I tend to be quite formulaic in my approach to the SM Festival. Whilst I will play around with different aspects throughout the week, as I only fish the place once a year I tend not to deviate too much from the proven approach described in the 3 previous blogs. That said, you need to keep an eye on possible alternative approaches – over time the fish tire of certain tactics so you do need to keep an open mind. Listed below are some alternatives that we have either tried, or thought seriously of trying.
Pellets for silvers are an obvious avenue to explore, given that pellets/fish meal probably constitute 95% of their diet on a venue like Stafford Moor. Let’s start with some facts: I have seen people put good nets of fish together on pellets in the festival, and I have seen them win odd sections (eg Jim McDowell in our lodge) but I have not seen an angler win the festival fishing pellets all week.
But there are some other facts that can’t be ignored. Two years ago, the ASBO Twins (Jamie Howarth and “Shallow Al” Rutherford) started fishing pellets mid-way through the week, and seemed to get good results. On the last day, Jamie and my brother Pete were in the same section on the far side of Tanners. Pete was walking it mid-way through, so Jamie switched to fishing expanders over micros at 12 metres, alternating between two swims at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. His swims got stronger and stronger, and the skimmers bigger and bigger, until on the all-out they tied with a dead heat on 42lb.
So pellets remain a practical winning strategy. A note on rigs: although I have every confidence in the 99 rig previously described, I wouldn’t use it for pellets. Maybe it’s just been bred into me, but pellets means a light rig, fished at dead depth, with only the merest dimple of the float showing (think F1s). As ever, experiment with moving the bait. It is hard to put into words, but on a cold clear day, faced with a surface like glass, a super-sensitive rig combined with a nice light expander is very hard to beat and just feels fishy.
Given that pellets are their staple diet, why do we ever fish anything else other than pellets? The answer is that, in our experience, if commercial silvers will take maggot (or caster), they seem to switch onto it far more strongly than they do on pellet, therefore providing two huge benefits: 1) they will feed more aggressively 2) maggot is a far more robust bait to fish on the hook (than soft pellet) so the operation becomes easier.
In summary, pellets are worth considering. If someone told me I could only fish pellets all week I would feel disadvantaged, but I wouldn’t think I was completely out of it.
Worm and Caster
To distinguish from our earlier discussion on the use of these baits, here we are talking about chopped worm and caster used in combination, often mixed together in the same baitbox as a slop, and usually fed via a toss pot, with your hook bait lowered down into the feed column. Sometimes bits of corn are added, as is Predator Plus or a similar additive to enhance the red colour. I believe Ian Didcote has done well at the SM Silvermaniac festivals fishing such a mix, and obviously it is a well proven silver fish tactic.
This again could well be the basis of a festival winning method. I think you would face several challenges/questions however, these being: 1) how far out to fish it? 2) how many lines to have? 3) how to avoid too many roach? and 4) is it too fiddly and therefore slow to compete with other anglers who are feeding by hand?
For me, this approach feels most right when the conditions are a bit harder, or such as the venue is quite closely pegged, and your aim is to fish a tight tidy match, and simply keep the fish coming for the full 5 hours. On the upside, this approach is highly likely to pull in bonus perch of which there seem to be a growing number in SM. Mark M had some better perch last year, as did Dave Brittain, and these are welcome weight-builders.
In summary, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if someone told me I had to fish this way all week, but my primary concern would be about getting at the bigger skimmers. That said, those like Ian Didcote who fish it a lot have probably evolved edges to target them along with the better roach.
Smash it with Roach
Before we get too pre-occupied with avoiding roach and just targeting skimmers, how feasible is it to win a match, or a series of matches, with redfins alone?
There are two recurrent problems with building roach weights.
1) Where have they gone?! More than any other fish I have ever fished for, roach back off very quickly. More than this in fact – they are ‘all over you’ one minute and then simply invisible the next. Many, many times I have thought that my swim is so solid with roach I cannot fail to continue catching for the rest of the match. But then within minutes you start to miss the odd bite, and within 10 minutes your swim is completely barren. Although this is difficult to prevent altogether, there are ways to minimise this happening. The most important thing is to try to avoid completely fishing out one single ‘seam of fish’, and instead try to anticipate their finickyness. So after you’ve caught maybe 10 fish, shallow up a couple of inches, move a metre to the left, change your shotting, or whatever. Obviously it is a risk to change any detail when you are catching, but I have learnt that the greater risk is to keep plundering the same hole (!)
2) They’re getting smaller!! A second problem is where you continue to catch but the fish slowly get smaller. The classic solution here is to fish caster rather than maggot, and there is no doubt that if they will take caster then the stamp of fish is likely to stay larger. This introduces another long-standing dilemma – maggot or caster? As a rule of thumb, if you can get away with caster (if they will take it) then fish caster. However, if they really want the maggot, or if you are in doubt about what they want, fish maggot. Maggot is more reliable, but caster will always win if they are willing to take both. (You probably know this but even when fishing caster, 99% of the time you should have maggot on the hook for its robust qualities).
So are roach a practical festival winning tactic? Chris Haines has had some 30lb+ weights of roach during our weeks there, which was enough to pick up on some days, but again can it win a festival? Maybe, but I’m not ready to target them exclusively for the reasons outlined above.
About 5 or 6 years ago, I won the practice day match (joint first in fact) fishing the tip at 16 metres. It was incredibly windy, and chucking a 7ft wand seemed easier than battling with a long pole. The problem with tip fishing of course is that if the fish are within range, the pole has far better presentational qualities. So unless the conditions are unusual (eg high winds, fish are far out, or they want it absolutely nailed to the bottom) then by fishing the tip you are putting yourself at a disadvantage.
That said, I still fancy having a crack at the festival on the tip. The right gear is essential. There is only one rod for me – The Daves of Middlewich Bite Finder, which comes in two lengths, the shortest of which is 6ft. This is made on a Tri-Cast blank, and is designed for shy fish on slow rivers, specifically the Weaver. The finest tip is incredibly thin. For a SM Festival campaign, I would twin this with a small Drennan cage feeder which I would alternate with a bomb, every two or three casts. This has proved very effective for me on the Weaver, much more so than just chucking out every single time with the feeder. In particular, after having several biteless chucks on the feeder if you then go out with the bomb, you can suddenly get a quick run of fish. Why? Well my theory is that it replicates the ‘feed and leave’ principal we talked about in previous blogs ie. the skimmers don’t like feed crashing in on top of them, so the subtler bomb allows them to move in and graze undisturbed over the pre-fed area. Of course you have to alternate back to the feeder every few chucks to get some gear in, but believe me this tactic works. Inching through the bait also works.
I’m actually getting quite excited writing this (!), and am almost ready to publicly commit to fishing the feeder all week in February. Almost.
Proper Tip fishing
In reading the previous section, how many of you assumed I was talking about quiver-tip fishing? Well I was, and all the above certainly applies to quiver tip fishing. However, I have launched a (probably one-man, lol) campaign to bring back the swing-tip. A few years ago I got bashed up by one of the senior gentlemen regulars fishing a swing tip on the next peg on the Weaver. Complete fluke of course. Until he did it again the following week. I felt he was seeing bites I wasn’t seeing. So I dumped my Direct Mono (to be fair a very good tip line) and replaced it with braid on the quiver-tip. This was better but presents other problems (casting, and losing skimmers when they ‘nod’), and still I didn’t seem to see the bites that this chap did. So I spoke to him and got a run-down. The following week I had made my own swing tips and was ready to go. By then however, the league had finished so I had to wait another year!
Since then I have refined my technique a little, and let me state very clearly – I believe you see bites on the swingtip that you never see on the quiver-tip. By and large this doesn’t matter with carp who rip the rod out of your hands (although I have another theory that it will work for fickle biting carp even on the method, but that’s for another day). But certainly for shy biting skimmers, against a quiver tip, even one set very lightly, they can feel some resistance, but with the swing tip there is almost nothing to feel. And if you believe Archimedes (what did he know after all?) the longer the lever, the more magnified the bites should be. So if you see me on the bank fishing very long swing tips (eg 12 inches) don’t laugh. At least not until I crack off on the cast, which is of course the curse of swing-tip fishing.
Again, the waggler is most commonly considered as a tactic when the fish are beyond pole range, and particularly when there is little wind, or the wind is off your back. (I am talking here of the conventional waggler of course, rather than the PW). I wouldn’t even bother with the waggler if the wind isn’t right because although you might be able to get your rig out there, if your loose feed won’t reach the float then you are a bit knackered. I know you can fire out balls of ground-bait, but as well as being (much) harder than it looks, for me the attraction of the waggler is to get the fish zooming around hunting and competing for each bait, and balls of ground-bait won’t achieve this.
So with a good wind the waggler is an option (as is the slider, but again that is for another day). I would consider the waggler if it was cold and clear, and I felt it was going to be slow going for the first few hours. Often in these conditions the fish will be further out, and firing in a pouchful of caster every few minutes can somehow seem to ‘get them warmed up’. This probably sounds daft but I have certainly caught on the waggler early on in matches when there was ‘not much doing’ on the pole lines. And of course its primary advantage over the tip is that you can fish on the drop and/or with a moving (ie dragging through) bait. Again, fish are funny and sometimes this just seems to produce bites when nothing else will. Ask Tonkin Tommy.
So, there are definitely some viable alternatives to the core approach we outlined in blogs 1, 2 and 3. I do believe some of them can be developed into methods that will win the whole festival and not just the odd section here and there. I may even decide to try one all week and see where it gets me.
The next, and final, blog is probably the most important. It concerns how you develop yourself as an angler. See you then.