Weekend Sport Column – 14th March

Sport 48

With the coarse fishing river season now over and done with it’s time to find a new targets and what better challenge than catch a big carp. You may be thinking that carp fishing reaches a peak in the warmer weather but think again. Right now is the perfect time to set your sights on a big one.

Winter is a tough and challenging time to catch carp. The fish will spend weeks in a state of semi hibernation. They hardly move, expend little energy and need very little in the way of nourishment but as the daylight hours stretch out everything changes. Nature starts to awaken and so do the carp.

Let me take you back 15 years or so. I had just been crowned the UK Masters Angling Champion. I was editing the UK’s biggest selling carp fishing magazine on a freelance basis as well as holding down a full time job. Life was pretty hectic to say the least and the time I had available to fish was severely limited. Being an editor did help in that I could pick up the phone whenever I liked and speak with carping legends like Kevin Maddocks, Jim Gibbinson and Rod Hutchinson. Believe me, when you can pick the brains of folk who have been there and done it all certainly gives you an edge.

I didn’t restrict my research to the big names of carp fishing. Match anglers may fish for much smaller specimens but they have a lot to contribute when it comes to fish behaviour.

To catch early season carp it helps to understand their winter habits and one thing that match anglers know is that carp are not widespread in cold conditions. They shoal up in specific areas, generally avoiding the shallows. Matches are often won at the draw when a good angler plucks out the right peg. Everyone dips into the draw bag hoping to pull out a certain peg or area because experience and recent results tells them that this is where the carp have been shoaling.

Often it is a spot which is deeper than the surrounding area but what is most apparent is that the fish are not to be found on the bottom. They tend to lie in a band of water several feet from the bottom and there’s a very good reason for this. The surface of a lake can be very cold in winter. After all, this is where ice forms. The reason ice forms on the surface is that the density of water is affected by temperature. Below 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit cold water rises to the surface. Above this it sinks to the bottom. So, it stands to reason there will be a band of water in between where the water maintains a fairly constant temperature and it is in this that the fish feel most comfortable. In shallow areas there is little difference between top and bottom because it only takes a breeze to mix everything up.

Match anglers soon twigged onto this and started popping up their legered baits, often several feet off the bottom. Low and behold they started catching carp. Carp anglers followed suit using zig rigs which is effectively the same method except the tackle is stronger. Zigs have produced well in summer for many years but only recently have carpers realised they work in winter, too.

The drawback is you can only fish single baits. There is no way to create an effective bed of feed in mid-water.

So how does this help us in springtime? Well, having established that carp sit in a comfort zone, let’s say 7 feet deep in 14 feet of water as a generalisation, as the temperature creeps up a degree or two it is enough for these carp to start moving around and looking for a snack. If they are seven feet below the surface it stands to reason they will first encounter the lake bed where it is seven feet deep and this is where you can lay your traps using conventional methods.

One water where I used to capitalise on this was the main lake at Anglers Paradise, in Devon. The climate is slightly milder down there and I knew the carp would begin to show a little interest as early as February. Regulars used standard tactics casting to features, islands, along the margins and so on. They struggled whereas I fished in open water close to the deepest part of the lake where there were no other apparent features. All I looked for was 7 feet of water and here I would place my baits. Presenting a hair-rigged boilie on the hook with just a PVA bag of broken boilies as feed, this would be coated with a flavoured glug hoping to grab the attention of any passing fish.

The tactics worked a treat and just like clockwork I would turn up each year in the middle of February and catch the season’s very first 20-pound carp from the lake. In fact I would often catch several. One particular year I used these tactics to land the lake’s first 20lb mirror, common and leather carp and included in this was a lake record common that was in pristine condition, all in the space of 12 hours. During my most productive session I netted a dozen good fish including a grass carp yet looking out across the valley I could see snow lying on the tops of Dartmoor.

So, let’s not cry too much for the passing of the river season which closed at midnight on Friday in case you weren’t aware, let’s celebrate a window of opportunity to get among a few nice carp. Ignore the advice of the magazines which will no doubt be promoting the latest rig or the latest bait. Don’t go looking for some magic silver bullet. Start using what’s between your ears and try to imagine what the fish are actually doing. They don’t read the magazines nor follow fashion. Until they do you can stay ahead of the game using nothing more complicated than good old watercraft.

Fishery Of The Week

Cleveley Bridge Fisheries

Seven lakes on a 22 acre site offering both pleasure and specialist angling. Swanbrook Lake has produced carp to over 30lbs with plenty of back-up double and twenties, plus koi and grass carp. Families can rent one of four lodges that sleep up to 4 people or one of two camping pods. Address: Cleveley Bank Lane, Forton, Preston, Lancashire PR3 1BY Phone: 07958 797117 Web: www.cleveleybridgefisheries.com Day tickets start at £6 for general coarse fishing running to £20 for 24 hours for the specimen angling

4 thoughts on “Weekend Sport Column – 14th March

  1. Thought the season ended midnight Saturday 14th Bob. The closed season is daft enough without bringing it forward a day 😉

  2. Sorry to correct you Bob, but Friday may be the 13th and unluckily for some. However it is not close of the river coarse fishing season, that is Sunday the 15th ! So l will be out on the river on Saturday, hoping for at least on more fish to add to the 8lb 8 oz Barbel I caught on Tuesday on the Tent at Hoveringham.


  3. Hi, Bob,
    Having re read your article dated dated the 14th I withdraw my comments and apologise for my error
    Yours Peter

  4. No worries, Peter. What you maybe haven’t realised is these articles were written exactly one year ago, give or take a day, for the Sunday Sport. The ’14th March’ in the title relates to the weekend I’m publishing it here whereas in fact the article first saw the light of day in the Sport on Sunday the 15th March, 2014, in other words, first day of the previous closed season.
    Best Regards,