And they’re off!

Looking and listening is all part of it

Jules offers common sense advice on starting a campaign.

The countdown is on for the big spring rush on carp waters across the land, with lengthening days and more catchable carp bringing anglers everywhere out for the first time in months. Will you be off to a flier, or will you fall by the wayside?

Of all the seasons, late winter and early spring are probably the most expectant for all carp anglers, with all of us hoping that the coming year is going to be the special one. Well, it could be, but as well as hope a degree of commonsense needs applying too. Over many years of watching others and analyzing my own efforts, it’s just as easy to burn/blow out as it is to find success.

Pushing the barrow around at my age means I really need to be motivated

Hopeless conditions on this water, but putting the hours in is important

I have always viewed February as my kick-off month for easing into the season to come. No matter how good or bad winter has been (and I have had some stinkers) the hope that February brings me never fades, so I thought I’d look at the lessons I’ve learnt and how the good and the bad I’ve experienced can give you a better start into 2016 success.

What do you want from 2016? Is it a personal best, maybe to finally crack that local water, or even to travel further afield to pastures new and more challenging? Without a clear idea it’s so easy to meander around achieving very little. Whilst I am not a competitive person, I am very driven when it comes to achieving things, and when I have been non-committal about my fishing they are the years I seem to have achieved little. Having a target means you are more likely to push yourself to succeed. Motivation is a prime factor in any successful carp angler’s CV. Show me a successful carp angler and I will show you an angler who knows what he wants and what he is prepared to do to achieve it.

No target, no drive and no sense of urgency is not a way to kick off your February fishing.

Get real

Having decided what you want, take a step back and ask if it’s realistic. Is your water likely to deliver for the time you can put in? Whilst you may want to be or imagine yourself the next Hearn, Laney or Sharp, if you knew the sacrifices they go through (and continue to), not to mention the sheer amount of time they have to devote to achieve their goals, then it might not be so appealing. Stop and think about the time you have and how much of that you can realistically devote to carp fishing. With family, partner, work and social commitments there is a limit to the time you can really put in. I promise you I am as keen and driven as ever, but with a full-time job, family, fiancée and social life outside fishing, I have to pick my waters carefully and my targets even more so.

The water I have chosen I can access after leaving work and it holds carp of a size that will make me want to push my barrow around in the rain, get up in the pitch black to recast after a bream, and so on. We can’t all live in the Colne Valley or in the Yateley triangle, but with a degree of common sense it can be just as rewarding.

Lose the gear

Legwork when it comes to locating carp is never wasted, and at this time of year more than any other I tend to buckle down and really work at it. Much of my winter fishing is short sessions and often on a social basis, so prolonged walking is often out of the window; I simply don’t have time to spend doing it and want to make every minute count with rods in the water. However, from February onwards I am happy to spend more time looking than fishing, considering the bigger picture. Even midweek I pop down in an evening to see if carp are showing, which they often do. Once you weigh yourself down with fishing gear it’s tempting to make quick decisions, but without gear it’s easier to put in the legwork, climb those trees and really look, not simply scan.

Key and corn – a great early spring combination

Early spring action

Bites not hits

So, where do you concentrate your early efforts? I find that the same old late winter/early spring spots tend to produce year in year out, so they would be my initial go-to place or places. Reedbeds and dead weedbeds are usually very consistent and a single bait in these spots can often produce takes on the right days. Looking back in my diaries so many of my early fish have come to these tactics that I always tend to start fishing for bites rather than big hits. If you are fishing a new water then try to do some research or at the very least watch what others are doing. Believe me, there’s nothing wrong with that and, whether they admit to it or not, even most successful and opinionated carp anglers take note of other anglers’ efforts.

If you really have no clue where the carp may be, a little trick I have found to work is trickling Riser Pellets into likely areas, especially when the sun is out. You’d be amazed at just how many ‘dead’ swims seem to have a carp or two appear out of nowhere when the Risers drift over them. Once you ring that dinner bell and they turn up, it’s surprising how easy they are to tempt.

Nothing new

The big problem with winter is that with too much time on our hands we forget what worked last year and it’s new this, new that and we can start messing with the proven winners. Whilst it’s beneficial to push the boundaries and experiment at times, if you are not careful the baby can be thrown out with the bathwater. If you have a proven bait, rig and tactical combination then that’s your starting point. Only if it’s clearly not working should you start to play around. This year I am on The Key, which I know works and I have already had success with it this winter. The multi-rig has been slightly updated with the shrink tube, and finally I have a bottom bait rig I am confident in. All I need now is to put myself on feeding fish and it’s game on. The last thing you want to do is turn up on a new water with a bait, rig and tactical approach that have yet to work for you in the more productive months, never mind February. If you are sorted on that front there is always room for improvement, even if it’s only tweaking things. Have you got your hook sharpening sorted? Have you tank tested the breakdown rates of your hookbaits? How do your rigs really sit when cast out? Does your PVA really dissolve? And so on. When you are fishing at this time of year and bites are hard to come by, then you really do need to be sure of what you are doing.

Almost 30 years ago I realised that putting in the effort worked, as this lake record proved

Beware burning out

The final bit of advice I would give to any carp angler at this time of year is to look long term and not burn out in the spring. After the winter lay-off many of those that have hibernated come out of the blocks like greyhounds, determined to make this the year of all years… If I had a pound for every keeny that started doing overnighters in February and was burnt out by May I’d be a very rich man indeed. The trick is to pace yourself. Even if you don’t fish in winter you have a good eight months in front of you to achieve things – you don’t have to do it all by April. I have said for years that any fish from now until April are a bonus on the type of waters I target. My main concern is to get back into the flow of things and get my mental approach sorted. After-work overnighters do take it out of you and it’s important to find an approach that works for you both short and long term. Sure, fish will be caught by others and I will have sessions when I am tearing my hair out, but trickling in that Key, fine tuning my rigs and tactics, I know that I will still be doing it when many others have burnt out, and I’ll still be there catching them!

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