Looking back through time to the early 1950’s through to the 60’s, 70’s and even in the 80’s, many carp anglers believed that carp were un-catchable in the winter. This myth has now been dispelled as carp are regularly caught in the winter. But what are the advantages of slogging it out through the cold winter months? Is it worth it?
Carp will feed for short periods, at particular times throughout the colder months. During the Spring and Summer and Autumn the amount of natural food available to the carp dictates that the carp can pick and choose what they eat and when they eat. The abundance of natural food through the warmer months includes but is not limited to:
Naturally occurring food items such as those in the list will provide the carp in rivers lakes with ample natural food, this in turn will mean they remain fit and healthy. As the average water temperature begins to fall, so this natural larder will become scarce. To catch a carp in the winter is the ultimate challenge, especially if like me you like to fish large gravel pits/lakes. To see a carp in its winter colours at peak condition is the ultimate prize for many carp anglers.
There are so many factors which influence carp and carp fishing in winter. As the average temperature begins to fall through September, October, November carp will be feeding hard because instinct tells them that colder, harder times are coming. While the carp are feeding up in this manner it can be very productive time for carp anglers. Eventually though, the carp will slow down and head to their winter area, for make no mistake, carp on many lakes have their preferred holding areas through the winter. On some lakes this holding area will be around the centre of the lake, especially if weed is present, on others it may be a sheltered corner and on pressured lakes it could be the areas anglers largely ignore. On your lake the centre is often the best place to start unless you have spotted carp showing elsewhere.
The ideal area would be close to a food source or feature and with a relatively consistent water temperature. Consistent water temperature in winter means the deeper areas, in winter the deeper water is the most stable temperature wise. A tactic I sometimes use on a new water is to cast one rod to a likely looking spot. The other I will use as a "roaming" rod. This means I will try lots of different areas for about thirty minutes to see if I can get any indication. As the carp’s metabolism slows down one of the key factors to take into account when trying to find a winter carp is that they will need to feel safe. One of the best safe areas is snags. If you have snaggy areas on your fishery then check them first, you will often find that winter carp visit them or even hold in them for long periods. Although as a general rule carp light the deeper consistent depth areas they will still often be found frequenting shallow spots, particularly when the weather is mild and sunny.
I never use backleads in winter because if there are carp around they will often brush against the line giving small indications, with backleads attached these knocks and pulls will not register.
As in the summertime carp will also be attracted to features, gravel bars, gravel patches, snags could all be frequented by carp in winter. On rivers carp will be attracted to boats and moorings, warm water inlets in fact any unusual and out of the ordinary. Carp are curious creatures and will always investigate anything new or out of place. Without a doubt one feature is more attractive to carp than any other in the winter.
I cannot over emphasis the importance of weedbeds in the winter. If your lake has weed beds, especially in the deeper areas, then you should try casting your bait in or close to the weed. Carp love weedbeds in winter. Weedbeds will provide the carp with security, oxygen through photosynthesis and they will still hold food even through the depths of winter in the form of zooplankton and invertebrates. To find the weed beds, tie a 3 ounce lead on, cast it out and slowly retrieve along the bottom feeling for resistance. You will learn, in time, the difference between weed, clay and gravel.
Observation is so important in winter, spotting a carp jump can give you a starting point on which to concentrate your efforts. Keeping your eyes peeled can pay big dividends. One sighting of a fish jumping can turn a blank session or even a complete winter season around. Binoculars are a good piece of kit to have in the winter, you may spot fish with them but if not, it’s just nice to view the wildlife. I travel light in the winter because I could be sitting a hundred yards away from carp on the big pits I like to fish. If I see a carp jump out of range then I need to move onto it.
I remember one particular year while fishing a gravel pit of roughly 30 acres. The summer had come and gone. My success during the summer was nothing to shout about, so I decided to give the winter carp fishing a go. The lake in question had, perhaps 50-60 carp in it, but no-one really knows for sure. I began pre-baiting in November with about 5 kilo's of Premier Baits Amino's per week. Rolling the bait during the week then going down on Wednesday and introducing the baits to an area adjacent to the centre of the lake and around 50 yards out. A couple of weeks in and I started baiting twice a week with another 5 kilo's, Monday's and Wednesday's, making the 30 minute trip after work. I would also put in another couple of kilo's on a Saturday after fishing Friday night.
Anyway, to cut a long story short I began catching four weeks after that 1st baiting. All the takes came between 1am and 3am. This feeding time was so predictable that I would set my alarm clock for 1am.I came to the conclusion that the carp were hold up in the centre of the lake and by regular baiting I was persuading them to come to my piece of the water when they felt like feeding. The temperature regularly dropped to -10 but still I would catch at the regular time. I had a total of 34 carp during that winter to 34lb just fishing weekends. Other anglers began arriving in early April and so I called it a day. If I were to ever fish through the winter like that again (getting a bit long in the tooth now) then I would use pre-baiting as my single biggest edge. I am not suggesting that pre-baiting would work on every lake in the winter, but I would be confident if I was putting in the hard work. Sometimes it really is a case of "the more you put in the more you get out".
When fishing short winter sessions I would use a high attract bait. Everyone has their favourite bait for the winter, mine is Rod Hutchinson Monster Crab base mix together with his Amino Blend Swan Mussel. I have done very well using this bait over large beds of sweetcorn. Sweetcorn is such a visual food that most carp can’t ignore it. I have to admit though that I have only used this combination on smaller waters where the carp visit the margins in winter. This meant I could just throw it in and so didn't have to worry about placing it at range.In the winter time I use far less bait than in the warmer months, so making a small amount of your own boilie’s isn't such a chore and the confidence gained by doing so is well worth the effort. I would change this approach and pre-bait if I had the time and money. This though is for short sessions where time is limited. My method is to mix 1 egg and 10ml liquid swan mussel with the base mix until a firm dough is achieved. I then roll by hand into small balls (8-10mm) and boil for 1 minute. Leave to dry before placing in a plastic bag and adding a further 10ml of the swan mussel.
Firstly you need to decide which ingredients you are going to use. I would recommend buying the base mix. There are so many quality ready prepared base mixes available from manufacturers such as Mainline Baits, Premier Baits, Rod Hutchinson and many others. I prefer to make my own boilies this way because for me its quality not quantity and when trying to catch winter carp I like the extra confidence this gives me. Use a fairly light textured base mix containing some bird food this helps flavours escape.
You can purchase a dry base mix from tackle shops ready prepared.
When I'm rolling or buying bait to use for winter carping I prefer small baits, 8 to 10mm. I think that carp are less likely to except a large bait in the winter when their appetite may not be as aggressive as in the summer months. A small string of 8mm boilies looks a bit more natural I think than a big bright boilie. Colour is also important to me, I never use bright colours for the same reason.
The old Jolly Green Giant keeps on producing even after years and years of use. Sweetcorn is attractive to many course fish not just carp. It is instant, tasty and extremely visual meaning carp can’t ignore it. In winter large amounts can be used as they will not fill a carp up. Were carp are visiting margins in winter sweetcorn used as a bed of bait and fishing little boilies or Peperami over the top will be hard to beat, the only problem will be if your lake has a large population of smaller sliver fish species which could become a nuisance.
To attach your sweetcorn to the hook nick the point throught the dome of skin at the top of the grain. This makes it less prone to spinning and line twists which can weaken the hooklink and cause the loss of a hooked fish. It is also the best place to insure the bait stay's on for the longest possible time. Fish a single grain in winter.
Maggots are attractive to all fish and will often provoke a response when others do not. To overcome the problem of them wriggling away many carp anglers use dead maggots. Scalding the maggots with hot water kills them quickly, they can then be scattered over your fishing area creating a bed of tempting food. You could fish a different bait as the hook bait or use the Medusa rig. The maggot medusa rig uses live maggots as well as imitations. The rig gets its name from the visual aspect which looks similar to the hair of the mythical medusa. Medusa's hair was made up of snakes however and not maggots! This rig once assembled looks the business and it is immediately obvious why it is so effective even in winter. This is basically just a pop up rig with the bait being maggots. A cork ball is threaded on to the hair to which you affix as many maggots as you can. Using super glue/rig glue to fix the maggots to the cork ball will insure that they stay alive for the longest possible period. Be careful not to overdo it with the glue because covering the maggots in glue will kill them quickly (maggots breath through their skin). By using this method of applying the maggots is preferable to the commercially available maggot clips which can make the whole job very messy. It’s also worth experimenting by adding a few casters, casters do have a habit of producing the bigger fish.
If I feel that a margin spot has the potential to produce a winter carp, a favourite tactic of mine is to introduce a large bed of sweetcorn and use a Peperami hookbait over the top, this has caught me many fish. A standard bottom bait rig is all you need to fish small pieces of Peperami together with small hooks.The spicy meat aroma is very attractive to not only carp but also barbel and tench too. Tipping off a boilie with a small slice is another top winter carp bait tip.
I don’t do this very often but many carp anglers like to fish with a single boilie only in winter. Carp are caught on this tactic too. I prefer to fish with a small stringer of small baits as I believe its more attractive than a single lone bait fished hard on the bottom.
The European nightcrawler, Eisenia hortensis or Dendrobaena veneta, are a fisherman's favourite, they grow big, wiggle like mad in cold water, and can survive for a long time on the hook or the hair rig. Dendra worms resemble brandling worms. Dendra worms have a fast reproduction rate and are really easy to breed in the correct environment. The best environment to cultivate these worms is a damp dark but warm area, they should never get too cold. They average around 1.5 grams in weight at the adult stage. They are Pink-grey in colour with a darker rings around their body. You can feed Dendra worms almost anything, from vegetables to old teabags, they will even eat waste paper and cardboard.
You can purchase worms from specialist suppliers. Just google worms for fishing and you will see that there are many quality suppliers who will deliver you your worms all safe and sound in a bucket! Alternatively you could just do it the old fashioned way. On a damp evening go equipped with a torch and bucket to a large grassy area and you will find plenty.
A sloppy groundbait can score well on commercial fisheries. On such waters there will be an element of competition as the carp search for food. A cloudy, milky groundbait will often attract their attention and provoke the carp into feeding where perhaps a boilie wont. All kind of free offerings can be added to the groundbait but don't add too many large baits that will fill the carp up quickly. Chopped worm, maggots, sweetcorn and hemp will add attraction without filling the carp up. Mixing the dry mix with condensed milk instead of water will increase the cloud effect.
Carp anglers should fine down their terminal tackle when the temperatures drop. The water clarity in winter will be clearer. Observe you rigs in the margin to see how visible they are and adjust accordingly. I use a lead safety clip for almost all of my carp rigs. The safety lead clip insures the lead pulls off if snagged.
My favourite hook length material is Atomic Jellywire and I will still use this if fishing around or in weed. For fishing over gravel I will often use a flouro carbon hooklink which is less visible to fish.
I have used this rig in winter when I don't want to be introducing large quantities of bait by pre-baiting. It’s simple but effective which is just what you want. By using a small quantity of mini boilies on a length of pva string you avoid the risk of over feeding while retaining a high level of attraction. I prefer to use kryston meltdown pva string,it breaks down quickly, even in the coldest water temperatures. This rig is easy to tie which in itself is good because it makes things allot easier in the depths of winter, when your fingers are numb! In general winter carp anglers should fine tune as well as fine down their end tackle and even mainline.
For the session winter carper the most important factor to get right is to choose items that are going to keep you warm, if you are cold you wont stay for long. A good quality twin skin bivvy such as the Nash Titan Double Top Extreme (Mk 3) is a must. Many manufacturors make great twin skin bivvies so a little research will be required to find the one which best suites you. Carp fishing in the winter can be hard especially if your alone. You need a few luxuries to make things a little more comfortable. Below is a list of some essential items that I cant go without on a winter carp session. One important piece of kit is a good quality sleeping bag. Its such a comfort to know that however cold you get you can always retreat to the bag. Tea making kit is another must have. A good quality, reliable cooking stove will help you get through those cold days and nights.
Here are some of the best cooking stoves for winter carping.
With regards clothing, a layering approach is the best option, the layers will retain body warmth. If you are cold and uncomfortable you won’t stay fishing for long.The last item is the most important. A good thermal suite is absolutely essential. A good quality thermal suite will keep the cold at bay allowing you to carry on fishing to your best ability. You don't need any special winter tackle, the gear you use the rest of the year will also work in summer with adjustments to rigs, bait etc.. Winter carp fishing is hard, there's no denying it. But, if you persevere through the hard times the rewards can be truly fantastic. Just keep imagining looking down on a gorgeous carp in its bronze and golden winter coat, this will spur you on.
Fishing with a friend or friends will help to releave some of the boredom sometimes associated with winter carping. Also its more pairs of eyes for fish spotting.
How could I write a feature on winter carp fishing without mentioning the weather. You could probably write a book on how the weather effects fish during the winter, but for us, as carp anglers, we just need to know the key facts.
Without a doubt fishing with a friend or friends makes winter carping much more tolerable. Sharing the joys of a capture can be rewarding. Sharing stories and encouraging others through those long hours of darkness will make winter sessions a bit more enjoyable. Development in modern technology means that we can use our phones, laptops, ipads etc to help with the long wait between takes.
Fishing hard sparsely stocked waters at this time of year isn't for everyone. Some of you may want more action and choosing a commercial fishing where stock density is high and natural food levels low will certainly mean more captures are on the cards. I hope I have given you a few new ideas. Don't forget, you may struggle for a while, but in the end it will be worth it. Never again will you pack the gear away till next spring. One last thought, catching anything in the winter is good news, Bream, Roach, Chub will all boost your confidence at this time of year. I would try to cultivate confidence because you will never need it as much as when your are fishing through the depths of winter.
While floats can be used to catch winter carp, they are most suitable for use on commercial carp fisheries. Big gravel pits are just too extreme for float fishing. One important tip for winter float fishing is to select a float that's heavier than you think you will need. If you expect to fish at 15 yards then select a float that will easily cast to 25 yards. This is a small thing but many anglers fall into the trap of selecting a float that's just, too light. Changes in weather conditions and flow will not effect a heavier float and you will be prepared for all situations. A loaded insert waggler float is the perfect choice, these float carry much of the weight required to cock them in the stem, this aids stable flight and accuracy. Selecting a longer waggler (which will also take more weight) will help to combat the extreme conditions often seen in winter.
It’s Friday 13th January and you have been wishing away the hours at work, looking forward to heading off to the lake. The forecast is for light easterly winds and clear skies, hardly the best conditions for a winter carp fishing trip! On your way to the lake your mind turns to past captures for inspiration.You remember another weekend during a previous January a few years back when the conditions were almost identical and you managed to catch a couple of twenties. This gives you the motivation and confidence you need to carry on, it would be oh so easy to turn and head for the comforts of home, central heating, hot food, tv, inviting partner are all beckoning. You approach the gate with now freezing, crunching grass underfoot, the combination lock is frozen and the dials stubbornly refuse to move, you waist an extra 20 minutes boiling a kettle of water to warm the lock. Pushing the gates open you have that same familiar feeling of relaxation and anticipation, the fact that it’s now 6pm and -6 degrees doesn't dampen your spirits. The walk along the pathway seems easier in the cold weather with the heat and dripping sweat of summer absent. Choice of swim is never an easy one and in the depths of winter it can be even more critical. You decide on the same swim you fished when you had the previous winter result. This is often a good move, a carp caught from a particular spot in the cold means they frequent the area. You fish in much the same way as you did on your productive winter session even using the same bait. Thank god for head torches, I always carry spare batteries for mine. Using my favourite rig has made life so easy, with many pre-tied and ready to go and regular practice has meant that I could tie one in the dark if need be. One thing you don’t want to be messing around with in the depths of winter is experimenting with different rigs, save the experimentation for the easy day ticket waters in summertime. Stick with a carp rig you have the most confidence in, you are going to need every ounce of confidence. You cast out a lead to roughly the same area as where you took your 2 fish from, 50 yards and slightly to the right (around 1 o’clock). A slow retrieve finds the same small, smooth almost glass like clay bottom area, you remember from your plumbing trip that its around 15 feet long by 10 feet wide, just big enough to place 2 baited rigs, one to the left, one right. Too far to catapult the small baits you have lovingly hand rolled and over flavoured you decide to just add 9 to a stringer, you know the heavily flavoured boilie’s will attract a passing winter carp.It’s now time for tea, dinner then bed. 2am on the Sunday night and you are standing alone, fighting to land an un-seen carp. The bait to the right of the spot has been taken (the cast you felt went particularly well). After a nervous 20 minutes you finally slip the net under a 34lb common carp. Being alone on a black Sunday morning doesn't detract from the enjoyment of landing such a beautiful creature By torch light your weigh and then photograph the carp before slipping her back to the cold depths. You finish the weekend with a new pb. After all the hard work, the doubts, the loneliness you have finally achieved the dream, a summer capture doesn't come close to this. A winter carp capture gives you such a sense of elation, a buzz, a feeling that's seldom matched in anything we do. I used this this story to illustrate the highs and lows of a winter carper, it’s from one of my sessions actually.
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