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13 Nov 2017
by Nigel Sharp
How to stay head of the class in wintertime
Nigel Sharp shares some winter carp fishing knowledge to ensure you have your best winter’s fishing yet

1. Accuracy

It’s always important – but it’s incredible so in the winter months

It’s something I try to implore year-round, but as winter kicks in, it becomes even more essential. If fish are held up in a certain area and you do find a spot that the fish are holding up in, when a bite comes from a particular spot you need to be able to get back on it. A spot within a spot some people will call it and you need to know exactly where that was.

Over the years I’ve fished through the winter for as long as I’ve been carp fishing, and it’s become very apparent that a metre or a yard can be the difference between catching and going home with a blank. I’ve practised and honed my accuracy since the days of Cardinal 55’s and having no clips on the spool. Now it’s much easier as we’ve progressed into marking your lines with tape, line clips on the spool, walking your lines out and even wrapping your lines around sticks, so there really is no excuse these days, it’s much easier to be pinpoint accurate.

Step 1. A bent tip stretches the line around the distance sticks…
Step 2. Which is then slackened to ensure I get an accurate measurement each time
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People tend to fish towards dips in trees or high points and major features that they can see like pylons, trees or posts. I tend to look even further through the waterline and there might be one grey coloured twig and I take everything in that I can to ensure I am precise. Almost to the point of being inch perfect. A winter tree-line can change dramatically and branches spring up or die off so these tiny percents can be the difference.

Obviously it’s not just above water level that things change either. As late autumn progresses into winter the lakebed can change dramatically too. With no weed in the lake I can imagine that the sunken leaves are far from stationary on the bottom, rather they’re rolling across the flatter areas without their progress being hindered and the tow washes them from side-to-side as the winds change. A fairly deep lake will be much more susceptible to this until they settle in an area due to the larger undertow currents. These currents can also drag natural food and uprooted weed so there’s no reason the carp won’t follow them too. If you find a spot that you get a bite off in winter then it can quite often be a place the carp want to be, and importantly want to feed too. I’ve found that it can be absolutely essential to be bang-on accurate and even a few inches either side can be fruitless.

A shallow distance stick prevents me from stretching the line as I wrap my rods, making it much more accurate
A single hookbait can often be all you need in the colder months, fished in the right place at the right time
Accuracy is imperative, if you’re not, you can end up fishing in the wrong spot and you’re simply wasting your time
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I’ve found myself that it does tend to be the exact spot that keeps doing the bites; I’ve tried moving another rod close to it, left or right of it, or even a rod each side but that same spot will be the bite area. Some lakes become swimmy and on top of that some swims become very spotty, that’s why I focus more and more on the accuracy in winter. I think a lot of it can be down to how the fish are sat on the bottom around a particular feature – an old weedbed or something and it can be the patrol route they’re using that you’ve sussed out from the liners you receive in the swim, something I’ll go into detail about later in this feature.

The importance of the accuracy also comes into its own when there’s a group of fish in the area, you don’t want to be markering a lot. If you suss that they’ve gone to ground in an area, then you can keep turning up and getting a rod fishing effectively on the spot with one good cast. You really need to be disturbing the fish as little as possible and give yourself every opportunity of converting your cast into a bite.

I much prefer to walk my rods out along the bank and I’ll go as far as to get a bend in the tip and then release it to ensure that the stretch is taken out of the line, as this can make a big difference over a cast above 30yds. Although this is my favourite way of wrapping the rods, sometimes the bank won’t allow for it and equally, if you have already got a rod fishing, you need to be very careful about how far from your swim you end up trying to walk the other rod out, so often I find myself just using marker sticks now.

Again, you have to be very careful with line stretch if you’re using a copolymer and a neat little trick I’ve picked up is to only bed your marker sticks in at a shallow depth, this prevents you from stretching the line around them as they’ll simply lean over or fall and you can be much more accurate with your measurements this way.

Another notable issue is wind direction and the bow in your line shortening your cast as well as taking it away from your target marker that you’re casting to. Sometimes I’ll add a yard or two to counteract the wind but also if I feel the fish have backed off I will again add a yard or two to get closer to the weed or feature I’m fishing to.

The spot within a spot can be due to its location and surroundings so if the weed I’m fishing to has died back further then there’s every chance I need to cast closer to it, so it’s worth bearing in mind.

I like to keep the bait going in during the winter, using the same quantities as summer but baiting more spots around the lake

2. Bait application

We’d all love to have the favourite swim on the lake with the majority of the lake’s stock held up in front of it but that rarely happens or that opportunity rarely presents itself to you I should say. These days there is a lot of birdlife on lakes and once they get switched onto it, it can become a nightmare trying to avoid their attention.

I tend to bait several areas on a lake in winter for several reasons, one of them being to keep the birdlife guessing. I’ll happily bait a handful of areas that I think pods of fish will hold up in and keep bait going into all of them on a regular basis. It alleviates problems if the lake has anglers on and gives you options on swim choice too, and importantly, should keep the fish moving and searching for your bait if they know they can find it in different locations.

Crumbed boilies can add plenty of attraction to the swim without giving the birdlife too much to feed on or target
A throwing stick gives a good spread of bait and keep the carp moving in the colder water
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Although I try to ensure my rig is placed with pinpoint accuracy I tend to spread my free offerings out a little bit more, usually opting for a catapult or a throwing stick to keep the fish on the move, grazing, picking up my boilies as they move. Coldwater fish are a bit more torpid and tend to be lethargic, not moving about as much. I’ll put less bait out on the particular spots but using the same amount in total to spread around the area. Don’t forget the more they move and feed on the move, the more effective my rigs will be as they dip in and out of the bottom layers to grab baits.

Crumbed up boilie in a mini Spomb can be a great edge in cold water if the birdlife is very switched on. Casting a few mini Spombs around your spot can put a lot of attraction in the area without giving our feathered friends anything worth diving for. I do try and keep the disturbance down to a minimum if I can by baiting just on dark if the seagulls are prevalent to dive bombing the surface as the bait rains in.

A dip of neat flavour can add loads of attraction to your single hookbait, which can be great if fished over a spot that’s seen plenty of your bait previously

I like a fishmeal and have caught a lot of big fish on fishmeals with Robin Red included and will use them throughout summer, into autumn and sometimes late autumn too. I do think once the leaves start dropping and falling into the lake it does affect the pH of the water. I’m no scientist but definitely fruitier, sweeter type baits work better when that happens. Also, fishmeals tend to carry more fatty content and will go a bit waxy on the bottom in colder water so I will switch to a sweeter, winter boilie that’s more digestible and will pass through the fish quicker and keep them searching for more food. If the bait stays in them they can go to sleep with a full belly almost, so the faster it passes through the better really – that’s my mentality on it anyway.

Bright visual baits can work brilliantly as singles cast at signs in winter

I’ll alter my bait mix as autumn progresses and tip the balance to more of the winter bait as time passes until I switch solely to it in winter. This gets the fish used to seeing, eating and searching for it and just helps to switch them onto it rather than a dead stop of one bait and brand-new introduction of another, almost weaning them onto it.

I tend to like slightly more visual baits in colder water, a more natural, creamy white being my favourite but I’ll often use a washed-out yellow colour or orange even. The coloured baits are something I’m more likely to put out as singles than anything, and I certainly wouldn’t use a lot of bright freebies, if I did it would be at most a handful spread in the area. In the dead of winter when the water temperatures hit rock bottom I’ll opt for the singles but until then, I like to fish over a bit of bait with the off-white colours.

It’s important to keep the bait going in to encourage the carp to keep on the move
Switching from my autumn fishmeal to a winter nut or bird-food bait gradually helps the carp switch and keeps them feeding in the winter, as long as you keep putting the bait in
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With single hookbaits I’ll often dip the bait into a neat flavour or even drop a couple of mls into the tub and give them a good shake to really boost and add as much attraction to it as possible. These singles are quite often fished to spots that have seen bait regularly so I believe the carp are already searching for bait when they come across them. You’ve got to keep the bait going in or they’ll go to ground. I probably use the same amount of bait in winter as I do in the warmer months but I’ll do two things differently. It will be spread over multiple spots instead of one spot, and also, I will often bait before I leave the lake, in readiness for my next trip. This gives the fish a free meal and a ‘safe’ meal, meaning they’ll be much more confident when they return and if it’s just my hook bait in position, then it should be game over.

Nige with Nige’s Fish at 41lb 14oz from Sandhurst Lake on 22nd January

3. Selecting A Water

Because if you get it wrong, it could be a very long and boring winter

Choosing the right water is very important in winter. Gone are the days of sitting a winter out on a low-stock barren pit. There are some lovely weedy lakes with incredibly clear water that’ll produce some incredible carp, but I prefer a higher stocked, almost weed-free lake these days. A good head of fish to target can be the difference between enjoying and loathing your winter carping. An abundance of snags will just give the carp cover and a place to ‘hide’ and feel safe, the odd one or two won’t harm but if half of the lake is littered with snags then you’ll do well to tempt them out in the colder months.

Ironically a lot of anglers will tell you to search for the deeper areas of a lake in winter but I’ve found it to be quite the opposite. I’ve caught countless fish in the shallowest part of the lake in the middle of winter and it’s all down to temperature. If the sun gets up on a cold winter’s day there’s no denying that it will affect the water temperature in the places the sun hits, and if they’re shallow, they’ll heat much quicker. We’re not talking differences of five-degrees here but half-a-degree more will be sought out by the carp so it’s worth paying attention to the North banks, where the sun traps of a lake are in relation to the depths of the lakebed.

A local canal’s stock can often be found under one bush due to the winter’s sun lighting the area up and undoubtedly warming the water through better than anywhere else – thirty or forty carp on occasions. You only have to look on a frosty morning in the dead of winter, some sides of the lake will be covered in a white frost right through the day whereas the areas engulfed in direct sunlight will steam away as the temperature of the ground there rises – it’s exactly the same for the water, the shallower water in particular.

Another Sandhurst brute at 40lb 8oz, taken in January ‘07

Kevin Nash once mentioned about feeling the warmth in the grass on a frosty morning where the sun hits it and while it might be minimal in water, it’s all it takes for the fish to seek those areas. There’s a lake up the road from my house that has a big shallow area in the middle. When the midday sun shines down in winter, within 20 minutes you can actually see most of the lake’s stock out there almost sunning themselves in just a couple of feet of water in January.

Angling pressure is a key part of choosing a water. As great as it may be to have the lake to yourself there’s no denying that other anglers fishing a water can help you massively. If you’re the only one fishing, the second a fish hears a lead crash it can back off. If there are a few anglers casting, baiting and walking the lake then it will keep ‘disturbing’ the fish and keep them on the move which can increase your chances of catching dramatically.

I’ve mentioned this before but I’ve had some of my best winter sessions in early January and I put that purely down to the busy Christmas period where everyone gets a session in while they’re off work and as soon as they go back to work I’ll get the rods out and the previous disturbances have got the fish on the move and feeding – it’s happened too many times for it not to be true.

The Deeper Pro+ makes depth reading much less of a disturbance, which is ideal in winter when trying to catch them on Zigs

4. Watercraft

Line lay, birdlife, Deeper gadgets: they all help put the pieces of the jigsaw together

I touched on it earlier but one big thing is line lay. I’m not criticising here and certainly this won’t be the case for everyone, but I will always use a copolymer monofilament line in winter. It’s common for anglers to use fluorocarbon, fish the lines really slack and have your lines on the floor but you simply get no indication when your lines are following the contours of the lakebed. I’ve tried it and that winter I felt so out of touch with the water, it was a little bit boring and I had nothing to go off.

I like my lines semi-tight and when you register single and double bleeps you can start to work out where the fish are and if they’re up in the water; a sunken line won’t tell you any of this and even just a few bleeps mean you’re learning something and starting to add pieces to the puzzle.

If you’ve got a lake depth of 10ft or more and you’re getting line bites then you know the fish are up in the water so changing to Zigs will probably be the way to go. I was having this conversation with a friend some time ago and we determined that those few line beeps shortly after casting out was probably the line sinking through fish that are sat up in the water. There’s a lot going on after your line as dropped below the surface layer and been placed in your rests as it settles and so on.

I’ve tried fishing spots from different swims when it’s quiet in the winter and again it can give these heavily pressured fish something different to deal with. We’ve all slung a rod to the far bank when it’s quiet and if the fish aren’t used to seeing a rig there and the likes it certainly can be an edge.

Semi-tight lines allow me to pick up line bites, a vital part of watercraft in winter

On The Road Lake, a few years back when a friend was fishing it, if you walked round of an afternoon and jumped up and down on the snags you’d usually see a carp or two show moments later out in the middle. Remarkably the same fish would come out each winter with most not seeing the bank during the colder months but when we did have a lead about or jump on the snags something would always move within half hour of disturbing it. It is important to try and move them around, whether that’s through leads, baiting, angling pressure or whatever.

A mate of mine sussed out on Frimley a few years ago that if he cast to signs like pinprick bubbles hitting the surface or the like, the fish would just back straight off. He got to a point where he was getting his rods set and then casting a lead around into the lake in a manner that pushed the fish towards his hookbait. He did actually catch the fish on maggots and pop-ups as well as Zigs by doing that and I think that was an amazing bit of fishing the way he clicked onto that. If he had a bait straight out in front of him, he’d cast well left and just try and edge them closer to his rigs – genius. It takes some doing and you wouldn’t recommend doing it everywhere but he felt that it worked and watching from my position he certainly caught some fish doing so.

A regular copolymer allows me to pick up line bites to determine fish location & sometimes depth too
Slack parts of the lake can hold carp as they’re often slightly warmer, keeping sheltered from those cold winter gusts
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The standard thing to do is get to a lake at first light and watch for fish. In winter I’ve found that the key time to be at the lake is just before dusk. There seems to be a small window in late in the day where the fish become more active, and there’s a hive of activity. Sometimes that can happen around midday if the sun’s out and thirdly is the dead of the night. I’ll often go to bed early in winter and get up for a few hours in the middle of the night and see plenty of signs that others miss at 2am while they’re flat out. It might be frosty and cold but there’s every chance you’ll see something to go on next time.

In the daytime if I do see signs I like to cast at them. My third rod will often be a ‘cast-anywhere-rod’ for that reason and due to the colder water temperatures and their slower behaviour I find that although they will back off, it won’t be very far, and usually they’ll migrate back to where they were pretty quickly as that’s where they want to be, whether it’s due to features, food or warmth. They’re much less likely to shoot up the other end of the lake for example.

A 38lb+ winter carp

Small lines of pinprick bubbles will tell me that the fish are up in the water and I’ll put a Zig out there. A Deeper Pro+ will easily assess the depth for me with minimal disturbance and sometimes show what depth the fish are too so you can put a Zig Rig out bang-on the right depth.

I rarely follow the wind in the winter myself, if I’m not comfortable standing in it, then I can’t imagine that the carp will follow it if it’s that cold. You do sometimes get a mild wind and the fish will follow it but as a rule of thumb, the slacker, sheltered water will be warmer. You can almost imagine them huddling up behind an island for example, and realistically, an island is the shortest journey a carp will have to take to move in and out of the slacker water depending on wind direction.

Birdlife can give away a lot of free information in winter. They can form up and almost map out the shape of weedbeds as they dive; they can certainly spook from carp below the surface – I’m sure we’ve all seen that once or twice. They may find a natural larder in a particular area and harvest that regularly. Sometimes they can even give you information on how your baited spots are doing. If you’ve put bait out in several areas and you’ve got a good view of the lake you can monitor the attention they get from the coots. If they’re not diving, then there’s every chance your bait has been eaten by the carp through the night and things like that.

Watching the birdlife can be very advantageous, tufties are scavengers and they’re always looking for food. It’s a whole new element of watercraft aside from carp shows and bubbles and well worth investigating.

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