Carp Fishing - One Step Ahead
Rich Wilby looks at finding that crucial carping ‘edge’ that keeps you one step ahead of the game
If I had ten pounds for every time someone asked me what was working on my fishery I think I would be pretty rich by the end of the season. The trouble is that what is working best may not always be ‘best’ once everyone knows about it. The key is to be first to recognise what tactic or bait is the winning method at the time and be one step ahead of the rest.
Over the last six months on my day ticket fishery it’s been fascinating watching different tactics rip the place apart and then blow a month or so later. It’s not that a method stops working altogether but once a lot of fish have been hooked on it, it will become less effective. Last year in the spring months a white pop-up fished six inches off the deck was deadly; then spodding slop over 4-5ft zigs took over, after that, spodding beds of pellets was best with a PVA bag over the top; then a nice spread of top quality boilies was best and pellets a waste of time – and so it goes!
Last week I had a little go myself and caught two fish very quickly on bright orange peach pop-ups. I had been watching the other guys do well using hookbaits that matched their free offerings. In fact I don’t think I had seen a fluoro pop-up cast out for a couple of weeks so I knew it may be worth a go because it was different. I’m sure if everyone now starts to use the bright pop-ups a lot of carp will get caught and slowly, once again, the tactic will become average and produce less bites.
So the big question is how do you stay a step ahead of the rest?
The last thing you want to do is miss out on the going method, but I think if it’s been working for over three weeks it will be past its best and you will end up fishing the same as everyone else. I never want to fish like everyone else, I strive to be different all of the time. Sometimes my stubbornness may cost me fish, but 20-plus years of carp fishing experience has taught me that doing your own thing and being different will often get very quick results.
Most waters I visit seem to have trends, regular anglers doing the same old thing and the rest of the anglers trying to follow them. The advantage you have as a regular on any water is that you should know it like the back of your hand. Every day-ticket lake I have ever fished a few sessions on seems to have little hot spots on certain days, which you would be lucky to find on your first few goes on new waters. Some of these spots are not obvious by any means, so being a switched on regular angler is a massive advantage on its day.
However, many regulars I see on the bank get stuck in a routine or fixated on certain areas of the venue that have produced the goods for them once or twice before. Therefore a new angler to the venue may turn up with no pre-conceived ideas and just go with his gut instinct, fish an un-fancied part of the lake with a different tactic and be successful; we’ve all seen someone catch the biggest carp in the lake on their first trip.
I’ve certainly watched very inexperienced anglers come to my fishery and catch straight away simply because they’ve been different. A few months ago I watched a guy who loves his chub fishing come over to try and catch his first double figure carp. He used a big chunk of tinned tuna, wrapped in stocking mesh as that is what he was confident with on the rivers for big chub. I honestly didn’t think it would work, but an hour after I had written his day ticket I was photographing a 20lb common for him. It made me laugh, but reinforced my view that being different can bring very quick, and very good, results.
A lump of tuna may be a bit extreme as far as hookbaits go, and the guy did not have any more fish on it that day, but simply observing what bait 90 percent of anglers are using and trying the opposite can be a huge edge. I know when I last visited Linear Fisheries Brasenose Lake I had much better response to orange and pink plastic corn hookbaits than the standard yellow. I would guess the majority of anglers at the type of venue use yellow plastic corn, so although it will always work, I’m sure as the season goes on the carp become a little more finicky about picking it up the old yellow peril.
One thing I’ve noticed on many day ticket waters in the last few years is that pop-up baits are used less and less. Most anglers like to ‘tip’ their hookbaits off to add some visual appeal and balance the hook, but very few anglers seem to fish a bait a couple of inches off the deck. And to add to that, very few anglers I see fish a standard bottom bait out of the bag simply hair-rigged and I see even less fish double bottom baits - one of my favourite presentations. So these simple, ‘old hat’ tactics can be very successful on modern day ticket venues where the bulk of anglers appear to have forgotten about them.
PVA bags, sticks and Chain Reaction are also very popular on my lake and I have to admit that I rarely cast out without something extra on the hooklink. But everyone uses crushed boilies or pellets in their PVA bags, so at this time of the year I stick to just a handful of boilies in the bag and it works a treat everywhere I take it.
I was speaking to a very good angler the other day who is top rod on his water by a mile this year. I asked him what was the main reason for his awesome results and he put it down to keeping things simple and using a rig that he has stuck with for over 20 years, which is an eight inch braided hooklink, knotless knot, size 8 hook and a hair with an18mm bottom bait. He said everyone else on that pressured lake is using the latest rigs along with all manner of high-attract hookbaits. He thought by stripping his hooklink down to just the essentials and keeping his bait as natural as possible would be an edge and his results proved he was right. I know when I filmed rigs underwater last year for the Nash DVD that the simplest rigs looked and behaved the most naturally on the bottom.
I love to play around and tweak my rigs so they are perfect, but at times I do think everyone on the lake is most likely using something similar. In the past I’ve caught so many fish on simple braided or mono hooklinks without any rings or tubing that I do think taking a step backwards could be a real bonus on some pressured day ticket waters.
I think running leads can be a great edge but they are ignored by so many anglers, the extra sensitivity a running lead offers along with the extra movement they give can really help with finicky carp. The other day I got ‘done’ good and proper by a fish on a semi-fixed clip. I got about four bleeps on the Siren a big boil on the surface and then nothing. Many of the takes I’ve got or seen in the last month have been really slow or jerky, so I’m convinced the carp are trying to shake the hook out before running off and in this scenario a running lead is mega effective because the carp can’t use the weight of the lead to help them ditch the hook.
The other question I get asked all the time is "which swim is best?" Yes, every lake seems to have a consistent area, but I know all 14 swims on my lake can, and have, produced big hits on the right day. I always favour the neglected swims, especially for short sessions, so in my experience it can usually pay off to ignore the ‘best’ swims because everyone else will know about them and they’ve most likely been hammered. Even as a young up-and-coming carper I always liked to be away from the crowds doing my own thing. If you turn up to fish a lake for the first time simply look at how worn out the swims are and that should tell you straight away which ones have seen the most attention and disturbance - most often they’re the swims nearest the car park!
The edges in carp fishing seem to get smaller every year, but staying in touch with a venue and working out when certain tactics are best and when they’re starting to fade is one of the biggest advantages you can get. Keep your ear to the ground and when you find something that works milk it before everyone else jumps onto it!