Temperatures are dropping, the water’s getting cold and the fish are getting lethargic, but you shouldn’t. Even if there’s ice in the margins of your local commercial water you will still catch, but only if you fish intelligently and accurately.
Some anglers will tell you to avoid stillwaters when it’s cold, claiming that it’s best to tackle flowing water, but this isn’t always the case. Fish might at times, feed better in flowing water when it’s cold – they have to replace energy lost when battling against the flow – but there may be only a few fish in your river swim. Pick a swim on a commercial carp water and there could be literally thousands of fish in front of you. If you follow our guide to catching in the cold you will be able to tempt a lot of them to feed, be it roach, chub, skimmers or even decent-sized carp.
In this, the first of a three-part series, we detail the most productive float and feeder rigs, the most productive baits and the best swims to fish when it’s cold, plus detail some of the experts’ top tips for cold-water commercial fishing.
The best swims
Below is an overhead view of a typical commercial carp fishery. It features an island, overhanging trees and variations in depth. We have shown a typical winter wind, one that blows cold air from the north-east. The passage of the sun, as it rises in the east and settles in the west, has been marked on the diagram too. Taking the wind, any shelter from the trees, banks or island, the passage of the sun and the depths into account, we can figure out which swim offers the best chance of catching using either float or feeder tactics. Here’s a run-down of each swim, detailing whether it’s worth fishing or not and why...
Swims 1 and 2
THESE could be decent float or feeder swims. There’s a good depth immediately in front of you, plus the wind is blowing over your shoulder so the water will be calm, allowing you perfect float presentation. The sun will also gradually warm the water of these swims from mid-day onwards.
THE water in front of you here is likely to be rippled, plus it’s only 3ft deep between the margins and the island making floatfishing difficult. But look to the right of the island and there’s 4ft, so a feeder or straight lead cast to this slightly deeper water may well pay off.
Swims 4 and 5
HERE the water is likely to be pretty windswept, plus there’s not a great depth between the margins and the island. Fishing here will be tough in these conditions. On a calm day, though, you may catch on a straight lead or small feeder cast into the shallower water by the island as this 2ft deep water will warm quickly in the sunshine.
Swims 6, 7, 8 and 9
IF YOU are brave enough to fish into a cold wind, these swims might prove very productive for you. The water behind the island will be sheltered and calm, plus the sun hits this part for most of the day. You could easily fish these swims with waggler or feeder tactics. In the afternoon the water here will have warmed slightly – especially close to the island where it’s shallow – so you may do well fishing tight to the island or at the bottom of the 3ft ledge surrounding it.
HERE’S a very interesting swim. In a wind it may prove uncomfortable as the breeze will hit you head on, but look closely at the depths in front of the peg. There’s 4ft on the float line, and a 2ft plateau alongside the island. The 4ft deep water will be heavily rippled, but it may hold many fish as it’s deep. Here a long, large and straight waggler fished well overdepth may pay off. The water alongside the island will be sheltered and it will gradually warm throughout the day. Here a leger rig could
account for carp and chub.
Swims 11 and 12
IF YOU can locate the deeper water and you are happy fishing with a wind hitting you in the face, these swims could prove extremely productive when fishing a leger rig. A single grain of sweetcorn presented on a running rig and cast to various parts of the lake will eventually find fish, and once you have located a shoal try a small maggot feeder cast to the same spot.
UNLUCKY for some, swim 13 has good potential. The deepest part of the lake lies directly in front of you so again try a leger rig in this deeper water to locate fish tucked up at the bottom. But look to your right and you will find sheltered and shallow water alongside those trees that will become gradually warmer as the day progresses. Here an insert waggler, fished at full depth, could account for numerous roach, chub, skimmers and carp that will tend to move into the warmer water in the afternoon.
4 top cold water rigs
Here are the four top running-line rigs you should be using when tackling commercial waters during the colder months...
Simple running leger rig
THIS incredibly simple leger rig is easy to construct and it is absolutely deadly for locating carp. Many match anglers use it with a single side hooked or hair-rigged grain of sweetcorn, casting the rig to various parts of the lake trying to find the carp. Once they spot the bright yellow, sweetly scented corn they find it hard to resist.
Use a 4lb to 6lb breaking strain main line and thread on an Arlesey bomb followed by a rubber bead. Take the main line and fold it over and tie a double overhand knot to create an eight-inch loop. Using the same knot, tie a tiny loop in the end of the larger loop. This is used to attach your hooklength.
When a fish picks up the bait and moves away with it, the line will pass through the swivel of the bomb. When the loop passes right through the swivel the fish will feel the resistance and it should bolt off, hooking itself as it does so.
Use a strong and reliable hook, in a size to suit the number of sweetcorn grains you are using – a size 16 suits one grain, while a 14 suits two. Your hooklength needs to be robust too; try a 0.12mm (around 3lb) high-tech line.
Maggot feeder rig
THIS set-up is ideal for all species and unlike the running leger rig, this is best cast to the same area and left in the swim for quite some time. It’s easy to tie – use the same method as the running rig – but replace the straight lead with a blockend feeder.
As the fish won’t be feeding so avidly in the cold water, it pays to decrease the amount of feed going into your swim. You could either half-fill the feeder to introduce fewer morsels, but a half-full feeder empties very quickly. An alternative is to tape up the vast majority of the feeder’s holes and cram it full of maggots. This slows the escape rate of the baits, meaning that you can leave the rig in the water for a long duration, safe in the knowledge that the swim will be fed constantly.
Flavoured maggots – those given a coating of spices – might help in your quest for a good bag of cold water fish as most species respond to the strong scent drifting through the water.
You will have to scale down your terminal tackle when using this rig. A size 20 or 18 hook is ideal, coupled with 0.08mm or 0.1mm (11 ⁄2lb or 2lb) hightech hooklength material.
Calm-water float rig
DURING winter fish don’t bite as freely as they do when it’s warm. Quite often, bites can be mere knocks on the float. This means that you need to use the most sensitive set-up you can, and using a sensitive set-up is easily possible when fishing in calm water. A delicate insert waggler is called for in these circumstances. The slender sight tip can be dotted down to a mere pimple so that the merest touch of the bait is registered on the float.
When fishing with this style of float it pays to plumb up carefully and set your rig so that the bait just touches the bottom. Once the rig settles, the main line will be straight from float to bait, therefore a fish only has to sniff the bait and the float tip will dip.
Place a small bulk of shot more than halfway down the rig and follow this with a series of micro-shot. The bulk will push the bait down to the bottom quickly and the micro-shot will provide a natural fall of the bait in the last few inches of water.
In calm conditions it is possible to fish this rig with your line on the surface; doing this gives you a much faster strike.
Rippled-water float rig
WHEN the wind blows, the water will be rippled and there may be a strong undertow. In these conditions you will need to use a float rig that won’t be dragged off line. A very long, straight peacock waggler is required. The rig needs to be fished overdepth, with anything up to 3ft of line on the bottom to ensure that the float and the bait remain stationary in your swim. This rig works best when fishing over clean bottoms.
Use the longest and the thickest waggler you have as this ensures that the shot locking the float is set well under the water and away from surface drift. Place a reasonable bulk of shot below half-depth and follow this with a series of micro-shot, like No8s.
Set the float so that around an inch protrudes and start fishing the rig 12 inches overdepth. You may well find that the rig drifts through the swim, with the float dipping slightly and then popping up as the hook snags slightly on bottom debris.
The dipping of the float cannot be helped, but you can add further depth to the rig to anchor it in one position. You will find that you will still get sail-away bites, even with up to three feet of line on the bottom.
Sinking your main line will also help keep the float stationary.
Top fish tempters Some baits that typical commercial fishery species will accept, even on the hardest days...
Baits commonly associated with huge summer commercial carp fishery hauls don’t have the same effect when used during winter. Take paste, for example. Paste is a phenomenal warm-weather bait that accounts for incredible carp hauls, but it never seems to work in winter. Chum Mixers, bread and high oil-content trout pellets are the same.
Carp won’t readily feed off the top when it’s cold and the oils within trout pellets won’t disperse in ice-cold water.
During the summer maggots can be a frustrating bait to use on a mixed species commercial water; they are often taken by small silver fish long before a carp, tench or bream has chance to find them. But in winter the tables turn. These tiny creatures make a great cold-water bait that carp, chub and skimmer bream simply adore. They are small enough not to overfeed the fish, plus the protein content is high compared to the size of bait. They should be fed very sparingly to ensure constant interest in your swim. Finally, choose your maggot colour carefully – red or fluoros work best.
The story behind casters is very similar to maggots. They are often smashed to smithereens by small fish during the summer, but feed them sparingly and fish a single caster well overdepth and you stand a very high chance of latching into a proper fish. Carp are suckers for the crunchy shell and high protein content within the bait. Also, not only do casters make great baits when used as feed and as hookers, they also combine very well with chopped worms for chub, carp, quality roach, perch and bream – they find the scent too irresistible to ignore. You need to store them as you would in summer, in just enough water to cover all the baits so they don’t take on air and become floaters.
Unlike perch, chub and bream, carp rarely seem to respond well to worms when it’s warm; they prefer more substantial baits. But feed a helping of chopped worms – dendrobaenas are best – when it’s cold and you stand a very high chance of rousing carp from their cold-water slumber. Take a small handful of worms, rinse them thoroughly in the mesh of a fine landing net head or riddle and chop them into fine pieces with scissors. The mush can be fed via a feeder or introduced by hand at close range. The scent will disperse quickly, drawing fish in. Fish half a worm over the top and you are most likely to tempt perch first, quickly followed by larger carp, chub and bream.
Cooked hempseed isn’t a great commercial-water hook bait, but it is a superb fish attractant. Problem is, many commercial waters ban the use of particles like hemp, but if it is allowed it is certainly worth catapulting a good helping around your float rig. It’s the scent that oozes from the small back seeds that will draw-in roach first, then carp and chub. Bream and perch don’t really respond to hemp, but they might respond to other fish that have been drawn-in by the smell. A small piece of meat, a worm or a grain of sweetcorn presented over the seeds could prove extremely effective.
You will notice that we have classed carp pellets as a top winter bait. Those darker, trout pellets that contain a lot of oil are not listed purely because the oils will not disperse in very cold water so they lose their effectiveness. Vegetable-based carp pellets disperse their scent easily in cold water, plus they provide the fish with ample nutrients. Drip-feed a few sinking pellets over your float and fish a softened Expanda pellet over the top, or a hard carp pellet that has been attached to the hook using a bait band. Pellets won’t just account for carp though – bream, tench and chub respond to them too; you may even catch the odd quality roach on them.
Here is another great year round bait that accounts for most of our larger native stillwater species. Standard shop-bought meat will work through the winter, but you cannot beat a torn section of flavoured meat, especially a piece that has been heavily flavoured with strong spices. The intense flavour seeps through the cold water attracting nearby fish, especially if the meat is presented over a small bed of small carp pellets or a bed of finely-chopped meat. The easiest way to achieve this is to slice the meat into half-centimetre strips and then push the strips through a riddle. You will end up with thousands of tiny segments of meat that can be squeezed into small balls and thrown right over your float.
Like maggots, these baits are often frustrating to use in summer as the smaller fish intercept them before the larger carp, chub, bream and tench. But in winter the tables turn. Try casting a couple of fluoro pinkies, presented overdepth on a size 18 hook, to various parts of the lake. These brightly-coloured baits stand out like a sore thumb, tempting fish to intercept the bait as it falls. Leave the bait in the swim for at least five minutes and then re-cast to a separate area, searching for fish all the time. Once you have cast among a shoal you are very likely to gain a bite, and once you gain one bite you ought to cast to the same area as you may well catch more.
Forget to put a tin of sweetcorn in your tackle bag and you are missing out on a great winter catch. Sweetcorn is the finest winter bait because it stands out well, it smells great and, being totally natural, the scent disperses easily and quickly to the noses of the fish. A grain of hair-rigged or side hooked sweetcorn presented on a running-leger rig is a winning setup. Simply cast it to various spots around the lake and you will eventually find a tightly packed shoal. Once you find the fish, continue casting to the same spot and more will follow.