Spring is a season of change, particularly with regard to the feeding behaviors of our most common fish species. Typically, most fish will spend the winter, as well as the early part of Spring, in the deeper water of lakes and ponds (see Hot Tips for Cold Weather), as frigid nights, often coupled with bitter winds, significantly chill the surface and shallows during this time. As a consequence, intrepid bank anglers often need only cast their baits and/or lures further from shore during the cooler months in order to ensure they are presenting a bait within the vicinity of their chosen quarry. In contrast, the arrival of Spring heralds the onset of longer days and milder temperatures. Thus, during the springtime period lakes and ponds will ‘turn over’, with the surface layers and margins warming significantly during the day. This effect occurs because the day time air temperature surpasses the water temperature; while, during sunny periods, direct sunlight will also significantly augment this process. As a consequence, fish will migrate from cooler deeper water to warmer shallow water at this time; while also, because of their now increased metabolisms, will begin to feed more avidly. This is truly a great time to be at the water for bank anglers, as the fish now have increased appetites and can be found within easy casting distance of the shore! Indeed, my personal favorite time of year to fish is in May (the pre-spawn period), as most fish have entered the margins by this time and are feeding well.
Lake Volkening, situated in
Schaumburg, IL, is typical of many suburban Park District waters. The
lake has been designed principally for recreational use, including
paddle boating, so is quite shallow - the average depth being around 2
feet. A direct consequence of this limited depth is that the lake has
become home to vast numbers of small carp and bullhead – the reason
being that these are the only common species capable of surviving both
hot summers and cold winters within such an environment. Briefly, at the
height of summer shallow water will become overheated and oxygen
starved; while in the depths of winter surface ice will penetrate to
nearly the full depth of the water! Due to the prolific head of hungry
carp and bullhead, Volkening makes for a great early season bank fishing
destination and, consequently, makes a great choice for our pole v
After arriving at the lake at
around 9:00 am, we made a decision to fish from the eastern (windward)
bank directly across the lake from the parking lot and boat dock (pic. 1
-4). Even though this bank is rarely fished (most anglers tend to fish
close to the boat dock situated on the Lakes western bank), it was
chosen for our ‘battle’ for several reasons. Firstly, the fact that the
wind was blowing in to this side of the lake would enhance the cooling
of the shallow water close to shore (while the air temp was still cool),
thus favoring Pat’s long range approach early in the session.
Conversely, as the session progressed it was assumed this effect would
likely taper off, as the air temperature rose, thereby favoring Trev’s
short range pole tactics. In essence, we were hoping to witness the fish
‘commuting’ between deep and shallow water, as discussed above, as
conditions improved through the day. Secondly, we’d heard anecdotal
evidence (albeit from some time ago) that Volkening’s eastern bank was
essentially devoid of fish – an assertion we were looking forward to
In common with most good bank anglers, Trev began the session by ‘plumbing up’. Not only does this procedure allow for an accurate determination of the waters depth, but also permits for subtle underwater features, such as shelves, ridges or depressions, to be accurately located. As shown in pics. 6-9, the rig is set to the approximate depth and a dedicated plumet, or other heavy weight, attached to the hook. The rig is then lowered into the fishing area while keeping a tight line between plumet and pole tip (pic. 6). If the rig is set at greater than full depth the float will remain proud of the water when the plumet touches bottom (pic. 7) – in such a case the float should be pushed further towards the hook and the process repeated. If the rig is set too shallow (pic 8), the float will sink out of view as the plumet touches bottom – in this case the float should be pushed further away from the hook. When the float is correctly positioned to the exact depth only ~ 1” or less of the float tip should be visible (pic. 9). By testing the depth at various locations around the intended fishing area the nature of the underwater topography can quickly be established – in this way the location of likely fish holding features, such as, for example, the base of the marginal shelf, can be identified and later targeted by the angler. Trev’s ‘plumb up’ revealed no real surprises – as is typical for such manmade waters, the margins rapidly give way to a flat, featureless bottom covered by ~ 2 ft of water.
In contrast to Trev’s short range approach, Pat’s rod ‘n reel based swimfeeder method allowed for fishing to be conducted at a much greater range than the pole. The enhanced fishing distance that accompanies the use of a swimfeeder is, of course, due to the fact that the rig may be cast out using a rod and line. The rig is, in essence, very similar to a standard sinker rig, with the only real difference being that a swimfeeder is used in place of the lead (pic. 13). The swimfeeders themselves typically comprise a perforated metal or plastic tube (pic. 14), in which all manor of attractive ground bait (chum) of other fish attractors may be crammed before casting. The depth of water being fishing, as well as the time of year (water temperature), determines swimfeeder selection, with ‘cage’ models (pic. 14a) being first choice when the water is of 3 ft or less in depth (the more open design allows them to empty more quickly); while more traditional groundbait feeders (pic. 14c), which empty more slowly, are used in deeper and/or flowing water. Smaller bait capacity models are used during cool water conditions, with larger examples the preferred choice for warmer conditions. The ‘method’ feeder (pic. 14b) is something of a specialized approach and, typically, is only employed during warm water conditions when larger fish are feeding very positively – see Big River Fishing: The Swimfeeder for more details.
Due to the depth of water being fishing (~2.5 feet at 30 yards), as well as the cool water conditions (the water temp was 48 oF at the commencement of fishing), a small cage feeder was selected to start the session. The initial rig used was similar in almost all respects to the basic set up (pic. 13); although a small swivel was used in place of the stop shot in order to reduce line twist (pic. 15). Another advantage of incorporating a swivel into the rig is that hooklengths can be swapped out very quickly (they are simply tied to the swivel), a real bonus if a hook becomes blunted or the leader damaged.
The effectiveness of the swimfeeders can, in part, be traced to the method’s consistency with respect to the control of direction and distance being fished. Although a little harder to achieve than the pole, due to casting a much further distance and the increased effect of wind over such ranges, it is possible, with some practice, to land the ‘feeder rig in essentially the same location every cast. This goal can be achieved through casting to a far bank marker and ‘clipping up’ – as illustrated in pics. 16 – 19. Simply, as is further detailed below, the ‘feeder is cast, with a smooth steady push forward of the rod, in the direction of a far bank marker (pic. 16). By keeping the rod on the same vertical plane when performing an overhead cast, good directionality can easily be achieved. The real trick here is to keep the cast smooth, with everything – marker, rod and rig, all kept in a straight line. Once the feeder has touched down at the desired distance, several options are available to the angler in order to maintain a fixed casting distance through the session. Perhaps the simplest option is to mark the line, with either a permanent ink and/or a sliding knot, at the distance being fished (pic 17) – in this way the angler will always have a visual reference point with regard to maintaining a fixed casting distance. However, a far better option is to combine marking the line with the use of a line clip. To fish ‘clipped up’, simply wind one more turn of line onto the spool past the ink mark and/or sliding knot, then loop the reel line under the spool’s line clip (pic. 18). The goal on every cast is to gently ‘hit the clip’ – the result being that the rig will always travel the same fixed distance. One disadvantage of using the line clip is that if a larger fish takes too much line, the angler must unclip before the line is broken or the fish lost. If larger specimens are expected, then a safety clip is recommended (pic. 19). Simply, a robust elastic band (the type used by supermarkets to keep bunches of broccoli together works well!) is placed over the spool’s skirt after the desired casting distance has been established. In this way, the band will simply ‘pop off’ the spool if a larger fish takes line. If forced to unclip for any reason, the correct casting distance can easily be reestablished by casting out; reeling back to the ink mark / knot and then clipping once more. Since Lake Volkening is known to contain large numbers of fish that, in turn, rarely exceed 2 pounds in weight, a fixed line clip (pic. 18) made for the most appropriate choice on the day.
Having established a fixed
fishing distance and direction, the swimfeeder angler’s objective is to
then regularly cast the rig, featuring a baited hook and a loaded
‘feeder, to the chosen spot. This process will, in turn, attract fish to
area and, hopefully, illicit a competitive feeding response among them.
Indeed, if done correctly such a ‘little and often’ feeding strategy can
literally have the fish lining up, with a bite per cast being both the
ultimate goal and, often, consequence! While this strategy seems quite
straight forward, there are a number of additional details that must
also be taken into account when utilizing this technique. Specifically,
the choice and set up of the rig; the selection and mounting of hook
bait(s); the selection and preparation of groundbait (chum) used to fill
the ‘feeder; the way in which the rig is cast / fished and, finally, the
correct set up required for optimal bite detection, must all be
carefully considered. These factors are discussed in more detail below,
and are further illustrated in pics. 20-37.
Preparing a swimfeeder rig for fishing is a straightforward process (pics. 26 -29 ). First, a leader is attached to the swivel. The length of leader used depends somewhat on the style of fishing practiced, although with a self-hooking ‘bolt’ rig, such as this, it pays to keep this length of line between the ‘feeder and hook relatively short – in this case about 12” (pic 26a). A small silicon sleeve of around 3” in length is also threaded onto the leader before it is tired in to the swivel (pic. 26b ) – this boom ensures the leader does not tangle with the ‘feeder when it is cast out. The swimfeeder is locked in place by a float stop or small split shot positioned on the main line immediately above the terminal tackle (pic. 26c ) – this will cause the ‘bolt’ effect when a fish picks up the hook bait, as the fish will immediately feel the weight of the swimfeeder. The hook bait of choice, in this case a red ‘n white (‘Manchester United’) maggot combination, is then attached (pic. 26d). By mounting the maggots so that the hook point remains exposed, the ‘bolt’ effect of the rig is enhanced, as any fish taking the hook bait will also be pricked by the hook when it feels the resistance of the swimfeeder. The ‘feeder is then loaded by dragging it through the feed pellets (pic. 27); and then lightly compressing the pellets by simultaneously pinching the feeder both ends (pic.28). Once loaded in this way (pic. 29), the pellets will remain within the swimfeeder upon casting, only to ‘burst’ out soon after it touches down on the lake bed.
As illustrated above (pic. 16), the rig is cast towards a far bank marker, with the distance fished being regulated by the line clip (pics. 17 – 19). When casting a loaded swimfeeder rig (pics. 30 – 33), its imperative to not to jerk the rod on the cast, as the feed can often be dislodged - typically falling on to the angler! Thus, it’s important to select a swimfeeder that possesses enough weight to be ‘smoothly’ cast the required distance (pic. 30) – a standard 1 oz model, as used during the session, will typically cast 30+ yards with ease. As the rig nears the point of splashdown, hold the rod lightly in a vertical position and then let it ‘tug’ forward as the feeder hits the line clip (pic. 31). In this way, the rig will not ‘bounce back’ when the clip is reached, as it otherwise would if the clip were hit with a greater degree of force. As soon as the rig has touched down on the lake bed, the rod tip is briefly submerged while any slack line is taken up (pic. 32) - this process sinks the line. Bites are most easily be detected through positioning the rod at an angle ≥45o relative to casting direction, and then imparting a slight bow into the rod tip (pic. 33). Takes are typically registered as a firm steady pull around, or the tip dropping back – both indications are symptomatic of a hooked fish, either swimming away from or towards the angler, respectively. Rapid ‘jabs’ or swirling motions seen at the tip should not be struck, as they are indicative of fish in the vicinity of the rig brushing against the line (‘line bites’) or the affects of wind and/or tow. The choice of rod used is important, with a dedicated swimfeeder rod of 11ft or longer being preferred. The advantage of using a relatively long rod is that such models cast a great deal further than the shorter 6 – 9 ft rods more closely associated with boat angling. In addition, bite detection is significantly enhanced through the use of a quiver tip. Most swimfeeder rods are supplied with a selection of interchangeable quiver tip sections which, in turn, are of between one and three feet in length; possessing test curves in the 1 - 5 oz range. When fishing with a ‘tip’ rod it’s important to select a quiver tip that, when correctly set with a slight bow (pic. 33), just counteracts the effects of the waters natural tow (lakes) or flow (rivers). If too heavy a tip is selected it will present too much resistance to a taking fish; while too light a tip will be pulled out of position by the effect of flow and/or tow, making bite detection more difficult. As a general rule of thumb, a 1 oz tip is typically used when fishing lakes; a 2 oz tip is most often selected for larger and/or deeper lakes more prone to significant tow; while tips in the 3 – 5 oz range are used when fishing rivers of increasing size and/or current. For the session a 12 ½ foot swimfeeder rod with a 1 oz test curve quiver tip was used.
Pat started the session by
depositing several ‘feeder loads of ‘micros’ on the chosen line – this
procedure quickly established a chummed area that, in turn, began to
attract fish. The baited / loaded rig was then cast to the fishing area
every 10 – 15 minutes in order to ‘build’ the swim through constant
little and often feeding. Top tip: Regular, consistently accurate
casting is very important; as the goal is to introduce a small highly
attractive bed of feed within the vicinity of the hook bait. The first
cast of the session with a baited hook resulted in a (missed!) take,
with the second cast producing a bullhead (pic. 34.). Sport was quite
hectic early on, with carp quickly ‘bumping’ the bullheads from the
feeding area (pic. 35). Various baits were tried, including savory and
sweet flavored 6 mm pellets (pic. 36), although a double maggot bait
easily outscored all others on the day – this didn’t really come as a
surprise, as fish tend to preferentially target maggots and/or worm live
baits under cold water conditions. Top tip: A neat ‘feeder fisher’s
trick, which was employed many times on the day, was to reel the rig
back by ~ 1 foot a few minutes after casting if no immediate
indications were seen at the tip. This process helped both empty the
swimfeeder of its contents and pull the hook bait back into the
pile of chum just created – deadly! A steady stream of carp and
bullheads were caught in the first hour of fishing (while the water was
still cool); although fish became increasingly more difficult to catch
as the day wore on. Indeed, it was noticeable that once the water
temperature passed the 50 oF mark (at around 12:00 noon),
carp were increasingly seen ‘boshing’ on the surface at around 20 – 40
feet from shore. It was evident that the fish were feeding quite avidly
on insects being blown towards the windward bank at this time, with this
activity continuing through until the end of the session. As a
consequence, action on the feeder line tapered off, with only a few
small bullheads being caught between 1:00 and 3:00 pm.
In many ways, the results of the session epitomized early Springtime fishing. Trev’s final catch of greater than 38 pounds (pic. 47) was caught close to shore, from the windward bank, as water temperatures crept into the low 50s. In contrast, Pat’s long range swimfeeder based approach yielded reasonable numbers of fish early in the session (pic. 48), while the water was at or below 50oF. We had, in essence, witnessed the fish commuting from cool to warm water as conditions improved through the day. Indeed, both of us developed something a ‘Farmers tan’ – true testament to the sunny conditions experienced later in the day! The clear lesson learnt from the session was that fish can, and indeed will, move quickly into warmer water, and begin to feed more avidly, when its temperature reaches ~50 oF; with such affects truly noticeable when the water reaches 54oF or greater. Once fish are feeding well, they will most often locate to the windward side on and lake or pond, as the water’s motion will wash terrestrial insects and most other food items towards this bank. We certainly noticed this during the session, with carp regularly ‘boshing’ on the surface in front of us from noon onwards. Thus, the old adage of ‘when the weather is fine, fish the wind into your face’ certainly rang true.
In terms of the tactics
employed during the session, the pole and swimfeeder techniques used
are, in turn, commonly recognized as being the most efficient means of
fishing at short and long range, respectively. Why is this? Simply, each
approach, although quite different in practice, is similar with regard
to the achieving the bank angler’s most fundamental objective – being
able to consistently present a hook bait in close proximity to an
attractive offering of chum. Indeed, a fitting statement would be that
this philosophy underpins most every effective bank fishing strategy.
With regard to pole fishing, this objective is easily achieved the use
of a pole cup mounted to the tip of the pole which, in turn, allows for
pin point feeding. Consequently, the chummed area created, within which
the fish are concentrated, most often only encompasses the area the size
of a dinner plate! In many ways, the accuracy of pole cups/ pots
epitomizes the chief advantage of pole fishing – the ability to
introduce a small amount of feed into a very tight fishing area, over
which the rig is consistently placed. The swimfeeder achieves the same
desired objective, although at much greater range. By employing the
‘trick’ of reeling the rig back a foot or so a few minutes after
casting, the angler’s bait is then drawn onto a pile of chum left by the
emptied ‘feeder – job done! However, in contrast to the pole, it is not
possible to cast to exactly the same spot every time with a rod
and reel; with the result being that the feeder will introduce many
small pockets of feed over the same general area, typically (for a
proficient caster) about the size of a dinner table, rather than within
a single, much tighter, area. Thus, as a consequence, it is not as easy
to ‘concentrate’ fish with a swimfeeder in the same way it is with the
pole. The take home message here is clear – the pole will most often
beat the ‘feeder on days when the fish are within its range, as clearly
demonstrated on the day we fished (pics. 47-48).
Two weeks after this feature was put together, the JJCAC Match Group organized a competitive bank fishing event at Volkening Lake. The conditions were much more favorable for pole fishing, with the water and air temperatures, at the start of fishing, recorded at 61oF and 73oF, respectively. Consequently, each competitor fished the pole, with the fish taking all manner of baits, including maggots, corn, pellets and groundbait. Trev won the day, utilizing a similar approach to that detailed above, with close to 17 pounds of mostly carp (pic. 49).
Venue: Volkening Lake, Schaumburg, IL
Date: April 4th, 2008
Conditions: The first ‘proper’ day of Spring! Air temp began the day at 58 oF, climbing to 62 oF by mid afternoon. Water temps began at 48 oF, rising to 54 oF by mid afternoon. Winds were out of the west at 10 – 15 mph, with mostly sunny skies. Water clarity was ‘turbid’.
Anglers: Trevor Burgess and Pat Mills
Photographers: Trevor Burgess and Pat Mills
Words: Pat Mills
Big Carp Tackle
– all great places to buy dedicated bank fishing gear and bait; Bankfisher.com (of
course!), our home website, and
Schaumburg Park District.