Features: Tactics

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Winter Targets

Main pic: I can’t sit still for long!

This winter I’m fishing short day sessions and the odd overnighter whenever time allows, which is never as often as I’d like!

I’m fishing a multitude of different venues with no real focus on anywhere, other than my local club water where there is one last mid-thirty mirror I would dearly love to catch. I’m also spending some of my angling time fishing for other ‘good’ winter species such as grayling, roach, pike, perch and chub.

I have a very busy and demanding job, and a family, so my fishing always revolves around minimum time, maximum effort!

If I think back to around five or even 10 years ago, I spent a lot of time on the bank; long weekends and weeks at a time during holidays, even in the depths of winter. That’s all behind me now, however, and I just enjoy getting out for a couple of hours here and there, with maybe the odd overnighter whenever time allows. I still enjoy myself immensely, though, and in many ways, fishing with limited time has actually made me into a more effective angler.

Maggots are a permanent addition to my bait bucket
Tangerine Dream – my first-choice boilie for a fast winter bite
Dipping and spraying gets you more bites

In the bait bucket

You will always find maggots and worms in my bait bucket, come rain or shine, winter or summer. These are awesome baits that really do come into their own in the winter months. The natural juices and also the movement can be just what the carp need to trigger them to feed.

Tangerine Dream boilies are another favourite of mine. The ever-faithful orange Tuttis are the first choice for many anglers in winter, and our Tangerine Oil and Tutti combination is particularly special. If I think the carp are prepared to pick up a bottom bait then it will be one of these on a mini hinged stiff rig or stuffed into a small PVA bag with some clouding groundbait.

Another essential is the brilliant white Amber Strawberry 10mm Pop-Up. Even though this bait is being discontinued, the pop-ups laced with Strawberry Oil Palatant will stay in my bucket for many years to come. I’ve simply caught too many fish on the Amber to let it pass by!

Nectar and Citruz Bug Juice sprays are both incredibly sweet, and I won’t put out a zig without first giving it a blast with one of these. Albus oil is another old favourite; one drop of this on a Zig Bug and my confidence is sky high.

I don’t carry any ‘bulk bait’ as such, by which I mean pellets, particles or boilies. My winter will be spent just angling for a bite. Zigging is nearly always my first line of attack, but if a rare opportunity arises and I think the fish actually want to feed, I’ll happily switch to more conventional methods

Winter zig

Winter zigging is a deadly tactic, but location is crucial so the more heavily stocked venues are your best bet, or any venue that you know well where you are confident of tracking them down.

Once you’ve found them you need to put your hookbait right up in front of their noses so they just can’t ignore it. Fish where they are; fishing mid-depth makes a good starting point, but even in freezing conditions, carp may well be much closer to the surface.

Successful zigging needs to be a busy method, and I’ve found that the first five minutes after a recast is often the most productive time. Remember that a dunk, dip or spray will get you more bites, and twitching a tight line to create hookbait movement also adds a new dimension to attraction.

Zigs will work at any time, day or night, but winter carp are often at their most active in the afternoon, so from 1pm through to dusk is a reliable period to tempt one on a zig hookbait.

Limited time shouldn’t mean limited success
Moving water is a good bet in winter

Winter floaters

In the past I’ve managed to catch carp on floaters right through the winter. If I’m on a venue with a proven winter track record for producing bites on the surface and I see carp ‘in the zone’, I don’t hesitate to put out a few floaters to see how they react. I’m sure I’ll nick one or two off the top from the canal this winter. To be honest, if I’m fishing anywhere with good cover – snags, overhanging bushes, that kind of thing – a sudden warm snap will always create the possibility of a bite in the surface layers.

This kind of opportunist approach is something many anglers overlook, but I can think of countless times when I have flicked a few floaters into dense foliage, got the fish very cautiously taking and eventually weaned them out into slightly more open water where I nicked one off the top. The canal is ideal for this, as it’s shallow with plenty of cover on the right stretches. Shallow park lakes where even in the depths of winter they will still slurp a bit of bread off the surface, or a well stocked club lake or commercial fishery that is a good floater water in the summer... on the right day, they will all produce on the surface in winter.

Carp love to hold up in cover during the winter months. Dying weedbeds, banks of rushes and snags will all potentially have carp lurking around them. The regular plop, plop, plop of a few floaters over their heads will usually arouse some interest, and even on the coldest of days I don’t hesitate to try a floating bait.

Winter floater tips:

  1. Fine down – Where appropriate I go down to 8lb hooklinks with small hooks and baits. Zig Flo is my chosen floating line and hooklink. This stuff is genuinely low spook, which means I can fish light enough to trigger the bites but still have a realistic chance of landing everything I hook, regardless of size.
  2. Feed and succeed, albeit with nowhere near the amounts used in the summer. I never make a cast in the winter unless I first see something taking bait from the surface. It’s certainly not about turning up at the lake and chucking out a floater just hoping something will come up and eat it. I feed sparingly, little and often.
  3. Riser Pellets, 8mm floating pellets, Riser Bug Imitations, and small Bread Bombs are all bait bucket essentials.
  4. As with zigs, boosting attraction brings more bites. I find something really sweet like the Nectar or Citruz sprays to be the most effective.
  5. Try adding a couple of maggots to your floating hookbait presentation – stimulating those carp with a bit of movement will ‘raise awareness’.
  6. If you see fish sitting a foot or so below the surface then stick a small lump of bread over their heads. Tiny particles soon start to break away and drop down amongst the fish, which is often enough to switch them into search-and-feed mode.
  7. Remember: don’t just sit there getting cold. Keep active, find them first, feed little and often, be as stealthy as you would in the summer months, and go as light with your setup as is safe – always fish to land them.

Success on the canal

A quick winter bite

Think canal – even in shallow water, there are plenty of carp to be caught even in extreme cold. Clearer water due to minimal boat traffic will allow you to easily find them.

Think river – if it’s in flood then go and find yourself a backwater or a big slack somewhere, as you can be sure that’s where the carp will be holding up.

Think park lake – even in the depths of winter they are very catchable from here. A little bread stick and a white pop-up, or even short zigs just a couple of feet off the deck will get you a bite.

Think commercial – go and bung your local farmer a fiver and get a bend in your rod! It’s nothing to be ashamed of and great fun.

Surface success

Winter is a wonderful time to be out on the bank. The wildlife can be amazing to watch, the banks are also quieter and more peaceful. Often it’s the simple things that are the most magical, like sitting and watching the water and drinking from a warm flask of soup as the steam plumes from my breath...

I love fishing in the winter!

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