Carp fishing in winter can be somewhat of a daunting prospect and when Dick Walker wrote his Still Water Angling back in the fifties they were thought to be virtually uncatchable at that time. It was though, in the sixties when a few dedicated anglers started to fish for them, sometimes during arctic conditions, to prove that carp fishing during that period was worth pursuing.
Anglers today now realise that carping during the colder months is an accepted period to catch them, but that is not to say that Walker was wrong in what he wrote all those years ago. He didn’t actually say that carp cannot be caught in the winter, only that they only fed for short periods at that time. However, today things are somewhat different to what they were then. For a start there are more waters holding carp than ever before and more waters. The purpose dug fisheries which are creeping up all over the country were unheard of in Walkers day and many of these are heavily stocked so the carp need to feed to maintain their weight.
It is also a fact that there are many other waters that now hold carp which didn’t twenty years ago. Here I am talking about the same waters that existed in those days, such as old estate lakes. Many of these were tench and roach only lakes, but very few of these exist now that do not hold carp even those waters that were lightly stocked. All this means that there are plenty of waters to fish with a good chance of catching carp, where it were not possible twenty years ago. Even ten years ago, there weren’t the carp waters about that there are now. Winter fishing for them now can be worthwhile, but it pays to pick your days and waters carefully. Not all carp waters fish well in the winter, but on the other hand there are waters that fish exceptionally well in the winter.
Broadly speaking, and although I do not like to generalise, if pushed I would say shallow waters are a better bet than deep ones, simply because they warm up quicker during the day. Of course, there are deep waters which have shallows and while many anglers may think it is the deep water they should be fishing, often it is the reverse. This is not always the case and you must take lots of other things into consideration, such as wind direction, if there are any feeder streams and what effect they, or it, could have.
For example, many anglers believe the entrance to a feeder stream is a good place to fish and usually the water is shallow around that area, so it should warm up quickly, but this is not necessarily the case. To start with, the water coming down the stream is likely to be cooler than the water in the lake and the fish do not always like the silted areas. When carp feed in the silt, they are generally feeding on blood worm, but whether the blood worm is as prolific at the entrance to a stream as in other parts of the lake is not clear. It may not be. There is a third possibility why these places are not as good as one would expect, and that is that many of these streams are carrying chemicals from nearby farmland. Often there would be a high concentration of nitrates and it could be that the carp do not like it.
Whatever the reason, I do know that such swims are not usually good places to fish for carp. I accept that some may be and anglers must find out for themselves on the particular lake they are fishing, but if I were in their position, I wouldn’t spend too much time in that type of swim if the fish are not coming fairly quickly. Often the outlet is a better bet and if that happens to be a shallow area, so much the better. By the time the water has filtered through the lake it would have lost it’s unwanted chemicals and the warmth of the day could quickly raise the temperature in the shallow area.
It must have became clear by now that I favour shallow lakes for winter carp fishing, but while I am not only a carp angler, preferring to fish for whatever species takes my fancy at the time, I have done an awful lot of carp fishing and a lot of it was in the winter, so this article is based on my experiences over a good many years. There is a water near my home which is never easy even in summer, but in winter it becomes even harder. It is fairly deep, with an average depth of about l0ft and, except for the very edge of the lake, is it has no shallows. Most of the few fish that are caught there in the winter are taken in a couple of feet of water just out from the bank. Runs are few and far between and I think the only reason why some anglers bother to fish it during the winter is because of its big fish. Some believe there are as many as twenty 20lb fish in the water, along with one thirty. Certainly there are at least a dozen fish over 20lb, since one angler has caught that many different fish and has identifying photographs to prove it.
By contrast, a lake that I used to fish back in the eighties had only one twenty, but it did hold a lot of double figure fish. It was shallow and nowhere was there more than 5ft of water. It was also very productive, you could expect to catch at least one carp during a day’s fishing and those who bothered to bivvy up generally caught several. In the summer the lake was heavily weeded, so it was actually easier and more productive to fish in the winter. In fact, some anglers didn’t bother to fish it until October, or even November. There was no doubt about it, the lake fished better in the winter.
So, in contrast to the deep lake, which rarely produced any carp at all during the winter, the shallow lake actually fished better. But, as I stated earlier, it’s not as simple as that. To a large extent it will depend on how heavily the water is stocked. The more fish in the lake, the more likely you are to catch – that is simple mathematics, but if the stocking is similar on both deep and shallow waters then my bet is that the shallow water will fish better. There is another advantage in fishing shallow waters and that is that you are more likely to spot the fish. I don’t just mean fish rolling, or jumping, but cruising fish swimming just below the surface, sometimes in water only 15 inches deep. Sometimes carp can be spotted in a bed of decaying lily pads, or tight under the bank of overhanging grass. It takes experience to spot carp in these conditions and it also takes stealth, so that once having done so you have a chance of fishing for them.
To spot carp in these cold conditions takes a great deal of patience and it is better to spend half the day searching and finding the fish, rather than taking a chance and casting into a swim which may not hold carp. It is not necessary to fish long sessions, even a morning, or afternoon can be worthwhile once you find the fish. Spotting carp may take experience, but if you learn a few skills in this direction you will certainly catch more carp. Sometimes just the slightest disturbance on the surface can signal a carp so watch very carefully, for they will often give away their position.
When you look at a dead weed bed watch out f
or the dark shapes, that black object a foot or two under the surface could just be a sunken branch, even a couple of lily leaves, but it could also be a carp. Keep very still and watch carefully, if it moves you will know it’s a fish. It may not do so for sometime, but keep watching, look to see if you can see its tail, or dorsal fin. Once you have found a carp that is moving, you are in with a good chance of catching it and usually where there is one, there are generally others. And the fact that they are moving means that sooner or later they will feed.
It is up to you how you fish for them, but if I am fishing with boilies in this type of situation, then I only use a few freebies around my hook bait. Half a dozen is plenty, but if I get a run, whether I hook the fish or not, then I put out another half dozen. Don’t forget to watch the margins for carp, which can sometimes be found sucking at old reed stems even in winter. The way to spot them is to watch out for ripples coming away from the edge as often as not it will turn out to be a moorhen, but just now and again it will be a carp, so it’s worth watching for the signs. Mind you, when I have found carp in this situation I have rarely caught them. I think the reason for this is because they are on the move, unlike the carp in the weed beds and until they stop moving your chances are really quite slim. One method which does occasionally work is to note which direction the fish is moving and to fish well in front of it, perhaps even 10 or 20 yards, and wait for it to arrive. Float fishing is a good method to employ in this situation and to fish the bait just under the surface. It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a try, though, to be truthful, I have had more luck with this method during the summer.
In winter the carp, although they do move, they may not do so as much as they do in summer and going back to what Dick Walker once wrote, they do not usually feed for long periods. It is, therefore, more important to make sure you are fishing in the right place. Of course, this is not always possible, there are times when they just do not show themselves. The only thing you can do in this situation is to fish a spot where you have seen carp in similar conditions to which you are now fishing. However, if you see a fish move in another area of the water, it would probably pay to move. I know some anglers are reluctant to move, especially after they have baited a swim, but I can give you a dozen examples where I have moved after spotting a fish and caught as a result. A carp which rolls is, I believe, a feeding carp and I nearly always cast to one if I see it. Only a few weeks ago, I moved three times during a day’s fishing before finally settling for a swim where the only signs of fish were a few bubbles. Moving around the lake I couldn’t see any other signs of fish at all, but settled for a swim with a thick bed of reeds across the other side of a small bay. Three hours later, with still no signs of fish, I moved to a swim where I had seen a carp on my previous trip, but again, after a couple of hours with still no signs of fish, I reeled in and walked around the lake. In just one swim were a few patches of bubbles rising up from a rotting lily bed. I had no idea whether the bubbles were caused by carp, but due to the fact that I had seen no other signs of fish, I decided to give it a go. Within an hour of fishing it, a fish boiled under the rod tip and 15 minutes later I had a screaming take.
The carp ripped line from the reel as it run through the lily bed, but heavy side strain turned it and, although it made a number of other runs, I eventually had it under control and under the rod tip. I saw it clearly, a large golden mirror, at least 201b, but as I bent down to pick up the net the carp took off again. When I went to steer it back to surface, it was gone, slipped the hook.
I don’t like to end an article about losing a fish, but you win some and you lose some. It does also illustrate how important it is to be fishing in the right swim.