By : Josh Bennett
Winter usually brings about a decrease in both angler pressure and sometimes catch rates. However, by choosing the correct venues and applying your abilities efficiently, bites are there to be had and in fact, winter is one of my favourite times to be on the bank. Comfort and warmth are of course paramount and by staying both that, as well as light on the gear front, you can be just as mobile as you would be at any other time of year.
Couple this with the incredibly mild conditions we have had for the vast majority of our recent winter months and realistically the fishing should have been relatively successful for us all. There has, however, been one huge negative impact this year and that has been the deluge of rain we have experienced. This has resulted in numerous lakes being flooded and indeed closed for some time. My syndicate was flooded during November and as a result, the water temperature plummeted far quicker than usual. It rarely fishes too well during the colder months and as such, it gives me a chance to head to other venues in search of both carp and a little break away from the venue.
The choice was relatively simple really and I had two months; January and February, where I planned to fish Linear Fisheries. I had four sessions planned during that time, as well as a couple of day sessions here and there and knew from previous experience that if I could get on the fish, then bites shouldn’t be too hard to come by. I also knew that the fish at Linear could be very partial to solid bag tactics. My approach would be to pre-tie these and bucket them up, ready to simply arrive and cast at showing fish or onto areas that looked likely. Preparation and mobility on these lakes have always gleaned great success for those anglers willing to do it.
I hadn’t fished St. Johns Lake for approaching 8 years and even on the morning of my arrival, I had no plans to fish it. I was walking along the road bank of Hardwick having a look when one of the site wardens came by. Ben briefly explained that most of the lake was busy, but areas of St. Johns were becoming free and as a result, I headed straight over there. I walked onto the point first which gave me a great vantage point of the ‘road bank’ end of the lake. The middle point was surprisingly free, bearing in mind it was a Sunday morning. As I stood there, barrow loads of gear were simply passing each other as one angler left and another followed in and the majority of the lake was taken. Storm Ciara was just gaining in force and thankfully pushing away from me towards the road bank. The caps of the waves lashed white horses against the bank and I felt comfortable and warm off the back of it. As I stared at the trees bending perilously, a fish caught my attention at around 100 yards. The kicked up water sprayed in the wind and in short that was enough for me to deposit a water butt in the swim and gather the rest of the gear. With the dual-layer brolly quickly set up, the impending rain clouds were seen off and the day turned out quite fair. The rods were clipped to a small gravel hump which I had found just a rod length short of where I estimated the fish to have topped. Throughout most of the morning, I had a very pleasant conversation with the chap to my right and he spoke of the lack of fish being caught as of late. He was down for another night and then off the following day. A friend Adam was also due down the following day and this gave him an option if he wanted to drop in as my new found tea maker left. Boy, could he make tea too! As we chatted and supped at our umpteenth brew, my middle rod signalled my first take not three hours after starting. I hadn’t put any bait out, simply bags to the spot and put plenty of attraction out there. The bags consisted of powdered bag mix, small pellets and maggots, alongside a bright wafting hook bait. The hook bait on this occasion was white, but I had put a pink and orange out there too, just to gauge what the fish were after. To the bags I also added a little hemp oil, which now disturbed by the fish, was flattening the choppy surface. The fish was in immaculate condition and fought like a banshee. Knitting and pearling lines, I eventually got the fish in and the expert tea maker, could also take some decent photos, so I was more than happy with my new found neighbour. Linear is great for a social and meeting new people and I really enjoy meeting new anglers. We chatted throughout the day and were interrupted twice more by my rods, both almost at the same time! I managed to play the first in and as it went into the net the other rod was away. This time the white and pink had produced, so I quickly whipped in the remaining left-hand rod and changed it to a white hook bait. So far the middle and right rods had received takes and as such, I deposited 10 spombs of bait over the area just before dark. The night and throughout the following day was quiet and I thought I may have killed the swim with putting some bait out. A few other anglers had managed a couple and in hindsight, I think the fish had simply moved a little. Soon into the dark, a near 24 hours after applying the bait, I received a take over the bait. Steadily over the course of the ensuing 24 hours, I amassed another 9 fish, including a lovely 32lb mirror with a distinct head shape and long body. Another was a beautifully scaled upper twenty mirror, so, all in all, I was pleased with the stamp and quality of the fish.
The bags had done every fish and once more, white was seemingly the colour of preference. The solid bags were the small size 5’s supplied by Avid and constructed using the leadless leader material, 3oz inline leads and a short 3-inch braided rig. This was tied ‘slip D’ style using a size 4 Armorok Curve; my favourite hook in our range. A simple, effective and most importantly safe set up. With a total of 12 fish for my session and Adam also managing another six, we had managed a great first session and planned a return for a few weeks’ time.
I managed to get back down alone around 10 days later and this time the floods had started to take their toll. Lakes were either closed or partially open and swim choice was becoming limited. Of course, this was no fault of any fishery, simply good management surrounding the health and safety of the anglers, but all the same, I was becoming a tad annoyed at the weather. Once again the wind smashed into the banks of St. Johns, but as I peered out into the gloomy morning, I noticed a couple of swims free on the social bank. With everywhere else I fancied stitched up, I walked a bucket round and secured a swim. I would be able to fish to a similar area to the previous session and immediately put three bags out to an area around 80 yards. This time, two were placed on white and another on a pink hook bait. It does pay to keep something different on occasions and it was evidently so just three or four hours later when the pink hook bait received a take. I didn’t put any bait out and simply recast another solid bag to the area. Throughout the night, most of the lake remained quiet. The road bank was still being smashed with 50 mph winds and 70mph gusts, so the anglers there were struggling in the force of yet another storm. I watched as their rigs were landing around 50-60 yards out. This left a huge area of unfished water at distance from both them and me. That was about to change. With no further action at 80 yards, I saw an opportunity in the morning to now go longer and clipped the rods at 100 yards. As the solids landed, I just knew they would go. Another four fish over the remaining 24 hours proved that the fish were simply trying to hide from the pressure and that I did the right thing. It’s always worth taking those opportunities, as long as you are not interfering with other anglers. In this instance, the force of the wind was making them struggle and as a result, the fish were simply holding off the back of them. Taking advantage of this, I took five lovely fish in total and left swiftly in between yet another rain cloud.
Adam returned with me a couple of weeks further down the line and still then storms hadn’t receded. Storm Dennis was now in full flow and once again some very misfortunate people were being flooded and indeed insurance policies tested. It did bring perspective to our cussing of the weather for lack of fishing potential, however, setting up the shelters in horizontal rain was not our idea of fun. Once up and settled, the kettle warmed us as we perused our swim, this time on Hardwick. The wind was again off our backs and despite being in arguably the best swim on the lake, our confidence wasn’t sky high due to the three-day blank spell the swim was experiencing. On Linear, the fish can be found relatively easily and tend to favour certain areas year on year. This year had been no exception and swim six on Hardwick had produced a lot of fish. However, it was consistently inconsistent! One day anglers were experiencing multiple takes; 10, 20 fish on occasions, then the swim would go dead for a day or three. The fish would be caught elsewhere, usually in the swims close by or opposite and then they would return. A long story short, we seemed to have dropped in during one of these lean spells. We worked as a team as we always do and fished as well as we could, but the fish were off the back of us. As such we didn’t catch any fish off the ‘usual’ spot and caught four small doubles on zigs placed in 22 feet of water over the back of the main bar system which runs parallel with the road bank of Hardwick. It was a tough session, but I’m afraid one that all experienced Linear anglers will experience at some stage. Just one of those things.
Not to be perturbed, we planned the final trip of our social season on Oxlease; probably my favourite Linear venue during the winter months. The lake had been closed for almost three months due to the annual rest period and flooding. The lake had been open a couple of weeks by the time we arrived and the fish seemingly back into their winter routine. By knowing the lake and its habits, we walked and perused the usual haunts and could see that no one was on the boards’ bank. Walking around we could soon see why and noticed they had been closed due to high water levels once again. The disabled swim at the far end of the lake was the only area of that bank able to be fished and was just becoming free. The gent in there had received two takes and with other areas taken until the following day we doubled up again for a night. The swim gave us the option of a small bay closed to fishing and the island to our right. Adam had the first choice (again!) and opted for the right, so I simply lobbed two solid bags into the bay and found a little spot out in front on which to place a rig and a little spod mix. We were both set up very quickly and with Adam catching a small double soon after, we were confident of a few fish. As the evening approached, so did the weather. The wind turned and battered into the area with some ferocity, bringing with it the all too familiar rain clouds. With rain hitting the shelter all evening, I awoke at midnight to peer out and find the level rising. The brolly was moved back up the swim but by 5 am the water had once again risen and this time by some distance. Waking up to click the kettle on brought about a complete first for me; waking up to a flooded brolly! An inch or so of water had me once again moving everything up the bank and drying things off for most of the morning. The jovial laughter from the head bailiff as he walked into the swim had us all giggling and brought some hilarity to the situation, but it was a rough night. With little sleep, we vowed to stay on but of course, the swim was now being closed and only the grass bank opposite remained open. We moved over to swims nine and ten with the intention of keeping an eye on the water and which swims would become available. Shortly after arriving we both touched the barrows down and watched the water. The gent to Adam’s left had received some action and latched into another fish shortly after we arrived. This was enough for Adam to reserve that swim as the occupant was due to leave just a few hours later. With me now sat with rods out in swim 10, the two guys to my right were packing away and with more options in front of their respective swim, I moved straight in. Again, solid bags were quickly deposited as well as a zig rig of around 6 foot in depth. With 24 hours left of my trip, I was now eager to catch having had a rough start as well as the memories from a tough weekend on Hardwick.
Just a couple of hours had passed when a take had me clutching at a healthy curve developing in my right-hand rod. The fish actually turned out to be a lovely linear of upper twenties and I relaxed a little more having finally caught one. The rod was replaced and another solid joined it so as to have two rods on the productive area.
Those two rods steadily produced fish all afternoon and by 9 pm I had amassed four in total, all of which were 20lb plus. Now confident in the area, I deposited a small amount of bait to the spot consisting mainly of pellet, boilie chops, corn and a lot of liquid attractants soaked in. The following morning passed by quietly. Having had a smaller fish at around 5 am, I had been confident of more, but by midday, I had not seen or heard a thing. Sat watching the water, I noticed small flat spots rising to the surface and knew the fish had returned. With only three hours remaining before I had to leave, I was hoping for one or two more before I left. The middle rod signalled a take not too long later and I was happy to be into fish again. The rod was replaced and a lovely common returned after having its picture taken. The oil slicks stopped for a little while and I was in the throes of packing away when I noticed them start again. The fish had seriously found the area this time and a large flat area was evident over the spot. It was no surprise at all when the middle rod burst into life just moments afterwards and I was now into what I thought was my last fish of the trip. As I played the fish in the remaining rod received numerous liners and I thought it may have been the hooked fish running into the line. Indeed under the rod tip, it went through the remaining rod and I had to net the fish whilst trying to loop the rod under the other line! Tightening the remaining rod I left the fish in the net and began to pack the last rod away. As I did so I heard a couple of bleeps on the last rod and as I looked up saw the run develop. I was in again. This fish once again fought well and turned out to be a lovely, long common of around mid-twenties.
I picture both the fish in the water and wanted to stay. I felt so confident of more through the evening bite period, but alas we did have to leave. Adam managed a couple too so he was happy and had a long return trip to Wales ahead. We both left happy and knowing we wouldn’t see each other for a little while departed with a handshake and well wishes on our respective venues for the spring. We would, of course, keep in touch, but the winter had been fun together and we had fished well.
As I type plans are being made to return to the syndicate. Looking out the window whilst I sit here, the wind is hitting the windowpane and snow has now replaced the rain. The weather we have experienced has been savage, to say the least, but predominantly mild regardless of the rain and mud. Much of Linear is still closed, as are other lakes across the country, but my excitement to get out and back to the syndicate tomorrow is the only thing keeping me going sat here at work. The buzz of carp angling is insatiable at all times of the year for me and a little break and social angling throughout this winter has been both productive and enjoyable. I hope it’s been just that for you and I wish you all the very best of luck for the coming year.