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Tips and Tricks for Winter Coarse Fishing

Read Time: 7 Minutes | Published: 4th December 2023 | Author: Tim James

Mention winter fly fishing in the UK and for most it conjures up visions of an angler standing waist deep in flowing water and drifting nymphs into pods of grayling. Alternatively, one may think of dredging the depths of reservoirs with boobies for stocked rainbow trout. Or, stripping miniature Christmas tree decorations through likely lies for pike. However, outside of the mainstream, just as much fun can be had on coarse fish. Countless species dominate medium to tiny streams which dissect our lowland regions. Fishing this type of venue requires a “can do” attitude and a slightly different approach to the popular grafaceyling. But rest assured, winter coarse fishing is a properly fun time.

A winter-caught chub.

Where can you go winter coarse fishing?

Typically these streams are found in lowland regions. They can be located in rural areas to big cities such as my home metropolis of London. Ideally, select a winter venue you’re familiar with so you know where the deeper winter lies are (or likely to be) and what the stock is like. Many small streams have surprisingly deep holes. So, being familiar with the venue is also a matter of personal safety. Additionally, lowland streams are often quite coloured, thus making them hard to navigate. However, venues that have colour in the water also greatly assist as fish will be less spooky than they would in clearer water.  


Chub, dace, perch, rudd, gudgeon and roach will likely be the dominant species. Carp may also be present. The later often will be ex pond pets. Or, if there is a lake connected to a stream via a sluice, for example, a population may establish itself from fry/juveniles getting washed into the stream. In a brook local to me a population of small tench also exists. 

As the colder weather moves in most coarse species will begin to group up, particularly in deeper holes. By ‘deeper hole’ we mean a depression significantly deeper than the rest of the river. So, if it’s mostly ankle deep a hole would be knee height. It’s not uncommon to find large numbers of fish in a relatively small area. And, although mainstream methods such as Euro nymphing, duo and small streamers work they don’t seem to be ultra effective in winter. A good reason for this is because standing next to schools of coarse fish—as you have to do when euro nymphing for grayling—spooks them. Furthermore, casting a fly line upstream over a shoal risks lining tightly grouped schools. This puts fish on edge.


So, how do we target them then? Leicestershire based fly fishing legend Skateboard Dave (Dee Egginton) pioneered a highly effective method for targeting winter coarse fish. Dee adopted lessons he learnt from his bait fishing days and uses an adaptation of euro nymphing where small weighted flies are cast and fished downstream.  


10-11ft long euro nymphing rods are perfect. They work surprisingly well on small streams as long as tree canopy doesn’t render playing fish impractical. One workaround after hooking a fish is to break the rod down to the top two sections when fishing under heavy tree cover. This is of course only if the fish isn’t too large. This is something Dee does when necessary.

A nymphing line is perfect for this method. I connect it directly to 5-15ft of tippet depending on the water depth. Why the nymph line is connected directly to tippet will be explained later. Dee generally fishes two flies, the heavier on the dropper which is spaced 2-9 ft from the lighter point fly depending on water clarity. The clearer the water the longer the spacing. Having the heavier fly on the dropper allows the lighter point to animate itself tantalizingly in the current but anchored at the right depth.

Small split shot is also sometimes required to help flies sink to the taking zone. The shot should be placed at varying points along the leader. Here you will need to experiment a little to find the right set up for your river or individual pools. A starting point is placing a split shot around the knot of the dropper on on the main tippet length itself.

A lure style extendable net handle compliments the set up by permitting the anger to fish off higher banks or next to water too deep to wade. It makes fishing logistically safer and easier whilst allowing the fly fisherman/woman to fish in places otherwise impossible with a standard trout net. 


Because this isn’t mainstream fly fishing, flies are a bespoke affair. Fulling Mill’s Jig Force hooks in the 14-20 range are perfect to tie these bottom hugging patterns. Bead sizes should be around 1.5-3.5mm. I use brighter beads in coloured water and drabber in clearer conditions. Although the beads are there to give weight, going too large will prevent fish with small mouths like roach inhaling the fly. This is why split shot is added to compensate.   

Pink/red squirmies with very short tails perform well. They’re better still if the tail consists of a sliver of squirmy material which increases hook ups with shy biting and smaller fish. Other flies are pink shrimps and generic darker patterns with soft hackles for clearer water. Start in the 16-18 range because it’s small enough to hook gudgeon, roach and rudd yet still large enough to land bigger fare. 


Suppler material is preferable to give nymphs life when being anchored in current. Therefore, Fulling Mill’s Masterclass copolymer in 4-5x is ideal. Because you’re fishing downstream it pays to have a bit of extra strength to avoid break offs when striking. 


With fish concentrated in deeper water, approach either from upstream or at a right angle to the bank. Lob or bow and arrow cast the flies into the current. Try to locate a sweet spot in a pool where your flies can sink and hold near the bottom but not be dragged upwards through the water column. This is where the use of split shot is handy. It allows you to fine tune the sink rate of your whole set up. Ideally use the smallest shot you can get away with. 

To learn more from Skateboard Dave on these techniques, check out this video on winter coarse fishing I put together.

You will often find that you have to guide the flies through the varying currents to find said sweet spot. This is where a longer rod pays dividends even on very small streams. 

Flies are fished mostly static with a very, very slow retrieve back towards you. Work a pool methodically downstream, concentrating on slacker areas of water with enough flow to keep your flies moving in the current. However, keep them out of faster runs where overwintering fish will unlikely to be holding.

Detecting takes 

Dee uses a nymph line straight through to the indicator or sometimes the leader as the weight as this type of line creates a slight sag between the rod tip and water’s surface. This acts as an additional indicator. Slight tugs will often be registered before or without being felt by seeing the sag tighten. In some cases the sag dropping even further will also occur. This is when the fish takes the fly and moves closer to the angler. Other indications be felt in the form of thumps, quivering of the nymph line/indicator or line moving across the surface.  

How to detect takes.


At a time of year when the weather alone can be testing, winter coarse fishing can provide fun, entertaining and prolific fishing where multiple species can be caught. For those living on low incomes, who don’t own a vehicle or constrained for time this represents a low cost, free and local alternative. Not only will horizons be expanded it’s also a potentially more environmentally friendly option than having to take long car journeys to access the mainstream winter options of salmonid species or pike fishing. So if there’s a stream with coarse fish near you why not have a go? 

Are you interested in reading more from Tim? Read his recent article on our blog!

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