Days and Ways....

Quite a hard session at Pridewood, due to unseasonally warm sun and, at times, seven other anglers on the small pool. I tucked myself away in the shallows, - bumped one fish off on popped-up crust, before I connected with this small, distinctive common: rather pale, instead of bronze scales, and those unusual apricot fins. Dragonflies were out in force, including a few that looked like large hawkers, except with vivid blue rather than green bodies. No swallows this time. Have they left already?

A mixed day, yesterday at Pridewood; two modest-sized carp to show for considerable effort, not that I'm really complaining! The pool was low and the sun high, and the carp appear to be gorging on fry in the sunken willow branches, the first common, though, was fooled by classic margin crust when the autumn mist was still on the water. The second, one with the kinky spine, was caught on hunk of flake beneath a small sight bob; the bait being on the bottom, very tight against the knocking branches. This carp spat out a small live fish in the net! It had been rattling the fronds of the old willow. Before then, line got badly behind the spool of my 410... Might be a tricky job. Luckily, I had a 300 with me. Compensation for mild misfortune? More than 50 swallows skimming the pool; saying farewell, and a red kite circling overhead.

  How I fished - a long, rambling article from a few years back.. I probably don't agree with every detail now...

 It is all well and good deciding to set the hair-rig aside, in the possibly misguided pursuit of a more 'authentic' carp fishing experience, but it is quite another thing, having done so, to achieve any kind of notable success. This should not have come as a surprise to me. Even those giants of carp fishing, true pioneers of the modern scene such as Richard Walker and Jack Hilton had to catch tens and tens of double figure fish, over many seasons too, before catching their first twenty. This, however, was the crazy game I'd selected for myself; and to make things more difficult still, I set myself the challenge of catching an 'unknown' 20lb common from a "non-circuit" water, without resorting to the hair rig.  I realised early on that if I were to set aside most modern techniques, I would have to invent new techniques to replace them, if only for my own sanity or catch rate, and this was the prove one of the more fascinating aspects of my quest. 

 One of the first new techniques I alighted on was the use of a sight-bob, that is to say, a fly fishing pimp or strike indicator, and I used this as a tiny float. It is basically free-lining with a little blob of colour on the line. This effective technique, like many other discoveries, was made virtually by accident. In fact, if I'd been a better float angler I never would have discovered the joys of sight-bobbing in the first place. When I resumed half-serious carp fishing, I thought the lift method with the peacock quill waggler was the only way to fool a carp on a float. The problem was, I kept missing bites - not every take, but enough to make me tear my hat off in frustration and throw it into the bushes. I was fishing a pretty little water, the one I call "Clay Farm Pond", and on the day I kept missing bites, I'd brought along a few bobs, as make-shift surface controllers. What would happen, I wondered, if I used one as a float? I was in a little inlet called "The Dead Arm", and the margins were absolutely fizzing with bubbles. I was sick of being terrible with the float and so I ripped off the normal float rig and decided to effectively free-line, only using the sight-bob as an indicator. The bait, as I recall, was ordinary sweetcorn, or perhaps sweetcorn flavoured with betaine. I cast the bob in, among the bubblers, and within seconds it shot away. "Oh God," I thought, "it must be foul hooked..." But I struck all the same and was glad I did, because it was a plump mirror, just a few ounces short of ten pounds, and nicely hooked in the top lip. Since then, I've caught hundreds of carp on the bob, literally hundreds, and for close range carping in shallow water, between 2ft and 6ft, I am convinced it will generally out fish conventional floats. I like to use fluorocarbon line - a favourite brand is Spiderwire, 12lb, and I can tell you that it casts well and, when attached to a bob, it doesn't sink immediately. If a section does sink above the float, it helps to keep the bob in place when there is a chop - much as a matchman might put a small shot above his waggler, for the same reason. To return to fluoro, I am sure it gives me a real edge at times. Why so?  Well, in May 2012 I was fishing a Shropshire pond and I'd had two carp while using prawns and a mono rig with a braid hook link. Again, the carp were down the side, fizzing away, but my bites had died. I took off the porcupine quill, reeled in and set up the bob and fluoro rig - and the takes were immediate and positive. I caught seven more carp that day, into double figures. Those results were enough to convince me I was actually on to something. 

One troubling caveat, however, is the tendency for fluorocarbon to go "brittle" with time and use, and this affects the wet knot strength in particular, no matter how excellent the knot. My own recent tests indicate that a reduction in knot strength of 20 per cent or more can occur, which is alarming. The advantages of fluoro are manifold, but it is also important to see and treat it as a new material (which it is, really) and to accept that it is not perfect. Regular tests of line strength are, therefore, highly recommended.   On the subject of knots: for fluorocarbon tied directly to the hook, I would recommend the double-looped, four turn or five turn, tucked half-blood knot, and nothing else. The double loop acts as a shock buffer and prevents the knot from exploding.  

 Knots are tricky subject because over the years I have observed two things about knots. Firstly, it's often down to individuals how well or badly knots are tied. That sounds a pretty obvious thing to say; but what is I mean is that some folks have a talent for tying particular kinds of knots and they are pretty rubbish tying other kinds of knots. For myself, while I have tied the Palomar knot and I've used it in the past, and I've caught decent, hard-fighting carp on the Palomar, it has failed me on two occasions and so I never use it now, with any sort of line. Other folks will swear by it. I expect that I am a bad at tying the Palomar; it does not suit me, and that is that. I am, however, great at tying the double-looped tucked half-blood. I've tested this knot so often on the scales, against other knots, I have absolute faith in theway I tie it. Other folks, I am sure, will have had problems with this knot. In short, find the knot you are happy with and stick with it. 

 Another thing to consider is the nature of the line, because some lines can slip with certain knots and others so not. A good example would be the use of braid. Would anyone use anything but a knotless knot for braid? I wouldn't. It's the hair-rig knot of course, but I don't tie it with a loop for the hair. It's not the loop that stops this knot slipping, of course, but the turns around the shank of the hook. I like at least seven turns and, ideally, more than that.  
Where a water is particularly snaggy, I use a modern "floater" line for sight-bobbing. This, of course, is designed for surface work, but it's excellent for float fishing and free-lining line as well. It will sink, slowly, if the bait sinks, and I think that its buoyant qualities make it "critically balanced," once it gets below the surface. It's a mono line, but almost as invisible as fluorocarbon below the surface, and it's a thin but incredibly strong mono. I tend to use Korda Kruiser Control. It usually breaks somewhat above its given rating, so that's a big bonus too.  

 The depth you set the sight-bob is important, for sensitivity. I recommend putting between four and eight inches on the bottom - drawing back the bob a little, after casting, so that everything lines up nice and straight. Where the bottom has weed, however, you may just have to cast and not draw back at all.  

 Another refinement I've started to use lately, as standard, is to place a small rubber float stop immediately beneath and up against the sight-bob. This is because sometimes the bob will slip on the strike and if that happens the hook will not set properly, if at all. The slippage, from what I can tell, is down to the kind of line being used - some modern lines are 'slippier' than others: but the rubber float stop below the bob is the perfect answer.   

 The bites are often interesting and illuminating. Usually, the start of a take is indicated by a slight "drifting" of the bob, to the right or left, and sometimes a miniscule ripple can be seen around the bob. This is caused by the carp sucking in the bait. As the carp's head lifts, the bob will shoot one or two inches across the surface. Once the carp begins to move away, as it usually does - feeling virtually no resistance and being unable to see the fluorocarbon line, the bob will disappear at a slight slant below the surface. And this is the time to strike…  It is highly effective technique, more often than not, for carp that are patrolling the margins. 

 I also love catching carp off the top, especially using bread crust and bread flake. This passion stretches right back to my canal carp fishing days, and using bread can still be astonishingly effective; but 'tweaks' are sometimes needed in these more challenging days. 

 One of the my more effective "tweaks" is the flake bomb, which allows surface bread to be fished free-lined at considerable distances, perhaps as far as 50 yards away, depending on the smoothness of the cast, the flow of the line and the direction of the wind. This, then, is a method to fool carp which are relatively far out, perhaps between weed beds, but which are easily spooked by surface controllers.  

 To reiterate, the flake bomb allows you to cast undunked, free-lined bread with considerable force. Use a whippy rod; a cane, glass or carbon Mk IV is ideal, as is my carbon AKN 116 "Stalker".  I also recommend one of the new specialist floater mono lines.  

 The bait will land without a heavy splash, because there's no need to dunk it beforehand. How then can all this achieved? The flake bomb is easy to do - use hooks size 4 or 6, ideally, of course. Remove crusts from a sliced loaf. Fine quality bread is essential. I like Warburton's. Tear strips of bread from top to bottom. The width of the bread strips should be about the width of your little finger, or a bit wider. Wrap the bread around the shank - from the eye down, and build up the ball as you go, one layer on top of the other, trapping air. It's best to practice this a little. Leave the point exposed. The bread will swell and hide the point in the water.  

 Pinch the bread ball up at the eye and once down at the bend, firmly, or go the other way, ending up at or above the eye. The bread will eventually unfold - but you will have a good 20 minutes with it in good order on the surface, perhaps a little more. It's a good method then, when carp can actually be seen on the surface, active, but relatively far out. 
A friend even managed to recast his flake bomb, with real power behind it too! It impressed him somewhat... 
I tend not to do this, however, and I do one cast per flake bomb. 

 I've certainly had many enjoyable sessions, using this technique. Specialist floater line can also be used as an effective bottom line, in some circumstances, as this diary entry shows... 

 

I’ve Korda Kruiser Control as a bottom line, in certain circumstances, and it seems to generate some very positive takes. Is that because it is, basically, ‘critically-balanced” and the drag is very much reduced, compared with traditional lines? That is possible, certainly. I’ve used it close in, when the water is choppy and the wind is in my face. I’ve free-lined big hunks of flake on the bottom in this situation and, rather than pinning the bait down, I think the line makes it much easier for the flake bait to lift in the chop, - and I suspect this is often the moment when a carp moves over and grabs it! I’ll need to do a great deal more fishing like this to be sure of the concept– but ideas like this keep fishing far more interesting for me.  

 

 This brings me back nicely, once again, to the subject of bread and food values in baits. Any dietician will tell you that bread is a decent source of carbohydrate, and so if the high protein bait theory is absolutely rock solid, then bread should be a pretty dire bait. However, carp find it amazingly attractive. Perhaps it is all about the yeast? In my experience, carp seldom if ever lose their innate attraction to bread, even when they are being caught regularly on bread. If any bait is a wonder bait, then it is the humble loaf. I was reminded of this during a session, a few years back, on a remote and interesting farm reservoir, which I shall call "The Other Pool". I was fishing with an angling friend who had brought along customised boilies. He had been assured by a fairly well-known angler that these would be highly effective. He cast out two hair-rigged baits, with PVA bags of particles, close to the little island. Then he waited for the alarms to go off. But they never did.  

 Meanwhile I was stalking. From previous sessions - and I must concede here that my growing knowledge of the water was a useful factor - I knew that carp were gathering in shallow water, over shingle, where they were consuming a sizeable hatch of tadpoles. I used slow-sinking flake with the Korda surface line, because of the shingle. Once everything was on the bottom, everything was sitting very lightly indeed upon the silt. For fear of spooking the carp, I did not use any rod rests and used instead my stalking bag to support the rod, an AKN 116 Stalker. Bubbles soon approached the bait and the line shot out for what could only be described as a good old fashioned carp run. I struck, and a nice common of around 15lbs boiled on the top, in the shallow water, and promptly threw the hook! My companion heard the splash, well down on the far bank. I must confess, I thought the commotion had ruined everything for me; but I noticed how bubble trails were slowly approaching my swim again. Out went my slow-sinking flake bait once more, perhaps just five metres out, and once more the line shot away and I was playing another carp. This time the hook - a size six Nash Fang Twister - stayed in well, and soon enough I was netting a low double - another common, in immaculate condition. My companion came round, to see the fish and to take a photo. 

 "OK," he asked, getting all in focus, "what are you having them on?"  

 "Bread flake, on the bottom," I replied, truthfully. 

 He frowned. "No," he said. "What are you really having them on?" 

 I didn't really know what to say, but I immediately forgave his doubt, because that's what friends are for, and because it's not so unusual for carp anglers to forget that bread can be an amazing bait. 

 

In discussing techniques, I must not forget floats! Compared with many anglers, I concede that I am not a top rank float fisherman and for years I believed that float fishing for carp involved nothing but a peacock quill and the lift method. With this method, however, I missed far more carp than I caught and, as I have already said, this is why I went on to develop the sight-bob technique. More recently, however, I've been making and using mini-antenna floats, where the stem is a 'toothpick' porcupine quill and the stabilising bulb is a large rubber ledger bead, shoved over the bottom of the quill. To help my middle-aged eyes, I spike a small sight-bob on the other end. It is trial and error, sometimes involving the trimming of the quill, but usually all this cocks nicely with the weight of one medium-sized swivel. This allows braid to be used for the hook link. The use of braid in a float rig is not so unusual. My brother, David, used a night float and a braid hook link to fool a number of big canal carp a few years back, and no less a luminary than the late, great Rod Hutchinson advised the use of braid for hook links in his illuminating book, Carp Inspirations 

 My little floats, for all their simplicity, have taken a while to reach their final form, as this passage from my diary shows, from December 2011, when I used a prototype for the first time, found it wanting, and had to be a little inventive on the bank… 

 

 I don't know quite what it was that drew me to Clay Farm Pond today, bearing in mind that I had three miserable blanks in a row there, during the late autumn. But perhaps the pool's appeal is that, by the end of March and the return of its lady owner from overseas, all angling will be banned at the pool. I didn't expect much, and the pool surprised me. My main reason was to try out some new floats I've made - basically, porcupine quills that self-cock by the addition of a small glass bead on the "spike". In effect, they are mini-antenna floats, and very sensitive. They all cocked beautifully in the sink, but at the pool, to my distress, I found that the 10lb fluoro I was using actually sank the floats! With light line and maggots, they would be deadly; but with carp line, king prawns and a size six... However, with the removal of the glass bead, I was delighted to find that the line alone was enough to cock the float, with the broken prawns on the hook acting as an anchor in the chop: stopping drift and, in all, making for a very sensitive rig indeed. I was still astonished, though, when the float vanished and an average-sized mirror for the pond went through its paces. I had only been fishing for ten minutes in the black poplar swim - where a double ledge in the margins leads down to deeper water. I was looking for possible winter holding areas, and it seemed as if I'd found one at once!  
Fifteen minutes on, and the float disappeared again. This time it was a very small common, but it still gave a game account of itself. 
And that was that! - no more takes, no more chances. A strong Easterly started to blow into my face and I was soon dithering; - but I stuck it out to the evening. When I caught the two fish, at least four carp had jumped in the pool beforehand - but afterwards, with the considerable chop, nothing stirred. 
I still enjoyed the fishless hours, however, with a flock of starlings roosting and piping on the bare oaks behind me; and once I thrilled to the sight of a huge old heron as it flapped its way from a secluded corner of the pond, towards the gathering winter clouds in the East. 

 Finally, to bring this lengthy, rambling passage to a close, I must ask myself, why bother? In an age of commercial fisheries, huge fish stocked at a huge weights, ready-made baits and ready-made rigs, why go to the trouble of fishing out of the way pools where the chance of a specimen fish is very much diminished? Why go to all the trouble of devising new techniques, particular to oneself? Why devise floats and bobbins when perfectly functional floats and bobbins can be bought over the counter or off the internet?  

 Well, I hope the extracts from my diary can convince myself, at least, that it's all been rather fun, and fishing is supposed to be enjoyable, isn't it? And fishing is also supposed to be something of a challenge. Meeting that challenge, I suggest, can lead to progress and innovation. There is more to the question than this, however. While I would never claim to be a typical member of the Traditional Fisherman's Forum, I was one of the first to sign up; and while the Forum's ethos has changed over the years, towards a stronger focus on cane rods and tackle restoration, there is one aspect of the group that remains a constant. The truth is, there is a form of quiet protest going on in angling at the moment. It is not a large protest, with many participants, but it is there. The protest is a rejection of the more commercial aspects of angling and those who reject these aspects look more and more to past: if only to see what might still be preserved from the pastime of Sheringham, BB, Walker and Yates. In the main, it is not a physical but a spiritual preservation which is sought.  

 As I see it, traditional carp angling effectively ended around 1981, when the first articles about the hair rig were published. A modern carper, sitting behind his battery of rods and alarms, can still claim continuity with the school of Richard Walker, who is widely seen as the Godfather of modern carp fishing. True, Walker invented the first effective bite alarms; but he also invented the margin crust technique, and he was a master of carp stalking and, especially towards the end of his life, he advocated the use of floats for carp fishing: especially when particles were being used. But these days, one method - that of hair-rigging in conjunction with a big ledger - has effectively stifled further innovations in other directions. The hair rig, then, has impoverished not enhanced the experience and challenges of carp fishing and, even worse, one bait - the boilie - dominates the scene. Baits, rigs and even venues are almost inextricably linked to big business interests; after all, there is a leisure industry that solicits for our endless support! But carp fishing is in danger of becoming deathly dull and set in its ways as a consequence - enslaved to those commercial interests, and surely it is time to look for other avenues for innovation and progress?  

 

Funny month, August; especially late August. In England, it's barely summer, with the leaves already starting to turn and fall in some locations, as they were at Pridewood, last Friday. The curl and clapper seeds of the lime trees along the farm lane were already down in some numbers, as were a quantity of pale yellow leaves. It's a carping time I love, actually; and for 30 minutes I assumed I had the small Herefordshire pool all to myself... but I was already playing my first carp of 8lb 4oz when the first fellow carper arrived, to see me in action at the head of the pool, (my AKN 116 bending heathily as I kept the common from submerged willow fronds.) I'd spotted this fish easily, because it was stirring up impressive clouds of red Herefordshire mud in the shallows. I cast into these aquatic clouds with popped up crust, under a sight-bob rig; and the sight-bob - essentially a subtle little bulb float, soon shot away. (To pop-up crust, I set a small plastic float stop about two inches above the hook, and I squeeze tungsten putty around the float stop - just enough putty to critically balance the crust. Of course, I squirt the crust with a little scopex before casting out. Crust and scopex, believe me, is a very effective combination, on many occasions.) My smallish common caused quite a thrash in coming to the net, and the swim seemed lifeless afterwards; and so I moved to the dam end of the 1.25 acre pool... and considered actually fishing from the dam itself, where the venerable old carp like to gather - more often than not, under a little bush - and around its submerged roots. (A friend, Nigel Evans did very well in that spot, a few years back, when a layer of scum was helping to hold the fish.. but I digress. On Friday, the tiny bay before the dam was a veritable storm of bubbles, and so it was my obvious second choice of the day, for a swim.) I planned to use the popped-up crust technique again, but an 8oz roach, followed by the hooking of a slightly larger roach, which rolled off the hook, let me know I would be tormented by small fish if I tried it there. I decided to try the surface, with quite large hunks of crust and scopex - large enough to withstand the assaults of the baby rudd and roach. Within a few minutes, a hunk of crust simply sank, in a heave and undulation of water. This common carp - an eleven pounder as it transpired, must have sucked down the crust from some way beneath the surface. I was pleased to land my first double of the day, and my second fish, not least because four or five anglers on the other bank were having no action as yet, despite using more 'modern' methods. About one hour later, a long-looking common surfaced for my scopex crust, and following a screaming first run against the Mitchell's clutch, it treated me to a odd circling type of fight. It soon came to the net, however, and I weighed it at 13lb 11oz, after thinking it might weigh a little more. Again, I decided to move - this time just about five yards along the bank, where I noticed a number of suspicious ripples in the margin. Luckily, all the other anglers were on the other, more 'popular bank', with several allowing themselves the luxury of driving down to the water's edge, before setting up. I had an entire bank to myself! I crept along, to the general area of the suspicious ripples, and gingerly put in a front and back rod-rest, because I could see how sizable carp were very close indeed to the bank, and the technique was to be classic margin crust. Richard Walker would have been proud of me, - perhaps! I lowered a hunk of crust straight beneath the rod top, and I waited. Only the last few rings of the rod were over the water, of course, and I was well back in my low chair. I was close enough to see any action though, needless to say. After about 30 minutes, a carp's lips simply broke surface, taking me almost by surprise, and the fish took the crust. The 1.5ft of slack line I had deliberately left between the Mitchell 300 reel and the rod's first ring must have already pulled tight as I raised the rod smartly for a right royal battle. On the scales, the chunky common went 15lb 3oz. I actually think it was a carp I had caught on prawns, at 15lb 1oz, about five years ago - and virtually in the very same spot. If so, it shows that the Pridewood carp, which were last stocked more than 30 years ago, may have done all their growing, as they head into late middle age.... but who can say for sure?    

Something about this 1.25 acre farm pond, Pridewood, keeps drawing me back. It's an interesting little water - spring fed, and dating back - according to the maps, to at least early Victorian times. A fishing friend, Nigel Evans, once described it as like fishing in someone's back garden - and there is something to that, as the large house overlooks the pool. At first glance the pool looks a little like a commercial, with its two small islands. The largest has a magnificent willow. It is as if, in modern times, someone decided to add 'features' ... but this is an incorrect impression. The islands are also Victorian, or older. The pool has deep silts, full of blood-worm, apparently, which partly explains why sometimes you get no takes at all from bubbling carp. On other occasions, using two rods is one rod too many - when the carp really turn on. I've had some of my best days here when surface fishing - eight carp including five doubles in an autumn afternoon, for instance. But last week - a week ago exactly, to be precise - I decided to sight-bob, close to the other big willow at the head of the pool. I had the pool entirely to myself, except for a nice couple ( man and wife) - who caught a carp just as I was leaving. I lost two and caught two- the loses due to wide-gape hook pulls. The largest I had was this one here - a pale common, weighing in at 12lbs 10oz . It fell to popped-up crust, which had been glugged in scopex. That's worth a try, by the way - the combination is jam and bread for greedy carp! One carp I hooked felt larger than 12lb 10oz... but that is fishing!  The carp were stocked over 30 years ago, with no stockings since, and most of the carp have this washed-out appearance, even though they tend to pull like the very devil!

Latest comments

07.09 | 21:31

Yes Dave, I look forward to a Three Amigos' reunion at a carp pool. Our fishing sessions together are always a great joy.

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07.09 | 20:49

Lovely account of a most enjoyable day Gary.Lets hope that Steven can join us next time.David

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23.11 | 15:34

Many thanks RB.

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05.09 | 08:54

Some very interesting musings, observations and snippets of information.
Thanks for taking the time to give us the benefit of your experience and knowledge.

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