If the wintery conditions outside really don’t lend themselves to the prospect of bagging a winter carp, then all is not lost. At this time of year, when opportunities for catching them might be few and far between, I often start looking forwards and start doing a bit of homework which could put me one step ahead of the game for the coming year ahead.
For me, watercraft takes three forms; the first is reading the water and conditions when you are actually fishing, the second is reconnaissance visits when you are not fishing, and the third is research and study carried out away from the water, and it’s the latter two areas that you can really get to work on during the winter when it’s a bit too grim to be out on the banks trying to catch them.
I know many anglers planning new campaigns on new waters that only start to get into the swing of things in the spring when everything is starting to pick up, at which point they’ll venture out, at much the same time as the rest of the fair-weather brigade, and then start to think about how to go about fishing the water. Personally, I find this a bit of a waste. Spring is probably the best chance you are going to have of catching fish at their best weights, so I’ll do all my planning for a new venue during the winter months in order that I can hit the ground running as the fish start to feed and all being well, reap the rewards.
I always try to do feature finding work on a new water in the colder months. I like to be very thorough with my feature finding and to be honest, can’t think of anything worse than working a swim to a froth before then setting up to fish it, so far better to work the whole lake during the winter months. There are two main benefits to this approach. The first is that there will minimal weed and plant growth around which will allow you to run over areas you might not be able to effectively plumb during the warmer months, and secondly, there’s a good chance there will be nobody about so you won’t be giving away any surprises which you may encounter on the way!
Don’t get me wrong, I will happily offer advice and assistance to those who are genuinely showing initiative and want to learn and better their skills, but I’m buggered if I’m going to gift a lazy angler a result off the back of the hard work I’ve put in, so by doing a good deal of your underwater reconnaissance during the colder months, you can then draw on it throughout the year without giving the game away.
I’ll usually rough an outline map at home using Google Maps or such like, and then each visit work on a swim or area to give me a rough idea. If it’s a big water I’ll first do spot checks all around just to get an outline of depths and then, once done, concentrate on the areas of interest and build a bit more detail each time out. If it’s a small water I’ll do a few swims each time out and really go to town. In cold conditions it can sometimes be a bit tricky to do detailed drawings on the bankside, so I’ll often just makes notes and then do detailed plans once back in the warmth of the house. I take lots of photos, too; having a range of images to draw on showing the water during the different seasons can often bring to attention little things you might easily otherwise miss, and for me, the more info you have at your disposal the better. A key tip is to turn your back on the water and take some images of the backdrop to each of the swims – I’ll explain why later in the piece…
Visit by visit you will start to build a really accurate picture, and based on sightings and observations made along the way, will often find that a strategy begins to present itself without you even knowing it – just being on the water and seeing the changes as they happen coming into spring will often point you in the right direction of the fish, and whilst those around you are just waking from their winter slumber and starting totally from scratch, you’ll already have the water totally mapped out and will be fully armed with all that you have witnessed and learnt during your winter reconnaissance trips.
If the lakes are frozen and I’m prevented from doing a bit of groundwork up on the lake itself, I’ll switch my attentions to the work I can do from home. For 2013 I’m looking to spend some time on a lovely little water I’ve only fished a couple of times socially before. It’s got a bit of a reputation for proving quite tricky at times, especially when there’s a few on, so it’s one where I’ll definitely be doing my homework before I start any kind of campaign. I’ve already been up and done an outline plan of depths, and will soon be up and out to build all the detail. However, as it’s currently frozen solid, I’ve started to do my study work from the comfort of my own computer. There have been a number of images and catch reports posted from the water in the past on my NWC Forum, so my first job has been to use the advanced search facilities (available on most forums) in order to dig out all the catch reports and information that has been previously posted about the water.
Again, when you see snippets here and there they have a limited span in the memory, but when you gather everything together, and analyse all the information at your disposal, you begin to see patterns and trends emerging, and it’s these clues – all of which can be obtained away from the water itself – which can really aid the forming of a strategy for when you do get out on the bank and start your campaign. I’ll look at which fish have been caught, at what time of year, and from which swims - remember the images of the backdrop to the swims I mentioned earlier? Well, this is where they come in; by looking at peoples trophy shots you can match the backgrounds to the images you’ve taken behind the swims and in doing so can work out where most of the fish have been caught. I’ll also look to glean as much information as possible about tactics and approaches others have used in these areas, though do be mindful that a lot of people can talk a good game on an internet forum, same as they can on the bank, but it’s those who have the pictures to back it up that I tend to take note of! You’ll often get a heads up on what factors you might need to take into account when fishing certain areas of the lake as the year unfolds, with regard to weed and planting, which in turn can give you an idea of how finite your tackle can go in terms of line and leaders, etc.
With the water in question, there’s very little I’ve been able to gain in terms of approach, as to be honest, the approaches of those fishing the place in the past have been pretty haphazard. However, the mapping of captures has really thrown up some excellent results. There’s about half a dozen big fish in the lake, most of which tend to come out once a year or every other year, but what I’ve noticed (which I’m hoping others have not!) is that four of these six fish have come out from the same area of the lake at a particular time of year – a pattern which has only shown itself by going through several years worth of catch reports and data. What’s more, having already had a tentative mark around of depths in this area, I think I might have half an idea why... more detailed work with the marker rod once the ice has cleared will hopefully prove my hunch and if it does, will be an absolute gift, in so much as it will give me the first area to start pre-baiting before I’ve even wet a line in the spring!
All of the above work I’ve done when I’ve not been able to get out and fish my current water, so it’s all time I’ll save come next year when I can get out and fish. When I start, I’ll be able to hit the ground running, knowing that some of the biggest fish in the lake have been caught from the spot I will already have been pre-baiting for some time, so hopefully, if I get it right, I’ll be able to start banking a few just as the fish start to come active whilst those around me are faced with the prospect of getting to grips with a new water completely from scratch.
It’s a method that’s helped me get ahead on many venues in the past, and hopefully this coming year will be no exception… I’ll keep you posted!