I will concentrate on carp in this piece but may stray to other species if space allows. Right, where do we start? Well, the many articles written in the weekly and monthly angling magazines about winter carp fishing are correct, with respects to the basics, so I will start with them. First of all do your homework when choosing a water to fish in the winter. Find out its history with regards to winter carp. Some waters never produce carp between November and February, there is no denying it so there is no point slogging it out on a water like that trying to prove a point. The best bet, especially if you are new to winter carp fishing, is to follow the three golden rules.
Number 1 Ė choose a water you know well and have fished during the summer recently.
Number 2 Ė choose a water that has a proven record of producing at least some carp during the winter.
Number 3 Ė choose a water that is close to home or work so you can get there and back in a reasonable time, daylight is very limited in winter.
Okay, good, we have a water, now we need to choose an area to fish, this is why some knowledge of the water is essential. Unless you have unlimited time you could waste half the winter fishing various areas of the lake trying to find where the carp are located so choose an area where winter carp have often been caught from in the past. There are no hard and fast rules as to where that area may be on a lake. The old adage of the deeper areas are the best in winter does not apply on all waters, on some yes but on just as many lakes winter producing areas may well be in shallow water. Iíve no idea why that is the case, I just accept it and adapt to each situation and water in turn.
Some people have said that waters with silty bottoms are better than gravel bottoms, Iíve also heard the reverse, and Iíve caught well in winter on both types of lakes so thatís not a good guide. One common denominator Iíve found on all the waters Iíve done well on in winter is that the carp never move far from the old summer weedbeds and therefore I have always done well fishing near or over them, no matter how deep the water. One last point, when I say choose an area on a lake I mean an area, not just one swim. The area could be half the lake, covering an acre or many acres. Carp do not, I believe, all huddle together so that the whole population is in one spot, they are in a general area and individual fish move around that area at will. To put all your eggs into one swim will result in disaster.
Okay, we have a water and an area to fish, before we look at how to fish it let's think a bit about ourselves. It gets cold in winter, especially at night, so make sure you are prepared. If you are lucky, your chosen area of the lake will not be far from the car park so you can make several trips back and forth to the swim, or collect gear as you need it during the session. You of course may not be lucky and the walk to the swim will be long and arduous. I have been both lucky and unlucky on waters with respect to this and the ones with the long walk I have hated with a passion! My advice is to get a trolley or a wheelbarrow. To load yourself up without one and trudge through mud and rain will not put you in any kind of efficient angling mood before or after a session. Do not be tempted to travel light and cut back on comfort though. Ensure you have enough clothes but do not put them all on straight away especially if you have a long walk or you will sweat and then as you cool you will get cold. Put the various layers on as the evening or day progresses.
I do not use a one piece suit preferring to wear a tracksuit with jeans over the top and then a T-shirt, shirt and a couple of sweatshirts, one with a hood. Then if it is cold or wet I put a waterproof bib and brace on as necessary. The bits not to get cold is your feet, so boots are essential. The various moon boot types with inners are all adequate. Again though if I have a long walk, I don a pair of walking boots for the trudge and change to the moon boots at the swim, otherwise you will sweat with the resultant cold feet later. Personally I do not use a sleeping bag either preferring a couple of large blankets. I purchased an army waterproof thermal blanket last year and it is superb, even for keeping the dew off on summer nights when a brolly or bivvy is not needed.
The main reason I don't like sleeping bags is because they are inefficient. I want to be out on the rods at the first bleep, not after the run has been going for ages whilst I climb out and put my boots on. A good bedchair is essential, a cheap one will be uncomfortable and cold, adjustable legs mean you can get near the rods, efficiency again. I have fitted mine with a plastic mud protection cover at the end to stop it getting muddy from my boots - these I wear all the time, no bivvy slippers for me! Talking of bivvies, if I do more than 24hrs then I use a bivvy otherwise I am happy with my oval umbrella shelter. It's a personal thing, again I do not like being in the confines of a bivvy, I feel divorced from the lake and the rods cooped up in one. Until recently I used just a 50 inch brolly with storm rods in winter, I only changed to the oval shelter because my new bedchair would not fit under the brolly. Obviously food and drink is essential, either on the bank if you are fishing a longish session or inside you before-hand if you are doing an overnighter, as I tend to do.
Right here we are, we now have the water, the area to fish and have equipped ourselves to stay warm and well fed, how do we catch the little darlings? It might be useful to relay three different scenarios that I have found myself in on three different lakes in recent years.
The first lake is a 3-acre shallow (average 4-foot) estate lake. Naturally being an estate lake the bottom is mainly covered in silt, some very thick, there are large areas of hard clay as well though. The carp in there are plentiful and run to 20lb. I had fished it on and off over the years during the summers and knew the lake well. I had never fished it in winter before though but knew others had been fairly successful doing so. I was at a loose end one winter so decided to give it a go. I fished a few daytime sessions in December but the weather was very cold and in fact the lake froze up completely near to and over Christmas, I received no action at all on those sessions. I realised, when thinking about it, that I may have made a mistake fishing, as I was, into the deep silt in the middle of the lake using single baits with 4 bait stringers. Plus I felt daytime quite probably was not a good feeding time. It was the same in summer, 90% of the action coming at night. I was reluctant to fish at night as there were no bivvies or umbrellas with peripheries on them allowed and as the weather was cold I was unwilling to brave it under a brolly. However, after Christmas the weather warmed up with mild winds and some rain. I decided to return to the lake and fish afternoon and evening sessions up to midnight. I also decided to fish a different area of the lake that in summer is covered in lilies, which also has little silt. I kept with the single boilies and stringer approach but also introduced around thirty free baits per rod. I figured there would be dead lilies and stems on the bottom, plus the roots, so after casting out I did not pull back at all. Around 8pm that first session I had a fast run and after a good scrap netted my first winter carp from the lake, a nice mirror just over 14lb. It was well hooked in its bottom lip; I was using the line-aligner rig at the time so it was good to see it was working well. I had one more carp around 10pm, a common of 16lb, before I packed up an hour later.
Future sessions continued in the same vein, no action until after dark, 8pm became a bit of a hot time, and on average I was getting three runs a session. I stuck with the same swim for a few sessions until in mid February we received some cold weather again and the lake froze up for a few days. When milder weather came it came with a strong south-westerly wind. I went down the lake on the first day of the milder weather and found the ice just thawing. I could visibly see the ice retreating as the ripple ran up against its edge. As I watched a carp rolled alongside a small island in the waves, three more times carp rolled in the same area over the next half-hour, definitely different fish. I introduced a load of boilies, scopex flavour, before leaving, planning a session for the next day. I knew the bottom in this new area was hard clay so I changed the rig to the D rig, still with a bottom bait, figuring that the carp would be picking up the baits more cautiously than over the silt. I should explain that, despite the carp not being very big, this lake is used as a bit of an experimenting ground by the members for rigs and baits. Hence the carp have become very difficult to catch at times as they have just about seen it all before and have learned rather nicely. The word 'cute' sums them up.
When I arrived the following day all the ice was gone and a nice wind was blowing down the lake, I was able to fish this new spot from a swim that enabled me to have the wind at my back which made life more bearable especially as rain was in the air. Within an hour of casting out a carp rolled in the waves and half hour later, a little earlier than the hot time, one of the rods tore off. Despite the fight being in open water it took me a full 20 minutes to subdue this carp and was pleased to see a big fully scaled mirror in the bottom of the net, just a few ounces under 19lb. Its flanks were cold to the touch and lice hung on to its fins, incredibly only 24 hours before the lake had been covered in ice. Three more carp fell to my rods that evening and I believe I had got them at that all-so-essential time when they were just waking up after lying up under the ice.
With only a couple of weeks left of the season I tried a couple of sessions with one rod cast out into the middle of the lake in heavy silt again. No action at all came to this rod but I continued to catch on a rod cast to over old lilies. This proved my theory nicely that it was the dead lilies that were keeping them happy during the winter not the deeper water and thick silt. As an aside, a couple of years later I went down there in February just as the ice was melting, the weather was sunny and felt warm. I took three carp on floaters that day cast to holes in the ice, I could not see any carp I just threw out some freebies to see what happened and they responded. In summer they are almost impossible to catch off the top. Always try something different, no matter how daft, you may be surprised.
Right, let's move on to scenario two. A few years back I was fishing a strange looking lake, a very old gravel pit in fact, that was very long and thin, about half mile long and 80 yards wide. It had few features but had two very large lily beds and the open water was almost completely choked with Canadian Pondweed during the summer. Despite this I had caught quite a few carp during the summer from the holes in the weed and off the top. I had no intention of fishing the winter there but as autumn passed I was still catching so I carried on. The weed began to die down and I was able to catch a few carp during October and November from the margins, in about four-foot of water. The carp are not fished for much and many are uncaught fish, one of the attractions. However fate dealt a cruel blow as in early December we received a lot of rain and strong winds, this unfortunately caused an adjacent river to flood, reaching record levels. The gravel pit was dug in the river's flood plain. Although it had never flooded before as far as anyone could remember, the river water flooded into the lake at one end and out at the other. The lake in effect became part of the river with a visible flow through it, the fact there were no trees round the lake did not help.
When the flood receded just before Christmas the water in the lake was the colour of tea, before it had been crystal clear. A lot of the weed had been washed out but as the level of the lake returned to normal, from the boat large patches could still be seen below the surface. I was a little concerned that some of the carp had escaped into the river but this was proved mostly unfounded, some may have but only one or two. I was determined to carry on fishing during the rest of the winter and guessed from previous experience the carp were probably concentrated in the old lily beds. The open water being mainly silt, in which the weed grows, a few areas of hard sand or gravel were situated around the pads and in other areas of the lake but these had produced few fish during the year so I chose to ignore them. Several sessions later though, fishing over the old lilies and later the clear sand and gravel had produced nothing. The colour had returned to near normal but no carp could be seen.
In early February I was sitting staring out at the water contemplating another blank session when a carp leapt clear of the water in the open water over the old Canadian Pondweed a hundred yards to my left. I immediately walked up to the spot where it had jumped and as I reached it again a carp crashed out. Over the next half-hour more activity was seen over a large area of the open water. It was too late for this session but the following day I was back.
When I arrived I took the boat out and ever so quietly let it drift on the wind over the whole length of the open water where the carp had showed. I could see the dead weed still surprisingly about five feet below the surface in what is about 6 or 7 feet of water, however between the weed were large areas of clear bottom, silt interspersed with sand. The sand showing eerily as a light haze through the gloomy black water. Back at the bank I decided to use pop-ups to counteract the silt with 10 or 12 bait stringers tied to the lead, the hookpoint pushed through part of the PVA string to avoid tangles. The rig was the ever-so-faithful D rig. Although I had been using fishmeals all summer I had changed to Strawberry flavoured boilies in November so it was white Strawberry flavoured pop-ups that were cast out half-hour later. Before casting out I had flicked a light lead out to find the clear areas in the weed and had clipped and marked the line. After casting out I liberally fired out some loose baits over the whole area.
No carp showed but just after dark I received a fast take and soon netted a 21lb mirror. The hook was well back in its mouth and the fins were covered in lice. Shortly after casting out again I received another take from a totally black looking mirror of just under 18lb. Yet another 21lb mirror followed before midnight. Incredibly I had gone for two months without a carp and three had been netted in 5 hours. The rest of the night was quiet but at dawn again I was in and after a long hard fight I landed a 26lb mirror, followed an hour later by a very long 22lber. All of the carp were hooked a long way back and were all covered in lice. The action ceased then and despite me staying for a few more hours I did not see or hear another carp.
Obviously I returned a couple of days later and at 2pm landed a very old looking 24lb 8oz mirror that looked like it had never been caught before. The carp were stocked I believe in the 1940s and were then left and forgotten. The lake was only fished for its big pike and large head of 2lb plus rudd, even now the presence of the carp is mainly ignored. The night produced another two carp, two 19lb mirrors.
Three more sessions followed all producing some action, including my first common of the winter, a fish of 23lb. Winter struck a cruel blow in early March, in fact it struck on the evening of my next session. What had started as a mild wind and light rain ended by morning as a howling northerly and sleet and snow. The carp must have felt the cold weather coming as I netted four fish during the evening including my smallest, a common of 8lb and my biggest of the winter a lovely mirror of 27lb 12oz The rest of the season I had to endure heavy frosts and sunny still days. This put an end to the action and I did not see another carp until the last day of the season when I landed a 17lb mirror from over the old pads. I had moved back to that area guessing that the relatively warm sunny days may have made the carp think about the shallower water, rightly so it seemed.
So lastly to the third scenario. Last winter I fished a 2-acre mature gravel pit that again I had fished all summer long therefore I was in tune and touch with the lake and its occupants. I will not go into too much detail as the sessions were covered blow by blow in my weekly diary on the website. As November arrived we had a series of cold windy days that finally put an end to the carp feeding in the edge so it was time to put my winter carp fishing hat on. There were two areas that I knew were good winter producers, in fact in the end I only concentrated on one consistently. The first area I concentrated on though was the back and bottom of a bar in around 6-foot of water the other side of an old set of pads. The bottom of the bar and beyond has a layer of light silt. Here it was just a continuation of how I had been fishing all autumn. A PVA bag full of trout pellets topped up with half a dozen crushed Premier Aminos Fishmeal boilies, the hook bait was a single bottom bait fished with a knotless knot rig. Once cast out no freebies were put out.
The first few sessions were just evening sessions, the first I lost a carp, the second produced a 21lb mirror and the third a tench. After that for the rest of the month I did overnighters and managed to loose two fish both on hookpulls, I might add the weed and pads were still quite thick and I was losing them as I tried to extract them from the weed. After that, and into December, I decided a change of swim was needed to stem the run of lost fish. The second area I concentrated on was the main large part of open water that in the summer was solid in Canadian Pondweed. Casting a lead about, all that could be found to the uninitiated was thick black weed but fortunately in October I had thought ahead to winter and had located, over a couple of hours, two areas of clear hard bottom amongst the weed. Marking the distance and direction that these spots lay from various swims ensured that now in December I had two areas to fish all winter. My plan now was to fish all winter to these spots that could be cast to from three sensible swims. My first session in December fishing to the spots produced a lovely long immaculate 18lb plus common. The following session resulted in a tench. Unfortunately a couple of blanks followed and then Christmas came.
I was back at the lake just into the new Millennium to find the lake completely flooded due to heavy rain but fortunately I was able to fish the only dry swim on the lake from where I was able to locate one of the clear spots. This worked and sometime in the night I netted a mirror just under 22lb. The following week the water had receded a bit and I was just able to fish the original swim and, to the amazement of a mate who came down to see me, netted a nice double figure mirror. Winter then raised its head and I lost nearly two weeks due to the lake being frozen, in fact I actually woke one morning to find the lake frozen over and only just managed to get the lines out.
When warmer weather arrived I found the clear patches had become a little weedy, old weed together with the beginning of new green growth. I therefore changed, on occasions, to pop-ups still with just PVA bags of trout pellets and crushed boilies, the only whole boilie being the one attached to the hair. February brought a run of fish starting with a gorgeous 28lb plus mirror, this fish was covered in lice so I figured they were just starting to move again after the freeze up. This was confirmed when on subsequent sessions carp were rolling just after dark. The carp kept coming though and on two occasions I had a brace of carp before 10pm, a 23lb common and 27lb leather amongst them. When March came I knew I had to put a lot of time in to cash in and during the last fortnight I landed another six fish, all over 20lb culminating on the last day of the season with the capture of a 31lb 7oz common.
That haul was an exceptional catch for winter on the lake but I think what was happening was this: As I was constantly casting to exactly the same clear spots every time, what were clear spots anyway became spots that the carp were visiting daily, having found a regular supply of food. Also by having the only whole boilie as the one on the hair, that was the immediate bit of bait the carp took, no danger of them becoming full up before they took the bait. Finally of course having learnt from scenario two I knew the carp would be lying up amongst the old weed waiting for the right conditions to make them feed.
So what can we deduce from those scenarios? Without a doubt carp like old, dying, dead and re-growing weed to lie up in, but not always old lilies. It would appear that thick silt is not a good place in winter. Just after dark is a good feeding time, after midnight less so. Daytime can be good but I have found it very much depends on the weather and the water, the only way to find out is to fish 24 hours right through on a few sessions if possible. Accurate baiting with sensible amounts of bait to very small spots whether amongst weed or open water is essential. I have not covered the carps delight in spending time in the upper layers of the water on sunny days, they are impossible to catch when they are doing that anyway, so just watch them and take photos seems a good bet to me.
Finally, on all three scenarios the importance of short session, efficient, concentrated angling can not be stressed enough. The longest session was 22 hours, in scenario three I was fishing just overnight sessions, arriving from work around 3:30, having an hour at the most to cast out, then leaving at 6am to return to work before it was light. Never let lack of time be an excuse to why you cannot go fishing, it you want to go bad enough you will make time.
So to sum up winter carp fishing, follow the three golden rules, make sure you are comfortable and warm, think where the carp may be, keep the baiting accurate and sensible and the results will come. Most important enjoy it and donít let the tufted ducks get you down!
I never got round to talking about other species in winter, Iíll perhaps do that another time. That then brings us back to Spring again where this series of articles started last April, I hope they were useful and you had as enjoyable year as I did, keep at it.