How to catch carp from difficult swims

Location, location, location! How many times have you read that that is the key to being a successful carp angler? And no truer piece of advice has ever been given. Find where your quarry is and, even better still, where it’s feeding, and you are well on the way to success……trouble is, that’s often easier said than done!

How many times do we search for them and are unable to see them? How many times do we see them but they are at such extreme range that although we might reach them with a good cast we will never ever be able to get our loose feed out to them? An awful lot of times, I will venture. Even more frustrating are the times we can see them that close that we could reach out and touch them with our rod tip. These are normally when they are in areas of dense weed, reed or other cover where they feel safe and secure. Getting them to take the odd mixer off the surface is no problem. We can often be that close that we can see them feeding on bait that we have introduced, feeling so secure in their safe surroundings that they are oblivious to our presence. The problem, of course, is that the dense cover that makes them feel so secure would surely stop us landing them should we hook one of them……or would it?

What many anglers these days don’t realise is that carp can be landed both quickly and safely from all but the most extreme of these areas. Slightly different tackle and a very disciplined approach is the answer.

To land fish in these situations, we must obviously prevent them from either getting the line snagged or breaking the line when they try to dive into the cover. Just hauling away on them with the strongest tackle available won’t work; all you will succeed in doing is tearing the hook from the fish’s mouth. We obviously don’t want to lose the fish or, more importantly, damage it in our attempt to catch it.

There are three main approaches I use to catch fish in these situations. Although different approaches are used to actually hook the fish, once hooked the technique used to land the fish is the same. I will cover the tackle used and this technique first, before discussing the different approaches used to hook them.

At first the tackle I describe to you will seem “unbalanced” and, if used for any other job, it certainly would be! For the rod, I choose a soft through actioned blank of around 1.5lb Test Curve (TC). The length can vary anything between 6′ and 12′, depending on the bank side vegetation. I always try to use as long a rod as possible, though. The line is normally 15lb Maxima Chameleon nylon. Despite being a big fan of braided mainlines for most of my fishing, I feel it has no place in this situation. Maxima is tough as old boots in snaggy situations and, just as importantly, has a good bit of stretch in it, an important factor for this method. Regardless of the end tackle used, you must ensure that it is “safe”. In other words, if it does become snagged it will come off the line without tethering the fish. The most important part of the end tackle is the hook. You want to choose as strong a hook as possible and, just as important, one that is thick in the wire. This thickness in the wire not only prevents the hook straightening, but also helps stop the hook cutting through the flesh. It should go without saying that all knots must be correctly tied and tested! Simple but unusual combination of tackle, but how and why do we use it?

A bit of mental preparation is needed next! First thing is that, as you are soon going to be using your tackle to its limits, you need to have both confidence in this and have the knowledge that no matter how hard you pull you (or the carp, for that matter) won’t be able to break that line with anything other than a direct pull on it! Before starting to fish, try tying your line around an immovable object like a fence post and pulling as hard as you can on your gear. It’s nigh on impossible to pull much more than 11lbs for any amount of time using one hand on the rod and the other on the reel handle –  that’s with any rod, let alone the soft one you will be using. As for the carp, bear in mind that his weight alone can’t break the line as this is supported by the water. The only way he can break the line is by building up speed, something you aren’t going to let happen!

The last bit of “mental preparation” is to decide on a plan of action that you MUST stick to once the fish has been hooked. “Lose your bottle”, or deviate from this plan, and unless you are very lucky, you will lose the fish as well.

So, the carp of your dreams has just closed its mouth over your bait. First thing is to set the hook and keep the rod up at around 50 degrees. Keep the line tight and, above all, give no line at all. The only distance the fish will be able to move is given by the flexing of the soft rod. Immense pressure is put on the fish stopping it from building up the necessary speed to break the line, the soft rod’s flexing giving just enough to protect and cushion the hook hold. If you are not fishing on the surface, this pressure will normally bring the fish straight up. Once up, start walking slowly backwards, don’t wind just keep the fish on a tight line. This is where the pre-planning comes in; you need to have established the “route” you take and tried to guess which direction the carp will try to head in. Not being able to run, the carp can often be turned “upside down”. This greatly disorientates it and aids you immensely! Before it realises what’s happening, you have “walked” it away from the snag and it’s more or less over the landing net that you’ve pre positioned in the margin. If you are fortunate enough to have some one to net it, then job done! If not, now comes the tricky bit! You need to get back close enough to the waters edge to reach your landing net handle; best way is to try to keep the rod as bent as possible and the fish still coming towards you whilst winding rapidly (don’t pump the rod, whatever you do, as this will enable the fish to turn its head and regain all that hard won line!) and moving quickly back to the waters’ edge. Keep the pressure on and a still very fresh, but some what bewildered, carp will be yours!

As I have said, it’s all about stopping the fish from getting its head down and running into the snags. If it gets there, it’s all over in most situations. Stick to your plan and the prize will be yours!

All in all, a good tactic which will enable you to safely fish for and land fish from some tight situations. However, you still need to use a bit of common sense when deciding if an area is going to be feasible to fish. Let’s please remember that there is nothing clever about continually losing fish or ripping mouths. Some areas are still just ‘no go’, but I will try to help you decide by giving a few examples. Sometimes it is the method that you use to hook the fish that can determine the feasibility of a swim. Let me explain.

There are three main tactics I use for close up snag fishing. I will describe them and discuss what I feel are their advantages/disadvantages and give a few tips I’ve found individually.

Floater fishing caught carpSurface Fishing/Stalking
The simplest and, possibly, the best for a number of reasons. The end rig is certainly simplicity itself; just a strong size 4 or 2 hook tied directly to the line! Once again, a nice th
ick wired one. I use a Snag hook made by Owner, but there are many suitable patterns. I simply mount two Pedigree Chum dog mixer biscuits (or similar) directly on the hook. These I’ve prepared to be soft enough to hook. Plenty has been written about doing this, so I wont repeat it here. For my normal floater fishing, I like to use a braided mainline for both its floating and non stretch properties. As I said earlier, braid has no place in my book for this job, though. Maxima sadly sinks like a stone, so you need to dress it with a line grease (Vaseline or similar will do). This ensures that it will float, giving you better control and not sinking down and spooking the fish. It is, however, very important, in my opinion, to ensure that the last couple of inches near the hook are free from grease and will sink. This is to ensure that it can’t cast a shadow, thus frightening the fish at the very last minute. To my mind, this is the single most common cause of last minute “turnaways”, a phenomenon very well known to dry fly anglers, but still very much unrecognised by carp anglers. Only time I change this rig is if the carp have really wised-up and I’m getting “spit outs”. This is when the carp are taking my dog mixer baits into their mouth, but spitting them back out before I have chance to set the hook. I’ve no idea what the rig’s called, but have been using it to get round this problem for years. It consists of a short length of tube with the two dog biscuits mounted on the tube (as in the tube going through the middle of them). I ensure that the tube is trimmed flush with the biscuits so it is inconspicuous. I slide this on to the main line before tying on the hook. Here I try and use the smallest (but heaviest) hook that I can. I use a Grinner knot and leave the “tag end” around 5mm long. Once the hook is tied on I slide the tube with the bait mounted on it down to the eye of the hook. The tag end of the knot is pushed in to the tube. The stiffness/springiness of the mono helps keep the tube/hook together. The way this rig works (if you get the balance correct) is that when the fish takes the bait and subsequently tries to eject it, it simply blows the tube mounted bait up the line leaving the heavy hook behind in the mouth for long enough for you to set it. Often the force of blowing the bait out (more so the larger double mounted one) will cause the hook to “prick” if you keep it correctly sharpened.

Floater fishing hook
The small but heavy hook is tied to the 15lb monofiliment mainline using a Grinner knot (note the long tag end left)

Floater Baits
Cut a length of stiff tube and mount two prepared mixers on it. The easiest way is to mount them on a needle first, then put the point of the needle in the tube and slide them on.

Mixers mounted on tube.
Mixers mounted on tube.

Attaching floater fishing baits for carp
Slide the tubing/mixer combo on to the hook link.

Carp fishing floating bait rig
Then tuck the tag end of the knot into the tube to help keep the hook and bait close together.

One real advantage taking the fish off the surface gives us is that it’s already up where you want him when you set the hook! One of the most dangerous bits i.e. getting them up on the surface has all ready been avoided. We can use this to our advantage. Imagine putting out a bottom bait in the middle of a weed/rush bed, even if there was a gap that was clear by the time we had got the fish up on top the chances of it wrapping the line around the snag would be greatly increased. With surface fishing, and the carp all ready being “up in the water”, we have a very good chance of being able to land the fish in the same situation. Putting the pressure on straight away and keeping it on as you go on your backwards walk will result in the carp just thrashing its way over, rather than through, the weed. Once again, you need to thoroughly study the swim and make your plan of action to assess whether it would be feasible in any individual swim. If in doubt, only fish the easier, more definite bet, swims until your experience grows. As I keep saying, nothing clever in losing or damaging fish.

The single most important piece of advice I can offer when fishing surface baits is not to be in too much of a hurry to present your hook bait to them. Far better to take your time and get them competing for the loose offerings, getting their confidence up. You will be surprised at how clumsy you can be with your cast/presentation once you’ve achieved this! The need for stealth and concealment in any close range situation speaks for itself.

Stalking With Bottom Baits
Sometimes, the fish are already feeding hard on the bottom when you find them. This can be either on natural food, or baits you’ve previously introduced in to the area you have located. You may be able to see the fish, but more often it will be other signs, such as clouding of the water, bubbling or even quite drastic displacement of the water as they tear up a shallow margin. Once again, there has been plenty already written by others on the subject of recognising the signs of carp feeding sub surface. There are two basic tactics that I prefer here, the choice of which being much determined by the make up of the swim and the bait used. The first of these is a simple free lined rig, same as the basic floater fishing rig I described above. I tend to use this when the fish are feeding on natural food and I’m confident of their exact location and direction of travel. For hook bait, I use a nice big lobworm on a strong size 4 hook. This I simply drop in the path of the feeding fish. Get it right and the result can be pretty instant. Same again, get the fish up on the surface and walk it back before it knows what’s happening.

Sunken Float Rig for carpSunken Float Rig
Sometimes, the fish haven’t really got their heads down and are simply patrolling round an area. Always worth having a bait (be it a natural or a boillie) out in the area they are patrolling in. If they see it, there’s a good chance they will pick it up. My preference is for a real “in their face” boilie with a bright colour and strong flavour. If it’s a bait I know they have taken in the past, even better. In fact, in these “safe” surroundings, carp will often happily pick up a bait that has long “blown” and they would run a mile from in open water! See the big advantages this type of fishing offer? Ease of location and no real worry over which bait you use!

Unlike the free lined approach, you may have to wait some time for a bite (although still a lot quicker than sat behind some buzzers waiting for them to come to you!). For this, I like the sunken float rig. This is a well known, but often misunderstood, rig. It is simply a sensitive, but buoyant, pole float (not that that really matters a simple piece of peacock quill does just as well) attached both top and bottom (I do this with two float rubbers rather than through any eyes on the float. This is so the float can pull off the line if it snags.) Around 3” from a size 4 hook, I gently squeeze on a large shot or piece of tungsten putty. This needs to be heavy enough to sink the float and hold the bait stable on the bottom. The set up is basically the same as the traditional “Lift Method”, the main difference being that when setting the depth of the float I set it a few inches too shallow. This means that the float sits under the surface. “Why?”, you may ask. The biggest problem with float fishing for carp anywhere is the sheer number of false “line” bites you get. The sheer size of these fish moving through the swim is enough to disturb the surface enough to sink a float, let alone if they brush against the line. If you strike at one of these false bites (and believe me, when you’re that keyed up, its easy to do!) all you will do is spook the fish or, at the worst, foul hook them. With the sunken float a bite is signalled in reverse, by the fish picking up the bait, lifting the shot/putty and the float shooting in to sight! No false bites will be seen. If the water’s clear enough, it’s nice to set the float under the surface, but still in sight. This means you can see any line bites etc., but you know not to strike them until the float shoots up!

Finally I will mention one last way; “Hit and hold” tactics can be used. Quite often, carp hang around near snags that you can’t get right on top of to use the methods I’ve described. A short but extremely accurate cast is needed. Sometimes, it will take several casts to get the bait in exactly the right place. Too many times have I fished to a feature that requires the bait to be within inches to get a take – too far away and they won’t look at it. Conversely, if you over cast and get it in the snags or too close, then you haven’t a chance of getting the fish out! For this situation, I like to use ambush tactics. Well before I’m expecting the fish to be in the area I position the bait exactly. My favourite rig is, once again, the heavy line but if at any distance and I’m expecting to have to pull the fish directly away from the snag such as the edge of a weed, lily or reed bed, I will switch to heavy braid for its non stretch characteristics. Any distance over 20’ or so, the stretch in mono becomes too much and can result in the fish reaching the sanctuary of the snags. Same strong hook, but this time I need a weight to help me cast the required distance. Once again, this needs to be able to come off if the fish does get in the snag. I simply slide on a short length of stiff tube around which I mould some plasticine to give me an “inline lead”. I then tie on a swivel to which I tie my hook length and hook. With braided mainlines, it’s important not to use it straight through, as it can cut the fish’s mouth. I, once again, prefer a mono hook length of 15lb.

The rod is placed upon the standard front and rear rests with bite alarms. Forget about using ultra steady “goal post” set ups and “locking up”! I will explain why later. The maximum number of rods I will employ whilst using this tactic is two. You can more than cover the feature with two and any more lines going into the area just become a hindrance and can, indeed, spook fish. I have my rod tips raised and the line as tight as possible. I use a heavy bobbin/hanger tight up against the rod, working on the premise that I don’t want any slack if the fish moves away from me. The bobbin will pull off if the fish moves away, and if the fish moves towards me the bobbin will drop back. Now comes the difficult bit and reasons I don’t bother with “locking up”. When fishing tight up against snags like this, I feel it is nothing short of irresponsible to set up like this and retire to your bivvy for a good night’s kip! No matter how light a sleeper you are, no matter how quick you feel you can get to your rod, just can’t do it! It takes seconds for a carp to plough so deep into a snag that you will never get it out of. You need to be right next to the rod(s), ready to take control of it at the slightest touch. As usual, getting the rod up and walking away from the snag as sharp as you can. Often, because of the greater length of line out the fish will “kite” to one side or the other. Bear this in mind when you position your rig and make your plan. One difference here, though, is that once you’ve got the fish away from the snag and into open water, you can then play it in normally. The big thing is being on the rod and being ready.; it’s hard work and if you’re not up to it, don’t try it!

CarpMid twenty that was caught by lowering a Sunken Pole Float Rig into a small gap in a weed bed.

Well, that’s about all I can say about fishing in “impossible” areas that so often hold unwary fish. Remember the basic rules of being confident in your tackle, making your plan and sticking to it, not giving any line, just letting the soft rod cushion the hook hold and walking the fish backwards, rather than pumping or winding. Above all, though, remember to be sensible when you try to target fish in these situations; one last time, it’s not clever to keep losing fish or rip their mouths. Good luck and tight lines!



About the author

Budgie Burgess

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