It is now two months since I started fishing Alton Water, and I thought it was time for an update. In this section, I will look at depths, rigs, feeding and hook-baits. I also want to consider the tow, the resident zebra mussels, and finally the effect the cold winter winds have on the fishing.
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So, let’s start with the depths. Fishing a vast water of this size can be daunting, even for the most experienced angler. Added to this you have to consider the immense depths in front of you. As a side note, a good mindset when tackling huge venues similar to Alton is to consider only the area directly in front of you. Treat your swim the same as you would do on any other water, because if you don’t, you’ll become confused very quickly. So, below you will see I have prepared a map of what you are likely to find in most swims in the Dam wall area.
It is worth noting that my illustration is only a benchmark, although having plumbed several swims on both banks, I have found this to be reasonably accurate. Once you go beyond Birchwood, the depths change dramatically. To the north of Lemons Hill Bridge, you are looking at average depths of 14 – 16 feet, whereas to the south you’ll find maximum depths of 22 feet right up as far as Birchwood. As a result, habitually, most of the fish migrate in the winter months towards the deep, warmer waters nearer the Dam.
You will see from my depth guide that I have indicated where you are likely to find the Roach, Tench, Bream and Carp. That said, fish do what they want, and I have no doubts you could see Carp in 3 feet of water. Similarly, you’ll possibly snare a Tench in the deep water. The only time you will see the big shoals of bream in the shallows will be during spawning. For those of you who like fish with Teeth, the pike are everywhere, but mostly seem to hang around on the edge of the drop-offs. I might add that the depths in the numerous bays vary enormously.
I have indicated the weedy areas, which can be dense in the summer months and must be considered when setting up. In the shallow margins, even now, the middle of November, there is still a fair amount of weed. Importantly, you will see I have marked with a red X, the areas you will find most Zebra mussels. Make no mistake, if you are fishing too close to the shelves, you will cut off on the retrieve, especially if you have hooked a decent fish. Do not be put off by this though; just be mindful when tackling up. Below you will see the rig that I am now using and since switching to this, I haven’t lost any tackle or fish. Obviously, you may want to adapt this to you own design. In essence, you want a robust hook length, ideally coated braid so if it clips one of the zebra mussels it won’t cut off. Trust me, un-coated braid, mono, or fluro-carbon will cut off, even without a fish on. If you are going to use a feeder, try to avoid one that hangs and might catch on the mussels, because again this will result in a cut-off. An inline or method feeder is the best option. The same can be said for leads, where an inline should be the first choice. I have started using a heavy-duty leader around five feet in length. Something like Nash Cling-on, Avid pin-down, or Gardener lead-free leaders are ideal. Again, when playing a fish, this is unlikely to cut if you do clip the mussels.
Recommended lead-free leaders
How to splice lead free leader
Feeding is such a personal thing; even so, I would like to share with you what I have learnt so far. Baring in mind, I started fishing at the beginning of winter; there is no doubt that come the warmer months things will change. Over the last few weeks, I’ve varied the amount I have fed at the start and during my sessions. There are a few things to consider. Firstly, my target species are the huge bream and elusive carp. Secondly, and most important factor is the vast shoals of 8-12-ounce roach, that unlike many waters, feed during the night and winter. Also when feeding, another factor that you must consider is the tremendous tow you can get on a venue this size. I might add that it varies day to day and often hour to hour. Considering your target species is between 10 and 16-rod lengths out in 16-26 feet of water, you must put your bait in so it won’t drift way off your chosen area. I have found the old-fashioned way of using ground bait to get your pellets, particles, broken boilies out is the best way. Loose feeding via spoms and spods is a no-no. I mix all my ingredients into a heavy ground bait and make balls of around 2 inches in diameter. These can be fed via a Drennen ground bait catapult comfortably to 10-16 rod lengths.
It is worth noting here, that it is a good idea to spend a bit of time with your marker float finding a relatively flat area. If you start feeding on a sharp slope, your balls of ground bait will just roll away.
At the time of going to press (ha-ha) my current feeding pattern is 24 loaded balls at the start, which is normally around 9am. I then top up another 8-10 balls around 1pm, and again at 4pm. In addition, I am topping up via my feeder. I have found re-casting every hour or so works, often triggering a bite soon after. I must say here that I do go on gut feeling, and if I sense I need less or more, then I will respond accordingly. Now, I have no doubt there are a lot of people out there thinking that is a lot of grub for the winter, especially as we’ve had a few frosts already. I thought the same and tried cutting back, which resulted in barely any bites.
Here are a few of the recently stocked fish. Real quality from VS fisheries.
I guess, the important factors are the depth, where the fishing is less affected by the cold weather. In addition, you have to allow for the vast shoals of roach that will munch their way through your feed. It is worth noting here that cold winds on a big venue like this will have a dramatic effect on your catch rate. A couple of weeks ago, I was fishing a swim just to the left of a big bay. There was a North Westerly wind blowing from the bay across the right-hand side of my swim, which pushed the fish 50 plus yards to the left. It took me the whole time I was there to work it out haha. It was the following morning at first light, when a few fish rolled and the penny dropped. I guess it is part of the learning curve on waters like this. I would strongly urge you to avoid swims that take the full force of the cold North, NW, NE winds. I have no doubt, come the warm winds of spring and summer will have the reverse effect.
When considering your hook baits, it is worth remembering that this place has never been night fished until a few weeks ago, and you can count the serious carp anglers on one hand. As a result, these fish have rarely seen and boilie and respond tentatively and with suspicion. I have tried many flavours, sizes, re-shaping them, pop-ups, wafters, and every variation I can think of. So far, small sweet boilies have been the best, but have still only accounted for less than 10% of my fish. I have no doubt that, in time, the fish will start taking these baits more readily. Currently, the best baits are sweet-corn, maize, worms and maggots, although you will have to put up with the roach, perch and ruff hanging themselves. Infuriatingly, the smaller fish also manage to strip your rig without any indication, and this is using Delkims on maximum sensitivity.
I hope this helps in some way, and maybe inspires you get out during the colder months. SteveD, stansted.angling. Find me on my facebook forum. stansted.angling. ask anything and get a proper answer. No swearing, trolling, or being unnecessarily silly. We have some of the best anglers in the UK and it works for us…
here is the link for Alton membership