I have to admit that as I drove up the M6 for my latest session at Barston Lakes I feared the worst.
Temperatures had plummeted overnight, and the amount of frozen water I saw on the journey wasn’t exactly filling me with confidence.
However, I was heartened by the sight of the fish in the pond at the fishery swimming around, rather than shoaled up in one corner, and I thought that there might be a chance.
What I certainly didn’t expect was that in just a few hours’ time I’d have taken one of my biggest ever winter catches of over 130lb of carp, F1s and skimmers, in temperatures which never got above 2ºC.
I elected to fish peg 83 on the grass bank area at the far end of the lake, where at least I’d have the wind off my back for a spot of feeder fishing.
Just lately I’ve been having a great run of results fishing the feeder on venues such as Barston and Boddington.
Some might think that feeder fishing in the cold is ‘chuck it and chance it’ and it’s all about drawing on the fish.
In part I’d have to agree – you do have to be on fish to win at this time of year because you can’t catch what’s not there.
But if you are on fish then there are a few little tricks which can make all the difference.
Here are seven simple steps which helped me to my big weight…
Go for small hookbaits
At this time of year every bite is a bonus. With this in mind, I like to keep my hookbaits small, 4mm and 6mm wafters.
I feel that when it’s really cold a smaller hookbait has more appeal. Skimmers, in particular, are great weight-builders and love a mini wafter.
With the water being so clear everywhere, yellow baits take some beating. On top of these I also like to have a few dead maggots with me. As a change bait they can often produce a bite, even on the Hybrid feeder when all else fails.
An example was the recent Golden rod qualifier on Barston Lakes. In bitter conditions the carp and F1s shut up shop but I managed 11 skimmers for 17lb, all on 4mm or 6mm yellow wafters, to win a 20-peg zone and qualify for the Larford final later in the year.
Pellets early, groundbait late
In the cold it’s all about taking whatever comes along – at the end of the day all the fish get weighed in!
In the last few weeks I’ve noticed that the bulk of the fish that get caught are taken early on in the match, whereas I would say that the last hour at this time of year is more often than not the worst.
Taking this into account, I have been varying my Hybrid approach a little.
I still like to fish pellets early as I feel they are a more positive bait, but the last hour, when bites are at a premium, I’ve been switching to groundbait in the feeder.
On venues that contain a number of skimmers this seems to produce a bite or two from them to boost my weight when others have stopped catching.
Clip up and move
At the start of a match I always like to clip up.
In the cold, carp and F1s like to shoal up, so if I cast and get a bite I like to go straight back to the same spot. Chances are there will be more than one fish there.
Once bites dry up, though, I see no point in repetitively casting to the same spot waiting for the fish to come back. Nine times out of 10 they won’t, and so I’ll look to fish a different spot.
Initially, if room permits, I’ll have a look to the left and right of my original spot, before moving further out.
When moving out more often than not you don’t have to go far – a metre is often enough to nick a bite.
When the new spot tails off I simply move again and hopefully follow the fish.
The secret is to find ‘new water’ that’s not been disturbed and where the fish are likely to feel safe.
Carp are easily spooked, and if I’m not catching I will always look for new water as that’s where the fish are most likely to be.
When fishing mini Hybrid feeders it’s important to think about what elastic to use in the feeder, as I need every fish I hook to end up in the net!
As a guide I will always kick off on the black, heavy elastic because if I am going to catch a carp or two this normally becomes apparent very early on.
However, if I start to catch skimmers I will drop down to the white, lighter elastic as I feel I get fewer hookpulls as a result.
Don’t think you can’t land carp on the lighter of the two elastics, because you can – I just feel the black is more suited to carp whereas the white is better for skimmers and F1s.
Use measuring sticks
I have said this many times before, yet it never ceases to amaze me that anglers still repeatedly cast a bomb to get clipped up at the required spot.
All this does is spook any fish that might have been in the swim and send them dashing for cover at a rate of knots!
I do appreciate, though, that clipping up is important, which is why I use measuring sticks.
Using the sticks I can clip up at the required distance quickly and efficiently with no disturbance to the swim. This way my first cast that hits the water will be my first cast of the match.
A little tip here is never to clip up at your maximum range to start with if you’re fishing into open water.
Try to leave yourself enough room so you can move out two or three times as the match progresses. This way you might get two or three goes at the fish as opposed to just the one!
While I’m a fan of small feeders and hookbaits, I’ve recently discovered that bigger is better when it comes to hook choice, even when fishing for skimmers.
For this reason I’ve been hair-rigging my mini wafters on size 10 QM1 hooks!
My reason for this is that I feel the fish find a bigger hook much harder to deal with when they suck the hookbait. This results in more bites and, importantly, even better hookholds.
I just think we’d be amazed how many fish suck in the hookbait and blow it back out with us being none the wiser!
With a bigger hook I feel this happens much less and I put more fish in the net as a result!