5 Tips for Locating the Carp in Winter
So it’s now officially winter. The nights are drawing in, you had to scrape the frost off the windscreen of your car this morning and your surface fishing exploits are quickly becoming distant memories. Whilst plenty of anglers are now packing away their gear for the winter, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t have to be the case, catching carp in the winter isn’t impossible and there is still great sport to be had.
Winter carp fishing can be particularly challenging, even on the most prolific waters, but if you do your homework and know what you’re doing then there is no reason why you can’t have some of your most memorable sessions in the middle of the winter season.
Locating the carp is very important, if not the most important factor in winter carp fishing. Simply put, carp move far less in the colder conditions. During the warmer months, carp are normally easy to locate and can be found in most areas of the lake, from the margins to the open water. In summer, if you can’t see them cruising just under the surface, there is a good chance you will watch them crash out of the water, see reed stems move as they push through them or hear them slurping on the surface. They will also move around the lake in the search of food. On the other hand, during the winter months, if you aren’t on the carp, you will find runs a lot harder to come by. Quite simply, the carp are not nearly as active, they do still need to eat, just at a significantly reduced rate.
Okay, this is cold
Plenty of anglers assume that fishing in the winter means heading directly to the deepest part of the lake and casting into the deepest area available. While this may bring results (the deeper the water, generally the higher its temperature) there is a lot more to winter carp fishing than just that and carp can often show up in areas you may have not considered.
On shallower waters, where the depth is more consistent across the whole lake, fishing to features may prove to be more effective.
Here are our 5 top tips for tracking down winter carp:
1. Watching and observing
Winter is not a time to ‘bait and wait’ for the carp to arrive in your swim. Whole swathes on the lake may be devoid of fish for weeks on end. As an angler, you need to put yourself onto the fish as soon as possible in order to stand a half decent chance of landing a fish. Upon arrival, take some time to watch the water and observe for any activity, especially at first light or as dusk falls. Carp will still reveal their location with the usual indicators, just not as freely as they will in the warmer months.
Whilst fishing, don’t let up. It can be all too easy to fire up the stove, make yourself a brew and close the bivvy door to the elements, but by doing so you may well miss a fish roll or crash in another area. When you spot a fish in winter it is highly likely that there will be more close by, due to the way that carp shoal up for the winter. Be prepared to move if need be; being mobile can pay dividends. During one cold session in mid-January, I moved a total of three times in just seven hours – I ended up landing three fish in the last swim, all within 20 minutes of each other just before dark.
No other anglers in sight
If you haven’t managed to visually locate the fish, then start your session in a wide, open swim with a clear view of as much water as possible, to give you a good chance of spotting fish movement and shows. If the chosen swim happens to be a known winter producing swim, all the better.
When choosing a winter venue, most angler’s will choose waters that they know well or have at least fished before, but it’s always worth spending some time researching your chosen water on social media or checking magazine catch reports – these will often reveal the fish holding areas year after year. If the carp fail to show themselves, a good idea is to try the swims which have a history of winter catches.
Dismissed by other anglers because they may be deemed too shallow for winter fishing, snaggy areas can harbour carp that are keen to shelter from the harshest of winter conditions. Overhanging bushes and trees will provide natural cover and warmth, so carp can often be found sheltering under and within them. Reedbeds also create a natural area for carp to shoal up, where they will get in amongst the stems, especially if there is any winter sun breaking through.
It is worth keeping in mind that any overhanging trees will have shed their leaves over the autumn, which can leave behind a layer of decaying leaf matter along the bottom of the lake, especially in bays or banks where the leaves have been blown into the water. Areas below overhanging trees that are clear of leaf litter can be fantastic indicators that carp are present and feeding there.
A bait that is cast very close to such features can often provide good results – of course you need to pay close attention when fishing close to snags and must be ready to steer the fish away from danger once a run develops.
Plenty of snags here
3. Shallows & Islands
Carp will naturally seek out the warmer areas of the lake, and whilst we don’t get much winter sun in the UK, any periods that boast mild temperatures may bring carp into the shallower water as it warms up. Remember that carp will always seek out the most comfortable areas, and when they are most comfortable they are more likely to start feeding. Islands are natural carp holding areas, they can hold deep and shallow areas in their margins, giving a variety of depths for the carp to gather in. A bait cast into the calm water behind an island can often produce a fish.
Whilst not particularly deep, these areas will offer shelter for the fish, especially if a cold wind is battering the northern side of the island. The water on the southern side of an island will of course receive more sun and light than the northern side, which can provide additional warmth, that is if the sun does make an appearance! With that said, don’t forget that night-time low temperatures will quickly remove any warmth that had been generated during the day.
4. Mid Water
Despite the poor conditions above the water, carp can still be found at all depths throughout the winter, this can even be just a few feet from the surface.
When the carp are sitting off the bottom, Zig Rigs come to the fore and a well-placed zig presented at the right depth, can lead to large rewards for the angler. If bites aren’t forthcoming on bottom bait tactics, switching to a zig rig and exploring the swim at different depths, in different spots can often bring a bonus fish or two and also keeps the angler active.
Leaving a zig in place for 15-20 minutes and then recasting to a new spot gives a greater chance that it will land close enough for a fish to snap at it. Bright pop ups, foam or even cork (flavoured or unflavoured) can all be effective on their given winters day. Because the fish shoal up tightly in the winter months, if you haven’t located them, it’s a good idea to keep the bait placement moving. However, once found it isn’t uncommon to get more than one bite from the same area, and in quick succession too!
Most anglers will understand that carp follow the wind in summer, but in winter it’s more than likely to be the reverse. It’s no coincidence that fishing on the northern bank or even better still, the north east corner of a lake, make for prime winter fishing locations on many venues. These swims are less affected by the icy winds from the north and east.
Fishing on the back of the wind will often give better results, as the water hasn’t been chilled further by the wind and the mixing effect that it causes in the water. It also far easier to fish in, as you do not have to cast directly into the teeth of a strong north easterly! In addition, a southerly or westerly wind can provide just enough warmth to trigger a feeding response from the carp.
Paying attention to the weather forecast and the predicted wind direction, not only helps with choosing your swim for the upcoming session but also helps you understand where the wind has been blowing in recent days, which can make it easier to locate where the carp are lurking.