Beware of faddists and wonder baits: in carp fishing there is no substitute for a flexible, intelligent approach, a lively respect for the species, and a first-class technique.
In 1952, Richard Walker broke the British carp record with a 44lb common carp from Redmire Pool—a record that still stands. At that time, the norm in carp tackle was to use a cane rod of about 10ft and a centrepin reel or, if you were fortunate, one of the claw-type fixed-spool reels.
Nowadays, tackle and tactics are far more sophisticated. Cane has virtually disappeared from the tackle shops, although the discerning angler who can afford it may choose to build his own cane carp rod. For many carp enthusiasts, cane has magical memories but today’s angler prefers glass or carbon rods. Davenport and Fordham were one of the first firms to offer glass carp rods back in the early 1960s. The ‘D & F’ rod was a standard 10ft version, but now length varies from this to as much as 13ft, with the general preference being for fasttaper versions of about lift. These thin-walled, purpose-built rods can cast a bait over 70 yards, while 80-90 yards is claimed for stiffer models.
These rods are suited to the experienced carp angler, but the beginner should start with one of 10 or lift with a fast taper. I use a ledger rig—which as well as being a useful bottom fishing aid, is a must for presenting a floating bait at long range. The weight of the ledger depends on the distance at which you want to fish. If the carp are on the surface, say some 50 or 60 yards out, you will require a %oz or 1oz ledger. I use the well-known Arlesey bomb with a swivel, as this makes for free running and minimal resistance. I tie about 2-3in of line to the bomb and then attach the free end to a split ring.
Maximum casting distance
Some carp anglers prefer to use a small swivel and a ledger stop but I prefer the split ring ledger without the stop. My floating crust bait hides a No 2 or No 4 hook, though sometimes when the bait is smaller I use a No 6, allowing the running weight to rest against the hook-bait. This gives maximum casting distance, while this split-ring method also guarantees that the crust will rise very quickly to the surface, even in weedy areas, where a swivel link can become clogged.
You will need a ledgerstop to fish a small bait on the bottom at long range, but there will also be days when the carp are right under the rod tip, and this is when the art of freelining in the margins comes into its own. In 1976 I caught a 2234b mirror carp in 3ft of coloured water lapping a bankside clump of reeds. I had previously flicked a few small pellets of paste into the swim as an attractor and then patiently waited a couple of hours until the big carp came along and took the bait. When using two rods, I often elect to fish one at long range and the other close in. I have taken more fish at long range, but the betterquality fish often inhabit the margins, so it is well to be flexible in your approach.
As for waters, in my home county, Kent, there are several day ticket venues that boast a good head of carp. At Dartford, just off the A2, there is the famous Brooklands Lake. Here you have an excellent chance of a 20lb carp, and double-figure specimens are regularly taken by anglers who purchase their tickets at the waterside. On the A225, which links Dartford and Far-ningham, is the pretty village of Sutton-on-Hone and just south of Sutton lies the productive Horton Kirby complex, where the carp fishing is superb and day permits are available on the bank.
Other Kent carp waters Day permits are also available at Dennis Johnson’s lakes at New Hythe, near Maidstone, where carp to 30lb have been taken. At Faversham, carp anglers can fish the Faversham Angling Club’s School Pool and the best carp to date is a 343ilb specimen—just one pound short of the current county record. Nationally, the Leisure Sport Angling Club offers fishing for carp on a smaller scale, and other companies offer similar facilities.
Whatever you choose to fish, there are important steps to follow if you want to catch carp. For example, if no information is forthcoming regarding the depth of the water, you will have to plumb the lake. Look for islands, as these denote the shallows which carp are known to frequent. If you discover weed beds, shallows and gravel runs, so much the better.
Reeds, lily pads and sandbanks are also popular carp haunts, and it is a good idea to watch what other carp anglers are doing. If the water is virtually free of bankside noise and heavy pedestrian traffic, the margins are a good bet. But quiet waters today are the exception, and in the main I choose to fish at long range during daylight hours and under the rod tip at night.
Now to the complex question of baits. Unfortunately, great emphasis is laid on what is used at the business end of the line, and although this is important, watercraft and technique count for a lot too. A ‘killer’ bait is of no use at all if it is not cast to where the fish are, and, equally, if your presentation is at fault, you will not tempt carp, the most wily of all the coarse species.
When asked what my favourite carp bait is, I reply: ‘Whatever the carp are taking on the day’. I say that because today the choice of baits is so varied: one day the carp will devour floating crust as if their very survival depended on it, the next it will be high protein a la carte that takes fish.
To start with, there are the old-established favourites: potato, worms, bread, cheese, maggots, honeyed paste and, as already mentioned, floating crust, all of which catch carp. Particle baits—sweet-corn, beans, peas, and the like—have all become popular during the last few years. Then there are the topical high-protein baits.
Fred Wilton started anglers on the high protein gambit back in the late 1960s, since when high protein has accounted for hundreds of carp. HP, as it is known, is expensive, although there are several ready-made mixes that contain a high protein percentage available at most tackle shops.
The more successful protein baits contain casein (milk protein) and the vitamin B complex found in yeast, which is soluble in water. Protein is a top scorer in waters where carp seldom reach 20lb because of competition with other stock for natural food, where demand exceeds supply. HP will also catch carp on food-rich waters, but often will not score while mini-baits, sweetcorn and beans, for example, are taking fish.
When preparing high protein baits, some anglers mix with eggs instead of water. Six eggs are usually sufficient to mix 10 oz of protein powder. The most widely used constituents are wheatgerm, soya, flour, casein, yeast mixture and, in some cases, gluten . After mixing the eggs and protein powder to a firm paste, roll into balls and boil for about a minute. The result is a bait with a ‘skin’ that defeats the attentions of any unwanted ‘nuisance’ fish.
Protein baits are so widely used nowadays that groundbaiting is really unnecessary. Indeed, the trick is to add one or two smells of your own. I have taken to flavouring the bait with a gravy mix or soup stock. This has paid off handsomely, for I have been fortunate enough to land six carp over 20 lb, with the best tipping the scales at 29lb 14oz in one season. But remember, there is not, and never will be, an ultimate bait.
Finally, a couple of bait preparation tips. If I want to fish a soft bait at long range I begin by rolling the mix into a dozen or so balls, each weighing about an ounce. Afterwards I put them into the freezer and leave them there until I go fishing, when I take them to the lake in a vacuum flask to preserve their hardness. They are hooked by threading the line through the hard bait with a baiting needle. The hook is then tied on and drawn back into the bait. No other weight is required and the bait—remember it weighs about 1oz—is easily cast the required distance. Now, here is the bonus: just a few minutes after coming to rest on the bottom, the frozen bait becomes soft again and even at long range the hook is set quite easily on the strike.
Alternatively, soft baits can be mixed at the lakeside. This is done by using the lake water to mix the paste—a growing habit with the carp angler—and by using a small piece of ballpoint pen tube to pre-vent the line splitting the bait.