Does Size Matter

For more years than I care to mention or could possibly remember I have been fascinated by cold-water carp fishing. My upbringing in the distant 1970s and 1980s was in a time when carp angling in cold-water conditions was relatively unheard of and I distinctly remember the first time my alarm sounded on a freezing mid-December day and I managed to catch my first true winter carp.

As more and more literature became available regarding cold-water carping and my perverse desire to camp out in all manner of testing weather conditions flourished, I came to the decision that I would fish a complete winter through, week in week out. The summer leading up to that winter had been a hot and fishless affair for me, targeting some deep and foreboding meres where rewards were for the blessed or very fortunate angler only.  Not being either of these I needed some bites so picked a water that supposedly had winter form.

I worked hard and stuck at it that winter and by the end of the old coarse angling season on March 14th I had caught more carp than in my last three summers combined. At times it had been tough but the rewards had been spectacular and I had learnt some very valuable lessons that have improved my angling ever since.

So, what has this got to do with the size of a PVA bag, I can hear you shouting. Everything! Although PVA at the time of this winter campaign was still very much in its infancy and only really available in a string version, it would still be used to maximum effect. I had learnt that the amount of free feed used and the frequency with which it was introduced into my chosen fishing areas was paramount to regular success, and PVA gave me a very precise and controlled method of bait introduction.

Other anglers had at times during the winter turned up and fished the odd weekend or two but their results on the whole had been slow. I soon noticed there was one common denominator in the way that most anglers fished: they simply chose their preferred spot, baited up with lashings of free food and then waited in the warmth of the bivvy for events to happen. My first few weeks of the winter had been fished in much the same manner, but soon I had realised that if I introduced that same amount of bait but in small and regular quantities, I could get action almost every session.

As I have already said, this simple but key element to my angling has stayed with me ever since and I have refined and adapted the technique to almost all of my angling approaches. So, as you can imagine, when mesh PVA became available I was on it like a rash and soon tuned the technique to suit my cold-water approach.


The ability to both feed accurately and to govern the frequency of bait introduction is not something new to the angling world. The simple swimfeeder in its many guises was developed especially for this purpose and is still immensely effective in both running and still water.

Match anglers are another fine example of anglers who alter the rate of loose feed introduction to suit the response from their swim and the fish within it. A successful match angler will also strive to be as accurate as possible for he has no time to waste on his quarry feeding away from the hook bait. Limited time and the goal of catching the most fish are what hone their skill and are something we as carp anglers should pay heed to, especially where the introduction of free bait is concerned in the colder months.

I can appreciate there is the argument that in carp angling we lay a trap for a particular fish and wait patiently to outwit them, but I think this is more for extreme cases and individual fish. I for one am an angler who likes to get bites, and when I use my limited time to try to catch carp I like to think I’m in with a reasonable chance. Therefore I will try to be as effective as possible each and every time I fish.

This is why I think it is so important for us as anglers to consider the size of bag we might use and the rate that we introduce them. Many times, I have been fortunate enough to watch pressured carp feed over PVA bags and I am quite convinced that if you get the size and introduction rate right then you will stand a better chance of a bite than simply filling the biggest bag you can get to that location up with bait and recasting it morning and night.

Obviously, the key to this success is in the gauging of size of the bag and the frequency to recast. Personally, I like to have some idea of the stock of fish present in the water; I watch others around the lake and try to work out feeding times and hotspots but most of all I like to use as light a lead as I can get away with and watch the bobbins and line for line bites and twitches. Basically, if I feel I have been ‘done’ by the carp then I will replace the rig pronto. A fresh cast to an active spot producing an almost instant response in the form of a bite from the carp happens too many times to be coincidence.


Some of you by now will be thinking why not just use a single bait instead, and yes this is a good point. Singles can work very well in winter and are a heavily used option, especially for the shorter sessions I tend to fish. I do like singles and have caught many carp on them, but I feel that unless the rig that I’m using is a deadly first-time nailer of carp then I’m losing out on a few chances. To me a single bait is simply a lure and not a feeding situation.

Let me explain: If I cast a single out and a carp tests the bait but feels it’s a little dodgy and hasn’t been hooked then that’s pretty much my chance of hooking him over (let’s be frankly honest with each other, we all know that in today’s world of pressured fisheries we don’t hook many carp on the first test of our bait very often). Now if I’ve got my single out with a small but extremely flavoursome patch of loose feed, I stand the chance of that carp stopping around for a while to mop up the feed and in doing so testing the hook bait a few more times, giving me more chance of a hook up.

Another advantage of fishing small, highly scented bag is that I do not always have to fish a bright and buoyant hook bait as most of us do when single fishing. Due to the attraction that my small pile of mix gives off I can now fish an obscure, less obvious hook bait such as a piece of sweetcorn, small bunch of maggots, worm, cut-down piece of wafter etc – the choice is yours – confident that it stands more chance of being found by a curious feeding carp than just a bland obscure hook bait alone does.

As I say, I have watched this scenario play out on many waters now and when you find something attractive matched with a hook bait the carp don’t fear, your chances of a take improve immensely.


Before I briefly talk about the sort of mix I use for my winter bag angling I would just like to say a few words on the size of the bags that I have found to be most effective. I think most anglers would be surprised to find that my average size mesh PVA bag is no more than between a 10 to 50 pence piece size – stick or round bag, it really doesn’t matter, but I have found the size does.

Even when angling on high-stock prolific waters I have found that a small bag cast regularly is far more effective than a larger bag left out for a time. Just as my first example of when I discovered that small and regular introductions are key to my winter approach, this, I suppose, is just a more concentrated version. Even some of my match-oriented angling friends now use this approach in their winter armoury.

I have not rambled on about this mix and that mix for our PVA bags as I think this really is very varied from water to water. If, say, on the water I tend to fish catches are dominated by maggots or worms then I will keep the attraction levels low and of a natural theme. A maggot or meaty based groundbait with some added liquid liver and some of my winter mix below has always worked for me on these types of venues.


Each autumn as the cold starts to arrive I make up a bucket of mix containing blended boilies, creamed luncheon meat, crushed pellets and crushed hemp and any bag mix I have left from the summer. Nothing special, just attractive ingredients that I then add liquid attractants to over the coming weeks – dips, glugs and winterised oils are added steadily each time the mix dries so that I keep a moist texture to it. This attraction-packed mix pumps out goodness as soon as it is introduced to the water and will for the most part form my go-to mix or addition to any specials that I add to my bags.


I hope my above ramblings have been of interest to you. This method of PVA use has literally accounted for thousands of cold-water carp for me over many years. It certainly is an approach that suits the short session mobile angler but has equally been effective on longer sessions as well when bites have been hard to tempt.

There is an old saying in angling that once you have put bait in you cannot take it out, which I have always found to be very true, and besides if the carp do seem to be having it big-style and want to feed hard you can always add a few more tasty morsels to your bag and cast a bit more regularly.