Top 5 Tips for Winter River Fishing

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We are extremely lucky at Cosgrove Park that we have not just one but two rivers in which to fish. The River's Great Ouse and Tove run through the park and can provide excellent fishing especially at this time of the year. With the park being closed from November to April residents can visit between 9am and 4pm and enjoy the whole stretch.

Before I talk about the actual fishing let me first mention that unlike the lakes on the park and the local Grand Union Canal the rivers are subject to a closed season between 15th March and 15th June and it is an offence to coarse fish the rivers during this closed season!

A couple of other thing's to mention is the rivers are far more dangerous to fish than most still waters. The banks are often very steep and can be extremely slippery especially on a morning like the one in the picture above. Also you can of course take your car into the park during office hours but DO NOT DRIVE ON THE GRASS you may get stuck and you can cause serious damage to the grass and the ground!




Tip 1 - Location, Location, Location

As perhaps you've already gathered if you've read my blogs fish location is perhaps the single most important aspect of my angling, if you can find the fish you are over halfway there and this is even more important in river fishing during the winter. Unlike the warmer months there can be hundreds of metres of river devoid of any fish then fish of all species will be crammed into one small area. If you can find that area the fish are not usually too difficult to catch. You can of course target different species of fish by using different tactics and baits, but especially during really cold weather just try all the available swims and catch whatever is feeding at that time! Investigate all the classic features such as overhanging trees and bends etc but also try deeper glides, holes below shallow runs and not forgetting classic crease swims.

Get the location right and the Gt Ouse is capable of producing monstrous chub like this 8lb plus November specimen for resident Mark Jones

Tip 2 - Tackle and Tactics

Of course you can float fish the rivers and for me there is nothing quite like trotting especially with a centrepin outfit but I tend to leave that tactic for the warmer months. For me winter river fishing is all about ledgering and feeder tactics using simple gear and baits. 

For almost all of my fishing I use my trusty John Wilson Signature Avon/Quiver 1.25lb tc at 11' with a very soft fibreglass quivertip, teamed with a Shimano 5010 baitrunner loaded with 6lb main line.

A very simple but strong / reliable outfit is as good as it gets for winter river fishing - note how the rod tip is elevated to assist in holding out in the flow

Simple terminal rigs are the way to go with very simple link ledger and cage feeder rigs. You really don't need fancy sometimes complicated rigs that we tend to use in stillwater and especially in carp fishing. I tie my link ledger rig use the 6lb main line straight through with a 5 turn water knot making the ledger link 5" - 6" long and a hook length 12" to 24" long. I tend to weight the rig using swan shot usually between two and five depending on flow. I also often use a cage feeder when using mashed or liquidised bread again the weight depending on flow. Hooks are tied direct to the 6lb main line as well using sizes 16 up to 8's depending on bait size.

This rig is dropped into every likely looking swim and hole where I believe there might be fish in residence. Using this outfit and rig has from the River's Tove and Gt Ouse landed me chub to 6lb 8oz, roach to nearly 2lb, perch to 3lb and even my 11lb 4oz PB Gt Ouse barbel (although not from Cosgrove).

My simple link ledger rig (For demonstration purposes I've tied this rig with 15lb mono)

Tip 3 - Baits & Species

The River's Tove and Great Ouse at Cosgrove are inhabited by lots of different species including some very big barbel but for me the main winter species are chub, roach, bream, perch and pike. As I said above you can never be sure what swims each species will inhabit but you can target a particular species with the bait you choose.

Personally I target the chub through the winter and use bread, worms - both lobs and dendra's and cheese paste - that I make at home from uncooked pastry, cheddar and blue cheese, mixed with a few drops of cheese flavour and sometimes a colour to target them. If I am lucky enough to catch any of the other species they are usually of good size. I do also use maggots on the rivers but this bait does tend to produce much smaller fish!

Winter river fishing is all about simple baits - bread, worms, cheesepaste and occasionally maggots

On the odd occasion I do use boilies and large pellets. These are baits that are becoming more effective but not so much in the winter. In really cold water I find these baits much less effective to the more conventional ones mentioned above.

Tip 4 - Keep on the move

I've found that you must keep on the move constantly searching the river's for pockets of fish! Because the Tove is such a small river I will only give each swim 10 minutes or so. If the fish are there you will catch within that time. Because the Gt Ouse is a much bigger river I extend this fishing time in each swim to 30 minutes or so. This gives me enough time to fully search the whole swim. Because I am constantly on the move the gear I carry is cropped right back to the bare minimum, with just a single rod, landing net, long rod rest, chair and a small bag carrying a little spare tackle, unhooking mat, bait and not forgetting my flask and sandwiches!

I keep my kit to a minimum to aid moving from swim to swim, covering as much river as I can

A lovely Gt Ouse bream taken on 14th December 18 on link ledgered bread. This was the 4th swim I had tried on this session!

Tip 5 - Don't Forget The Pike!

The Gt Ouse in particular contains some lovely pike that can be targeted using the tactics and baits that I mentioned in October's pike fishing blog. Again I suggest you keep on the move as the pike will  not be far away from the shoal fish that as I've already said are not evenly spread.

Not conventional Ouse pike fishing - I had just hooked the 3lb chub and was about to net it when this near 12lb pike took the chub across its back and would not let go! I netted them both in one swoop! Both fish were returned unharmed

I hope that I've given you a little inspiration to give the rivers a go this winter and that the tips and tricks mentioned above help you catch some nice fish.

Let me know if you have any questions about this blog or anything else angling related on the park.


Tightlines - Gary S


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Venetian Marina Whilton Caravan Storage Whilton Marina
Cosgrove Park. Main Street, Cosgrove, Milton Keynes, MK19 7JP.
Phone: 01908 563360 Fax: 01908 263615