Winter Carp Fishing

It’s often the case, come winter, that many anglers suddenly start panicking about what bait they should be using once the cold weather arrives. The biggest tip I can give at the outset is that if your chosen bait has been catching well through the year, then don’t feel you have to change it – whatever it may be – just because the temperature is dropping.

It’s long been accepted that when fishing boilies, come the colder weather, milk protein or birdfood based baits will work better than a high nutritional bait which can be harder for the fish to digest, but for me, it’s not quite as simple as that. Whilst certain combinations may or may not stimulate winter feeding, I think you also need to apply the law of common sense – if you’ve been catching well on a bait right through the year, don’t suddenly change it just because winter's coming. I’ll often have heated debates with people who insist a bait must have one ingredient over another to make it effective at a particular time of year or else it’s not worth using – at which point I usually remind them that I catch equally well using a fake piece of plastic corn which has no ingredients in it whatsoever!

Likewise, I’ll often carry on fishing the same high protein bait right through the winter that I’ve been using throughout the warmer months, especially if they’ve seen plenty of it. If you establish a good feeding programme (pre baiting) throughout the year, I feel it often becomes second nature to them to pick it up whatever the conditions, but I’m just making the point that it’s often better to try things out for yourself rather than just falling in line with the accepted view.

Winter Carp Fishing
Winter’s coming, but don’t panic!

If it’s a water I’ve not been campaigning on, I’ll often try to mix it up a little in the winter. Feeding spells, like the daylight hours, are limited, so it helps to be open minded about your baiting strategy and approach. I won’t go too far off topic here as I’ve been asked to concentrate on baits in this piece, but what I will say is that observation is key. Successful winter carping is about far more than the bait on the end of your rig – keep your eyes peeled and be prepared to think outside the box. When carp do get moving during the winter, you’ll often spot them in the most unlikely of places!

In terms of the baits and tips listed below, some I find more suited to daylight hours, some to night. I often find a visual ‘aid’ can work well in the daytime - something that moves (maggots) or something that adds a contrast of bright colour (maize) to deliberately poke at the carps curious characteristics. I might then change it to something which works more via smell, like a glugged boilie, during the hours of darkness.

1. Winterise me!
I’ve already touched on the fact that if campaigning a water and pre baiting, I’ll often stick with the same mix through the winter for as long as the results keep coming, but should results drop off or if I’m on a complete new water, I may well go for something more along the lines of a bird or milk base. My personal advice would be to always buy fresh rolled bait if you can. Many off the shelf brands remain the same throughout the winter months, so unless the bait has a strong milk / bird base already, you might struggle trying to adapt a high protein bait to winter use. Some do offer ‘winterised’ versions, but if they’re also loaded with enough preservatives to pickle a dog, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. You will often find smaller scale fresh bait rollers are much better equipped to offer winter variations of their most popular mixes with ingredient levels adapted to try and make them more palatable / digestible through the winter.

2. Don’t be afraid to imitate!
Fake or imitation baits are one of my favourite winter carp baits. My personal favourite is two grains of imitation sweetcorn  - and that’s it – nothing else! Simple is often best and I find this can be a deadly tactic during daytime sessions. Find a spot where the sun hits early on and there’s a good chance the fish might visit it as the water will warm here first, and if they see just a couple of grains of corn which another fish must have missed, well they’d better get it eaten quick! Play about though; I’ve also had good results using fake tigers, maize and nuts during the colder months.

Another good tactic during summer, as well as winter, is to tip a boilie hookbait with a piece of fake corn. Not only does it allow a degree of balancing to the bait, which is essential during winter (more on that later), but it also adds a flash of colour amongst an otherwise bland winter lakebed.

3. Stink’em out
If I’m on a quick overnighter, I’ll often go for maximum attack; something so smelly they’d be hard pushed not to find it during the few hours I’m there! My favourite tactic is usually to mould a really smelly paste around the hookbait. This will breakdown much quicker than a boilie can ‘leak' in cold weather, so can be a great way of adding an instant kick. You can make your own pastes up pretty easily, or just ask your bait roller to knock some up for you. Alternatively, get hold of some Balachan. This stuff is basically a concentrated shrimp paste you buy from an Asian food outlet. It looks like fudge but smells like a dead cat. Scrap that – two dead cats! It’s really strong stuff but the carp love it. If you can handle the smell of it on your hands it’s definitely worth a go. Just pull a bit off and mould it around your hookbait – job done.

4. Curiosity caught the carp!
There’s nothing better than something which moves to add an extra little stimulus to a lethargic carp which doesn’t really know if it wants to eat something or not. The carp's metabolic rate slows during the winter, so it eats less often than it would in the summer, and due to the higher levels of dissolved oxygen, when it does eat it will be able to eat more in a single sitting as it can digest food much quicker, thus you stand less chance of catching them feeding than you would in the summer. As such, it’s imperative to try and play on their other characteristics to try and buy a bite – namely, their unflinching inquisitive nature.

I would say 90% of the carp I stalk during the summer months are not actively looking for food at the exact moment I hook them. It’s simply that I’m able to apply a nice wriggling lobworm just inches in front of their path, which they seem incapable of ignoring, and have to investigate further. It’s exactly the same theory in winter; a nice bunch of maggots on a ring clip or straight off the hook can be a great way of poking at their curiosity – and that’s often better than trying to outwit them with fancy winter baits. Sometimes, it’s the simple things that work best. Let’s face it, nine out of ten anglers are probably on boilies, so by doing something different to the norm, you are often one step ahead.

5. A-maize me!
One of the oldest baits ever used for carp fishing, and still immensely effective. I like to use maize in the daytime often in a single hookbait approach. I’ll often have a few glugged grains on one rod and keep moving it around every hour or so along obvious features or margins – this tactic has brought me so many winter fish it’s untrue.

Fluorescent Pop-Up Boilies6. Fluoro fantastic!
In a similar way to the moving maggots, a highly visible pop up is designed to provoke a visual response. There are all kinds of colours and flavours to choose from, but personally, I think the success can be as much to do with the way they are fished as much as the colours themselves. Like the maize or corn I like to use them in a roving approach, working areas of the water during the session, with little, if any, feedbait. They can also be deadly for a dawn attack. When first light comes and you get a screamer, it will often be the fluoro pop in the far margin!

7. The Brazilian
An incredibly underrated bait, the Brazil nut. I was put onto these very early on in my carping by an experienced hand, and they are quite simply a fantastic bait. Normally, I favour them for summer use as they can be a little oily; however, I’ve had more than enough fish to make them worthy of inclusion in a winter baiting article. Overall, I’ve probably had more fish on Brazil’s than I’ve had on sweetcorn, though I’ve never fully been able to understand why the carp like them so much; the visu
al aspect of them being white, or the food signal they give off. Whatever the reasons, I’ve had no small amount of winter fish on Brazils!

8. Deeply dippy
One thing I can’t stress enough is that hookbaits are well glugged, dipped or soaked. When fishing a single hookbait approach, it’s vital that you let them know where that one little morsel is! Don’t overdo it with potent flavours and such like, as this can be a turn off for carp in very low temperatures; it’s more about getting a good constant leakage. Most of my imitation baits and winter boilies are always in a constant state of glug. I’ll have some in a sweet dip (fruit based) and some in a savoury dip (crab, squid) and them mix and match. Depending on what baits you are using, there may already be dips and glugs available. If not, you can’t go far wrong with a simple multimino or minimino dip. I tend to have big dip tubs at home, and then smaller 60ml tubs with a few of each bait in for on the bank, so I’m not bogged down with loads of bait.

9. Situation Critical!
One thing that’s well worth doing is critically balancing your hookbaits. Winter debris from leaf litter and all manner of things washed in through autumn rains will mean there’s a lot of rubbish kicking about on the bottom. A dead weight hookbait may quickly get lost down in the detritus on the bottom, so a critically balanced approach allows the bait to come to rest gently – not to mention the advantages when being sampled by clued up fish.

10. Too spicy for ya?
I love making homemade pizzas, so am always on the lookout for new toppings whenever I pass a deli, and the added bonus is that I’ve discovered some cracking carp baits that I know very few people will ever be using on a pressured water. A good while back I found a lovely German Salami in Morrisons (ask for it on the delicatessen counter) which is really nice – subtle at first, but with a really warming spicy kick. I ask them to cut me a good 1cm slice (costs just over a quid – bargain!) and then I cut an odd shaped piece as a hookbait, with a few more off cuts placed on a PVA stringer. Just make sure you don’t eat it all before you get a fish as you’ll might well need some more for the hook! Alternatively, you could always use something like Pepparami, but personally, I like something fresh off the counter with better leakage than something designed to sit on a shelf for a year!

Don’t be afraid to mix it up and try different things to get amongst the fish in winter. I often have one ‘static’ rod on a longer term strategy, and one on which I’ll swap and change things on a regular basis, and it’s definitely a method that’s caught me more than my fair share of winter fish.

Be brave; don’t be afraid to try zig rigs on bright winter days if you see fish moving in the middle layers – I’ve even caught fish off the top in the dead of winter! OK, it took a bit of doing, but I’m just making the point that you need to keep your options open and don’t dismiss anything as being a pointless exercise

Tight lines…

Julian Grattidge
November 2010

Handy Product Links - Click On Them To Open A New Window
Imitation Baits - Various types, including maggots, corn, maize, etc
Fishtec carp bait section - perfect for dips, fluoro pop-ups and a lot more!