Harley Doughty, Winter Sessions
Posted on 20th January 2019 at 13:43
We were well into winter and with Christmas just around the corner I knew that getting on the bank was going to be very difficult and that when I did actually have the time in between work and getting prepared for Christmas, it would be very tough. The temperatures were getting down into the minuses at night and it wasn't much better in the day, but I wouldn't let that stop me from getting the kit in the car and heading off for some challenging day sessions.
In my early days of fishing I would be out, regardless of the weather, almost every weekend, but there was a noticeable difference in my catch reports, many more sessions resulting in blanks and just the odd fish if I was lucky at the time. I wasn't as aware of how the colder months really do affect the carp and their enthusiasm to get on the feed, so I would not really adapt my approach and my venue choice. These days I don't have the luxury of being able to fish every week so it's imperative that my time on the bank is utilised to the best of my ability. Thankfully in the passing years my knowledge and understanding of winter carping has improved and I am now confident that I can keep getting fish in the net and make it worth bearing the more uncomfortable, cold days.
As autumn begins to fade and the temperatures start getting down into the single figures I start to change a few things in my approach and also in my venue choice. My main focus is now to get bites and with that opportunity greatly lowered I need to ensure that every fish hooked results in one in the net. So, my first major change is the venues I select. My desire for big carp takes a back seat slightly and I will opt to fish somewhere that has healthy numbers of carp in it and one that is not too big in size, 3 acres is plenty big enough for me in winter. This means there are less places they could be hiding and my chances of seeing some signs of fish and getting a rig on them is much better than if I was fishing a 10 acre lake with a low stock of fish.
My rig choice mainly stays the same with my bottom baits, with the only real adjustments being a slightly smaller hook and hookbait. But one thing that will now be different for me is that bright, highly flavoured pop ups will be a must on at least one rod at any time. Something like a chod rig, Ronnie rig, or multi rig will be my weapon of choice and the use of each rig will depend on the lake bed. With the fish not having food as the main thing on their mind if you can get a bright hook bait full of flavour and smells in their face then they will have no choice. I will also choose to fish with single hookbaits 90% of the time to ensure disturbance is kept to a minimum and to hope it results in a quick take.
That leads me onto location, never is location more key in fishing than it is in winter. I will make sure that upon arrival I will do a lap of the lake, same as any time of year but now I am looking for much subtler signs. It's highly unlikely that you are going to see them showing themselves so just a tiny patch of bubbles where a fish is sitting in some silt on the bottom just releasing some air bubbles up to the surface is all that you will see. If I am lucky enough that the fish give up their hiding places I will get round to the spot and get a rig in place as quickly as I can. If after a lap I have nothing to go on I will try to find depressions in the lake bed where they may be just sitting up or some features like a fallen tree as I've found in past seasons and years you can often find a few hiding in them.
My first choice of venue was a lake that I had fished a lot when I was younger and I knew a lot about it. It holds a very healthy stock of carp and still has some pretty decent sized ones that run into the low or mid thirties. I've done well here on the past during the winter times and I think another reason for this is that is not too deep so they are most likely to be on the bottom as opposed to a deeper lake where the pressures can make them sit off and up in mid water. So after walking round looking for signs of carp I had a few things to go on which was a good start. The swim I eventually settled on was one of the first swims on the lake and the reason for this was that there just seemed like there were more positive signs of carp actually feeding, there were patches of bubbles in the margin coming up and a few topping out further, so at this point I was certain that a bite was on the cards. So, with no time to waste I got out the essential bits and got the rods out. My first rod was just in the edge to a nice bank of reeds with a 14mm VNX+ bottom bait mounted to my favourite bottom bait rig, which is an adaption of the blowback rig that incorporates the use of silicone tubing to replace the rod ring was used on both rods, the hook holds are immense and I honestly can't remember when I have lost a fish on it. The second rod was fished at a slightly longer range but still only around 40 yards out to where I have seen a few just breaking the surface and a spot I have caught from in previous years. Feeling pretty confident I also introduced a bit of bait as they are known to react well to bait regardless of the time of year. A few pouches of VNX+ over the 2nd rod and a small handful of broken ones along with a handful of the activator pellets for the margin rod. To my surprise the first 2 hours of the session where completely uneventful with not even a pickup to report. Needless to say I was a bit worried at this point. Even though it was still early on in the session I knew I needed to change things and make something happen, so I kept scanning the water and looking up and down the margins either side of my swim and then, just as I was walking back to the swim, a fish showed probably 2 rod lengths off to the right of my longer range spot. I immediately got a fresh bait on and cast just a few feet past where it had showed and kept the rod high so it would swing back onto the spot, all the time feeling the lead 'til it hit the bottom and I knew it was presented correctly. This was just to make sure the lead didn't crash in right on top of it and risk spoiling the chance I had been given. 15 minutes passed and then the rod ripped into action and I was rewarded with my first fish of the day. No record breaker at around 6lb but it was a fish and something to build on. Now I knew that if I could stay on my game and keep finding fish there could be more to come. As I slipped the fish back after a couple of quick photos I looked back up and to my surprise I saw some more activity in the same area. The rod went back out with another 14mm VNX+ on and I was hopeful.
The rod was back out and unfortunately, this time I didn't see and signs of fish there again. I was now into the last couple of hours of my session so I took back to the walks up and down the margins and I saw some movement in some really shallow water, followed by a line of bubbles. I got back to the swim quickly and had the rod in my arms ready to cast.
When I saw the trail of bubbles appear again I cast just in the line of direction they seemed to be heading. I started slackening off the line whilst sinking it as it was positioned only a rod length off the bank one swim down and I wanted my line laying along the bottom to ensure anything moving round that margin would not come into contact with my line. As I was doing so it started to tighten up and the rod was being pulled round and at first I thought the line must of caught on something when I submerged the tip or the rod when sinking it, but it carried on and then it finally registered that I had one on, after no more than 30 seconds of casting to the stream of bubble.
This one felt a lot heavier instantly and with it being in the margins already had a lot of energy to try and make a break for the snags just a bit further down the bank. I kept steady pressure on it to make sure it couldn't get there and thankfully it came round into the open water in front, this fish was another strong one but eventually I got the better of it and I had my third fish in the net. I lifted it onto the mat and it looked a better fish so I got out the scales and hoisted it up and it was a lovely upper double mirror just a few ounces over 18lb.
I had a few liners in the first 10 minutes it being out which led me to believe that they were not too far away and were in fact moving about a little bit, so I sat on my hands and within around half an hour of casting out I was up on my feet and into another carp. After a pretty good fight and me thinking it could be a much better fish I managed to slip the net under a nice mirror of around nine or ten pound, this one definitely had some energy and taking a picture was a bit of a task but I got there in the end and slipped it back.
I was against the clock now with only just over an hour remaining before I had to pack up. I re-baited my rod and kept it out the water waiting for another sign or show from a carp so I could get the rig onto it as quick as possible and sure enough, I saw some signs of feeding just in front of a swim to my right again so I quickly put the single hookbaits on it and my confidence of a bite was high. I started to pack my bits away so I was ready to leave and could keep the rods out longer, maximising my session and it paid off when, with only about 15 minutes left, the alarm gave off a couple of beeps. I bolted up out of the chair and over to the rod and watched the bobbin. It pulled up tight to the alarm very slowly so I paid out a few inches of line and it tightened immediately, so I grabbed the rod and lifted into what was now my fourth fish. Again another good fight, which is great to see as this means the fish are still in good condition and health after what was a very hot summer. Eventually I teased it over the net, another smaller fish at 6lb but I was more than happy with how the session had gone. It wasn't as easy as I had expected due to almost freezing conditions and a change in the air pressure, but true to form and as the name suggests the Successful Baits VNX+ had pulled through once more.
Christmas came and went in a flash and after a busy week for me visiting various members of family and seeing in the new year, it was now time to get back out fishing. This session was arranged by a friend of mine who very kindly got me a guest ticket for a water local to him where he holds a membership. Upon arrival as always we parked up, left the gear and went for a walk hoping to see some fish. To our surprise, after lapping the 2 acre lake in fairly quick time we saw some fish showing on the opposite bank and when I say showing, they were fully clearing the water so, needless to say, we rushed to the cars and quickly grabbed our stuff. When we arrived at the swims we saw an abnormal amount of signs that there were fish about so we got the rods out and were very expectant of a quick bite. A few hours passed with my friend only having one liner, but it was clear that the fish were patrolling the margins and then they started to roll on the surface just a rod length or so out. We looked at each other, both with puzzled looks on our faces and similar thoughts in our heads, they were acting very strange and their activity was almost like when fish are spawning! Obviously it couldn't be that being the time of year and water temperatures being so low and I can only think that this behaviour was a reaction to the big air pressures that had started the day before. As a result we had now lost a bit of confidence for a bite but then my friends right hand rod sprang to life and he was battling what looked to be a decent fish. Up on the scales it went just a few ounces over 18lb so a surprise result for him and it was a nice start to his 2019 fishing.
After that fish was returned I did a few laps of the lake and we noticed that the fish had congregated in a small channel between the bank and the island but they were moving in the top foot of water. They didn't seem interested in feeding and by this point we both made the decision to move to a different lake on the membership ticket in order to try and save a blank for me. We arrived at the second lake with an optimistic view and a new confidence as we knew the lake was well stocked and a fish on the bank was definitely attainable, but we did still have to accept that the current weather conditions could really throw a spanner in the works. We started in an area where an underarm flick was all that was needed to reach the island. I opted to stick with the 14mm VNX+ bottom baits, but I trimmed it down into a pellet shape and threw a couple of handfuls of the 6mm activator pellets over the top. We were constantly watching the water and eventually we located a couple of fish, so I moved around the side of the lake about 6 swims down and flicked the rods out to the showing fish. I still couldn't get a take and by now the light was fading and there was only about an hour left before we had to leave. I started to get my gear sorted out and then, as I looked up, I saw a fish tight to the end of the island but it was extremely right, to the overhanging trees and bushes. I knew I had to take every chance I had so I reeled one of the rods in and baited over to a solid bag. With the bushes and trees all around the island I knew there would be a good chance that the bottom would be very choddy, and as I only had one cast I wanted to ensure that my presentation would be perfect and the solid bag would help me do that and it would mean there would be a bit of bait to add some attraction. The bag was loaded up with the 6mm activator pellets and a few crushed and chopped VNX+ and the whittled down bait on the hair still. I made the cast and it couldn't have gone better, landing within about 6-12 inches of the island. It proved to be a good call to move a rod as only about 15 minutes later the bobbin slowly pulled up tight. I hit it immediately and I was into my first carp of the new year. I can't remember a time that I was so nervous playing a carp of this size but I took my time and soon enough it was in the net. After a stressful days fishing it was a huge relief holding this low double common up for the camera, it had been another successful trip and as much as watercraft had played a big part in all my winter captures so far, bait choice is equally as important in my eyes. Because it's all well and good locating them and getting a rig out there but when it comes down to it the fish are only going to be enticed and feed on a good quality bait holding great flavours and ingredients and the Successful Baits UK range has proven that it has all of those qualities.
What more could you ask for than coming home from a days fishing and being welcomed by a parcel containing the VNX+ traveller baits and some very unique pop ups.
Looks like I'll have to get back out there soon and get some more winter carp on the bank, now what a shame.
Tagged as: Harley Doughty
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