Oscar Thornton's Guide to Late Winter Fishing

Winter may be my favourite time to be out fishing and with just two weeks left until spring is ‘officially’ here, there is still time to bag a winter carp. The banks are still quiet and the golden sunrises and prolonged days in recent weeks have been long awaited. Bankside wildlife is beginning to wake up and spring is definitely in the air. I’ve noticed the fish have definitely become a lot more active in the last month and there’s bites to be had.

I know it’s been an extremely challenging time for all, especially the latest lockdown, and as anglers, with many of us having to travel to our waters we’ve been unable to do what we love. Hopefully, it’s now just a matter of weeks and we can all get out and enjoy out spring. For those of you, like myself, who are fortunate enough to have waters locally to you, here’s a brief insight into how I angle at this time of year and what tactics I imply through the colder months.

I see a lot of people make unnecessary changes to their angling through the winter and it costs them fish. Keeping things simple, sticking to what you know and making a few, minor tweaks will ensure the bites keep coming, no matter how cold it gets.

My first piece of advice, and although obvious, is to actually get out and do it. Even though we find ourselves restricted to days only local fishing, it can actually work to your advantage. The banks are much quieter, and with the lake being extremely local to me, I’m able to get down most days, watch the water and trickle bait in. I know I am incredibly lucky to have this luxury, but if you can, it’s worth - The more you can get down the lake, the more you’ll learn. Often, it’s the work that goes in behind the scenes that leads to success.

So from that, the absolute most important piece of advice I can give is locating those carp. It's often said that your eyes are your biggest weapon and it’s so true, especially at this time of year. In winter, the carp will be grouped up together and as we begin to transition into spring, the fish will become a lot more active, giving away their location as they show. I’ve found the best time to locate carp at this time of year is first light, when the sun first rises, warming the water slightly, and early afternoon, when the sun is at its closest, again, warming the water. Having been sat dormant after a cold January, parasites will have worked their way onto the fish, so in spring, they’ll look to bash these off their bodies, either by crashing out of the water or rubbing on clay or underwater snags. These are all little areas I’ll look to fish.

Areas that get the most sunlight are obvious winter hotspots, the carp are like us, they want that sun on their bodies to warm them up. Monitoring the weather forecast is a big part of my angling, especially in winter. Warmer days, big winds, pressure drops, and moon phases are all elements that come into my angling; if it looks good, I’ll take a day’s holiday. Winter feeding spells are limited, so it’s imperative you make the most of them. Over the last few days, we’ve had huge winds coming in and the fish will definitely react to it. All venues are different, but I’ve found on a fresh new wind, the carp will often follow it as the bottom is stirred up with goodies then, after 24 hours, they’ll often back right of it, looking for calmer pastures.

It can be tough keeping your eyes pinned to the lake, with other distractions such as mobile phones keeping you occupied. I try to spend as little time on my phone as possible when fishing, so I always take a radio with me to keep me sane. By looking away for a split second you could miss that vital show. It’s impossible to look 24/7, but the more you watch, the better chance you give yourself of finding those fish.

Tactics wise, I try not to change too much in the winter. I see a lot of people chopping and changing for no real reason. Stick to what you have confidence in, winter is not the time to be trying new things. The last thing you want is to be sat behind the rods, doubting your rigs or bait’s ability.

Rig wise, solid bags have played a big part in my angling over the last year, allowing me to cast to showing fish, with no fear of tangling and no matter the drop, I’ll always be presented. Size 4 Kamakura Wide Gapes and 4 inches of 18lb Supernatural form the basis of my solid bag rigs, with heavy 4oz inline leads that I fish to 12lb Kontor straight through. A great tactic and one that is ideal for day only angling.

Alternatively, and if I am spot fishing over bait, I set up with blow back rigs for most of my angling, constructed with size 4 Kamakura Wide Gapes and small shrink tube kickers used to flip the hook. Fairly long 8 to 10 inch sections of 20lb N Trap Soft form my hooklinks, with Hybrid Lead Clips and 4oz leads my go-to.

Lastly on the subject of rigs, I never leave home without my zig bits, especially at this time of year, they really can be the difference between a blank and a 10 fish hit! Size 8 Kamakura Wide Gapes are used with 11lb Zig line and a fairly heavy lead of no less than 3oz form my zigs, which if I can, I’ll fish with red and black foam, soaked in my absolute favourite, Rod Hutchinson Nouvelle Fizz.

In terms of baiting, I like to keep it minimal through the winter months, especially with time restrictions. The carp are moving much less and therefore, they do not need to eat as much. You don’t want to fill the carp up in the winter so just enough for a bite is adequate. As we come into the spring, single hookbaits can be more effective than baiting and if I find a pod of fish, I’ll deploy single hookbaits amongst them and see what happens.

If I’m spot fishing and baiting feels right, (low pressure, big winds etc) then my go-to winter mix consists of predominantly red maggot, mixed with various other bits and pieces. Sweetcorn, chopped Cell boilie, maybe some hemp and Smart Liquid are my favourites, in which I’d deploy no more than 6 spombs at a time, and then maybe top up with 3 more after each bite.

I keep my baiting as tight as possible in the winter, so the carp don’t have to move as much to feed, offering them a nice easy meal. When scattering boilies for example, the carp will have to work a lot harder for each bait, a great approach in the summer when they are active, but in the winter, I want them to find my bait and feed with ease.

My last piece of advice is keeping comfortable - An uncomfortable angler is a bad angler and that’s a fact. There is nothing worse than sitting on the bank cold and wet!
Ensure you bring spare clothes and store them in the car as back-up. These days, there is no excuse to be cold, there are so many top pieces of clothing available, it’s an essential investment for every angler! I also ensure the stove is topped up, with spare supplies in the car. You’ll enjoy your fishing so much more if you’re comfortable, so don’t overlook its importance.

With just two weeks until spring is officially here and hopefully, we can all go night fishing again, there is still time for a winter carp. The days are beginning to draw out, prolonging the time you can stay at the water and with the milder weather definitely coming in, wildlife is beginning to wake up. You can feel spring in the air and those bigguns around the country are all well due!