Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer when it comes to winter baiting patterns. What’s right on one lake might not always be right on another, and so before you decide which route to take, there are a few important points that it pays to consider. However, before we get onto the different approaches, let’s first have a think about what is going on down below as we move into winter.
As the water temperatures drop, carp become less active, and thus need less food to carry them through, so it can be harder to catch them ‘on the feed’ during the colder months. During the summer, carp will eat little and often in the same way a cow might graze little bits of grass throughout the day, so to a degree, they will always be up for a free lunch should they come across one, whereas in the winter, they will tend to eat more periodically, and to make matters worse – depending on how you look at it - they tend to eat more in a single sitting, so the chances of catching them ‘on the feed’ reduce still further.
All is not lost, however, as the immediate environment will also play a part too, and generally speaking, carp in waters where there is a higher degree of competition for food – and thus survival – will often feed more regularly during winter than fish in low stocked venues.
Taking into account all the above, it’s no surprise that buying a bite from a big winter carp can often prove a tricky prospect. The first thing we need to remember when trying to formulate an approach is that all waters are different, and what works on one water will not always relate to another.
The amount of bait applied is obviously of critical importance; not enough and the fish may not know it’s there, too much and you’ve killed the swim stone-dead. It can be very difficult getting the balance just right, and let’s be honest there’s no exact science, but if we give careful consideration to a few factors, there can usually be a few clues which might help point us in the right direction...
The first tip I would give is not to suddenly pull back on bait the moment the colder weather arrives. We have to remember that the water will take time to cool, and will remain at good feeding temperatures for some time after the warmth of long summer days has past. As a fishery manager, I’m always acutely aware of water temperature, and this can be of huge benefit when fishing too. It’s often the case that I’ll still be pre-baiting into the winter months when most around me have switched to stringers and singles!
Pre-baiting is a subject all of its own really, but in relation to winter fishing I’ve often done well when I keep the bait going in – but by definition this is bait going onto spots where it has already been going in for some time, so the fish are already used to finding it and eating it in these areas – to actually start a pre-baiting campaign in the winter is a different prospect altogether, and whilst I have done this from time to time, often with good results, you really need to be sure the fish are eating the bait before you start piling it in!
It’s also good to try and be aware of what other anglers are doing on the lake. I often base my winter baiting approach on doing something that little bit different to those around me. On one club water I joined a few years ago it was beyond comical; there were a few hard frosts over the course of a fortnight and suddenly everybody thought it was winter. Almost overnight, every angler on the lake switched to fluoro pop-ups over tiny PVA Mesh stockings filled with fine pellets and crushed boilies and that was that – apparently it was the only way they could be caught during the colder months… I was gobsmacked. The water temperature had only dropped one degree, and for me, despite the frosts it was fishing as normal! I stuck to my single balanced hookbait approach in amongst a liberal amounts of free baits and for the following five or six weeks probably banked more fish than everybody on the lake put together for the whole of winter! To be honest, it was almost embarrassing, I’d be having three fish a night and they’d be struggling to bank anything. The simple fact is that the fish were still feeding heavily and decided to stick to the easy-to-find, heavy application of HNV feed I was giving them, rather than spending ages trying to root out single pop ups in a nine acre lake!
I remember chatting to one lad whilst walking the lake who was telling me how it would shut down now it was winter… he did the age old action of dipping his hand into the water to ‘test’ the temperature. Inside I just wet myself laughing and decided to have a bit of fun with him. I motioned to his wet hand and asked him at what temperature the water was now holding? The look on his face was priceless… as of course he had absolutely no idea whatsoever! If he had, he would not have been chucking in singles like the rest of them! To make matters worse, after dropping into a swim a short way down the bank, a few hours later I managed to bank a lovely thick-set common two ounces short of twenty pounds – off the top! Now that really pickled his head..!
The lesson to draw from the above is that you need to establish fact before forming a strategy. Don’t assume that something has happened below the surface just because something has happened above it, for they are two very different worlds! Grab yourself a thermometer and keep it in your tackle bag – in terms of winter fishing it could be the best three quid you ever spend! CLICK HERE for one we spotted on eBay that'll be good enough.
The best route is to make decisions based on your own findings rather than take the assumptions of others as fact. To be honest I think a lot of people fish fluoro pop ups in all the wrong ways and for all the wrong reasons during winter - but I’ll cover that in another article!
Once into winter proper, my own baiting approach is based on trying to establish the time I’m most likely to get a bite during the day, and then having my traps set ready and waiting come that time. Exactly how I set those traps will be different session on session, water on water. Again, I’ll establish exactly what’s going on beneath the surface first, take into account what everybody else is doing above it, and then form a plan to try and get ahead, and should there be a distinct pattern with regard to what everybody else is doing, I might well tweak things a little – after all, it never hurts to be different!