PETE CASTLE'S GUIDE TO WINTER LOCATION
The sight of a frosty car before you start an early morning session, the harsh feeling of cold feet and the excitement of putting your freezing hands under a chunky icy fish are all part of fishing during the time of year that is unmistakably winter.
The winter can be a beautiful time on the bank and a great antidote to the claustrophobic atmosphere of winter when long dark nights, central heating and hours of television can leave everybody feeling trapped inside the house. The sunrises are often spectacular in the winter, producing a deep purple colour that shines off the glistening frost covered surfaces of everything around you, including your rods and buzzers. What’s more you often get friendly birds such as Robins visiting your swim on a regular basis to cheer you up - their song and colourful appearance certainly helps to brighten up most bleak and cold winter days.
To me, there is no better time of the year to get a run than when the rods, reels, line and buzzers are restricted or even seized up by a hard frost and as you look at a motionless lake, the alarm screams off. The thought of that run was most likely unimaginable only a fraction of a second before, but when it goes, and the buzzer sounds the excitement of a winter carp races warmly through you.
So how do we locate these sometimes-impossible fish at this often-awkward time of the year? The first thing I would suggest is to find a lake that is renowned for catching carp in the winter and try to avoid expeditions into unknown territory, such as a lake that has never been fished before or huge expanses of water with very few carp in them. Find somewhere that has a good reputation for consistent and successful angling throughout the winter (the fish at these sorts of places often show themselves, even in the harshest of conditions, which also helps when trying to locate them).
The second thing I would suggest is to find out where the best winter swims are located on that particular water – what areas fished well in spring or summer are not necessarily the same spots that produce in winter! Carp are often creatures of habit and will often visit these places in winter year-in-year-out. Sometimes there may only be a couple of spots on a lake, but once you establish these spots, you can reap the rewards. Talk to bailiffs, other anglers or locals to try and find out where the best places for winter fishing are.
From my experience, the best winter areas are those normally (although not always) the areas of great contrast: deep areas that are surrounded by a steep change in depth up into shallower waters. I often find that these are the best areas in the winter because firstly the deep water protects the fish from the dropping air temperature when it is very cold; secondly, the shallow areas and marginal shelves that surround these deep areas are often the first areas to warm up and thirdly, I often feel that the carp sit at mid-water over the deep areas at this time of the year – so a rod placed mid water or on the ledge coming out of the deep can often prove to be a successful spot.
These deep areas often seem to hold a lot of rotting vegetation such as dead weed, leaves and small twigs and branches that have fallen and collected in these deep places throughout the autumn, therefore, it’s a holding area for natural food, so the carp will never be far away. I like to fish slightly away from the deep areas and place the hook-bait on an area such as light silt or on a ledge to avoid any unwanted problems with decaying lake debris that you find in abundance throughout the winter months.
Furthermore, fish activity, however subtle, is always something you should be looking for at this time of the year. For example, on one winter session on a lake in Norfolk I managed to spot fish activity that I had never seen before. The lake was very quiet and there hadn’t been anything caught for a couple of weeks. However, whilst walking around I noticed some very slight, almost single pinprick bubbles hitting the surface about twenty yards out, in deep water on the back of a huge bar. I lined the bubbles up with a Silver Birch on the other side of the lake and sure enough, I noticed that the bubbles were moving.
I quickly moved all of my kit into position and went on to have four fish over the next twenty-four hours. I didn’t see any other sign of a carp other than the bubbles I had spotted the previous day. It was so cold on that particular session that one of the fish, a golden coloured common had to actually be placed on a white snow-covered mat after a run just after dark. This session was a few years ago now, but it still acts as a reminder to me to always look for any conspicuous signs of fish movement (no matter how seemingly microscopic) because they all help with your winter location.
Locating fish at this time of the year is often very difficult, but if you try to look for more subtle movements, you will often find the carp’s location. Night time shows are common through the winter, I’ve found the hours between midnight and 3am to be great times to listen. For whatever reason, the fish seem to show through these hours, so if you can make the effort to get up for a listen, you’ll often find the carp’s location! Try to keep your eyes and ears open for even the slightest of movements in the winter, because you never know what could be lurking in the depths in front!
Be Lucky, Pete