There’s no point in having the latest kit and top-quality bait if you turn up at your peg and end up fishing in completely the wrong spot to begin with.
Watercraft is what angling success boils down to at this time of year and even on relatively featureless-looking commercial fisheries, there’s still plenty going on under the water to dictate where the fish will and won’t be.
Faced with a large expanse of open water and little on the surface to base your attack around, how can you work out where to target your attack at a time of year when the weather can change drastically and alter the feeding habits of the fish?
Let Matrix-backed triple Fish O’Mania champion Jamie Hughes be your guide to keeping the bites coming as Christmas is knocking on the door – it’s really not as complicated as it may seem at first glance!
For more great tips from top anglers head to this year’s The Big One Show
What to fish
“Faced with open water, the first problem you may encounter is tow caused by the wind. Wide exposed swims are prone to this and it can render the pole line unfishable in terms of presentation.
“If this was the case then the feeder or bomb would come to the fore but provided conditions are not too bad, the pole has to be the No1 approach for precise feeding and perfect presentation. I’d certainly always set both up because the wind can change during a session and increase tow.”
Where to fish
“You may not have any fish-holding features on the surface so your best friend will be a plummet. Most lakes have changes in depth and these may be a matter of inches but they can make a big difference.
“I’d spend a good 15 minutes plumbing around the swim on the pole to find these depth changes and would think nothing of going out to 16m to find them. I’m looking for an underwater bar that offers a substantial depth change. On the feeder, this isn’t as important as I’ll be using the rod to cast around as opposed to building up a swim in one spot.”
The bait to bring
“Maggots are good for F1s and silvers, but if you’re after carp, nothing beats pellets – even in cold weather. Hard pellets beat soft expanders every time, so I’d bring some 4mm and 6mm hard pellets and a bag of micro pellets. That should be ample for a winter session. Changing hookbaits is key so I’d throw in a tin of corn and some bright wafters for the tip.”
“Unlike in summer, I’m not trying to build a peg up with the feeder. Instead, I’ll cast to different spots around the peg. When I catch a fish I then chuck back to the same spot but if nothing else happens, I’ll be on the move again.
“How long I leave the feeder out depends on if anyone around me is catching on the tip. That could mean waiting up to half-an-hour before winding in. I’ll revisit spots that I’ve cast to earlier in the day as the little consignment of pellets that went in beforehand may just be enough to draw in a few carp.”
“I’d begin fishing with bread dobbing about at half-depth to try and catch fish that aren’t that interested in feeding but would only give this 15 minutes using an 8mm piece of breadpunch.
“If I’ve not caught then I fall back to fishing pellet, a hard 6mm banded on the hook with micro pellets fed via a small pot.”
Get on the pole!
“Should the weather be good then I’ll always go for the pole. Where to fish is all about what’s underwater and at my local fishery Mill House, there’s an underwater bar at around 16m on every peg – and that’s what I’m looking for. There’s no guarantee that the carp will want to be on top of the bar so I hedge my bets to fish both this shallower water and the deeper spot just in front or behind it.
“When you’re talking distance there’s no point trying to catch short because the fish will be reluctant to feed here and 13m would be as close to the bank as I’d go. I’d kick off here in the deep water for reasons of comfort as much as anything else!
“When to fish the shallower bar is down to if anglers around me are fishing here and catching, but also the air pressure. In high pressure, the carp seem to prefer sitting in the shallower water on the bar ,but in low pressure, they’re in the deep water. That’s the rule of thumb I subscribe to.”
Go for The feeder if it’s windy
“If the wind is too bad to fish the pole properly, the tip is your only sensible option and this gives me two options – bomb or feeder. In very clear water I’d go for the bomb, but if there’s still some colour in the lake then the feeder is better.
“My feeder is a Matrix Alloy Open Method, but this is in the smallest size available to introduce just a dozen micro pellets on each cast. Roughly, I want to feed on the feeder the same amount that I’d be putting in if I was fishing the pole. Tackle is still sensible for carp, with an 0.16mm Power Micron hooklink to a size 16 KKM-B hook.
“As for hooklinks I try to use as short a link as I can, often just 2cm long. This gives the fish less chance of ejecting the hookbait.”
Let the bait fall slowly
“At Mill House the carp seem to watch the bait and feed fall and then take it just as it settles. I’ll trickle in a dozen micros and lay the rig in over the top, expecting a bite within 60 seconds.
“If not, I lay the rig in again and wait another minute before shipping in and repeating. My rig features a strung shotting pattern with a Malman Roob float taking between 4x12 to 4x16 dependent on the wind.
“The lighter float has strung shot but on a heavier rig, these are spaced slightly closer together for better presentation, leaving around 2cm of float tip showing. I also never fish overdepth because you can miss a lot of bites from carp.”