Carp are frustrating beasts. Just when you think you have got the fish all worked out they go and break the rules and start playing hard to get. It’s strange but true; carp can be easier to catch in certain areas and almost impossible to catch in others. Some of the most challenging areas are the spots where they go to chill out and rest up for the day.
Tree lines with fallen trees are typical of such areas as are weed beds and patches of lily pads. Here they feel safe, as they are in cover and even though they may not apparently be feeding hard they will at times fall for a well presented bait. However, it isn’t necessarily easy fishing!
There’s a lake in Cornwall that boasts a spiteful set of snags that often holds carp that are not feeding but are simply lazing about in the sunshine. But they have to eat and strangely it seems as if a collective decision pushes them out of the snags. You can see them moving languidly in and out of the ancient fallen trees and then suddenly, almost as one, they emerge as if on a mission. As they pass in front of the branches you can see which way they were heading. Sometimes they head out of the snags and across a small bay towards another set of snags opposite, a distance or no more than 20m; at other times they drift across the lake around an island into deeper water. Regardless of where they travel, you can be sure that they are heading for natural feeding areas.
When I used to fish the lake regularly I got so used to their routine that I could wait in ambush for them as they headed out of the snags. To start with, however, I had a sharp lesson to learn, namely that when they were on the move, nothing would distract them from their course! Even though they appeared to be totally unfazed by it, they refused to stop as they passed over my bait. I have no doubt in my mind that they knew the bait was there but they were set on a conditioned path from which they simply could not be diverted. Eventually I realised that the fish were following a set pattern, moving from one feeding zone to the next, refusing to be distracted from their route.
Lily pads hold a similar fascination for carp and it is common to see them cruising between or under different sets of pads as if they haven’t a care in the world. So why should carp behave so cautiously as they cross open water, even though they feel so apparently relaxed when in snags, weed or pads? I think it is all down to the “comfort zone” aspect of the areas where they go to rest and generally laze about.
I can recall days at Savay when I would spend hours watching the fish and remember in particular one hot July afternoon when I watched at least eight of those wary old warriors as they cruised slowly back and forth beneath the sheltering branches of the large overhanging trees that created the underwater snags. Beneath them lay a scattering of bait that I had introduced first thing that morning, when the snags were empty, yet that bait might just as well have been on the moon for all the notice they took of it. I couldn’t understand their reluctance to eat the bait – Robin Red-based fishmeal boilies – until I realised that they were not actually in a feeding area but were there simply to rest and chill out. Sounds odd but it is behaviour I have witnessed many times on other lakes.
As I watched those huge fish, not one under thirty pounds, totally ignoring what I considered to be a perfectly acceptable bait, a much small fish, a common of about 18lb entered the snags and immediately started feeding on my bait. Almost immediately the previously disinterested larger fish also began to feed! It was as if the larger fish were not going to allow this little pipsqueak eat all the bait. If only we could replicate this powerful yet totally natural feeding trigger ourselves!
Before resuming my fishing further down the lake I put about two or three kilos of Red Band and a couple of kilos of Robin Red fishmeals in the snags. Naturally this had them all bolting out of the swim like their tails were on fire. Yet when I crept up for a look just after first light there wasn’t a single seed or boilie left under the trees.
I believe a lot of the feeding activity that takes place in these “resting” areas is more spur of the moment than triggered by anything we may put in out baits to promote a feeding response. I am sure you have all watched in frustration similar situations to the one described above where carp ignore for hours at a time baits in which you have 100% confidence. However, all may not be lost and the example above will show you that sometimes a bit of perseverance is all that’s needed.
For instance, on a summer recent trip to a local lake I found the carp in their usual reluctant mood to eat anything placed more than a few inches from the edge of the pads so I decided to try to trap them in open water, as far away from the pads as I could get. I started building an area of bait in open water in between three or four sets of pads, trying to establish the carpet more or less equidistant from all the sets. I used my favourite blend of SuperRed, Red Band, hemp seed and popcorn maize with a few Robin Red boilies mixed in for good measure.
Of course, I had to wait for one or two of the carp to feel like stretching their fins and move out from the pads, but after a couple of hours a saw three carp nose out into open water and with their backs out of the water head slowly but surely for my carpet of bait. As soon as the first one came close to the bait its back dipped beneath the surface and after a couple of minute I had a run that resulted in the first of 24 fish that I caught in my session.
But now winter is upon us and the fish are slowing down, so we need to consider their feeding activity in snags, open water, chill zones and other likely areas. Many anglers think that a particle approach and winter fishing are incompatible. I disagree and have written a couple of articles stating my views already in this series.
One question that needs to be considered is just how much bait you should introduce during the winter months, and while I guess it goes against the grain of the accepted wisdom, I follow the Ian “Chilly” Chillcott view that carp will eat far more than anybody imagines during the colder months. Of course, you first need to put the bait in the right spot, as there is no point in piling it into an area where there are no carp, or one that they visit infrequently in winter. But find the fish; find the areas they go to feed, and carp will react positively to a good carpet of mixed particles and seeds.
Finally may I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a Carpy New Year.
Treelines, especially ones that feature fallen trees are on of the carp’s favourite chill out areas.
Carp feeding on surface baits in the snags.
Savay, scene of many happy hours spend simply watching carp.
Lily pads invariably attract carp in numbers. The channel between the two central bands of pads in this photo was an area where the carp could often be ambushed.
Single rod stalking to a marginal bed of rushes.
Blend of SuperRed, Red Band, hemp seed and popcorn maize with a few Robin Red boilies mixed in for good measure.
Robin Red-based boilies are always a good bet. This is neat, fine-ground SuperRed mixed with eggs and boiled for two minutes.
A big carp resting in the sanctuary offered by the lily pads.
Sometimes a feast like this will draw them out of the snags.
If you need top get your bait out a long way, use a ground bait sling. Use a Method feeder in conjunction with the ground bait. This ground baits is SuperRed mixed 50/50 with Groats.
Find the feeding areas and you can bait up confidently heavily with a mixed particle approach.
A big common tempted in open water well away from snags, overhanging trees or pads.