I wrote this article some years ago, but my recent post about What makes a good bait has bought up the topic of winter carping, so here goes.
Winter carping can be one of the most sole destroying pastimes imaginable. What with the long cold nights, freezing days and with little chance of a fish anyone would be mad to fish through the winter months – wrong winter carping can be one of the most rewarding and exciting parts of carp fishing, if you get it right!
The fish are normally at their best weight and in excellent condition. The million dollar question how do you get it right in winter?
Firstly my definition of a winter carp is one caught between 1st November and 1st March just to make it clear. Now that has been cleared up what makes the difference between success and failure?
I have winter fished for carp for well over 20 years, with some spectacular successes and some dismal failures. The problem with winter carping is that there are few rules.
Some pointers that will help put winter carp on the bank:
1) If possible fish a local water.
2) Find the fish.
3) Get the bait and baiting situation correct, far too many people ruin their winter chances before they even cast out by putting too much bait in whilst they are fishing.
4) Don’t be put off by the conditions, if the water is bendy fish.
5) Without you are really experience avoid new waters in the winter.
6) Use rigs that are less visible due to clear water conditions.
1) Fish a local water.
Finding the fish is vital.
Fishing a local water is a real advantage; visit it as often as possible. Watch the water and if you see a carp keep it to yourself.
I remember sitting watching the water from my bivvy in the middle of atrocious conditions one December. If there is such a thing the sleet was torrential.
In the middle of the storm a carp popped its head out in 2.5 feet of water. I couldn’t believe it and I made the mistake of telling someone else.
The next time I fished that person was in the swim and caught five carp. I didn’t get into the swim all winter. Before I opened my big mouth the swim was never fished during the winter as it was considered too shallow. Lesson learnt. It is far easier to find the fish on a local water and when you do they tend to stay in the same swim throughout the winter.
2) Find the fish
This is the most difficult part of winter carp fishing; the fish tend to be very localised. Finding the fish is crucial to success the fish will not move to you in the winter. Putting out a bed of bait and hoping to attract fish will not work. If the fish are found spectacular results can be had.
Good winter swims tend to produce year after year, so the first task is to find out about past winter captures.
Failing that observation is crucial, start around the middle of October and note where you see fish. Keep a record and concentrate your initial efforts on the last place you saw fish.
If all else fails try fishing the north side of the lake as this isn’t hit by the cold north or east winds. It is worth changing the bait position every 3 or 4 hours until a fish is caught.
Good luck, find the correct spot and you could end up catching every time you fish. I remember fishing a seven acre lake within 10miles of my house. I found the fish in 4 feet of water at the end of October and concentrated on that area all winter (baiting up every third night to keep them active). I caught 49 carp between 1st November and the 1st March. I only fished Sunday afternoons, between 3pm and 9pm) when everyone else had gone home as I didn’t want everyone else to know and ruin my chances.
All the other anglers fished the deep water (17 feet) and they didn’t have a fish between them all winter. The hot time was 7:30 pm. I had one blank, on fireworks night. Fireworks should be banned as they appear to put carp off big style.
If the water has no track record of winter fishing try fishing to snags, old weed beds or parts of the lake with depth variation. Carp will end up in the place that they feel most comfortable, this means the warmest. This could even mean the shallows on a sunny day.
I have spent a lot of time with my fish finder and have always found the fish in mid-water.
A nice bright, smelly bait can sometimes tempt the fish into feeding. Don’t forget just because you are not catching does not mean that you are not on the fish; it could be they are just not feeding.
People say that they bury themselves in the silt, but I have never seen this. The evidence they give is that they are covered in leeches, I think this is more likely an indication that they have been lying up in weed beds or snags.
I just can’t understand people using fishmeals in the winter, fish can’t digest them and I believe they give them stomach ache.
The problem is the oil content. I know people will give examples of fish caught on fishmeals in the winter, but these tend to be on hungry waters or the success is short lived as the fish soon go off the feed after eating a few.
I once fished a good winter water that produced fish throughout the winter, this misdirected person decided he would do everyone a favour and bait up with fishmeals a couple of times a week to keep the fish moving. There wasn’t a fish caught for 5 months, enough said.
People often state that winter fishing is getting harder I believe this is a direct result of using fishmeals.
If you can find the fish, baiting up can have fantastic benefits.
The best choice of bait appears to be a birdfood or bird food/ milk with a fruity or creamy flavour.
Until recently I always made my own winter baits which were a combination of bird foods and milk proteins. I have lost count of the number of fish I have caught on them.
Paul Cooper and I are currently developing an all seasons mix which we think will be a winter winner. We are very pleased with the base mix, but we are still playing around with the attractors as we are determined to get them optamised.
If I am confident that I know the area that the carp will winter in I start to pre-bait at the end of October/ November. Typically I will:
a) put a kg or two of bait in roughly every third night.
b) pre-bait in the dark to stop others seeing what I am doing.
c) bait in a line across the swim to keep the carp searching for food.
d) don’t fish the swim for a few weeks, so that the fish have eaten the bait without lines in the water.
e) only fish single hookbaits or stringers whilst fishing. I find high vis pop-ups are very effective. I don’t have a lot of confidence in pop-ups when it is very windy as I think the presentation is wrong.
4) Don’t be put off by the conditions
I have spent literally thousands of hours keeping records and trying to find feeding patterns. I have come to the conclusion that there are no patterns.
On mild days with a south westerly I have often felt confident and not had so much as a beep, whereas on freezing cold days, when it is a real effort to make yourself go I have had multiple catches.
What would you think of your chances on a day like the one in the picture left, freezing cold and a slight north wind?
I had my first fish within 10 minutes of casting in and finished with 6 fish in 8 hours, all caught on a birdie mix after it had been pre-baited.
I don’t know who said it, but if the water is bendy you have a chance and as Tim Paisley says that it doesn’t matter how bad the conditions are a carp has been caught somewhere in similar conditions.
5) Avoid new waters in the winter
Without you intend to fish prolific hungry waters it is a good idea to stick to a water you know. I have tried fishing waters that I don’t know during the winter and I have found them extremely difficult. Winter fishing is all about location with few clues. Knowing a water can help you guess where the carp are likely to be.
Waters tend to be clearer in winter, for this reason I want my rig to be less visible. I therefore use floro carbon or mono as my preferred hook length. Other than this I don’t tend to do anything special. The vast majority of my runs in winter tend to be real belters and the fish fight like demons as they are in the peak of condition.