As a stalking angler at heart, it’s hard to beat the thrill of surface fishing. Forget what some might say about it not being ‘proper’ angling; it’s usually the case that those moaning aren’t in fact ‘proper’ anglers themselves! Properly mastering the art of surface fishing is no easy feat and takes time and effort to perfect and, therefore, many find that it’s easier to knock it than admit they’re not very good at it.
Many think that surface fishing is simply a case of rigging up a spare rod with a few odds and ends during summer sessions to counter the fact nothing is happening on their static bottom bait set ups. Whilst this can be a way of catching a few extra fish, for me it’s a million miles removed from what true surface fishing is all about.
For me, surface fishing is a fast-paced but patient style of angling adopted as part of a complete roving approach. Effective surface fishing requires all of your stalking expertise and draws on every ounce of watercraft you have within you.
Again, many think that surface fishing is simply about ‘creating’ a competitive feeding environment in open water by the constant drip-feeding of freebait before the introduction of a hookbait. Whilst this can undoubtedly prove a good tactic, there is SO much more to it!
I would say 90% of my fish taken off the surface are taken within a rod length of the bank, often with a freelined bait and no controller – in the majority of cases I use my watercraft skills to locate and intercept fish very close into the bank so there is never a need to try and ‘create’ an opportunity out in open water.
The reason many fish the static open water approach is because they are just that – rooted to a swim with bivvy and tackle, and thus it’s usually just a bolt-on rod to try and gain a bonus fish. In this instance it will always be the session aspect of the fishing that will take priority, and so to be honest, although they may call it surface fishing, to me it’s just having an extra rod out that just happens to be on top.
For me, proper surface fishing means you leave all the session gear at home and just go with the basics; rod, net, mat, bait and a few tackle spares. Job done. This is adventure fishing at its finest, and because you’ve just got a few bits, its quick and easy to get out of the house when you have as little as two hours to spare!
On a normal surface fishing session I might go for a couple of hours in the evening and will probably do a dozen or more laps of the lake. But there’s a good chance I’ll bag one or two fish – and when you consider most people’s average on the water for a full on 24hr session might be one or two, then you can see that making the effort and putting everything into your surface fishing is a very worthwhile cause.
Another area where surface fishing is misunderstood by many is that they think it’s only a good method in the summer. Nothing could be further from the truth! Many years ago I set myself the challenge of catching a carp off the surface during each month of the year and, to be honest, I was amazed at just how easy it was during many of the colder months – if the carp are moving, then there’s no reason they can’t be caught off the top. I still remember one December afternoon session where a friend and I banked three off the top between us and missed two in less than an hour! The key, again, is not to think of it as an open water approach. It can be just as effective taking yourself to the fish as it can be trying to draw the fish in to you. Once you start looking for the fish, you’ll start to find them in places and areas where all you have to do is lower the bait above them and the rest, as they say, is history.
A couple of weeks ago, whilst out doing a feature on fishing maggot rigs, I found a group of fish happily congregating in the upper layers near to some snags. As I was doing a feature on maggot rigs, I stuck with them and happily banked a nice fish later in the day, but had I just been fishing normally I would have immediately introduced a few surface baits and if they were up for it, would have had the surface gear out quick as a flash.
I don’t mean it in a bad way, but the only thing that will stop you catching carp off the top throughout the year is yourself…
I noticed with interest that ‘Sir’ Pete Springate bagged another one off the top last month, taking his tally of surface caught fish in consecutive months to an astonishing 48!! Meaning he’s had one off the top every month for the last four years – and from some extremely tricky waters, to boot!
If that doesn’t prove what’s doable when it comes to surface fishing, I don’t know what will – but as I say, to get the best out of it you have to stop thinking about it as a bolt-on to your normal session angling and start thinking about it as a complete stand-alone approach.
The moment you do that, your catch rates will soar… as will your passion for the art!
Over the coming weeks the Editor has asked me to put a detailed series together covering my complete surface fishing approach, so in future parts I’ll be detailing all my tackle, tactics and tips.