Well autumn is now well under way and many of us will be out making the most of it, hoping for a big autumn feed before the fish slowly start to wind down for the winter. Many anglers choose to hang up their rods in winter waiting for the first signs of spring to arrive before breaking them back out thinking they are ‘wasting their time’ in the colder months. I personally love winter as the banks are much quieter, the fish are at good weights and more often than not they look simply stunning in their winter coat. I have also found that once you find where the main group of fish are held up they don’t tend to move very far, if at all!
I have found over the last few years that scaling down on your tackle and bait can play dividends in the cooler months and is now something I will do regularly to buy an extra bite. I believe that when the water temperatures cool down and the weed dies back the clarity of the water improves and as a result so does the carp’s eyesight. They also don’t use up much energy in the winter remaining dormant for most of the time so therefore don’t need to consume as much food to replace the used energy. Feeding windows are also much shorter in winter lasting not much more than an hour or two on the bottom each day. Due to the varying temperatures and weather conditions in winter the water will contain thermal pockets at varying depths and each day will be different. The fish being cold blooded like to sit in the warmer water where they feel more comfortable and therefore are far more catchable on zigs.
Zig rigs can be a deadly tactic when water temperatures plummet and once you have found the layer of water in which the fish are sat multiple catches in quick succession are not uncommon. I also like to scale my zig rigs down in the winter to try and nick an extra bite or two with the improved water clarity on the gravel pits I usually fish. I will often scale down to 8lb Gardner Zig Link as not only is it super supple and low diameter but it is also extremely strong and abrasion resistant. The way a zig rig sits in the water coming vertically up several feet means it is prone to having small particles cling to the line especially after extended periods of time in the water. This sticks out like a sore thumb and would be easy for the fish to detect so by reducing the diameter of the hook length material it reduces the surface area for the tiny particles to stick to. I couple the scaled down rig material with a scaled down hook my preference being a size 12 Covert Mugga and this is coupled with a small hook bait of around 8-10mm in size. I like using the Zig Foam from Gardner shaped in to small cylinders as it it absorbs liquids really well and the awesome Hinders Betalin is a firm favourite of mine.
You can also scale down bottom bait rigs in the winter to bring extra bites and I always wander why so many people don’t do it!? You just have to look at the way a match angler approaches catching fish in the winter everything is scaled down to trick the wary carp in to feeding. I used to match fish as a youngster myself and I do think it has helped me especially in the colder months. I have done particularly well using the 10lb Target Specimen Fluorocarbon from Gardner which is designed for targeting specimen sized coarse fish such as chub and barbel. My favoured rig being a bog standard knotless knot for bottom bait or snowman presentations and a combi-rig for pop-ups. Again I like to scale my hook size down but always make sure it is adequate for the size of the bait for hooking efficiency. When fishing with single pop ups of 10mm or 12mm in size on the combi-rig my preferred hook is a size 8 Covert Incizor. The Covert coating helps to reduce the glare on the hook and also aids in camouflage when against the bottom of the lake bed.
As well as scaling down your rig you can also scale down your leader material. The bottom of most lakes will become fairly baron in comparison to the warmer months during the winter and leaders such as leadcore and tubing can stand out like a sore thumb so try fishing mono straight through or a 6ft section of the Mirage fluorocarbon from Gardner as a leader. It will disappear against the baron backdrop of the lake bed far easier and by adding a few drops of Critical Mass Putty at 1 foot intervals behind the lead it will also remain pinned to the bottom and hopefully out of harm’s way.
Bait must also be taken in to consideration in winter and can be scaled down dramatically compared to seasons such as spring or summer when the carp are looking to feed and pack on some weight. In most cases I have found that less can often be more in winter and by fishing with a few mouthfuls of food for a bite at a time it can often bring quick results. I like to search the swim trying to find where the fish are shoaled up rather than commit a hit of bait to one area and hope the carp find it. There are two great ways of doing this that mean your rig will always remain presentable too. The first is with solid pva bags one of my favourite tactics for a quick bite no matter what time of the year. I like to fill my bags with Little Gemz pellets and then add liquids that pack a punch. A small drop of Betalin from Hinders or the awesome Golden Corn Oil from Carp Company are two of my winter favourites. I normally use small bright pop-ups in the bags too and you cant beat a 12mm Chewy Special in the winter!
Another way of searching the water with just a mouthful of food is to use large flat bed method feeders, something else I have taken from the carp match fishing. It allows you to search out the swim very easily and can be easier than solid bags especially when conditions are wet. Traditionally ground bait is used on the feeder as there is not much actual food content within it. Instead it is packed with flavours and attractors and can be boosted further with your chosen liquids. My advice would be to avoid liquids with a high oil content as the fish find it much more difficult to digest in the winter and it will often cause them to sit digesting it for an extended period of time. Something else I have done extremely well on is using scalded pellets to mould around the flat bed feeder. I like to mix it up a little at a time on the bank as I go as I like to cast it out whilst it is still hot. The heat of the bait can sometimes spark the fish in to feeding when they would otherwise not and the boiling water also helps to thin the oil within the pellet and speeds up the breakdown process. I like to use short 4 inch rigs made from 15lb Trickster Heavy as it is very supple and acts naturally as it falls away from the feeder when disturbed. My preferred hooks for both the flat bed feeder and solid pva bag approach are size 11 Covert Muggas. The aggressive angle of the Mugga seems to work so well when coupled with short supple rigs.
Another winner that I have been playing around with for most of the year is boosted single hook baits. I favour short hinged stiff-rigs for this type of approach coupled with cork ball pop-ups. To ensure these hook baits are packing a punch I like to dip them in a highly attractive liquid such as Hinders Fish Pro or Carp Company’s Minamino before giving them a shake around in some of my favoured powdered additives. I have been doing extremely well using the awesome L Zero 30 powder or Antarctic Krill and if the baits are left for ten minutes in the air to dry the powder forms a crust which slowly leaks food signals when in the water.
Finally try and scale down your kit in winter to enable you to stay mobile until you find the fish and once you have found them be prepared to work hard to catch them. They are often not too fussed in winter and won’t actively search for food so be prepared to make your hook baits irresistible!
Tight Lines this winter for those willing enough to brave it!