By far the best way to catch bigger carp is to get to know your intended quarry. This will take time and effort and may mean you catch less fish in total, but those that you do bank should hopefully be worth the wait.
You are looking to first find and then observe the big fish, and then work out where they spend their time – where do they like to feed? What patrol routes do they like to use? Where do they like to rest? Where do they like to 'play'? Which areas do they first move over when the sun comes up, or when the sun goes down? All important factors when targeting specimens.
All carp possess the same inbuilt characteristics and will behave according to security and hunger, but beyond that, most also have their own traits, which means that by getting to know the characteristics and behaviour of an individual fish, you can then begin to plan a strategy for catching it. It’s not going to happen overnight, but there are a few things you can do to speed up the process. First, do your homework. Find out where the big fish get caught from and which swims seem to be the most productive for the bigger fish. Fish will move about, but individual fish may also have a particular place that they feel confident in, or where they like to feed – this will often be the place where they get banked the most so checking past captures, and when they occurred, i.e. time of day and year, can give some good pointers.
For example, when plotting the previous captures of a large target fish I was after some years ago, I found that it regularly came out to one of three swims which all had the same area of water to go at. Further gentle enquiring led to the discovery that nearly every time it had slipped up it had fallen to a natural bait presentation.
I made several sightings of the fish once I knew where to concentrate my observations and spotted an area that it passed over several times during the course of the early morning and late afternoon. Having then followed the fish around the lake for hours on each occasion I saw it, I now also had a good idea what its character was like; it was often grouped up during its afternoon passes over the area and its later morning passes - every time with the same two smaller fish - but during its first early morning passes it would often be on its own. Furthermore, it was quite an inquisitive fish, extremely wary of baited patches but more than happy to investigate individual items more closely, often those that weren’t even food items.
As such, I knew I would have to offer a bait in a way that did not arouse suspicion but would arouse interest. Knowing its predilection for naturals, I decided on half a Brazil nut as hookbait with no freebait, dropped right on a patrol route clear patch that it investigated most mornings.
It would be nice to say that the approach worked first time out, but it didn’t, and that’s where the patience comes in. Big fish wise up, so you have to keep your calm and maintain a cool head if you are going to try to outwit them – keep observing & refining your tactics, and eventually you will get your prize. In this instance, my prize did not come for quite a while, and only after I’d banked both of its little helpers, but this just spurred me on as I knew it was highly likely she would have been right there alongside them at the time. Sure enough, she eventually slipped up; one July morning at around 5am when doubtless her curiosity finally got the better of her.
Now, had I just fished the lake in the normal manner, chucking baits out to the nearest ‘fishy’ spots, it might have taken years before I just happened to have the right bait in the right place at the right time for that fish - I know anglers fishing the same lake now, who, many years later are still setting up in an ad-hoc each manner each week in the hope of banking her. She’s only been out twice since I banked her and on each occasion she came from the same area that I targeted all those years ago - Coincidence? I don’t think so!
As highlighted above, if you are going all out for one particular fish, the approach will often be governed by what has worked before in relation to methods, tactics and baits. But if I was fishing a lake in general where I had not had chance to do any observational work, then I would employ a few different techniques to try to get amongst the bigger fish. If you don’t know where they hang out, then you are quite obviously fishing pretty blind. However, there are a few simple tactics that whilst not ruling out smaller fish, may just lead to hooking a big one. My first approach would be to use stalking tactics, as there’s no better way to single out the bigger fish. It’s often the case that you might be following a group of fish around for a while, which gives the opportunity to decide which one you wish to target and employ a strategy accordingly.
'I followed this 25lb+ mirror for ages before I could single it out from other fish - I hooked it within seconds of presenting a bait'
Another great method for selecting the fish you wish to target is surface fishing. If you can fish when the sun is up, you can often pick out the size of the fish around your bait by the size of the shadow just under the surface. The result is that when small shadows appear around the hookbait, signalling a fast approaching set of small lips, you can just nudge the hookbait away in order to wait for the larger shadows to appear on the scene. I’ve been employing this tactic to great effect just recently, taking a number of fish to upper doubles in a water where the average size is only around 8lb! When there are no lumps in the area, I’ll happily enjoy good sport with the smaller fish, but by always scanning the water for the bigger shadows, as soon as I see one I can cast over it and draw back the bait into its path.
If you prefer to fish static, there are still a few proven ways to try and target the larger fish, the best of which is probably to ‘off-bait’, which in simple terms means presenting your hookbait just off a baited patch. It’s often the case that the larger fish will let the smaller fish feed before deciding if they think it’s safe enough for them to proceed – if they are very wise fish they might just shy off baited patches altogether! However, by baiting a patch where the smaller fish will feed and then presenting your hookbait just off it where a larger fish might wait and observe, there’s a good chance they might see this as a safer bet and pick it up. I’ve used this tactic many, many times on waters where I’ve not had the opportunity to observe their movements or when I’m effectively fishing blind.
I will plumb around until I find a nice feature I’m happy with, and then bait up the spot accordingly. My usual approach would be to place one rod on the baited patch, and the other just off it. How far away I place the intended ‘big fish’ rod from the baited spot would depend on the actual feature I’m fishing to, but it would normally be between two and ten feet away. I would then wait and see what develops; if I start to pick up better fish from the off-bait rod, I would keep feeding the baited spot but move the other rod away from the baited spot also.
The hookbait itself can also have an effect. A 10mm boilie could be picked up by the smallest of carp, and I’ve even seen a small gudgeon manage to get its lips around one! So, by increasing the size of your hookbait, you can also reduce the chances of catching the smaller fish. It’s not a hard and fast rule, mind, as the largest of carp will still pick up small baits, but if you want to just sit it out and wait for a big fish it can be a method worthy of further investigation, and it’s worth pointing out that several of the largest carp banked in my neck of the woods in recent years have fallen to boilies rolled at 40mm or more!
Whatever method you decide to use, a little bit of forethought is always vital if you wish to target the larger carp. There are, of course, many captures of large carp brought about by ‘pub-casts’, i.e. those where there was no intent or purpose, and as such, you could say that much of the successful strategy was, in fact, luck! However, if you wish to target the larger fish on a regular basis, then there can be no substitute for observation and planning.
If you missed part one of this feature, you can find it by CLICKING HERE