For many years, I only fished carp during the warmer months of the year, as I had always thought that you cannot catch them in cold water. But I had been wrong and soon I learned that cold water carp fishing can be extremely rewarding and successful as well!
The best way of catching cold water carp is by using 12-16mm fruit- or nut-flavored baits on the simple hair rig or the pop-up rig. You can significantly up your chances by fishing in deeper water during the day and in milder weather conditions. Drop-offs are a real hot spot for cold water carp and should never be disregarded.
Continue to read this article to get my very best tips on how to catch carp in cold water.
Are Carp Active in Cold Water?
While being generally less active in lower temperatures, carp will continue to feed even in cold water conditions. They will however not feed as excessively as they do during the onset of autumn when the water is still warmer.
As their metabolism slows down, they need to feed less than during the warmer periods of the year, but they still need to find food on a more or less regular basis, in order not to lose too much of their body fat that protects and feeds them during the cold season.
Very often, they will be shorter feeding periods throughout the day, during which the carp can suddenly become rather hungry and active.
It is those feeding windows that you will have to focus on in order to catch them in cold water!
Best Methods for Carp Fishing in Cold Water
Carp move more slowly and feed less in cold water conditions. Hence, ledgering is the best way of catching them now.
As your bait remains in place, on or just off the bottom, over a longer period of time, you give the carp the chance to actually find your bait, and eventually go for it.
This can of course take several hours, or even an entire session, which makes ledgering with several rods on the rod pod with bite alarms the logical choice.
When it comes to carp fishing, regardless of season, simplicity is the way to go! And so, the simple hair rig on the bottom, if the lake bed allows for it, is often the best choice of method.
You can fish both a single boilie or a snowman (boilie and pop-up) on the hair.
If you have to fish somewhat off the bottom, the basic pop-up rig or the chod rig are the best choices for cold water carp. The extra bait visibility that comes with these rigs can be of great help in venues with murky or muddy water.
For this rig, a single pop-up is the way to go, as you will want your bait to sit an inch or two off the bottom.
Keep in mind that cold water carp move both less and slower than usual, which means that you have to shorten the length of your rig.
If and when a carp picks up your bait, it may only move a few inches, or perhaps only raise its head up ever so slightly. These tiny movements will have to be enough for the bolt effect to kick in!
It is the length of your rig that determines whether or not the carp will in fact bolt itself, which is why it should be rather short.
I recommend a length of no more than 4 to 5 inches. Such a short rig will result in many more hook ups than longer ones, regardless of how little the carp will move with the bait in its mouth.
As you will read further down, smaller hookbaits are definitely the way to go in cold water conditions.
These sizes will have to be accompanied by the right size of hook.
For the boilies and pop-ups that I most commonly use for cold water carp, a size 6 wide gape hook is the perfect fit, as it won’t shadow your hookbait and still has enough width to it to deliver a perfect hook up, even when it comes to really big carp.
Best Baits for Carp in Cold Water
Now that you know that your baits should be on or close to the bottom and stay there for a considerable amount of time, let’s go through some of the most effective cold water baits for carp.
Basically, you will want to avoid fishy and stinky flavours in cold water. Why that is, no one knows for sure, but my best and most educated guess would be that fishy aromas do not spread as much and as fast in water with low temperatures.
The boilies and pop-ups that have landed me the most cold water carp over the years do instead possess either fruity or nutty flavours. Very often, high visibility and fluoro pop-ups have also worked wonders.
The more intense the fruit flavour, the better, I cannot stress this enough. I really think that this type of aroma has a much better effect on the fish and manages to spread itself far better in cold water conditions.
Even the slowest of carp will be attracted by such an underwater scent and will eventually find their way to your swim.
My absolute favorite fruity bait is the Mainline High Leakage Pineapple. They come in both 15mm boilies and pop-ups and have both an incredible aroma and a well visible yellow coloration.
The more subtle flavour of nutty baits is one that attracts cold water carp as well. I think it’s mainly their full aroma, and high content of protein and amino acids that makes nutty-flavoured baits so successful in cold water.
As the carp have to save energy, it makes total sense for them to go for such a rich food source that will give them plenty of energy without having to sacrifice much of the same in order to get it.
I have had brilliant cold water sessions with 15mm Dynamite Baits Monster Tiger Nut Red-Amo boilies and pop-ups. They have a really unique flavour and are simply packed with nutrition. A truly amazing carp bait for the cold season!
If the above bait choices should fail, you should definitely try out high visibility pop-ups! They are my secret weapon on very slow days and usually save me from blanking a session.
High visibility baits are most commonly pop-ups that come in a super bright colour such as orange, yellow, green, or white.
They can also be fluorescent in colour, which makes them even more attractive.
Think about it: in clear water, such a bait is super visible and will hence visually attract carp even from a distance.
In murky water, this bait will stick out not only thanks to its strong aroma but even here also because of its high visibility effect.
And finally, as high viz and fluorescent baits are almost always fished on the pop-up rig or chod rig, they gain even more visual presence in your swim and will literally stick out like a beacon of light.
If the carp won’t fall for it because of its delicious scent, they will surely fall victim to their own curiosity!
Once again, I can strongly recommend Mainline and its range of high-visual fluorescent pop-ups. These are baits of the highest quality that can turn any slow session around in no time!
Best Time of Day to Fish for Carp in Cold Water
During autumn, when water temperatures start to drop steadily and the nights get colder and colder, the carp will switch their feeding activity and be more active during the day.
In warmer water, they are instead much more active at night and during the early morning hours, which is when anglers can expect to catch carp in many venues. The opposite holds true for cold water carp!
This phenomenon is called the “turn around” and hence, the light hours of the day, during both autumn, winter, and early spring will be the very best time of day to catch cold water carp.
Personally, I have had most takes between late morning or early noon and mid-afternoon, which makes a lot of sense, as it is then that the sun is at its highest during the colder months of the year.
Consequently, it is these hours that will generally be the warmest during the day and the ones that will manage to increase water temperatures, even if it’s only by a degree or so.
This slight difference in temperature can make all the difference, for both the carp and you, the angler!
Can You Also Fish for Cold Water Carp at Night?
Of course, the above is merely a general rule that can have plenty of exceptions, depending on the fish and the water you are fishing in.
Do, by no means, change your mind if you are bivvying up and planning to fish overnight, or for several days in a row.
While most cold water carp are in fact caught in broad daylight, you still always have the chance of hooking up at night as well! When in Rome, right?
However, if you are planning on doing a shorter session, I’d definitely always go for the light hours when targeting carp during the cold season.
Best Weather for Cold Water Carp Fishing
By far, the best weather conditions for cold-water carping include an overcast sky, southern or southwestern winds, mild air temperatures, and a slowly dropping biometric pressure.
If you manage to sync your cold season carp session with the above conditions, I can almost guarantee that you won’t blank!
Of course, it can be rather difficult to time all of these factors exactly right. In fact, it’s probably highly unusual!
This does by no means imply that you shouldn’t had out to the bank though. Just try to have a few of these weather conditions in place on the day you plan to fish. It will make a big difference!
Pro Tip: On the contrary, you should avoid cold days with clear skies, stable high pressure, and eastern or northern winds! Those can and will kill any carp session, and, in my opinion, they are a huge waste of your time!
Where Do You Find Carp in Cold Water?
The number one feature to look for when it comes to cold water carp is drop-offs! These provide both food for the fish and a greater depth at which the water will be slightly warmer during the cold season.
I have had most of my takes near the bottom edge of the drop-offs, but I always fish at least one rod at the top end of the drop as well, especially toward the end of my day sessions.
It is then that the water temperature will have risen slightly even in the shallower areas of a venue.
The carp will seek out such areas in order to find food sources, such as small insects, worms, and bloodworms that are suddenly becoming more active during the short while the water in the shallows is somewhat warmer (a classic feeding window).
So, fishing both the upper and lower edge of a drop-off will maximize your chances of catching daytime cold water carp significantly!
You can simply cover all angles and possible feeding spots that the carp, sooner or later, will seek out.
Other spots worth targeting in cold water conditions include:
- areas near thick and/or dead vegetation, as biomass will radiate some warmth
- areas close to warm water discharges
- creek or river mouths
- the deepest point of the venue
At What Temperature Do Carp Stop Feeding?
While carp will never stop feeding entirely, they will enter a highly inactive state in temperatures below freezing.
During such temperatures, when the water is fairly close to freezing over, carp will feed only sporadically and during very short periods of time.
It can be both very difficult to time these feeding periods and rather cold to spend the entire day behind the rods, as carp fishing on the bottom is a pretty passive way of fishing.
In my opinion, it is not worth fishing for carp in such weather conditions. Save those days, do something fun with the family, wait for those mild days, and go all-in during these instead!
Featured image courtesy of Jay White