There is no denying that winter can be a really hard time of year to catch carp, especially when it’s as cold as it has been the last couple of years. However, as we move into this often-troublesome period there are a number of tactical changes that we can make to ensure that our alarms keep singing.
I have found that you can quite often become more prolific simply by reducing things such as hook size, bait quantity, number of rods, line diameter and even the amount of tackle! Firstly, you can actually catch more carp by leaving a load of your tackle at home and taking just the bare essentials. I see little point in spending hours on end out in the cold and dark tucked inside a bivvy, so keep the fishing down to day sessions. That means you can leave the bivvy, sleeping bag, bedchair, clothing and food at home and with so much less tackle to carry you can stay more mobile. By travelling light you can pack up and move in next to no time, so if a carp shows in another part of the lake you can go and chase it without the drag of packing away a mountain of tackle. This tactic will work all year round but really comes into its own during the colder months. You will often find that the carp are quite tightly shoaled on most lakes during winter so if you can find one you could well be fishing for many more!
As strange as this one may sound, there are times when fishing with just two rods will vastly increase your chances of catching more carp. How can that be so? Well, it is simple really, by having fewer lines in your swim there is less chance of spooking these wary winter carp into thinking they are being fished for. Plus, by only fishing with two rods you will make less casts and create less disturbance in your swim and you can concentrate more effort and energy on them, which again will greatly aid your chances of putting more carp on the bank. I have lost count of the number of times I have fished lakes during inter where every swim has someone fishing with three rods. I will turn up nice and stealthily and drop a couple of rods onto likely looking spots and be cradling a prized carp in no time while everyone else is sat behind three motionless indictors! In addition to reducing the number of lines in your swim I would also recommend that you lower the diameter. Throughout the summer months I like to fish with either 18lb or 15lb Illusion XS fluorocarbon, which have diameters of 0.38mm and 0.35mm. This is because the weed is often dense in summer, so thick, strong line is needed. However, now that all of the weed has died back I can get away with the 0.30mm, 12lb Illusion XS, which definitely increases my chances of catching when the carp are being so picky during these cold times. The fine diameter reduces any chance of a carp spooking from the line, helping to ensure they are happy to feed in my swim with little caution.
You will often find that at this time of year the water is rather clear. Therefore, even the most well camouflaged leaders can stand out to wary carp. Due to the lack of weed and this clear water I tend to fish with my fluorocarbon main line straight through to the lead. Because of the heavy nature of the Illusion XS it sinks like a brick, while its supple nature ensures that it hugs every contour of the lake bed. By doing away with leadcore, tubing or those heavy mono-style leaders, I really do feel as if I am once again putting the odds of outwitting a wary winter carp well in my favour. If the lake has a few snags present then I will often use a 12ft length of 18lb Illusion for my leader (attached to my main line with a back-to-back grinner), so that I have the added protection of a thicker diameter at the business end.
Another little edge that you can give yourself is reducing the size of your lead. In fact, I take it a step further and use a smaller lead clip! Thanks to the guys at Fox I can use the Slik Lead Clip, which fits a size 10 swivel. This means that the clip is a bit smaller than an average one, which, when coupled with a smaller lead, really does make a big difference. By using the lighter lead the disturbance caused when casting out is greatly reduced. This increases the chances of any carp present staying in my swim after I have cast. Winter carp are much more lethargic, so if you spook them off on the cast the chances of them returning are much less, so be warned! My preferred size is a 1¼oz and I have caught so many carp using a lead of this size that I have total faith in the tactic.
Now it’s all well and good scaling down everything I have covered so far but if you then use your old-faithful 25lb coated-braid rig with a size 6 hook and 18mm hook bait, all that previous hard work could well be in vain! That’s right folks, the less is more theory needs to be carried right through to the rig that you use. I like to keep the fluorocarbon theory going and opt to use 10lb Illusion XS Soft for my hook link. This subtle hook link is practically invisible on the lake bed and will undoubtedly help you to catch more carp. In addition to this I also use an SSSP hook in size 9. These little things are just so incredibly sharp and strong that you don’t need to go any bigger, even if targeting a 50lb carp!
I like to tie my rigs up on the bank but because I have left a load of my tackle at home it is unlikely that I will have a kettle and stove with me to shrink my tubing down, so in the past I have had to tie my rigs at home before a session. Fortunately, this is no longer a problem because I can use the pre-curved Line Aligna Adaptors from Fox, which require no steaming, so I can now tie up an incredibly effective anti-eject rig on the bank! My final tip relates to the feeding of free offerings. During spring, summer and autumn I like nothing more than to give the carp a good helping of boilies. This year, for example, I have found that the more Vortex I feed, the more carp I catch. However, now that the water temperatures have dropped so much, feeding heavily with boilies can actually drastically reduce your chances of catching. I would recommend that you keep the free feed to a bare minimum. Quite often at this time of year the best way to get more bites is to employ a PVA-bag only approach. Simply fish with your hook bait and a tiny PVA bag of pellets (Sticky’s Bloodworm Pellets being my number-one choice) and you should find that your catch rate remains impressive. Well there you have it, my ultimate guide as to how less can actually mean more in carp fishing. Hopefully you will put my advice into practice and experience some fantastic winter sport. These are tried-and-trusted tactics that have brought me great success on a variety of waters.