October 2021

Fill In The Blanks

By : Des Shipp

Des Shipp reveals how he fills the time on commercial fisheries when the carp simply refuse to feed!

Des Shipp

Age: Very Old

Lives: Yate, Bristol

Sponsors: Preston Innovations and Sonubaits

Des Shipp holding up a fish he just caught

Skimmers and bream have become a valuable target species on today’s commercial waters. As carp get bigger, they also become moody and their feeding windows are becoming shorter throughout match hours. This means that as anglers we need to look for alternatives to fill the blank periods of our matches and these chunky skimmers are the perfect species to target.

Most venues have a good population of them and 15lb to 20lb of them in the middle of the match when the carp aren’t feeding can be a great option to have. But how do you go about catching them?


One Line

The first thing I must stress is that when looking to ‘top up’ your catch with skimmers mid match, you don’t want to have multiple swims that could complicate your session. You need to be trying the swim and catching fish quickly without having to take too much focus away from the important job of carp fishing.

Des picking one line to fish with

For this reason I like to pick one line and fish it positively. I don’t necessarily mean positively with regards to the feeding, more positively in that I can stop carp fishing, drop on the skimmer line and work out quickly if they are a good option or not. If they are hard to catch, then I will continue carp fishing. But if they are obliging, then I will really give the skimmers my full attention.

Des netting a fish

Bait Choice

Simple is best when it comes to baits and I like to stick to maggots, pinkies and casters in the colder months and combine that with some groundbait.

Multiple bins with different types of bait

I know these baits work on any venue and I am not gambling by fishing pellets which can be a bit feast or famine in the winter.

Groundbait is an important element and it is fishmeal all the way for me… with a sweet twist. Skimmers love fishmeal, there is no doubt about it, but they also love a bit of sweetness and I have the perfect mix to take advantage of that.

Sonubaits thatchers original and super sweet groundbait

The first ingredient has to be Sonubaits Thatchers Original. I have used the Thatchers mix for close to 20 years, long before Sonubaits acquired the top-secret recipe. So now that it is freely available, I am so happy and quite simply it is having to go in any fishmeal based groundbait mix.

What makes Thatchers Original so good? It is all down to the quality of the fishmeals used. They are incredibly high grade, expensive fishmeals that are used and all fish love it. It’s also super fine which is important to me.

Des fixing his bait mix

But what about the sweet element? Well Sonubaits Super Sweet is the perfect partner for Thatchers Original, its caramel aroma is just beautiful to the human nose and the sweet ingredients that are in there are very effective for skimmers. A 50/50 blend of the two works very well.

Des grabbing some of his finished bait mix solutin

I mix on the damp side so that it can hold plenty of particles. I like to feed small nuggets that hold a decent number of dead pinkies, casters and the odd maggot so it needs to hold together well.

A closeup of maggots in bait mix

One final point is my choice to use live maggots. These days many anglers associate dead maggots for skimmers and bream, now don’t get me wrong they are effective, particularly as feed. But I do love using a nice fresh live maggot on the hook!



Stability is key to success with skimmers and being able to accurately position your hook bait right over the groundbait is essential. Here today at Barston I am faced with a shallow swim that is little over three feet in depth. However, there is a strong wind and with that there is a strong tow on the lake.

Various rigs to consider using

This means that a 4x16 F1 Finesse is my choice. This gives me perfect stability, especially when fishing three inches overdepth. When fishing in this style with ‘live baits’, I always fish three inches overdepth and will go further overdepth if the conditions determine. The stronger the tow, the more line I will lay on the bottom to ensure static presentation.

This is shotted with a bulk of No8s 30cm from the hook and two No9 droppers spaced evenly below that.

Close up of No8s 30cm rig

The rig is finished with a 6inch hooklength of 0.10mm Accu Power to a size 18 SFL-B. I must admit to being the most sceptical about using pre-tied hooklengths but over the past 18months I am a full convert! Preston Innovations do amazing pre-tied hooklengths now and they are genuinely better than the hooklengths I tie myself!

Close picture of the light elastic that Des likes to use

Elastic is kept on the light side, the very nature of this style when using a pole support and fishing overdepth promotes a firm strike. The last thing I want to do is bump a skimmer on the strike so a No5 Original Slip set pingy is the ideal choice, especially in this shallow water.


Feeding and Presentation

I am going to kick off the session with three balls of the mix with a decent helping of pinkies and casters within. These are fed accurately by lining up with a far bank marker. It is crucial to be accurate with your feeding to allow you to then work out exactly where the fish are in the swim.

Allow me to explain. The skimmers will sometimes be bang on top of your feed, but there are lots of days where they are on the edges of the feed zone. This is particularly the case when the lake is towing and often the fish are anything up to one metre ‘down tow’ of the bait. By having the positive far bank marker, you can ‘run’ the rig through with the tow initially to find out that hot spot in the swim and then focus on fishing there. Remember though that all of your feed must go in the original spot that is lined up with the far bank marker!

Des holding a fishing pole by the water

Throughout the session it then becomes a case of reading what is happening in the swim to work out when to top up. I generally feed small golf ball sized top ups that have as many pinkies and casters in as I can get inside. These Offer just enough feed to draw and hold a few skimmers long enough to catch several before the need to feed again.

Des pushing his pole out with a small amount of bait

It really is amazing how you can catch big bags of skimmers over relatively little bait. A small ball of groundbait will last an amazing amount of time on commercial fisheries. The days of needing large beds of feed for skimmers are long gone on commercial waters.

Just eek out each ball and soon as bites become noticeably longer in coming then you will need to feed.

This brings me nicely onto my next point and that is the need to use a pole support system when targeting this species. Now don’t get me wrong, holding the pole conventionally and easing the float through with the tow can work and is sometimes the best way to catch skimmers. However, there are other days when they want the bait dead still and that is where the pole support comes in. I just don’t think you can ever hold the float truly still without one.

Closeup of pro pole support

I use a Pro Pole Support and utilise the pole hoop on my seatbox to keep everything rock solid. Another huge benefit is the excellent presentation they provide when it’s windy. A key feature of this support is the rippled ‘cups’ on the foam which allow the pole to be located. I will memorise which cup my pole is sat in with reference to the far bank marker and ensure that every time I feed I put the pole in there to enhance my accuracy further still!


Putting It Into Practice

Today’s session has truly been a red-letter day at the wonderful Barston. The skimmers have fed with gusto, no doubt encouraged by the strong tow and extra colour. It still took an hour to start catching though but if you think about it, in a normal match I would be trying to catch the carp for at least the first 90-minutes, so it works in harmony.

Once I have got catching though the session has been relentless with a procession of big skimmers falling to my well-presented single maggot hook bait. It is worth saying that although single maggot was the best hook bait on this session, other options can be good. Double or triple pinkie can work well, as can a red maggot and a pinkie. Work through the bait list and find what they want on the day.

Where the fish have been sat in relation to the feed point has been very interesting and always amazes me. Early in the session and straight after every feed, the fish have been bang on top of the spot. However, after catching a couple the fish almost back off down tow of the feed zone. In fact, at times today I have been catching them one metre away from the feed!

Des netting a fish

Another thing worth trying which seems to work amazingly well on shallow waters is to fish past the feed. Adding a dolly butt to the pole can push you past the feed area, and particularly later in the session, get you back in touch with the fish.

It has been a great session and over 70lb of quality fish have fallen to these relatively simple tactics. Now while you may not catch this amount in a match, in-between fishing for carp, having the option to top up your catch should never be ignored. Carp feeding windows can be short in the winter and fishing for them when they quite simply aren’t feeding is a waste of time.

Des with a heavy load of fish he caught after his session

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