To My Younger Self... By Dave Lane
'Don't leave it too long before you try a piece of flip-flop on the Hair'...
Dear Dave Lane, (1978)
I am writing you this letter in the hope that, for once, you will pay attention and learn from your mistakes, even if you haven’t made them yet. Do you remember that bloke on Tilgate last winter, the one that you laughed at for using suspended crust or flavoured squares of cake, fished six feet off the bottom, even in the coldest conditions, when you were convinced that all carp buried themselves in the mud when the temperatures dropped? Well, guess what, you were wrong, and he was right.
Had you paid a bit more attention you may have saved yourself from endless months of blanking, only catching just the odd fish and always at the same time every day. Did you never wonder what they did for the rest of the time? I bet you did but, for some reason, sitting in big shoals in mid-water was never one of the options that ran through your active little mind was it?
In about twenty years’ time some bright spark will try this again, with little bits of foam for bait; yes, I did say foam and black unflavoured foam at that. They will catch fish that you now consider uncatchable in winter and catch a lot more than you do at the moment. Somewhere in the middle layers is a good starting point but try higher and lower if you’re not getting bites. Oh, and by the way, it even works at night.
I know this all sounds ridiculous and you are thinking, ‘why the hell would a carp eat a bit of old flip-flop that is just bobbing about mid-water in the middle of winter’. The answer, I am afraid, will have to wait for the next letter which I will send when I have finally figured that one out but, trust me, it works.
Yours sincerely, a much older and wiser you.
P.S. Buy shares in any company called Apple… that doesn’t sell apples.
I’m still not overly sure I would have believed even myself in this matter, but had I opened the letter and thought I’d give it a try, then who knows what might have happened.
For decades we laboured under the misapprehension that carp cruised on the surface because it was hot and headed for the deepest depths as soon as the temperature cooled down again. Although, in fairness to a younger self, I had realised that the shallows were also a good place to fish on a sunny winter’s day and I’d actually done quite well in the eighties by making sure I always checked at both ends of the lake. I remember spotting fish under the ice in only about three feet of water, in the recognised ‘summer swims’ on my local park lake; the same lake that the idiot with the suspended baits used to fish actually.
Only a couple of years later I caught my new personal best carp, a common known a Half-Tail at 20lb 8oz, the biggest fish at that time in Wyke Pit down in Chichester. Unbelievably, only a few moments later I braced it with a new PB mirror of 19lb 8oz.
I had set-up on a point that gave access to a shallow island margin to my right, and a deep connecting channel between the two halves of the lake straight in front. The third rod was cast out to the left up against some reeds in two feet of water in the shallower half of the lake. The two bites both came from the shallow spots, so I was really no stranger to shallow water winter fishing by this stage. But even with the knowledge that deep was not always a prerequisite for winter success, I would never have envisaged that fishing mid-water with unflavoured bits of foam would be anything but ridiculous.
On the same pit the following winter, whilst fishing single pop-ups, I had another revelation that should have steered me towards the obvious conclusion, but somehow my mind still resisted to accept the idea of mid-water feeding. I had turned up armed only with a little bag of home-made fishmeal pop-ups, lovingly rolled by hand around corkballs to give the required buoyancy. These were anchored a couple of inches off the deck by the addition of a large split shot and presented on the only rig we ever used: a twelve-inch piece of nylon.
I never had any money in those days and regularly ran out of the necessary items, on this occasion it was split shot and I managed to scrape just two single shots out of the mould at the bottom of my bait box/tackle container. The third rod just had to go without one and, as a result, the bait wavered in the water a clear foot above the bottom. I had thirteen carp that session, every single one of them came on a bait straight off the lead, obviously the other two shots had been fairly quickly removed after some initial success on the one ‘lucky’ rod.
Looking back now, I was so close but just not quite willing or perceptive enough to take that final step into a full blown Zig Rig.
Since Zigs have come onto the scene they have proved devastating during those colder months and, once the right height/depth is found they really can unlock doors that were firmly bolted for years and years. Even on lakes where the average depth is only four or five feet, they still work although I cannot for the life of me figure out why. Surely there cannot be that much difference in either temperature, pressure or oxygen levels in a difference of just two feet, but the results speak for themselves.
When I think of all of the winters I have spent waiting in vain on places like Christchurch, Horton, well, anywhere really, when a simple Zig may have changed everything. There were often bite times on the bottom, tiny windows of opportunity when the fish would feel comfortable enough to visit the lakebed and feed, albeit for a short period. These periods were well worth identifying and fishing through and, sometimes the results could be amazing, but what about the other twenty three hours of the day?
I mentioned Christchurch and that is a perfect example. Due to the travelling involved I used to fish for a two or three night session right in the depths of winter. Most days I would catch fish but always within the same small time slot every morning, less than an hour of feeding. The rest of the time I just sheltered from the cold and waited for the next day whereas I should have been working the depths and constantly re-casting my rods at hourly intervals.
I hear people say that Zigs don’t work on their particular venue and yes, I have struggled on a lot of lakes, but the problem is often just the amount of variables that need to fall into place. You need the location right, as always, but you also have that extra dimension of depth and this can change throughout the day so, in theory you could chase that point forever. It would be easy to be so very close but not quite right. The reality is, however, we often have a lot of time and a fair few rods to experiment with and what is there to lose really?
I had two months on Monks one winter where there hadn’t been a single bite to anyone, either on the bottom or on a Zig. Just by pure chance, while using a boat to break some marginal ice, I rowed across a big cluster of carp only twenty five yards out in a swim more known for long-range angling. That one sighting led to a session the following week where I bagged five carp in quick succession, including a new personal best common of 46lb.
The most interesting aspect of all this is that, as now, we all thought that we knew everything there was to know about the way that carp were willing to feed; this makes me wonder what we might still be missing? My only regret right now though, is that I never posted that letter.