Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Tracking down the bigguns’

Even if some anglers will never admit it, everyone loves catching big fish. There is something special about watching that monster carp roll in front of the net and hoping it will stay on long enough to eventually make it onto your mat. Sometimes they come along when you least expect it, and other times you have to graft like heck to eventually catch the one that you want.
            Over the years I have fished a number of target waters chasing the bigger residents, whether they have been 20s, 30s, 40s or even 50s. I’ve been fortunate to have caught some lovely fish along the way, and I have to say there is no greater feeling in carp fishing than seeing a target big fish finally in the net.
            Each capture of a biggie has a special meaning because they all come about on different pathways. I have my own views on how to target the bigger fish and this week I’ll discuss a few of these and hopefully give you some pointers on how to track them down.

Effort & reward
When I went after Black Eye from Chad Lakes which at the time was a mid-fifty, I caught it on my second ever trip to the lake. Although I was chuffed to bits to catch it, the elation was nothing like landing the finest carp in Yorkshire (the Nostell Fish) when I spent almost two full seasons in search of it. The effort I put into catching the Nostell Fish was like no other carp I have ever fished for. It was a day-only venue with 20 carp in more than 20 acres of water, and it was 44 miles from my home. When it eventually went into my net at 43lb 6oz I stood staring at it for several minutes, trying to convince myself that it was definitely that fish. The feeling of elation was incredible as I drove home that day, knowing that a significant chapter in my life had finally come to a close.
            More than anything the capture of the Nostell Fish made me realise how much effort can go into some of the catches we see in the news pages of the magazines. When we see the likes of Terry Hearn with another target fish in his arms, it is so easy to say “It’s OK for him as he has the time to go and catch it!” but there is much more to a capture than just time. For a start, I believe everyone can make time to go fishing if they really want to. It’s all about time management, something we all have the ability to change.
            Outside of this comes the hardest part of the equation, which is effort and this is where most people fall down. Effort is the fundamental key to catching big carp consistently, having the tunnel vision to keep going when there appears to be no end in sight. It is so hard to do because there is no escaping the negatives that come with the passage of time. Even the very successful guys have the negative thoughts and I remember speaking to Darrel Peck just after he’d caught Two-Tone the former British record carp. He applied so much effort to his campaign he said there were times when he believed he was destined to never catch that fish. Those negative demons would put many other anglers off, and it is the perfect example of why Darrel is as highly respected as he is. It is also a fundamental reason why the same people are often regularly seen holding their target fish because they are made of different stock to the majority of everyday anglers.

Of course time does play an important roll in tracking down a target big fish so the more you have available to go fishing the better your chances are. I tend to think that people who have a shortage of time look to other areas of their fishing to try and gain an edge. This is where it gets a bit confusing because it is very easy to get caught up in the technicalities of the carping industry if you are not careful.
            There is no such thing as a ‘big carp rig’. If there was, we’d all be using it. The very fact there are so many variations of rigs out there should tell you that understanding this minefield of a topic is mainly about being confident in what you are doing. Other than using a big enough hook to hold well, if anyone tries to tell you that there is a big fish rig in existence, well just leave them to it. In my experience it’s all about being confident in what you’re using and nothing more. If you aren’t, you will faff around too much, forever reeling in and changing something when you would perhaps be far better off leaving the rig in place and sitting patiently.
            Big carp are generally older, meaning they will sense danger much more easily than younger less pressure-experienced fish. For this reason, I will try to use a rig that the majority of anglers aren’t. I only use braided hooklinks like Missing Link (stripped of the outer coating) and in a day and age when everyone is chod rig mad, it certainly puts me in the minority which is how I like it. Big fish will have seen it all before. Keeping everything discreet and camouflaged therefore, can only be of an advantage.
            As for bait, well I have much deeper views on this to those I have on rigs. I don’t believe there is a bait in existence which will single out the bigger fish from the smaller ones. I do, however, believe there are baits that most definitely give me a better chance of catching the biggies. There are so many examples of great big fish baits, such as The Key, Club Mix, Big Fish Mix, Cell etc. Lots of companies have them and their evolution comes after many years of use and field tests. You only have to look through past issues of Carp-Talk to see the track record of such baits, and a good starting point is when a bait is still on the market after many years of existence. God knows how many big fish have tripped up to the Nashbait Squid variations down the years; it must be thousands of them.
            Big fish are usually much older than smaller fish. They will have different taste stimulants, just in the way that humans have. Compare what foods children like to adults, there is a massive difference. Well the same exists in animals and fish which is why you get adult dog and cat foods, cattle feeds for the older breeds etc.
            Taste buds change with age, and in fish there are many examples of carp changing food preferences as they get older. It is a well-known fact that the bronchial apertures in carp are much more useful in smaller and younger fish. This results in the older and bigger fish having more difficulties sieving out the zooplankton as easily. The same can be said for the pharyngeal teeth on carp, these are known to wear out with time, especially amongst fish that feed heavily on crayfish and mussels etc. Carp therefore switch food items depending on lots of different factors, such as the time of the year, type of venue, water quality, food availability, etc, etc.
            I used to laugh off a lot of the bait theories that were put forwards by the top anglers when I was young. Bait chemistry was so technical a lot of it used to go straight in one ear and out the other. With the passage of time, however, I’ve seen how consistent some baits are with big fish. Ingredients like liver and milk powder, green lipped mussel, yeast and Robin Red, and combinations of them all, have the knack of working time and time again, and when you see it in action it is very difficult to believe there is no connection between bait and big fish.
            A couple of years ago on the Mesters syndicate in North Lincolnshire I landed the three A-Team members on Nashbait’s Scopex Squid fairly quickly. Mark Watson was on the same water and within no time he too had two of the A-Team on the bank using the same bait. The two of us hardly touched the other fish in the venue, and the fact Mark went back on there this year and caught one of them again very quickly is a great example of demonstrating such a connection.

When I’ve set my sights on catching a particular fish, one of the first things I will do is to track down its past history. This may sound like a tedious task but there is so much to be gained by finding out past capture records, especially if you are on a limited fishing time.
            I fish a lot of short sessions, dashing between the lake, work and home. Although I fish a lot of overnighters, a lot of the venues I have fished in recent years have been much better ‘day waters’. Obviously this has worked against me so finding out the best feeding times for the biggies has been very important. Fortunately I have flexi-hours at Carp-Talk which comes in very handy when I need to stay on for a couple of hours in a morning or get back to the water later in an afternoon.
             Most of the big fish I have targeted are very religious in the times that they get caught. Arnie at Manton Old Lake was known for getting caught more often than not between midday and 4pm, and quite often during the middle of the summer. As a result I channelled my fishing between those times, even going to the water just for a few hours around that time. It was much more than coincidence then when I eventually caught the great fish at 3pm on a sunny mid-July afternoon.
            I did the same at Woldview when I went after Floppy Tail, ensuring I stayed on the water until 10am as much as possible because that fish was known as an early morning feeder. I eventually caught it just before first light at 5am which again was more than coincidence when trying to understand the patterns of big fish habits. I can give you many other similar examples.
            The same can be said about swim choice too. Most big fish aren’t just clockwork with their feeding times, a lot are also very territorial. They have their favourite haunts and feeding spots so uncovering these can only be of benefit. It happens on tiny waters like Emmotland where the big common in Pond 3 is known for coming out from one end of the pond only. This sort of behaviour stretches right the way up to the larger ocean-sized reservoirs of the continent too, as an example The Bulldozer in the 6000 acre Forest of Orient in France used to only get caught from Geradot Bay.

Of course big fish are all different and you may find a dose of good old fashioned luck will help you more than any method or tactic when it comes to tracking them down consistently. Even the luckiest anglers in existence, however, can’t be lucky all of the time. Sometimes they need to rely on the key ingredient of all, which is to keep working at it even when things aren’t going in your favour. Effort is what it’s all about, working the grind stone and walking the walk; something which only a very few are prepared to apply to their big fish hunting time and time again. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Echo Pool, France

 I was amazed when I first heard reports of the colossal carp that were coming out of Echo Pool in the south of France, but they are very much true. This tiny little piece of French holiday carping is run by ex-pats Andy & Tasha Walker and I was invited down to take a closer look at what it has to offer.
It was a bit of push to get down there because I’d only just got back from Rainbow Lake near Bordeaux three days before. It was also my girlfriend’s birthday whilst I was away, but sometimes the perks of the job are so good you have to take the opportunities that become available to you. I’d actually been offered two weeks although I didn’t want to push it so I squeezed in a five-dayer with long-time carper Chris Felton (aka The Wizard) who was as excited as me about going. Echo was somewhere I’d heard a lot about and I wanted to see if it was as good as what I’d been hearing.

The stock
With the venue being a mere 2-acres in size, it’s fair to say its carp stock is nothing short of amazing. Topped by Colin the Common at a whopping 74lb it also has at least four different sixties to 68lb and six different fifties. Besides these fish there are also a plentiful supply of 40s, 30s and smaller back-up fish, making it very, very unique indeed.
I first heard about the venue when we had a catch report sent into Carp-Talk sometime last year. I have a built-in memory bank that absorbs information about lakes worth visiting and this was very much one of them. It wasn’t just the fact it had such big fish in it that made it attractive. It was because they were all home-grown.
          If you take a look on the fishery’s website there are pictures of the top ten fish, all at very small as well as their heaviest weights. This is something I always find interesting, not only because of the carp angler in me, but also my education which is fisheries related. I want to know about the mechanics of a successful fishery and what it is the owner has done differently to make it what it is. Clearly there was something special about Echo or it wouldn‘t contain such big fish for its small acreage. In fact, other than the legendary Redmire Pool, I can’t think of a lake in the history of carp fishing which has produced such colossal carp for such a small volume of water.
          They aren’t just any old carp either. Just from looking at the website before I visited I could tell they were in magnificent condition. Despite being pressured for almost 30 weeks of the year for the last ten years they are obviously very much comfortable within their little home which initially made me think it was solely down to the volume of bait being introduced. Whilst I’m sure this has had a massive impact on the growth of the fish, I also think the fact they have grown up with angling pressure is another factor behind why they are so big. Big carp which are subjected to angling pressure they have never seen before end up getting too stressed and sooner or later they fall off the radar. You only have to look at when the likes of Cassien and Raduta were first discovered. The biggies got caught a handful of times in the first year or so and then disappeared. When carp grow up with pressure they learn to deal with it and can live a long time very healthily alongside it.
          Another factor which I’m sure has helped Echo to grow big carp is the rules which Andy & Tasha have in place. Unlike any other fishery I’ve been to they ask all anglers to weigh and deal with their catches entirely in the water. Under no circumstances must the fish be lifted onto the bank. It all sounds a bit tricky and daft until you see it put into place because it’s actually quite simple. The fish are a little bit more wriggly than they are on the bank, but the condition of them is testament to how well it works. There were no sores or marks on those myself and Chris caught and not one of them showed signs of a snapped tail which is so commonly put down to otters when it’s more likely to be caused more by anglers bad handling them.

My five days
We arrived at the lake nice and early after a drive through the night. Enclosed in trees and lush open countryside it was everything that both myself and Chris expected. Almost round in shape, the first bank we came to had a large open swim which was big enough for three anglers which is the maximum allowed on at any given time. There are no other swims on the lake in fact, and stalking is also prohibited because the opposite bank is completely out of bounds other than for baiting up. At the dam end Andy told us the depth dropped down to around 11ft close to where a large jetty strutted out over the water. Straight away Chris took a fancy to that end of the lake, and with him having done the driving it was only fair that he had first choice of swim.
          This left me the shallower end which had a lovely margin opposite it where a good supply of trees overhung the bank. It just screamed carp and with the sun breaking through at intervals I had a feeling there’d be a few patrolling it. It didn’t take either of us long to get set up as we were itching to be let loose on the impressive stock. It all looked good because no-one had been fishing the lake for four days and Andy & Tasha had been trickling a bit of bait in prior to our arrival.
          There were quite a few fish bubbling out in the middle but the only place we saw them actually show was in the far margin a couple of rod lengths out. I’d been told bait boats were allowed so out came my trusty Lakestar loaded with a stringer of two freebies alongside the hookbait. The plan was to keep a baited area going on the far bank slap in between where the two of us were fishing. This would be left devoid of lines until we’d had the chance to snatch a couple of fish early on with the stringer approach. With the lake having been devoid of anglers for a few days there was a good chance of a fish or two early on, with the baited area coming into play once this time had passed.

First blood
It didn’t take long for something to happen once I had my three hookbaits out. One area in particular on the far bank had seen several small fish show whilst I’d been setting up. This spot was 5ft deep and the first take I had from it ended up falling off as soon as I leant into it. I dismissed it as a small fish, but only an hour later I was latched into something a lot better as it hugged the far margin once it felt the power of the NRXD which was well into its curve. It felt a really heavy fish and it wasn’t until I had it under the rod tip and then into the net when we realised I’d got lucky by landing the best looking fish in the lake. At 30lb exactly it was covered in lovely large scales across both flanks, all glistening in the autumn sun as Chris clicked away with the camera.
          Nothing else happened for the rest of the day and night other than a couple of small fish before evening. The next action came at first light the next day when one of Chris’s rods went roaring off with one of Echo’s heavyweights on the end. A slow typical big fish fight followed and when we saw it roll in front of the net we prayed it to stay on as by this time we knew exactly which fish he was attached to. Watching it eventually glide into the net was a memorable sight for Chris as it smashed his 50lb personal best which had stood for quite some time. Known as The Barrel and weighing in at 62lb it was a great way to kick off the trip for Chris. Despite being tired after the long drive he was absolutely buzzing with the result. It was a great moment to share as I always bounce off the moment of seeing others catching decent fish. With me it’s never ever a competition (unless I’m fishing with Rob Hughes lol) as the next best thing to catching yourself is seeing your mate with a donkey in the net.
          It was quite a damp foggy morning but this soon lifted to leave the second day quite pleasant. By the afternoon the sun was shining directly onto the margin where my baits were and that day I went on to land a couple of nice fish topped by a 32lb mirror which like the one from the day before felt like an absolute brute all the way to the net.
          The small traps we’d been fishing were certainly doing the job and we anticipated we might get another day out of them before we had to turn to the baited area. We’d kept the bait going out and by the start of day three we’d introduced around 15kg of Scopex Squid to the area as well as the same amount of pellet which we’d got off Andy & Tasha. We’d not caught anything in the night so we decided it was time to let the baited area have it, both of us putting a rod to it and feeling confident that something would happen.
I was the first to get off the mark from the baited spot by banking a lovely 45lb 12oz mirror in the afternoon. It turned out to be a fish named Oliver which had been over fifty earlier in the season.
          The weather was forecast to drop colder overnight and it did exactly that with the sleeping bag cover and thermal trousers coming in very handy. We awoke to thick fog and a very dull day which carried on right the way through until the Monday morning. Andy had told us that it was normal for the back end of a trip to always fish slower than the start, but in our case the weather was what seemed to kill it more than anything.
          Luckily the Monday afternoon turned rather nice and the sun began to poke its head through. It seemed to spark the fish into a feed and that day I ended up with four takes, sadly pulling out of two due to cut offs as well as a hook pull to an absolute donkey that Chris reckoned was a known sixty called Tasha.
          By the afternoon a switch had obviously been flicked because Chris landed a small mirror and I went on to land another two that evening followed by two in the night which was by far our best bit of dark-time action. After the lost fish I longed for a nice ending and just on packing up time the next morning I was rewarded with a clonking 46lb common which saw our final tally reach a very respectable 14 fish from five days of fishing.
          The forecast had been for a wet pack up but luckily for us, it turned out to be a lot better than expected. Wishing we had a few more days available to us we thanked Andy & Tasha for their hospitality before setting on our way. We’d had a great five days of fishing at an absolutely wonderful French venue in the company of two very nice hosts.
          A lot of you reading this may never have heard of Echo Pool until now but take it from me, if you like small scenic venues right out in the middle of nowhere with the added bonus of big fish, this place will be right up your street. It is one of those venues you just can’t help but fall in love with and I can’t wait to get back there.

          For more information about fishing it, email echopool@hotmail.co.uk or visit www.echopool.co.uk.

Thursday, 17 July 2014


I think it’s fairly safe to say that carp fishing today most definitely goes through fashion phases. An influential angler or company will say something is good and before you can say “I don’t agree with that”, everyone and his uncle is using and advocating it, regardless of any theory being put forwards.
It is only when you try to offer an opposing thought that you see this, because it doesn’t matter how experienced you are or what you have to say; if you dare say anything against the masses you are in for some serious flack on the bank and social media sites.
I probably sound like I’m getting old – and maybe I am – because this month I want to touch on something which just baffles me about carp fishing today. I know I’m going to get some stick for what I write, but I couldn’t care less because I know the sensible anglers out there will be able to relate with what I say.

En vogue
Slack lining is definitely sweeping through the industry like a virus, and if it hasn’t reached your country yet, it will do soon. Walk the banks of any lake in the UK and eight out of ten anglers are sat there with their bobbins on the floor and the line all drooped through the rings whilst their tips are in the air.
          I’ve seen all sorts of anglers fishing like this, ranging from the complete novice right the way through to the experienced. Whilst I’m not doubting its effectiveness in some situations, I do know from speaking to the anglers I have seen fishing like this, a large percentage of them simply do it without thinking why they are doing it and whether or not it is helping them.
          I saw a guy last summer fishing 100m out in 15ft of water with his lines all slack and he was surprised when he had a take and the fish had kited 90 degrees before he had any indication at his end. I even witnessed one of my mates doing it at 60m range in 11ft when exactly the same thing happened to him. Interestingly, that followed the two of us having a deep conversation about why he was fishing in that way. The worst of the lot, however, was when I saw a guy doing it on Manton New Lake last year, fishing out into the middle which is probably 80m and over the top of half a dozen weed beds only to find out the next morning that he had had a fish on for god knows how long!

I don’t know about the rest of you but everything I do in my carp fishing I need theory to back up my decisions. Sometimes I get it wrong, but having done lots of tests on indication when myself and Rob Hughes wrote our first book in 1996, I like to think I’ve got that side of my angling almost perfect – a single bleep usually meaning I’m in.
I think you'll all agree that the sooner we know when a carp has picked up our hookbait, the better the chance is of landing the fish. The only sure way of knowing this has happened is to actually watch them do it when stalking, but obviously most of us prefer to fish in the long-stay style with static lines, meaning it isn't possible to do this. Instead we rely on buzzers and indicators to inform us.
          I know when I was at school, I was taught physics and that a straight line is the shortest distance between the two points of A and B. It therefore makes perfect sense to me that when the end of a line is pulled, if it is straight the other end will feel the pulling motion quicker than if there is slack in it. It also makes sense to me that if a weight is added to the line (like a bobbin), should the two points become shorter, the bobbin will take up any slack that is created on the line. If the bobbin is not there, the line simply becomes limp and before any movement is felt at one end of the two points, it must be tightened so the slack is taken out. In the case of a fish pulling at a line therefore, or swimming towards you, it makes sense to tight line with a bobbin indicator if you are wanting the perfect indication when static bait fishing.
          This theory makes me wonder why then, so many anglers currently prefer to fish with slack lines instead of tight. I’ve heard it said that slack lining is more sensitive than tight lining which based on science just can’t be true. Those trying to argue this case say that the pressure of water adds weight to the line which makes it act differently to when you do the tests out of water. Well, all I will say to these people is I don’t believe you’ve ever done the tests properly. If you had you would be of the same opinion as Rob Hughes who compiles most of the underwater carping features in the monthly titles. Both Rob and I might not agree on a lot of things, but we most definitely agree on this. Take a look at Strategic Carp Fishing, the title of our first book, and you will clearly read that tight lining with the right weight of indicator results in the best indication.

Line shy
The other theory put forwards by slack lining fans is that carp don’t like bow-string lines in the swim. I can understand where they are coming from with this theory, as not only am I convinced that carp can sense vibrations passed down the line if you are noisy when fishing in this way, they also see it much more easily when fished in shallow water.
Last year I watched the carp in Orchid Lake spooking at close quarters on line they could see, and although it looked OK to me from where I was stood only a few yards away, there was clearly something about it that the carp didn’t like as they closed in on it. You had to see their reactions to know what I mean by this, the fish coming into the zone of the hookbait, going down on it and spooking once they were right next to the line.
          Of course there could have been other factors that caused them to do this, but I know from what I saw they were spooking on what they saw rather than what they sensed. They especially didn't like the line when they got close up to it, several fish spooking at the first sighting and not coming back into the swim until several hours later.
This all happened in 1m of water, and just like Steve Briggs pointed out recently in Carp-Talk, such a reaction is understandable when you consider the science of how carp see. Basically they use the under-surface of the water to create a reflection which bounces back at them. This reflection works better the closer the fish is to the surface and the flatter the surface is, hence the reason why they see well in shallow water. I couldn’t tell you the exact depth their eye sight becomes less effective (I believe it is around 5ft) because every lake is different and it will depend on water clarity. All I can say is the deeper you go, the less they use their eyes to feed compared to their other senses such as taste, smell, hearing, etc.

Another example
The carp I watched feeding at Orchid spooked every time they saw a bit of line. I tried slack lining and they reacted to it in exactly the same way. In the end I really had to go to town with my presentation to get myself a bite, disguising it by freelining and adding putty all along its length right into the margins so that it was pinned down on the deck. I had to do this whilst slack lining to meet the contours of the bottom and it was proper finicky stuff, but the extra care I took got the bite in the end, watching the fish take the hookbait and then striking almost instantly.
A day later I ended up finding some fish in slightly deeper water in the next door swim and a little bit further out. The trouble was it was much harder for me to see the hookbait here so I had to rely on a lead to do the work for me. Try as I could to pin down the line, it was nowhere near as good as it was the day before. The depth was about 2m in this spot, and I could see the line clearly from where I was perched up a tree, but the carp's reaction to it was completely different. In this area they knocked and swam into the line closest to the rig without spooking and it wasn’t until one came up in the water and saw the line closest to the surface that I had my first spook-off. That fish was not to be seen again, but I did go on to catch two fish in quick succession a short while later.
I could have put that result down to all sorts of other reasons because there are always variables behind why we catch more one day than we do the next. However, my experience told me it was down to the carp not seeing the line in the deeper spot. I've seen carp react to line on so many other occasions, and the best examples are those when surface fishing. When you see carp leaving your hookbait on the surface it makes you wonder how on earth we manage to catch anything; they don't even go near it because it stands out like a sore thumb.

Line shy carp and rig shy carp are two completely different hurdles the carp angler is faced with. On the underwater dvds we see fish regularly mouthing and blowing our hookbaits out which is much different to them not even going near to the rig. If they know what anglers are, when they see your line they spook, it’s as simple as that, so the secret is keeping it as disguised as you possibly can.
There are definitely pros and cons to slack lining, however, the pros in my mind are very few and far between. In close quarter shallow situations I can definitely see the advantages of keeping that line pinned to the contours of the marginal features and taking all of the tension out of it, but the deeper you go the sight of the line becomes less important. Furthermore, the further out you fish, the harder it is to see what’s going on by the rig, so the priority then should be about knowing when a fish has picked up the hookbait and you getting the indication that this has happened.  
I spend most of my static-bait fishing with rigs placed some distance away from where I’m set up so I use tight lines more than I do slack. There are times when I fish in shallow water at long range too, but in these instances I weigh up the situation and try to work out how much of that line may be visible close to the rig end. The further out I’m fishing, basic science lessons tell me the lesser the angle in the line will be and the more likely it is to be on the deck.
Of course there are situations when you have to sacrifice a bit of indication in order to get the take so slack lining or slipping on a back lead may prevail, but the only golden rule here is to fish safely. Doing it over the top of weedbeds, gravel bars or close to snags that are some distance out is just asking for trouble.

Chinese whispers
The overuse of slack lining today is definitely related to companies selling indicators designed for that type of fishing. However, I don’t think it is fair to blame the industry for this, because in my mind it is definitely a bad case of Chinese whispers. One angler picks up on something and then passes it on in a slightly different way to what he heard or read. Before you know it, it’s gone viral and everyone is talking about it. It then gets even more distorted when a few whackers get caught on it; everyone thinking it is an edge and no-one considering whether or not the angler was fishing safely or if he may have caught more had he been tight lining instead.
The moral of this feature therefore is to think about what you are doing when angling rather than doing something because someone has told you to do it. I’m not saying you should not slack line end of story because that would be foolish. I just think it is massively overused in carp fishing today (certainly in the UK), and it is not necessary to fish like it in every situation. I’d even go as far as to say it has got out of hand and become more of a danger to our carp than it has the asset that many believe, especially when fishing beyond the margins or over the top of features.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Two nights at Birch Grove

I was fortunate to be a member of the Birch Grove winter syndicate for five happy years, leaving at the end of March 2002 if my memory serves me correct. I have fond memories of a very beautiful lake and some exceptional fishing which saw me finish my campaign with a session to remember which included three of the then biggest fish in two days, including the Video Fish at 36lb, the Lovely Common at 35lb and Starburst at 34lb 12oz. The following season tragedy struck when around 30 fish mysteriously passed away in the space of a couple of weeks, including most of the biggies and fish that had become famous through the writings of Tim Paisley. At the time I felt sick but at the back of my mind I knew that Birch would come again as it’s one of those waters which for its size is rich enough to produce good carp time and time again.
            Until Tim invited me for a session for this feature, I’d not stepped on the banks since I helped with the netting of the stock ponds to introduce a further injection of 30-odd fish to supplement those that were lost. I think that was around the spring of 2003. When I arrived in late May this year it was obvious a great deal had changed. The new lodge had been built and a great deal of work to fell old trees and build new paths had been carried out. Much to my surprise, a new swim had also been constructed. In the days of when I was a syndicate member, there were only five swims on the lake, with the far bank completely out of bounds. I knew from talking to Tim that in the early days of when he fished the lake that the far bank used to have several swims on and one in particular was a very productive area, known as Bouncing Bobbins. After negotiation with the owners and much hard work of the syndicate members, this particular swim had been reinstalled.

I had two days to complete the feature, arriving at the lake at 7pm on the Friday, pulling off on the Sunday at around 10am. When I arrived the weather was very mixed, with the sun out one minute and then hidden behind clouds the next. It was one of those days when the jumper was on and off every few minutes, although the air temperature remained constant due to a lack of wind. The lack of ripple meant it was easy to spot fish, and after an hour of looking and walking, I knew exactly where I wanted to be. The End Boards is the shallowest end and boasts some lovely marginal lily beds amongst which I could make out the odd cruising and basking fish. I had a drift over the area in the boat and straight away I saw a few good chunks drifting under and close to the boat. I saw at least three nice commons which I’d have said were close to if not over 30lb as well as a mirror which was not far behind. Amongst them I also caught sight of several nice 20s, and it wasn’t a difficult choice of where I needed to be.
            Half an hour after making it back to shore I was all set up, with the view being to put all three rods along the lily margin at 30 yard intervals. I was armed with a variety of different baits, but knowing how good tiny seeds are amongst pads I knew each rod was going to be fished over a bed of hemp which you’re allowed to bait up with from the boat. I didn’t want to cause too much disturbance so I drifted ever so gently along the margins of the lilies looking for some nice clear areas where a hookbait would go well. The right hander was an obvious choice as there was a small clearing between two sets of pads with 4ft of water below. Here I scattered three large handfuls of hemp as well as a handful of pellets and a light scattering of 18mm boilies. I’m not a great fan of fishing boilies only over the top of hemp as the carp can become so preoccupied on hemp that they leave the boilies alone. With a few pellets amongst them of a similar size though they seem to pick up anything in the close proximity.
            The middle rod went in a much more isolated spot in the middle of a thick set of pads. From the surface you wouldn’t have noticed the clearing that was below the water, but thanks to a bit of intermittent sun, my Polaroids and some perseverance, I found a firm clear patch about 6ft wide that looked as though it had been cleaned by the fish. There were pads covering the surface but below it looked lighter on the bottom and just screamed fish. Here I scattered exactly the same approach I used for the right hander. Not wanting to put all of my eggs in one basket, the left hander I fished differently. I could make out the odd fish topping close in to the far margin, and when I say close, I mean right in the edge. I didn’t want to create a very obvious man made pile of bait for these fish, instead just going for a single hookbait fished alongside a stringer which I’d roam around depending on what activity I saw during the trip. I had two days in front of me so there was plenty of time for experimenting.
            All three rods I fished with 18mm hookbaits snowman style, and knowing that Birch has a history of rig shy fish I had to make a few adjustments to my normal presentation. There were several times when I was a member of the syndicate that I knew the fish had ‘done me’. A single bleep lift of an inch, followed by a drop back of about two inches was known amongst the syndicate members as being an aborted take. Single bleeps had on several occasions been converted into takes too, so anything with any anti-eject properties about it needed to be used at all times if you were to succeed. I remember seeing Frank Warwick do extremely well on the water with his Long Shank presentation. He wouldn’t always land fish, the odd one would fall off, but it was obvious that his rigs were frequently turning what would normally be aborted takes on my rigs into confident pick-ups. With this in mind, I decided to go for size 4 Long Shanks with the line aligner, alongside 10-inch 25lb Super Nova hooklinks. The turning properties of this rig when I did the palm test with it were much better than when I did the same with the shorter shank hooks I tend to prefer. You may well wonder why I don’t use the Long Shanks all the time then, well the answer is I don’t like losing fish, and I do think Long Shanks lose more fish than shorter shank hooks, but the difference is that at Birch I know you can get away with losing the odd fish and not spook the others. At a lot of other waters I think if you lose one fish, your chances may well have been completely lost.

Great start
Anyway, back to the session. I was all set for about 9.30pm on the Friday night and I was buzzing with enthusiasm. Here I was set up at Birch Grove all by myself. Wonderful! I soon drifted off to sleep hearing the ducks every now and then climbing up into the boat to pick away at the odd grain of hemp that was around. For a Friday night the road behind was very quiet, and at 2.30am the middle rod broke the silence when it just roared off. I scrambled out of bed, throwing the mozzi shroud attached to my sleeping bag to the floor, and hooping the rod up as soon as I was on it. I held tightly as the fish tried to battle amongst the pads. The rod was bent full and I made the odd bit of ground in between it going solid.
I knew the fish was still there as the tip would flick every now and then, the secret to getting them out of pads being to just let them find their own way on a tight line. I did exactly that and a short while later the fish was plodding up and down the margin. It was pitch black and I couldn’t see what I had on the end although it did feel heavy. Up to the surface the fish came on several occasions and I tried to steer it to the net, each time without success. I remember talking to myself while I tried to coax it to the net and I think I made about three unsuccessful attempts. I just couldn’t see what I was doing because of the dark. I kept chuckling to myself like John Wilson does, and in the  end I had to go back to the bivvy to get my head torch which I usually don’t like to do. Once I was back to the water’s edge I flicked it on and caught sight of the fish. It didn’t look as impressive as I first thought it might be, and it continued to charge from left to right up and down the margins. It was a right battle. Eventually I coaxed it to the net and she was mine. It was only then when I drew the net towards me that I knew I had a decent fish. Had the hook pulled at any moment I would have thought I’d lost a double, but in the torch light it looked very wide, and certainly close to thirty. The scales shot round to 35lb 4oz, but the net was dripping wet and needed to be deducted from this. I settled on 32lb 4oz, and I sacked her up for some photos when the light would be better in an hour or so. I also re-did the rod which had just produced the fish, and settled back down for some more shut eye.

An hour later I was woken by some single bleeps on my right hand rod. The bobbin wasn’t moving at all, but during a period of ten minutes I had four bleeps and rod twitches which could only be down to movement in the swim. I expected it to burst into life at any moment. As it turned out I had to wait another hour until it was 6.30am when off it went. The fish had gone sideways into the pads and needed some lengthy persuasion to come out. Eventually I had it free and in open water, when it decided to give me a proper good battle under the tip. This fish felt much better and I was really surprised to see a 22lb mirror in the net when I eventually showed who was the boss.
            By the time I was all sorted again the time was 7am so I text Tim to tell him I had a 32lb 4oz in the sack. I knew he was due down to the lake to see how I was getting on, and knowing how much of an early bird he is I expected him at any time. He arrived at 8am and duly fired off some lovely shots of the biggie for me. The 22lb I’d returned by the time he arrived, having taken some half-decent self-takes.
            Tim departed about 10am and I was back to being alone on one of the most tranquil lakes I know. It was lovely just being there and walking the banks, let alone fishing the place. For most of Saturday I spent time mooching around in the boat looking for fish. The majority still seemed to be around the pads end, although I did see a couple of good uns’ on the far margin to the left of Bouncing Bobbins. I could tell from their movements that they were spooked and that they knew anglers were on the lake. I wondered if my chances were all but gone. I contemplated going home as I had a lot of work to do, but it’s not very often you get the chance to fish Birch by yourself in spring so I stayed put. The rest of Saturday passed by uneventful, as did the night, before I departed a very happy man at 10am on the Sunday morning. Birch didn’t owe me anything, but I left with yet more happy memories of a lake that has given so much joy to many anglers all over the country.

Fishery info
Lake size: About five acres.
Location: Somewhere in Shropshire. The exact location will be revealed at the time of booking. This is an exclusive venue which doesn’t allow anglers to just turn up and walk round.
Fishing details: There is a winter syndicate in operation which runs from November until the end of March each year. The rest of the season is open for bookings from the beginning of June whereby the whole lake is booked by the week for a maximum of four anglers. Anglers can bring non fishing guests who are able to stay on site.
Price: On application.
Contact details: Telephone Angling Publications on 01142580812 and ask for Pip or Jemima. Alternatively contact Pip on 07808741158.
Carp stock: There’s estimated to be between 100-150 carp in the lake, of which the vast majority are 20s, the biggest of which is around mid-thirties.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Targeting wily carp

Ten top tips for targeting the wiliest of carp

Tip 1
The number one tip to tracking down any big wily carp is to trace its history. This is something a lot of anglers overlook, but something so invaluable. Past captures of fish will give you vital information about areas of the lake they prefer, dates they tend to get caught, baits they like and rigs they trip up on. Talk to as many anglers as you can and wade through the mags for information, even building up a database if possible. One of my Belgian friends Alijn Danau who fishes Rainbow Lake in France has hundreds of catch pictures on his laptop tracing as much information as he can about the swims they come from. He’ll analyse everything he hears about his target water because nine times out of ten there will be something he can find out that will help him in the long run. The same goes for every water.

Tip 2
Ignoring all of the information about rigs, baits and your tactical approach, the grass roots behind most of the UK’s big carp catches is governed by the hours of daylight. A massive proportion of the biggest and hardest carp caught in this country each year come out between 20th March and 21st June, the period known as the spring equinox. Take a look at the catches in Carp-Talk or on the forums to see this, and make the most of your opportunities by going fishing as much as you can during these dates. The other good thing about fishing during this period is that the carp are generally at good weights, making it possible to really get the grapevine talking about your catches.

Tip 3
It takes a lot of grasping to accept that some baits are more attractive to wily carp than others, but it most definitely is the case. Some ingredients are basically more attractive to older fish, a bit like kids enjoy the taste of fizzy pop yet detest alcohol. It’s the same in many walks of life, pups prefer different foods to older dogs, same with calf and cattle or chicks and chickens. The success of some baits with the biggies isn’t just coincidence, it’s down to the taste preferences of the wilier and bigger carp. Choose your bait wisely depending on what’s been used on your water, even going back to a golden oldie that’s not been used for a while. If you prefer making your own baits, try some liver, green lipped mussel, yeast, or capelin meal in a bait as these are some ingredients that have caught thousands of hard biggies over the years.

Tip 4
Prebaiting is something so many anglers talk about yet so very few actually follow through. In this day and age everyone seems to want something quickly so they aren’t willing to drive to the lake to put a bit of bait in because it takes effort. Even applying bait just the once before you fish will be of benefit so imagine how much success you’ll reap if you do it regularly – the wily fish will sure as heck know about it and may even sample if they think it’s safe. Stick to the same bait and preferably add your own little touches to it so that no-one else can fish on the back of your own efforts. Join forces with a few mates if you haven’t the time or finances to do it on your own, but do whatever it takes to get the bait introduced regularly as it can only help lift the confidence of the fish.

Tip 5
I like to use liquid additives that I know stimulate carp into feeding. If you scout any of the scientific papers that have been compiled on carp, you’ll soon find out that enzymes have a big influence on them because they need to find certain ones in order to digest food in the intestine (such as Pepsin and Trypsin, essential protein digesting enzymes). To assist the enzymes, residues of amino acids need to be present, so gain an edge by using complex amino acid additives in your bait. I have my own personal favourites that I add which have taken years of trial and error, but start somewhere by using something like the Amino Liver Concentrate by Nash which has crucial amino acids dissolved into it. Coincidentally, this product also contains liver extract, one of the ingredients I talked about earlier as being a great puller of tough old carp.

Tip 6
You hear a lot of anglers say they are watching the water continually looking for signs of moving fish. However, some of the hardest lakes I’ve fished are very low-stock so you can be waiting days, weeks or months for a sign off a fish. The one thing you can do during the quiet times is watch the other anglers. Hard lakes tend to attract experienced anglers because of their nature so anything they do will be pretty solid. They will be doing something at all times and you can pick up little bits of information just from watching them, even if they try to be secretive about what they’re doing.

Tip 7
It can be down to a matter of inches where you’ll get pick-ups from on tough waters, especially the smaller heavily fished ones which tend to be very ‘spotty’. The carp in these types of venue have a habit of marking areas unsafe if they know that fish have been caught from them, not picking up bait from them for a long while later, even after some serious prebaiting. Inch by inch markering is time consuming yet essential work on these venues so you can know everything about the underwater terrain. If you don’t fancy doing that, use the echo sounder of a bait boat if allowed. Last year I uncovered some great spots with my Lakestar sounder, small craters that had been created by the fish in only a few days as they searched for natural food in areas they’d not previously been hooked. Look for small undulations, even only a few inches of difference, and keep your eye on any changes that weren’t there last time you fished. Some of my friends are so obsessive about knowing the underwater topography on these types of lakes they’ve been known to go diving in them as usually low-stock waters are gin clear so give excellent vision.

Tip 8
Big old carp in tough lakes have a habit of going uncaught for quite a while, in many cases several years. If you’ve been targeting a venue and the biggie is like this, and it eventually gets caught by someone else, don’t pull off. There are loads of examples of these fish getting caught again soon after, often only a few days later but certainly within a couple of weeks before they then go on the missing list once again. I know loads of lads who’ve made the mistake of fishing somewhere else because their target biggie has come out, only for it to trip up again whilst they’re away.

Tip 9
This is related to Tip 9 because success on tough lakes needs the right frame of mind more than it needs the latest wonder rig. So many anglers get caught up in the business that fancy rigs has now become that they are faffing with their set up all the time. I can assure you that all big fish anglers blank more than they catch because that’s the nature of the lakes they target. Blanking is a massive part of targeting tough carp and if you can’t handle that you’ll fall down along the way. You’ve got to remain positive all the way through a campaign, believing you’ll get there in the end. Have total confidence in your baits and rigs because if you haven’t, you’ll start messing which ultimately may cost you that one chance when it eventually comes along.

Tip 10
My final tip is be persistent. This really simple aspect of carping is probably one of the biggest reasons why the same anglers are consistent with the big fish time and time again. Most carpers think they must be using a fancy rig with fancy tackle to have an edge, but that is so far off the mark it’s too daft to believe. If you really want to catch a hard carp, just go for it. Lakes with cred have earned that reputation over years of time. Some anglers will have been successful but a heck of a lot more will have failed. Put the effort it, walk the walk, do the rounds, and get the rods out. That’s what it’s mainly all about.