For anglers who are relatively new to carp fishing, watercraft is often one of the least understood aspects of our wonderful pass time. It’s a vitally important skill that will undoubtedly put more fish on the bank and bigger ones, too. Unfortunately, water craft can’t be bought from your local tackle shop,  but what exactly is it?

Articles such as these can only provide guidance on how to gain or hone those crucial watercraft skills, as there can be no substitute for time spent on the bank.

But, even so, hopefully my experiences gained over a good number of years will get you thinking and examining your own tactics and approach.

I’d say the crucial factors of watercraft are location, timing and the baiting situation.  Get all of these right on a regular basis and you will consistently catch and stay one step ahead of the pack.

Bait quality is also a crucial factor. Being a Nash consultant, thankfully I’ve got that side of things covered. 

Watching the water is a crucial discipline
Watching the water is a crucial discipline

There are some anglers I’ve met who are “naturals” and seem to have a kind of sixth sense for watercraft. Whatever targets they set, they always  seem to catch them and that doesn’t just apply to carp.  I don’t consider myself to be a “natural” - I have to work hard at my fishing. But I have been fishing a long time for a variety of species on many different types of waters and I’ve learnt a great deal along the way.  It’s no coincidence that the best carp anglers out there are, in my opinion, the ones who served an apprenticeship and have learned those skills catching anything and everything from small streams, ponds, rivers and lakes before progressing onto carp.

Location is a vital aspect of watercraft and our eyes are an essential tool, so I’ll explain what I look for when I‘m on the bank.  We are so much luckier than other stillwater anglers because carp really do like to stick their heads out of the water. If  you can discipline yourself to keep your eyes glued to the water throughout the hours of daylight, often the carp will give themselves away, but unfortunately they can’t always be relied upon to do this.

Personally, I like to concentrate on one water at a time so I can get to know the carp’s patterns, their habits and routines.  When starting on a new venue, I will spend time walking the lake and watching the water as much as possible.  If I can’t find any carp, to start with, I’ll set up in a swim that gives me a good view of the lake and be ready to move on any sightings.  

Locating carpI’m not only looking for carp showing, but also everything that is going off on the water.  Even if I don’t actually see carp, there are many other things that can give away their location.  Slicks and flat spots appearing on a rippled surface are a clear indicator that something is disturbing the lake bottom, releasing oils.  On lakes where lots of pellets and certain particles are used, these can be very prominent.  I’ve always found it exciting when a spot I’m fishing starts to slick up, telling me that a take could be imminent.  This can also tell me that I need to think about my rigs if I don’t get a take.  Slicks are also the reason why I only pre-bait with boilies on busy lakes and not hemp, pellets, etc so I don’t give my zones away to other anglers.

There are also the more obvious things to take into consideration such as wind, weed, features and snags.  All have a bearing on the location of carp.  I make it my business to know where North is and where the different wind directions will be blowing from. This can be simply achieved by doing a bit of homework on Google Earth.  If you’re lucky you may be able to view some features, too, but its worth remembering that not everything on there is as it seems.  Shadows, coloured water and weed beds for example can all be misleading. 

Old fishing ‘carp lore’ states that we should always fish on the end of the wind, but in reality that isn’t always the best thing to do.  There are a few theories floating about as to why fish follow the wind, but I firmly believe that the undertow is the main factor.  If you’ve spent time watching river fish you’ll know that they will nearly always be found facing upstream into the flow.  On a still water, when a good wind blows the undertow travels in the opposite direction and the fish will face or swim into it (downwind). This is, I believe, something they do instinctively. If the wind is a warm one coming from the south or west then the fish are very likely to be on the end of it sooner or later.  On the other hand, if the wind is a cold one from the north or east putting a chill in the water, then I would expect the carp to avoid the end of the wind and be found on the back of it.  They are, after all, cold blooded creatures and are more comfortable in warmer temperatures. 

On open featureless waters, undertow is easy to predict but most waters are not like that.  Islands, bars, bays, thick weed etc, all affect the direction of undertow and only experience will tell you where the carp will end up on any given wind.  If a water is very weedy, then I have found even a strong, warm wind to have no bearing on the carp’s location which leads me nicely onto another crucial factor.

Birds can be an asset as well as a painKeeping a close eye on the birdlife can also give us plenty of clues.  The obvious one is watching the reaction of diving birds as they steal our bait.  When they are comfortable, they just repeatedly dive and have a munch when they hit the surface.  If carp suddenly arrive the birds will often hit the surface in blind panic and fly straight off or quickly move off the area. Viewed through binoculars the birds often seem to stare intently into the water and appear spooked or agitated.  Both are a giveaway to the presence of carp, but again they don’t always react this way. 

 I remember one occasion on Elstow 2 when I was sat watching a group of around 30 tufties diving on someone’s baited spots and enjoying a free meal.  They were diving quite happily until a mid 30 mirror known as ‘Scaly’ cleared the water right in the middle of them, forcing them all to take flight.  But I remember another time on lake 6 on the A1 pits complex, as I woke at dawn, a small army of tufties were all over my bait, diving away merrily. I was expecting one to find my hook bait sooner rather than later, but  I was really surprised when I received a belting take from a nice plump 26lb common.  On big pits, where there is a large number of divers, I’m sure the carp are aware of them and they may well follow the activity to their next meal. 

Seagulls, terns and other species that feast on hatching insects are a dead give away to where a hatch is occurring.  They can usually be seen flying around and dipping down to the surface to feed. Its worth remembering that carp are also suckers for feeding on insect hatches and may not be too far away.  As far as tactics are concerned, this is an ideal opportunity to try a spot of zig fishing.

The gulls have moved in on a hatch, the carp won’t be far behind
The gulls have moved in on a hatch, the carp won’t be far behind

Larger water birds, such as swans and geese, can also give away the presence of carp.  I’ve seen swans stop in their tracks when they come across a basking carp on the surface.  They usually back up and swim around the obstacle whilst keeping a close eye on the carp.  It’s always worth watching swans behaviour when they are traveling across a weedy area or somewhere you’d expect carp to be on or near the surface. I’ve watched geese in the same situation, but they tend to move in numbers which often spooks the carp. Surface disturbance created by the fish is usually easy to spot.

In some situations, there will be no interaction between carp and the birdlife.  This usually happens on busy park lakes where there tends to be plenty of disturbance.  Often, as the general public feeds bread to the ducks, the carp will be there in the back ground maybe even unnoticed discreetly munching on any bits that make it past the birds. 

In this situation, a white pop-up positioned at a depth just out of the swan’s reach can be deadly!

That also brings to mind a strange occurrence I witnessed on St Ives lagoon.  My good friend Jamie Clossick and myself were fishing a shallow, weedy area and had spotted a few of the lake's 20s throughout the day.  The smaller fish seemed to melt away as the sun went down, but at the same time we spotted the unmistakable huge bulk of The Fat Lady moving into the area.  We could see her pushing up the surface weed from beneath as she fed on some kind of food item.  About a dozen mallards were in the area munching on floaters left over from the day, but they were well aware of her ladyship’s presence and gave her plenty of room! 

Gradually, the ducks got closer and closer to the big girl which must have annoyed her.  She charged at them making a bow wave the QE2 would have been proud of, scattering them in all directions.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it before or since.

Big Carp In Water
Watch and learn!


Carp baitIt’s worth remembering that even when you’ve gained the skills and learned your target water, instant success isn’t always guaranteed. I remember one instance after 38 blank nights on St Ives, watching and learning, I’d located a rather neglected area that seemed to be a regular haunt for the carp.

Rather than rush in, I used all of the knowledge gained during my time on the banks to put a baiting plan into action. After biding my time, I fished the area when I deemed the conditions were right. Everything came together and finally the Fat Lady slipped into my net!  

That’s it from me for now, catch you next time.

Mark Watson

Common Carp
Not a monster but all part of the journey to that next special fish