This time of year carp have a tendency to shoal up tightly, which in turn leads to some massive winning weights in matches.
But while headlines are grabbed by 70lb, 80lb and even 100lb catches, it’s the low back-up weights that tend to tell the real story as anglers sit it out for carp in areas where there simply aren’t any!
I have to admit I have never been a fan of sitting for just one or two bites in five hours. I always prefer to keep busy, working at the swim and trying to make something happen.
So when the going is tough I will play the percentage game, and if I’m not the angler lucky enough to be on the ball of carp then I will target silverfish rather than sit all day and hope a carp picks up my bait.
Basically I will have a quick look for carp at the start of the match and if that doesn’t pay off, or I don’t get the impression there are many carp there, I will fish for roach, skimmers and even perch, with maybe just a quick look again for a carp at the end of the match as the light fades.
The silvers, though, are the key. One carp on its own is likely to win me nothing, but a weight of silvers plus that carp can mean a possible framing weight on a gruelling day.
And rather than fishing negatively, as you’d expect in winter, I opt for a positive approach to targeting the silvers on commercials.
Being positive is crucial if you want to catch the sort of weight that’s needed to beat the carp men!
LOOK FOR DEEPER WATER
The key to putting together a big weight of silvers is normally to catch them short, but at this time of year, with the water being clear, quite often the skimmers and roach will push out into deeper areas where they feel safer.
Take today at Meadowlands as a prime example. At 9m I have just four foot of water, which for me just isn’t deep enough when there is even deeper water further out.
For this reason I have eventually settled on fishing at 13m where there is just over six feet of water. Of course, the right depth is totally venue-specific as some waters are deeper than others, but if yours offers increased depth further out then this is usually the area to target.
USE POSITIVE RIGS
Rig choice depends totally on depth, but for 6ft-8ft of water I will look to fish a 4x18 float, in this case a Colmic Jolly which is a tried and trusted pattern for silverfish.
I use 0.15mm Guru N-Gauge mainline. This might seem on the heavy side, but heavier line is stiff and results in fewer tangles, something which can otherwise be a problem when shipping out at speed.
My hooklength is 6ins of 0.10mm line to a size 18 Gamakatsu Maggot hook, which is perfect for single caster and single or double maggot hookbaits.
Shotting pattern is a standard bulk and three droppers, with the bulk set at 24ins from the hook and the droppers made up of No 10 shots being placed at 6ins intervals below this.
Depending on how the fish are feeding I might look to vary my shotting pattern.
For instance, if bites are coming once the float has settled then I will look to move the bulk down closer to the hook in order to get the hookbait to the catching zone that bit quicker.
DOUBLE YOUR CHANCES
Choice of elastic when targeting silvers on a venue where a carp could turn up is always a tricky one, but for me there is nothing better than a doubled-up No4.
This is soft enough to deal with quality silvers but at the same time it gives me a better-than-average chance should a bonus carp come along.
It also allows me to swing in decent silvers when they are the right size, and this can make a big difference to my catch rate.
LAYING THE RIG IN
When I’m fishing for both roach and skimmers I find that a lot of bites tend to come as the rig settles.
For this reason I like to lay the rig in and then hold the float on a tight line so that the hook bait falls in an arc.
Bites then usually come as the float settles, and if for any reason I don’t get a bite then I will simply lift the rig out and lay it back in again – this is a speed tactic that saves time shipping in and out.
Of course, this doesn’t always work and there are days, particularly with skimmers when they want the bait nailed – but it’s definitely something to try, particularly when there are a lot of fish in the swim competing for the bait.
It’s all about playing the percentage game, and it keeps me active all match.
My positive winter bait tray usually consists of casters and maggots, but on waters with a decent head of skimmers I’ll add pinkies and groundbait too.
Casters hold the key to a big weight of silvers as they attract a larger stamp of fish than maggots.
Pinkies, normally dead, are added to the groundbait and although they are small, roach and skimmers love them. They also give me another hookbait option.
For silvers I like a 50:50 fishmeal mix of 50-50 Ringers Natural and Swim Stim Natural. Both are pellet-based and I find they attract a better than usual stamp of fish.
HOW MUCH TO PUT IN
To kick the swim off I introduce two balls of groundbait laced with casters and dead pinkies.
After 45 minutes looking for a carp elsewhere in my peg while the silverfish line settles, and providing I’m not on a pile of carp, then it’s time to work out the best way to feed the swim for silvers.
This decision is governed by the species present. If I drop in and skimmers seem to be the main species I will look to fish the initial feed out before topping up once the swim starts to fade.
PACK IN THE CASTERS
Timing is critical – too many anglers don’t re-feed until the swim is totally dead.
Topping up for skimmers is best done by potting in another ball of groundbait, this time with casters into a Satsuma-sized ball.
This process is repeated throughout to keep fish coming.
If roach are the dominant species I will loosefeed over the top with a catapult as roach prefer bait falling through the water.
I find 15-20 casters on a regular basis is about right to start although if it becomes clear there are a lot of roach present then I might look to up this to try and increase my catch rate and draw a bonus fish or two into the swim.