Although the conditions are quite different between the bottom and the surface, much of the fish’s behaviour when confronted with a ‘suspicious’ bait on the top or on the bottom (the refusal, the aborted take, the snatch, and the confident suck) must be almost the same. Which all goes a long way towards teaching you what is going on at times when your bait lies out of sight on the bottom and your indicator tells you that something down there is showing an interest.

When I first began fishing floating baits for carp many years ago there was only one bait to use and that was bread, usually crust and sometimes flake. Today there is a much greater choice (there was then, but we didn’t realise it!). Now, we can choose from a variety of pet biscuits, the most popular being Chum Mixer; specially made cake with ingredients that include colouring, flavours and appetite stimulators; floating carp pellets; and some seeds, such as sunflower.

Catching carp on floating baits is easy when it is the first time any of the carp in a particular water have been caught on them. But once several fish have been hooked you can see the difference in all the carp in that water. Not only do they learn from being hooked, they also learn from seeing their mates being hooked! It doesn’t take long to go from catching on a simple free-lined crust on a No. 2 hook to 12lb line to struggling with other, more subtle methods, in an attempt to get a take. They still want the floating baits very badly, but they learn quite quickly how to tell the difference between hooked baits and free offerings. And there is nothing more frustrating than seeing several big carp mopping up all the freebies while your hookbait remains untouched!

I remember the first ploy I ever used to persuade carp to take my floating hookbait, which they were blatantly ignoring whilst mopping up the free offerings. That’s not quite right, they were paying some attention to my hookbait: they had learned how to knock the hooked crust about enough to cause crumbs to fall off it and sink towards the bottom, which they grabbed on the way down. So I tied up a two-hook rig which had a big hook on the surface carrying a big crust, and a smaller hook 4ins below it carrying a piece of flake that simulated a piece that was sinking from the crust. They fell for it long enough to enable me to catch a number of them over the next few weeks before they learned how to avoid that little scheme! I was concerned for some time that the rig could lead to some damage to a hooked fish; the loose hook fouling a snag and tethering the fish to it. But I was using it in a snag-free water and never did have any trouble. I would be wary of this, however, and think carefully before you use the rig. Also, be wary of the fish thrashing in the landing net, causing the loose hook to snag the mesh. What I do is immediately cut off the loose hook before I place the landing net down on the unhooking mat. Tying on a new hook-length is a small price to pay for being able to use an effective method without risk of damaging the fish. Bread for floater fishing for carp has almost become the forgotten bait, but in spite of more modern baits being available one should never ignore bread. It can still be the best choice. Only last year I caught some nice carp to a little over 20lb on crust when I couldn’t get a take on Mixer and other floaters. The only reason for this was because crust had become the ‘new’ bait. Chum Mixer, and other, more modern baits, had been given a hammering and the carp knew more about those than they did about bread. For a while they were taken by surprise again, for I prolonged the life of the bread by colouring and flavouring it differently over the few weeks I got away with using it.

The floater-fishing method I use most of the time today is the straightforward controller approach. I use a hooklength of about 5ft, greased to make it float, apart from the last foot above the hook. That way, the line close to the hook doesn’t lie in the surface film where it is most obvious. I alternate between hooking baits direct (usually when using crust and carp cake) and using a hair rig or pellet band.

After a while carp recognise and become afraid of controllers, which means that an increasingly longer hooklength can increase the catching period before the hooklength becomes unmanageable and they spook altogether. Other techniques to try are the Gardener ‘Suspender’ rig, which is a weighted arm that drops the bait onto the surface without any line lying on the surface within a few inches of the hook. The Suspender can be deadly on waters where it has never previously been used. Otherwise it has a very short life, the carp soon becoming wary of it.

The beachcaster rig is good too, which uses the rod propped up almost vertical and the line going down to a heavy lead of at least 2oz, a large float (a pike float is fine) lies on the surface, and two feet or so above the float the hooklength is tied, which hangs vertical, suspending the bait to just lie on the surface. Again, like the Suspender, the beachcaster has no line on the surface close to the bait. Freelining is the best technique of all for floater fishing when the carp are feeding well enough and if you can get the fish feeding close enough to the margins to enable you to dangle the line over a reed stem, or from the rod end, then you’ve got it made.

The controller method (where I can’t get away with free-lining) is, however, my favourite means of floater fishing. I favour the Eustace tall controllers but it is not the best one for casting great distances. However, I willingly sacrifice a few yards distance for the superior bite detection of the Eustace. If you keep a reasonably straight line from hook to controller the Eustace will ‘bow’ to a suck so fast it seems to have been pulled under. I accept that watching the bait through binoculars is no doubt the best method of bite detection, and can’t be faulted when you know carp are showing in your baited area, but there is no way I want a pair of binoculars stuck to my eyes for hours on end waiting for that bite ‘out of the blue’.

Another way to present a floating bait is to leger it, and allow the bait to draw line off the reel spool until it reaches the surface, and then clip up. I’m not a big fan of this method, for the carp seem to detect the line that comes from the bottom to the bait most easily. A fairly new product that has made floater fishing a little easier is fluorocarbon line. Sufix Invisiline and Grand Max Riverge are two of the best. These fluorocarbon lines are virtually invisible in water due to their Refractive Index, which is closer to that of water than most other lines.

As with so many other types of fishing though, thoughtful loose feeding is the key to successful floater fishing for carp. The way you loose feed can make the difference between success and failure. My way is to choose a position where I have my back to the wind and loose feed with hookbait samples (usually Chum Mixer, but pellets can be good too) in the same way I would loose feed with maggot or caster when fishing stick float on the river. Little and often is the answer, or quite a lot and often if you are fishing a prolific carp water, for they can mop up a hell of a lot of feed if they’re well onto it. Whichever - little and often, or a lot and often - the aim is to keep a constant stream of bait bobbing along the surface, to such an extent the carp grow over-confident and therefore careless. Feeding for twenty minutes or so before you actually wet a hook bait is the best way, for the idea is to get them preoccupied and feeding confidently before any of them are hauled off to a landing net.

If you get the feeding technique right, on the right day, you can hook the carp on almost any floater method - within reason of course. They become so preoccupied with feeding, and competing with each other if you get enough carp in the area, their sense of self-preservation goes out of the window to a great extent. Ask any match angler, he’ll tell you that the correct feeding technique is more than half the battle.

There is no reason at all why the same basic principles shouldn’t apply to carp.