Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing my usual at this time of year visiting old and new venues doing my research in preparation for the coming season. However, my preparation work didn’t just start then, it began months ago or to be honest years in some cases. What I’m doing now is the final stage, assessing the lakes angling pressure and something I call competence level. This final stage is crucial and something that can only be done by fishing and observing. Once you have made an assessment on what you are up against you can then finish your plan. It may sound very clinical, but if you are like me and don’t have endless hours to waste it does make a difference. Knowing when and how to fish in advance can save you lots of grief and time.
Knowing your fellow anglers habits is essential and should always be respected. One thing I have noticed this year is lots of anglers with new kit. Christmas presents, winter purchases or just replacing worn-out tackle, who knows, but despite the current economic climate most anglers seem to be willing to spend money on Carp fishing gear.
My view on fishing gear is simple – it’s just equipment to do a job. Rods need to be fit for purpose, shelters / umbrellas need to keep me dry. I’ll let you figure the rest out. All my gear needs to perform and be designed for the workload intended. I don’t ever want to have doubts on the reliability of my kit. It gets in the way of a good day’s fishing. However, some anglers seem more interested in having the latest well marketed gear rather than something suitable.
For instance a good friend of mine recently showed me his latest shelter, which I must say was very much improved from its previous design. He then went onto explain how heavy and bulky it was, forgive me for being simple, but my interpretation of improvement should at least make it easier to use i.e. carry. He did then explain that it didn’t leak like the original design, so I suppose that’s an improvement.
I have always found that once you’ve accepted the functionality of fishing equipment you will become a better angler. Why? Because you stop worrying about what something looks like or what it can and can’t do and get on with fishing. The most important aspects of fishing are location and getting the fish to eat whatever you have attached to your hook. The latter being the most crucial. It’s this attached to the hook thing that I find most important. I often wonder how much effort do anglers put into there choice of bait in comparison with choosing the latest equipment. I’m also amazed how some anglers will put their trust into the hands of people that have no perception of what a Carp bait should be our how it should be applied.
Firstly Carp need a diet that fulfils their requirements applicable to their seasonal cycle. No commercially available baits or manufacturers have ever tried or even understand this issue, in my opinion. The pressure to produce a mass produced product will never allow this flexibility.
Most Carp we fish for are what I call, ‘bait fish.’ They are a particular size because we artificially supplement their diets with bait. We have all seen the overall increase in fish size over the last 10 years which, I believe is all on the back of angling pressure. Most waters I know cannot support naturally the fish sizes or densities they now contain. For instance I know of one venue that is just over six acres that holds more than three tonnes of Carp, with an average size of over 30lbs. If any water could do that naturally we would be farming them for food. Any fish farmer will tell you that there are significant commercial limits to Carp farming if attempted without artificial feeding. We have now achieved a situation where all our Carp have been significantly exposed to artificial food sources, which they have learnt to exploit. Carp will try and eat just about any thing; the plastic bait industry is testimony to that fact. However, the problem isn’t plastic – it’s the stuff that’s not formulated properly.
I’m now of the firm opinion feeding certain baits to Carp at the right time of the year will create digestive stress issues that can affect them for the whole year. I did at one time believe that Carp wouldn’t eat anything unsuitable, but I’m now convinced that they will – especially when placed in a competitive environment. If the Carp in your water are regularly caught on artificial bait then they are ‘bait fish’ and potentially at risk from eating something that will affect their digestive system.
I recently did an experiment with a mixture of shelf life baits from different companies. I placed them all in the same container of water and observed them for two months. What happened over that period amazed me, some of them decompose like you would expect, but what happened to the majority was very concerning. The decay process never started and none of the baits lost any of their mass or indicated any signs of decomposition. Witnessing this made me very concerned about the level of preservative they must contain and their actual formulation. If the normal decay process cannot break through the barriers within the bait after two months then a carp’s digestive system has no chance. This on its own can in some circumstance not be an issue, but if the bait contains high levels of chemicals that both neutralise and stress the digestive process the affect can be extreme.
This issue of applicable bait formulation is not just restricted to just shelf life baits. For instance some years ago we had a phase of loading baits up with high levels of oils, fish oils to be correct. What followed was quite a revolution, angling became easy again and fish weights seemed to increase. Some very good bait companies formed their existence on the back of this new approach, but sadly we had been feeding the Carp a time bomb that was about to explode. Suddenly fish started dying for no apparent reason and in some cases it was hard to image why, especially when they appeared to be in such good condition. A lot of anglers, including me, were guilty of ignorance – if we had done our research properly we would have found how dangerous it was to feed Carp a diet that contains large quantities of fats. They only need low levels and of quite distinctive group of free fatty acids. We probably made the situation worse by feeding them oxidised oils without actually knowing, which is more dangerous and health threatening. If Carp eat bulk food oils that have oxidised the chances of them developing a condition that causes their liver to fail increases significantly.
Oils aren’t the only products we should not feed to Carp. Any product that is a protease inhibitor shouldn’t be used in Carp baits. I’m sad to say many companies do use them without knowing. A protease inhibitor is a product that will reduce the effectiveness of trypsin as a digestive enzyme. Trypsin is the only digestive enzyme associated with the Carp’s natural digestive process. So anything that affects that enzyme negatively is likely to cause some form of digestive stress. Every wondered why certain fish will suddenly disappear or drop off the map? And especially when they are normally regular bank side visitors? I now believe this phenomenon is due to a digestive imbalance trigged by eating something that is totally inappropriate. Carp, like most fish, have evolved eating natural substances that don’t cause this problem.
They are also very aware of their needs during their annual cycle. This is why I now use baits that are tailored to their seasonal needs, where nutrition is not just about protein content. Vitamins, minerals and digestive conditioning aids are so important especially during the spring. At this time of the year the Carp’s metabolism is just beginning to start working again after the winter. This winter has been very extreme so even the southern county fish will be suffering from some level of stress. It’s important we don’t add any further stress to this situation by feeding fish with something that will just make the issue worse.
The problem can not be easily solved because most baits you can buy have no labelling telling you what they contain or if they have been formulated with products that are appropriate. The bait industry operates without any regulatory guidelines or to any rules protecting the consumer.
I think it is time as responsible Carp angler we started to demand that bait firms become more open with their product labelling so we can make more informed decisions about the baits we use.