Get out your long-johns and and go winter carping.
This is when carp are at their heaviest and fittest – just waiting for your bait to appear in front of them, says specimen hunter Ken Townley.
Winter carp fishing is to be enjoyed, not endured. There are great rewards awaiting the hardy but well prepared angler since carp are in the peak of condition in winter – and are often quite willing to take a bait in freezing weather.
Fishing for carp in the cold season doesn’t require a massive change of gear, just a few adjustments to your baiting strategy and rigs to prise out fish when it’s parky. You need to give some thought to what’s happening underwater. Where are the carp? What are they doing?
You must also make sure you are comfortable and safe. It is impossible to fish effectively if you are cold and miserable and it can also be dangerous to try — hypothermia can set in very quickly and without warning. If you are going to fish long sessions, especially through the night, pay great attention to your own warmth and comfort. Make sure you wear plenty of warm clothes and waterproofs.
More carp are caught on mild winter days than on cold, icy ones, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that mild conditions are any more conducive to the fish feeding. It simply means fewer carp anglers actually fish in freezing weather. In fact, rain-lashed, gale- ridden conditions can be just as productive as more settled weather. Water temperature Too many anglers are put off fishing when they think the water is too cold – but Ken Townley believes you can catch carp in the lowest of temperatures. By all means carry a thermometer, but use it to try to find areas of warmer water in a lake, such as near to stream mouths, underwater springs and so on.
Ice cover If a lake is covered in ice it doesn’t mean that fishing is out of the question. Ice forms a barrier between the cold air and the slightly warmer water underneath. Carp are a particularly hardy species, quite able to survive through the winter under a blanket of ice. If you can get a bait in the water you’re in with a chance. If you have to break the ice to fish, you’re more or less limited to the margins. Clear an area which is large enough to feed and place baits into without difficulty.
On huge lakes, pits and meres it can be difficult to find where the carp are lying. Using a boat equipped with an echo sounder is one method, but these are banned on most carp waters. It may be better to come to grips with smaller waters first since they are easier to read. Fish a local water on which you have a pretty good idea of where the summer hotspots are, which may also be where the fish lie in winter. If you fish the same water a number of times your knowledge and your chances should improve.
It helps if you understand the way a carp behaves in cold water conditions. Once the water temperatures have stabilized at their lowest point, carp become less active, and their metabolic rate slows down. Though fish do not actually hibernate in the true sense of the word, they do lie dormant for long periods – moving only when instinct tells them to feed. Sometimes winter-caught fish have leeches on their fins, bellies and mouths because they have been lying still on the bottom for a while. Natural larders Carp need less food in winter than in the summer when their feeding and spawning activity is at a maximum. However you should still search for areas rich in natural food, such as mussel, snail and bloodworm beds. These attract and hold fish in the area throughout the coldest months. They can spend the winter here without having to use too much energy searching for food.
Deep water In winter carp feel more comfortable in deeper, warmer water and these areas may not necessarily hold much natural food. In shallow estate lakes and some gravel pits, where margins may be more productive natural larders, carp may well lie up for long periods in deeper water — moving to shallower food larders to feed. Scoffing sessions Actual feeeding times can be hard to predict. For years it was thought carp only fed during daylight. One o’clock to three o’clock was considered the prime dinner time. But on the shortest day in southern Britain when the sun rises just 11 degrees above the horizon, there can be little or no warming effect from the winter sun. Carp feed as and when the need arises. That need is not triggered by warmth or by daylight – but by hunger. If they feel peckish at one in the morning, that’s when they’ll feed. Convince youself that there is always at least one carp feeding somewhere in the lake – it’s just a matter of finding it.
Baiting and flavour
Carp need less fat-derived energy and more protein in order to survive the winter, so lower the fat content and raise the level of milk proteins in your winter bait. Cut quantity Don’t bait up too heavily during a winter session. Bear in mind that the carp are not likely to be feeding hard or for long periods. In general terms you should consider cutting the amount of bait you use during winter by half.
A good strategy is simply to use PVA stringers – baits threaded on dissolving PVA string. Cast frequently around the productive area and hope you drop close enough to a fish to incite a positive reponse. Mini-baits are superb in winter. If a carp gets the urge to feed, about 115g (4oz) of delicious smelling boilies might be enough to satisfy its hunger. If the carp can get its 115g (4oz) worth from 30 medium-sized baits it soon eats enough to fulfil its need. On the other hand, if the baits are tiny, the fish needs to pick up 100 or more to satisfy the same demand. The more baits the fish has to pick up, the more chance there is that one of those will be your hookbait. Particle baits such as maize, peanuts, black-eyed beans and kidney beans do not make good winter baits as a rule. Nutritionally they are low in protein and are pretty indigestible at low water temperatures. Similarly, mass baits such as hemp and dari seeds are not too effective in the cold. They need warm, summer water temperatures to release their natural oils. Go easy on flavour During the winter months the debris on the lake bed is broken down as leaf mould decays and weed beds die back. This changes the chemistry of the lake water, which in turn can affect the chemical signal from your attractors. For this reason use a lower flavour level during the winter. When the water temperature is at its lowest amino acid compound is the main attractor.
If a rig works during the summer it will probably work during winter. Don’t forget that carp feed less actively and may not move off with the bait for some time. Strike at any indication of a pick up – even if it’s only a single bleep from the buzzer.
Be prepared to experiment with the length of your hooklink. As a general rule /’ shorten your hooklink for winter – 10cm v-(4in) seems to be about right. By using short hooklinks in conjunction with a fairly large hook, fish that are feeding but not moving much are more likely to be pricked by the hook and scared into giving a more detectable indication of a take.