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Keep’em feeding

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We have all seen it, when the cold weather finally arrives and winter begins, the number of anglers on the bank starts to decrease. This is the time of year that I really enjoy, by keeping motivated and putting in the effort the rewards are there to be had. The reduction of anglers means a lessening of lines in the water. The favoured swims become available more often and with that, the lake starts to see minimal amounts of bait. As you know, colder months see the lake’s natural larder, such as bloodworm and shrimps reduce also. This means the fish either choose to search out what little food there is, or they conserve their energy by holding up dormant somewhere in the lake.

I have always stood by the theory that carp are just like every other animal; they need to eat on a regular basis in order to survive. It may take hours, or even a day or two for them to work up an appetite, but give them a highly nutritional meal and they will find it hard to resist a mouth full, whatever the weather. I believe that the trick to a successful winter campaign is to keep the fish searching out your chosen bait. I approach this by giving the fish a food based bait, for me, this is a boilie, but not just any boilie, it has to be one that offers the fish three things, firstly it has to be nutritional, meaning that when the fish consumes the bait it gives them all the goodness they require. Secondly it has to be digestible; I want the fish to be able to pass the bait through their gut and excrete it with ease. Third and finally, I want the bait to be palatable, in other words, the fish must like the taste and gain satisfaction from eating the bait over and over again.

Homework

I never underestimate the benefits of doing my homework. I like to find out as much about the lake as possible; I am particularly interested in establishing the areas that the carp will frequently visit throughout the colder months. I like to familiarise myself with my chosen water by having an initial look around the place and getting to know the look of each swim.

On my return home, I go about my research. Social media is a powerful tool; there is no better way of finding out which swim your target fish frequently gets caught from than by looking at the backdrop of previous capture photos. Once I have familiarised myself with the different swims, I use Google Earth to identify the prominent features of the lake, highlighting the areas that the fish could inhabit.

In October 2015, I obtained a winter ticket for a fairly tricky syndicate venue that I had been keeping an eye on for some time. The colder months offered me the perfect opportunity to start a campaign on there. The idea was to introduce my bait throughout late autumn and winter, so that by spring the fish would see this particular bait as a safe food source.

My first night on the place was a real eye opener; I arrived on Friday around midday for the opening weekend that the winter ticket holders where able to fish. I was shocked to find that the lake was quiet and after a quick look around, I was able to get in a swim that I knew had held good form through past winters. It was a good job I made that decision early, as during the next half hour the remaining twelve swims where quickly occupied.

I set up for the first night in the point, this swim occupied a large amount of water, enabling me to see a vast amount of the lake. I decided to keep things to a minimum due to the amount of angling pressure the lake was seeing that night. Three pop-up rigs comprising of white 365 pop-ups were cast to likely areas, all with a couple of handfuls of boilie crumb spombed over the top of them. The air was mild that night, so after a copious amount of tea I was able to stay awake in to the early hours listening for the sounds of showing fish, giving away their location. My first night helped me to work out where quite a few fish where held up; after hearing four shows in a particular area of the lake I knew I was on to something. To add to my confidence I was waken just before daybreak by a take on my middle rod. After a short battle, I was greeted by a common. Though it was possibly one of the smallest fish in the lake, I was happy with the result. I was off the mark on my first night and most importantly, the fish had taken a liking to my approach and bait. My confidence was high.

Location and preparation

The weekend passed without any further action. As anglers left on the Sunday morning and the lake became empty, I knew that the most important part of my fishing was about to take place. An hour or two of preparation before I leave gives me a great head start for when I return to do my next session. The empty lake allowed me to map out the lake’s depth in likely areas using the marker rod.

Firstly, I found the depth of the area in which I located the showing fish the night before. I found silty gully in 13ft of water, 2ft deeper than the rest of the lakebed around it. It also had a plateau at one side and a bar at the other, both having around 2ft of water on the top of them. The second and third swims that took my fancy both featured snaggy areas; they were both fairly sheltered from the wind and very much caught the winter sun as it rose. The swims had depths between seven and ten feet in front of the snags; this was somewhere the carp could sit in the snags basking in the winter sun through the day but also drop down in the deeper depths in the night, when the air temperatures chilled the upper layers of water. This made them an ideal location to concentrate my efforts.

Giving something back

I call my next part of my fishing ‘giving something back’. I will introduce some, if not all of my remaining bait in to the areas of the lake that I believe the fish will visit, I believe a handful of bait applied to a few areas around the lake will keep the fish on the move searching out their next meal, even in the coldest of weathers. I like to feel assured that when I’m not at the lake, the fish are still searching out and feeding on my free offerings. After I had found the three areas in which I wanted to concentrate my efforts, I began to apply my bait to these locations.

I cast out a few handfuls of my chosen bait into the large gully via the spomb, then a couple of handfuls of ‘The Formula’ boilies were thrown in to the second and third swims by hand. I like to introduce halved baits where I can when pre-baiting because it doubles the amount of food items in the swim, making the carp work twice as hard to feed, plus it is a cost effective way of doubling the amount of bait that you have at your disposal. I find halved baits especially effective in the colder months when trying to keep the fish feeding. The remainder of the couple of kilo I had was dotted around the lake as singles, purely to encourage the carp to pick up the odd bait on their travels.

One bite at a time

I fish regularly but due to work and life commitments, sometimes my time at the lake is limited. Therefore when I am fishing, whether it be summer or winter, I fish for a bite at a time. I like to go about this by introducing boilie crumb instead of whole baits. Crumbing up the baits releases the attraction that the boilie contains much sooner, whilst also leaving little in the way of a meal for the fish to feed on. Fishing this way means that 90% of the time my hook bait of choice has a visual element to it; it is either a snowman or pop-up presentation that incorporates a coloured pop-up on the end. I choose a visual hook bait because I want it to stand out against the crumb, signalling to the carp that there is at least one whole boilie available for them to feed on.

I kept up to date with what was happening on the lake, which was very little. There hadn’t been another fish out since the 10lber that I had banked the following weekend. I was only able to fish on the Friday night of this particular weekend, and as I arrived, I could see that the lake was quite busy. Luckily one of my favoured pre-baited pegs was available. Approaching the swim I flicked in three rigs consisting of white 365 pop-ups, to the areas that had been primed the previous week. I followed these with a couple of spombs of bait crumbed up ‘The Formula’ boilie. Within a couple of hours a 12lbs common lay sulking in the bottom of my net. My confidence again high; the fish where on the bait for sure.

Three weeks passed without any further captures on the lake by myself or other members. The weather didn’t deteriorate as it usually would at this time of year, and as we approached the middle of November, the sun was still shining bright with winter looking months away. This made my winter plans hard as anglers were still out in numbers. I repeated my baiting campaign but I couldn’t get into my favoured swims. I was waiting for a cold snap to appear so that the lake would be quiet and I could eventually take advantage of my hard work.

Two weeks passed and the cold snap that I was wishing for finally appeared. An overnight session was arranged; I arrived on the Friday but this time I was a little earlier; the lake was empty. The fish where very active around one certain part of the lake. The swim I chose enabled me to put two rods to the 13ft gully that I had been baiting for some time, the third rod then went towards a snaggy area that was on the back of the cold wind.

In the early hours, just before sunrise my preparation started to pay dividends; the alarms started to sound. After a frantic hour, four fish with the biggest being 26lbs lay happily in nets and retainers eagerly awaiting their photos. The most pleasing aspect was that three out of the four fish had come from the gully I found, reiterating the fact that the odd few handfuls of bait dropped into the right area on a regular basis was doing the job.

A busy festive period meant that I wasn’t able to get the rods out until the weekend before Christmas. I made sure that leading up to my next fishing session at the lake, I would make time to do the three hour round trip to keep the bait trickling into my usual spots. I jumped at the chance to take advantage of a break in my busy rolling schedule and arrived a day earlier than usual on the Thursday. A band of low air pressure developing over the lake on the Thursday night filled me with confidence; it certainly look good for a bite.

The lake was quiet with only one other member on. He was camped in the swim whereby I had taken the four fish from two week previous, yet he had seen no sign of activity. The sun was getting low and I was losing the light, so I decided that my best chance of a capture would come from the open water pre-baited spot.

I placed two rods in the gully and the third cast out on a single pop-up rig towards the place where I had taken the common on my first trip. The night was very long and uneventful, I didn’t hear a single show by midnight so decided to catch up on some sleep; I set my alarm clock so I would see first light.

When first light appeared it was as though a switch had been flicked as the carp were in high display. The carp had moved from the deep water to the snags. A move was on the cards and as I packed up and moved to a peg that offered me the chance to fish one of the snags that had seen bait applied to it over a number of weeks, it was apparent that the fish had ventured back to the pre-baited spots. A couple of spombs filled with ‘The Formula’ crumb where distributed to a spot just off the snags, followed by my usual rig consisting of a white 365 pop-up placed over the top. As I set up the brolly and put the kettle on, the alarm signaled; the rod had only been out for twenty minutes and it was away.

I lent into the fish doing my best to guide it away from the snags, I was sure I was attached to something special. The water was shallow in front and I had left the waders back at the brolly so I had no option but to go in barefoot. I caught a glimpse of a very scaleless grey flank and instantly knew that it was my target fish, the Scar mirror. With cold water up to my knees they started to go numb, but I knew it would be worth it. A few anxious minutes passed as she attempted to dive into the snags both left and right, finally she took a gulp of air and was in the net. I secured the net and remembered the kettle boiling away. I composed myself with a quick brew while she recovered in the net.

I put my tea down and went to admire my capture. I hoisted her up on the scales and she weighed in at a huge 39lbs. A stunning Northern lump and my biggest December carp to date. Happy Days!