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Top Winter Carp Tactic

Posted by Shaun Harrison on 5 December 2012 |

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I love the winter

The prolonged cold, dark and often crisp nights of winter, followed by slippery drive ways and frozen window screens, hardly bring on the urge to go carp fishing do they?

Or do they?

They do to me. I must admit to feeling a relative smugness inside me during the winter months and can easily warm to many memories of winter success over the years. It is a fact that most of my personal best carp over the years have actually fallen during the winter period. The majority of times I have slowly upped my best has been during the winter and I truly believe this is the best time of the year to sort the bigger fish out. Undoubtedly the fish slow up and rest up for much longer periods when the water is cold but the larger fish tend to keep that little bit more active. If everything is active then all well and good, as every winter carp I catch seems to feel just that little more important to me than the same fish in the summer. Winter carp certainly give me a buzz!

So let us look at one of the little tricks I employ which can make all the difference between success and failure.


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Warning - don't leave them soaking outside - they freeze!

Pre-soaking your boilies has several advantages, particularly in the cold water slow metabolism days of winter. Carp are cold blooded and as such their metabolism is governed by the temperature of the water. I have written this countless times in the past but it is so easy to forget. The colder the water the slower the world is to the carp.

I like to put my free baits (loose offerings) into water at least 24 hours before going fishing. I use either the water from the lake you are fishing (take a bottle home with you after each trip) or bottled spring water. In the past I have used the water from other natural waters but no longer do this for fear of spreading disease. If damp nets can spread infection just think what pre-soaked baits could do?

I have found bottled spring water works perfectly well – certainly better than tap water which is often tainted with various chemicals.

There are several reasons I like to pre-soak my baits

  • Makes them look safe and washed out
  • Easier to eat
  • Quicker to digest
  • Helps stop them taking on the smell of the surrounding area i.e. silt etc.
  • Fire out further in a catapult
  • Very different to what most anglers offer in the winter
  • The carp are more tolerant of them in the area they are resting up.


So, let us look at these one at a time.

Makes them look safe and washed out

Certainly on most pressured waters these days, the carp have learned to associate freshly introduced boilies with danger.  Generally if fresh bait is in the swim then the chances are a baited rig will be there too. It is becoming more and more common for carp to take a couple of days to move onto and start feeding upon beds of boilies. How often do you hear of the angler who moved in after someone else then proceeded to catch a shed full of fish? It happens a lot.

Easier to Eat

I truly believe the carp prefer to eat pre-soaked baits regardless of how much pressure they are under. Everything the carp eats in the natural world is to a large extent liquid. The only semi dry foods the carp consume is our bait. You will see once you start experimenting with pre-soaking baits just how long the water takes to penetrate the skin and reach the inner core. Obviously the larger the bait the longer this process takes. Even after 24 hours submerged in water most 15mm boilies are still semi-dry in the centre.

Now I can’t help but think it can actually become a problem and make the fish feel a little uncomfortable eating too many fresh (dry) boilies. I do like to bring the human analysis into these situations and the thought of eating dry cream crackers comes to mind.

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Carp Teeth

Also of course carp can suffer the same as other animals with bad teeth when they get older. Softer baits are easier to eat.

Certainly, the longer I have soaked baits the quicker they have appeared to work. It is easy to say that the reason for this is possibly too high a flavour level in the first place which has now washed out. I don’t think so. I am sure it is down to the simple fact that the bait is simply easier to eat.

Quicker to digest

By offering the baits pre-soaked the carp should be able to digest them much more quickly once eaten thus the sooner they come back on the feed again.

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The quicker they digest your bait, the quicker they will feed again.

Helps stop them taking on the smell of the surrounding area i.e. silt etc.

This is a massive advantage if you fish waters where the baits come back tainted with the smell of silt and in some cases weed. All boilies as purchased have been dried to a degree. This is why when you wind your rig back in after a period out in the lake your bait comes back larger than it was when it was first cast out. Quite simply the bait is re-absorbing the water around it. Now if the surrounding water is slightly tainted then your bait will be as well which makes you think how much your bait is standing out to the fish if the first millimetre of skin smells the same as the surrounding area.

By pre-soaking your boilies you have already given them a drink so to speak and any flavour which has leaked out into the water is naturally seeping back into the bait too. Fire these out when they are already full of liquid and they aren’t going to become quite so tainted as baiting up with fresh baits.

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Action in the dark, the fish found the bait in the silt easily enough

Fire out further in a catapult

A small added bonus of pre-soaking the baits is that you are then able to catapult them a little further due to the extra weight of them through taking on water. The slight downside to this though is that if you soak them completely through to the core they are likely to explode out of a throwing stick.

Since damaging my elbow several years ago I am unable to now use a stick so this has never been an issue to me. I do all of my baiting with either a catapult or a spod but it is something you will need to bear in mind if you are a regular user of a throwing stick.

Very different to what most anglers offer in the winter

It seems to be almost common practice for anglers to use bright and heavily flavoured ‘in-your face’ type baits in the winter. Now these baits catch carp but I have my reservations as to whether or not they are the best way to go.

I guess it’s partly due to the fact that I am naturally very stubborn and don’t like to follow trends. If I can do things differently I will. I always try and avoid common denominators. If anglers are generally using small baits then I will use large baits. If people are using bright baits I will use drab baits and vice versa. I am sure by adopting these tactics I have caught a lot of carp off guard.

I would put my head on the line here and suggest the majority of carp anglers in this country during the winter months simply offer ‘in your face baits’ and or stringers with few freebies. If you want to be different – try some of the above.

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It's cold, have you got things right?

The carp are more tolerant of them in the area they are resting up.

Now here is a little food for thought and is very much a follow on to the above and something very much worth bearing in mind.

I am real fortunate in having a natural pool in my garden at home. By natural I mean there is no liner at all the water is natural and feeds through the pool. Because of this I have all the usual natural life you find in your average carp lake so I very much get to see the habits of un-pressured carp doing what carp do and choose to do on a daily basis 12 months of the year. Naturally I do all sorts of experiments with my fish (carp of course). During the coldest periods of winter they shoal up very tightly and are often touching each other making some of the fish appear much larger as you are actually looking at several fish seemingly joined. They can sit like this seemingly un-moving for a couple of days at a time. Now if you drop a heavily flavoured bait close to them they slowly melt off and sit elsewhere. Drop a washed out, subtle flavoured bait close to them and they will tolerate it and stay put. Eventually if I keep going for a look the washed out bait will be gone.

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The carp will still feed, just make it easy for them to feed.

Need I say more?


Hook baits

Finally I must mention my hook baits. Obviously if long casting is the norm then soft washed out baits are going to come off on the cast. In this instance you can do one of two things.

If short session fishing simply make a few rigs up with baits on a few days before you go fishing and freeze them. You can then transport them to the lake in a flask, a cooler box or my favourite and less bulky way is to freeze the baits and rigs down then wrap them in silver foil, bubble wrap and a final coating of silver foil before returning them to the freezer. This way you aren’t having to handle your baits and semi thaw them with the heat from your hands whilst removing them from the freezer.

The other method I use is to simply pre-soak a few baits for a shorter period then freeze them and take them out as I need them.  This is the easiest way and they still look washed out but retain a firm centre to withstand casting.

Best fishes

Shaun Harrison.

About the Author: Shaun Harrison

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Quest Baits boss Shaun Harrison has put over 40 years of experience into developing his range of carp baits ” This bait range is the culmination of the bait knowledge I’ve gained throughout my carp fishing career, a journey which started in the 1970’s. It has truly been a long and winding road – frustrating at times, fascinating and rewarding at others….. Our range you’ll only find proven baits, the ones I use myself 

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