Hot On The Top

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Bonders and JB with a 22lber

I’ve already intimated that my respect for Carp anglers has grown massively since I’ve taken over the running of the Kingfisher syndicate and got to know many of its members on a much deeper basis. It’s a shame that the common perception of Carp anglers is of bivvies, bed chairs, boilies and crashing boredom. In fact, the best carpers are well up there, right at the top of their game, some of the most imaginative and intuitive anglers on the planet.

Which brings me to JT, one of the KFC’s (Kingfisher Fishing Club!) oldest and most trusted members. JT is one of the most perceptive guys around and some of his observations are pin-sharp. Take this one. He’s quite convinced that particular, individual Carp can put up defences against standard methods. So, at Kingfisher as an example, there will be fish that simply will not be caught on all of the stereotype, bottom-fished baits. It’s like they’ve sussed those methods out and they are a complete no-no.

Lovely fish that fell to crust

However, attack them with surface baits or with something quite different – perhaps stalking with naturals, for example and they suddenly become viable targets. He cited the case of Kingfisher a few years back when a ‘celeb’ carper joined and saturated the water with floating particle baits. He really did carpet the lake with these, in large part to feed off the endless waterfowl and get through to the fish themselves. Of course, this was a controversial approach but it worked. Interestingly, out of the twenty or so Carp that the ‘celeb’ caught, at least five were totally unknown fish. So we don’t always know what we have in our lake unless we, from time to time, try approaches that are a bit out of the box.

A perfect example of this would be the very recent capture of one of the most glorious Carp I personally have ever witnessed or been photographed with. Great mate, Bonders was up for the weekend and we tackled one of the pits in the Kingfisher zone. Despite dodgy weather, one or two fish were showing on the top and at least a couple of crackers looked at Bonders crust – yes, crust before rejecting it. Suddenly, from out of the depths, came this peachy beauty which just hammered the bread down.

The fish weighed twenty-two pounds but this was largely irrelevant. The colour, the shape, the scale patterns and the flawless beauty of the fish were what made it stunningly special. And above all, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of the fish ever having been caught before. As far as I was aware, this was a true, virginal fish which fell for a method just a little bit out of the usual box.

Going for the crust

Personally, I’ve stepped out of the top, ‘pro’ carping world for many years – simply due to lack of time. However, I like to think I’m still relatively ‘hot on the top.’ Surface fishing fits in nicely with my time constraints. Long-stay sessions are completely out for me these days but if I arrive at a water and see fish in the surface layers, then I always back myself to have a chance. For what it’s worth, here are just a handful of my own golden rules.

Though I’ve fished with all manner of surface baits over the years, I keep coming back to crust. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, I think that it’s often difficult to get Carp that aren’t used to surface baits to start looking for dog and cat biscuits, for example. Bread is pretty universal and most fish recognize crust straight off. Also, I’ve found that you can feed Carp off very quickly if you’re not careful. By using just a single piece of crust with no loose offerings, you are not going to over-face one or two big fish.

Crust is heavy, especially when dunked, so you don’t need controller floats which, again, sometimes arouse suspicion. Also, because crust is heavy in the water, you can mend the line against it without pulling it off course on a long drift over open water.

Finally, whilst you might expect small pieces of crust to be accepted more enthusiastically, I’ve often discovered that a big piece, the size of a playing card is more acceptable. Until Carp speak, don’t ask me why.

Lucy Bowden with a beauty caught off the top

Location is an interesting one. In my experience, on virtually all Carp waters I’ve ever fished over fifty years nearly, I’ve discovered that there will be certain areas where Carp will take off the top far more readily than others. In fact, I can think of a few waters where you will never catch Carp off the surface over eighty percent its area. Don’t ask me why but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s something of a fact. Surprisingly, these taking areas are not obvious for any of the features that you might expect. They are often not sheltered, for example, or out of the wind, or shallower in depth. I don’t know why, but in these taking areas, Carp just seem happier to come to the surface. It’s worthwhile taking a lot of time to try and suss these areas out.

The strike is very important, especially with the larger pieces of crust that I’m advocating. Many Carp, especially larger, more suspicious ones, will often simply take the crust in and hang quietly with it under the surface for anything up to thirty seconds before properly engulfing it. The trick, therefore, is to wait until the line moves slowly and purposefully off before striking. Strike when you see the crust disappear and very frequently all you will do is spook a fish for weeks to come. Further, it pays to strike firmly and far back. Remember, pulling the hook through a large piece of crust isn’t always the easiest of tasks, especially at distance.

Finally, I’ve always enjoyed watching Carp, especially as they approach floating crust. I think I’ve now tapped into their body language and know roughly where they are coming from. Confident Carp, it seems to me, sort of lift themselves up on their pectorals in a calmly assured way. Once they are high in the water column, they simply move themselves forward, their head and back steadily appearing out of the water and engulf the crust, often with a healthy, satisfying gurgle.

John with a fellow angler at Kingfisher

There are all manner of in-betweens but the spooky Carp will often swirl around the crust, sometimes hammering it with its tail. They’ll often bow wave, moving fast, quite aware of the crust but obviously dubious about taking it. Carp like this will often come in and mop up pieces of crust after small fish have done their worst. As I’ve said, these are the two extremes with all manner of shades and subtleties between them.

That’s what makes surface fishing just so interesting. It’s not just the allure of perhaps catching Carp unknown to you, it’s a way of becoming more intimate with the Carp that you love to catch.

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