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Big hits on short sessions are a rarity during winter, so Dave Magalhaes sets out to simply catch a carp

So, winter’s here and it’s fair to say that the fishing has become considerably harder on waters up and down the country. The carp are much less active at this time of year, so consequently they need less food and don’t need to feed on angler’s bait. When they eventually decide to feed, they may only get their heads down for a short period, making them tricky to catch. Although the fishing is tough during winter, big-fish expert Dave Magalhaes loves fishing at this time of the year because the banks are quiet and the carp are at their heaviest. Many anglers hang their rods up during winter but Dave says that he’s found a tactic that will outwit the craftiest cold-water carp.

As I trudge into Dave’s swim, on the banks of a beautiful lake in the Colne Valley, he’s scanning the water with his binoculars. “I’ve only been here for an hour or so but I’ve already seen a bit of bubbling on a few spots. There’s a small, shallow bay that looks like it could be holding a few of the lake’s elusive jewels. It’s no surprise, really, because the morning sun is bright and the small bay will heat up quickly, making it a pleasant area for the carp to relax.” There’s no need for masses of bait, so Dave knocks up a couple of small PVA sticks of groundbait and low-oil pellets. “I’m not attempting to catch large numbers of carp to begin with, although it would be nice. It’s been tough going down here recently, so to start with I’m simply going to try and nick a bite using one of my special winter sticks. “You can’t go far wrong with a bright hook bait. I generally use a hi-viz popup or a maize stack. I’ve caught loads of big carp using maize at this time of year and, for some reason, nobody seems to use it. I don’t know why because cold-water carp absolutely love the stuff.” Dave creeps down towards the small bay and peers through the dense reeds that surround it. “There are a few carp milling around in here and a couple of them may be up for a feed. One looks like it could be over 30lb.” He grabs one of his rods from his barrow and slowly makes his way towards the water’s edge.

“I’m going to carefully flick two rods into position as soon as I think I can get away with it. The last thing I want to do is put a lead on top one of their heads, spooking them in the process.” After an agonising wait, Dave eventually manages to place two rigs onto spots where he’s seen the carp grubbing about. “Right, now it’s time to sit on my hands and wait for one of them to pick up my hook bait.”

While we rattle a couple of feature pictures off, Dave’s alarm screams into life and his rod tip doubles over as an angry carp ploughs out of the small bay. He’s on the rod in an instant and lifts into the fish, which tears a few yards of line from his reel. Suddenly, just as he is beginning to win the fight, his main line goes slack, indicating that the hook has pulled. “I don’t believe it,” he says. “I caught a glimpse of the fish and I’m certain that it was the big common that’s been in the bay all morning.” Dave sulks for a couple of minutes but he has a job to do and he knows it. If there’s one thing that you can count on, it’s that he will try his utmost to nick another bite.

He ties another rig before crawling back down towards the bay and scanning the shallow water. “I don’t believe it,” he begins. “There are still a couple of carp feeding happily on naturals a few feet from the bank.” With the rod back in position, Dave gets out his binoculars and scans the rest of the lake for signs of feeding fish. “It’s important that you’re constantly looking for signs of carp at this time of the year. Spotting a patch of bubbles could reveal where the carp are holding up. Once you’ve found them there’s a good chance that they will be near the area throughout winter, increasing your chances of catching on every session.” The whole lake appears devoid of life but Dave doesn’t seem concerned because there are still a couple of carp milling around extremely close to his maize hook bait. “I’m still confident of a bite, it’s just a case of waiting until one of them decides to have a feed. I’m going to leave the rods where they are for the time being because I don’t want to risk spooking them.”

With the feature pictures done, the winter sun setting and no further action forthcoming, it’s clear that Dave is getting a little stressed. “I don’t understand why I haven’t had a bite,” he whispers. We agree to stick it out for as long as possible because we’re in no rush to get home. Finally the carp gods throw him a lifeline. As he’s packing his gear away the bobbin pulls tight on the right hand, he lifts into the fish expertly and delicately guides it towards the waiting net. It’s obvious that he’s desperate to get this one on the bank and following a few last-minute lunges he succeeds. “That’s a relief!” exclaims Dave, as he hoists a winter common onto his unhooking mat. Although it’s not the biggest fish in the lake, it looks absolutely stunning in its winter colours. At this time of year size is irrelevant; it’s all about getting a bend in the rod. Considering the horrendous weather, Dave has done exceptionally well to get two bites from the tricky venue and as we walk back to the car park he reflects on the session. “It’s been a struggle but I’m happy to have caught one live for the TC cameras. I’m gutted that I lost the large common earlier in the session but I suppose that’s just the way it goes.

Remember, at this time of the year, find them and you will be well on your way to catching them.