years and captain of Severnside Match Group. Now retired, Chris enjoys his fishing more than ever and loves being able to pass on his knowledge to other anglers.

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