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Saturday, 6 December 2014

Carping In The Winter 'Still Life'

I still have a few sessions to write up before my late autumn blogs start to appear but with the first signs of winter slowly showing I would like to share with you my thoughts and feelings about how I approach my angling once the cold weather has set in. I know that come the first frost a lot of people hang their carp rods up and they're eventually dusted off again once spring has arrived. My carp rods are never hung up, I will continue to fish all through the year, the only thing that stops me is thick ice, having said that, there's been a few occasions where I have cracked the ice to be able to fish and managed to have a few.

I believe that carp do continue to feed how ever cold it gets, maybe not every fish in the lake but a few will still be on the look out for a bit of grub. I also believe the time that they feed for is condensed right down, it could be for half hour, or maybe just ten minutes. That is why location is so important, I want my bait to be where the fish are so if they do switch on I am giving myself the best chance of landing one.

"I am a very firm believer that in life you have to be able to deal with failure before you're able to deal with success. Learning to live with little money gives you the foresight on how to handle money when/if it's in abundance. One other example that I am very familiar with is on the drums, you have to be able to play everything slow before you can play it fast correctly"

Now move all the examples in the above paragraph over to your angling.

To understand fully how carp feed in the summer you must have a solid experience of how they tend to feed in the winter. To keep those 'productive sessions' during the summer months in perspective, you've got to be able to deal with the empty sessions that barely even produce a liner, when you feel that every fish in all the waters have been magically transported to a secret world where we 'the angler' has no access to, and the idea of you bite alarm sounding is almost a lost memory. 

Sitting in a swim surrounded by the beauty of a world in bloom is so much more appreciated when you've seen it bleak with leafless trees and the so many tired worn out greys. It's as if the life that once inhabited the banks has flat-lined, with not so much as a faint pulse as evidence of it ever being alive. I call this time 'the dead season' and for me it's so very important to experience it in its beauty. It can be hard and soul destroying at times but it's all part of the angling process.

Still Life
I have mentioned it in the past a few times but angling to me isn't just about catching fish, it's the connections that we make, not only with ourselves but with all that surrounds us whilst we spend our hours by the water. I yearn for clarity, after spending years dulling reality with excessive alcohol I now find myself trying to make up for all the time that I'd lost being in the haze of a hang over. 

Come the end of Autumn when the weather is teetering on the edge of the first heavy frost, being by your rods, sitting in silence can produce a strange panoramic sensation. It's the prime opportunity to become part of everything around you, the colours seem richer, the detailing more dense, it's as if we are caught in a 'still life' photograph that only us, 'the angler' has the pleasure of witnessing. Maybe if we are lucky a lovely carp, now draped in its winter colours might just include itself within our picture, but how do we go about catching them when everything around us is in hibernation?

Scaling Down The Tackle

As we know, the colder the waters get, the carp become less active, their metabolism slows down meaning they don't feel the need to feed as much. It's taken me many fruitless winters to fine tune how I approach catching them when they're not up for feeding a great deal. Firstly, the less active the fish become, the more active I have to be, I scale all my gear down to the bare essentials so I can move and stay as mobile as possible. I have major OCD when it comes to my angling and I'll be the first to admit that I love setting my swim up like a home from home, everything tidy, lined up and organised. 

Staying Mobile

My winter fishing is the complete opposite, everything stays on the barrow and I simply set up what is needed. The carp cradle changes to a large padded unhooking mat, the big rods are now traded in for my stalkers, 8.5ft, paired up with my mini bait runners. My buzzers are simply two alarms, two bobbins with no back rest, just a single bank stick to prop them up. My tea making kit, food bag and any other luxury is left at home, anything to make the load lighter. My bait will be a few freezer bags of boilies and some pellet, the amount of bait I use decreases greatly.

The Dead Season 
My baiting strategy is simply fishing for a bite at a time. I want to create as much attraction as possible with no real solid food items for the carp to pick up. I favour pellets with a quick breakdown time, over the top I might fish cut down boilies or reduce the boilie size with a single or double 10mil on the hair.

I'll also introduce ground baits mixed in with the pellet, in theory both the pellets and the ground bait will dissolve and rest upon the bottom of the lake, be it silt, clay or gravel, I believe enough attraction will then be in the water to send signals to the carp, because the only solid food item in the swim is my hook bait, I feel I am doing the best I can to up the odds of getting a bite. I don't believe the 'big hit' approach works very well when temperatures drop, maybe if you are on the water for 24 to 48 hours but I don't night fish, I need to find ways of getting results in limited time. 

Less Is More

For me, moving between spots is vital, dropping a few handfuls of bait along marginal areas and then moving and rotating between them during the session can really pay off. Depending on how much fish activity I am getting, be it liners or little jolts on the tip etc, I will fish on each spot for 45 minutes to an hour. 

During this time, if I see evidence of carp anywhere else on the lake, I will move on to them. Adopting this approach means that you are pretty much on the go all the time and you have to be prepared to stay active. But there's nothing quite like landing a fish knowing full well that you've done everything you could to make it happen. Again, winter sessions aren't about comfort, they're about trying to get amongst the carp.

Winter Skin

Moving around also has its psychological benefits, I remember so many sessions in the past where I've stayed static, perched behind lifeless rods, it always got to a point in the day when you knew that nothing was going to occur, it was a draining experience and I always felt like I could be doing so much more to get a bite. 

With each move comes a huge level of refuelled enthusiasm, if you keep the feed sparsely going in on all your chosen spots then there's a good chance that the odd fish might of moved on to at least one of them whilst you were fishing else where. It's that infinite feeling of 'anything could happen', winter fishing is the prime opportunity to think outside the box. It takes me a few sessions to really get in to the rhythm of staying mobile but it doesn't take long for things to slot in to place, it's all about your mind set.

Target More Than One Swim

In regards to bait, I predominately stick with milk protein base mixes, all fruity type flavors seem to do very well. I still do use some fishmeal based baits but nowhere near as much as I do during the warmer months. Despite popular belief fishmeal baits can work very well in cold conditions and I've had the results in the past to prove this. To give my hook baits that added boost I will preserve them in glug too the point where they expand and soften right up, I steer clear of any oils because they have a tendency to congeal and not perform in the same way that they do when the waters are warm.

Fruity Blends

Regarding rigs, I don't change anything, common belief is that you need to go down a hook size and possibly switch to running rigs. I think the 'running rig' theory tends to come into play because "as the carp are moving slower" they might eject off of a 'semi-fixed' setup. I don't find any need to change, if it works in the summer, it will work in the winter. 

The only aspect I pay a lot of attention to is 'rig concealment', some waters do tend to clear up during prolonged cold periods so I want my end tackle to be as unassuming as possible. Due to the fact now that most of my fishing is under the rod tip, my lead size will go down to 1.5oz. This means if I am lowering a rig on to spots that fish might have moved in to, I want to keep disturbance to a minimum. When I use lighter leads I will fish a tight clutch on the take, doing this should help to drive the hook home.

Subtle Rig Presentations

Along with all the points above I can't stress enough how important observation is. I keep my eyes on the water all the time, I like to position myself where I can see the majority of the lake that I am fishing. Even in freezing conditions the carp can be rather clumsy at giving themselves away, the odd show is worth clocking, but if fish are continuing to show more than once in the same area its worth acting upon and investigating it.

Finally ... use winter to your advantage, get to know your chosen waters better, maybe dedicate a few hours to some marker float work, map spots that you've always liked the look of, suss out the typography of the lake, everything that you learn can be used as ammunition come the following season. Make notes on certain areas of interest, mark the distances to interesting spots that you might find, there's so many things that can be done by the water if you don't actually feel like fishing it.

I think I've pretty much covered the main aspects of my cold water tactics. As we know, we all fish for different reasons, some of us are far more intense than others as to how we go about catching a fish. Be it summer, autumn and winter, we all have our favoured preferences, either way, enjoy it, I know I can sound pretty intense about my angling with the way I write it all up but the remaining constant through it all is the ability to enjoy your time on the bank, what ever the weather and what ever the season. 

Still in two minds about hitting the bank this winter? 
Wrap up warm, get out there, and see what happens, and most of all ...... Enjoy It