This is the first of three articles on what I consider to be the most important aspect in carp fishing. I guess you could call it an offshoot of location but it is more than that. Location is more about finding where the carp are; what I am talking about is finding where they FEED.
A great man – It was Rod [Hutchinson] actually! - once told me, “It is better to have one bait in the right place than a thousand baits in all the wrong places.” I have never forgotten those words and now wherever I fish I always take great pains to discover where that “right” place might be. This is not as easy as it sounds! Here’s Rod again: “In a lake of 100 acres the hot spot can be as small as one square yard.
But surely carp have a brain the size of a pea, you are saying. How can you give them credit for signs of intelligence that at times borders on the astonishing? Well, I accept that they don’t have genius-level I.Q.s but nevertheless there will be times when in order to get a take your hookbait will need to be not just in the correct general area, but in the right spot within that area.
The depth of the water you are fishing can be a determining factor.
I have fished more than my fair share of deep carp waters in my time and am not fazed by them anymore. Two of my main club lakes are very deep, with depths of 60 feet or more, and when I started fishing abroad in 1988 I once again was confronted by the problems posed by of deep water.
I think that some carp anglers may be discouraged from fishing deep lakes, as they think that carp will not feed in depths of 60, 70 or even 80 feet or more. But why not? OK, there many not be much natural food down there and the light levels will certainly hinder weed growth, but if your bait is down there, then there is nothing in the book that says they won’t go down to eat it. I think that a lot more carp would be caught in deeper water if more anglers actually fished for them there. I would suggest that the reason a lot of carp are reported as being caught in relatively shallow water is because nobody is prepared to give the deeper areas a try.
There is no question that carp find their own comfort level within a deep lake, and this may well not be right at the bottom. Once again I fall back on the wise words of Mr H. Rod had been fishing a lot at Cassien where he considered finding the carp’s comfort level was the prime requirement for success. He told me that at certain times of the year at the venue, a zone between 25-28 feet was markedly more productive than deeper or shallower water. He recommended that, as a starting point, regardless of the overall depth of water, 28 feet was a good starting point for any deep lake. I have since found this to be pretty sound advice and it has stood me in good stead on many occasions. For instance, getting on for twenty years ago I fished a lake in France that had depths of well over 60 feet and remembering Rod’s advice I put two rods at 28 feet with one at 15 feet and the other at 60 feet. The two rods at the mid point produced significantly more takes that the other two, one shallow, one deep.
There is far more to the subject of the carp’s comfort level than meets the eye. In deep lakes I believe that carp prefer to remain at a constant depth so that they do not need to keep adjusting their swim bladder with the changing depths, and they therefore remain comfortable and expend less energy. Carp will adjust their swim bladders to the preferred depth and remain at that depth for long periods while they feed, rest, or sleep. On some waters it may be 12-15 feet, while on others it can be 30 feet or more. It’s just a matter of finding their comfort zone. Where this might be depends on many factors, such as barometric pressure, time of year, angling pressure, water flow, oxygen levels, food availability, lakebed make up, the presence of freshwater springs, light intensity and a whole host of other factors.
Having said all that, you should also bear in mind that, just as some carp tend to have tastes and habits that differ to those of other carp in the same lake, there are almost always certain fish that prefer to spend long periods in fairly shallow water and others that tend to spend long periods living, feeding and resting in much deeper water. One very noticeable occurrence is that young, small carp tend to prefer shallower and generally warmer water with more light intensity, while the very big carp prefer the deeper trenches or drop-offs.
I have been fishing for more years than I care to mention and over those years I have come to accept totally the wisdom of Rod’s words about hot spots within hot spots, and now I seldom start fishing unless I have located what I consider to be the prime target on the lakebed. This might be located in what you would consider to be a fairly obvious place: the far bank and its margins; the margins of islands, tunnels under overhanging trees, deep margins under your feet, weed beds, gullies, bars, troughs, silt beds, plateaux and points, anywhere in fact that holds food and where the carp feel safer or, better still totally safe. On the other hand it may at first sight seem totally insignificant, showing up, perhaps, as a slightly flatter area in among a plethora of bars and gullies. Even when you think you have found a perfect spot, bear in mind that there may also be a hot spot within the hot spot!
Here’s an example of how finding the exact spot in a lake can be so vital. Way back when I first started fishing abroad I found myself fishing a 400-acre lake in eastern France. This was at the time a very daunting prospect for me, as I had never fished any lake larger than 40 acres before. However, after spending the first day simply looking for fish moving and then researching the lakebed with the sounder over the area of the lakebed where I had seen them show, I gradually built up a picture in my head about the pattern of the lakebed.
For the most part the reservoir was a steep sided valley with the old riverbed in the foot of the valley. However, the depth to the riverbed was over 90 feet in places and I did not think there would be much point in fishing that deep. I therefore concentrated on the plateau-like area at the head of the valley where the river entered the lake. Here the depth was no more than 10 feet or so and the zone was full of silt that had been deposited over the years by the river. All in all it looked like a perfect sport – perfect for the UK, that is. In reality, even though I saw a few fish in the area, I was not getting the sort of action I would have expected. More exploration was called for.
I moved deeper into the main part for the lake, well away from the inlet and the almost bottomless silt. I was looking for Rod’s fabled 28 feet ‘magic’ depth, and after a lot of searching eventually found a very slight plateau in exactly that depth of water with a couple of gullies running along each side. The plateau itself was only about a foot or so high and no more than a yard across, but after giving it a real going over with the sounder I came to the conclusion that there was not that much silt on the top of the plateau whereas the gullies were full of it. It consisted apparently of very hard gravel (according to the sounder) and to me this and the lack of silt told me that I had found my spot. The lack of an appreciable amount of silt indicated to me that the carp were regularly visiting the plateau to feed. What they were feeding on was anyone’s guess but I imagined it might be small pea or zebra mussels. Whatever it was, the spot looked hot as hell! I decided to put all my eggs in the one basket and dropped several kilos of boilies on and around the plateau followed by all three hookbaits placed by hand from the boat right on top of the little plateau. This paid off beyond my wildest dreams, as I caught a shed load of fish in that session including my first ever 40lb carp and all my takes came from a bait placed carefully from the boat on the top of that minute little plateau, a pimple on the face of the 400 acre lake.
I shall continue this theme in a couple of weeks, but first I have some fishing to do…
As Rod Hutchinson wrote, “in a lake of 100ha the taking area can be as small as one meter square.” This is a ‘dinner plate area where the fish have been encouraged to feed confidently by the constant introduction of well-prepared seed and particle baits. A bait placed outside the zone stands less chance of being picked up.
Typical feed used to create a dinner plate feeding area.
In 1990 I fished a lake in France that had depths of well over 90 feet and on the basis of Rod’s advice I caught some really good nice fish at 28 feet.
Research using a boat, a GPS and an echo sounder is invaluable.
If you cannot get afloat then keep watching the water as much as you can for signs of carp showing at the surface.
And be prepared to do a lot of marker float work!
A treeline often conceals many hot spots.
Carp are known to have certain zones where they like to rest and other that they use as patrol routes between feeding zones. Here carp are on patrol.
These carp are in a feeding zone. If you can find where they feed or where they patrol you have more chance of catching them that in areas where they rest.
Don’t neglect the margins, no matter how big the lake may be. Fish often venture right in close on even the biggest venues so keep your eyes open.
The Chateau Lake, a venue where finding your hot spot is crucial.
A decent mirror from my own carefully guarded ‘spot off the Boathouse Swim on the Chateau Lake.
Written by Ken Townley