Today I would like to look at a subject that has fascinated me for many years. I first wrote about creating artificial feeding zones using mass bait back in 1995…Dear me!
Was it that long ago? It started like this: I had just begun a campaign on a very weedy lake that was almost unfishable - the photo shows what I mean! All the conventional strategies failed and I was at my wits end. More in hope than expectation I started using groats by the bucket load, not for any specific purpose but simply because they are such a terrific bait, one that carp compete aggressively over. I was aiming to create a feeding area off the weed to see if I could tempt them away from its perceived (by the carp) safety. I wanted to see if I could use the carp themselves to clear a hole in the weed simply by feeding hard in the root system and thus creating a open fishable area.
In time my plan paid off handsomely as I began to get takes on hookbaits positioned not only a long way off the normal catching zones but also in the significant holes in the weed that had been caused by the feeding action of the carp. Thus encouraged I started lacing marginal areas with mass baits (groats, hemp seed, Red Band, etc.) and over the course of just a few weeks I managed to create brand new marginal feeding zones that could be fished very easily using simple stalking tactics.
In time these became hotspots so now I was presented with a choice: I could either cast to the holes in the weed or I could drop baits in the edge where a similar baiting tactic had started to pay off. The photo shows a tiny swim on a small lake where it was easy to bait up in the marginal weed. Here I could fish close in and watch how they took the bait and how they responded to various baits and baiting situations. Continuous heavy baiting over a period of weeks created what I came to call 'Dinner Plates'. These were areas that had been completely denuded of not just weed but also most of the mud and silt, so hard had the carp, tench and smaller fry fed on the bait I had introduced.
This is one of my favourite lakes, a small natural lake of no more than two acres. At the time I was the only angler who knew about it and I had the lake more or less to myself most of the time. The only other anglers I saw on there were pleasure anglers fishing for small stuff so the fact that it contained some of the most gorgeous carp was not well known. The water was usually gin-clear so it was possible to see deep into its depths, it was therefore the perfect venue on which to test baits of all kinds.
After a few days baiting up but not actually fishing the swim, I managed to establish not just a dinner plate but an enormous dinner table! You can see the size of it by the area of clear gravel where every last vestige of silt, mud and weed has been cleared away. You can also see one of the lake's big carp drifting slowly over the baited area.
In time I had just about every fish in the lake coming to 'dinner' with me and was rewarded with some fantastic carp among them this beautiful common. Sadly the lake has changed hands and now no fishing is allowed. Shame!
This is a small lake near my home. It is council-owned so is free for everyone to fish. This makes it very vulnerable to anyone who wants to help themselves to a few carp with which to stock their own lake or that of a syndicate or angling club. People who live near me will know the lake and its whereabouts and some will have some very happy memories of the fish that lived therein, including this angler. Sadly a group of guys who wanted the fish for themselves managed to steal most of the lake's big fish but before that happened I was able to spend many happy hour fishing there.
This is a very obvious clear area in the weed created solely by carp feeding avidly on bait that was introduced there. As you can see the dinner plate is stripped bare of all vegetation showing the clear, bright gravel of the bed of the lake bed. Some of the guys who fished the lake at the time told me that the carp had become wary of feeding on the dinner plate. I never found this to be the case but maybe they had fished it to obviously, whereas I used the bare minimum of bait and fished it single rodded, just a single hookbait on the plate with a tight scattering of bait around it.
Provided you were quiet and well concealed the carp would venture right into the margins to feed on that clear area. I caught some beautiful fish from that little lake and I really miss it today. It was always a place where you could get up close and personal to the carp, to sit and watch them feed and occasionally get one to take a bait.
Dinner plates are formed when carp return time and time again to a spot to feed either on naturals or on introduced bait. In time their feeding activity scours the bottom of any silt or weed and if the lake has a bed consisting of stones or gravel, soon these will start to shine like the dinner service at Buck House as the carp remove all trace of natural lakebed detritus.
My mate Steve and I coined the phrase ‘dinner plates’ way back in the early College days when finding areas cleaned free of silt by the feeding activity of the carp brought us considerable success. One area in particular, situated in the thick weed at the back of the islands, was so distinctive you could see it even if there was a ripple on the water, and if you climbed the stalking tree is stood out as plain as the nose on your face. I always loved visiting the swim and spent many a happy hour sitting on the bait bucket with a single rod, fishing a bait on the dinner plate.
I love to watch carp go about their daily business and in my younger days I spent more time up a handy tree looking down on the carp below than I did actually fishing! You can learn so much more about them when you are actually looking at them in their home environment. You can see how and where they feed and also watch how they patrol their under water world. Carp have their favourite areas for each activity. They have feeding areas of course, but there are also areas where they go to rest and relax; to chill-out, if you like! Though you may find them day after day at the same time and the same area, you may never get a take from them if that is a resting area, not a feeding one.
These fish in this photo are resting in one of the prime chill-out areas. Though I have spotted these fish in this spot on countless occasions I have never seen them feed there, and to the best of my knowledge nobody has ever caught a carp from this chill-out zone, including myself...and it is not for the want of trying!
Carp that feed in the same area day after day will cause a dinner plate to form so why not try it for yourself by regularly introducing plenty of bait - and I mean lots of it - in the same spot. Tiny baits are best for this as they make the fish really hunt for every last morsel of bait, thus clearing the lake bed for you. Groats, hemp seed, Micro Complex, they are all perfect baits, as is boilie crumb or boilie soup. In just a few days the carp will clear the bottom almost entirely of silt and weed. I loads of bait when I am trying to create a dinner plate feature so I need it to be easy to prepare without to much fuss. This is my all-time favourite mass bait, a blend of hemp seed, Red Band Pigeon Conditioner and mini-maize.
This is a typical dinner plate that I created on a French river. First I found a likely looking area where thick weed beds waved in the current over a gravel bottom…a bit like the English Hampshire Avon. I chose an swim where the overall current was reduced as the river widened. In the middle the river remained quite strong but in the margins it was virtually non-existent. Overhanging trees provided the cover needed to give the fish confidence to move into shallower water close to the bank. I baited the spot heavily with the hemp/Red Band/mini-maize blend and the dinner plate formed overnight. It looked like this the following morning!
After a couple of days of overnight baiting I felt fairly confident that I could start fishing the following morning. I arrived on the third morning to find the swim alive with small fry that had been attracted into the area (always a good sign), presumably by the feeding activity of the carp, which had obviously had a good old feed during the night, as the bottom was sparkling and bright.
This is a general view of the swim.
I put in a couple of handfuls of bait and after about ten minutes the small fry disappeared and the first few carp drifted back into the swim. I was shocked to see several really large fish that came out from within the nearby weed fronds to feed. (Remember I had not started to fish yet as I was building up the swim bit by bit so as not to spook the carp.) Slowly but surely more carp came out to join the feast. It was time to offer them a bait, nothing fancy just a simple snowman rig on 35lb Quicksilver Gold with a inch of coating stripped back from the eye of the hook.
I watched with bated breath as the rod tip quivered as carp brushed up against the line, then suddenly the rod jumped and bucked in the rod rest. I grabbed the butt and a huge swirl erupted from below the surface as a big carp surged out of the swim. There followed an amazing scrap as the fish tore up and down the river but eventually I got close to the bank. Then I caught a glimpse of it and my heart began to beat even faster (if that were possible). It was huge! Here it is my PB river-caught carp. What a magnificent fish it is!
Stay safe, everyone!