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Tuesday, 31 October 2017 15:13

Silt Fishing Masterclass

We join STEPHEN MAY at Blakemere, a silty Shropshire mere, to see how he adapts to fishing in the black stuff.

When you mention silt, most anglers would say that they avoid fishing in it or near it. The stuff stinks, it’s black, it makes your baits smell… but does it? Love it or hate it, it’s sometimes impossible to avoid, covering the entirety of the lake bed on some venues. Silt doesn’t have to be your worst nightmare; in fact, carp love feeding in it and it often contains a host of naturals, so why avoid it?

The important thing to know is that it doesn’t always smell revolting. There are numerous types present in lakes, some of which fish love to visit, others that stink to high heaven and cause your baits to smell rotten!

A prime example of this is here at Blakemere Fishery. Being a traditional Shropshire mere, the lake is completely covered with silt. At around nine acres, with no discernible features, it is very much like a large bowl, so spot location becomes even more crucial. When it comes to tackling venues like this one, you have to have a deeper understanding of silt and the ways to make it work for your angling on a given venue. Silt isn’t always as we imagine it, so throughout this feature I will be covering a few basic insights into the way I go about fishing effectively in it, and what I believe has led me to great success on this particular venue all year round.

Let’s begin by gaining a better understanding of silt. It is usually fine sediment resting on the lake bed that is made up when debris is broken down over a period of time. What we class as ‘chod’ are the early stages of silt, where the decay is still whole pieces of sediment that have found the lake bed, such as leaves, twigs and so on. Over a period of time, the chod breaks down and forms muddy sediment, which is classed as silt. This is the reason why you will often find it present in old venues, such as meres and estate lakes.

You can usually build a good idea of where the thicker silt collects by looking for overhanging trees or areas where debris is likely to fall into the water. Although there are usually varying degrees of silt, different densities, colours, smells and texture. I have always found the firmer, less potent smelling silt to be the most effective when it comes to getting bites, but first I have to find it.

pic 01

Retrieve your lead quickly, and check for signs and smells..


A marker rod with braid straight through to the lead is vital. This allows you to gain the ultimate feeling when pulling the lead across the lake bed. I prefer to use a reasonably heavy lead, around 21/2 to 31/2oz because this exaggerates each feeling when the lead touches down. Being able to feel the lead down through the water column is initially the biggest indicator of perfect silt; the thick, smelling silt will indicate a much softer, slower response on the rod tip, very much like casting into weed. You will also find that the thicker silt is much harder to pull the lead out from, often having to physically compress the rod to draw the lead back across the lake bed.

Generally, this thicker silt hinders rig presentation and, due to the foul smelling nature, quickly taints baits and reduces their effectiveness. When searching for silt, you’re looking for the firm ‘donk’ as the lead hits the lake bed. This can often feel like gravel or hard clay but it is in fact a thin layer of smooth silt covering the lake bed.

pic 07

No ‘donk’ required here.


This is the ideal silt to fish over and is often much thinner and smoother because the fish have cleaned it off. Previously, it would have probably contained a host of naturals and over time the fish have fed on the silt and filtered it out, leaving a smooth dinner plate area. It’s worth having a good cast about at different distances and depths to find varying silt. By paying close attention to the drop and by dragging the lead slowly across the lake bed, distinguishing between smooth, hard silt and thick, gunky silt can become easy.

At Blakemere the silt changes regularly and it’s quite obvious that certain areas contain seams of smooth, clean silt. These areas are likely to have contained dense populations of naturals that are super-attractive to carp, such as bloodworm and insect larvae. I firmly believe that these areas are natural larders that fish will visit regularly and be more inclined to feeding in and around.

My next little tip is ideal when casting to showing fish, or when you don’t want to make too much initial disturbance when targeting silt.

pic 03

An absolute belter from a shallow silt spot.


I hear people talk about it all the time, but very rarely do I see it put into practice, but smelling the lead is a key indicator of varying types of silt. In general, the smell of silty debris is quite alien to us, so by smelling the lead you can easily distinguish between one type and another due to the obvious potency.

When you have found an area that you think is ideal to present your rig over, draw the lead slowly across the lake bed and then quickly wind in. Sniff the lead to see if you notice any distinct smell; the cleaner the spot, the less potent the smell will be. Try comparing two spots in the same swim to see the difference. If you have found a thick, soft spot, cast your lead to it and draw it back across the lake bed slowly. When you retrieve the lead, give it a whiff and you will know straightaway if the spot is one of the horrible smelling patches of silt. I have been doing this for some time, so I use a plain coated lead. However, for anglers trying this for the first time, a textured lead draws more of the smell from the silt for better recognition.

My preferred rig for silt fishing always revolves around a pop-up; I want to get the hook bait separated from the lake bed. This way, you are ensuring that there is less chance of the sediment permeating the hook bait and masking the smell/food signals that it is giving off in order to draw fish in.

For all of my fishing on Blakemere I have been using a helicopter setup, with the hook link running up the unleaded leader. This means that when the lead touches down, it often plugs into the light silt and the hooklength moves up the leader and settles perfectly to straighten out.

I use a hinge-type rig with a supple boom section and stiff upright pop-up section. The main emphasis here is to get the hook bait popped up off the deck, and this leads me perfectly to how I boost my hook baits to withstand the smell of the silt.

One key factor, whatever the depth of the debris is, is to ensure that your pop-up is perfectly balanced. You don’t want the bait to be overweighted with putty otherwise it will sink into the silt, just like the lead. Your best bet is to apply enough putty to the rig to sink the pop-up and then remove a fraction at a time until the bait sinks through the water slowly. This will ensure that the bait rests on top of the silt, perfectly presented.

pic 05

A fresh hook bait is carefully attached.


The biggest edge in my silt fishing is bait. Most anglers use boilies straight out of the bag and that means a few things. Firstly, because the baits contain moisture, once they are introduced into the water the porous holes are inclined to instantly take on water and with that the silty sediment. This means that as your baits settle on the lake bed they swell and become saturated with silt because they act like a sponge. A dry sponge can take on a lot of water, because of the nature of the material and holes throughout.

A boilie acts in the same way, although the holes are so small they are barely visible, but enough to take on water and foul smelling micro debris. This means that less of the attraction is released from the baits because the silt masks it. I get around this problem by rehydrating my baits to the point where they can no longer take in any extra liquid/water that might penetrate the bait when on the lake bed.

I take a few bags of CC Moore Pacific Tuna freezer baits and empty them into an air-dry bag. You’ll have to guess at how much you may need in advance, because I like to do this four to six weeks before I go fishing. The good news is that they won’t go off because all the moisture is removed and, believe me, it really is an edge worth doing. After a few weeks the baits will have dried right up; they will be rock solid and slightly paler. Empty them straight into a bucket and they are now ready to rehydrate. I use a combination of hemp juice and Tuna L030 liquid for this. The reason behind rehydrating the baits is to saturate them with flavour and attraction to the point where they can no longer take on any more liquid. They will swell right up and go soft again. This means they are full up with appealing goodness and ready to be used. The baits physically can’t take on any other substance because they are completely bursting with flavour, meaning the silty aroma can’t penetrate them as easily as baits straight from the bag.

I also try to make my hook baits as attractive as possible, so I further boost them with Northern Special Hook Bait Spray and add an attractive powder substance, which leaks off into the water column. I either use Fructose powder or Fruit Zest powder. Both are equally power-packed and help tackle the silty smell. Due to their citrus make-up, they also work perfectly to counter the pH of silt, which is another reason they work so effectively. I recast as often as I feel necessary with fresh hook baits, just to ensure there is a degree of attraction still present in the lake.


1 Choose a nice bright hook bait, for starters. Also, you’ll need a bait that has plenty of flavour in it already.

2 You can boost the flavour, and increase the moisture content, by adding matching bait spray.

3 Fructose Concentrate is a brilliant powdered additive that boosts the attraction even further.

4 This combination of Northern Specials and Fructose Concentrate is catching carp in silty waters across the land!


By incorporating a few of the tips and methods to adapt your fishing when targeting silty venues, I’m sure you will begin to understand areas of the lake that are more productive than others.

Silt, like other spots, can change over time, so putting the effort in to find those areas of firm, smooth silt to present your baits over will be hugely beneficial in your journey to success on these types of venue. It’s certainly helped me hone my angling at Blakemere, having had a truly memorable year, so be lucky!

pic 10

Ignore silty venues or areas and you’re reducing your chances of catching carp like this.


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