New Years Day On The Water
I would never go fishing on January 1st. Not since the last time, anyway. When I was a kid, my dad and I once fished the annual “Polar Bear” bass tournament. We didn't win and, even worse, I get reminded somewhat regularly about how my fingers were too cold to tie on a lure. My wife has always commented about getting me carp gear for Christmas that I never get to put it to immediate use. Getting out and trying out new gear, regardless of how enjoyable the fishing may be, would be an efficient way to ensure more carp gear next Christmas. Normally, my fishing gear would sit dormant until Spring. Suffice it to say, were it not for the First Fishing Folly I would never have considered carping to ring in the new year.
When I registered, the forecast called for a high of 33 degrees. That sounded cold, but tolerable. As the days passed, that number became 29 degrees and then 25 degrees. I really cannot oversell how little my body naturally tolerates the cold. Given the option, I’d rather bake in the heat than be out in the chill, but when you fish on New Years’ Day you don’t have any control over the temperature. I figured a heavy baiting routine would make sure that I was invested enough to not back out at the last minute.
Step one, find a venue. I settled on a local creek with easy access from downtown Kansas City. Earlier in December, I even landed my personal best from this spot after an insignificant spot of pre-baiting. The creek holds plenty of carp and the hope would be that I could land a few, and with a bit of luck, with some size. The downside of this particular body of water is that its partially fed by an overflow in the sewer system and is known for high E. Coli levels. As per usual, copious amounts of hand sanitizer would be in my bag.
Step two, determine a bait and baiting routine. I signed up about two weeks before event and had plans to bait heavily. I put together my normal spicy field corn and bird food mix along with cattle cubes. At the house, I had some chocolate protein mix that I used to make about three kilos of boilies. I’ve made boilies in many different flavors and my wife complained about the smell of these much less than the others. I soaked these in some Carnation canned milk and was quite pleased with the outcome. In a test run, I was able to land a carp on them, so I was confident that they would be successful.
Step three, bait it up. I started putting out corn, bird food, range cubes, and boilies about two weeks before the event. The plan was to start heavy and taper down for the last few days. After a few trips to the water I was confident that there were fish in the spot that I had picked.
I planned on baiting every day for the final three days, slowly reducing the amount going in. I was too busy on the 29th to make it down to the creek and, unfortunately, I found that the water was frozen on the 30th. I spent the rest of the day developing a method to break the ice, which after hours of work ended up being essentially a floating rake on a rope. By the time it was finished, apathy had taken over and no bait was put out.
I awoke on New Years Eve to find it raining. By the time I made it to the water, the rain had turned to snow flurries. At least the flowing current had broken the ice, so I was able to get out my bait. I had fished this swim after rain previously and knew that the fish liked to feed on the surface with all of the debris floating down stream. Last time I was there during rain, I had stalked out my PB mirror on the surface. I watched the water closely and caught sight of a not unsubstantial tail fin breaching the surface about 20 yards from where I had been baiting. In different circumstances, I may have run home to grab a rod and a loaf of bread, but that was not the purpose of the trip.
The night before was spent getting rigs and rods ready to go. Based on my previous experience with cold induced numbness, I opted to make sure that I had everything arranged while I could still feel my fingers. Even the pod was set up at the house. My warmest clothes were laundered and laid out, the car was loaded, and I was ready to go.
Many anglers spent the evening on the water looking for that first fish of the year, but not me. I may be crazy, but I’m no fool. The temperature was a balmy 24 degrees and the sun could not be bothered to make an appearance. I arrived at about 13:00 and was quickly set up. On the way to my spot, I passed a small flock of Hooded Mergansers, one of my favorite (and notoriously hard to photograph) winter-time birds. As good as I was feeling, it was hard to not be aware that my hands and feet were already chilly.
The net, unhooking mat, and weigh sling were put out first. I opted to cast the rods out before digging bare hands into the already cold particle mix. All were simple blow-back rigs; two with my homemade strawberry-vanilla popups and one with my chocolate milk boilie.
Five minutes after the first rod was out, and before I introduced any bait, the alarm sounded. A short battle later and my net went under ten pound, eleven ounce common. Having spent most of the previous year struggling my way through smaller fish, it was nice to start the year off with a double. My camera setup was still in the bag and I did not trust my carp-slime covered hands to work quickly enough to get it out. One carp selfie later and my first capture of the year was back in the water.
A better carp angler may have adjusted their approach to match my early success, but I was a man with a plan. The strategy from the beginning was to put out small amounts of particle directly over my hookbaits and it had to be done. In hindsight, perhaps I would have found more success without introducing any chum and just fishing single popups.
I soon found another flaw in my tactics; my milk-soaked boilies were frozen. Not just frozen, but frozen to each other. Within an hour, I was unable to remove any of them from my bucket. Even my hookbait was frozen to the point that after an hour underwater I found that it still had milk frozen to the outside. The idea had been to make a lovely little bait that would leak attraction into the water, but it just wasn’t going to happen. I gave that rod another uneventful hour before moving it over a stack of maize and artificial corn.
I landed two more carp, one just under and another just over ten pounds. Carping in such cold temperature is unique. I find that the fish are too lethargic to put up a proper fight. Until I had it to the surface, I would have sworn that the second fish was one of the diminutive Yellow Bullheads that have plagued me in the past. Also, the bites tend to be so delicate. Part of my new gear was a set of Fox Slik bobbins which I was very excited to try. I found them far superior to my old Amazon no-names, but with increasingly useless fingers I could not make any small adjustments to their tension. I watched them bounce up and down, no more than a half inch at a time, but only one bite resulted in any line being taken off the reel. It’s such a different thing than the violent takes I was accustomed to when the weather was less objectionable.
Three hours passed, and it was time to start watching the clock to set a time to go. Bass fishermen have it easy - “just one more cast” may end up being seven or eight, but it tends to end in a definable moment for when its time to give in and go home. For carpers, however, even the shortest cast could be up to 30 minutes long. I picked 16:30 as that time for me, notwithstanding a sudden run on the fish. My handwarmers advertised eight hours of usage, but they lasted two. At this point, I had no feeling in my hands at all and my feet were so cold that it hurt to stand. If I’m being honest with myself, I wasn’t looking forward to catching another fish as I’d be forced to take off my gloves and get my hands wet again. With no means with which to warm back up, landing a carp sounded like a less than desirable outcome. Even my net sat to the side, frozen in a mangled, broken heap as if to say, “is this my life now?”
And with that, I packed it away and went home. More time was spent in the car trying to get feeling back in my fingers than I care to admit, but once the pain diminished enough to grip the wheel I was off. Last year I had set a goal to bank a 20 and failed. This year I’ve chosen to set that as a secondary goal while I focus on catching a fish in every month of the year. With January out of the way, I’ve got nothing but February to look forward to. I’ll probably pick a warmer day, though.