This is the time of year when some of the biggest fish in a lake can be most vulnerable to capture; so winter carp fishing is not as mad as it might first appear! Good planning and preparation including refinement of baits, rigs and use of using warm clothing and equipment is easy. Read on to improve your chances of big winter fish…
The often different activity levels of other fish species and altered availability of many natural foods along with changes in carp behaviour in colder water temperatures can contribute to making them a little easier to catch at specific times. Very often the impact of there being far less angling pressure with only the really keen anglers going fishing makes thing much easier. Sometimes you can have the pick of the most favoured swims, although this can become a problem if fish are grouped in front of only 2 or 3 swims on a water.
Much less free bait is fed into fisheries compared to warmer months too and I’m certain this is a major factor in the downfall of many big fish which succumb to capture at this time. The easy free meals they have become used to may, to a great degree, disappear in winter time.
1. Choose Your Times And Locations Carefully
Some of my best most memorable big fish captures happen in winter between November and March. The catches can come in a variety of conditions and times and often during frantically active ‘binge’ feeding behaviour.
The periods after the water temperatures have evened out more after heavy frosts can be good for example in November.
Evenings in November to December seem pretty productive in my part of the UK on certain waters when usually early morning (6 am to 8.30 am would be the usual feeding time). On the same water in January, on clear sunny days the fish might suddenly switch-on for a swift half-hour feeding ‘binge’ at 1 pm in the afternoon. If prevailing winds push in from the south, west or combinations around these, feeding can happen at any time.
In February even during very heavy frosts which build up on your fishing shelter on top of frost from previous nights, the morning feeding may return again with fish appearing from 6 am. Around February and March, in swims most heated by the afternoon sun, fishing close to snags entering or in the water can be very productive. Reed beds soak up the radiated heat so heating the surrounding water making things a bit more favourable for feeding. Margin fishing in winter is far more productive than many anglers appear to realise. In fact very often if fish will feed at all it will be in water under 4 feet deep and not in the deepest part of the lake.
Reeds are an especially favoured area for me for this reason and they harbour all kinds of natural food too.
Fishing under marginal overhanging bushes, branches and other cover are also productive. Any old established formerly productive feeding spots like shallow depressions, edges of drop-off’s, bottoms of shelves, gullies, raised spots, weed beds and lily beds, marginal and island spots sheltered from a cold wind, all can produce fish.
It is often the case that fish will come from swims that are still receiving regular baiting. In winter certain formerly ‘favourite bet’ swims may be very un-productive. Effects of prevailing winds in autumn and winter can really affect the location of over-wintering fish which frequently group together forming large shoals which can literally be most of the population of a lake tightly packed side by side into just one or 2 groups. Such a group does not necessarily choose the deepest part of the lake to over-winter.
Sometimes location of these fish can be down to vigilant observation of regular fish movements seen around morning and dusk.
Often just one tip of a fin of one fish may be all you see. Using your end tackle to help you locate fish is an interesting exercise. Fish on the bottom can sometimes be located by actually reeling back a lead slowly and finding them by feeling them ‘bumping the line.’
Often setting your tackle and alarms to the most sensitive possible will not only indicate a taking fish possibly otherwise missed, but may show you more line activity which can reveal whereabouts of fish. ‘Fishing for liners’ with slack lines and light indicators is often a useful trick; just changing your range until you get a bite.
2. Take Notes…
Taking notes on fish location, exact feeding spots in a swim, feeding times, exact details of baits and rigs used, amounts of free baits used and form of introduction all matter. Notes when and where other anglers hook fish and their fish sizes and baits is all useful knowledge, but you never need to neither copy another angler nor necessarily ‘poach his swim!’
Notes on weather conditions are especially important as not only identifying the exact spots in a swim are important, but just finding a swim with fish in can be a real winter achievement! This information is priceless after a couple of years on a water.
Fish location is often a big challenge in winter. Even knowing where fish may have settled in November or December may not be much help come February; especially if angling pressure and catches have caused them to move.
3. Depths And Conditions
Often carp sit in the sun-warmed and more comfortable top or middle water layers.
In winter it is often the case on many waters where a bottom bait in water over 8 feet deep may produce very little compared to rigs fished ‘long pop-up’ or ‘zig-rig’ style in the upper water layers. If you have ever swum in a lake at different times of year (life jackets and properly safely assisted) you will fully appreciate yourself just how much water can change and differ at times between the surface and going down deeper. Depending upon various factors, distinct water layers may be discovered of a different temperature and thus density.
There can at times be a significant difference between marginal temperatures and the temperature of water on the bottom in different areas of a swim. Judging your prospective results by air temperatures alone can be very misleading. Sometimes conditions can produce interesting effects which can be either productive or not!
Those nights where ground frosts and heavy air frosts create exceptionally poor visibility during high pressure are not my favourites in January or February. Neither are heavy night rains during changeable conditions in November for instance. Confidence can be easily dented in winter; this is where your notes from previous years can really help you.
You can fish in confidence pretty much whatever conditions are regardless of weather conditions. Fishing during times of icing-up can be exceptionally productive as the water may actually become less dense just prior to freezing and the fish can feed very well at such times. I find about 2 weeks after a thaw can be very good too depending on the water. For those less of a winter fishing inclination, why miss out on possibly your biggest chance of a new personal best from your water.
As spring approaches and the rising air temperatures start warming the water, some nights the air can become colder than the water temperature. On such a day, try and get your baits where the sun has been penetrating the water for longest in the afternoon sun; perhaps under an over-hanging bush in the water on the eastern bank facing the setting sun.
After an especially bright sunny day and as evening draws in a thick fog can envelop you. In such spooky conditions you can very well expect a big fish or a multiple catch as one of the first significant feeds of the New Year can well occur and you could well be the only angler on the fishery. As usual, if you hear ‘crashing’ fish then follow the signs and use your head! Casting at any moving fish at any range and moving your rigs every hour can certainly pay-off.
I find fish that have been disturbed by tackle and bait sounds and movements seem more awake and mobile and easier to catch being curious creatures. Soluble baits and highly digestible baits are very much an edge too.
4. Bait Selection
I’d rather fish 5 kilograms of soluble paste and ‘winterised’ pellets (with a surfactant lecithin product) than ‘conventional’ boilies or pellets, although of course these still catch their share of fish.
If your primary bait is the ‘Marine halibut pellet’ there are many ways to adapt and enhance their form, characteristics and practical uses especially for winter purposes, even leading to a new generation of successful baits for the coming spring and new season.
If you are confident, you will fish confidently and do much more to catch your fish. You will see and strike more usually missed rod tip knocks. You will make sure your rigs and baits are as finely tuned and well presented as possible. You will have the willingness to strike at single or double ‘bleeps’ in adverse weather when it could well be a fish. (A self-hooked fish can move very little in winter!)
You will even observe more fish to raise you morale, stay more alert and ‘in-tune’ with the regular rhythms of a water and more easily spot anything unusual or useful. Being ‘sharper’ you will generally catch more fish and be more energetic, positive and confident and you will enjoy your winter fishing much more too!
Often when you are less confident a fish head at night or a ‘line bite’ may be put down to your imagination; or thoughts like “It’s only the wind, or “That damned duck, goose, coot, bream again etc.” However, maximising any potential opportunity is what winter carp fishing is all about. Having positively oriented winter fishing friends is a great help too.
I remember in early February 1980, (on my birthday,) I went fishing for a day and night on a water which had not produced a fish for 4 weeks previously. I had this fishing mad friend in this particular fishing syndicate, just as keen as me to brave the freezing temperatures. He brought us a flask of coffee with a strong dose of whiskey in it; which kept ‘spirits up!’ (It’s also an interesting bait dip, coffee works too…)
I had one ‘bleep’ with all my gear finely tuned and struck my ‘birthday fish.’ Such fish stick in the memory as the odds of capture at the time appeared so low. I even remember the bait, the rig, the depth and range and temperatures and that was one cold fish. When your landing net is frozen solid and when there is ice in your rod rings, holding a rod to play a fish can be both an exhilarating but painful experience at one and the same time.
My judge of a great winter fish is often how painful it is to hold a very cold fish instead of the snow or frost on the ground! (My hands are especially sensitive to cold!)
Following this capture, we refined various ways to exploit the fish having temporarily found them to exert our own influence on their location and bait orientations. Taking such an unusual opportunity with barely any other anglers bothering to fish the lake at the time, we quietly regularly baited a large area and had a very productive winter. Indeed we had very many multiple fish captures with some of the biggest fish in the lake too before the syndicate ‘clocked’ us! (Talking of clocks, you can get to the point in winter where feeding times are like clock-work and you can more efficiently use your time!)
During this winter period, I remember in particular, one member coming up and stating how ‘rubbish’ the fishing is on this water in winter. I could not help it as I looked at my watch and said “On the contrary; they’ll be feeding in about 5 minutes.” Of course literally 5 minutes later I hooked a fish and the guy just stood there in disbelief. (Little did he know I had a rather ‘bigger picture’ than him!)
Often one good winter trick to exploit is where a westerly or southerly or south-westerly wind would impact that area.
You regularly pre-bait a couple of marginal spots of 3 to 6 feet depth and go a bit deeper maybe 7 or 9 feet deep up against a weed bed (these do often persist in mild winters.) Or simply choose an area next to a holding area like a set of snags in the water which are especially affected by south-westerly type winds. In warming prevailing winds in winter this practice can seriously pay off, but why be fixed in your approach.
If water birds are an especially bad problem and you’ve found the fish, or discovered their winter patrol routes, you could bait with hemp heavily for example instead of chocking expensive boilies or pellets down their throats. At such times, boosting baits with acidic flavours and betaine with extra palatants or other amino acids products and additives for instance can work well.
I remember in winter we used Tutti Fruitti and other sweet and fruit flavours like ‘Cornish ice-cream’ quite a bit but savoury ones like butter, cream, ‘milk B’ ‘scopex’ ‘chocolate malt’ and spicy ones like ‘bun spice’ ‘mega spice’ and a variety of essential oils too were successful. Using various higher than recommended levels of fish and crustacean concentrates packed with feeding triggers were used very successfully also. In 2008 anglers would probably go for ‘chilli hemp’ or ‘n-butyric acid pineapple’ instead of a homemade cheese flavoured bird food oriented highly digestible boilie (and not a conventional round or dumbbell shape either.) I know which I’d personally go for to get an ‘edge.’
The rule still applies that achieving a big ‘edge’ by being different to the ‘crowd’ of contemporary ‘popular’ baits, methods, ‘conventional thinking’ and angling styles, can mean far improved catch rates and consistency in your fishing.
Even using a swim feeder to introduce flavour sprayed maggots and crumbed baits is a neat trick to get more attraction, movement and activity near your hook bait.
Method mixes, ‘stick mixes and methods etc all work well, but the choices of tactics and baits are huge; so why think ‘fixed’ or in a ‘copy-cat’ stereotypical fashion?
The timing of winter pre-baiting or ‘strategic baiting while fishing’ with coming weather changes is an efficient method. Doing this particularly when temporary milder air temperatures, sunny days, or when relatively warm winds are forecast can readily produce multiple winter fish and a good chance of the biggest fish in your lake. Winter personal bests kind of stick more sharply in the memory.
This fishing bait books author has many more fishing and bait ‘edges.’ Just one could impact on your catches!
By Tim Richardson.
Tim is a highly experienced homemade bait maker big carp and catfish angler of 30 years. His bait enhancing books / ebooks now help anglers in 41 countries improve their results. See this bait and fishing secrets website now! For the unique acclaimed expert bait making ‘bibles’ ebooks SEE: https://www.baitbigfish.com