Although we all tend to hark back to the good old days, it is a fact that not only are rivers getting clearer, they are also suffering from more extreme flow patterns. Big floods are increasingly common, and when they aren't over their banks they resemble canals! Just recently we had the equivalent of a 1 in 400 year flood on our local rivers here on the East Coast! Extreme, but increasingly common in the last decade, as it appears you can expect a 1 in 100 year flood every year now!

Even though our fishing may become more uncomfortable, there is no doubting that, at least in the short term, our river fish are getting bigger. Chub and barbel seem to be reaching the top of their cycle on many rivers. Some are certainly peaking earlier than others, but let us just hope that these two species do not follow the same pattern as big river roach and dace, which are now just a memory for most of us. Yet, let us be thankful for what we have. There is no doubting that chub and barbel are a great target from now until the end of the season, but you will need to adopt a quite specialised approach to have consistent results.

Most fish become more nocturnal in Winter, and this is true, in the main, for chub and barbel. In cold water the reactions of coarse fish are slowed to such an extent that they become an easy target for sight predators, such as herons and otters. By staying hidden during daylight and only emerging at night the risk of being killed is greatly reduced.

Unless the weather is really mild, in which case it is normally raining anyway, I will tend to fish just the one swim for the whole of each session. This goes against the grain of Winter fishing lore, but as I will only be on the bank for a few hours, most of which will be in darkness, this is in my opinion a more effective fishing style. Nothing is likely to put you off as much as getting wet and cold, or worse still lost, whilst traipsing along a wet and wild winter river. No, get the brolly up, make yourself comfortable and start feeding the odd bit of bait. Sit it out and aim to catch a couple of fish before calling it a night and your fishing will be far more relaxed, after all, you are supposed to be enjoying it!

Once tucked up out of the worst of the weather it is well worth spending the hours up to darkness introducing a few samples of bait. I will start off by saying that the ultimate winter bait has yet to be mass produced, although I am trying my best to get someone to make me some! Until recently, I would have been happy to use small milk protein boilies in winter, but over the last couple of years I have obtained some really high quality fishmeals that do seem to improve my winter bait.

Ideally, I would like this mixture of fishmeal and milk ingredients extruded as a pellet, but instead have to settle for small boilies. These are made as small as possible. This normally means around 10mm in diameter, as I have my baits rolled for me. Ideally I would use them half this size and have recently been experimenting with small cylinder shaped baits instead of round ones. If you can't make your own baits then go for some of the better quality baits rolled by people like the Bait Company. These guys produce perfect baits that you can have complete confidence in. Most boilie mixes designed for carp will catch on rivers, but some appear to be much better than others. Mainline's Grange bait, Nutrabaits Trigga and Richworth Multiplex are all proving very successful.

Where possible, I like to keep bait going in all winter, but this doesn't stop me from also catching on new waters. With these highly nutritious baits it is important to bait up whilst not actually fishing, as you will soon fill the fish up. When actually fishing I spend the first couple of hours feeding no more than about twenty baits into the swim. If I can resist it makes good sense not to fish during this pre-dark period, to give the fish more confidence when a hook bait is introduced. Where the flow dictates I will either loose feed free-baits, or use a PVA stringer.

Why anglers don't use stringers more often on rivers I do not know, as there is no better way of getting baits exactly where you want them. Two or three baits every half an hour is about right, just to get the fish interested. When using the stringer I will cast them out and leave the unbaited line in the water. Whilst less common than in the summer, you often get the tell-tale line bites as barbel brush against the line, allowing you to increase or decrease the amount of free-offerings introduced accordingly.

So if you can get on the river during that crucial dusk period this is an approach that will catch you stacks of chub and barbel. You will even catch the odd fish during the day like this, particularly when the water is high. Even better, I find that by using good quality bait it is generally possible to extract several fish from each swim, so you can sit it out in one spot without feeling guilty. As we move towards March you will even be able to get out for a couple of hours mid-week after work before the cloak of darkness descends. With our increasingly unpredictable rivers what more could you ask?