As carp fishing becomes more popular, so our quarry is becoming ever more wary. In the good old days, before the pressure started to grow, a scattering of boilies inevitably did the trick.
Find your feature, bait it up and wait for the carp to arrive. I used to call it 'The Three Bs' approach (boilies, buzzers and a bivvy!). Back then carp fishing was comparatively easy but these days things have changed and on many lakes a lot more thought is required to achieve success. Thankfully the options available to modern carp anglers are becoming more plentiful and also more refined thanks to the innovative nature of carp fishing as a whole.
In the past it was common for anglers to set out to catch carp (plural) and the standard tactic was to scatter boilies indiscriminately throughout a large area. While this still works well on some venues greater success can often be achieved by only fishing for one fish at a time. This approach is all about setting specific traps for a single carp, and once that fish has made a mistake, the trap is set again, and then again and so on after each fish. It’s exactly the same as if you were setting a mousetrap. Catch one mouse, set the trap again, catch another mouse and so on.
This tactic was first explained to me by my mate Bill Cottam, who has been exceptionally adept at employing it. I know Bill won’t mind me saying this but when he first started fishing abroad he was happy with whatever came along. He set out to catch as many fish in as short a time as possible, but I know inside he felt he was missing something. Year after year he failed to beat a self-imposed big fish target of forty pounds, so in around 2000 he had a radical rethink of tactics and his own baiting strategy. The result? In his first year he caught ten 20kg plus fish and in 2005 he beat the magic 25kg barrier twice. He then went on to land one of his prime target fish, the Scar Fish from Luke’s, and not long after caught his second target, the big common from Etang Saussaie at 78lb 6oz.
Though the 'one carp at a time' principle is ideal when fishing pressured venues, there are more than one way of skinning a cat, so let’s look at a few of the options available to you. Perhaps a simple alternative hookbait bait might be all that’s required - a very buoyant pop-up hookbait on a 3cm hooklink over a bed of tiger nuts, for instance.
Alternatively give PVA bags or stocking mesh a try.. Maybe a simple stringer will get under their guard or perhaps boilie crumb or a carpet of pellets will do the trick. By ringing the changes you should be able to keep one jump ahead of the carp, and other anglers on your lake who are perhaps a bit too hidebound in their approach.
Variety is the spice of life and nothing so energises the mind of a carp angler as thinking up variations of a basic premise. The basic premise I am talking about here is the aforementioned boilies-only approach. On big, open waters you can cover a lot of ground with three or four rods so why put all your eggs in one basket? It is easy enough to ring the changes and adopt differing baiting strategies for each rod, yet most anglers seem to fish the same method on each one. Keep watching the water so as to keep your mind alert. Don't become too hidebound. Think outside the box.
I like to fish three rods to different areas the lake wherever possible, aiming to cover a variety of contours, depths and types of lakebed and employing a similar variety of baiting patters. As carp often venture onto the shallower areas of a lake after dark my first goal is to try and find shallow water. It is likely that a well baited area of shallows will come alive after dusk providing action right through the dark hours. This is very noticeable on the Chateau Lake, a venue that I used to fish a great deal. Here a rod down to the shallows would take fish throughout the night when carp would venture onto the shallower areas after dark where they felt safer and less exposed.
This twenty kilo mirror came from the Shallows swim on the Chateau Lake, a large and extensive area, which can be found to the left of the Boathouse. I have enjoyed some terrific catches on a bait cast about 120m down to the left. It can be boiling hot or freezing cold; the carp always seem to creep on to the Shallows after dark.
However, within a couple of hours of sunrise carp tend to leave the shallows for deeper water and many end up in the deepest area of the whole lake below the dam wall. A swim that is ideally situated to take advantage of this fact is the little-fished Pavilion Swim. This is not a popular spot as it is regarded by many anglers as an all-or-nothing swim, and to a degree this is true. However, if the lake is crowded and the two swims in the boathouse are occupied, as well as those below the car park, the pressure can drive the carp into the deep, calm waters off the Pavilion. This photo was taken in the Pavilion where all three rods have been cast down the lake towards the private bank. You can see the boathouse in the distance on the right hand side of this photo.
The carp feed right the way along the private bank and the best tactic is to walk round to the lawn and bait up along its full length. I like to use a scattering of boilies, pellets and hemp seed. Alternatively a light carpet of tiger nuts will also do the business. The reason the swim is so productive when the lake is busy is because the carp are probably half a mile from the nearest angler…apart from the guy in the Pavilion! This beauty is one of over eighty fish I caught in five days fishing the first time I ever fished the swim. Naturally it became a firm favourite of mine thereafter!
Winter and early spring are when the fishing in the Pavilion can be at its best. The fish come into the deeper and thus warmer water, especially if a cold east wind blows down the length of the lake towards the Pavilion. I generally like to fish to a widespread bed of bait, initially baiting up with perhaps five kilos of boilies spread far and wide about the area. I am not too worried if I don’t get takes straight away as I always feel confident that fish will visit the deeper water some time or other during the trip. I am not worried about uneaten bait and will top up each night at dusk with a further kilo or two of bait until I start getting takes.
This combination of washed out and fresh baits often gets under their guard and in fact, once the fish have moved onto a big bait carpet you’ll find that they will return night after night and usually the more you feed, the better it gets. Bear in mind that the more fish you catch the less bait remains out there to hold the fish in your swim so keep topping up the swim on a regular basis; certainly after each capture. It is a good idea to have a bucket of washed out bait standing by as well as a bag of fresh bait at the ready. The combo of fresh and washed out bait can really turn them on.
This is a typical Chateau Lake 'thirty' caught in the Pavilion on a winter trip some years ago. It fell to a brightly coloured pop-up fished over a very tight bait carpet; two kilos of boilies in an area the size of half a tennis court.
Try creating several of these condensed packages of free bait, say, a kilo in five different spots. This often works better than five kilos scattered widely about the swim. This brace of thirties came to just such a tactic.
As mentioned it is a good idea to fish a roving rod using single high- attract hook baits. This could be a fluorescent pop-up or a single tiger nut. You can cover a lot of ground with a rover and this tactic can work very well. It is especially effective on lakes where the bigger fish are loners that tend to avoid the company of their smaller brethren. These ultra-bright alternative pop-up hook baits have proved almost irresistible to the carp on the Chateau Lake and elsewhere. In fact they have worked on just about every venue I have fished!
With a single hook bait approach you need to chose your hook bait carefully. If you get the feeling that such brightly coloured single hook baits may be loosing their effectiveness then a switch to dull coloured hook bait may be all that is required…and try upping the size of your freebies and hook bait at the same time. If the carp have become used to seeing 15mm baits then a change to 25mm can really reap the rewards
While on the subject of the size of freebies and hook baits let’s consider boilie crumb. OK, there is nothing new about crumb but we all know that carp are at times obsessed by the shape, size and smell of certain foods and preoccupation on a food source is a well-known phenomenon. You only have to look at the way tiny seeds and grains such as hemp seed and groats turn them on to know that small can be beautiful as far as your bait is concerned. You can create heavy preoccupied feeding by using Boilie Crumb, and I think it's fair to say that I was the first writer to outline the success of the crumb way back in the mid 80s when I wrote about it in one of the early Nutrabaits catalogues.
The quickest and easiest way to make crumb is in a food processor; I use an old Braun food processor that has been relegated to my bait cupboard from the kitchen by my wife.
It is ideal for making large quantities of crumb and I can process 5kg of boilies or boiled sausages in less than 15 minutes. Indeed, using the Braun I can take the concept behind boilie crumb to a whole new level, which I call Boilie Dust!
You need to put on your thinking cap when it comes to baiting up with the Dust but once you have established the bait carpet the results can be staggering. The best tactic is to drop a kilo of dust and a hook bait from a bait boat. Just can imagine the feeding frenzy that follows. This chunky mirror came to just such an approach last September at The Secret Garden.
Another quick and easy way of creating an effective baiting situation is with the small cubes of bait that are formed by a method of preparation called 'Bricking'. This was a technique I learned from Dave Preston who developed it while fishing Birch Grove with Tim Paisley and Bill Cottam in the early 80's. Dave then published his ideas in his chapter for Tim's first book. Dave's method was also published in the 1989/90 Nutrabaits catalogue.
Boilie soup should also be considered as a means of getting a powerful but somewhat less tangible source of attraction into your swim. True, it is limited in how and when it can be used as basically 'Soup' is nothing more than base mix plus attractors mixed with lake water to a consistency that resembles a thick soup. Ideally it should be used when fishing the margins, but it can also be introduced from a boat. Again you can find a detailed account of how to create Boilie Soup in a Blog article that I wrote back in 2014.
As carp have come under ever increasing pressure where possible they tend to seek areas where they feel safer, and this often means the zones beyond normal casting range. As a result anglers have had to adapt to fishing at long range, casting a putting bait into areas previously thought unreachable from the bank. All sorts of gadgets and gizmos have evolved to help anglers achieve more distance; spods, the Spomb giant catapults and groundbait pouches as seen in the photo. At the same time bait firms like Haith's have developed baits aimed at helping angler bait up more effectively, both at range and closer to the bank. One such bait is the 3-in-1 groundbait SuperRed. Small balls of tightly compressed SuperRed can be launched over 120 yards using such a pouch.
Larger ground bait balls will go even further but you will need to step up the casting power of your rod to get maximum range. Using a Fox spod rod with a test curve of 5.5lb I have managed to put SuperRed balls that were studded with small boilies to over 180 yards. Now all I need to do is take casting lessons so I can put a hook bait that far!
You can add still further to the attraction given off by your ground bait balls by adding free amino acids. This blend from Feed Stimulants is ideal in the cooler months (There is a summer compound available for warmer temperatures.)
These small balls of SuperRed have been studded with coarse sea salt, which aids the release and detection of the aminos. They will fire at least 50 yards out of a powerful catapult.
This awful virus is putting a real cramp on my fishing. Being in a high risk category I have to be ultra careful going out into the big wide carp world. However, hopefully the risk will decrease as time goes by and I'll be able to get back on the bank again to catch lovely big carp. Happy days may not be here again just yet but I am sure they are not far ahead!