Whether at home or abroad, at small estate lakes, or on club venues, at large pits and reservoirs, or the largest inland-seas, having the ability to exercise good water craft is an essential but often overlooked part of a carp angler’s armoury. I would like to discuss the importance of observation and why watercraft is vital to success. Maybe we should revisit the oft-forgotten skills that set real anglers apart from those of us who just go fishing.

Carp behave in accordance with their surroundings so it’s fair to say that the busier the venue, the more cagey the fish will be. On fisheries that follow the traditional close season, carp will soon learn they are not being fished for and will frequent marginal areas again. Carp always change their habits and learn quickly, often making themselves more visible in areas of a venue where they previously felt vulnerable. On fisheries that do not allow night fishing, carp always move closer to the bank at night or venture into high-risk open water away from the security of snags and weed beds. These are classic examples of how quickly carp adapt to their surroundings and we should learn to interpret other examples of carp behaviour and then adjust our methods and tactics accordingly. If we fail to do this, then we have failed to know our quarry.

Bankside Disturbance

Keeping bankside disturbance to a minimum is an absolute must. It’s all well and good to ‘Bivvy-Up’, adopting the usual sit-and-wait tactics, yet many of us have perhaps forgotten the stealthy behaviour that was once practiced by all carp anglers. We should not underestimate the impact of slamming car doors, banging in ‘bivvy’-pegs and rod-rests with a mallet, (when they can be pushed in by hand). Wearing drab-coloured clothing, keeping-off the skyline, walking and talking quietly! We should all question ourselves as to whether we always adopt these actions?

Weeds and snags

Top of my list for the best areas to find carp would be any type of underwater feature, snags, weed bed, or sunken branches. As a rule of thumb, if we find the biggest snag on the fishery, we will at some point find carp. However small the feature may be, it represents a feeling of security to carp. It’s a bit like people sheltering under a shady tree on a hot sunny day it just seems like the natural thing to do. We should not ignore the tell-tale tremble of a reed stem, the sound of rustling reeds and rushes or the smallest of surface tail-pattern disturbances sent out as a carp passes below. These are all signs that can be missed by a casual observer but they can be easily found by those who take the time and effort to look.

Rolling and bubbling

Carp that roll or send up bubbles to the surface are almost certainly feeding fish. If the bubbles move in lines or appear in small intermittent patches, they are not created by methane or ‘marsh-gas’ – they are likely to be feeding fish. Casting a baited line accurately to this type of activity stands a high chance of getting a bite and is a must if possible. I often keep a baited rod, all ready to cast out, for just such tactics. This tactic is very worthwhile indeed and has resulted in countless fish for me including several personal best carp on what seemed otherwise difficult days.

Coloured water

When carp have been feeding in a certain area of water they will usually leave evidence of their activity, this takes several forms and can sometimes be tough to find. In silty or clay areas the water will quickly cloud-up, it used to be called ‘smoke-screening’ and whilst it can be very localised, it is a real give-away of feeding activity. On gravel areas, sustained feeding can cause the gravel to have a slightly lighter coloured ‘polished’ effect. In weedy areas fish can and will rip up the weed to get at bait or natural food and this is evidenced by floating debris and broken weed stems, as well as those ‘tell-tale’ clear areas of lake bed in amongst or under the weed. Where feeding areas cannot be seen from the bank they can be found by feeling-around with a 3-4oz lead. But it should be remembered that by the time we might start ‘leading around’, the fish may be long gone! Again, it pays to keep a watch for small sub-surface tail patterns and swirls as this is often evidence of carp feeding with confidence and this is often the case when they are pre-occupied on emerging fly life or ‘buzzers’. In these circumstances, a ‘Zig Rig’ or ‘Pop-Up’, fished in mid-water can really come into its own.

Listen and look

There is little point in siting under a bivvy listening to a radio or wearing a set of earphones when it’s time to scan and search the fishery for signs of moving fish. The critical times are dawn and dusk when session-anglers should have the discipline to be up and about looking for carp movements. This is especially the case at night when carp might move at unsociable times. Pursuing them at these times and when it does not disturb others is highly effective. Even in darkness, I still cannot get out of the habit of walking quickly up or down the bank in an attempt to pinpoint the location of a jumping carp.

Natural food

Much of a carp’s diet is not found on the lake bed, so presenting baits off the lake bed or mid-water during daylight hours is highly worthwhile. Daphnia and emerging fly life represents the bulk of carp diets, and they eat this natural food as it moves about the sub-surface layers. During daylight hours daphnia always move into deeper water and in very warm weather they can attract fish to great depths, (40 feet plus!). Even bottom baits can be effective when positioned in deep water on very hot days, so this should be remembered especially when fishing in reservoirs or deep European venues.
Bloodworm and other invertebrates are lake bed dwellers and steps can be taken to find the areas of a venue where these creatures live. Blood worm live in well oxygenated silt but are not present in all areas. Bloodworm beds can be found by ‘leading around’ and by using an empty wire swim feeder or similar device that can be reeling in and inspected as the bloodworm attach themselves to the mesh.

Lake bed topography

It pays to get to know any fishery and it always helps to learn its depths, its moods and the layout of the lake bed. Time spent in the close season or just spare time on the bankside with a notebook and a marker rod will provide essential information. This saves time when fishing and helps prevent the chances of frightening a feeding fish especially when time is limited. On venues with little or no sub surface features then even slight deviations in depth and the location of snags and weed will be significant – especially if other anglers do not know these features exist! This is a huge subject but it is a key factor that will always be vital. We should come to know what depth we are fishing in and what type of lake bed we are fishing over. In this way rigs, baits and tactics can be adjusted to suit conditions. Without this knowledge we are always left guessing.

Where to cast

The two most common questions anglers ask themselves is; “What bait shall I use?’, or, ‘Where shall I cast?’ Since this article is not about bait we must deal with the latter. I expect I am going to disappoint quite a few people here when I say that I usually have no idea where I am going to cast until the session starts! It is almost impossible to answer this question, either to ourselves or to others. Where we place our bait has to be a feeling, a sense, even a hunch, backed up by what we see, what we hear or what we have learned from experience. But not, perhaps, what we are told by others. If we find something out for ourselves, we know it to be accurate and true…don’t we?

All venues and fisheries vary. Every day is a new day. What works one day may not work another. And it is only by experience that we can make that critical decision that could lead to success. But we can narrow the odds, we can do this by being anglers and not just by going out fishing. I believe we must change from being ‘rod-minders’ to anglers…are you one?