Hi there! This article is the first part of a series that looks at all the diverse intricacies in the wild and wacky world of carp bait!
The series first appeared in a French magazine called Media Carpe in the early noughties but I have updated the articles to cover the advances in bait techniques and the wider availability of better carp bait ingredients.
I have been fishing for carp for more years that I care to remember, starting in 1964 at a small lake in south London. I was singularly unsuccessful! Then in 1974 we moved to the south west where in the company of my great mate Speedy Bill I began to fish somewhat easier waters, including this one in mid-Devon, near Okehampton.
Since those far off days I have fished many different carp lakes and rivers and in 1986 I took my first trip to France in search of bigger carp. I find that the challenges I face abroad are exactly the same as they were for me in the UK back in the 70s and 80s, when new techniques, tackle and tactics were developing every day. Carp fishing has been a victim of its own success and these days UK waters are literally packed to bursting point, and the big challenges have largely disappeared. This why I like go to other countries where the challenges still exist. Here in the UK there are many thousands of carp anglers and not enough carp waters to accommodate them all.
However, I still like to find small intimate lakes where carp grow big and as under far less pressure that their counterparts in the UK. Yes, it is still possible to find these small intimate lakes across the channel and this is just one of them. I don't know if they will come out clearly in this photo but just look at those bubbles at the back of my marker pole. That's a sure sign of carp feeding, in this case, on a dense bait carpet of hemp seed, pellets and SuperRed 3-in-1 groundbait.
I love looking for those unfished waters and stretches of river that are largely ignored by the big-fish carpers who target the well-known circuit waters. I was once told by one such angler that the lake I was interested in was not worthy of his attentions as it did not contain any carp over fifty pounds! That's set too high a bar for me: I am happy to catch any carp, whatever its size. How could anyone turn up their nose at a magnificent mid-thirty common like this one?
Uncertainty and lack of confidence can play havoc with the mind of an inexperienced carp angler and simply crossing your fingers and hoping for the best isn’t good enough. First you need to do your research and that is a matter purely of hard work. There are no short cuts, but reading blogs, books and magazines, can often help. A photo of a superb brace of carp that featured on the cover of a magazine nearly thirty years ago inspired me to track down and fish the lake in question.
Carp are fairly widespread throughout Europe so it there is a fair chance that most lakes will hold your target species. However, finding the lakes that hold big carp can be very difficult without outside information. Generally speaking the older and bigger the lake, the greater the likelihood that it will hold big fish. The carp world is a very secretive one and often getting hold of news about a good lake is hard to find. In addition there is a lot of false or even deliberately misleading information out there! In 1990 I was told about a lake that was rumoured to hold massive carp but when I fished it I never saw a fish over ten pounds. On the other hand sometimes you just get lucky and drop onto a lake that rewards you handsomely. This is my missus bent into a good carp under threatening skies, which often accompanies good fishing.
The main problem is knowing where to start when you are first confronted by the challenge of the unknown. First you should examine the natural factors that can affect your chances. Water quality, stock density and natural food availability are the crucial factors and that means doing a fair bit of research work first. On waters where the fishing is an unknown quantity it is often worthwhile to first find the features that fish are likely to visit: areas of snags, an old riverbed, a flooded plateau or gully, all are worth investigating. The various ways of finding such features are well documented elsewhere but where possible using an echo sounder of some kind given the best results.
One of the best ways to find features is to visit at a time when the lake's level is down, maybe in a drought or perhaps when the lake is undergoing a vidange. Here the bars and gullies are clear to see so get the camera out and start snapping! The pix will pay off in spades once the lake returns to its normal level.
While your chosen lake may hold carp, they are not necessarily all going to be monsters. Nor should you assume that all big lakes, ressies and barrages hold big carp. Conversely there are many very small lakes that hold massive fish; this beauty came from a lake in central France just three acres in size.
An experienced angler will be able to weigh up the potential of a lake by examining its natural character. Some will tell you that they can ‘smell’ big carp simply by looking at the lake. I wish that were true of me: usually all I can smell is the nearest bar!
You can get a general idea of the richness of a lake by looking at the shoreline, especially on if there is a decent breeze and waves are lapping on the shoreline. If the lake is as productive as you hope, you should find on that lee shore empty mussel shells, dead crayfish, bloodworm, larvae, and other insects that have hatched in the lake. One of the best indicators of the richness and potential of a lake is the presence of crayfish for they form a large proportion of the carp’s diet and evidence of a plentiful stock of crayfish is an excellent sign.
Look too for strands of weed that may have been uprooted from the bottom and for patches of lily pads and rushes lining the margins. These are not just sanctuaries for carp, they are also areas where carp will spawn and feed early in the season before the water level drops. If there are other types of snags like fallen trees, investigate these fully as they will invariably hold carp.
If you are fortunate enough to be at the lake when the carp are spawning there is no better way of finding out the potential of a lake. Here a large female carp and her courtier at rest after their exertions!
There is no better way of sussing out the nature of a lake bed than seeing it when it is empty. For many years I fished the Sunrise Pontoon on the Chateau Lake, one of my favourite swims on the 180 acre lake. After more than a dozen trips to this island swim, and after catching dozens of big carp from it, I felt sure I knew every nook and cranny of the lake bed; where the drop-off was leading to the deeper water of the old river bed; where the snags were, the harder gravely spots on the lake bed, but I had no idea that this huge fallen tree was embedded in the lake bed! Yes, I had lost the odd fish on an unknown snag but I had no idea it was so huge. Perhaps it was just as well as I'd have worried myself sick if I knew a fish was heading towards it during a scrap!
There is no better fish-finding tool than the Mk1 Eyeball! Spend the downtime between runs in your pit by all means but never waste the opportunity to scan the lake looking for signs of carpy activity. Keep an eye out for jumping carp or carp that are simply head-and-shouldering. Frankly I don’t necessarily believe that carp crashing out are always feeding fish, whereas those you spot head-and-shouldering are almost certainly feeding close to the spot where you saw them. This is a positive sign that should be noted for further investigation. First and last light are not only the best times to spot fish, they are also the best times to observe Mother Nature's glory as the sun rises and sets.
On clear lakes where you can see the bottom, preferably relatively deep ones, certainly over 2m deep. Why? Well if wild birds are plentiful they may be able to get at the bait and clear it up, giving you the false impression that the carp have eaten it all! It's a good idea to introduce small pockets of bait at various spots around the lake. Then visit these areas regularly to see if the bait is being eaten. In time the feeding activity will sweep the lakebed clear of any silt or light weed creating what I call a 'dinner plate'
Small seeds lend themselves perfectly to the creation of dinner plates and you can even use bait to clear holes in the weed through the intense feeding activity of the carp, even on the weediest of lakes. Groats, Hempseed and Red Band Pigeon Conditioner (as shown here) are my baits of choice.
On truly huge lakes of 1,000 acres or more location can at times actually be easier. Carp tend to be pushed around by the wind so a big wind should move them onto the lee shore. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and if big winds from a new direction are forecast try to get set up in a swim facing the wind. Quite often the fish will venture well into casting range, even on the biggest lake. And if you find them they are likely to be there in numbers as they move around in big shoals.
Mind you, even in really calm conditions carp can often be found off the shore that receives the prevailing wind.
You'll need a lot of bait to hold 'em! This was not enough for two anglers for a week's fishing on one very immense lake that I fished back in the day.
This is just one of over 120 carp I caught from the lake in two visits in 2003.