During February it often feels like spring isn’t too far away, so as the weeks pass will you be making any changes to your tactics or baits and the way you apply them?
February can be a really tricky month to carp fish as the weather conditions play such an important part in the equation. If temperatures are going to drop to a regular sub-zero or snow is likely to fall, this is the time of the year when it is most likely going to happen. When I was a member of the famous Birch Grove winter syndicate several years back, I can remember several Februarys that were completely frozen over, meaning we were unable to fish.
It isn’t always doom and gloom, however, and contrary to what I’ve just said, I’ve also experienced some good times in February, especially towards the end of the month. This year in particular looks like it could be a fairly mild one, and in this case I would expect to catch a few fish.
If your lake has fished well all winter it is likely to continue to do so, but if it has ‘shut up shop’ and the weather remains fairly mild, you may start to see some of the fish coming out of their hibernation mode. The carp have been fairly active on a lot of lakes recently, so they are very likely to respond quickly to any changes in the weather. If there’s a bit of warmth to the sun they will move into the shallower areas to have a nosey. I’d be having a regular look in the margins to see if there are any signs of them browsing in the day, concentrating my efforts on this kind of feature. I’d also pay particular attention to island margins, especially right up close to them where rays from the midday sun are falling, and I would think nothing about having a rod in as little as a couple of feet of water.
My tactics won’t really change from my normal winter approach, sticking to the small-trap style of fishing. Single hookbaits, PVA bags, or stringers is the way I would target things, aiming for one bite at a time. I would pay particular attention to using a very subtle flavoured bait, not liking too much liquid/dip, etc., as the carp will latch on to smells easily due to water turbidity being quite good (depending on venue). I would favour the visual kind of baits instead, going in with either a white or yellow colour so the carp can easily find the food. I really like the look of the Coconut Creme in the new Instant Action range, as this has done me a few carp this winter and in my experience it fits the profile of a great February carp bait too.
I think February can be good for catching carp as spring isn’t too far away, but my approach from the harshest colder months right through to early April doesn’t really change significantly. Unlike most anglers I do like to still use a lot of bait in winter. By this I don’t mean turning up to a lake, piling in three kilos and sitting on it, hoping for a bite, and I don’t just mean putting in bait when fishing.
I always do my best to make sure I know which area or areas of the lake the fish are holding up in throughout the colder months. I want to keep them in that area if I can and the best way to do this is to feed them by getting down to the lake and prebaiting. Weather conditions and the temperature of the water will dictate the amount of bait I put in. When early spring finally does arrive and the fish start to wake up I’ll be less cautious and steadily up the amount of bait I put in every time I visit the lake. I don’t take much notice of what some say about fish not feeding in winter, because I know they do.
Since starting work at Nash I’ve also learned the importance of making best use of the peripheral products designed to maximise the effectiveness of the boilie range. The Food Dips have particularly impressed me. These are dense, bottom-hugging liquids and there’s one to match every boilie. The food signals given off by the soaked baits seem to permeate the water and winter carp are often drawn to them like a magnet. Even when all the bait has been eaten there seems to be an invisible food residue left behind, which can trigger the carp to tear up the bottom searching for the elusive food.
I also like to mix up my baits, and this is not just a winter tactic either. I normally mix two baits in roughly equal amounts with a third bait (usually white) making up approximately 10% of the total mix. This gives me different options when I’m fishing. You may be wondering why only 10%, and why white? Well, I have so much confidence in white pop-ups and I’ve caught a lot of fish on them. In my experience having a few white freebies spread around in the swim really gets the carp searching them out. It’s certainly more effective than just a single hookbait and its produced quick bites for me throughout the year.
I do find February to be one of the toughest months of the year but, as we all know, carp can be caught in any month. For me, much of it depends on the weather; a slight rise in temperature or a few sunny days and I will get the rods out. On most of the waters I can think of there are never really any obvious signs that the fish are active and I tend to go more on feelings than anything else; there are times when I look out of the window and it just seems good for it. Those feelings aren’t always right of course but they have helped me to pick out the more productive times over the years rather than just plodding on through the blank times.
There is one little trick I have up my sleeve in that respect and that is my garden pond, which is just outside the window where I do most of my work. The fish that I have in there might be small, but they are no different to their larger relatives. Sometimes they will lie dormant for days on end and not be interested in any food. Then suddenly they will become active again and that is enough to get me interested. It is often the case that if my little fish are looking for food then the carp in the nearby lakes will be too.
At times like this I’m never looking to use a lot of bait. Looking back I’ve probably used less bait in February than at any other time, but I want to use something which will be both visible and attractive. The new Instant Action range from Nashbait fits the bill perfectly and at the moment the Tangerine Dream or the Coconut Creme are my first choices as they have both proved themselves to be very good fish catchers. All I want is something which I can go out with in the knowledge that it can work quickly, even if the fish have never seen it before.
Providing the lake bed is clean enough where I want to fish I will just use a straight bottom bait out of the bag. That is my first approach, but I have also done well in the cold months using the hinged stiff rig with pop-ups. I wouldn’t say there are any particular conditions which favour one rig or the other; again, it’s more down to just what feels right at the time. The one thing I wouldn’t do personally is to start changing too many things around. When times are tough anyway I always feel it’s important to use a method which you have confidence in. Virtually all of the February fish that I’ve caught over the years have come on fruit-flavored baits that have been visual too, so as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t try fixing it!