Location is the most important part of winter carp fishing. Rob Hughes gives you his guide to where the fish are hiding....
You can only catch what’s in front of you, and that applies whether you are a top-end matchman, a speci hunter, or a weekend warrior. It goes without saying then that you need to put yourself where the carp are.
In the winter months that can be a little trickier than usual. Wind, weather, angler pressure and also the availability of food all have an effect on where the carp are likely to be.
A very simple way of kicking off your location plans is to think about the water temperature. One degree is a significant difference to a fish and while they do want to keep as warm as possible, they also don’t really like big changes in temperature. Constants are a favourite area in the bleak mid-winter with the opportunity of a warm up now and again.
A quick science lesson
As water cools it sinks. However, once it cools below 4 degrees it rises again. It’s a natural protection system that means the bottom of a lake should never freeze and it means that ice forms at the surface.
Ice acts as an insulator to prevent the water underneath getting even colder and if it froze from the bottom up, whole lakes would become ice blocks and everything in them would die.
What this means is that the colder water isn’t at the bottom of the lake at this time of year. In the middle of winter when the lakes freeze sporadically, the bottom layer will always be at 4 degrees. In very cold water the 4-degree layer will rise almost all the way to the surface. Eventually the surface layers will chill and freeze, and in warmer periods the surface may rise a degree or two.
Beware though. While the sun has a heating effect, water warms and cools much slower than air so it won’t be a lot. It takes a few days of sun to warm the water up, and that usually comes with colder nights which will chill it back down again.
Wind has a bigger warming effect as it mixes the water and that’s why you generally find carp on the surface in shallow, out-of-the-wind areas in winter, and when it’s windy they will be a little lower in the water out of the mixing zone.
At this time of year the chances of the fish moving around the pond and stumbling across your bait are much less than in the warmer months so it’s important to get as close to them as possible. Where then, is the best place to be?
The first thing I would say is do not, under any circumstances, ignore the shallow water. They can be up in the surface layers or right in the shallow margins. I’ve seen fish sit just underneath ice and 3ft of water seems to be a favourite on a few lakes I’ve fished recently.
Middle of the lake
Open water in the middle of the lake can sometimes be a great winter spot, especially if the fish are pressured as there isn’t that much line to harass them. They can be on the deck or up in the water, and in the middle of the lake they are very often close to the surface, even in cold conditions.
My favoured area, the north bank, will get the most sun, and the north-east corner will avoid most of the chilling effect of the cold winds. If there are snags in the north-east corner then you onto a sure-fire winner. I’ve had winter Orchid fish from the north-east snags and it has often proved to be the most consistent peg on the lake.
Cold water sinks until it reaches 4 degrees, but it can also be bumpy and not very constant right up top because of the wind and the cooling effect. Mid-water over the deeper bits is good, and very often 18 inches off the deck is a place they feel comfortable. If there is a variation in the bottom all the better. Cast into the deeper water but fish the bait on the shallower line
Reeds in the margins are ok, but big beds offer sanctuary especially if the reeds encroach into the lake a long way. The carp will have channels into them and the wind does not affect the movement of water so much, thus allowing the sun to warm the water more and the wind to mix it less.
Wherever the food is
If the lake is fished regularly then the carp will often hang out where the food is. While we’ve said that they don’t like to move around for food in case it’s not there, they will loiter in an area if it is known to receive a lot of bait.
Bars and drop offs
Variations in the bottom allow the fish to move up and down in the water and still be by something, thus feeling safe. A zig just off the side of a gravel area in shallower water can be a good bet as they get more light and heat up there on calm sunny days.
Everyone’s favourite always used to be weed, but to me that’s a myth that’s been carried on for years when we didn’t really know what was happening. Yes carp like weed, but when they burrow into it they are either not feeling well or will be going onto a deeper hibernation so will not be as catchable. Just off the edge of a weed bed is a much better spot.