Each morning is greeted by a freshness in the air which stings the face and makes you feel good to be alive. The banks are green again after months of gloom and the margins are alive with life. The days are warm and the evenings long, giving plenty of time for a few hours by the bank. Best of all, the fish are hungry and can be caught using that most neglected art, stalking. There are many variations on the stalking theme, but my favourite at this time of year is chasing fish with surface baits. Don't for one minute think that this method is limited to carp though, as rudd and stillwater chub can also be tempted with a scaled down approach.
Catching fish on floating baits can be as simple as you want it to be. Scatter matchbox sized pieces of bread crust in the margins of your local carp lake and sooner or later they will begin to be taken. Use a similar bait on a forged size six hook to ten pound line and away you go. Some of my biggest English carp have been caught on this method, so just because it is about as trendy as flares doesn't mean it won't catch fish. Talking of flares, I have an old Century Armalite carp rod which must be twelve years old that remains my favourite floater fishing rod. At twelve feet long and with a test curve of two pounds, it is forgiving enough to subdue big carp on the light tackle I sometimes have to use. It also has enough action to punch even a light bait a good distance from the bank.
Free-lining is my first choice when conditions allow. Don't forget to carry a tub of line float with you as it is essential that the line should float at all times. Restricting yourself to just free-lining would be folly, so I also carry a few controllers and bits and bobs to go with them. Here is the complete contents of my tackle bag:
Hutchinson vice hooks size 4 to 8
Drennan boilie hooks size 10 and 12
Sufix Synergy 8lb and 15lb
Sufix Invisiline in 8lb and 15lb
Size 10 swivels
4mm rubber beads
Controllers up to 60 grams
Tub of polyfloat
All this is stored in a Hutchinson gear bag along with scales and a small camera (just in case!). The whole kit weighs next to nothing and allows me to wander around to my hearts content.
The only other things you will need are a small unhooking mat, landing net and the most essential item of all, a pair of polarising sunglasses.
Watching fish feeding on the surface can tell you an awful lot about what goes on when they are feeding down below. Generally, the fish will be very cautious to begin with, only gaining confidence as they take more food items and more fish join in the feeding spree. Getting the fish to feed competitively is the key to surface fishing. Once you get the fish worrying more about what the others are doing, rather than whether the bait is safe to eat, the fish are as good as yours. Getting the fish worked up to this stage can take several hours. Aim to get them feeding well before risking a cast. A baited rig amongst them at the start is likely to be viewed with caution and will prohibit them from becoming more confident.
On the rig front, I tend to keep everything really simple. Hook lengths are generally as long as possible, normally five to ten feet long, and hooks as small as possible. In open water you can tame thirty pound carp on size 12 hooks, so don't be afraid to go small. I normally use the controller semi-fixed between two rubber beads. This rests on the hook length swivel and is trapped behind with a stop knot. Should the rig become snagged this will allow the float to move up the line. Bait is generally the ubiquitous Pedigree Chum Mixer, although I have just found some lovely oily dog biscuits in my local Sea Pets store which I will definitely be giving a go this year. Whatever you use, give this explosive form of fishing a go this summer, you will not be disappointed!