Those of you that know me will know the winter is my favourite time of the year. Over the years, the vast majority of my biggest Carp and Bream have come during the colder months. The water, in most cases, is at its clearest, and as a result, stealth becomes an even more important factor. For sure, there is less fish activity and location is a vital aspect at this time of the year. I have talked before about fishing during the colder months, but in essence; avoid areas that are continually hit by the cold North, NE, NW winds.
I have no doubts you all have your own go-to rigs, and I am not suggesting you change your set-ups. The whole idea of this article is to get you, and me, thinking, perhaps differently, or maybe a little left field, either way, sharing our ideas. Just writing this makes me think of new concepts and ideas. I believe it is too easy to take things for granted. For sure the cliché’ “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is on the money. However, if you are anyway like me, you’ll always be looking for a way of improving things. I am a firm believer, especially on big waters, that we don’t even scratch the surface or come close to catching what’s in front of us. You often hear someone say, so-n-so fish was caught last week, having not been seen for two years… and that’s on a small water. My point is that I firmly believe we can always improve things. It is nice to have the latest rods, reels, and bite indication, but if the last few inches are wrong, the new gear is pointless.
So, let’s get back to the rigs… When the water is cold, the small fish become semi-torpid (slow down and eat less) whereas the ‘big girls’ that have a bigger body mass, and continue feeding. In the past, many people believed that carp and bream on large still waters stopped feeding from November onwards. I think most of us now know that is not the case. Therefore, with all the aspects of winter fishing in mind, and considering there is little or no natural food available, you approach needs to be thoughtful of these factors. Feeding your swim can be difficult to judge at this time of the year, but a rule of thumb must be a small amount of low feed content at the start of your session. Well-boiled particles, liquidized corn and maize, a little quantity of fine bread crumb (as a binder/carrier), crumbed boilies, 2mm light pellets, maggots, and chopped worms would be in my list of feed. I would also add some molasses, scopex, or something similarly sweet at this time of the year. You can always top it up later during the session, but if you put too much in at the start, it’s game over. We all know that fish develop a sweet tooth in the winter, and this primarily, is because the last sustainable food sources are the berries falling from the trees and bushes. Ideally, you want to get the fish grazing on the tiny samples, and then start looking for something a little more substantial – your hook bait. As a side note and this is purely personal, I rarely feed whole boilies during the colder months. If a fish makes its mind up and finally decides to eat a decent-sized bit of grub, I want it to be the one on my rig.
A stunning winter sunset
I believe that you need to think carefully about your bait presentation when feeding like this. Now I have always liked small hooks and tiny baits all year round, believing it will get you a bite, especially on difficult waters. However, when fishing at this time year, the importance of a similar approach magnifies once the water temperature starts dropping below 10 degrees. So, with that in mind, I have listed my go-to rigs for big winter fish. I hope, if nothing else, this gets you thinking differently about winter fishing. Trust me; if a fish stops feeding for 6 months, it will probably die.
Below are my go-to rigs winter rigs. When I start any winter campaign, particularly on a new venue, I will systematically work my way through most of these rigs until I get positive results. Although, I will say that one of my rigs always involves a worm. I would like to say here that I tend to use November and December as learning months. That way, when we get to the critical months of January, February and March, I am sufficiently confident to stick with it, no matter how cold it gets, and these months can and will get seriously chilly. One of my best Bream hauls, four fish over 16lb, came on a night when we had 4 inches of snow. Similarly, most of my biggest carp have come during October and November and January to March
Believe in your rig and your bait, and stick it out. I actually love it when it gets silly cold – as long as the lake isn’t frozen – wrap up, kettle on, nice hot food, good company, and the chance of a real monster… I adore all the things that winter brings, fabulous sunsets and sunrises, three feet of mist hanging over the glass-like water. Then you hear an almighty splash, and seconds later, out from the mist, ripples appear. You know you are in the right area.
So, Rigs, in no order of preference:
- Worm rig
Over the years, worm has accounted for many of my biggest winter bream and carp. When you do hair rig lobworms or dendrobaenas, there is a danger that the worms will wriggle free from the hair. Having tried many variations, the rig below seems to be the best and most secure. When fishing during the colder months, the last thing you want is a bait-less hook. By using the Drennan or Korda ‘quick-stops’, which stay on the hair, means the worms can’t wriggle the hair stop off and ultimately leave you with a bare hook.
- Maggot rig
Maggots have been a go to bait for the dedicated winter carp angler for many years. There are, however, many ways to fish maggot during the colder months. Below you will see my preferred rig. I have tried most of the conventional styles, such as loaded up maggot rings, packing as many as you can onto a hair, also using a needle and cotton to create a ball of maggots and then tying this to the hook or hair. By using latex maggots on the hair, and real maggots on the hook, means I always have something to attract a bite, even if the small fish have managed to remove the live maggots. For sure, they will not pull the artificial maggots from the hair and in most cases actually seem deterred by the fake maggots. Well, it certainly seems true for the nuisance size silvers.
- Bug rig
Trout, Salmon and Sea anglers have used artificial bugs/flies as a fish attractor for many years. Large Salmon style flies have been used more recently for Pike. Only over the last couple of years have we started using artificial bugs and insects for Carp. Kevin Nash has helped this to become a mainstream method. As a result, Nash Tackle offers an extensive range. Many anglers have started using these over the last couple of years, and that includes me. Fishing articles and videos suggest using these bugs on Zig-Rigs at depths between two and ten feet off the bottom, with many experts suggesting mid water as a starting point.
However, I use mine differently. I believe that most insects eaten by fish are either on or very close to the bottom, or from the surface. For a fish to take a bug in mid water requires the fish and the bug to be in the same place at the same time. I am sure you will agree that luck will play a big part in this. I really hope this doesn’t come across as pompous, but I would rather avoid anything to do with luck at anytime of the year, let alone during a cold winter session. Yeah for sure, we do all need luck, and you can improve your chances with zig mixes. However, as we are talking winter here, I really do not want to fill the fish up with a huge cloud of free grub.
So, for my winter sessions, I fish my bugs an inch or two from the bottom. (See below). Importantly, you will see that once again, I involve maggots because one or two on the hook will give the bug a live feel and taste. In addition, I crush and few maggots or worms and soak the bugs in either or both. A bug might attract the attention of a finicky fish, but if there is no taste or movement, it will be spat out and you’ll be lucky if you get a single beep. Do not give them a reason or chance to reject your offerings. Make sense, I really hope so, because I believe this way of thinking catches fish on even the hardest of venues.
- Octopus rig 1
- Octopus rig 2
If you hadn’t noticed, I like something that wriggles during the winter months, and the next two rigs illustrate this perfectly. Rig 1 involves using a sinking boilie and two halves of a dendrobaena between the boilie and the hook. Rig 2 uses a pop-up next to the hook with the two halves of worms on the end of the hair. With rig 2, I would suggest using a quick stop to avoid the worm wriggling the hair stop free. In both cases, I use 10 or 12mm baits as a maximum, although I have no doubts, this will work with bigger boilies. I just think it is easier to get a grumpy old wary carp to take a small bait on a little hook. I have only been using this rig since last September, however, it has been responsible for a good number of decent fish. I developed this rig to use on a venue where the fish just wouldn’t take a boilie on its own. It worked there and has subsequently worked everywhere I have used it.
- Small pop-up rig
Small pop-ups are not a new thing; it is just something I often use to nick a bite. I guess the difference is, I use them very close to the bottom, i.e. 1/2 inch off the bottom. I always combine 8-10mm pop-ups with scarily little hooks. I find once the fish start to graze then it is far easier for them to take a small bait, whereas it is easy for them to ignore a 20mm bait. It is worth reiterating here that although the fish continue to feed at this time of the year, their appetite isn’t as ravenous as the warmer months.
- Small boilie, blow back rig
This is the same logic as the small pop-up, scaling it all down will get you a bite, even during the coldest, hardest conditions.
- Triple 8mm boilie rig
This is an interesting rig because although you are using small baits, it often attracts the attention of the bigger fish. For some reason, smaller specimens seem to avoid it. There is no obvious reason why this rig should work, although I do believe it appears as a pile of small free offerings. I have used this rig to cast to single showing fish. I combine it with a very small PVA bag, or a PVA string/necklace of similar size offerings. It works brilliantly in shallow water and will often produce a bite very quickly. I do use it in deep water and specifically while fishing Ardleigh Reservoir where the depths were mostly in excess of 16 feet, it was by far and away the best bait.
- Reverse snowman rig
This rig is something that I came across by accident. Instead of placing the pop-up away from the hook, I did the reverse, by accident. I was just about to change it and instead decided to have a look at it in the margins. It sat beautifully, and actually cocks the hook ready to nail the bottom lip. You do need a little bit of tungsten close to the hook to hold it in place, but once you have, well… see the illustration below, and it will become blatantly clear. This has caught me a quite few fish year round, especially on those venues where the fish are finicky through under-fishing as opposed to over-fishing.
- Single Pellet blow back rig
Often we chuck loads of pellet at the fish all year round, completely free. We do use pellets on the hair, but for some reason, we can’t help ourselves and end up adding a bit of plastic corn, half a pop-up and so on. Yet, when you think about it, fish gobble up these free samples of pellet without any concern, primarily, because there is rarely a hook involved. Once again, especially from shy fish that have seen it all before, a single 8 or 14mm pellet – with nothing else – will nick you a bite. Some of them old fish have seen every shape, colour and flavour of boilie and have good reason to ignore it, whereas a single pellet, well…
- Butterfly rig
This is for those venues where the fish have seen it all before. By butter flying your boilie, you are giving the fish something they rarely see. You can mess around with this as much as you like. For example, you can add a bit of corn in the middle, or a small drilled pellet – haha, which goes against the above suggestion – a bit of coloured foam, the list is endless. Also, you might want to try messing around with the shape too and that included two halves of a dumbbell.
Well, I hope some of these rigs have at least made you think a little differently.
Have you ever wondered why the fish are over your baited area, taking all the free samples, and ignoring your bait completely? If this is the case, then change something, even if it is only by the tiniest margins. If you have got fish in front of you, they are there to be caught, so catch ’em… tweak it, alter it, change your hook size, hook length, do something. If you sit there with the fish eating all your free samples and you let them get away with it, the fish are mugging off you and more importantly, you’re mugging yourself off. Bit harsh, and I am sorry for that, but you have to be honest with yourself. Do you want to be a member of excuse’s corner, or catch fish?
Just one more thing before I go. If you want to improve your bait flavour this time of the year, here is a trick. Take enough hook bait for one session, place it is a small pot and soak it your desired glug-dip etc. Then place it in the freezer overnight, and the following morning, loosen the lid and place in the microwave on full power for 30 seconds. Close the lid back up and let it warm gradually. This will infuse your bait so much more than merely soaking it. It will still smell the same after several hours in the water and importantly, your bait won’t soak up the horrid taste of rotting leaves. And, if you are fishing in the margins, near trees, this is something you must think about. Next time you are fishing near trees at this time of the year, smell your bait, often it stinks.
I really hope this helps in some small way, even if it just gets you messing around with your own preferred rigs.