River carp are completely unlike their still water cousins. These are happy to bask on gravel bars during the summer heights, casually gliding amongst the lilly pads and perhaps sucking down the odd chum mixer off the surface, while during the winter months, tucking themselves away in the deep water safe from any prying eyes, and angling attentions. River carp, unlike their safe stillwater cousins, will have to deal with boat traffic through the summer, and raging floods through the winter months. With all this extra commotion for them to deal with, they are certainly a tougher fish to deal with.

River carp fishing can be divided into two forms, fishing large rivers such as the Thames, Trent and the Severn, and fishing the smaller rivers such as the River Mole, River Ember, River Wey, River Gipping, etc. These smaller rivers are the tributaries of the larger rivers, feeding them with life throughout the year, and they are often choked with weed throughout the summer months. Many of these smaller rivers are devoid of boats due to them being un-navigable and other hazards associated with the larger rivers, such as drunks, disco boats and lovers. With none of these to contend with, the small rivers can be a peaceful diversion from the pressurized local lakes for those anglers seeking something slightly different.

I began fishing for river carp almost eight years ago, after becoming disillusioned with the schoolboy antics of so-called fellow carp anglers on stillwaters, and have since found it to be one of the most rewarding types of fishing I have ever undertaken. I started out on the non-tidal sections of the River Thames, and finally caught several carp - after two seasons of blanking! I moved downstream to the muddy tidal reaches, flowing through West London, and there I caught many large carp. The mud, rats, Chinese Mitten Crabs, boats, drunks etc. certainly tested my wits. I recall having drunks urinate on my car from bridges, bottles thrown at me from youngsters at all hours and bodies dragged out in front of my eyes! What I needed was to get away from all these people, and the small rivers that flowed through the countryside offered just what I wanted - uncaught, un-pressurised carp, quiet banksides, a lack of rats and people.

No one will be able to tell you how many fish there are in the rivers, as no one knows, or will ever know. I have caught, and seen fish caught, from very small sizes to upper twenties on the small rivers around the country. The larger rivers such as the Thames obviously have a larger biomass, and are able to support greater numbers of large carp, but do not let this put you off fishing the smaller rivers of the country. You only have to think about the mid-thirty common caught last year from the River Mole in Surrey. This fish had never been caught before - and it will be a while before it is landed again. This was from a small river, at places less than ten meters wide and un-navigable by boats, what more could you ask for? I personally have caught common carp, mirror carp, leather carp, linear carp and ghosties. All of these fish are likely to have never seen a hook before, let alone have a name. 99% of the fish I have caught have been in pristine condition, and fought like jet engine fish all the way to the net.

There are a few nuisance fish to watch out for, these being chub, bream, barbel and crabs! The Chinese Mitten Crab has made inroads into all of the feeder rivers to the Thames after becoming established there many years ago, and are a real pain to say the least. Do not think that by using boilies as bait, you will escape their attentions.

Fishing the rivers requires patience, soft shoes, and a good pair of polarizing glasses. There are not many fish to be caught but what they lack in numbers, they certainly make up in fighting capabilities and good looks. The carp can be found in all the usual places that river carp tend to congregate, such as lock gates, bends, weed beds, turning bays, backwaters, slack water glides, marina entrances, boat moorings, etc., etc. A good time to locate these fish is in the evening, when any boat traffic will be coming to a halt, and the fish will be easier to see, and at first light, when the fish can be seen mooching through the weed beds. If fish can be seen, take a note of the area, and visit the next day to see if they are still there, for I have noticed that there are two types of carp in the rivers. There are resident fish that will always be in one certain area, and travelers who move around the river systems on a daily basis, and who are, more often than not, on their own. If the fish can still be seen the next day, it will be worth baiting up with small amounts of bait to get them interested. If the fish are not there, they could be the traveler type which continually move along the rivers looking for food. I have fished areas where I have not seen carp, even though the area screams carp, and caught after several nights fishing, though these fish tend to be the ‘loner type’. So even if you do not find fish, it may be still worth putting out a couple of rods waiting for the passing trade, but do be prepared to wait.

Weed beds provide shelter from any boat traffic, and are larders of natural food. With this in mind, it is often worth seeking out the backwater lilly pads which often hold fish. It is one of the first areas to look for carp, especially at first light in the summer. I’ve seen many carp glide through streamer weed only to come to rest amongst the stalks of the pads, and start to root around in the silt. Another area worth seeking out is the gravel spits below small lock gates. I recall having 2 blank nights on a session below a set of lock gates and could not understand why this was the case, as I had seen several fish in the area for the past few days. It was not until I climbed up a tree one evening and saw the carp digging through the silt and gravel in 2ft of water on the gravel spit that I realised I had been fishing in the wrong place. That night my baits were placed in 2ft of water, less than 12 inches away from the bank. I caught 2 good fish that night including a fully scaled mirror.

The winter can prove a harder time on the rivers due to the excess of cold water flowing through them, not to mention the extra colour and flow. Experience will tell you where to look for the fish, with my own experiences leading me to the backwaters and marinas. The fishing will be slower than slow but very rewarding for those who put the time in. Night fishing will not be so important during the colder months as the fish will be happier to feed during the warmest parts of the days, and what boat traffic the river saw during the summer would have slowed considerably. Night fishing during the summer months however is a must! Over the last few years, I have found that the fish almost feed exclusively during the nights on the rivers, which can be a bit of a pain if you have a family life.

The location of carp in the very small rivers such as the River Blackwater and Wraysbury Stream, is a different kettle of fish if you will excuse the pun. These tiny rivers are not to be overlooked by the budding river carper, and will often throw up a surprise or two, to those willing to do their homework. In the ‘smaller than small’ rivers which are not big enough to handle boats, the location of the carp comes down to that age old skill, watercraft. I have always found the locating of carp in these small rivers easier during first light, when the fish are on the move from their night haunts. Look for gravel beds through the streamer weed. Should carp be in the area, they will make themselves known by feeding on water insects such as caddis larvae, and snails. If you suspect carp are in the area but are unable to locate any, place half a bucket of pre-bait on the clean gravel beds during the evening, and visit the area at first light to see what is happening. If the bait has gone, depending on the amount used, you can expect to have had carp visiting the area. If you are still not sure whether it was chub or carp who had cleaned your bait up, try to see if the gravel beds have been disturbed. Chub will eat large amounts of bait, but not with the ferocity of carp, and will not root through the river bottom looking for that last morsel, unlike carp which will.

If you are still unsuccessful locating the carp, try looking around any road bridges crossing the river, and near drain overflows. These areas will be rich in food, and will therefore attract fish. I have had several fish next to flood drains, which spew all the roadside waste into the river throughout the night. I have also found that these areas will attract crayfish and crabs which are another form of food for the carp, so the location of these is also important. Where any of these very small rivers join other tributaries is also a good place to start. Look for varying depth contours, and again look for the fish at first light.

Concludes next week.