The autumn always gives me mixed feelings with regard to my expectation of some final success before the cloak of winter shrouds the countryside with decay and depression. Yes, you can probably tell I don’t like winters. I also don’t particularly like the autumn, mainly because everything starts dying or changing.
Over the last few years you would have to be either insane or locked away in some continuously controlled environment not to notice how the UK climate has changed. I also think anglers like me, who have been around a few decades, will have noticed it more. You may ask yourself, “What’s this to do with autumn fishing?”
Firstly, you have to decide when the autumn actually starts and with changing climatic problems that is sometimes hard. To me it’s all about average yearly temperatures and secondly geographic location. The perception of the seasons to us hasn’t changed, but nature doesn’t know about annual periods, it will react on weather conditions and our ever-increasing warmer climate isn’t helping. I have, like most anglers followed weather conditions with more than a passing interest. I also have been monitoring average temperatures across the UK and trust me it’s getting warmer. I split the country at the moment into three distinct bands: north, which I class from Newcastle to Sheffield, midlands from the south of Sheffield to just below Birmingham. The land below this point is the southern region. This area has some quite large temperature variation so it has to be looked at very closely. The temperature variation for instance between Oxfordshire and Hampshire can be very marked over the autumn and winter periods. However, I have very little interest in this area mainly due to the extreme distance from my home and the subsequent geographic disadvantages it holds.
The other zones generally are more stable and have only minor temperature fluctuation between their southern and northern borders. Over a year you can have an ambient temperature fluctuation between the north and south zone of more than 4º Celsius. This means the traditional seasons don’t impact on the southern region waters like they do in the north. The longer water temperatures stay above 18º Celsius the longer fish can feed effectively and consequently grow. Now I’ll probably get slated for this statement, but it’s probably why southern waters are generally easier and more prolific. However, it’s also the reason the north has only a handful of big fish. I know one fact for sure, there isn’t many big Carp caught in the north between November and March and it’s also not for want of trying.
The start of autumn is when week on week average lake temperatures start to fall coupled with the reducing daylight hours. You will find they may stabilise for a while and the fish begin to feed heavily, but for short periods. However, this doesn’t always mean success or any bonanza periods. The secret to fishing the autumn is identifying these short periods and applying the right approach. This will vary extensively and will depend on your venues geographic location and the type of angling pressure your venue receives. You will also probably find the fish start frequenting deeper water especially if they have a good cross section of depth available to them.
I’ll always remember this happening at Three Lakes in Selby. The lake has a good average depth of between 6-8ft, but it did have a deeper area down at the road bank end near the houses. This end of the lake is now cut off, but the average depth was 12ft plus. If you were lucky enough to get your timing right this area could be your last chance of some good action before the lake died for the winter. I know the biggest fish in the lake came from this area both years I was a member and at its peak weight.
Another instance I experienced finding fish in the autumn starting to frequent deeper water was at Lyng in Norfolk. The lake depth is very variable and has small pockets of deeper water positioned all over, but for two years running they gathered in good numbers in an area to the left of the island point. This area isn’t very big, but depths of up to 12ft can be found. During both the last weekends of October for two years running I experienced some very good action, catching five thirties to 38lb and several other fish in the upper twenty brackets. After both sessions the area and lake closed down for the winter and despite further attempts no more takes were forthcoming. The window of opportunity was probably a period of less than two days. The lake temperature the timing and approach needed to be exact. A week too early they wouldn’t be there, and after, the fish just switch-off. I also believed that the fish hadn’t moved, all they had done was close down and stopped feeding, mainly because that was always the first area to produce fish early the following spring.
This passing from shallow to deeper water is just a reaction to falling lake temperatures. Warmer water will be found for a period in the deeper areas depending on the rate of cooling. It’s the Carp’s natural behaviour to seek out an environment they are comfortable with and if that is still right for feeding they will continue regardless until something changes.
Another aspect you will have to consider during your autumn campaign is how much pressure has your chosen quarry seen that year. I didn’t start to experience this problem until the close season was abolished. In fact it’s my reason for being a supporter of reintroducing a close season. I also purposely look for venues with close seasons, because they are generally better prospect for a working angler. Autumn fishing prior to the close season being abolished was definitely better. Its all about pressure and catch rates. Remember your target fish could have already been caught four times that year by the end of August. It’s hardly going to be easy to make it slip-up again, especially when its environment is changing so rapidly. The constant presence of anglers also takes its affect. Under the old system by September most lakes had only seen three month’s pressure. Our new regime, this could be seven months of intense pressure, which will ensure a big change in behaviour and environmental impact. So you will have to decide where your venue falls in this situation because your approach needs to reflect these potential problems.
My approach to bait at this time of the year does vary depending on pre-autumn angling pressure. Lakes that have seen extensive pressure do not respond well to heavy baiting with normal HNV type baits. You have to remember you are probably fishing for very wary fish that have been successfully eating large quantities of angler’s baits without getting caught. I have seen this happen on so many lakes over the past decade. Most anglers have difficulty accepting that they are being done and will start to change, thinking there is something wrong with their bait. Generally there isn’t, the problem lies with how the fish have become conditioned. They can in very extreme conditions become very selective, especially if they have been eating bait that is not fit for purpose. Cautious and stressed fish will slow everything down and will only feed when they are completely relaxed. I do advocate making some subtle changes in these circumstances, but this will largely depend on the type of bait you are using.
Carp will eat baits more readily if they are easy to digest. A simple mechanical solution to this problem can be to use them just lightly boiled ensuring the centres are still soft. If you don’t have that luxury then pre- soaking them can help. This method has two advantages in certain circumstances firstly your baits are softer than normal and secondly they give the appearance of being older than they are, but remember pre-soaking should always be done in lake water from the venue you are fishing.
To get around the problem of using soft baits for your hook bait the easy solution is to prepare some pre-meshed before soaking. The process of pre-soaking helps the mesh bite into the bait as it swells making the mesh almost impossible to see. I’m convinced that after much debate with like minded anglers that softer baits do work better during the autumn months on pressured waters.
However, it is not the best solution in my opinion. I prefer to add ingredients to my baits that will aid and support the digestion process in addition to the above method. This is only possible if you have complete control over your bait making process. A carp’s digestive system is initially almost completely controlled by temperature and it starts to be less effective at temperatures below 18º Celsius. The next most important aspect is to ensure your bait can both be digested by the enzyme trypsin and support that processes i.e. don’t include ingredients in your baits that are trypsin inhibitors. Now if you are buying a good commercially manufactured bait mix this should never be the case. However, I wouldn’t use any bait that I didn’t know the complete make-up of. Most Soya proteins (with the exception of full fat Soya flour) are tripcine inhibitor along with most basic wheat flour products. There is a difference between an inhibitor and a product that just passes through the digestive tract without hindering the main digestive process. For instance most commercial made fish feeds will have an ash content, which is a portion of the product that is just nutritionally unavailable. An inhibitor on the other hand will stop the digestive process almost like alkaline neutralises acid, making nothing available for the fish to absorb and this is obviously not good for their health. Ash or fibre content just helps the food pass through the digestive tract. It can also give bait the right texture and structure to help in the first stage of digestion, crushing and grinding. Bait that can be easily crushed into digestive slurry is always going to have an edge.
I’m a great believer in using Betaine HC1 not because of its attraction qualities, but as an aid to the digestive process. The hydrochloric acid portion of this product helps breakdown proteins and aids trypsin digestion. It is also very water soluble so it can be used comfortably at moderate levels. In fish meal based baits I will use this product at this time of the year up to a level of 20g per 500g of dry mix. In any bait that has a high milk protein content I will reduce that by about 25%. This is mainly due to the bait texture; milk protein baits have a tendency to form a tighter structure and absorb water at a lower rate. The other ingredient I do favour, but it is difficult to use effectively is trypsin. I don’t know of any commercially available source other than what’s present in Nutrabaits addit digest. I source my supply direct from a chemical distributor that specialise in selling digestive aids. Anyone interested, just put the word enzyme into Google, you will find lots of information and places to buy any of the different varieties. Not sure about all the others available, so for all you budding bait boffins caution is the word. Most enzymes are manufactured for the human market and our digestive process is far more complex. I also only use this when I’m making bait in small batches. This product is very sensitive to temperature so bait boiling times should be low to negligible if you want to achieve optimum results. The highest level I have ever used this ingredient is 2g per 500g of dry mix and have only ever used in two different baits, BFM and another bait made to similar proportions of milk protein to fish meal content. Chemically some bait would not be suitable for this product it reacts to readily with certain ingredients turning them into a slurry and making the bait rolling process almost impossible. However, that may be an advantage for ground baits!
During the autumn my baiting-up levels will vary as previously stated in accordance with my chosen venue’s annual angling pressure cycle. If I’m fishing a normal close season venue then during the autumn I won’t change much from my summer levels, but as a general rule I tend to increase them slightly. However, that very much depends on action experienced and how the fish are behaving. On year round waters my baiting levels do slow down and you do tend to find yourself just fishing for a bite. The carp may be very active, but as previously stated they will have had a very long spring and summer to wise-up. It’s under these circumstances that I find myself usually having to slightly tweak my baits with those little additions that can make all the difference.