When winter and early spring fishing gets tough often anglers simply give up but for those who persist there are extremely memorable catches to be achieved, often quite easily. Catch more big winter carp right now…
Confidence is the key to fishing success for so many reasons and Kevin Maddocks did not refer to having a positive mental attitude and keeping sensibly warm in order to actually be able to perform and fish far better despite adverse conditions! Winter fishing is just as much about having fun as anything else in life and certainly should not have negative associations.
In fact the less negative thoughts you have about it the higher the probability you will create and exploit the maximum opportunities for outstanding and extremely memorable winter catches. As the scouts motto really says, being prepared is everything, and with good preparation you will be able to take full advantage of any opportunities and be far more aware of them too! Now it is a sobering fact that even in military service, many men perish through a lack of preparation as much as anything else, when in extremes of terrain and hot and cold conditions.
Ideally you would be able to perform at your peak and be able to perform everything you need to but as we know, cold, wet and heat and so on can eventually impact negatively upon affect the actual thought functions required to be effective, as well as induce more negative thinking. Psychological discomfort can be resisted for only so long before your body itself begins to perform less well and wet numb fingers and numb feet are not ideal when fishing. In the past I used to be a carp angler who used to winter fish in (non-thermal) Wellington boots, sitting on a deck chair under a brolly, without a thermal suit, in the days when geodesic fishing domes etc were yet to be applied to carp fishing.
You might or might not be able to imagine how much this affects your fishing throughout the winter cold but I can assure you it is not particularly pleasant. Perhaps we were made of hardier stuff; I was working in heated and unheated glasshouses at this period and a little discomfort was normal really. However these days I would not contemplate fishing minus a 5 season sleeping bag and a shelter that can be converted into a sealed dome for instance with an effective ground sheet!
Maybe you might think I’ve gone soft I completely agree I have in the last 20 years. However having winter fished and actually had to go straight from a lake I was fishing to hospital with pneumonia I hope you get my point not only about effective fishing, but being fully prepared for your own safety! In this instance I had literally returned from a holiday in Goa a couple of days before and the lake I was fishing was at that critical point of being on the cusp of totally freezing over. This point is often a great time to fish because fish can turn onto feeding big-time as water very near freezing does not get denser but becomes less dense and the fish certainly know all about this. (Perhaps consider just why ice floats?!)
I guess you could say that being relatively warm and dry is most important when winter fishing, along with having food to keep you producing body heat, sufficient water too, and something to keep you mind active in the times when the fishing seems particularly hard! In fact winter fishing can be completely the opposite of what many warmer weather anglers might expect. Very often I’ve gone winter fishing and had a take within minutes. But this was not necessarily luck. You can with good preparation and regular bait application exploit carp behaviours that occur in cold water conditions, such as tighter shoaling and more concentrated locations of fish, plus the manifestation of very specific short feeding times that can be as regular and accurate to the minute.
I remember one late December period I the early nineteen-eighties, fishing an Essex reservoir, where I’d been baiting up with half a pound of bait every day and fishing at least every other day (approximately,) for a few weeks. As usual when fishing then, very little bait was introduced when actually fishing; perhaps 30 small baits at the start of a session plus a little hemp, that was all. Inevitably, out of 2 rods used only one rod on a specific spot would produce 99 percent of the fish. But the most striking thing about this time was how incredibly predictable the winter feeding periods became.
After 3 weeks of baiting and fishing I had charted the exact feeding times, all weather conditions, from wind strength and direction, to cloud cover, changes in air pressure, changes in water temperature, fish caught, any fish seen, bait applied, and so on. This was one of my test periods trying to work out patterns to make fishing easier, and taking notes and writing a diary paid off big-time then (and repeatedly since then.)
At the end of this 3 week period and more favourable South-Westerly low pressure system had deepened and more anglers had descended on the reservoir to take advantage. Of course most of these anglers were utterly out of touch with the location of the fish and the times they were feeding. In this instance the fish were not feeding in the often usual morning or evening times at all, but were feeding at exactly quarter past 3 for a maximum of 20 to 30 minutes only.
But this feeding could be well be a good hard feed and 2 fish hooked at once had been achieved a few times in my sessions around this December period. The funniest happening at that time was the following incident…
It was a Saturday afternoon and the lake was busy with quite a number of guys having fished the previous Friday night. There were guys either side of the swim I’d been fishing but no-one had caught anything. Anyway, I leisurely walked around the lake chatting to a few of the lads like you do while under-selling the fishing at the time of course so as to not undo all my own efforts instantly in the process!
The guy to my left walked up and complained that the lake was rubbish and no fish had been caught, so I happened to mention that perhaps the fish fed in very specific bursts in this lake in winter. (These fish could very rarely be caught on the bottom at least, outside of these short feeding spells.) He retorted that sounded like the thing that males cows produce and returned to his swim, but not before I told him of my predicted witching hour (or the exact time I predicted to get a take…) Of course I realise that to him this would have sounded arrogant and certainly he had twice the fishing experience in years I’d had at that time, but then I did have good grounds for feeling so confident!
You guessed right what happened. The guy had just waked back to his swim when my alarm sounded, just 10 minutes after casting in. He came running back swearing his head off in an hilariously shocked and puzzled state. While playing the fish I told him how I fully expected another take within the next 15 or so minutes and then I’d go home. As expected another fish came my way. One fish was a twenty; the other was an upper double; a reasonable winter catch for 1984. After just an hour and a half at the lake I left leaving many green eyed monster anglers beaming into my back!
I did not fully explain to my fellow anglers what I’d discovered about the fish at that particular time, simply because that would have ended my catches instantly and I’d never have got back into the swim, but this of course did begin to occur the following week anyway (but then I’d had my share and I was satisfied!)
Plenty of articles over the decades have detailed very similar accounts of seemingly easy instant multiple carp catches for those willing to brave the cold of winter. As I said, the opportunity is there for you to create (or exploit.) I truly believe that my bait along with its regular introduction was the biggest edge for me, because it conditioned the fish to feed at that particular spot in that swim. This was despite the bulk of the population of the carp in the reservoir not actually being located as a shoal anywhere near the area; but were located in the middle of the lake, away from the cold undercurrents etc.
My winter bait that year was something I really had complete confidence in. It was a homemade recipe and I’d already established this boilie bait during the autumn season on the reservoir. I had seen fashions in bait already come and go and seen how the fish would move onto a new version of a bait after being hammered on an established one, including fish meals, bird foods and milk protein baits and the guys who fished this water certainly knew how to design an affective baits.
Many of my fellow syndicate members there fished Kent lakes at the time and had become adherents of the HNV principles so successfully applied there and elsewhere. They were very keen to grow these reservoir single, double and low twenty pound carp into thirty pound fish, as fast as possible! It took about 8 years to produce this result with the majority of the anglers making and applying their own HNV baits.
As a tip, I used soluble milk proteins in my winter baits, while unknown to me at the time, other guys had acquired certain Asian predigested marine products, and were applying these equally as effectively. Some of the ingredients I exploited during this era were the following:
Sodium and calcium caseinate, soya isolate, lactalbumin, fruit acids, rennet and acid caseins, shrimp and krill meals, wheat flour and rolled oats, Vitamealo and ordinary milk powders and dieting supplements, wheat Germ and wheat bran, feather meal, maize flour and crushed peanuts.
I enjoyed great success using Robin Red extract, more acidic savoury, and spice flavours, a combination of fruit flavours on various solvent bases, various simple and more complex sweeteners combinations plus liquid protein products. Also incorporated were proportions of various bird egg biscuit, seed and insect-based foods, raw molasses meal, proprietary zooplankton and spirulina rich fish food products, and various other ingredients, additives, flavour enhancers and appetite stimulators, essential oils and their components, and flavour extracts such as anchovy extracts and various purees and pates and proprietary hormone fish triggers, liquidised mussels, mixed spices and herbs and so on. Fish meals and ground trout pellet powder, plus Phillips Yeast Mixture (still available in a similar form,) were also very usefully employed. Cooked maize, fermented wheat, hemp, other tiny seeds and tiger nuts were also used within bait recipes.
Hours would be spent pressing dough into bait shapes because they could not be rolled in a Gardner bait rolling table for instance. But one such bait hooked the biggest fish in the lake on the first cast and such bait was very successful on countless occasions, (and has been again on countless occasions since then.)
Use of proprietary base mixes and experimentation with combined base mixes and so on were all applied, often with much more expensive body-building powders with enzymes and powdered flavours, betaine etc. To be honest, I do not recall making hardly any baits by using semolina and soya flour, but such was the power of the mentality against this at the time. (I notice on that note that Ccmoore now offer a European fermented shrimp extract which I highly recommend for winter use, along with their spirulina extract.) Many of the other additives and substances used had a more oestrogen persona such as fenugreek, fennel, anise and parsley for example; and all did very well in colder conditions (and still do.)
It was very important to get baits that were almost buoyant so they flew straight up into the mouths of the fish and the lighter ingredients really worked this end. Also most of these things just happened to be highly digestible, water soluble and very suitable for the job and did very well indeed.
You can do crazy things like wrapping egg biscuit in paste or dog biscuits in dough mix, or any readymade pop-up or cube of rig foam in a different base mix and flavour base mix paste, so on. In these days where the things you can produce at home using pellets of various sizes and formulas plus more conventional (and unconventional) boilie and pellet base mixes and recipes, is simply amazing…
Since those hard cold winter sessions I’ve come to figure out that there is not necessarily any fixed point between so-called instant attractor baits or a nutritional baits and the actions of many bait ingredients and substances may well not first appear to have any potent nutritional value, but certainly boost catches in low nutritional value baits!
In terms of winter baits, the world is your oyster. Bait manipulation and adaptation remains as fascinating an aspect of my fishing confidence and a successful extra edge as it has always been and for me it keeps fishing more fun and more personally satisfying that only using readymade baits.
This year perhaps you might consider doing something a little different, even having your most successful season ever while saving yourself money, by specially adapting your popular readymade baits, or even having a go at making your own homemade bait and reaping big rewards…
By Tim Richardson.
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