The first thing you need to be aware of is to fish a stretch of river you are very familiar with in normal conditions but perhaps more importantly, the surrounding fields, paths and ditches. It is also a good idea to wear a buoyancy aid of some kind as all it takes it one careless step or slip and you could end up in the river. Also take along a spare bank stick to feel your way along flooded areas and remember to take a mobile phone in case of an emergency, and to tell some one where you are going.
Flood water chub
Imagine the scene for a moment if you will - you arrive at your local river intent on a good days chubbing only to find the river nearly bursting its banks, with dirty brown water the color of strong tea pushing through at an incredible rate of knots. What do you do? Turn the car around and head home or carry on determined to catch a fish despite the seemingly impossible conditions stacked against you?
Well I would fish on, although the conditions are far from ideal for chub they are still there to be caught, and if you do catch one the chances are it will be a big one. The main problem with fishing flooded rivers is getting your head round the psychological aspect of what looks like a very inhospitable environment. If you haven't fished a river that is in flood how are you ever going to gain any confidence when it is like that?
A flooded River Waveney
Not all floods are good if that makes sense. For example a heavy influx of cold snow melt into the river will be carrying road salt which can lead to de-oxygenation of the water. This combination will be the kiss of death and in all honesty will not be worth fishing. If on the other hand warm rain water enters the river that coincides with a warm spell and then the river begins to fine down, conditions are very favorable for a bite. For me the best conditions for fishing a winter flood are during a warm prolonged spell, on an overcast day, the river fining down, with the wind direction from the south west. For some reason this combination is the very best you will get for winter chubbing. Its best to keep an eye on river levels and weather forecasts so that your visit to the river is at this time. I've used http://www.netweather.tv/ for many years now and it has proved very reliable for long range forecasts. To keep an eye on my local river water level I use http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/floods/riverlevels/default.aspx to check daily. By noting down details such as these you begin to build up a picture of when the best times when to fish. This can be stored away and used for future reference so you don't have wasted trips. I like to tip the odds in my favor as much as possible when fishing but sometimes even when conditions look perfect, we fail to catch. This fishing lark really is a funny old game!
A 4lb 10oz flood water Waveney chub. Note the silvery 'washed out' look of the fish, common in flood water chub
Although large back eddies look an ideal place to fish they are not the place to find chub when the river is in flood. The turbulent water is usually a haven for rubbish to collect and the chub have to work hard to hold station in the flow. They are rarely a good spot in normal conditions so should be avoided even more so when the river is in flood.
Another good place to fish in flood is the classic cattle drink swim. In affect they are the largest slack to be found when the river is in flood and provide an area where the fish can escape from the full force of the flow. The bottom of cattle drinks are usually composed of fine gravel or silt and are natural areas where food collects.
Crease swims should also not be ignored. Sometimes the crease swims are hardly noticeable when the river is at normal height and flow but you will notice that when the river is flood the higher the water the more pronounced the crease is. Crease swims can provide excellent sport as again they are a natural food conveyor belt for fish.
Remember the higher the river and the faster the river the closer the chub will be found to the the bank. The chub want to conserve their energy like any other animal and will not but charging around all over the place, but there is one notable exception - last winter when the river was barely within it banks most of the time, one of my most productive spots was a mid stream slack/crease created by some died back reeds. The reeds couldn't been seen even at normal river level but the slack area created behind them was small, only around 2 foot in length. Only 2SSG were needed to hold station, while in other parts of the river this was easily washed downstream. It was one of those areas that if you didn't looked carefully, you could quite easily miss.
Cattle drink swim
This leads is nicely onto another important point and that is you can get away with far less weight than you think you would ever need. As I tend to look for a speed of water that is as close to possible as to normal flow I rarely use any more 2SSG and sometimes far less. as the flow is far less on the bottom than it shows on top, closer to the "normal" pace they inhabit. The ideal area of water should have a "smoothness" to the surface which indicates a nice clean bottom free of rubbish and as close to walking pace as possible. If the water is broken or swirly then this could be a sign of some sort of underwater obstruction which may or may not be a bad thing.
For flood water fishing big smelly baits fished on large hooks (2's & 4's) are my favorite. This is no time to be messing around with single maggots on size 20 hooks! Cheese paste has to be at the top of the list for me. The dirtier the water, the better cheese seems to work. I caught more chub on cheese paste in flood conditions than any other. Special paste/boilie concoctions can also be effective and I usually use a fish meal based mix with a shellfish flavor. The stinkier the better for me.
Luncheon meat is also a very good bait (Spam being my preffered brand), when the river is high and colored, and I especially rate spicy flavored meat. My favorite flavor for meat has to be Action Baits/Double T's Optispice although I do believe this will re-released next winter under the new name Garlic Spice and distributed by Lone Angler (a subsidiary or Pallatrax). Luckily I have a few bottles and it has a wonderful garlic/cinnamon type smell the really compliments the meat. After doing a little research I discovered that it was based on Rod Hutchinson's Ultraspice, again another superb winter flavor. Although this Garlic Spice really excels in winter I have done well on it all year round.
Lastly and by no means least don't forget to take some big lobworms with you. They are certainly one of the best natural baits and what chub can resist a juicy fat worm?
Spam - a great flood water bait