It’s that time of year again when temperatures have dropped and to have any chance of consistent success you really need to get everything as right as possible. Looking at the rig side of things let’s see how you can up your game and your chances in the cold.
Having fished for carp in the cold EVERY year since 1986 and countrywide too let my hard work and (many!) failures put you on a shortcut to success... Here are my Top 10 Rig Tweaks to win you those bonus bites.
Now that’s not something you see written often is it… Having watched hundreds if not thousands of carp anglers fishing for carp in the colder months 90% or more always use PVA in one form or another. Be it a small bag or stick attached to the hook or a stringer PVA ain’t half popular in the cold. It was with me too for a long time.
However some of my friends either by design or laziness started fishing single hookbaits and noticeably were catching more than me. So I changed and my catches improved too. When I am confident in my location I will generally fish single baits in the winter and rely on the attraction of the hookbait alone to get them to make a mistake. To avoid tangles you can just use a PVA nugget.
The problem is even the best PVA can go snotty in the cold and can affect rig mechanics and hooking more than you realise. Nothing can match a correctly positioned single. Also I think there are lots of times when one bait really is enough. If you don’t accept that then how do you think Zigs work? Dropping the PVA has really helped me at times I am sure.
I saw this first hand at Broadwater in the winter of '87 when fishing with Andy Little. I was using 12lb mainline and he was on 8lb which at the time didn’t seem a lot to little old me. That was until he had 14 carp that day to my 6...Not only could he cast further but bite indication was improved which on cold days can be massively important. Of course take into account the weed and snags your water has but if you can then go a lot finer on the mainline.
In open waters I use 8lb and occasionally it will be 10lb for bigger fish but even that can make a difference. If I need to really thump a rig out I’ll add a shockleader. Finer mainline means casting is easier, more accurate and bite indication is magnified.
All year round carp are constantly faced with semi-fixed leads on lead clips. In the colder months they seem less inclined to scream off particularly at range. For fishing at 50 yards plus I am more inclined to use a running lead and always couple that with a heavy lead of at least 3 ounces. Too light a lead will cause it to skid along the bottom when carp hook up which is the last thing you want. It’s important the lead stays in place so the mainline and leader can move so improving bite registration. Point your rods at your end tackle, make sure buzzers are on maximum sensitivity and if you are using a finer mainline and a heavy running lead you will improve bite registration tremendously. No more rod tip knocks and ignoring it...Don’t let them do you over in the cold!
I guess my standard lead size is 2 or 2.5 oz in the summer months but as temperatures drop I play about with lead size. Sometimes carp will not tolerate a heavy lead on their heads so dropping to 1.5 oz is a better idea. It certainly seems to spook them less. However at the other end of the scale when fishing close in over 'mush' I sometimes fish a heavy lead of 4 oz or more with a short hooklength just to trip them up. They get used to certain scenarios and when you vary the scenario that’s when they come undone.
Although it may be different fishing for really big carp of 30lb and more in the cold when fishing for carp of 10-30lb I have definitely found that fining down my hook size has made a difference. In the warmer months my hook is usually a 7 Fang X or Twister but come the colder months it will be an 8 or 10 if the rig mechanics add up. I find that I get a lot more bites on smaller hooks and nowadays these hooks are more than strong enough and super sticky sharp too which helps. Clearly you need to use the correct hookbait size too and right bait attachment but get that right and smaller metalwork gets more takes.
When you drop your hook size you have to reduce the hookbait size too if you want the rig to sit and hook correctly. In the warmer months my hookbaits are 13-16mm, in the colder months it’s 10-11mm I mostly use. These hookbaits are often very visual as I love white and pink to get me a bite. Because they generally are hi-attract there is no less attraction in the smaller baits either. You can trim down standard bottom baits and pop ups to get them smaller with a craft knife or pair of scissors. Fishing over bits of mush, maggots, casters and corn in the cold is brilliant and a small hookbait not a blatant 16-20mm one is perfect.
Most of my carp from March to October come on a hooklength of 7-10 inches from putty to loop knot next to the big ring swivel. It gets poo poohed by some as 'same old same old' but it works and works well so why change a constantly winning combination? However in the colder months I have found changing the length does make a difference when the going gets tough. If fishing over feed I will shorten it right down to 4 inches but when fishing singles I will sometimes go to 16-20 inches if the indicators are silent. An inch or two each way can make a huge difference I promise you!
Most of my carp caught on the bottom come to a coated braid but as water temperatures drop and clarity becomes a problem I do start to vary that hooklength material. Fluorocarbon is great in clear water and with a bottom bait or double bottom bait is one of my starting points. Monofilament is good too in less clear waters as is a stiffer hook material such as Chod Link.
Sometimes just changing the colour or breaking strain will do the trick even though it dosen’t sound much of a change, it is to a carp. On one water I fish although it has a sandy bottom by using a darker hooklength which mirrors the bits of sticks that fall from the overhanging trees you get more takes! Triggalink is brilliant for clued up carp that don’t bolt as the elasticity can really fool 'em...Remember it’s not all just about the material it’s that you’re offering something different.
Rig mechanics are crucial, especially so in the colder months where you may not get multiple ‘enquiries’ at a hookbait. I like to experiment with long hairs and stiff hairs compared to the usual supple and and short hairs we use all summer long. This different length and material can trip them up I can assure you. My starting point for bottom baits would be a longer hair length and for pop ups I want the pivot point stiffer. As long as the hook goes in the mouth you are in with a chance....Sure it’s all variations on a theme but just a slight tweak on how you mount that hookbait helps...
Something that definitely makes a difference is repositioning hookbaits particularly on the more productive and better stocked waters. For whatever reason carp seem more inclined to pick up and make a mistake with a hookbait on some spots instead of others so the further out you fish the more likely it is that you might not be on the money each time. Unless you KNOW you are in the right spot regularly recast at least one of your rods even if if it is only a foot or two left, right, further or closer. It’s amazing how many times a recast gets an instant pickup. Maybe it was right first time but if you’ve had no take maybe they have tested and rejected the hookbait already? Unless you feel you are going to spook them what have you got to lose ? You are not just being lazy are you? Surely not,cough cough......