Well, actually that’s not quite true. My approach to carp fishing is very much a low-key affair and it is based upon the premise that carp are worthy of no more (but certainly no less) attention than most other species of coarse fish. Carp become difficult to catch when their numbers are low and/or very widely spread throughout the fishery or when they have been subject to intense angling pressure. Small carp that have retained the shoaling instinct or large carp that have not lost it because of limited angling pressure are just as easy to catch as shoaling roach. It is important to keep things in perspective. The minute anglers allow themselves to believe the ‘hype’ that surrounds (what can become) an insular and rather arrogant branch of our sport, foresight and common sense are lost.
It seems to me that ‘mainstream’ carp fishing has a predictable and almost clone-like following – powerful rods, bait-runner reels, rod-pods and swingers, line clipped up so tight it almost sings in the wind and baits that are used by just about everyone. Gone is the individuality, the challenge, the mystery that used to surround carp fishing (and indeed the fishing for most big-fish species) to be replaced by a willingness to follow others, to catch known, named fish and, if it doesn’t make matters worse, to then relocate some of the fish. Sadly, the desire to add more and bigger fish to the checklist now involves importing carp from the continent and I guess it cannot be long before the UK carp record is held by a foreign import.
Why does this bother me? Why am I recording my worries about this growing trend
Allow me to quote from a delightful little booked first published in 1937 by E. Marshall-Hardy and titled ‘Mirror of Angling’. "The capture of a really big fish is a pleasant surprise; were it a forgone conclusion, angling would be robbed of much of its fascination. It is the unknown in our sport which is so tempting".
Many of us ‘older school’ anglers, guys who came in to the sport as children, who learned their skills on gudgeon, tiny rudd and the occasional crucian carp or perch gradually and progressively as they matured, still hold a profound and deeply seated love of the sport. We made all sorts of mistakes trying to master the ‘lift method’, trying to understand why we couldn’t catch bigger fish, getting to know the difference between the ‘double rubber’ float attachment and why on rivers the positioning of split shot was so very important. And many others things beside.
Today, with sufficient cash or a credit card, casual interest in fishing can be equipped with a full and lavish set of tackle, and baits proven by others in as many hours as it took us to walk to the lake. Cash doesn’t (easily) buy expertise. What level of expertise is needed anyway when the groundwork has been done for you? You can buy angling guides setting out most of the known carp waters and to discover the most prolific hotspots you need only to visit a lake and look for the long-stay anglers. If the sport has been slow that week, look for the patches of yellowed grass, or bare bank. The anglers will be elsewhere.
If you still want to catch ‘Big Bertha’ or ‘Two Scale’ or ‘Old Lumpy’ by all means set up your multi-rod pod, fire out your supermarket-style ready made boilie and sit back in the luxury of a bed chair that cost as much as a three piece suite from DFS (interest deferred for 6 months… in more ways than one!). You can switch off your brain, certain in the knowledge that you’ll learn about as much as if you’d stayed at home. Once in a while, your high pitched 100 decibel bite alarm will scream like a banshee, telling the world you have a run, then all you need to do is winch the bloated creature in (always assuming of course that the hook can find its purchase in the scarred mouth tissue).
Perhaps I have (deliberately) exaggerated the situation but not by much. This approach to fish catching these days concerns me more because of the profound effect this style is having on all branches of the our sport. We are beginning to lack imagination, we are collectively losing the 'need for cunning' and in so doing we are developing a sameness in everything the modern angler does.
Of course, the ‘natural’ angler will always shine above the followers, though if you are too successful these days you’ll suffer at the hands of the jealous in one way or the other. If you are not labelled a liar, the fish you are catching will be transferred elsewhere, as likely as not to a syndicated fishery.
A grass roots approach to carp fishing, as in all other branches of fishing, tells anglers more about the fish, its habits and its attitudes in a one-to-one way. Success may be earned the hard way but remains foremost in ones memory for longer. We develop a knowledge that we can fall back on, and depend upon. We can all follow the successful but we’ll never know why they are successful unless we know about the fish themselves. Casting or rowing the baits out to preordained spots highlighted by fluorescent marker floats tells us little about the fish until, or unless a bait is picked up.
Haven’t we further lost the plot when we introduce anti-eject hooks and rigs to our thoughts? Why has it become so necessary, an almost life-and-death matter to catch at all cost? If we miss a take today we’ll make up for it another day; surely all we need to do is to get our methods sorted out so that we know we’ll have further chances next time out. To do so, though, requires that we have faith in our ability; it also assumes that we are not in some kind of competition with other anglers and that ‘failure’ to catch ‘Giant Mary’ is nothing to lose sleep about.
More than one half century ago Marshall–Hardy wrote that it is the unknown in angling that makes our sport so tempting. It is also the unknown that makes our sport so rich in technique, that opens our minds to an environment alien to our natural lives. To think like a fish - so far as that is possible – is often what makes an angler a life-long angler, for there are few things more rewarding in life than to share it with other creatures. The satisfaction of being presented with a real problem and to solve it by ones own efforts is hugely pleasing. If you follow the guy up the bank, even if you equal his success, you’ll never know why or how it worked for you. Whilst you make your own luck in this life, relying on someone else’s luck will run out eventually and what do you do then?
It is, sadly, a sign of the times that an increasing number of today’s carp anglers have never heard of Richard Walker. Most, if not all of those same anglers, will have heard of Winston Churchill yet Churchill’s impact upon their lives is a lot less profound than Walkers – if they only knew it! Okay, some of Walkers beliefs may have been proven inaccurate with the gaining of experience though we should not forget that in the early 1950’s very few anglers were working out the problems as was Richard Walker and a small number of his friends.
Walker believed, and through his writings he taught us, that carp were sensitive to resistance. His approach, therefore, was to free-line his bait. This may, or at times may not have caused him problems with bite indication though it did mean that for the most part his fishing was at close range. Fishing at close range means you have to learn to fish quietly for fear of spooking your intended quarry and so your level of skill, moving around the bank side without creating vibrations, heavy footfalls etc increases. It also means that the fish you are after are more likely to come right in close and feed under your rod. This, in turn increases your chances of learning about their feeding habits first hand and at very close quarters.
Many of today’s anglers, indeed much of today’s society, doesn’t know the meaning of quiet and respect. Much of today’s fishing is done at a range where bank side disturbance has less of an impact (other than on adjacent anglers who might just appreciate a bit of silence!) but in so being, the opportunity to watch carp feeding, and generally going about their lives, is significantly reduced. The learning curve is in steep decline.
We have come to learn that carp are indeed sensitive to resistance but not in the way that Walker believed. Perhaps I should put it another way. Carp are tolerant of resistance in so far as it doesn’t stop them picking up a bait tethered to the terminal tackle, but rather than drop it they make a bolt for it. On the other hand, their chances of dropping the bait are less using modern terminal rigs because of the self hooking, anti-rejection rigs and so on.
Curiously, if you fish for unsophisticated carp – fish which rarely see another angler – their reaction to hook baits, and their tolerance of anglers presence is not, in my experience, so far removed from Walkers findings. I have a particular objection to bolt rigs and whenever the opportunity presents itself I’ll free line a bait, or use a swan shot, or two, to add a bit of weight for casting or for tackle control. I prefer to feed on a little and often basis, sufficient to get the fish with their heads down, sufficient to keep them browsing the bottom and just enough to ensure my bait is ‘lost’ amongst the free offerings. Yet, all too frequently they still see a difference between my bait and the free ones. That, however, is the challenge and I’d much prefer to go home at the end of a frustrating session, having missed a few opportunities perhaps, caught a few carp in the process though, than to condition them to long range feeding so that my approach can be made the more simple. What will I learn by waiting for a belting run? Sitting on the fish, sometimes with them in full view, quietly concealed with rod in hand, teaches me a lot about their feeding strategy. The most sensitive bite indicator is still the forefinger with the line gently crooked over it feeling for pulls and drags as the fish swim across the line and sample the bait. The plucks and pulls that follow and that oh-so-glorious increase in tension as the fish, having picked up the bait, moves slowly away is never forgotten.
There is a suggestion made by modern angling techniques that if one rod equals one fish, using four rods equals four fish. In reality the odds are reduced by about 60 percent the more rods you use. Few swims have the space for 3 or 4 taking spots so the rods on the fringes are those less likely to catch regularly – one or two rods are always placed in the best known feeding areas. I would suggest that you can increase the chances of catching on one or two rods by putting more effort in to them, by thinking more about what you are doing and by being more mobile – mentally and physically! Being set up in a semi-mobile home for a few days is all very cosy and is certainly handy for socialising but it also restricts your activities out of proportion.