At this time of year, it’s a good bet that your lake is going to freeze at some point, and it may well be the case that it does so whilst you are actually out fishing. Question is, if it does freeze on you, what should you do; reel your rods in and get a good night’s sleep, or carry on regardless and try and bag yourself one from under the ice?
In most cases, I would not advocate that you go out to fish a session on a lake that’s already frozen. Not because I don’t think the fish are catchable, it’s more the logistics – not to mention safety aspects – of having to break the ice to get your rods in. The simple fact is that you’d only be able to get your baits within a couple of feet from the bank and it’s often more trouble than it’s worth.
However, if you’re fishing a session and the lake starts to freeze over, it is possible to carry on fishing. A good example would be a session I fished last Friday up at Whiston Hall. I was fishing a night session where the weather forecast had given a temperature of two degrees and a wind of about 7mph, with heavy cloud cover, which should have been enough to keep it free of ice.
However, the water sits at over 530ft above sea level, so can often be at mercy of the weather if there’s even the slightest deviation from the forecast and, when I got up there at about 9pm, it was clear we were dealing with a major deviation! The night sky was as clear as I’ve ever seen it up there, and even worse was the total lack of wind. It made everything feel really fishy as I set up in the moonlight, but I was well aware that if things continued like this, the lake would likely freeze.
By 11pm, the ground was solid white all around me and I knew it was only a matter of time before the lake froze, so I had two choices; to reel the rods in and get a good nights sleep, or to get up at regular intervals through the night to keep the ice free from around my rods. To be honest, I was still smarting from losing one from the same water the week before in the snow, so I was relishing the challenge of having one from under the ice!
First up, I needed to take stock of my swim and the spots where I had my rods. When it freezes, you will only have the area you keep free of ice around your rods to play the fish in, which can be extremely challenging. Basically, you can’t lift the rod high in the air to guide the fish away from known obstacles or obstructions – your tip has to be under the water all the time you are playing the fish in until it is in the area you have kept clear at which point you can lift your rod to guide it into the net.
Therefore, you need to think about your swim very carefully. If you think it’s going to freeze over, the further you cast your bait, the harder it’s going to be to get the fish all the way back into your clear spot and, likewise, if there are snags and such like nearby, the fish could well get the upper hand in the early stages. It’s no good if the water you have kept clear is only a few inches deep – you need enough depth in front of your rods to play the fish effectively, and by this I mean actually getting the top third of your rod under the surface – unobstructed – so that you can keep in control of the fish at all times and counter its moves. Of course, once under your feet, you also need enough depth to net it.
In my case, I had rods down each margin and one about thirty yards out in open water. With no snags, I knew I was clear to play them in under the ice and I had about two feet of water right under my tips to play them in – all good.
To prepare for the night ahead, I dropped my tips right under the surface of the water and then extended my landing net handle to its full 8ft length. Then the tough bit – setting your alarm every hour so that you can get up and keep the water around your rod tips free of ice. The moment your line freezes in the ice, you are in trouble. You risk your line cutting, so it’s literally a case of keeping the spot clear right through the night.
By midnight, cat ice had formed which got thicker with every hour that passed. If you just break the ice, it will quickly reform in chunks, so it’s best if you can net the broken ice out, which then means the surface area has to start freezing from scratch again, so it gives you more time. As it was, I set my alarm to get me up every hour and then netted out any newly formed ice from the swim and also gave it a tap around the outer fringes to help keep it loosely formed.
By morning, the lake had frozen solid – apart from the bit around my rods! When the sun popped up over the rocks, the view was absolutely stunning and fish or not, it had been worth the effort. I made a brew and took a few shots to capture the moment. For me, it’s when you have to work the hardest at your fishing that it means the most.
No sooner had I taken a sip from my brew, the indicator lifted on the middle rod and the Delkim went into meltdown… fish on! You can’t lift the rod up to strike, instead you have to get the top third of the rod under the water and wind down hard until you feel real resistance to make sure you have set the hook. On doing so, it’s then a case of doing everything you would do with the rod in the air, but effectively upside down with the tip under the surface!
In my case, the fish was kiting hard to my left, so I had to apply heavy side strain to get it back under control. It’s a case of keeping up the pressure and only giving line if you really have to. A short time later, I had the fish in the area I’d kept free of ice and was able to guide in neatly into the net. Result!
A pristine winter common was the perfect reward. It may only have been small, but it’s the effort I went to in catching it that made it a real achievement in conditions where most would have reeled in or gone home.
So, can carp be caught from under the ice? Yes, they certainly can, but you just need to ensure you plan for it effectively, both before it forms and once it has done so, in order to keep you and the fish safe at all times.