As temperatures begin to fall with the onset of winter, Stillwater fish tend to feed less (their metabolism slows down) and they become more localized.
Time spent on checking the water is never wasted – old advice it may be, but it’s particularly relevant when lake fishing in winter. Finding the holding areas and feeding times is vital for success.
Shorten the odds
You can improve your chances of catching in a number of ways. The aim is to find the most likely spots and get your bait to the right place at the right time – where fish gather to feed.
Frequent fishing Fish a water, particularly one new to you, as often as possible and keep on switching swims until you find fish. The idea is not only to locate fish but to discover their feeding times – it’s no use fishing all morning if the fish are late afternoon feeders. You can sometimes save time by asking local anglers where and when the fish feed.
Observation A vital part of the ‘swim hopping’ approach is to keep a constant watch on the water for signs of fish activity. Good concentration and a keen eye are essential, since some of the visual clues are subtle. A big carp, for example, can break the surface and roll quite silently, with only the slightest ripple.
Anything could turn up to surprise you in lakes during the cold season, but there are a few trusty species you can expect to show regularly — particularly in the deeper, warmer water.
Pike are probably the most sought-after species on winter lakes. You can see them striking at the surface when chasing or taking prey. Cast a bait directly at a swirl and you’ll often get an instant take.
On many lakes pike grow up to a good size and are generally not too difficult to catch. Most big pike fall to deadbaits fished static, but there are more interesting ways to catch them — and a chance of netting a specimen too.
Spinning with artificial lures or small deadbaits is an enjoyable way of catching pike. A mobile approach is the order of the day, so take the minimum of gear.
Look for deep areas associated with islands, snaggy areas (flooded or fallen trees), gullies, weedbeds, overhanging trees and at the bottom of drop-offs. Pike like such places because they are frequented by the fish on which they feed. Baitfish gather in shoals during the winter months -attracted to these features because they provide a place of refuge and normally also a source of food.
You tend to find pike in concentrations rather than spread evenly throughout a lake. When you locate such a hotspot, give the spinner a try, but have a go with floatfished or legered deadbaits too. Perch Features which are good holding spots for pike also attract another predatory species – the perch. They too are catch-able with artificial lures or deadbaits, with the bait scaled down to suit the species.
It’s worth bearing in mind the perch’s marked preference for freshwater fish over salt water species when it comes to dead-baits. Perch live in shoals – so if you catch one there will be others nearby.
A really enjoyable way to spin or wobble deadbaits on a lake is to get afloat in a rowing boat. This way you can probe thoroughly the dense beds of reeds or rushes along the margins, which might be difficult to cover from the bank. Islands and plateaus are also more easily covered by boat anglers.
Trolling for pike is effective too. Suspend a deadbait under a float and tow it behind a boat. Don’t use more than two rods or you may get into a tangle.
If you can’t get afloat in search of pike, you can still fish a bait at a distance using a vaned float. These catch the wind and can carry a bait a considerable way out into a lake – within the reach of more fish.
As the water gets colder, roach shoals seek the higher temperatures in deep water. The shoals continue to roam as they did during the summer and autumn months, but less widely. They also have a habit of returning frequently to favourable areas – such places as underwater shelves and ledges, holes and the sites of weedbeds which die back in the winter.
Roach like to roll during periods of low light – their activity at these times is often a prelude to feeding. The best way to spot roach rolling is to walk along the banks of a lake at dawn or dusk.
Fish for roach facing into the wind when it’s blowing strongly from a warm quarter (south or south-westerly in winter) and it could pay dividends – particularly where deep water is within casting range.
Choose from bread, sweetcorn, maggots and casters for bait. Leger or float fish these baits for best presentation according to conditions and casting range.
At this time of year you often find carp in places which were hotspots during the summer as long as there is depth. So it’s usually more productive to fish in these areas rather than to try to entice fish to move into and feed in an area they don’t normally frequent. If the water is warmed after a couple of sunny days carp may be drawn to shallower parts.
Keep your eyes peeled for signs of carp and remember that they love to patrol the margins but only do so if there is not too much bankside disturbance. They also root around in the dead lilies, weed and reedbeds and snaggy areas such as fallen trees.