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Fishing in freezing conditions can be very productive, but also very boring. While it`s not the time to go out and catch one easily, a bit of preparation can result in fish that are at their highest weight...and combined with the beautiful scenery and quiet hours of fishing, makes it a favorite time of the year for me to be on the bank. Before I give you some tips about winter fishing, I must tell you a little story....
Some 35 years ago as a youngster on summer vacation, I rode my bike to a little gravel pit. My friends and I caught little perch using a hand line and cork bobbers. There was always an old angler there who had a proper rod andreel, and he caught a lot of fish. I decided to just sit behind him and observe what he did over a few weeks, I did not speak a single word to him. He always knew that I sat behind him, but he never spoke to me either. All I did was watch him cast out and catch roach.
On a winter's day, as I sat behind the old man like I did during the summer holidays, he hooked into a fish and I recognized that he had something special on his old rod. I stood right next to him as he fought the fish for more than 10 minutes. His catch turned out to be a carp of about 8 pounds, the biggest fish I had seen at the time! I excitedly began to jump around like a yoyo and said to myself that I would like to catch such a monster one day. I questioned him a hole in his belly (that's an old German phrase!). The thing on my mind was that carp were not catchable in winter; they lay in the mud and did not eat for 4 months. Only when the water was warming up in the spring did they start to feed again. This bit of information was dogma for me for a long time.
In 1990, I heard about some amazing captures of carp in freezing conditions, and when I saw the first pics of big, old carp in snow, I knew that I had to try it out. Since then, I always try to catch some nice fish in the cold of wintertime. The good thing is, you are always alone on the lake and you can fish in peace and nature seems perfect at this time. The days are short and the nights are too long though, so you have to be prepared.
Before I give you some advice about equipment to feel nice and comfortable during the cold winter, I'll try to explain what you have to do in advance to prepare for a successful session... I start my winter campaign in the summer! Well, you might think that it´s a bit too early, but it´s not. In the midst of summer, I walk around the lake or take a boat to watch where the biggest weed beds are. It might be a good idea to make a map of the lake or stretch of river to mark these spots because in the wintertime, it will look much different. When I find these spots and see some kind of activity (rolling carp or bubbles), they are the first places I will start to fish in the early winter. If there are deeper spots in the area, you are on a winner. This place has everything for the carp to feel comfortable, even in the hardest times of winter. Remember that the fish always want to feel good, meaning that in certain situations, the carp will cruise around the upper layers of water or they may stand still in the midwater layer. A place or spot where they can do this and find a bit of food is ideal. The preparation of this spot starts as soon as the temperature drops and we have the first frost. From this time, I prebait the swim little and often. That means that once or twice a week, I go out and prebait the area with my chosen baits. These baits are mostly boilies, but I have used a mixture of boilies, pellets, and particle baits. The colder it gets, the more I reduce the use of particle baits. In the thickest of winter, I try to use boilies and a few pellets. The boilies are not completely different from my summer baits. If I caught fish on my summer baits, why should I change my bait ? They will like the baits in the winter as much as in Summer. Even fishmeal baits will catch in winter, and it´s a fairy tale that they don´t. When fishmeal based baits were in vogue, the recipes always included fishoil etc. In winter, the oil will not leak out of the bait as effectively as in summer, but that's another story for one of the next issues. If you introduce a steady pile of food for the fish, they WON'T stop feeding on it! This is the first and essential part of your winter fishing.
Now it´s time to start your campaign for those winter carp. The right equipment is another essential part of your winter fishing. If you don´t feel comfortable, you won´t fish well. You should use a good bivvie with a winter skin (or an equivalent tent in the U.S.), a 5 season sleeping bag, a stove to make a nice brew, and warm clothing. The rest is comprised of the normal fishing kit you always use. In terms of actual fishing, the best thing to find out are the carps' feeding times, which means you fish 2 or 3 times in a 24 hour period. There is a general rule that the fish will feed during the daytime, but rules come with exceptions, and I found that you have to cover the entire 24 hours, even if you have blanked the previous 23 hours. You can enjoy the quiet time with the peaceful landscape and wildlife. After covering this step, you should know when it is the best time to fish your spot. If, for example, you know the feeding time is around noon, you should arrive 1 hour earlier, cast out, and fish up to 3.pm. That will be enough to get the best out of the fishing. In these sessions, you don´t need all the stuff and while fishing, I do not prebait too much. A few boilies crumbled with some pellets in a bag, and that´s it. The bites can come very fast because the fish always lie around the feeding area. This year I got a bite nearly as soon as the lead hit the ground. Another little tip is to try using a running rig setup. You will get a better bite indication because the fish are much, much slower and with a fixed lead setup, you sometimes get only a few bleeps. The last tip I will give you is the following: Don´t ignore the end of the ice edge. If a lake is frozen over and will thaw in areas, try to place a hookbait right in front of the ice. I caught a lot of carp in this situation and this time is always good because carp are curious and investigate the light after the dark times. Enjoy a trip or two out into the cold and you will get some nice memories of winter whackers.
Carpe Diem - a carp every day.