Pete Castle’s Guide to Winter Baiting

Alternative baiting comes into its own through the winter, you’re not there to fill the fish up, often you’re looking to entice a bite.

In a scene largely dominated by boilies, some of the old classic baits are often overlooked, which in my mind is a huge mistake. Not only are some of these baits often cheaper, I firmly believe they can be more effective. You certainly don’t need to be piling the bait in through the winter, so just a handful is often enough to create a response.

I’ll begin with bread, the cheapest bait on the market and a timeless classic. Bread will catch any carp at any time of year and for some reason, it’s almost gone out of fashion, despite its effectiveness. In the winter, I like to liquidise my bread into crumb, either with a food processor at home or with a Korda Krusher on the bank. I then like to fish my crumb in small PVA bags, which I can cast around the swim, looking for fish. Alternatively, if I see a fish show, a small mesh bag of crumb will often entice that fish to feed. In the winter months, the carp’s eye sight is not as good, so the visual element of the bread is a real advantage.

To enhance my breadcrumb even more, I tend to add fresh caster to the mix, just creating that ‘natural crunch’ element that we know carp love! Casters are one of the best baits on the market and although expensive, you really don’t need loads of them. A couple of pints should easily last you a weekend.

The bread and caster combination really comes into its own through deep winter, when the lake begins to switch off and the water becomes very cold. This combination, from my experience, tends to stimulate the swim and still creates a feeding response, when all else fails.

Moving on from caster, we then come to maggot, again another natural bait that all fish absolutely love. Maggots come into their own through the colder months when the silver fish slow down, but if I can get away with it, I’ll fish them all year round.

Maggots have definitely come back into fashion in recent years but they’re a bait I’ve been using them years. I remember in the 90’s when I really got into them, I went to France on a social trip with a group of mates, and I bought buckets of red maggot and they all laughed and looked at me like I was mad. Well, you can guess what happened, I emptied the place, catching all my fish on maggot and it was certainly an eye opener for my mates

If I can get away with it, I like to fish a match the hatch hookbait. My preferred way to fish maggot would be on a spinner rig, with a size 4 Kamakura Krank and Red Kicker. I’d then simply hook 4 maggots and gently squash them in between my fingers, killing them so they do not wriggle and risk blunting my hook. This rig fished over a bed of maggot or with a mesh bag of maggot is a real game changer. If there’s carp in the area, they’re having it!

An alternate rig if there’s silver fish or you want to leave the rods for longer periods is to fish the maggot clip, where you can thread a large ball of maggot onto your rig. A small pop-up or floating fake piece of food to give the bait buoyancy is beneficial.

We then move onto worms, in my opinion the greatest coarse bait on the market and another bait that has been around for decades. Still as effective as ever, the worm is as natural as they come, the carp are used to eating these and they absolutely love them. Worms work well at any time of year, but again, are easier to use through the winter when other species slow down. My favoured way to fish worm is to literally fish them straight on the hair, with 3 or 4 chopped sections as my hookbait. I believe that a worm hookbait will out fish anything.

Lastly, it’s sweetcorn. Again, a very cheap bait and another one that’s been around for years and is still as effective as it ever was. It works all year round and I’ve found even on the coldest days, the carp will still eat corn, they can’t get enough of it. The visual aspect and its sweet natural crunch combined make it one of the best baits on the market, not to mention you can pick up a kilo for less than a quid!

I use it straight from the can, there’s no need to add anything else to it and I like to fish a fake grain ‘match the hatch’ over the top. As it’s often stored in water, you can’t always add it to PVA bags, unless you dry it out, so a little trick I was taught a few years ago in France was to use an empty film case, drill out a small hole in the lid, and then actually put your rig (hookbait first) into the empty film case and fill it up with corn and water. Thread the end of your hooklink through the whole in the lid and secure the lid in place. Freeze this the day before your session and then when you arrive, take the lid of, and pull the rig out and you’ll have a frozen block of corn around your hookbait. This will protect your hookbait, prevent tangles and will allow you to have a nice tight parcel of bait around your hookbait. You don’t see this used often but it’s a sneaky little edge that I’ve had great success with.

Winter fishing is all about finding the fish and trying to get a quick bite. Keeping your baiting simple, using small quantities of impactful bait will definitely be an advantage, so don’t forget the old classics!