My Winter... - Garry Carlton
Winter fishing can, at times, be a little like Marmite, you either love it or hate it. In recent years I have become a lover but this hasn't always been the case. I can recall, many years ago, shivering under a brolly, curled up on a garden centre sun lounger, swathed in an army surplus sleeping bag trying to stave off the effects of hypothermia while desperately clutching at a luke-warm cup of tea, hoping against all hope that a miracle may occur and a carp may actually pick up one of my hookbaits.
To say things have changed for the better would be a massive understatement. Now-a-days there are cozy 365 sleeping bags, multi-layered thermal suits, spacious bivvies with the addition of winter wraps. Over the years a host of other major advances in bankside creature comforts have made the whole exercise a much more enjoyable affair. Add to this stunning sunsets and sunrises, crisp, cold nights with big bright moons and star spangled skies, relatively empty banks and the opportunity to land a pristine winter carp, and all of a sudden cold-water carping becomes a whole lot more appealing.
My first ‘Winter’ outing of 2017 was at the back end of November. I hadn't managed much time on the bank over the latter end of the summer and autumn due to my better half, Wendy, having to undergo an ankle operation, which put her out of action over this period, and, as such, I was itching to get bankside.
I arrived at the lake around dinner time on Saturday, to find it surprisingly deserted and did a quick reconnaissance lap with Bane, the trusty carp hound in tow. There were no indications as to where the fish may be, so I decided to set up shop half-way down the lake and spread my rods as far and wide as possible to see if I could drop on them.
Afternoon soon turned to night and I sat up watching the water, which was now like a mill pool, until around 10pm, but there was no sign of any carp activity. I decided to retire, with a plan to rise early and reposition the rods to try a few different spots throughout the day. This never transpired though as my beauty sleep was shattered shortly before dawn, by an absolute one-toner on the middle rod.
As I ran from the bivvy I was almost blown off my feet! During the night the wind had picked up and it was now blowing an absolute hurricane. The surrounding trees were practically bent at right angles and waves were crashing into the bank as I played an angry carp toward me. I picked up the landing net and the wind nearly whipped it out of my hand, somehow I managed to sink it in the margin and draw the fish over the cord. I was thrilled to bits with a chunky mirror of 19lb and decided to pack up early and head for home before getting blown across the Lincolnshire fens.
My next trip coincided with a real cold snap on the lead up to Christmas and I arrived at the lake to discover three quarters of it frozen over and, unsurprisingly I had it to myself. The north west corner was the only area fishable and I seriously considered taking the 80 mile trip straight back home.
There were a couple of holes in the ice further out in the lake, one of which was very close to where I had caught on my last visit, but these were completely cut off. I stood staring at the scene before me and began to formulate a plan. If I could break a path to one of these “holes” I may be able to get a rod on the money, and with this thought in mind I set about casting a heavy lead and marker float at the near edge of the ice. This turned out to be easier said than done but, after two hours of arm-aching exercise, I finally managed to clear a channel, just enough to cast a baited rig into the hole and sink the line under the ice. Time was getting on, and with just an hour of daylight remaining, I decided on just two rods, the right hand rod fished in the hole with the left-hander simply cast to the edge of the ice as a token gesture.
An hour of darkness had elapsed before I'd finished setting up home and I was absolutely starving. I rustled up some grub and settled down to eat with festive songs playing on the radio and just as Roy Wood declared he wished it could be Christmas every day the bobbin on the right hand rod smashed into the blank to the tune of a screaming alarm.
This was a rather desperate fight with the rod tip sunk in the margins as the fish shot off under the ice, making a beeline for the opposite bank. Eventually I managed to coax it into the clear area in front of me and in to the net, another cold water carp in the bag, this time a mirror of 18lb 4oz, I was well happy.
By now Wendy was starting to hobble around the house on crutches and was eager to get back out herself, so, during the Christmas period, on the 29th of December, we set off down the A1 for a 24hr session. We arrived at the lake at dinner time and headed straight to the same area I had been targeting on my previous visits, I fished the left side of the swim and Wendy fished to the right. Just as the light was fading my right hand rod signaled a take and a scraper 20 graced the net. Two hours later, the same rod was away again and a 15lb mirror was landed and, in the early hours, Wendy landed a beautiful fully scaled mirror of around 12lb.
It was interesting to note, both my fish had been on my right hand rod and Wendy's on her left hander, these rods were fished very close together and it was obvious that the fish were tightly stacked up in a relatively small area.
We used minimal free offerings, just dotting a few Vita-lac boilies around the spot, and fishing either a Vita-lac or a 365 pop-up, doused in the respective bait spray. It certainly seemed to be doing the trick and our next venture down, a short trip of around 14 hours, saw another three fish landed, two 21lb mirrors for me and a cracking upper double for Wendy. Once again, the fish came from a very tight area and we began to fish our rods closer together as casting anywhere else proved fruitless and we ended up with two rods each in the zone.
Late January saw us back for a 24hr trip and this time a strong south westerly was blowing across the lake and we began to get liners as soon as the baits were cast out. I was soon into the first of the session, a common of around 13lb and it was interesting to see the incredible number of leeches attached to this fish. All of the carp we had landed had a number of leeches present but this one was off the scale! Later in the day I lost a fish to a hook pull before landing my second, a cracking mirror of 16lb, full of attitude with bristling fins.
Surprisingly, the night passed without event but, just after sunrise, Wendy was into one and it fought like a demon, picking up one of my lines in the process, and a bit of knit one, purl one ensued before we managed to untangle our lines and slip the net under an amazing looking common of 21lb 12oz. This fish had a huge paddle and white tips on all of its fins and looked like it could well be part koi, a real beauty.
As the day wore on the sun came out to brighten things up but the wind increased in strength making it feel bitterly cold and it seemed like another bite was unlikely when, out of the blue, my right hand rod went into meltdown. This one instantly felt bigger than the rest and wallowed around the middle of the lake, refusing to come in. I would gain a little line and it would instantly take it back, this seemed to go on for ages before I managed to gain ground and my marker elastic finally passed through the rings! A long powerful looking mirror was slipped into the net and on the mat it looked an upper twenty but the scales revealed a weight of 24lb 4oz and I was in no way, shape or form disappointed.
Our last outing of the winter was one week later, at the beginning of February, but the conditions on this occasion didn't fill us with confidence! It was bitterly cold and the stiff north easterly felt as sharp as a knife, but this would be our last chance to go fishing before March, so we made the effort nonetheless. Once again we dropped on the same spot and we knew the fish were still present due to the twitchy liners we were receiving, but it wasn't until several hours into darkness before a pick-up was registered, once again on my right hand rod. The result was a chunky mid-double mirror, which was soon returned and our final fish fell to Wendy's rods in the early hours, another beautiful double figure fully scaled.
Spring is now well and truly in the air and, although I love this time of year when everything begins to wake up, I can honestly say I was a little sad to see the winter come to an end, as was such an enjoyable one.