It is a few days before Christmas and with some milder conditions forecast, hopes are high for a pre- Christmas carp, albeit not the prized ‘snow carp’ that many wish for at this time of year. Even so, any carp around the Christmas period is a notable prize and we set James Armstrong the task of trying to complete just that. We arrived at castle Ashby lakes around 9am, being greeted with a cup of tea and the excited carp dog that is Barley. James had already been at the lake since first light and, in true early bird style, that had certainly paid off for him; with a lovely Ashby mirror waiting to be photographed as it rested in the net.
‘I always make the effort to get out the house well before first light, not only to have a pick of the swims when I arrive at the lake, but to ensure I do not miss that early bite window… First light on waters, particularly in the winter months can be very productive, with the changing light levels, from night through to daylight, the fish seem to have a short feeding burst. A bright, single hookbait cast tight to the island did the trick this time and it didn’t take long for this lovely coloured, winter mirror to show up’.
After slipping the fish back, we were keen to quiz Jimmy on his thoughts behind single hookbaits and why he employs this tactic in the cold;
‘For a number of reasons really, firstly, it is very little hassle; I can get my rods out and fishing effectively in next to no time at all. Especially when used in conjunction with a helicopter arrangement, I can quite simply adjust the top bead to suit the lakebed and ensure I am presented every time. Secondly, I do not have to commit to an area with bait; generally, in the colder months, those fish are shoaled up tightly together and it is more a case of searching them out and the single approach allows me to do just that.
I can quickly wind my rod in after an hour or so and try another area, working areas of the water throughout the course of a day. If I need to, I will not hesitate to move and search out another area of the lake that I cannot reach from my starting swim. In general, the carp can be fairly predictable in winter, following a similar routine year on year, but they will often gravitate towards other features such as reed beds and snags too’.
With such a variety of colours available, it can always be a tricky decision when it comes to choosing hookbaits, so we wanted to get the low- down from Jimmy on his hookbait choice for these short session trips…
‘For starters, confidence is everything! You need to have a flavour/ colour combination you are confident in and know will catch carp and has done so for yourself in the past. Winter is always a tricky time and sitting behind motionless rods with a hookbait you have no confidence or track record in using is certainly not a good idea!
I have and pretty much always will opt to use a Northern Special in the winter, purely down to the confidence I have in them catching in the colder months. I personally do not think colour matters too much, as I know I would catch on any of the colours on the right day and if the rig were in the right place.
The key to single hookbait fishing is putting that bright, highly attractive hookbait right in front of the carp’s nose, basically making it as easy as possible for them to pick it up! Colour wise, I have generally done the best on the real bright ones- yellows, pinks and oranges, all in fluoro. With the fish’s eyesight deteriorating in the winter, I want that hookbait to be very obvious, especially in low- light levels, standing out and contrasting well against the lakebed’.
As we watch Jimmy skip in each of his rods, freshen up his hookbaits and re- position them out in the pond, it becomes very obvious that this style of fishing is quick and efficient; suited to that mobile approach. Each time, the same process applies, checking the hookpoint and balancing out the hookbait…
‘For me, a super sharp hook and balanced hook bait is vital; this means that the hooklink can kick out effectively and settled over any debris that may be present on the lakebed. Furthermore, a balanced hookbait ensures that it flutters down gently and settles proud of any sticks/ dying weed that may be on the lakebed, ensuring that the hooklink kicks out straight.
I have always been one to use very sharp hooks, not only does this aid the pricking of the carp much faster, resulting in my opinion, less aborted pick- ups, but it also ensures that the rig works effectively when those slow- moving winter carp are approaching those hookbaits and feeding much less aggressively than they would in the warmer months’.
Having watched James re- cast his rod to the opposite island a handful of times, it was clear that he was trying to ensure it landed as close as possible, literally skimming the foliage on the bank…
‘Having fished here a number of times in the past, I know just how important it is to slam those single hookbaits as tight to the island as possible. What we do not see from above the waterline is quite how undercut the island bank is, with many of the carp patrolling and holding up tight to that undercut bank. It provides cover and warmth, which is what the carp are attracted to in the winter months and allows them to rub up close against the bank, acting as a scratcher in a way, removing an leeches or parasites they may have collected over the winter.
I know that by positioning one of the bright, highly attractive single hookbaits tight to the island, I am sure that at some point, those passing carp will pass the irresistible scent and attraction, moving in to investigate and drop down.
To achieve accuracy when fishing to the islands, I rely heavily on the tackle I am using; first and foremost, this type of fishing is neigh on impossible with monofilament mainline. Yes, you will be able to cast tight, but braided mainline with no stretch ensures you are accurate each time and with no stretch, that lead is not springing back when hitting the clip. It also means that I can achieve instant contact when I do get a bite; allowing me to safely guide the fish away from the snags on the island, as long as I fished locked up and move slowly backwards while holding firm’.
While we were on the subject of tackle, we wanted to touch briefly on Jimmy’s hooking arrangement, one he has used with confidence for a number of years now…
‘It is certainly nothing new, but the old Ronnie has played a big part in my approach over the last few years and, in my opinion, why fix it if it isn’t broken? One of the main reasons I use the Ronnie, especially when fishing short day trips in the winter months, roving my rods, is that I can quickly change the hook section of the rig. I keep a number of these ties up and ready to, allowing me to change if I feel one of my hooks is no longer sharp enough.
Secondly, the swivel on the hook section means that I do not have to overload the pop- up with putty, allowing it to remain streamlined, neat and make my life easier when pinging them tight to the far bank margin…
Just as we had finished chatting, Jim’s rod was away once again, as the bobbin pulled up tight and clipped off from the braided mainline. In an instant, he was on the rod, holding firm and walking to the back of the swim slowly, ensuring he made no sudden, jagged movements. Before long, a plump mirror was steering towards the waiting net and another of the lovely Ashby residents making an appearance.
‘I was just about to re- do that rod as well! Just shows you, sometimes you can never quite tell if those fish are nearby. Thankfully I didn’t and left it for a little longer and it certainly paid, with this plumb character being the hard-earnt prize’.
Before we hit the road back up north, we had one last quandary for James and that was if he had a back- up plan if the islands didn’t produce…
‘To be honest, I am never one to put all of my eggs in one basket, in fact, I will always have a good look about in the winter and all times of year in fact. The most subtle signs often lead to results, so you really need to keep your eyes peeled. I would take time to check the deeper and shallow water, because even on the coldest of days, those carp can be unpredictable and located when you wouldn’t image.
This lake also has an inlet from another pond further along and during the winter, can cause quite a stir in the water which certainly attracts the carp, so that is always an option.
As for today, the island rods have certainly paid off and with two fish as a reward for my efforts, I am certainly not complaining!
Jimmy began his angling on the river Ouse with his father fishing for roach. His passion grew quickly and soon developed a love for big-fish across the globe!
James | 10th March 2020