Subtle changes can keep bites coming

I arrived in the car park at British Waterways Clattercote Reservoir along with son Martyn, soon after first light on a mild but very windy winter’s morning. As some of the swims are a reasonable walk from the car park we’d kept our gear to a minimum. Rods were 2.75tc Infinity’s teamed up with Basia reels, small folding chairs, an unhooking mat, and a few bits and pieces in a small rucksack completed our kit. With a definite chill to the wind we headed for the more sheltered bank and the calmer water. The water levels were low, so it was a case of lowering the gear off the staging and fishing from what in wetter times would be the reservoir floor.

As we tackled up, it was promising to see a couple of decent fish top about 50 metres in front of us. Clattercote can be very productive so we had no problem with putting a bit of bait in. I cattied about 30, 14mm Nutrabaits Trigga Ice ATS, boilies over the general area, and we followed it with our hook-baits. Martyn was on single Nutrabaits Tecni-spice glugged high attract bottom bait and I was on “snowman” double baits made up from a 14mm Trigga Ice ATS bottom bait tipped with a bright 12mm Plum and Caproic pop-up.

The first hour was brilliant and we had 4 fish, the best two being a 25lb plus linear, and a 17lb plus mirror. The rest of the morning was very pleasant and three more fish came to the net, but it was obvious the action was slowing to a stop and over the lunchtime period we saw no fish top and the buzzers remained quiet. Martyn had fished the venue once before the previous winter and the same pattern had emerged, a good morning but nothing in the afternoon.

Discussing our options from our results we could assume that in the morning we had had a good head of feeding fish in our swim, but now they had either stopped feeding or had moved away. As we sat talking a fish rolled directly between us, they hadn’t all moved away, so perhaps they were not feeding or feeding differently, perhaps it was time for a change of tactics. I wondered if the snowman I was using was a bit too much of a mouthful so on one rod I thought I would try just a small pop-up on its own fished 3-4cms off the bottom. I reasoned it might just tempt a basically non feeder to make the effort for a “little snack”. I fished it on a stiff rig/choddy combination which I over weighted, to give it maximum hooking potential.

Out it went to the same area. In truth I wasn’t sure the change would make that much difference and Martyn was talking about going the whole hog and fishing a zig, which did seem a reasonable suggestion, but before he could make the change the pop-up rod was away. To cut a long story short the pop-up tactic went on to produce three more fish whilst the original set-ups did nothing until just before dusk, when Martyn had the last fish of the day on the Tecni-spice bottom bait.

With the bulk of winter ahead of us it was great to have such a productive day but it was also a timely reminder that particularly in the colder months you have to work at your fishing, and that subtle changes can make all the difference. Winter carping can be a delicate balance between being patient or proactive. It’s fair to assume that fish activity will be a lot less in the summer so you have to be prepared to wait, but equally you need to react to the fishing situation you are faced with and sometimes just little changes can pay big dividends.

We’ve fished a lot in the colder months, and a hard fighting carp glistening on the mat, its winter colours glowing in the pale sunshine can be well worth that bit of extra effort. Often the key to catching at this time of year is being prepared to experiment, the fish can be lethargic and at times need “tempting”.

Good luck, and don’t forget the flask and the thermals!