The temperature has been up and down like a yo-yo over the last few weeks, anything from seriously sub-zero up to a balmy double figures.
Fish, being cold-blooded, are the same temperature as the water they swim in, so even small changes have a massive effect on them.
Whereas warm-blooded animals need to eat more when it is cold, to generate heat, the opposite is true for fish in our rivers and stillwaters.
Therefore, having a rough idea of the water temperature and whether it is rising or falling can have a massive impact on the baits you use. Even a change of 0.1ºC can make a difference to your catches.
Most of the time you won’t even need a thermometer to make your bait choice as if you keep an eye on what’s going on around you the indicators are there to see.
You should be aware that the air temperature is not necessarily a reflection of the water temperature.
For example, a warm day after several snowy ones will see the snow melt and water temperatures plummet.
It might be pleasant to fish, but your chances of catching are reduced because of the colder water. Conversely, a frosty day after several mild ones might yield surprisingly good results.
My bait thermometer has been put together to give you a guide to what baits to use, and when.
Once the water temperature drops this low, sport can be tough as carp will be eating very little, but on well stocked venues with the right bait you will still catch. This is the time to dig out the really bright baits – yellow, pink and white are my favourites – and pump up the flavours by using dips.
Keep your feed to the bare minimum. Often, just the hookbait is enough, as long as you are on fish, and it pays to search the swim by casting around until you find them. While you can catch carp when the temperature is this low, great sport can be had with more cold water-tolerant species, like roach, chub and ide, so it might pay to think about targeting these species instead.
Carp can be caught, but don’t expect to bag-up. Consider fishing for roach, chub and ide instead for a great day’s sport.
Super-bright mini-boilies, hair-rigged corn and bread discs are all really visual and work well for carp in the cold. ‘Blown’ pellets, that have a light colour, can also work, but remember to rely on the pulling power of the hookbait and keep feed to an absolute minimum.
From mid-November until late spring you’re likely to be confronted with water temperature in this range.
Encouraging the fish to feed confidently is what it is all about, and that means getting what you feed, and how much, spot-on. Single hookbaits will catch, but not enough to bag-up, and feeding too much will soon kill a swim so start off with a small amount of feed and keep it going in regularly.
Carp sport can be very good when the temperature is rising, and bream are another species that are quite cold-water tolerant.
‘Live baits’ such as maggots and worms are my first choices. Chopped worm is an exceptional attractor and will keep fish in the swim looking for food. Maggots come a close second, but don’t go overboard on the feed.
A couple of pints is enough to catch a big bag of carp.
If boilies are your thing then look for birdfood-based ones that are easy to digest, and consider using 10mm baits.
I call this the ‘Goldilocks zone’ for carp and most coarse fish. The temperature is neither so cold that it will stop the fish feeding, or so hot that they will start laying up and basking. Most venues will be in this range from about May until November.
I normally switch to dark-coloured baits at these water temperatures as the fish are going to be very active and aware of their surroundings, so a bright bait won’t be needed to attract them.
Carp, bream and tench will be feeding hard in this range, so the Method feeder works really well, and it can pay to bait heavily.
Pellets are my number one choice. The fish will be feeding hard and coarse pellets are the ideal food for them. For bigger carp, fishmeal based boilies work exceptionally well in this temperature range.
Carp, tench and barbel love warm water, but once the water gets this warm its capacity to hold oxygen drops massively, and it can be this instead that stops the fish from feeding. Often the carp will be basking on the top, enjoying the sun’s warmth on their backs. This is when surface fishing, the pellet waggler and fishing with zig rigs – in fact, any method that presents a bait up in the water – really comes into its own.
Carp on the surface and up in the water, also great tench sport early and late in the day.
Floating pellets and dog biscuits, bread crust and Zig Bugs all work well for fishing just below or on the surface. If I am fishing on the bottom then I will normally switch to particle baits, such as sweetcorn, as this passes through the fish very quickly.
GAUGING THE TEMPERATURE
Obviously, most of us will have no idea what the water temperature is going to be before we go fishing, but we can collect a lot of clues from the weather forecast and make a pretty good prediction.
Most TV and radio reports are not precise enough. Much better are forecasts for your local area on websites such as MetCheck.
I have several weather Apps on my phone and the one I tend to use the most often is called WindGuru, because this gives a very precise and reliable forecast.
First, look at the day and night time temperatures. A big difference between these figures normally means the water will chill slightly at night, which will make the fishing harder.
Similar day and night temperatures offer much better prospects.
Next, look to see if the temperature each day is going up or down in the days leading up to your session. This will tell you the temperature trend – rising temperatures, especially in winter, mean the fishing will be better.
When you get to the bank, take the water temperature with a thermometer, and check it regularly to see if it is rising or falling. Most good tackle shops will stock both the older brass thermometers and the latest digital versions.
I prefer the greater accuracy digital variety. Used while I am fishing, this will tell me if the temperature is rising or falling.
Temperatures that are rising, even if only by a fraction of a degree, will mean the fish will be more receptive to feeding and you can use more bait.