It is common knowledge among anglers that carp fishermen are slightly obsessed. While most of nearby Milton Keynes sleeps through a bitterly cold late November dawn, Bryce Little is sitting happily by a former gravel pit.
Today he is ignoring his own frequently repeated advice — in the winter carp are reluctant feeders so stick to the waters you know. The plummeting winter temperatures had halted carp fishing completely at his normal venues, so Bryce looked for a change of water.
He chose Rocla Lake at Linear Fisheries, Linford, Buckinghamshire — not much more than a decent cast away from Milton Keynes and a venue known for its hungry winter carp. carp regularly – despite the nip in the air.
Setting up, Bryce gives some advice that ought to be needed by beginners and experienced anglers alike: ‘Go home if the weather’s horrible! Some anglers lose their instinct for self-preservation. They will be cold, luckless and have a bad time, and then go off fishing for weeks.’ We have an idea he is going to ignore this advice too – it certainly seems a morning well up on any scale of uncomfortableness. Bryce, however, doesn’t seem to notice the cold.
Bryce acts on a tip that carp have been feeding regularly at one particular spot – 75yd out. He sets up his kit very quickly -it is worth a close look… Equipment Bryce looks very much at home with his rods – which is not surprising since he designed them himself! He’s fishing with two 21Alb TC DAM Bryce Little Carp rods. Bryce was formerly a chief engineer so knew exactly what he wanted in terms of design and materials.
He’s fishing with 8lb line using optonic audible indicators and visual indicators. He decides on a helicopter rig using the mini-swivel held in place with float stops. It’s a set-up that avoids tangles and one which Bryce uses frequently. He has a 7lb hooklength, and attaches a hair-rig to his size 10 hook with dental floss.
This may sound quite a complicated rig to set up in the chilly dark – our hands were too cold to make notes – but Bryce is as cunning as the carp he hunts: ‘Cold hands on a bleak bank don’t make it easy to tie a rig. I come with my rod set up and my rigs already prepared in plastic sleeves. It means I can spend more time fishing instead of setting up.’ In 10 to 15 minutes he’s all ready to start the business of the day.
Bryce groundbaits with a Cobra throwing stick. He can send boilies winging 80-100yd out with more accuracy than a catapult.
After casting far into the dawn he settles down by his rods. He has various boilies with him: 18mm strawberry yoghurt and kiwi fruit, 14mm peanut and some cheese flavour midis. He also has some pop-up micro baits dipped in a flavour enhancer. Bryce starts with the strawberry yoghurt. ‘Sweet bait flavours disperse easier in cold weather – glucose-based particles travel a long way. In a sense, the sweet particles dissolving in the water amount to five times the number there would be if we were using savoury baits. Meatbaits and catfood probably work brilliantly here in summer, but they won’t work as well in winter.’
The sunrise is spectacularly orange, but the cold has entered our bones – except for Bryce, who is intent on the fishing. Experience tells him that his left rod is over a silty bed and his right rod over harder ground. Despite the complete lack of twitches he is convinced he will catch in spite of the cold. ‘Carp don’t like any dramatic temperature variations, but I have a feeling they are more likely to feed following a drop in temperature rather than a rise. I’ve not yet found any conditions where they will not feed at all,’ says Bryce. ‘This is a prolific fishery. In summer we would have had a couple by now, but in winter we may have just one bite all day.’ We all concentrate harder on the bite indicators.
Because carp eat less in the winter, Bryce is economical with the loose feed. He attaches a short string of boilies to his hook on PVA water-soluble string. It means his loose feed is in exactly the same position as his hookbait.
Fisheries manager Len Gurd joins us for a while. He is full of encouraging tales of winter carp caught on the lake.
What has been Bryce’s best fishing moment? ‘My sons are aged five and seven. When one landed two twenties I was more chuffed than with any fish I’ve ever caught. But no matter how many I’ve caught, I enjoy every fish I get.’
Bryce is not happy with the present trend in carp fishing that makes size all important. Some anglers scorn smaller carp today, but before the era of boilies catching carp was a triumph.
With scarcely a bump on the line all morning, Bryce has tried every bait and most tricks. He decides to follow his earlier instinct and fish around that island we spotted in the pre-dawn gloom.
Unbelievably it is even colder at the new spot. Bryce sets up lighter tackle with a number 8 hook. He will be fishing 80yd out at a depth of 7ft The weather conditions have changed, the sun gives up the struggle against the cold and it gets darker and windier. A gloomy despondency has set in for everyone except Bryce, who is fishing with renewed optimism.
The lure of a pub with warm food and a fire becomes too much to stand. We pull out, promising Bryce we’ll bring him back some fish and chips.
OK, so we missed it. There are no photographs of Bryce struggling with his carp because we were still returning from enjoying local hospitality. A fair size carp took Bryce’s strawberry yoghurt boilie and headed for the weeds round the island. Bryce played it for seven or eight minutes before landing it.
We arrive back in time to see Bryce placing it on an inflatable fish mat of his own design. He has put his hands in the water before handling the fish: ‘In the winter your hands will be a lot warmer than the carp. You should cool them down in the water before handling them. It is better that you are uncomfortable rather than distressing the fish.’
The carp weighs 7lb 14oz and is carefully returned to the water. The fish is in good condition and swims away apparently none the worse for its adventure. You can tell Bryce is pleased to have caught in such bad weather.
On his next cast Bryce strikes again. This time the carp makes determinedly for the island and is lost among the weeds – even Bryce doesn’t land every fish. But he is happy to have had two bites.
When the light fades and frostbite begins to attack us a little later we are happy to pack up and get back to a warm car. Catching his carp in such cold conditions was quite an achievement – particularly when we heard later that this carp was the last to be landed for some time as the cold November became an even colder December.
It has been a fascinating day, revealing many of the secret wonders of the carp fisherman’s world. True, there is a lot of technology involved in winter carping, but it is that basic instinct for finding the fish that really won the day.
Mark opts for the pole rather than a rod and line. In a match this decision would be crucial and it is at this early stage – when deciding tactics – that many anglers err. His choice is based on the conditions. There’s a slight left-to-right breeze that would cause a waggler to drag if fished with