More Winter Edges
Iain Macmillan has a few tips and edges to help keep your mojo flying until the clocks go forward and the buds are blooming again.
My personal fishing changes in the winter. A couple of my chosen syndicate lakes prove really hard going during the colder months. Don’t ask me whether it’s the lack of fish, the depths, or the fact there aren’t as many anglers consistently baiting, which in turn slows down the fish’s senses for bait.
In truth I think all of the above come into play. Combine the long, dark nights of numbness and you can see why lots of anglers, me included, go in search of more suitable waters with good winter form. This normally results in the bites flowing well, but obviously the fish tend to be much smaller than those I’d choose to target during the other nine months of the year.
The right water
This is the key factor for me. I’m lucky to have access to a very quiet syndicate with a superb winter track record. I’m also blessed with the fact there are only a few privileged members who hardly fish it in the summer, let alone the winter. This allows me to bait it on a regular basis to keep the fish eating and hopefully moving about. The water isn’t far from home so it’s no real chore to nip up with a couple of kilos of bait a couple of times a week. This is proving a massive edge; in fact, the same spot has produced three 20lb-plus fish on three separate short day sessions (strangely, all in the same time frame not long after flicking the rigs in). Waters like this are rare, I know, but don’t be put off doing this on any lake you see fit. The thing with winter fishing that appeals to most is the banks are less busy, which means you can normally go about your baiting up business without the fear of somebody else capitalising on your hard work.
If day-ticket fishing is your thing then the world really is your oyster in the winter. The list really is endless: Linear, Orchid, Drayton, Thorpe Lea, Barston, etc... Those are predominantly in the South, but in the leafy county of Shropshire there’s a whole host of day-ticket waters like Merrington, Blackthorn, Blakemere and Earls View. Admittedly it’s not like taking candy from a baby in the way that Drayton can be sometimes, but with some careful application you’ll certainly get amongst a few carp.
What to look for
We are all aware of the word ‘watercraft’, or at least we should be. This is paramount in the winter, as at times the fish can shoal up so tightly that you only need be one swim off them and you’ll blank, but get it right and you’ll have a hat full.
It goes without saying that if we have a mild spell with some south-westerly winds then I’d be looking to get on the end of it. On the flipside, I’d want to be on the back of a cold north-easterly for sure. Be aware of where the sun is for most of the day, as even a degree or two difference in temperature could trigger a fish to pick a bait up. Try to remember that if it feels warmer to you in a certain spot where it’s sheltered, then it is probably the same for a few fish.
Depth is a massive key, too. I don’t like to be in anything over 8-9ft if I can help it, 4-5ft preferably. I think in big winds it stirs the fish into snapping at something out of sheer annoyance rather than actually wanting to eat it. Old reedbeds are fine providing there’s ample depth in front of them. Old rotted weed debris will also hold both heat and scraps of natural food, even at this time of year.
I suppose the last thing I’d look for is angling pressure if you’re on a day-ticket water. Just think about how many lines are in one area and how pressured that area will be, so why slot in around other anglers? See what the crowd has caught, if anything. If they aren’t getting bites then the fish simply aren’t there, so a quieter area could be the one.
The key here is little and often really. What you don’t want to do is fill it in – you’ll ruin your chances before you’ve started. If you want to spod/Spomb, just try half a dozen to induce a bite. If you get a bite, simply repeat the process. If you’re a boilie only angler, 20 baits will suffice; it really is enough to get a bite if you’re in the right area.
Other options are small PVA sticks, solid bags, and hi-viz single baits; all work perfectly fine in the winter on any water. Certainly with the stick and solid bag you’re only introducing a mouthful of bait for attraction, and you’d be surprised what mixes can be used in both. As for singles or the actual hookbait to use with a PVA stick or solid bag, I always reach for something bright, fruity and stinky. Those three words sum up exactly what I’m looking for to attract the attention of any passing silt feeder. If you check out most media outlets, most other winter anglers use something similar, which tells you they work!
As mentioned, I’ve been baiting my local syndicate water. I’ve gone for the Monster Tiger Nut simply because it’s a great creamy colour which washes out really quickly, and it’s tried and tested absolutely everywhere.
There’s the age-old argument about using fishmeals during the winter. I think the thing here is not to overdo it if you want to carry on using them; in fact, I’ve had a couple of fish recently on small 10mm pink Crave pop-ups, which are obviously fishmeal based. Don’t be scared to use a fishmeal, just don’t pile it in, as the bait experts reckon they aren’t as digestible during the winter as they are for the rest of the year.
Finally, don’t be scared to try different coloured hookbaits if your bites dry up. As a rule of thumb, I like white, pink, orange and yellow, and I bet most of us are the same. At times, however, something completely off the cuff can bring instant success. I just feel I always reach for the colours that served me well on my last trip... we are all creatures of habit I suppose.
Tackle and rigs
The fact that I normally fish smaller waters in the winter means I don’t need my big pit reels and casting rods. I scale down to a 2¾lb rod and an X-Aero Baitrunner, and let me tell you it’s a dream setup to play fish with after using heavier gear.
I continue to use fluorocarbon main line, as most of the lakes really do clear up so I’m desperate to conceal my line at all times. I’m aware lots of anglers love bow-string-tight lines, but to be honest I can’t get my head around it. If there’s one thing I think spooks the hell out of a carp, it’s line, so I want mine to be as inconspicuous as possible.
Just lately I’ve been playing about with the multi-rig. The lake I’m fishing is pretty much weed free, so this rig sits perfectly on the bottom and absolutely nails the fish. It’s a rig I’ve been itching to try for years, but never found myself in the right situation. Now I’ve built my confidence in it during the winter, though, it will certainly be playing a much bigger role for me back on my syndicate lakes. I don’t tend to change rig components too much; I like to think my rigs work well most of the time, so why scale them down during the winter? They are still tied with loving care, but due to the fact there’s no weed I can get away with trying different things; hence using the multi-rig.
I think if you get your location right and get on a few fish, you’ll get a bite as long as you’ve tied the basics correctly. If you’re very new to carp fishing, the whole riggy debate can be a bit of a minefield, but trust me, pick a neatly tied rig with a sharp hook, that doesn’t require a rocket scientist to work out, and it will work. Just look at Darrell Peck and Dave Lane – surely two of the finest carp anglers out there – and their rigs are as basic as can be. Definitely food for thought.
Winter essentialsThis bit could really go on for ages, but I’m talking about things I wouldn’t be without in the winter rather than things which make my life more comfortable whilst on the bank.
Zig rigging is without doubt the most underused tactic out there, even by my standards. They are probably the best way of catching carp on certain waters in the winter, or all year come to think of it. I reckon carp spend 95% of their lives off the bottom at some depth or another, it’s just up to us as anglers to suss out what depth. We all reach for zigs come spring, but do you really think those same fish have been asleep on the bottom all winter then mooched up to your zig level come the spring? Hookbait choice for me is always foam (we were using foam 12 years ago, but it took some time to catch on), be it a little sliver on a hair or a Zig Aligna of some colour. Like the bottom singles, play around with colours; in bright sun I go for black, and on duller days I go for yellow.
Other things to not forget are binoculars, a decent stove, and something hearty to eat. I’m only doing day sessions at the moment but some conditions have been raw to say the least, so some decent winter attire is needed. The same goes for your feet. I wear Brasher walking boots and have done for years; combine them with some thick socks and you’ll be toasty. Lastly a substantial woolly hat and neck warmer will keep the chilly winds out, and a good pair of fleeced or Gore-Tex gloves will keep your fingers functioning. This may all sound like basic kit, but if you’re warm and catching you’ll love it, whereas if you’re cold and blanking you’ll be back in the motor on route home in under an hour! Please be prepared.
Just try and take on board some of the things I’ve mentioned. Yes, winter fishing can be hard, but I love the freshness of the frosty mornings and the deserted banks. Choose your water wisely, as you want to enjoy your cold-water carping with a few bites. It really doesn’t have to be all hardcore carpy stuff just so you can say you’ve endured nights of harshness. In my opinion it’s all about having fun whilst doing it, not slogging it out in the cold long nights – especially when it’s 23ºC in my local boozer every evening!