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Fishing After The Winter Freeze
Fishing through the winter can be very sobering for any angler, not just carp anglers. Those long, wet, freezing nights fishing mostly for a blank can get us all down. It takes the most dedicated amongst us to continue, but it makes it all worth it for those who catch a special winter carp.
Then, as the days start getting longer and the green shoots begin to grow, we feel a real chance of hearing that bite alarm sound. The weed awakens from its dormant state, injecting more oxygen into the lake and gradually, the lake springs to life.
The carp start moving again but remain in a somewhat drowsy state. Their metabolism is still slow, and this means that if or when they decide to feed, they will take much longer to digest the food they eat. Furthermore, their vision can be cloudy at this time. Therefore, when they become more active again, they look to replace the essential minerals they have lost through the winter by not feeding so much. This is a great time to add salt to your bait or mixes as the carp can crave it to help restore the minerals they've lost. Also, you can use a liquid packed with amino acids like liquid liver as this gives signals to the fish that there is a food source nearby. A bright coloured hookbait is also a good option due to their vision not being so good.
When you start fishing in the early Spring don't go all guns blazing. Remember, you can always give them more bait, but you can't take it back out if you've overdone it. I've fished throughout the winter many times without seeing a soul on the lake. Then, as soon as it starts to warm up, out come all the anglers! I've sat on a lake where the lake is just waking up, but the fish are reluctant to feed. Carp anglers arrive spombing out buckets of bait and not catching off it, then head home 5-6 hours later scratching their heads. When thinking about using bait at the start of the year, think about what it feels like to have a bad hangover or sickness bug. You start to feel hungry but have to take your time to get your stomach used to eating again. The carp haven't eaten properly for months so they are sluggish and not at their best. You can't expect them to get straight on big beds of bait. They don't have stomachs like ours that they fill up, and then let acids break the food down. As they eat, they process it as it goes through them from whole pieces down to what comes out the other end. In this process, they extract all the goodness they need.
Don't get me wrong, we all know that runs water or place where they have matches on all year round. The bait is constantly going in, and the fish are still moving and feeding. You've got a good chance of getting a bend in your rod during winter at places like these, but if you're like me, you avoid these busy waters and seek quieter venues.
When I fish early Spring and up until they get on the feed properly, I'll just fish for one fish at a time. Not all of us have the luxury of sitting or walking the lake for an hour or so looking for fish like they do on certain waters so I will look for pegs that have signs that they have been fished. This doesn't mean I'll fish that spot because I really don't know how much bait has gone in there or where but I may fish close because there's a good chance the fish may have picked up on the bait signals that have been put in and are moving into the area.
Also, I won't necessarily fish a small bright pop up like a 12mm Yellow Pineapple or Pink Zesty one. Often, I will match as close to my free offerings as possible so that when they eat the food boilie free offerings, they will get a buzz off the goodness in it and want more. Hi-Viz Pop ups on their own can work extremely well but I prefer to combine a food source and visual element, using either a snowman hookbait or cut the top third of my hookbait down and replace it with the same amount of a bright pop-up on the top.
As for free offerings, I'll either use a stick mix or a small stringer. In my stick mix, I will grind up some of the boilies I'm using and add fine pellets, a bit of white bread crumb, some crushed hemp and crushed sea salt. I like to use a fiery chili oil to bind the mix together as carp love spice at this time of year. Also the crushed hemp seed activates the mix because of the light particles that float up into the water columns aided by the hot chilli oil, alerting any fish in the area as they filter the flavour through their gills. Finally, the bread crumb acts as an excellent visual and helps absorb a lot of the oil from the mix, and what carp doesn't like bread!
I will only use a small stick, just enough for the carp to have a mouthful of food because I want the best chance of it getting my hookbait if I do get a carp to feed on my spot. If by chance I do get a fish then another quite quickly after, this is when I may choose a pva stringer so that I can get a few whole or halved boilies next to my hookbait. I'd do this knowing that the carp I'd just had wouldn't have eaten all the small particles in the stick mix so I'd be adding more wholesome bait that they are after. Also, when using rock salt, the human grade and not the stuff you get in the yellow grit bins (you may laugh, but I know it has been used!), don't think it just sits there till it's eaten. It will dissolve into the lake bed, and the fish will keep routing around trying to get at it, keeping the fish there for longer.
A few years ago Kevin Nash invited me to go and fish on his Church Lake and me being like most anglers, I did my homework on it, mainly asking my Nash rep who's fished it a lot. He got a picture of the lake and started to mark some feeding spots on there. He kept telling me about one spot in particular where they tested rock salt because they were going to bring it out in their bait range, just rock salt in a bag that could be added to your stick or method mixes. This spot was at the start of the lake in the margin because they wanted to keep an eye on it to see if the carp fed more on this spot than another spot with normal bait on it at the other end of the lake. I'm sure he said that they put one kilo of rock salt and nothing else in the margin that wasn't a known feeding spot and once the carp found it they kept coming back to the same spot for weeks on end and created a crater because they just loved the stuff. The thing is, they weren't feeding on whole rock salt but the taste and the minerals it had deposited into the lake bed as it dissolved. So this is the power of certain items that you can use to give you an edge in your fishing.
I hope there's something here that will help you with your fishing but please remember this is only how I fish. Others may do it another way, and that's completely fine. If we all fished the same way, we would never learn new things!