Carp Angling in Early Spring: Some Great Advice
Spring is my favourite angling season, as the long awaited thaw begins and snow drops start to pop up through the frozen ground, bringing with them a sense of optimism and excitement at the year ahead. Days get progressively longer as the sun’s angle increases across the sky, all of nature begins to wake up; and so do the fish.
Although I’m writing this in late January, the signs are already there and in a few short weeks the Hawthorne buds will be popping and fish will be getting caught up and down the country once again.
Nowadays I don’t do as much winter fishing as I would like, this means the winter period is full of anticipation for the forthcoming spring, a time to reflect but also prepare for the New Year. By the time March arrives I am super keen (not that this changes much through the year), ready and raring to go.
During the winter, I use the time to prepare for the spring ahead, over the course of a season my equipment takes a beating and I’m not someone who takes particular care of his kit. If it’s very wet I will dry it, but otherwise, if it’s functional that’s all that matters as far as I am concerned.
As spring approaches or in the later stages of winter, I like to try and de-clutter my kit. Over the course of a season odd bits of kit are accumulated; it’s incredible what you carry with you on your back which is unnecessary. If you ask yourself ‘when did I last use that’ and the answer is ‘I can’t remember’, then you probably don’t need to carry it.
Staying mobile is important to me, I hate feeling bogged down by tackle on the bank. Anything that is not absolutely necessary gets left behind and anything spare or that acts as a back-up gets left in a bag in the car. In this way I’m free to focus on being in the right place and able to get there quickly, as I might not be the only one looking to move on to showing fish!
This approach extends to my tackle box and rig board; at the end of the year there are always old rigs strewn everywhere. Often, many of these can be recycled for spares and the board filled with new. I like to prepare at least 5-10 of my 2 main rigs and a good number of Chod Rig sections, hooks are also all sharpened so when I do get out everything is ready and I won’t waste any time tying them on the bank.
Lead core and leadless leaders are pre-tied and kept in a wallet with varying lengths for Chod and Helicopter rigs. In this way should I crack off or need to change something, it is just a case of taking out a fresh one, attaching a bait and I’m ready to go again. These items are kept in the outside pockets of my bag so I can access without unpacking everything from the main compartment.
Preparation and organisation are key!
I like to service my reels every 1-2 years; this usually means sending them off for a couple of weeks so the winter is the best time to do this. I’ll generally also change the line at the same time, for most of my fishing I use a fluorocarbon mainline unless I am fishing beyond 100 yards or so. Fluorocarbon can be awfully springy at first, but seems to come into its own after a year’s use and just gets better; it sinks faster than any other line I have used and has very low stretch for feeling the lead hit bottom and for bite indication.Lastly, I’ll change the batteries in alarms, remote, headtorch etc. and re-fill the bait freezer so that everything is as ready as it can be for when the weather improves. This preparation all helps you to be ready for the start of spring. Being organised will help you to fish more effectively and focus on the only thing that really matters; which is being in the right location.
Meteorological spring runs from the beginning of March until the end of May, Astronomical spring varies but tends to start and finish slightly later. There isn’t a clear line for the end of spring it just sort of blends into the summer. It really does creep up and before you know it everything is overgrown again.
For me, the beginning of spring is usually late February, I will start to try and walk my target water or waters as often as possible. I will usually start to try and introduce a bit of bait into some favoured areas to try and ensure the fish first feed in the areas I have been baiting. During this early part of spring, the water is still very cold and the fish’s metabolism is very slow, but the winter has been long and their bellies will be starting to rumble. Feeding spells will be short and may be well spread but they will start to eat, seeding areas earlier than others will set you ahead of the crowd. This approach has served me well in past seasons.
A result from late March over a pre-baited area
Usually, I try and bait at least 2-3 areas spread over the lake, I will try to select areas with depth variance, so at least one bait can be presented high in the water column where the temperature may be more favourable early in the year. The water temperature will have stabilised over winter at a consistent low. Through spring, the water temperature will gradually rise from the top down, meaning that shallow areas may be your best bet of an early bite when conditions are right. Baiting multiple areas regularly is a chore but essential for 2 reasons;
- You will have options when you actually come to fish. Whether that is because another angler is in your first choice location or conditions happen favour a particular area, you’ll likely have something nearby if you’ve chosen your areas well. I tend to divide the lake into sections receiving the favourable winds and pick a quieter swim in each to increase the chance of its availability.
- You may not always be able to bait where you intended due to other anglers, I would not bait up if there is any chance of disrupting another angler’s fishing when baiting. At this time of the year it’s easier due to lack of anglers but with multiple spots you ensure the trip won’t be a wasted one.
Pre-baiting can be done with anything; I have been successful with pellets which are cheap and keeps the spot baited for a long time as they breaks down into the sediment (I would generally avoid pellets in very cold water if they have a high oil content). It is preferable to use the bait you intend to start the spring fishing with. For me I tend to use nut based bait for the spring period which is highly digestible and sweet to the taste, switching later to something higher in fish meal when the fish are really feeding and the water temperature has risen sufficiently for the oils to do their work.
My preferred bait for the first part of the year
During this early period of the year, the fish are known to show very early in the morning, often before first light. I make a point of being at the lake first thing whenever possible, to guide me on their location. I have also witnessed weeks where the fish have favoured one particular area during their morning shows, undoubtedly venturing to other parts of the lake during the day but returning to the same areas overnight and for the following morning.
When actually fishing, I will bait very lightly, as I mentioned previously, the fish are not yet really awake and it would take them a long time to clear a bed of bait, if you have only 1 or 2 nights your chances of landing a carp are reduced if you have ‘filled it in’ on arrival. I prefer to stick to small hook baits, perhaps 12mm pop-ups with a few medium spombs of crumb and maggot/caster on the spot. Maggot has proven to be an excellent bait at any time of year, but when the fish are not really in the feeding mood it can be a game changer.
A single hook bait in the right place resulted in this scaley twenty
I carry 3-4 pots of pop-ups with me. In the past I have been guilty of amassing far too many varieties and in truth, I only ever reach for the same couple when I need one so now I have a favourite in pink, white and yellow plus a cork-ball matching my food bait. These are all baits I have caught on in the past so have complete confidence in.
It is commonly believed the fish’s eyesight is poorer in the cooler water, whether or not this is proven I’m not sure but bright baits have been a very successful method for me in the past. My personal opinion is the carp are naturally curious and test items standing out on the bottom, most fish have been many months without capture and are all the easier to tempt with a well-positioned single hook bait. Also, at this early stage of the spring they won’t eat a great deal so having a very small amount of bait or even just a hook bait can be the difference between getting the bite and just giving them a free meal.
My favourite hookbaits, all of which have caught me fish this season
During spring, the fish tend to be extremely mobile, chasing the sunlight to capitalise on its warming effect. You can often find them quickly following new winds, as they will concentrate natural food sources emerging through the water column.
If you observe carp on the surface, they appear to swim often without purpose and encountering another fish swimming in a different direction can change their course entirely. I am sure that this is the case below the surface also and in the spring before the weed has really taken hold, there is nothing to prevent the fish travelling distances across the lake on a new wind.
This means it is essential to be mobile and remain alert to their location, if you see signs in another area you should be ready to move quickly. This is especially important when fishing with singles, as being ‘on the fish’ is critical for success.
Rigs for Spring
My rig approach in the spring is simple, often I am chasing the fish and throwing pop-ups at them at long range, as they always seem to show up in the middle of the lake first, before starting to use the whole of the water.
To make sure I’m presented all of the time I stick to rigs I have confidence in (notice a pattern here?), that I know will re-set if disturbed and present without any chance of a tangle. To this end I will generally use a Chod Rig for casting blind at showing fish or if I am trying to cover an area without any particular spot, despite it being so widely used some of my best captures have been on the choddie and they seem especially effective in early spring.
If I am fishing a cleaner area with a firm bottom, then I might favour a stiff rig. This could be a Ronnie Rig or Hinged Stiff Rig depending on how blatant I want it to be but the mechanics are effectively the same, both have proven very reliable over the years for me.
Lastly I cannot end a piece on early spring fishing without mentioning the Zig Rig, I won’t claim to be a particular fan of the approach but it has been successful for me in the past and it is important not to overlook Zigs when they give you the best chance of a bite. As I am not super confident using them it is usually a last resort, when the signs are too much to ignore.
Zigs – Not my first choice but sometimes they cannot be ignored
As an example, last year I fished Christchurch on the Linch Hill complex, for those of you unfamiliar with it, it is fairly deep and the water level was way up, giving depths of 12-13ft where the fish were showing. I presented single hook baits below them but it was clear from the way they were showing that they were up in the water and not visiting the bottom. This became even clearer when early the following morning, they could be seen cruising with humps breaking the surface. On this particular complex Zigs are banned but it was a clear example of a time our main chance of a bite was through zigs. To underline this fact, nothing was caught by anyone over our 3 night stay.
Aside from physically seeing the fish cruising on the surface there are also types of ‘show’ which I think suggest the fish have not risen from the bottom , if the fish shows at an angle rather than coming straight up, or shows more than once in an area in quick succession it probably hasn’t come up off the bottom. These ‘sketchey’ type shows are often an indication they are sitting somewhere midwater and just enjoying themselves. In these instances a zig can be your best and only chance of a bite.
In the next article focusing on late spring, I will talk more about increasing baiting approach, identifying spots to develop and finding the carp in the edge.