Fishing Pressured Venues.
This is Ashmead in all its glory. This precious jewel in carp fishing's crown is one of the best carp lakes in the UK but its also, arguably, the most difficult to fish successfully. It contains carp to over fifty pounds but they are no pushover, that's for sure. In this article I would like to look at pressured lakes with an emphasis on EU venues, both public and private, and outline my approach to them. Inevitably there is bound to be some crossover between the tactics that we looked at for other types of venue and those we may employ when chasing known big fish in pressured waters so please bear with me if it looks as if I am repeating myself.
This is my starting point when choosing bait, and I am very fussy about whom I buy my bait from. You see, I do not believe that you can achieve the same degree of competitive, aggressive feeding if you are using a poor quality baits.
Ready mades (shelf life boilies) also play a significant role in my carp fishing, but I first have to be sure that the ingredients used to create them are of the highest quality. I have used shelfies from most of the top UK bait firms: Nutrabaits, Crafty Catcher, CC Moore and Dynamite baits, and the reason I pick these companies it solely down to the quality of their ingredients.
On the other hand it has to be accepted that there are some very poor quality shelfies out there. I’ve made this point before but it bears repeating. The ingredients in ridiculously cheap shelf life boilies are of negligible nutritional quality and the flavour will wash out within a matter of a couple of hours. In addition they will be as soft as a marshmallow in next to no time providing the crayfish with a feast and the carp with nothing!
The point is, when you are after the pressured carp that live in the popular and hard pressured lakes you are unlikely to catch carp using poor quality baits. It is a fact that food baits catch carp in numbers while poor quality baits catch maybe one or two fish (if you are lucky) before they are ignored and then eaten by crayfish. You must offer the carp something that competes with their normal food as much as possible. Carp instinctively know a good bait from a bad one and will stop eating poor quality baits. However, offer a food bait and they’ll keep coming back for more time after time.
Here is a key piece of advice that applies to all carp lakes: The better your bait the more carp you are likely to catch! That is not a fiction, some imagined piece of dogma without basis, it is a fact. This fella makes exceedingly good baits, which he uses to catch exceedingly large carp. He is Andrew Bernard, boss of Union Jack Baits based in Limoges, France. Andrew has been making what I would call 'traditional food baits' for many years and his philosophy on bait is based firmly around the HNV principle, and it is no coincidence that he relies on Haith's Baits birdfoods to form an important part of his overall baiting strategy. Ask Andrew his opinion of top quality ingredients and he'll shrug his shoulders, blow out his cheeks, as if to say: "Silly question", and then he'll show you his albums…prepare to be amazed!
I guess I am something of a fundamentalist on this subject; possibly, some may say, even a bit blinkered, but I know what I know and if you offered me twenty kilos of poor quality ready mades or a 1kg bag of a good, well formulated shelf life bait such as Trigga, I’d take the Trigga every time, and I’d bet that I’d catch more.
Pressure means different things to different anglers; largely depending on which country they live in. In the UK waters are classed as being under pressure if they are fished the whole year round and angler pressure alone is the yardstick by which the lake is judged. On the Continent pressure comes in many different forms. It may not simply be angler pressure but may come in the form of other water users such as bathers, pedalo users, wind surfers, sailors, canoeists, sub aqua- and scuba divers, ad infinitum. You only have to be fishing on a popular summer resort lake to see that they come under enormous pressure from all kinds of different users, not just anglers. This is a large park lake in central France. This large red barrels on the far bank are marker buoys and they are about to be dumped right in the middle of my baited patch, so that the darling 'little ones' can have a play at racing their sailing dinghies. You can imagine the chaos.
As if this wasn’t enough, angler pressure can be heavy on many of the more popular lakes, those known to hold very big fish. In the UK we class a carp as being massive if it goes forty pounds plus, whereas on the Continent the magic target is 25 kilos (55lb). This is just such a fish (in fact it weighed just under 30kg!) from a heavily fished lake called Nappy's Lake on the Le Queroy complex.
There are plenty of lakes containing fish of 25kg and above, but for the most part they are well known and very heavily fished, so much so that at times it is impossible to move swims or even to get a swim in the first place. The young carp tigers of today wear me out, which is why we older (cough!) gents tend to search out the 'off the beaten track' lakes and rivers where the fish might be smaller but the peace and quiet will be more or less guaranteed. I doubt anybody would turn up their nose were they to catch this 'small' carp of 'only' 39lb.
I can remember the one and only time I went to the very famous and thus very pressured reservoir Foret d’Orient in France in early May 1992. I was with Bill Cottam and a couple of the Nutrabaits anglers and we had high hopes as some friends had been over just a few weeks earlier and caught well. However, by the time we got to the lake it was so full of anglers that the only swim free was vacant solely because there wasn't a fish within a mile or more. OK, it looks nice and uncrowded in this photo, but you should have seen the rest of the lake. Crowded? I should say so! One swim vacant on 5,000 acres? That’s what I call crowded.
As I said at the beginning, there will inevitably be some crossover of tactics from pressured public waters to equally pressured commercial venues and as we have seen in previous Blogs you need to consider many factors when you set up in a swim. Has there been anyone in there immediately prior to your arrival?
Yes – then think about how he might have been applying his bait. No – ask yourself why not, especially if it is normally a popular swim.
Fishing large lakes can be quite daunting and the Orient and St Cassien (pictured here) are prime examples of big-fish venues that are under constant year round pressure. We had the Wall Swim at Mesnil (the Orient) to ourselves in May '92, and were surprised to find it empty. We should have realised that the reason it was free was that it was devoid of carp! Since that experience I am always suspicious when a known hot swim is vacant and there’s no apparent rush on the part of other anglers to get in there.
On the other hand sometimes it really pays to move if a decent swim comes free, especially if you are blanking and the guys who are just vacating the hot swim have been catching. When a couple of Belgian lads from the Nutrabaits team fished St Cassien in 2000 they moved at 3.00am in the pouring rain and a full gale to get into one of the hottest swims on the lake. Despite the dreadful weather our intrepid pair gambled that nobody else would be mad enough to move in such weather, so they took their opportunity and moved immediately the swim came vacant. Would you have done the same? I know I wouldn’t! I’d have waiting till daylight at least would also probably have waited for it to stop raining.
Before you start putting lots of bait into an area ask yourself what might be left in there from the previous occupants. I suggest that you err on the side of caution to start with. While you could confidently expect good results on a bed of hempseed and tiger nuts, there is little point in putting in, say, five kilos if it, when the swim already holds a substantial amount of bait, introduced by a previous angler.
I am 100% certain in my own mind that carp that are under pressure spook off big beds of bait, be it a bed of boilies, seeds or particles but on the other hand, you can’t catch a lot of carp without using bait! It’s a classic Catch 22 situation. You want to use bait to attract and then hold carp in your swim but you don’t want to use so much that they spook. I usually start with a very light introduction of bait, maybe and handful of boilies along with a micro particle carpet of half a kilo of Red Band blended with a similar amount of Oat Groats. I spread this far and wide about the swim aiming to get the fish quietly confident in eating bait but not scaring them by the size of the bait carpet. You want to get the fish moving about rather than grazing the lakebed, hardly moving between mouthfuls. Red Band and Groats is a classic combo and when applied appropriately is more or less guaranteed to being results.
Looks good enough to eat, doesn't it?…if you're a carp!
However, good that the combo might be, you can add still further to the overall attraction by including some micro seeds to the blend. This photo shows equal amounts of Red Band, Oat Groats and Niger Seeds. The later are not widely used by carp anglers, which is a pity as they add considerable pulling power to the bait. They are highly nutritious being over 25% protein and 40% oil and once cooked they have a deep earthy taste and smell. In addition their minuscule size greatly encourages the competitive and aggressive feeding response from carp that we are all striving for as such a feeding response invariably lead to success.
Preparation is pretty straightforward. Simply mix the dry blend in an suitably sized container - I use a bait bucket - and then add boiling water. Allow the bait to stand overnight, and then transfer it to a saucepan. Boil for 30 minutes, or until the hempseed starts to split, then return the hot bait to the bucket and place on the lid before allowing the bait to cool. After it has cooled down it will be ready to use.
I have discussed this long and hard with some of the best names in carp fishing and the general consensus seems to be that it is folly to over-bait. Most of the features on the pressure waters are well known and the carp are accustomed to visiting these hot spots, as they know there will be food there provided for them by kindly carp anglers! However, they are not silly and they are generally cautious and suspicious when they feed. Big fish need to eat to maintain their body weight, so as far as they are concerned life is a constant juggling act between the need to eat and the risks of getting caught.
Cautious fish be tricked into lowering their guard but it isn’t easy. I have used groundbait on many pressured lakes to try to get under their guard, and this has brought significant results but bear in mind that while big boilies are fairly selective, mass baits will initially encourage small fish to feed. Don't make the mistake of allowing them to eat all your carefully prepared bait before the carp arrive for a feed! SuperRed, pictured here, is a very successful groundbait that carp simply adore so in this instance I think you can be generous with it.
You can use SuperRed straight from the bag but in my opinion it is best after an overnight soak so as to allow the whole micro seeds content to absorb the water. You can add a liquid food to the soak water at this stage.
This is soaked SuperRed to which some whole and chopped boilies have been added. In this sloppy state it is preferably introduced by boat, either a bait boat or a powered dinghy. (Incidentally, when the groundbait is wet like this, if you try to Spomb or spod it out, you will end up wearing much of it!)
UK anglers will need no introduction to this fella, Terry Hearn of Dynamite Baits and ESP. His bait application is meticulous in the extreme and his ability to single out some of the biggest A Team carp in England is legendary. I can thoroughly recommend his captivating YouTube videos so check them out on ESP's page. There is much to enjoy here!
Now it looks as if travel restrictions may be relaxing, now is the time to get the rods out and catch yourself a biggie! Good luck!