Many carp anglers avoid fishing during the cold months of the year, but carp fishing in winter can actually be quite rewarding, if you are using the right tactics, that is.
In order to catch carp during the winter, the best tactic is either to fish smaller single baits on or just off the bottom, or a zig bait higher up in the water. You should also be fishing during daytime and seek out either the deepest parts of your venue or if there is warming sunlight, shallow areas with a lot of vegetation.
Continue reading this in-depth article and find out everything you have to know in order to be ready for those cracking winter carp!
Can You Catch Carp in Winter?
While carp are generally less active during the colder months of the year, they still have to feed on a more or less regular basis.
So, it’s not really about how much they will feed this time of year, but rather when they will do so. Study the feeding routines of the carp in your venue and see when they are active during the day.
Look for fish breaking the surface, feeding bubbles, or movement in the thick vegetation of your lake or river.
And most importantly, get fishing! Try to cover every hour of the day and see when exactly the fish are active and biting, as cold water carp often follow rather strict and short feeding routines.
If you can figure out when to catch them, you will already have come a long way. Then, you simply have to figure out the how, and this article is going to assist you in that regard!
Best Method to Catch Carp in Winter
During the winter months, you should most definitely stick to ledgering for carp.
For one thing, casting out several ledger rods will allow you to target different spots simultaneously so that you can find the feeding hot spots.
In winter, carp move around far less than during the rest of the year, and so finding their preferred hideouts and feeding areas by frequently recasting and thereby moving around your rigs will most certainly raise your chance of hooking up to a slow winter carp.
Fishing with more than one rod and setup also allows you to test different rigs and water depths, in order to further optimize your winter carp fishing.
For another thing, heavier carp rods enable you to cast your rigs further out in order to reach deeper water, which is where many carp will be found in cold water.
When it comes to rig choices, simplicity is often key when it comes to winter carp. I have had a lot of success with the following rigs:
The Simple Hair Rig
If you are fishing over clean bottom, presenting a single boilie on the hair rig directly on the deck is a brilliant choice for winter carping.
Try to keep your hooklength extremely short, as the carp will most likely not move more than absolutely necessary after having picked up your bait. This of course means that the fish should be bolted as quickly as possible.
I have found that a maximum hooklength of 3-4 inches works very well for slow-moving winter carp.
The Pop-Up Rig
If you are fishing over chod and plant matter, meaning leaves or dead weed, a critically balanced pop-up rig is the way to go!
Similarly to the hair rig, your hooklength should be rather short, and the pop-up should be fished only a couple of millimeters off the bottom.
Just make sure your hook doesn’t catch any leaves or weed when it’s in the water, as this can impact your presentation quite negatively.
The Zig Rig
The zig rig is a secret winter weapon when it comes to carp! Many anglers actually disregard its advantages in cold water and never fish this rig during winter.
The zig rig allows you to fish higher up in the water, using a rather long hooklink and a buoyant hookbait, targeting carp that seek out the sometimes warmer upper layers of a venue.
Anything from a foot off the bottom, to mid-water, and even just below the surface could potentially hold a carp in winter!
The very bottom of a lake or river is not always the warmest point of a venue, especially if there is sunlight warming up the upper layers of the water.
If you simply cannot catch any winter carp on or close to the bottom, you should definitely give the zig rig a good try!
What Baits Should You Use for Winter Carp?
When using boilies for carp in winter, make sure to only use single baits of a smaller diameter. Boilie sizes of 10-15mm are a great winter bait size that carp seem to prefer this time of year.
As they feed smaller quantities of food, this makes absolute sense, doesn’t it?
When it comes to flavors, I much prefer using fruity and nutty baits in winter. I think such scents spread themselves much better in the cold water, which is why fishmeal- and oil-based boilies such be avoided!
One truly amazing such boilie is the legendary DT Bait Coldwater Green Beast. This boilie is used by many anglers all over the UK and most, if not all of them, swear by it! It has a strong sweet and fruity scent to it, which is perfect for cold water carp.
It can be an absolute game-changer during winter and is definitely worth a try! You can take a closer look at this brilliant winter bait here
The same sizes and flavors that work well for boilies apply to pop-ups as well!
Additionally, you should definitely try out high visibility pop-ups during winter. This type of bait has major advantages that can make a lot of difference:
- better visibility in dark water and/or poor light conditions
- better visibility near or over thick vegetation
- the fluorescent colors of high viz pop-ups can arouse far more curiosity
Personally, high viz pop-ups are my number one choice when it comes to winter carping! But always make sure to try different baits in different situations and conditions!
I can strongly recommend Mainline’s classic range of high visual mini pop-ups. I have used them for many years (and not only in winter) and they have never disappointed.
This particular pop-up comes in a size of 12mm, which I find perfect when fishing the pop-up rig in cold water.
Zig Rig Foam
Zig rig foam is definitely the oddball here, but let me tell you that this much underrated winter bait can land you a lot of carp!
Zig foam pieces come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. As always, I like to keep it simple and straight forward! Fish with foam pieces that have a size of 6-12mm and a good buoyancy to them, as it is important for the bait to reach those upper water layers.
The color is somewhat secondary, but I like to take advantage of well-visible and bright colors here is well. Anything that is green, yellow, or white can be recommended.
Pro Tip: Soak your zig foam in some super smelly fruity boilie dip. As the foam will soak up the liquid, it will keep the flavors going for a very long time. This can further boost your zig bait!
Gardner has a great range of zig rig foams that both come in highly visual colors and are super buoyant. It’s definitely a trustworthy bait and it is very decently priced.
How to Prebait for Winter Carp Fishing?
In cold water conditions, less is always more! Try to prebait small amounts of free offerings on a regular basis in order to attract the carp to your swim.
There is really no need for large quantities this time of year, as the carp simply do not need as much as during the rest of the year.
Large-scale prebaiting can also lead to overfed fish, which then of course won’t go for your hookbait anymore.
So, instead of heading out to the lake once or twice before your actual session and hammering out kilos and kilos of boilies, head out more frequently and prebait small amounts of bait. We are talking handfuls here!
These scarce offerings will keep the carp engaged and in the area until you actually start fishing without overfeeding them. Because if they do get too much food, the game is basically lost!
Similarly while fishing, you should only loosefeed a few boilies though and then, just to keep them interested enough to stay where they are.
I even avoid using PVA sticks during winter, as the extra food in them will only distract them from the actual hookbait.
Once again: less is more in winter!
Where Should You Fish for Carp in Winter?
The deeper areas of your venue should definitely be your number one target, as it is here that the water is at its warmest during winter.
Not only do the carp enjoy an extra degree or two down there, but their food will as well! In cold water, a lot of insects are hiding out in the deeper parts of a venue.
An exception to that rule applies during days when there is sunlight hitting the shallower areas of the water. All life beneath the surface is drawn to that short-lived light and warmth, as it otherwise is such a scarcity during winter.
And so, when you are fishing on a sunny winter day, try to cast at least one of your rigs close to some, preferably thick vegetation. Especially if you are detecting any type of fish movement in there.
That vegetation, be it weeds, reeds, overhanging trees, or bushes, is biomass that will radiate warmth all around it, if an when it gets hit by that scarce winter sunlight.
For a short period of time, such places become some sort of underwater heating system, and both smaller insects and fish, as well carp can now be found there.
So, do not disregard the shallows in winter, even if your logic tells you not to target such areas. There could be more carp than you may expect!
Pro Tip: It is especially in these shallower areas that the zig rig can play out its full potential!
When to Fish for Winter Carp?
During the cold season, carp tend to feed mostly during the daytime, which is exactly when you should be fishing for them.
Of course, bites during the dark hours of the day do occur as well, but a majority of winter fish are caught in broad daylight.
That said, it can absolutely be a good idea to start fishing before first light, just in order to get your gear in order and your rods in the water. It’s just an effective way to maximize your session and to avoid stress while fishing!
For me, the afternoon has always produced most fish in winter, but that certainly differs from venue to venue. Generally though, the time in which the carp will feed in winter will always be similar, no matter where you fish.
hence, if you manage to time these specific feeding periods, you will be successful even during the winter!
Best Weather for Winter Carp Fishing
The perfect weather conditions for winter carp are the following:
- calm-moderate winds from the South or Southwest
- a stable barometric pressure in the lower regions
- temperatures above freezing
- heavily overcast (for fishing in greater depths)
- sunny (for fishing the shallows or upper layers)
Of course, there is no perfect weather recipe when it comes to fishing!
But if you head to the bank with at least some of those conditions present, you can increase your chances of catching carp in winter significantly!
Carp Care in Cold Weather Conditions
In cold weather conditions, it is extra important to take good care of your catches on land! The cold temperatures, frost, snow, or ice can seriously damage the your carp.
Here are a few valuable tips for handling carp in winter:
Use an Unhooking Mat or Carp Cradle
In milder weather conditions, using a standard unhooking mat is totally sufficient to take good care of your catches.
However, as the carp’s tissue and gills can be significantly damaged by cold air, it is absolutely crucial for you to use a carp cradle with water in it if and when you are catching in temperatures below the freezing point.
The water in the cradle will protect the carp from serious, or sometimes even fatal injury (gill freeze).
Pour Water Over the Fish
Regardless if the carp is on a mat or in a cradle, make sure to continuously pour fresh, new water over it. This provides further protection to its tissue and gills, as well as much needed oxygen.
Pro Tip: Take water directly from the lake just before you land the fish. Do not let it sit in a bucket or the cradle during your entire session, as its oxygen levels will decrease and, if you are fishing in really cold temperatures, its temperature might drop too drastically, which in turn can create shock and damage to the carp.
Avoid Sacking Carp
As the shallow areas of most venues can suffer from oxygen depletion during certain periods in winter, try to avoid retaining carp in a sack or sling. Handle it on land and then return it safely as fast as possible.
Unhook Smaller Fish in the Water
If you have landed a smaller specimen that is perhaps not worth weighing or photographing, do yourself and it a favor and unhook and release it while keeping your landing net in the water.
You are now ready to target winter carp and I really hope that this article will help you catch plenty of them out ther ein the cold.
I wish you the tightest of lines, and don’t forget to bring warm clothing and hot coffee!
Special thanks go out to Jay White for the expert advice and winter carp images.
Featured image courtesy of Fenton Trewick