The colder months can be tough going for most anglers and aren’t traditionally associated with lure fishing. Thankfully, LRF can be a saving grace, with so many species to target in a variety of venues. First, it’s best to look at what hinders our lure fishing in winter and how we can avoid that.

The first is the apparent lack of fish. We are all guilty of believing that there’s just no fish out there. Bites may dry up or our inbuilt bias may creep in, reinforced by years of listening to other anglers and not trying it ourselves. I can relate to this; it can be difficult to motivate yourself to try something new when your fingers are numb and your nose won’t stop dripping! Yet, if we are persistent and really consider where we are fishing, we can still catch, and occasionally in huge numbers. 

Rockling will show in good numbers through the colder months

My observation is that the fish are far less spread out in winter, you will find them in tight shoals, or localised in sheltered or warmer water. This is the effect that can make you feel like the fish have disappeared, they haven’t really, they are just not in the exact spot you are fishing. Read the water, look for the signs – slack water, birds diving, sheltered harbours, are all things to look out for. At night, look for areas with artificial light, structure or both. As the temperatures drop, prey fish look for these areas as safe havens to slow down and avoid predators, often creating quite the opposite effect!

The second hindrance is the weather – the Brits’ favourite subject. Whereas the first point is more in our heads, this is a genuine issue and can actually be a matter of life or death! Depending on where you live in the country, you may experience many storms, fluctuating temperatures and tempestuous seas. All make for times when it is quite simply impossible, and very dangerous to go fishing. If you think it’s too rough, stay at home, read a book (or this magazine) and live to fish in finer weather. 

Whiting can give a very good account of themselves on the right tackle

Let’s not let the occasional storm stop us fishing entirely though! If you can travel, there is usually a mark that is facing away from the wind and swell. I use the ‘Windy’ app on Iphone and Android phones to check the wind direction on my chosen marks before I fish. You can use it to prevent wasted journeys and keep yourself safe. Magic Seaweed is also excellent, giving you access to webcams and accurate surf reports. All it takes to have a decent fishing session in winter is a bit of preparation and research, it’s as simple as downloading an app. 

The next issue is linked in with the weather, and that is water clarity; something that really helps with our confidence to fish lures. There are some estuaries and beaches that will never run clear, even in the calmest of summer weather. For a lot of our marks though, there can be a huge variance in clarity. This can be caused by excessive rain, rough seas and algal blooms, with all having a part to play at different times of the year. Getting to know your marks and their sensitivity to varying factors, is a huge benefit to your angling. I recommend getting out for regular walks to new marks without a rod, surveying the coast and taking notes mentally or literally; try to learn what makes the spot fishable or not. Think about factors in the distance too, whether that is snow melt coming down the river or ground swell created by far away storms. 

Scorpion fish can be tempted right through the year

So where does LRF (Light Rock Fishing) come into this? Well with minimal ultralight gear you can be ready to fish at a moment’s notice, any gap in the weather can be taken advantage of. By scaling down your approach and fishing with small hooks and weights, you can squeeze into the quiet corners of harbours or rocky gullies. 

A big part of LRF is learning to target what’s actually there instead of chucking out big lures or baits in hope of some dream catch. At any mark there will be fish of some kind, be that gobies skirting across the sand, or scorpion fish stalking the base of the pier. By focusing on what’s there, instead of blindly casting something aimed for one big fish, you squeeze the most fun out of the sessions. Keeping it fun is the most important thing, especially in winter.

As I have said before though, LRF isn’t just about small fish. Some of my best ever ballan wrasse have been caught in the winter on tiny sections of Gulp Sandworm, intended for their smaller cousins.

There is simply no greater rush in fishing than when a 4lb ballan is attached to your ultralight braid and rod rated to cast 5g! Bass, especially in early season, can also be found to take tiny prey. Small flatfish, crabs and pin sandeels can all be imitated with LRF lures. You may surprise yourself.

So, what makes an ideal winter LRF mark? First, we can look at urban areas and I include small towns and villages with this – anywhere where human activity has created a habitat of some kind. In the day I am looking for water with consistent temperatures, deeper pockets and warm outflows from beneath the city. Most fish do not like wildly varying temperatures so will shy away from shallow areas on freezing days or areas with lots of icy freshwater runoff. At night, other man-made factors come into play, like artificial light. Any area with just one or two bright lights on the water will attract prey fish, in turn attracting the predators. It’s not essential but can really focus your fishing at times. 

Very few fish fight as well as a big ballan on LRF gear

I also look for areas with less severe tidal flow, perhaps the back of a harbour wall or breakwater where an eddy is created. You can spot these normally by watching the surface of the water, as the water folds on itself and sometimes will look almost silky where the current is slower. Regardless of water clarity, fish will be holding here, picking off any food that is funnelled to them by the tide. This thought process translates nicely to being on the rocks too, where the different states of the tide make this all the more relevant and changeable. 

Away from man-made structures, one of my favourite places to catch fish is in rockpools. The species that reside here are hardy folk, dealing with intense heat in the summer and sub-zero temperatures in the winter. I would say as long as there’s not actually ice in the pools, you will catch fish. Scale right down to tiny coarse fishing hooks and specks of Gulp or Isome and you can catch a variety of blennies, gobies, rockling, scorpion fish and even wrasse and bizarre creatures like clingfish.

Focus on rockpools with plenty of cover in them and try and be light footed, with a bit of patience the pool can come alive!

Lure choices tend to favour being scented in the colder months but I have also used metal jigs to great effect. I just focus on smaller lures I can fish slower, that have a steadier fall that can be caught by fish with a lower metabolism than they would in the summer. 

I hope that has helped inspire you to try a bit of LRF this winter. It is a seriously effective way to keep lure fishing even when the mackerel and bass are fewer in number. This winter, we have been running a ‘Big Lerf Winter League’ LRF competition with nearly 150 entrants! Between them all they have caught over 50 species, showing the variety that can still be caught when you get out there. When you get down to the simple joy of catching fish, you forget about the cold weather. 

Rockpools will still be full of gobies and blennies so long as they are not frozen over
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