WINTER CARPING: Myths, Misconceptions and Madness!

Carp fishing in the winter? Are you nuts? They don’t bite do they? Are you nuts?

Winter Madness - He who dares, wins!!
Winter Madness – He who dares, wins!!


The number of times I have been asked these questions and one’s on a similar theme lead me to believe that there are still a lot of misconceptions  regarding Winter Carp fishing. I would point out that these questions are not just from non-anglers but also from people who regularly fish for Cyprinus Carpio.

The First step is Admission:

Now I will start by admitting that I have a problem; I love to fish. Specifically, I love to fish for carp. The thought of putting my rods away for several months is out of the question and thus, I have to fish throughout the winter months. Growing up in England, I am used to inclement weather and fishing in all manner of conditions. I served my apprenticeship fishing for multiple species and spent a few winters targeting various fish before carp took my focus. It helped that during my first few seasons I managed to fish waters where I caught pretty regularly, all through the deepest winter months and I quickly realized if you were willing to brave the conditions there was usually a fish or two that would still be willing to feed.

Not ideal conditions, but the fish will still feed.
Not ideal conditions, but the fish will still feed.


Step 2 – Locate a water to fish:

Having rekindled my passion for carp fishing over the last 3 years it never once crossed my mind that I would not fish for them in the winter. Living in the North East of the country I could be sure I would see some extreme conditions and the main problem would be finding bodies of water that were not completely frozen over! In England, I would target fairly shallow waters (4-8ft in depth) in the winter as these were generally much more consistent and the carp more active. That would not be possible in the North East as by December, pretty much every lake and pond has 6 inches of ice covering it, so I would have to identify a few stretches of river, where the chance of an ice out was much less remote.

The mouth of a river is a great winter spot
The mouth of a river is a great winter spot


Step 3 – Narrow your choices and find the fish:

Over the last three winters I have fished a few different waters, all identified for slightly different reasons. One is a small, intimate River with a very healthy stock of smaller carp (under 20lb’s), another is a warm water outlet on a big river system and the third is a fairly shallow flat (5 foot) just off some white water. In my opinion it is a fallacy to think that carp will only sit in deeper water in the winter. One thing I would agree on is that once they have found a spot they like they will not move around much, if at all. Personally, what I look for is an area where the water is slower (I am primarily fishing rivers in the winter), either off a faster section of water or next to a feature, such as a warm water discharge or weir pool. In deeper water the fish will be sitting in the warmest area of the water column, hence the reason why in shallower areas they become more active in the winter once the sun has been shining for a few hours.

One of my favorite winter swims - a deep bend of a river
One of my favorite winter swims – a deep bend of a river


Step 4 – Little and Often:

There are varying debates as to if carp will truly feed in the winter or not. For instance, around the FFF that CAG runs every year a popular thread appears where this topic is debated vigorously by many individuals. If you want the lowdown on this topic take a look @

I can only believe what I have experienced myself and seen with my own eyes. Carp reduce their movements in sustained periods of colder weather but they will and do feed. I have caught carp from under the ice, in blizzards and in conditions when I should have stayed at home!

A snow carp when the river was virtually iced out!
A snow carp when the river was virtually iced out!
This mid twenty didn't mind the cold temperatures or the snow falling
This mid twenty didn’t mind the cold temperatures or the snow falling

Now I know some will say, they were curious or just picked up the hook bait, but having caught fish that were excreting my bait while on the unhooking mat, I would disagree. The main factor is how much and how often you fish and bait your winter areas. Meaning, that the more times you can keep a steady supply of free bait going into the areas the more active the carp will become and the better your results should be. I generally feed very little bait in the winter when I am actually fishing, but I will regularly put in a kilo or two of freebies when I leave. This could be particles, pack, boilies or anything that takes your fancy. The main thing is that you keep trickling bait in on a little and often basis. If you think about it, once the fish slow down, so does their metabolism. If they are not moving around to feed then they will almost go into a hibernation mode. However, if there is a steady stream of free food, once they start to pick it up they will continue to look for it and become more active. It is no coincidence to me that I have had much better results employing this method.

Boilies - My favorite winter bait
Boilies – My favorite winter bait


Step 5 – How to catch them:

From my short time on the CAG forum I can see there are lots of different styles and methods of fishing that are being employed to catch carp. I am not here to push any specific method and my own approach is to try and filter through what works and doesn’t work for me. I do fish Euro Style, but not all the time. If conditions dictate I will be free lining baits, float fishing or stalking fish. However, on some of the bigger waters I fish this is not really practical.

In the winter, you will find me fishing with bright hook-baits, with more flavor (soaked, sprayed or glugged) and I will also employ a method mix that breaks down very quickly. I very rarely fish a hook bait, without either a piece of plastic corn tipping it off or some kind of fluro boilie attached. This is due to two main reasons, 1) Carp are inquisitive by nature and will often pick-up a bright bait purely to test it out and 2) Carp’s eyesight is considerably reduced in colder water, thus a smelly (glugged) fluro bait is far more visible and easier to find.

Glugged hook baits and fluro's - Great for inducing action in the colder weather
Glugged hook baits and fluro’s – Great for inducing action in the colder weather


Step 6 – Stay warm and keep active:

If you plan to be out in harsh conditions then you’ll enjoy it much more with the correct attire. I layer up, with several base layers to trap the warmth. I also make sure my feet and head are warm as these are the first areas that suffer. I take a flask of coffee or tea with me to stay hydrated as a nice hot drink does wonders in the cold. I am also generally only fishing for short sessions, with 5 hours being typical.

If you have picked the right water (lots of fish) and the right spot (where the fish are sitting) then you should be pretty active. If I know I am in the right spot, I will recast every 15 minutes if the action slows or stops as sometimes it is just a matter of feet between getting a bite or not. I will also have different hook baits on each rod and if one is more effective than the other I will change them to the winning method.

If you get it right the action can be fast and furious
If you get it right the action can be fast and furious


Step 7 – Match you rigs to the fish:

Remember the fish will not be moving around as much so it is usually better to shorten your hook links. Personally I like 5 to 7 inch hook links. I will also match the size of my baits and hooks to the size of the fish. By this I mean if I am fishing for 20lb+ fish I am happy with bigger baits (20mm+) and bigger hooks (size 4’s and 6’s), however if the fish are under 20lb I will be using 10-14mm baits and size 8 and 10 hooks. On my favorite winter water the fish have been pressured quite a bit and are some of the cutest fish I have come across, either here or in Europe. While a hook baited with corn will catch the occasional fish, to consistently catch them you have to refine your methods. As an example on my first winter on the river I caught around 80 carp primarily on chick peas and boilies (bottom baits). Last year, they wised up and takes were very twitchy until I switched to fluro pop-ups on which I doubled my winter total from the previous year. This season pop-ups are virtually ignored, but fishing a snowman rig with a bright fluro has resulted in nearly 100 fish from under ten sessions.

One of my favorite winter rigs - a short combi link with a blow back ring
One of my favorite winter rigs – a short combi link with a blow back ring


Step 8 – Enjoy the Action:

If you get it right and manage to find some fish and get them feeding then the results may surprise you. My own winter fishing is based on areas with a good stock of fish and although they are generally in the

5 to 10lb range they are primarily mirror carp and pretty ones at that. While the rest of the year I can be found targeting fish in excess of 40lb’s, in the winter I am looking for action and lots of it! The main goal in the winter is to catch and have fun while doing it.

Not the biggest carp - but one of the prettiest winter carp I have ever caught
Not the biggest carp – but one of the prettiest winter carp I have ever caught


The main thing to remember is that you can’t catch the fish if you are not fishing. I personally get great satisfaction from catching carp in the harshest of conditions and it all adds to your confidence, which to me is a big part of fishing. If I have tried and tested rigs and baits in the winter and I am happy with them, I can concentrate on other aspects when I am fishing for bigger fish. I cannot guarantee that you will catch, but here are my tips in review:

  • Location, Location, Location – Choose your target waters and then do your research to find suitable areas where the fish might congregate in the colder weather. This is by far the most important part.
  • Choose your times wisely – Pick days when the weather patterns are stable or at the beginning or end of a cold spell. Bright sunny days are my favorite, even if temperatures are below freezing.
  • Keep the bait going in regularly – If you can keep a steady supply of bait going into your spot(s) the fish will remain active and feed, even in the depths of winter.
  • Bright and Smelly – The use of bright hook baits or soaked and glugged baits will generally attract more interest.
  • Pack or method – If using pack or method, remember the temperature will have a marked effect on breakdown time. The harder and stodgier you make your mix the longer it will take to break down. My personal Winter Method mix is: 50% liquidized bread, 20% grits, 20% Dynamite Frenzied Hempseed ground-bait and 10% oats. I mix this with a can or two of creamed corn and also add a large can of value sweet corn. This mix breaks down in under a minute, even in the coldest of water.
  • Match your rigs to the size of the carp and conditions – If fishing for smaller fish, scale down your hooks and bait size. Shorting your hook links will also help as the carp move around less.
  • Stay warm and active – Layer up and regularly recast and re-bait if action is slow. The fish stay in tight groups in colder weather and until you have located them it pays to keep moving your baits around the area.
  •  Enjoy the scenery and tranquility – Unless you fish with a friend you will probably have the whole river or lake to yourself!


Good luck to all those who venture out to brave the elements. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do and that you achieve any and all of your goals.

My winter goal achieved - 33lb+ common in the snow
My winter goal achieved – 33lb+ common in the snow