Welcome to the fourth and final part in the Beginner's Guide to Carp Fishing, in which we tackle Approaches & Techniques, the essence of which is to think on your feet - to do whatever it takes to bring about a result.
Much of my own knowledge and opinion in this area is formed on that which I learned from my grandfather, who used to take me on endless walks around the lakes, river and canal down in Consall where we all lived when I was a child. The family business developed glazes and clays for fine bone china and his scientific study of anything nature could muster to improve these products had taken him all over the world whilst sailing on his yacht. His love of everything ‘land and sea’ meant he was always trying to improve my understanding of all things nature and weather related.
He always advocated the big question – why? In doing so, he reasoned that if you could understand why something happened or reacted in the way in which it did, you were more likely to gain a deeper understanding of the problem and come up with a successful solution. It was a belief that had served him well throughout his life up until he sadly passed away almost four years ago to the day, at the ripe old age of ninety-four. I still clearly remember the last time I spoke to him in hospital, telling him about my reconnaissance trips around a new carp water I was looking to target and him asking me all kinds of questions to try and get me thinking about it even more.
I suppose this is the starting point for my take on approaches; to always look at what the fish are doing in response to the effects of those fishing for them, along with the effects of the wider environment. Read through many of the current carp publications today and you could be forgiven for thinking that there’s only one way to catch big carp – a leger set up incorporating a boilie as bait, and this is often backed up by what you’ll see out on the bank; swim after swim occupied by static anglers fishing multiple rods incorporating bank sticks, rod pods, and bite alarms. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against this form of angling for carp, I employ it myself when the situation dictates, but that’s just my point - I would only use any method after first surveying my options - whereas the vast majority of carp anglers use the exact same method every time they go out!
The big question - They’re in there somewhere, so how do you approach it?
You often hear anglers talk of baits or waters that have ‘blown’, basically meaning that the carp have wised up to the fact that they are being angled for on a certain bait or in a certain location. Well what about the method that is being used to target the fish? If 99.9% of anglers on a lake are legering with boilies, is there not a distinct possibility that the fish could wise up to this also?
Whilst I don’t doubt the effectiveness of legering on many waters, there are a great many other means by which you can catch specimen carp, all designed for a specific purpose, and by selecting the right approach at the right time, you are much more likely to succeed compared to the angler who fishes a static set up every time out of the box. Many of us enjoy a few hours out in the open whilst fishing, but if you are employing the wrong method at the wrong time, you may as well not be there at all – it really is that simple.
So, how do you get it right? Many of the skills you need to help assess the situation you are faced with on arrival at a water were detailed in the watercraft piece, as the clues are always there - if you can learn how to read them correctly they will often give a pointer as to which approach could ultimately prove best for the session ahead.
Aside from the obvious factors like time of day, weather conditions and temperature, we are also looking for visual indicators to give us some short cuts - we need to establish what the fish are actually doing when we arrive at a water. The key, as always, is observation. When I arrive at a water, I will always take time to have a good look around. Not only am I looking for a swim that will give me the best chance of catching a fish, but I’m also looking to find out what kind of mood the fish are actually in. Although carp behave in much the same way from one day to the next in terms of mannerisms and characteristics, where they will be and what they will be doing will almost certainly be governed by the prevailing climatic conditions and the time of day at which your visit occurs - and these conditions can often change during the session itself.
The first thing to try and do is work out what depth they are in. Quite often you will see groups of fish holding or moving around at different depths, and if you suddenly stumble upon twenty fish playing around on the surface, then it’s a good bet that a floating bait is going to be order of the day! Alternatively, they might not be on the surface as such, but just under - in the upper layers. They may be difficult to spot from the swim itself so if you can find a high vantage point, or even better, climb a tree, then do it - and make sure you have your polarised glasses with you! If you start to see dark shapes lurking not far beneath the surface then it’s a good bet they are in the upper layers. A surface approach could also work well here, but don’t ignore shallow areas and margins. When in the upper layers, the fish will often move quite close into the edge and patrol along the marginal shelves, so a float fished bait flicked out to bankside feature could work really well when placed on the edge of a pad line or close to an overhanging bush or tree.
It’s quite possible that, after investigating all areas of the lake, you might not have spotted a thing. If you’ve observed properly and not rushed the observations in each area, then this would point to the fish being in the lower layers of water. As such, legering may suit best. The real trick is not to have a pre-determined idea of how you are going to fish for them before you turn up at a water, which, unfortunately, is how the majority of carp anglers go about it. I shouldn’t moan too much though, as this just leaves more fish for me to catch!
Through the use of quick-links, I’m able to change my set up in seconds so I can quite literally change from a bottom fished ledger set-up to a floating set-up in seconds. This versatility has enabled me to catch many fish over the years, simply by taking advantage of visual indicators. If you are fishing on the bottom and you suddenly start to see fish in the middle or upper layers, what do you do? Most will leave the bottom bait in place thinking that the fish will eventually find it. I would much prefer to place a bait right under the carp's nose, as active carp are usually feeding carp, so I would be trying to place a bait right into the thick of it. My first response if they were in the middle layers would be to see if I could get them feeding up on the surface by firing out a few floaters. Patience is the key; it might take a while to get them going but given the right conditions you can usually get a result quite quickly once the first floater has been taken. Alternatively, I might look to place a bait in the middle layers, either through use of a zig-rig, or more likely through a float fished set-up.
Float fishing for carp is almost a lost art. How many anglers do you see float fishing for specimen carp? Not many! Yet there are various float fishing methods that have proved deadly for me in the past, particularly the lift rig - nothing could be simpler for flicking out a bait in to the path of a fizzing carp with zero disturbance.
In essence, selecting the right approach is about finding the fish, and then working out which is the quickest and quietest way to place a bait right in front of them without getting sussed. The other key point, as I’ve said many times before, is not to sit behind idle buzzers. By their very nature, fish move about. My theory is that by moving about with them and by following the clues that the conditions are giving me, I’m much more likely to come across fish than if I just chuck out a three ounce lead and wait for the fish to visit that particular area of the lake.
Quite often I’ll be found stalking, a method that has caught me by far the most, and in many cases, my largest fish. The interesting thing is that quite often, when stalking, you come across moving fish and you have a very limited time to work out the best way of presenting a bait. In such cases I often go for a free-lined bait. Nothing could be simpler, and in a few seconds you can flick the bait into the path of the oncoming fish, duck down and wait for the line to pull away. It’s often that simple. I would say that perhaps sixty to seventy percent of my fish taken whilst stalking have fallen to a bait that has been in the water for less than, say, two minutes. The only reason those fish have been caught is because I’ve kept it simple and placed a bait in a manner completely different to the vast majority of others on the lake.
You don't have to go stalking, though. Even when fishing multiple rods, there’s no reason not to travel light, keep on the look out, and change tactics (or swims!) where necessary. At the end of the day, it’s about keeping up with the changing conditions around you, and learning how such changes effect fish behaviour. Just as importantly, make sure you keep an open mind about how to target the fish. Yes, chucking out a lead is always the easiest option - but that does not necessarily mean it is the best!
Many ‘session’ anglers miss so much through what I could only describe as tunnel vision. They become so regimented in repetitive routines that they almost forget that other approaches or techniques exist at all – or even that the first priority is actually to catch a fish! Lets take an average carp angler enjoying a weekend's fishing. First thing to do on arrival is to get the bivvy up, and what a winner, the Double Bay swim is free which gives loads of room to set up in, so it’s straight in before somebody beats you to it.
With bivvy up it’s brew on, rods set up, bit of bai
t out onto anything that looks ‘fishy’ and then rods out over the bait. With bite alarms set it’s job done. Wait for said alarm to sound and if nothing occurs go to bed. If nothing occurs by morning, rebait rod and repeat the process applying more bait to the same spot - or another which now looks more ‘fishy’ than the first ‘fishy’ spot the produced zero the night before! Wait until dinnertime and, if nothing develops, repeat the whole process again. Then wait until teatime and, if nothing develops, repeat again… sound familiar?
The result is often that come the dreaded Sunday morning pack up, a dozen spots in the swim have been plastered with bait and you’ve still had nothing for your efforts. The big question you have to ask yourself is whether the fish were ever there in the first place?
I see the above scenario played out time and time again, yet because everybody else seems to be doing the same thing, people carry on regardless; blaming the bait, the weather, or anything else that enables the angler to push the failure onto anything but their own angling inability!
I know how difficult it can be to break the spell as I was once doing exactly the same thing, but there came a point where I realised that the problem must lie within - I was blanking for a reason, and that reason had to be me!
My ‘eureka’ moment came a season or so into a campaign fishing a tough water with a small head of decent fish. Up to that point I had been content with sitting it out for weekends at a time, just waiting for a fish to come and pick up my bait. I’d had successes, but when you considered the rod hours put in for each fish, it was scary, and even though the ‘rod time’ per fish was on a par with others around me, I knew there had to be a better way, and so shone the light! I began searching for the fish. I instigated a new routine that if I did not see a fish within an hour or two, no matter if I had just set up, I would wind in and go for a walk around. Likewise, every morning I would wind in and go for a wander, and on arrival at a water I began to spend longer and longer looking for the fish before deciding where to set up. This new approach developed more and more, simply on results. My catch rates soared, and it literally equated that the more time I spent looking around on this particular water, the more I was able to stay in touch with the fish, and the more I caught. In time, this approach has really brought home the effectiveness of roaming rather than staying static, but that’s not to say the same lessons can’t be applied to session fishing.
Think on your feet – a nice twenty plus common arrives after a change in approach.
What it comes down to is dedication – are you there for the craic, or are you there to catch fish? I have several friends who prefer the former and I’ll often join them for a leisurely social, where it’s more about catching up than catching per se, but by and large I’m there to catch fish, and I think nothing of moving all my gear lock stock and barrel to several different locations during my stay if I think it’s going to bag me a fish – I’ve even moved swims in the dead of night before now in the hope of catching and it’s brought success more than once.
What it boils down to is thinking on your feet – don’t wait for an opportunity to present itself, by then it’s often too late – instead, go out and look for the opportunity – force the issue - do whatever it takes to break away from the tunnel vision mentality. It’s not rocket science, just common sense; always ask yourself if you could be doing more to catch a fish. If the answer is no, then fine, but if there’s even the slightest chance that the answer is yes, then start thinking about how you could adapt your approach accordingly.
If you've missed the other three parts in the “Beginner's Guide To Carp Fishing” series, you can find them on the links below:
Part 1 - Introduction - CLICK HERE
Part 2 - Watercraft - CLICK HERE
Part 3 – Carp Bait - CLICK HERE