Winter location of these mini-river carp, is a hit and miss affair. You will have to look for the fish in any deeper section of the river. Look for carp rolling in the coloured water, assuming the water temperature is rising, otherwise you will be wasting your time. If the rivers are clear, look for them during the middle of the day around the dead weed beds, and be prepared for some long walks, as they will often be miles from the car parks, I know this to be true, trust me! When you do find them, you could be in for a bumper catch. I have often only found fish on their own during the summer months, but once the winter arrives, and the temperature stabilizes, the fish will often group together, and big catches can be made.
River carp can be caught on most baits such as sweetcorn, luncheon meat, maggots and boilies, though due to the nature of the rivers and the existence of nuisance fish, I will have to say that fishing with boilies is your best bet. River carp are not bait shy, and will not back off one bait companies bait in preference to another, though they are not so stupid that they will accept any old rubbish! I have caught river carp on all manner of baits ranging from worms to boilies, and for 90% of my fishing will now exclusively use boilies. I use birdfood boilies for most of my fishing, along with tiger nuts, and where I feel it necessary, worms and chum mixers (when stalking lone fish).
I will always pre-bait a swim for several days on a regular basis before fishing, for two reasons. These are, to get the fish used to seeing bait in a particular area, and for them to see it as another food source. I pre-bait with a mixture of particles, trout pellets and boilies. The pellets will eventually start to break down, drawing fish into the swim, where they can feast on boilies and tiger nuts. Donít think that the boilie will exclusively catch carp, as chub and bream are sure to like them too. I have caught up to 13 chub in one night despite using 2x18mm boilies on the hair- you have been warned! I donít worry if the other fish find my baits appealing, as the carp will follow eventually to investigate the feeding frenzy!
All standard carp gear will work on the small rivers, though you must consider the width of the river, and the proximity of your bait to the bank. I prefer to use a compound taper rod of 2.25tb test curve which softens all movement the fish make when hooked. The length should be around 11ft, as long rods will only hinder your attempts to land the fish in such a cramped environment. Reels such as baitrunners are fine and the line needs to be around 12lbs. Hooks need to be Strong with a capital ĎSí to cope with fast moving fish in the small narrow waters. Standard braided hook lengths such as Silkworm will be fine, though should you encounter the dreaded Mitten Crabs, it would be advisable to use a stiff hooklength such as amnesia to deter the crabs from tangling the trace. Leads should be attached using one of the safety clips available, as often the leads will become trapped in the weed, and a lost lead is better than a fish trailing one around. The leads should be the Ďriserí variety so they will rise over the weed quickly when winding in. All other carp gear is fine on the river apart from braid as a mainline. I feel that braid as a mainline has no place in small river fishing due to its lack of stretch. Most of the fishing action takes place under the rod tips, and accidents will happen if the mainline has no shock absorbing qualities. I would recommend a good quality rucksack that you are comfortable wearing for great lengths of time. This is important, as most of you will find out that all the best carp holding swims are miles away from the road!
Canals were built linking the industrial areas of the country a couple of hundred years ago, and these offer another variation on the river carp fishing theme. Canals, like rivers, have been producing big carp for many years, and canals such as the Grand Union, Basingstoke, Royal Military and the Trent and Mersy Canal are excellent places to start, offering plenty of fish and a sprinkling of bigger fish to keep you interested. Tactics and tackle are generally the same as small river carping, after all, the fish can only run left or right!
The river fish appear to have tougher mouths than their canal cousins, which I believe to be due to the type of food they are feeding on. If you sack a river fish, you will often notice excreted pea mussel shells and other invertebrate shells deposited in the sack. These food items will not be found in canals. The rivers are naturally forming, and will run over chalk, gravel etc, whereas the canal is a man-made water feature, and would have been dug through soft clay. The bottom of the canals will not be able to support pea mussels etc, but will hold vast amounts of silt and weed, which in turn provide the habitat for water insects such as bloodworm.
With softer food available to the canal carp, their mouths do not undertake the huge rubbery appearance like their river cousins, and will be softer. This must be brought into consideration when playing fish, as a heavy handed carp angler will lose more fish than he lands, and this is also why stiff rods have no place on the canal banks.
Bait on the canal is a personal thing. I have done very well using boilies fished over beds of small particles, such as partiblend and hemp. I use this method throughout the year, just cutting down on the amount used during the winter months. Chum Mixers are my favorite floating bait, and canal carp all over the country are suckers for these small portions of dog food. I flavour them with liquids such as tutti fruiti and chocolate malt, which gives me the edge against any other angler on the canal.
The location of the carp is relatively simple. Find the turning bays, and the carp will be there, I promise. Moored houseboats offer shelter to the fish during the colder months, and are well worth seeking out. The water around these houseboats will be slightly warmer, and will draw carp to their surrounding. Baits placed hard up against the hull of the boats score well, though watch out for the windows, as a 2oz lead through a glass pane, does not go down too well with the inhabitants! Lilly pads offer shelter to the carp during the summer months, and large catches can be had on floating baits such as Chum Mixers.
Winter carp fishing on the canal systems tends to be easier than river fishing, as they do not carry floodwater, and are not prone to such varied temperature changes and level fluctuations. In the depths of winter I have had large catches of carp from the canals, when I would not dream of fishing the river due to raging floods.
If you are suffering amongst hordes of competitive carp anglers or just fancy fishing somewhere quiet and unspoiled, why not give the small river carping a go, or seek out that overgrown canal you used to fish as a child. Permits usually cost a fraction of the exclusive lake syndicates and, although the rewards may not may be the same weight-wise, I guarantee that the fish will be in a different league. In many years fishing these small rivers, I have yet to come across another angler fishing for carp, which means that I have the rivers all to myself, which is nice! Do not expect the carp to crawl up your rods, but when you do finally catch one, they are worth their weight in gold.
Get out there, and good luck!