Colin Davidson pours out his knowledge on how to locate carp in cold water.
Not very scientific perhaps, but one of the common factors to every possible winter-carp haunt seems to be stable water conditions. The carp’s favoured winter living quarters are generally significantly protected from the weather. Sometimes they turn up in places that don’t make a great deal of sense; often it’s down to more comfortable, stable water. Good examples are behind islands away from the prevailing wind or a corner bay. Anywhere consistently protected from chilling winds by trees or the lie of the land is worth checking out – you can sometimes find the whole carp population stacked up in a tiny little annexe or finger bay – which is why a lake looks barren, because it is!
HOTSPOTS FOR COLD SPORT
Cold-water carping boils down to simply finding where the fish are, but are you struggling to track them down in your venues this winter? With the venues where carp reside being so diverse there is no magic formula. The fish in each water will have individual habits. I try and simplify things by narrowing down the options. Put simply, experience says that in winter carp normally like to find cover and tuck themselves out of the way. However, on bigger, more open waters like gravel pits there may not be any areas that can realistically house hundreds of carp. Faced with this situation their only choice is to be out in the open somewhere. Generally, it’s a case that they are either tucked away under cover or out in the middle. Always think cover first. How much housing habitat does a venue offer and where is it? The smaller a venue and the more cover it offers, the easier it will be to narrow it down, compared to 20 acres of gravel pit where they could be anywhere and at any depth.
Carp will, and do, show reliably in the colder months. On waters with a good head of fish it’s rare that one or several fish won’t roll or poke their noses out. Carp showing in winter is less commonly a feeding behaviour, more often a buoyancy adjustment or a bit of a scratch to alleviate a parasite burden. owever, if you can get hook baits where carp are spending time there’s a good chance of catching. You might see shows at daybreak, but the best time is always mid to late afternoon onwards. It might be as late as just on dark that you spot a carp. Many times I’ve seen a lake lifeless all day, yet when the light levels drop one suddenly rolls or head and shoulders. The fish have been there all along, just not doing anything. Even a single carp showing can be of huge significance. Get a bait on it, or move swims. If you’re the sort of angler who sits and watches carp elsewhere and does nothing about it, you’ll miss out on a lot of winter fish. Where you find one, you tend to find many.
A PERFECT PAD
Dead lilies are magnets for winter carp, so make sure you know where the biggest sets of lilies were earlier in the year. An amazing number of carp can bed down among root systems and stems. Often, areas in the middle of dead lilies become scoured and hollowed out by carp. If they’ve made pads their home you’ll often see bubbling, especially on sunnier days, or fish sat just below the surface if it warms up. If you see signs of carp, string your main line across different areas of dead lilies and watch for line bites.
It’s worth flicking a light lead among dead pads. If carp have made an overwintering hollow among them you’ll find areas where the bottom is rock hard and the lead takes slightly longer to touch down. A few years back on CEMEX’s Yateley Pads Lake those fish had dug out an area the size of a bivvy that was 18 inches deeper than all the surrounding area of stems and roots! Reed beds are every bit as appealing to carp as dead pads. Just like when they’re among pads, carp often hollow areas outin the thick of them. If your venue has extensive areas of reeds, don’t overlook them. I found carp among reeds in barely a foot of water the day a lake thawed last winter.
LOOKING WITH LINES
After using your eyes, fishing for line bites is the best way of short-listing areas. I’ll use my lines to help me work out if I’m in an area containing carp. Always fish slack and use light bobbins sat on the floor. If you run a line through fish, you’ll see it slowly tightening up and falling slack as it catches on dorsals, pecs and tails. On very heavily stocked venues, when you track carp down in numbers your line won’t sit still. Watch the main line immediately after it has sunk, the first few minutes after casting are always the best time to detect liners because it settles and sinks through and across bunched-up carp. You can detect liners with bobbins and alarms, but you’ll get more clues watching a slack line in front of a rod tip where it enters the water – the resistance of the line through the rings stops smaller indications registering at the alarm. I spend a lot of time watching my lines.
It’s not so productive in deeper waters, where carp may be well off bottom, but on most places it’s a brilliant way to track a few fih down, especially if you are recasting regularly. Once you find areas showing lots of line-bite activity, move both or all three of your rods there to narrow down exactly where the fish are sat.
GETTING THE HUMP
On bigger waters, where there are few, if any, marginal features for carp to tuck into, look for anywhere that has a major underwater feature or substantial change of depth. Anywhere there’s a serious hump, bump, plateau or several steep-sided bars close together, you’ll often find a lot of fish hanging around the drop-off into deeper water. It might be that water around a serious depth change is more stable and protected from the effect of cold winds, or simply that carp like to be around something to orientate themselves. There are plenty of examples – look at the form pegs on Thorpe Lea in the colder months and you’ll reliably find hundreds of fish sat close to major drop-offs from shallow to deep water. At my friend Ben Gratwicke’s Digger Lakes in Devon, his carp quickly settled in an area of deep water in the middle of Snails Lake, between islands and flanked by very high-sided bars. Check out websites like Multimap or look on Google Earth. Look through aerial images from different times of the year and you’ll often make out major bars and plateaux, depending on water clarity when the images were recorded.
THE WONDER OF WOODWORK
If there are plenty of marginal features, aim for the biggest set of snags you can find and start there. Fallen trees and big overhangs are favourites. Don’t dismiss areas because they are shallow either, I’ve watched fish sat in 12 and 18 inches of water after several nights of crippling frost. If there is any access around the back of marginal snags, or ways you can get into them have a peek down into the water, you’ll often see carp lying among branches. Even if the water is coloured or too deep to see clearly, you might disturb a carp or two and see swirls as they drift away. They won’t go far, though, they’ll just settle up somewhere else in the same snags! Having a cast around with end tackle or marker float will give you a very quick heads up if there are carp spending time in snags. Leaf litter, wind-fallen twigs and all sorts of rubbish accumulate under snags and tree canopies. If carp are spending time there the bottom becomes more polished through fin and body movements and the fish prodding around. If your lead comes back covered in black muck it’s probably not home for winter carp. If it comes back pretty clean or skips and bumps across a hard bottom, it’s odds-on that you’ll find carp there. It’s not all about fallen trees and woodwork, though. Banks can be significantly undercut, offering a great hidy-hole. Marginal brambles seem to be a favourite on many lakes that I’ve fished. Think cover – the more cover there is, the more chance of finding carp.
GO WITH THE FLOW
Numbers of fisheries have some water flow through them, with a feeder stream or sluice. Anywhere stream fed makes a brilliant winter venue, responding quickly to rising temperatures of warmer air or rain coming in and switching carp on almost overnight. My local park lake is a great example. For most of the year the inflow is completely dry and come winter there’s a steady trickle of water. When air temperatures are warmer overnight the carp are straight into the area that the inflow feeds. Beware, though, because the reverse also applies. After days of freezing rain they will be as far away from the chilled water coming in as they can get.