Although I fish a number of waters throughout the seasons I always spend a large amount of time each year on what could be classed as tricky syndicate waters. These waters are crystal clear, and carp heaven (for fish and angler), with snags, gravel, silt, and every type of weed you can think of.
The fish are wily old beasts, some that are older than me and have seen every trick in the book, providing a great chance to get up close and personal with your quarry. You are able to spend a huge amount of time watching how the Carp react to different situations, bait, and rigs, and it never ceases to amaze me just how clued up these big old Carp can be.
There has been a lot of talk in the press of whether a Carp is intelligent or not, but in my view, it’s a survival instinct. They are wild animals that have been caught a number of times over the years, and can definitely identify certain things in a given area that spell out danger, and know how to avoid them. You could debate all day as to whether this is intelligence or not, but one thing I can tell you is that after witnessing some of the lengths a Carp will go to work out if a bait is safe or not, I sometimes wonder how we ever catch them at all!
One thing I will add to this is that on every occasion that I have witnessed such behaviour, there has been something present that has aroused suspicion in the first place, i.e., something is now there that wasn’t there the last time they looked! If you think about it, the lake is a Carp’s home and, if you walked into your own home to find all your furniture had been re-arranged while you were out you would get a little twitchy to say the least. In these situations, presentation plays a massive role in the capture of such a beast, and I will try to explain some of the things I have learned on these waters, so you can apply them to your own fishing.
One of the main things I have found is the importance of pinning everything down. Many people including myself advocate the use of fluorocarbon. It’s heavy and the light refraction is close to that of water, making it very difficult to see. This is great when used properly, but creates carnage when it’s not. Let me explain…
If a Carp comes into your baited area, and everything is blended in to the surroundings and all looks well it may well home in on your freebies, and feed without fear. However, if it then brushes against something that it cannot see, like your mainline, it will depart your area like a scalded Cat! There is NOTHING that spooks a Carp more than brushing against something that it cannot see. If it can see your mainline, its suspicions may well be raised, but it knows it’s there, and will manoeuvre around it. For these very reasons I won’t use fluorocarbon as a mainline, preferring to use certain lengths of it as a leader instead, changing the lengths to suit different situations.
If I was fishing a clear spot of say 5ft then I would use a 4ft leader. The fish has to enter your area somehow and, if your line lays over a bank of weed for example, and the fish enters from that direction, and brushes against something it can’t see (fluorocarbon) again it will be gone, but if it can see it, it will avoid it, and still drop onto the spot where the line disappears (the leader).
I also add some good sized blobs of putty up the leader, about 12” apart just to ensure the final section is well and truly nailed down. Although I rarely use tubing or lead core these days, in certain situations you simply can’t get a good line lay, and then I favour heavy tubing. I use the Rigmarole tubing; it has a steel inner, and is the heaviest on the market. Yes the fish can see it, and yes they will be suspicious, but they will not bolt away from it in the same way as they would if they brushed against fluorocarbon. In crystal clear water you can see the area you want to present bait on, and take some time to survey the surrounding area. There may well be some dead sticks further up the margin that has gone black. The Carp will have come across these many times, so black may well be the colour that arouses less suspicion. Believe me, just because you are fishing in weed, it doesn’t mean that green tubing is the way to go. Sometimes it can stick out like a sore thumb, so have a think about it before you lower bait in.
While we are on the subject of pinning things down, we need to talk about back leads, and in particular, flying back leads. These I avoid at all costs, as you simply can’t get a good line lay with them, as you have such little control over them. They rarely land on a direct line between your rig and your rod tip, and you are much better off fishing a slightly slack line. I do use conventional back leads, but only when I know there are no obstructions between tip and rig, like bars or weed beds, and again, I will still fish with a slightly slack line. Slack line is by far the best way I have found of ensuring the last bit of your line is sitting flush to the bottom of the lake. Just pay out enough line so it is slack at your rod tips, and your bobbins are on the floor.
When it comes to actual end tackle, I like to keep things simple. Interestingly, with leads, I have found over the years that it is not that important to the Carp from a visual point of view, and they pay very little notice to size or shape, but it is worth dulling them down a bit, as shiny, fresh from the shop leads can glint in the sunlight. I just rub them around a bit in the margins until the shine has gone. Rig wise, for probably 80% of my angling I favour the KD rig, with supple braid as hook link material. Again I use putty; a couple of small blobs will ensure it is pinned to the lake bed. Colour wise I use silt grey for the bulk of my fishing. If you look closely around the lake you will find, even in summer time, bits of dead and decaying twigs, and fronds of weed that have gone black, and these are blown around the pond, settling in margins, or on bars, and in the weed beds themselves, looking like black cotton, just like my hook link.
It is far more important to think about the bait you are using, and what effects that has on how the rig will end up laying on the bottom. I favour critically balanced baits, and I have recently read several articles questioning the validity of balanced bait. The point they make is indeed a valid one, in that you spend a huge amount of time balancing bait, and once it’s been in the water for a period of time, it takes on water and gets heavier, thus it is not balanced any more. The point that I would make is that I use balanced bait for two reasons.
With balanced bait you can put a piece of foam on the hook, and when the lead hits the bottom the foam will keep the rig up and clear of the lead. When the foam dissolves, because the bait is so well balanced, it sinks very slowly, and will fall away from the lead, laying the link out straight as it settles: perfect presentation. The second reason is that I want the hook bait to be lighter than the free offerings that I have thrown in with it. If a Carp is mopping up the free baits with a certain amount of suck, then the balanced bait will fly further into the mouth, enhancing the chance of a hookup. Yes, the hook bait has taken on water, and become heavier, but so have all the freebies! Therefore, the hook bait will still, and will always be, lighter than the free offerings.
An awful lot of people favour a coated hooklink, and these do catch a huge amount of fish, but it amazes me how many people will blindly cast these out in the lake without even thinking about presentation. They don’t even lay them in the margins to see what they look like beforehand! These rigs invariably use a stiff boom, with the last inch or so stripped back to allow a degree of movement to the hookbait: a very effective rig. However, many people will use a bottom bait straight out the bag, which is fine, but if you don’t stop the lead as it hits the water, and feather it down, so it swings down like a pendulum, the whole lot can end up a tangled mess on the lakebed. Worse still, they put foam over the hook, and because it’s not balanced, and the bait won’t sink slowly, when the foam dissolves, the bait just drops straight down on top of the lead, leaving the boom section doubled back, and raised right up off the lakebed.
One little trick I found for using bottom baits on this type of rig is to use a small pva stick, threaded onto the link and over the hook. Nothing great about that you may think, but the trick is to critically balance the bag! All I do is add liquidised pop corn to my stick mix, at about one third pop corn to two thirds of my normal mix. The pop corn is very light, and naturally floats so the bag will stay clear of the lead and sink very slowly, allowing the link to lay out flat, in the same way that a critically balanced bait would. It’s also worth mentioning wind, and in particular the under tow it can create. Many people attach this kind of rig to the swivel using a loop knot, as this creates another degree of movement to the rig. A balanced bag, or bait in this situation may not behave quite how you want it to. If there is a degree of wind or under tow, the bag or bait tends to drop in that direction, so you could end up with it falling over the lead, and laying next to your mainline. In this instance would attach the link to the swivel using a grinner knot, as the stiff boom will naturally push the rig away from the lead.
Whenever I go fishing, I am constantly trying out different things in the margins, so I can see how it looks, how it reacts with a bag on, or a stringer and also how it lands from different angles. If you can find a long clear margin you can cast down it, as you would out in the lake, and then walk down to see what it looks like. I can guarantee that a lot of you won’t like what you see, and therein lies the point. If you take a little time to do these things you can tinker with your chosen arrangement until you do find a presentation that you are happy to cast in to the lake. I have even been known to fill the bath up with water so I can play with rigs, and see how the melting action of the pva will affect the presentation, and again that can be a real eye opener. Pva mesh bags will constrict slightly before they melt, and the tighter you tie the bag the more it will constrict. When the bag does eventually go, it explodes, and can often blow your hair right around the hook, masking the point. Not so much with liquidised or powdered baits, but more so with larger baits like boillies, this can happen quite often, rendering your rig completely useless. How many of you have actually checked this sort of thing before it goes out in the pond at the start of a camping session? Give it a go, experiment a little and it will blow you away. I must add that although all of these methods are used on the trickier waters, if you employ them wherever you are fishing, it can’t help but up your catch rate.
Just as a little footnote: I went to one of my little waters at the back end of summer and found one of my target fish mooching about in the snags. He looked up for some food, so I sprinkled some chopped boillies on a clear spot a little further up the margins, and sat back to watch. Sure enough within half an hour or so he had found the spot and eaten every last morsel. I waited for him to move off before gently lowering a rig into place, making sure the line was so slack that it hung limply from the rod that was laid on the floor with about six inches of the tip protruding over the bank and scattered a few more broken boillies around it. Within ten minutes he was back, and I felt sure I was going to catch him. Again he mopped up all the free offerings, and as he approached the hook bait my hands were trembling. I could clearly see what was going on, and he was having a good look at my rig. He then swam over it, and sat over the top of the lead, before following the fluro leader right the way up to the point that it left the water, nudged it, and exploded out of the water as he took off at a great rate of knots. As I said at the start of this article, sometimes you wonder how you ever catch them at all!
Tight lines and be lucky