Fishing Winter Edges: Clear Winter Waters, Pop Ups & More

by | Carp, Winter |

Last week I was online taking a look at some catch reports and the number of UK forties that exist and were being really caught me off guard. It seems as though forty-pound carp are coming through all over the place, even in my local area there are one or two very decent sized fish starting to appear.

In spite of good fish being reported across the web, the ‘real’ winter is when everything starts to slow down. Despite this, I think we’ve now reached a point where there are enough sufficiently stocked waters around to have a chance of a bite or two, even in the worst conditions that 2019 has in store for us.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for these well stocked venues to receive an unfair share of pressure over the winter, leading to carp wising up and becoming resistant to anglers and their approach. I find that for every carp that does get hooked on a particular day, there will be a dozen more that get away with it.

This kind of venue, in my opinion, is perfect for the winter months as it becomes a battle of wits between the angler and the fish. You know there’s a decent chance that fish will be in present in or around most swims – so whoever outthinks the carp will reap the rewards. The challenge is making sure that it’s you and not some other angler, so here are a couple of things to think about if you’re targeting a similar water this winter.

Those early winter peaceful scenes. No other anglers in sight!

 Single hookbaits

Single hookbaits are a winter tactic that many anglers swear by and one that most of us willing to brace the weather will use. Whilst I generally prefer to fish over bait, I understand that when the conditions change, so should my tactics. With that said, it is important to consider that on busier winter waters, carp must be bumping into single hookbaits every five minutes. My point is that once the majority of anglers are fishing the same way on the same water, the method being used can become rather tired. It’s something that can happen throughout the year with any kind of bait/baiting situation, but I’ve seen it happen the most during winter with single hookbaits.

I find it very strange.

There is however one major change that 99 percent of anglers implement when fishing a single hookbait in winter… pop ups. There appears to be some kind of unwritten carp rule that says anglers must fish pop ups when using single hookbaits, even when there is absolutely no reason to do so. I find it very strange. In conditions that call for a bottom bait (such as fishing over particles) I often do use pop ups. But when using singles in winter, I’ve had far better results when fishing bottom baits and generally I always will if the lakebed makes it practical to do so.

I found this approach to work well a couple of winters ago on a local lake, here single hookbaits were the established cold-weather tactic and did produce the vast majority of carp landed that winter. I was lucky enough to have an incredible season that year, landing 13 decent specimens, with 12 resulting from singles. Whilst I did stick to using pop ups on at least one rod every rota, all but one of those fell to bottom baits, with specifically 15mm frozen Tuttis being the responsible bait.

The reliable winter pop up…

Clearly, I can’t give definite answers as to why that was, but interestingly all of my captures came within a couple of hours of casting out. The carp here are especially cunning, I believe these wily fish were investigating the hookbaits swiftly after casting out, and if they didn’t make a mistake in those early stages, the bait would be somehow marked and avoided from then on. I think that when under close scrutiny, the pop ups were easier to identify as dangerous than the bottom baits.

I’m still not completely sure, but regardless of the reason the pop ups just wouldn’t produce results, no matter how I fished them. Single pop ups can still produce lots of winter bites, I’m not disputing that. But on waters where carp are especially crafty and thoroughly investigate any potential food sources with scrutiny, it can be worth trying something slightly different.

Clear waters

On many waters, the winter brings with it an increase in water clarity. This presents another hurdle us anglers must overcome, with presentation the most immediate aspect to address. The clearer the water, the easier it is for carp to identify that something is not quite right. Many of us, myself included, are guilty of crediting carp with far more intelligence than they could ever have. Now with that said, I’ve witnessed enough carp in the edges to know that they are very aware of our terminal tackle.

It was going off like an alarm in the water, stopping the carp from feeding freely.

An example of this was down at the Oxford pits a good few years ago. Here carp would spend most of the day basking in the crystal-clear shallow margins, sometimes with only a few inches of water over their backs. To top it off, the fish were nearly always willing to feed, making for some interesting angling where I could see precisely what was going on. What became very clear, very quickly was the impact that a rig in the swim would have on the way that the carp fed. When there was no end tackle in the water, the carp would move quickly to clear up any freebies I provided. With the introduction of a rig, they would freeze up (pardon the pun!) and exercise extreme caution, coming in for just one mouthful at a time. I never understood precisely what was causing this, whether it was the line, the hooklink or the lead, but whatever it was, it was going off like an alarm in the water, stopping the carp from feeding freely.

Winter is a time of change. Waters that hold a large amount of colour in the warmer months can become completely transparent, if you’re not prepared for these winter days then you can often be on the backfoot from the start. Fortunately, there’s plenty of gear at our disposal to help ensure that those crucial last few feet of our setup doesn’t stand out like an ink drop on an empty page

Carp basking in the winter edges

Faith in fluoro

Perhaps one of the easiest and most effective adaptions you can make to your approach when fishing in clear winter water is to start using a fluorocarbon hooklink. In the past three years I’d say 80 percent or more of my winter captures have fallen to 12lb fluorocarbon line, with it being readily available and many manufacturers offering options, it’s worth exploring.

Initially, I must admit that I was a bit dubious of fluorocarbon hooklinks, I had seen a couple of fellow anglers lose big fish due to mysterious breakages, where the hooklink had snapped in open water. We all know that even with normal reel line, the breaking strain quoted on the packaging can sometimes be a bit exaggerated. If you have experience with two different makes of 12lb, you’ll know what I mean, one will break at 9, the other at 14. I found this fact further amplified by the brittle nature of fluorocarbon.

The main advantage fluorocarbon has is that it appears almost invisible in water, which when the conditions require it, makes up for its shortcomings and explains why it is so popular.

A monofilament line (left) VS a fluorocarbon line (right). The difference is pretty impressive.

Some of my favourite winter captures taken on fluorocarbon hooklinks came from my time spent on Chad, a few years ago. I was only fishing days and with the water incredibly clear so fluorocarbon made the obvious choice. My main concern was an area of heavy weed, located close by to where I was focusing my efforts. The weed here was a Hornwort that was growing in large bunches about two feet off the bottom and looked thick enough to cause some issues if a hooked carp were to retreat around the back of it. Of course, I found myself in that exact situation, but the fluorocarbon actually handled the situation well and I managed to land my winter best of 38lb+.

Not only is fluorocarbon invisible in the water, but it’s also much heavier than normal monofilament line. This means it adapts nicely to the contours of the lakebed, presenting flat to the bottom, well out of the way of any carp. Now, this is the case when using fluorocarbon as a main line, but when used as a hooklink, the chance of looping is high if the rig lands clumsily on the bottom. A top tip to prevent this that I like to use is to add a couple of blobs of putty to the line.

If you’re tying fluorocarbon using a knotless knot, it’s worth keeping in mind its brittle nature. I avoid using hook patterns with a distinct in-turned eye, as these presentations put the hooklink under too much pressure from the unnatural angle and cause those mysterious breakages that I mentioned earlier, leading to lost fish.

Getting around these minor weaknesses is very possible and is key to making fluoro hooklinks really shine when they’re most useful – those crystal clear waters on a winters day!