LEARNING TO READ THE SEASONAL CHANGES ON A LAKE WILL LEAD TO MORE CARP HITTING THE NET
“KNOWING WHERE THE FISH LIKE TO HOLD UP REALLY COMES INTO ITS OWN AT THIS TIME OF YEAR”
GET THEM ON DIGESTIBLE BAITS
I use fishmeal boilies in summer, but I like to wean the carp on to a more digestible, sweeter birdfood-based boilie through autumn and winter. Fishmeals contain a higher percentage of oil, and don’t go through the fish so quickly, so by the time winter arrives the majority of the boilies I use will be the sweeter, more digestible type.
Throughout autumn it’s important to keep your spots topped up on a little-and-often basis. Even 10 baits next to a bush give the fish a reason to keep visiting the spots, and if you ease up it could be the end of that spot.
Also, get into the habit of baiting up before you leave, and bait more spots as well because, with fewer anglers around, you can use a more mobile approach.
LOOK OUT FOR PATTERNS
Knowing where the fish like to hold up really comes into its own at this time of year. Visible activity on the surface can be brief sometimes just 10 minutes a day - so making a note of when it occurs is hugely beneficial.
There’s no point getting to the lake at dawn to watch the water if the shows normally take place in mid-afternoon. This happens on one of my local waters – at 2pm you’ll often see five or six fish show, and then nothing until the same time the following day. Fish grow lethargic in cold water, so sussing their feeding patterns can be the key to a successful autumn and winter campaign.
FIND THE WEED
Get into the habit of photographing the location of weed and lily beds before they die back for winter. Both are great features to target, offering the carp natural food and warmth, and the root systems and stems will still be present even when the greenery has disappeared from the surface.
On my current lake I’ve noticed the rudd shoals are now topping over what was a weedbed just a few weeks ago. They’re migrating to where there is food, and the carp will do the same.
BEAT THE BIRDS
Seagulls are crafty birds, and it can be hard getting any bait into your swim without them robbing it first. For this reason I like baiting up last thing in the evening at this time of year. With up to 14 hours of darkness, you can get your bait down on the deck well before the seagulls - and tufted ducks - find it and dive down for a mouthful.
Watching the ducks in daylight also allows you to determine whether or not your bait has been fed upon. If the birds are passing over the area without dropping down, chances are it’s been eaten by the carp. If they do find the bait and spend time diving on it, you know you’ve probably not had fish on your spot.
DON’T GET TOO COMFY!
It might sound odd, but I make sure I don’t get too comfortable in winter. Carrying a lot of clutter means you’re less likely to move swim and sometimes the subtlest sign can put you on to a few fish in autumn.
You can easily miss these signs if you’re holed up in a twin-skin bivvy with the sides and door down. I always have my bivvy front open during daylight hours to give me a panoramic view and catch anything in my peripheral vision.
MAP OUT DEPTH CHANGES
We’re always told to target deep water as the temperatures drop, but sometimes such spots can hold a lot of cold, static water that doesn’t move because the lake’s undertow can’t reach it. I’ve always done better in areas that are shallow, but near to deeper water – such as island margins or plateaux.
If you get a spell of high pressure and the sun comes out for 20 minutes you can often see fish move on to the shallow areas to soak up the brief blast of warmth. By putting bait on these shallow spots I’ve had quite a lot of fish, even in 18ins of water in January.
ANGLING PRESSURE CAN HELP
A bit of angling pressure on a lake definitely helps to keep the fish moving in autumn and winter . In the past I’ve walked around with a bare lead, casting it into spots to keep the fish moving, and I’ve even gone so far as to jump up and down on snags to shift carp out!
Over the past decade I’ve caught plenty of big fish in the first week of January, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s because of the little burst of angler pressure on the lake over the Christmas period, when you get an influx of anglers with time on their hands.
A combination of noise, bankside movement and the introduction of fresh bait definitely keeps the fish moving.
I use the same rigs all-year-round, and never reduce my hook size in the colder months, but I will often shorten the length of my rigs, or the booms on my hinged-stiff set-ups.
Carp feed more slowly in colder water, so if one puts its mouth around my hookbait the shorter rig brings it into contact with the weight of the lead much faster.
In the past I’ve spooled my reels with fluorocarbon in order to pin my line down and spook the fish less.
However, I found that I felt less in touch with the lake because I wasn’t getting any line bites, which I like to use as a location aid.
Nowadays, I will actively fish for line bites, and with a little practice – by watching how the bobbin settles back down and how sharp the initial knock is – you can determine roughly how far away from your rod-tip the fish are brushing into your lines. All this helps you stay in touch with what’s going on.
By all means be comfy – but not too comfy.
Carp will seek out the remnants of weed beds.
Wean them onto birdfood baits.
Bait up in darkness to beat the birds!
Lily roots provide winter warmth.
I actively fish for line bites, and get results.
Watch for fish on the sun-warmed shallows.