Since the turn of the century, we have seen a dramatic change as to how we approach our sport in general. The decline in river and canal sport, due to unpopular and bias water policies, saw our attention drawn to the emergence and proliferation of commercial waters, which sprang up at a phenomenal rate. They were heavily stocked with carp, undoubtedly the 'saviour' fish of our sport, but many have now realised that there is more than ‘one fish to fry’ out there.

During the summer months the UK goes 'Carp Crazy', but come winter, when most carp shut up shop, many anglers believe that there’s nothing worth braving the elements for … WRONG! Our commercial fisheries are renown for the quantity of bait that is heaved at them in the pursuit of carp, yet many still overlook the indirect benefits associated with this practice. However, the changing seasons should also see us changing our own outlook. Winter no longer means we have to sit motionless on our boxes, coldly peering at a static quiver tip under thermal garments because silver fish are making an impact… and how.

With global climatic changes affecting just about every country on the planet England has seen its moderate winters giving rise to some superb catches of silver fish, which can be anything between 30 to over 80lb, because they’ve become fat on leftover carp fodder and many of us are cashing in on it. Roach, skimmers and perch, all to 2lb, along with bream, crucians and tench to even bigger sizes, are now on offer at your local carp mecca! All the facilities are still there... all you need are the same warm clothes you used for 'tipping', and a slightly different approach. Fine down your elastics, from Red Hydro to softer latex brands, main lines from 0.18 to 0.12mm and hooks down to sizes 18/16 and you’re ready to go. Bait can be even simpler… either maggot, caster or worm will generally be all that’s required.

Some renown big carp waters in Southern England, like Furnace and Whitevane Ponds, all have massive stocks of silver fish, which have eagerly snapped up the left-overs of what the ‘Bivvy Boys’ tossed in. Waters which normally see 100, 200, 300 and now 400lb bags of carp, now become dominant with silvers. Hampshire’s St. Patricks Lane, Framfield in East Sussex and perhaps the biggest carp ‘Mecca’ of them all, Gold Valley, all contain hidden treasures of roach, perch and bream just awaiting your pleasure, and on one of the most prolific winter bait combinations... chopped worm and caster.

It's become almost synonymous with winter fishing, whether on a canal, river or more recently, commercial fisheries. Although it can be quite an expensive approach, dependent on your usage – worms can cost £18+ a kilo and caster around £3+ per pint (and people ban bloodworm & joker because of cost!!!) – it is however, one which can put you 'In the Frame'. On the surface it looks quite straight-forward... you get some worms and scissors and chop them up. Ummh, so why doesn't everyone make it pay? Perhaps it's something to do with their confidence and approach. We know that the slightest changes to tackle, feeding and presentation usually separate the men from the boys come match day, but how many of you out there actually can do this?

To show just how simple the approach is, we spent a day at Gold Valley, previously voted the country’s top commercial in a national poll, with someone well versed in its ‘silver’ potential. Many have passed through Gold Valley’s gates, including some of angling’s great current crop, but few have had the audacity to challenge the mighty carp’s status. One person who dared and nearly succeeded during one particular and memorable late-autumn match, was 'ex' but now repatriated-Daiwa Dorking member and previous England Youth star, Michael Sanders.

Mike was credited with a tremendous 87lb of roach and skimmers for a top five finish when he fished a 'Super Sixes' match Gold Valley one Autumn. Having drawn 'off the carp' on Gold Lake, he’d made up his mind to target silvers, believing there was at least 50lb available in his peg. His decision proved an inspired one as he banked a total of 266 fish, comprising of roach to 1lb and hybrids to 1.5lb and gain admiration from his peers... especially as all the weights above him were made up of carp!

And then, as if to prove it was no 'fluke' on the method, he returned for another match a few weeks later and drew in the same area. Finding himself once more 'off the carp', he proceeded to hammer out 46lb of silvers, plus a 9lb carp for a section win, leaving many in his wake!

Mike has an exceptional pedigree in having the long-standing Daiwa Dorking captain, co-owner of KC Angling and current England Youth Manager, Steve Sanders, as his father! He's gained team and individual honours at world level with the England Youth squad between 1996 and 1998. Having previously joined Italian tackle giant Milo as their southern rep, he found it created more opportunities to get 'bankside', especially as he had a sympathetic angling boss in Simon Willsmore, Milo’s UK Manager and incidently an England International. However, since our initial feature was produced, Mike has left to take up a more classically lucrative plumbing career, which probably may not afford him as much 'bankside' time!

Our decision to fish before any frosts descended was perfect as our chosen bait would be 'chop' and perhaps the finest winter bait of all… caster. It was caster which secured Mike his 87lb so we were confident that we could, in some part, repeat that outstanding performance. We'd chosen Gold Lake’s canal bank, around peg 20 towards the top end, on a foggy and brisk December morning when there were few others around. Mike’s attack would be based at 11 metres with worm, and 6 metres with caster. The intention was to work the worm until the fish could be educated onto the caster line close in and hopefully shallow.

Two rigs would be used for on the deck and a shallow caster one for bagging up. The first deep rig would be for worm using a Milo Oxon 4x16, as its hollow tip would aid the buoyancy required for fishing a dendra section. A unique feature of this particular range is that the line passes through the body making all the stems and bristles inter-changeable. The other deep rig would be a KC Carpa Raisor for fishing caster at 6 metres and finally a 4x10 Milo Savio for caster up in the water. All the mainlines would remain simple: 0.12mm Milo Krepton with 0.11mm Milo Ghost hook lengths. Mike favours a size 18 Milo T213 pattern for both worm and caster as it’s both strong and wide, but not too heavy.

Mike also emphasised the need to get elastics right, too heavy and you’ll bump more than you land. Too light and you’d be following a good fish around the swim all day, plus, you’ll be unable to swing anything in… an important consideration during a match! Mike had set his elastic perfectly during his mammoth catch a couple of months earlier and was able to gain valuable time by swinging in fish up to 8oz. A soft Milo No.8 was preferred for both deck rigs while a No.5 was perfect for shallow.

Feeding at 11 metres would be kept to a minimum with two 150ml pots of chopped worm and caster to kick off the swim. The 6m inside line would be loose fed, after an initial single pot of worm and caster. One little trick Mike employs in winter is to add a good pinch of joker to the worm and caster mixture, if you have it available of course. He believes that it helps concentrate the fishes feeding and keeps them hunting around the swim, effectively holding them for longer periods and thereby avoid the risk of over feeding, which can be a killer during this time of year.

By the time we were ready, it was 10:40am and the fog was just starting to clear, little by little. Mike did express some concern as to how long the worm line would take to 'kick' in, but he needn’t have worried! It was interesting to watch the technique he used to settle the rig in the water. “It’s so important to lower the rig in correctly so that you avoid any tangles with the bulk, but also so you present the bait in the most attractive way," he started to explain adding, "you hold the rig up, just above the water.

When you feel the bulk shot you can then ease the rig down to the droppers and let the hookbait fall the last foot as naturally as possible. It’s amazing how effective this is when fish are gathered around the feed zone, as bites usually come before the hookbait hits the bottom. The best time to get a roach bite is when the bait settles, so by controlling the descent you effectively control the amount of bites.” NB: It's important to realise that being able to feel the bulk shot as it settles is relevant to the thickness of pole tip and thinness of elastic used. Too thick a tip, and/or too heavy an elastic, will take all the feel and sensitivity away from your presentation.

Having used a small dendra section on his hook it's only a couple of minutes before the float glides away and we’ve latched into our first fish of the day, a roach of around 6ozs so it's a promising start. Checking the worn section Mike finds it’s OK and ships back out. “The good thing about fishing worm is that unlike caster its more robust and you can sometimes get two or three fish on the same piece,” he states adding, “I always use the head section, nipping off the body about 15mm below the head. This is because the head is more static than say a lively tail section and rarely doubles over the hook, it also contains more juices, which probably increases its attraction.”

Today’s session was on a successful course as Mike continued for the next hour to net 39 fish, only pausing briefly to adjust the weight down the line. In common with many good anglers Mike gives himself the option of fine tuning his rigs. He places three small micro shot either above or below the bulk so when he needs to adjust the float bristle, he can simply nip off one of these shot without disrupting the whole rigs balance. Others may prefer tiny Stotz or Styls to do a similar job. Gently settling the rig once more, the float buries immediately. “I think we’ve got some fish down there now,” Mike says confidently. He’s right and a steady procession of quality roach with the odd small perch make their way to Mike’s waiting net. It’s always settling for both journalist and angler alike when things run smoothly because showing techniques on how and what to catch hinge entirely on what lies below the surface.

One of the reasons for Mike’s recent successes is borne out of confidence in his rigs and set up, illustrated amply when he landed that near 9lb carp on his worm rig! “A soft elastic coupled with 0.12mm mainline for your winter silver fishing makes it very difficult for you to be broken by any average sized carp, so by balancing tackle you’re able to achieve the best of both worlds” Mike says, adding, “My decision to start on worms was a logical one as the worm can not only account for a steady stream of fish, but also draw in larger species like quality bream and perch which help to boost that initial weight. However, when fish are going 'nuts', then the ultimate goal is to draw the fish up in the water close, in order to maximise your final weight, to this end caster then becomes devastating.” This is what Mike hopes will crown the session and thereby show how a big weight of quality fish can be achieved.

Two hours in and fish are still arriving on the worm, including a cracking 2.5lb crucian. Despite trying the odd caster, things still favour the dendra, but Mike’s been keeping that inside line going by flicking caster over it since the off. The catch rate has now reached over 70 fish, but Mike’s about to go for broke on the shallow rig.

Already aware that there are fish on the deck at 6 metres, he’s become increasingly confident that they are also up in the water. Therefore just before one o’clock he lays out his 4x10 Milo Savio at six metres and waits for the first indication… which he misses! No repeat next time when a roach of over a pound breaks the surface. As Mike gets into overdrive the next 80 minutes see a procession of pristine roach to 1.5lb along with hybrids and a couple of near 2lb perch… not always noted for their shallow visits!

The game plan had eventually become a reality, even though the fog was starting to shroud the lake once more, prompting a final catch shot before the light became too dismal for the camera. Mike had successfully demonstrated not only his abilities, but showed us all that just because you may be sitting in 'Carp Heaven', it doesn’t mean you have to fish for them. The shear pleasure on Mike’s face at his final 40lb weight (right), which incidently consisted of 150 fish, was graphic proof of just how much silver fish actually mean to many anglers. Carp may rule the roost in summer, but cometh the cold, there’s simply nothing to touch a net of pristine and glittering silver fish… even at a carp 'Mecca'!