OSCAR THORNTON’S COLD WATER TIPS TO BECOME A WINTER HERO
Winter may be my favourite time to be out fishing. The banks are quieter and the golden sunrises over white, frost covered landscapes are mega. When the bite alarm finally sounds, breaking a crisp winter’s silence, there’s no better buzz nor a more rewarding capture than a winter’s carp.
If you needed further motivation to get out, then the Winter Hero Competition should do just that. The prizes on offer are pretty special, with the overall winner receiving a set of 3 Delkim Txi-D’s and Receiver, 1 years Embryo ticket, £250 of Korda tackle, £250 of Mainline Bait and 48 hours fishing with Darrell Peck! There are also weekly and monthly prizes up for grabs and entering couldn’t be easier. Simply send your photos to WinterHero@korda.co.uk along with a small catch report for your chance to win!
When it comes to winter fishing, a lot of people panic, making unnecessary changes. Keep things simple and by tweaking a few things will ensure the bites keep coming.
My first piece of advice, and although obvious, is to actually get out and do it. I hear of so many people hanging up their rods through the winter and in my opinion, this is a huge mistake! Some of my best fishing sessions have happened in the winter, where feeding spells can be intense, often leading to multiple bites in quick succession.
Upon arriving at any venue, the absolute most important piece of advice I can give is location. It's often said that ‘your eyes are your biggest weapon’ and it’s so true, especially in winter. As the water cools, the fish will be much less mobile, often shoaling up together in a tight area, not moving for weeks on end. One show or patch of fizz can be the giveaway to the entire stock. Never ignore a show in the winter and capitalize on any opportunity.
It can be tough keeping your eyes pinned to the lake, but it’s essential to help find fish. I spend as little time on my phone as possible when fishing, which can be a distraction from the water, 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 fish.
If you see no signs of fish activity, then this is where your watercraft and experience of the lake come in. Are there areas of the lake that have winter form, which parts of the lake are deeper? When there is little to go on, these deeper zones are good starting points. Shallow water is often the first to cool down, but remember, it is also the first to warm up, so a shallow gravel bar which gets direct sunlight could be a great spot on a bright sunny day.
The weather plays a vital role in my angling and I always check the weather apps to keep tabs on it. In the winter, you’re looking for mild spells, anything above 10 degrees is ideal. Big pressure drops and westerly winds usually trigger the fish to feed and it’s well worth getting down in these conditions.
In contrast, high pressure will often make the fish sit in the upper layers, which is where zigs can really come into their own, even on the coldest of days. Chances are, there’ll be a nice warm layer of water the carp are sitting in and if you can locate these depths, the results could be season changing!
Northerly winds through the winter can be savage and often, you’ll find the fish sit on the back of these winds to seek shelter, so this can be a good starting point if a big northerly pushes in.
Go to the lake with an open mind, fish to what you see and never be in a rush to get the rods out, make sure you’re on them before setting up. Effort at the start of your trip will almost certainly lead to success later on.
It’s also important to keep in touch with the lake through the winter. Often, there’ll be 2 or 3 days which do a load of bites, then nothing for 3 weeks, so it’s vital you get down for these feeding spells. Follow the lakes catch reports, talk to regulars or bailiffs, do what you can to find out what’s going on to put yourself in with the best chance.
Tactics wise, I try not to change too much in the winter. I see a lot of people panic and change their rigs and bait for no 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.
Rig wise, I set up with blow back rigs all year, constructed with size 4 Kamakura Wide Gapes, with a small piece of shrink tube used to aid hooking. This is tied to an 8-inch section of 20lb N Trap Soft, a nice subtle material which blends in perfectly with the lake bed.
At this time of the year, the Kamakura's really come into their own. If there's ever a hook designed for winter feeding, then it's the Kamakura! Delicate bites from slow moving fish suit the fine points perfectly, often getting you extra bites that you simply would not get with thicker, less sharpened hooks.
I set my rigs up on Hybrid Lead Clips, safely ejecting the lead when needed and also helping with hooking, with the full weight of the 4oz lead helping pull the hook into the bottom lip. 1 meter of Kable leadcore completes the business end, which is tied to 12lb Kontour Mainline, my line of choice all year round. It sinks like a brick, is super strong and for a fluorocarbon line, cast really well.
In terms of baiting, I like to keep it minimal through the winter months. 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 but want enough to tempt them into a quick feed, that’s why I use a ‘fish for a bite’ approach in the winter, incorporating about 6 spombs per rod.
My mix is made up of bits and pieces, with lots of small food items to get the carp grubbing, but nothing too heavy. Hemp, low oil pellet, Cell boilie crumb and liquids all play a big part in my winter mix, and let’s not forget maggots! These little things can be devastating, you don’t need loads, just a handful can add a big edge to your mix!
Met-Amino and Multi-Stim are my liquids of choice through the winter, as they help to draw the fish down to the deck and encourage them to feed. Ideally, I’ll soak my mix 24 hours before casting it out, allowing the liquid to soak into my bait.
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 with ease.
Once the rods are out and the spots are baited, it’s time to relax and enjoy those atmospheric winter days, so my last winter tip is comfort! An uncomfortable angler is a bad angler and that’s a fact. There is nothing than worse than sitting on the bank cold and wet!
Ensure you bring loads of 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 always wear my Korda base layer through the winter, along with my waterproof socks and hat, keeping me dry and warm in all conditions. Waterproofs are another must, if you are lucky enough to catch one in the winter, the last thing you want is soaking sleeves and knees, so a decent set of waterproofs or a pair of waders should always come with you.
Ensure you have plenty of gas or fuel with you, I always have the stove on in the winter, keeping the bivvy nice and toasty. I’m often sat on the bedchair, huddled over the Coleman, watching the water through a little peep hole in the bivvy. Lastly, and maybe my favourite winter essential, is my hot water bottle! Slip it into the sleeping bag half an hour before getting into bed and thank me later! It makes such a difference and stays warm for hours, I never go fishing without it!
Keep at it this winter, the rewards are there for the taking. There’s nothing like a big winter carp after grafting, it makes it that much more rewarding. Keep things simple, give it your all to find them and I have no doubt you can become a Winter Hero! Be Lucky, Oscar.