Chilled Out | Ian Chillcott
First and foremost, I must wish everyone a Happy New Year. The vagaries of time mean that when you read this piece, which I’m writing on 2nd January, we are some way into 2017. I can only hope that the year is successful and makes you happy. As jolly as that may sound, I always find that the beginning of a fresh 12-month period can be a little dull, certainly from a carp-angling perspective. Let me explain.
The festive period is a time of great joy and merriment. The build-up to Santa’s arrival is a time to party, maybe put work-related things on the back burner, and meet up with people we haven’t seen in a while. Presents need to be bought and wrapped, and the holiday period needs to be organised just a little. Life seems good, and a joyful Christmas Day takes us even further from the worries of life; we even forget about the weather as it deteriorates into an Arctic abyss outside the window. On Boxing Day, it’s time to set up the gear that the family presented you with, and a sense of excitement overcomes the next couple of hours.
You may well have decided where you are going to fish, and by morning, the feeling of excitement is an almost touchable thing. It may be cold, but you fail to notice just how icy the car is, and even as you unload the gear, you still don’t know the downside of what you are about to do. That moment arrives – you lower the barrow to the ground and look across to a scene more likely to be inhabited by Torvill and Dean!! Unfortunately, carp don’t celebrate the New Year with as much gusto as we do, and invariably carry on in their normal winter state.
I love the fact that carp fishing can take us so far away from reality. So far, in fact, we fail to find out even the fundamental things which make catching carp just a little easier. A look at the lead-up to Christmas may have given you the reality check you needed, as the fishing this winter has been just about as bad as anyone can remember. Many speculate as to the reason, and I suspect several of those reasons have had, in one way or another, a detrimental effect.
The biggest one for me is the weather; I cannot remember a time when the high air pressure has lasted this long, apart from Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, of course, when the barometer dropped to biblically good levels. However, for me, the festive holiday is all about my family, and the last thing I want to be doing is fishing, although I did look out of the window on the 25th and wonder what the carp were making of this oasis of incredible weather in a barren desert of high pressure and frosty mornings.
I mentioned last month that my winter recce had got off to a great start. I hadn’t expected to be catching lots of fish, but quality was what I was after, and with the arrival of the cold, bleak weather, things seemed to be going very well indeed. As I drove to the lake the week after landing the November giant, I couldn’t help thinking that having landed a 20, a 30 and a 40, all I needed to complete the list was a double. Sounds a bit crazy, I know, but as I set up, that was what I was thinking about.
Winter fishing can sometimes be very predictable, and very often you can set your watch by bite time. All the action I had received on the Essex syndicate so far had come on the second day, between 6.00 and 8.00 in the morning, and as I gazed at my rods at around 6.30, just as dawn started to break on the second day, one of the alarms chirped into life. The battle was lively if short, and soon enough I was weighing a 19lb 4oz common, and pinging off a couple of pictures of the angry beast. All was well with the world, and I couldn’t help but feel I was a little nearer to catching my ultimate target from this lake, a mid-40 called Three Scales.
Well, we can all dream, and from that moment on, that’s all I have been able to do. In fact, I am starting to wonder what the bloody hell a carp looks like! The memory is slipping into a foggy, frosty, and extremely cold distant past. That’s not to say I haven’t continued trying. It is what I do, and as I have said on several occasions, winter is my favourite time for carp fishing. The carp are invariably at their biggest weights, and almost certainly look their best. Who wouldn’t want to catch a cold-water carp? I bet it’s not very many.
I’m not complaining. I can think of nothing better than turning up to fish and finding the water completely void of anglers, with not a sign that anyone has fished there recently. It means I can take my time, without desperately fitting into the nearest available plot; my final choice will be made because of the conditions, and hopefully the carp’s activities. Then finally, after setting my traps, I can sit down and wonder just how big and how many. Oh, how I wish that was true! The solitary existence of the dedicated winter carp angler isn’t as good as I like to make out.
In my opinion, angling pressure is the most influential thing which dominates the movements and eating habits of carp, be that winter, spring, summer or autumn. The lakes are busy in the warmer weather, and there is never a dull moment in a carp’s life, with leads, spods and many other noisy distractions to move them around the pond. In the colder months, however, the vast majority of the carp-angling community will be at home, taking in the latest soap opera instalments, not to be seen until after the Easter holidays. What this means is that the carp can go into a quite natural state of complete and utter inactivity, which is the last place we want them to be – not if we want to catch them.
In the late-1980s and early-1990s, I used to fish the incredibly limited time I had in the army on a local Aldershot lake. The problem I had was that no one in the army went carp fishing, and the membership to the lake was extremely limited to civilian members. All in all, I had the lake to myself for months on end, and one extremely cold and frosty day in January 1989, I decided I would turn myself into five or six anglers. Sounds a touch bonkers, I know, but I reasoned that if I could keep the carp moving, as a busy pressured summer lake would, then I would stand a greater chance of catching them. The lake had fished incredibly slowly during December, and I decided that once I had selected the swim I wanted to fish, I would cast out 50 times in every other swim before positioning my rods for
Now, I am the first person to argue that one incident isn’t the answer to all our prayers. That’s the normal thing which is written about in magazines, and as much as it gives the author something to extol his own virtues, it doesn’t give the reader the honest answer he or she needs to shape their own fishing. The first time I did it I landed several scaly carp to just over 20lb, and I reckoned I might just have come up with something. The next session started and ended in exactly the same way, and that’s when I started to do the same casting several times during the week when I couldn’t fish there.
The action just got better and better, and the following winter turned out to be the same. In fact, it worked every winter, and if I had to go away for some reason, I started all over again. It was when the fishing got difficult on my return that I realised I was doing completely the right thing, and it has become something of a winter tactic for me ever since. It may seem a bit nutty to do such a thing, but I believe that you never know until you’ve tried.
There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and much depends on the type of fishing, and the fish themselves which you want to fish for. In general, the more carp there are in the lake, the more likely you are to catch one. Most of the incredibly overpopulated lakes, where the carp have no natural food source and only anglers’ baits to eat, are always an easy target. If predictability is your thing, then fill your boots! However, as the years go by, I want to fish for carp which are a little more naturally stocked, and ones which present a challenge. Although in modern times it would appear that nothing could be further from the truth, isn’t that what carp fishing is supposed to be about?
In saying that, there is still the selection of a winter water to consider. I have a mind to fish a 180-acre lake in Middle England at some point, but as there have only ever been four captures from the lake over many years, it wouldn’t be the most sensible winter selection, would it? As much as I don’t want my fishing to be as easy as bashing minnows out of the local stream, I would still like to feel I was in with
The lake I am fishing this winter fits the bill very nicely indeed. It’s relatively low-stocked in about 16 acres, but it has a scattering of very big carp. As far away from catching one as I feel right now, there is always the chance, and the more effort I put in, the more likely I am to catch one or two of its residents. After all, isn’t it about the effort you have to put into a campaign that makes the end result more satisfying?
There is another great side to the winter period, and in good old army terms: ‘Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted’. For a kick-off, with so few anglers fishing the waters, you are unlikely to upset anyone if you try to recce new waters. Secondly, the weed infestation will have died down and won’t impair your ability to investigate the lake’s features. So why not use these very positive points to increase your knowledge? Not only does this apply to a lake you are fishing, but also to one that you might want to move on to in the summer months.
Without the weed you gain access to all the nuances of the lakebed, and the last thing I would say on that is don’t rely on any of these new ‘funky’ instruments that can be cast around to get what the manufacturers call ‘the otherwise unobtainable’ vital details you need. There is nothing more informative than a lead and a marker float. Obviously, the float indicates the depth, but the lead tells you what the bottom is made up of, and in my world, there aren’t many things more important than that. Don’t forget to write down all this information. My diary is probably one of the most important things I carry around, and by the end of a 12-month period, it is as battered as a schoolboy’s exercise book.
I am aware that winter carp fishing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and if carp fishing is just something to take you away from the complicated and difficult lives you lead, then I can completely understand why you are a fair-weather fisherman. However, if you want to find out more about the water you are fishing, the carp it contains, and most importantly, more about yourself, then the cold dark nights of winter will give you all the answers you’ll ever need. Once you have discovered how much you want to put into your carp fishing, you will eventually understand just what you can get out of it.
Without doubt, winter carp fishing is my favourite time of year, but I really can’t wait for the weather to start warming up just a little. By the time we meet again, spring will be upon us. The days will be longer and the carp will have enticed more anglers on to the bank. Whatever happens, it is sure to be fun.