If ever there was a ‘piece of string’ topic, then how to go about carp fishing in weed could well be it! The amount of contradictory advice I’ve been given over the years for tackling weedy waters beggars’ belief. The main problem is, how weedy is weedy? Are we talking about a water that has a few inches of silk weed on the bottom or a water ravaged from top to bottom with Canadian pond weed?
Over the years I’ve fished all types of weedy waters; those that are choked with the stuff, others that just require a delicate presentation - along with a whole host of other waters that fit somewhere in between the two, but if we are talking about waters that just have a few inches on the bottom then I don’t really see it as a problem - single hook baits fished on light leads presented with a piece of foam on the cast will usually suffice, allowing the lead to drop down with less force onto the weed beneath - and feathering the cast will also pay dividends in such situations. You could just as easily use a PVA approach in light weed situations.
However, as it’s a question I’m regularly asked about, in this piece I’m going to concentrate on waters that are completely overrun with the stuff - those waters where you can’t chuck a lead out without it coming back with a football sized lump of weed around your lead - even when you drop it in the margin!
Capesthorne Top Pool in Summer bloom - weeded throughout, from top to bottom
The first thing to do is establish the pattern of growth. Weed usually grows more profusely when light can penetrate deeper in the warmer months, so shallow or gin-clear waters can often suffer from weed - and the more light there is, the more the weed grows and spreads. First job is to do a bit of plumbing around in all areas of the lake to establish depths. If there are some deeper holes it’s possible they might be weed free, but if the weed is of a strain that quickly spreads with the onset of sunshine, like Canadian pondweed for example, it might well have spread to all areas of the lake already!
I spent almost ten years fishing a six-acre estate lake that used to get choked with the stuff from top to bottom every year - quite literally. Even in deep areas of around ten feet it grew jungle fashion right to the top, and I’ve seen it do the same on other waters with depths of over sixteen feet! At first it seems impossible to tackle but there are ways around it, though I’ve learnt that fishing in weed is as much about getting to know the habits of the fish as it is about getting a good presentation.
Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learnt with weed is that it can dramatically affect the lifestyle of the carp. Patrol routes and feeding areas that were productive before the weed came up can often dry up overnight as the weed starts to grow. Having watched carp behaviour at close quarters in such situations I’m a firm believer that they begin to ‘take the route of least resistance’ when things get bad.
Quite often, if the weed is so dense that to get through would take a good deal of effort, they simply don’t bother and will try to find another way around to get to wherever it is they are wanting to go - or if it’s really bad, they often don’t bother at all! On the Top Pool the carp would adopt a completely new set of patrol routes once the weed was up and some areas of the lake became complete no-go areas for months on end, so obviously the key was to find the areas that they could still navigate, either up above the weed or in some cases, beneath it.
There’s a 23lb mirror in that lot ... honest!
I used to split the behaviour of the Top Pool carp into four sections governed by the time of the year and the amount of weed growth present (as it can often change from year to year);
None: Winter/Spring (little or no weed)
Hard Growth: May to July
Choked: August to September
Die Back: Weather dependant (October onwards) moving back to little or no weed.
As such, I find it helps to be thinking about a weedy lake as a different water in each of the periods above in order to locate where the fish will be able to get to. For example, a patrol route that will be totally clear in spring will also be accessible for a time during the hard growth period, but then once it gets choked the fish might stop visiting the area completely. However, whilst from above the area might still look choked, through the die back period, there is often a section under the main body of weed which the light cannot now penetrate (because the weed is so thick) meaning that it dies off underneath, so although from above it still looks choked to the surface, underneath the carp can once again navigate the area.
Observation then is key. I used to spend hours (days, weeks!) sat up trees trying to work out where the fish went, and as the summer progressed I saw new patrol routes opening up. At ground level things continued to look quite depressing as nothing much seems to change, however once up in a tree the angle is not so acute and you begin to spot areas that whilst not clear, are not as dense as the rest.
In general I have three approaches to fishing in weed; fish to a clear spot within the weed, make a clear spot within the weed, or fish directly into the weed.
By far the easiest approach is to fish to a clear spot. Finding them might not be so easy but persistence will pay off. I think the problem is that many anglers expect to find a nice sandy patch six foot by six foot that screams ‘carp’ - if only it were that easy! I often fish to clear patches that are no more than a foot in diameter - and yes, hitting them from the bank when you can only see them from up a tree can be very difficult - but practice will make perfect, and in time, by clipping up and feeling the lead down on the cast you will get better at finding the spots. It’s pretty rare to find a water with no clear spots whatsoever, but again, observation is the key. Look for areas that are shaded by trees and margin foliage - if light can’t get through to encourage the weed you will often find clear spots in these areas, and you’d be surprised at just how close the fish will come into the bank - on small heavily weeded waters I’ve caught most of my fish within a rod length of the bank.
Five Scales - a stunning mid-twenty taken on a single hookbait placed into a natural clear spot with heavy weed all around
Make your own
If you are spending quite a bit of time on a water I find one of the most productive methods is to create your own clear spots. First you need to ensure the spot you pick is near to a patrol route or somewhere where you think the fish will be visiting. Start off by applying a particle bait - I always find that a blended (almost liquidised) particle mix with lots of hemp is best. I would apply a couple of kilos on each visit but try and keep it tight - you don’t want the spot becoming too visible too quickly, as don’t forget, other anglers will be looking for the same clear spots and you don’t want them jumping in on the back of all your hard work. I always try to ensure that any clear spots I make are not visible from ground level, or from the favoured trees that everybody climbs. I pick unlikely swims and make spots just under overhanging bushes or tucked around the front of a feature so that they are just out of sight - I then turn up in my chesties, wade around to the spot and drop in the bait without anybody else knowing the spot even exists. I’ve even gone as far as creating decoy clear spots in the past to try and distract attention from the ones I’m actually fishing to - clearly visible from swims or trees but in places where the carp never show - but you’d be amazed at how many people fished to them just because they were clear!
Big Split - taken from a hidden clear spot created over several weeks using particle mix and hemp
I usually apply my mix when I’m not fishing, or at the end of a session, thus leaving the resident tench, bream, roach or ducks to do all the hard work in my absence. After a week or two the spot should become nice and clear, at which point I reduce the amount of clearing bait I put in and start to introduce the intended hookbait feed. If other coarse species are unlikely to eat your intended hookbaits I find it pays to introduce a bit of hemp every couple of weeks just to stop the spots growing over again.
It helps if you can use some sort of visual marker when on the swim so that you know where your spots are on each visit - and with practice you will be able to hit them clipped up in the dark. I also find it helps to have multiple spots all over the lake. When my Top Pool campaign was in full swing I regularly had as many as twenty different spots on the go plus a few decoys! Then on arrival I would visit all the spots to see which were most likely to produce - you’d be amazed at how often you’d come across a carp in one of your spots with a look on its face as if to say ‘about time! - are you going to put some bait in here or what?’ In fact, one or two spots became that popular with the carp that they got out of hand, and what started off as clear patches a foot or two in diameter ended up as a clear areas several yards wide! It became harder to keep such areas quiet but the second every man and his dog started casting to them, they soon dried up, by which time I’d already be concentrating on new areas.
Manual clearance is always an option, but it can be a lot of work for little reward. Firstly, if it’s Canadian pondweed it can drift, I’ve spent many an hour raking a swim in the past only to find that it’s completely covered over again the next day! Also, a massive clear spot raked from the swim is going to be visible to any passing angler - and a big pile of rotting weed at the back of the swim is always a dead giveaway! As such I’m not a big fan of raking big areas. I know there is a lot to be said for raking when targeting certain species, but my experience when targeting carp specifically is that it’s best to look for another method. Also, just a word on raking weed - make sure you spend time sifting carefully through the weed as lots of small fish often get caught up in it when you drag out large amounts.
Whilst on the Top Pool I invented my own rod attached weed rake. The rake consisted of an 8” bivvy peg bent straight, to which I attached a small swivel half way along. I was then able to attach the rake to the gizmo where my hooklink would go and I was then able to cast out, adding more lead to the lead-clip for casting distance (or to help it sink into the weed) if required.
My weed rake attachment - Still going strong!
I still find this little rake the most simple of attachments to use and I can move amazing amounts of weed very quickly. At the end of the day I’m just looking to make a spot big enough to drop a lead into, so in a short period of time I can create my own little clear spot with the minimum of disturbance. People always say that I must get snapped of when it gets stuck in heavy weed - but I can honestly say hand-on-heart it has never snapped once - I’m still using the same little rake I made all those years ago! If it does get bogged down I just give a few short, sharp, jerky yanks on the line and it pulls free of the weed every time, but to bring a big clump in you just keep it coming very slowly and very smoothly. My weed rake also comes in handy for keeping fish-made clear spots clean as the season progresses. I just cast it out to a spot to ensure it’s clean; have a few casts then attach the hooklink - job done.
Fishing directly into weed
It’s often the most daunting of approaches - fishing directly into the weed. But there are ways in which to improve your chances even here. I’d never just give it a whack and see what happens - even in the thickest of weed I would still spend a good deal of time casting out and drawing the lead back.
Solid weed will greet the lead with the same level of resistance, but even when it looks like a jungle from the bank, you’d be amazed at how often the resistance wanes just for a second before going solid again - remember that you are only looking for the smallest of areas - it doesn’t have to be the size of a paddling pool.
As a matter of course I would keep going back over spots where I felt a jolt or where the lead broke cover momentarily. Only when you’ve pulled back through it a dozen or more times (in thick weed) will you get a true picture, and I may spend as much as an hour leading around to try and find a few spots. You might think it’s excessive but the extra work often pays off, as feature finding set-ups and marker floats are pretty useless when it’s this thick, instead I just use rig and lead.
So what happens when you’ve found your spot - clear or otherwise? Well for me I’m afraid PVA bags are out. I know so many people recommend this method but I find that carefully placed single hookbaits outscore PVA set-ups every time. There’s just something not quite right about chucking it out in a he-who-dares fashion. Yes, I’ve done it, and yes it’s caught, but I’ve also sat it out for days with not so much as a sniff. There are two schools of thought with a PVA bag approach in weed. First is that you make it so heavy that it has to reach bottom, or second is that you make it nice and light so that it breaks down on top of the weed. I started off using the PVA ‘bomb’ technique, but found that once buried deep under the weed, the carp cruising up above where it was easiest to manoeuvre would often sail straight over it without even knowing it was there - remember the route of least resistance? A smaller bag designed to break down on top off the weed was preferable but in reality the presentation looked terrible and it only took one fish (or duck!) to go over the area and your lead dropped down out of sight leaving all the goodies suspended several feet above it!
I soon moved to single hookbaits and to be honest, I’ve never looked back. I use simple fluro hooklinks of around 9” in most situations as they are less prone to tangles when pulling back to the desired spot. The biggest problem when fishing directly into weed is confidence, as you’re always worried about what the presentation is like, so finding a set-up that you are happy to leave out is essential.
If I’m fishing directly into weed I like to use a relatively heavy scattered bait approach. Mainly because it’s often on large open waters where I’ll use this method most - when the fish are showing well away from margin spots and fishing out into the weed is the only way to be near the fish. In such situations my theory is that a fish is much more likely to come across one boilie of say a hundred (and thus look for more in the area) than it is to find your PVA bag straight off.
I stress again though that I don’t just cast to the sky - I will always spend time looking for an area which might well be weeded badly, but not as badly as the areas immediately around it, and thus is should be easier for the fish to rummage around and find your baits. As I say, I’ve used this method to good effect on larger waters, however if I’m doing the same thing on a smaller water it might be because I’ve seen one fish moving in a certain area and I want to but a bait on it - if this is the case I often use a single hookbait as I’m targeting one fish as apposed to baiting a trap for whatever comes along during the session.
To sum up fishing directly into weed, I would simply say that the key is in finding the least weeded area you have to go at, no matter how weedy that may be - just so long as it’s not as weedy as the rest! Last year for example I fished a 15-acre water for only the second time where all the swims I looked at were heavily weeded. I spent several hours casting around on swims to no avail. I eventually dropped in a swim where fish had been spotted by a friend before I got there. The result was that I needed to find the least weedy part of the swim.
I spent another hour or two plumbing around before I found a patch at around seventy yards where the weed was not as dense as the area around it - not clear, but just not as think. I adopted the scattered bait approach and proceeded to bank six fish during the session, four of which were over twenty pounds. You could not say that they were taken from proper ‘clear spots’, as there was always weed as soon as you pulled back on the cast, but it was a little less severe that the area all around it - again I keep coming back to the route of least resistance - do enough so that they can find it without exerting major effort and you stand a far better chance.
One of six fish and four twenties fishing to an area of ‘lighter’ weed at distance
A last word would be on the bait itself. If using a scattered bait approach in weed like the one detailed above, a good quality boilie would be my first choice, but when fishing into clear spots or when on smaller waters I often favour a single hookbait approach and will often use a hookbait that stands out, either in the form of a natural (like a worm) over a handful of particle mix, or something that just stands out on the bottom to any fish that might be drifting over the top.
I’ve probably had more success on Brazil nuts than any other bait in such situations, which I’m sure is because their bright white texture stands out against the green weed. I’ve even witnessed it first hand (on more than one occasion) when a carp has come over the clear spot, dipped straight down and taken the hookbait almost immediately - I’m convinced that in these situations it’s a visual thing as much as anything else, so it helps to play around with bait just as much as the approach itself.
Fishing in weed can be daunting, even depressing at times! However, as a long term weed-angler I can only say that persistence pays off - it’s just a case of working that little bit harder.