The area I fished was centred around Saintes, but the Charente holds carp throughout its length and I have even caught them from the tidal reaches of the river. It has a slow but very powerful flow but in summer, when the river is at its lowest, fishing is possible, especially in the margins where the flow is greatly reduced.
Once you have located river carp they are not usually hard to catch but on the other hand, locating them in the first place can be difficult. On the Charente the most obvious spots are near to the hundreds of fallen trees which fell into the water during the exceptional storm of 27th December 1999. Other spots worth a try are close to snags such as trees, overhanging bushes, weedbeds, close to lily pads, and on the inside of sharp bends where the current will be reduced.
Many rivers feature a deep central channel to allow the safe passage of boats. Here the current is at its strongest and the river at its deepest. It is worth bearing in mind that the centre of this channel is seldom as productive as the margins or the sloping sides leading down to the channel. This is because carp generally like to patrol in the edge, out of the flow and along the drop-off into the deeper water of the central channel.
The first photo shows a typical river swim on the Charente at Saintes. Note the fallen tree and the extensive lily pads, both of which hold fish at certain times of the day. The water around the pads starts at about two feet deep and drops quickly to about eight feet deep at their edge. Carp adore hiding in the deeper water using the weed stems for cover and protection from current and anglers, moving out into the current to patrol their feeding routes.
These feeding or patrol routes are very important. Carp like to establish a regular patrol route and if you can discover their path from one feeding area to another, you can intercept their patrol with a carpet of feed and a hookbait.
River fishing in rivers like the Charente calls for tough gear as river carp are totally wild and they fight like mad. I suggest a twelve foot rod with a test of at least 2.751b. This should be matched with big spooled reels such as the Daiwa or Shimano models loaded with 12-151b nylon line. Where fish are likely to run towards or into snags, it is a good idea to attach a short 2m-3m long abrasion leader of 451b Quicksilver. The lead should be heavy enough to counter the weight of the current and flat bombs are better than round ones which will tend to roll downstream with the current. I use 120-150g leads for most of my river fishing.
A rod pod can be very useful if hard banks are present but make sure the rod tips are pointed at the lead. This will ensure a smooth, direct pay-off of line and will stop the pod from toppling over when the (invariably) very savage take occurs. In the 2nd photo you can see my normal river set up. The pod is a Fox Euro Pod and the indicators are simple bobbins, in this case the Fox Hanger version.
River carp are largely unpressured and provided the terminal set up is strong and tough you will not generally need to use the kind of all-singling, all-dancing high tech rigs that angling writers love to baffle us with. You will need a strong, sharp hook, preferably a short shank pattern featuring a slightly down-turned eye. Though purely a matter of personal preference, I prefer to use barbless patterns or I squeeze the barb flat. This allows easier hook penetration into the thick, tough lips that river carp possess. It also allows for easier removal of the hook. I don't fish popped up baits in rivers as I believe they look even more unnatural than they do in a lake. In a river the current must make the buoyant bait dance about on the bottom in a most unnatural manner.
My favourite rig is a Drop-Down rig. I love the recently introduced Fox Series 2XS hook and in either the size 4 or 6 they are a brilliant hook for river fishing. I cannot fault them and they seem to stay sharp for ages, even when confronted with tough, abrasive river beds. I have been using nylon hook link material now for about four or five years now, seldom using braid. This is particularly true when I fish in rivers and my hook link of choice is 241b Fox Illusion flurocarbon Stiff Link. At the opposite end to the hook a Flexi-Swivel Ring is attached to add suppleness to the rig.
I've often use half baits and Butterfly-rig presentations as they are very effective in rivers. By cutting the hook bait in half you allow easier and faster ingress of water which in turn forces the flavour out. I generally use a standard bottom bait with no added buoyancy, however, there are times when it is helpful to counteract the weight of the hook and you can do this by using a piece of rig foam rather than a boilie stop.
The current may affect the positioning of your free offerings so it often a good idea to draw attention to the hook bait by attaching a stringer made with PVA string. To ensure that the baits stay close to the hook bait after the PVA has melted and are not swept downstream by the current, cut each boilie in half before threading them onto the PVA.
One trick that works a treat on rivers is to wrap boilie paste around the hookbait. By drawing attention to your hookbait with a paste wrap, you encourage smaller fish to investigate. Carp in turn are attracted by the small fry's activity. The photo is of Trigga paste prior to being wrapped around a Trigga hook bait. As the small fish whittle the paste away, their feeding activity often attracts the attention of nearby carp who move in to take the food away from the smaller fish. I half bury the hook in the paste as this helps keep the point clear as the hook bait settles in the current on the river bed.
I stated earlier my preference for nylon rather than braided reel line for river carping. If you are faced with a slow but powerful current you will find that the lack of stretch that characterises braided reel lines will cause the lead to become dislodged whenever a piece of floating or submerged debris hits the line. On some rivers passing boat traffic can also put pressure on the line and make the lead move. Generally speaking, once the lead starts to move, it doesn't stop until the lead and bait roll into a snag and you will loose the end tackle. Though braid is much thinner than nylon of similar breaking strain, and in theory should withstand the pressure of the current better, its lack of stretch means the braid has nothing in reserve to absorb the added pressure of the build-up of debris on the line. Nylon, though thicker, has a lot of stretch and this acts as a sort of shock absorber to take up the added pressure.
I usually use some form of groundbait for carp fishing in rivers, again for the same reason I use paste wraps, namely to attract smaller fish. Carp are seldom the first arrivals in a swim that has been heavily groundbaited, but the activity of the hoards of smaller fish that immediately home in on the groundbait invariably draws carp into the swim as well. The groundbait shown in this photo is very inexpensive, being a mixture of oat groats, flaked maize and Haith's Robin-Red-based carp groundbait, SuperRed. The boilies in the photo are old baits that would normally just be discarded in the edge. Don't waste 'em, chuck 'em in the bait bucket!
Quick dissolving pellets such as the Nutrabaits CSL Pellet can give added impetus to your groundbait. As the pellets break down, tiny particles are swept downstream and these can usually draw carp upstream towards the baited area. Again, you can use a spod to introduce them to a far bank swim, or simply throw them into your marginal swim if you are fishing under you rod tips. The fast breakdown of the brilliant Nutrabaits Corn Steep Liquor Pellets make them very useful in stiffening groundbaits and they add considerably to the drawing power of your bait carpet.
The shape of your lead is very important. Long thin bullet-shaped leads that may be fine for long range fishing, or round dumpy leads that are intended to impart a shock effect on bolt rigs, are likely to be easily dislodged by the current and swept downstream, out of the baited area and most likely into snags. For that reason you should choose a lead with a flat profile which is much more likely to grip the river bed and allow the current to flow over it. The Fox Flat Pear Combi Bomb is ideal for river fishing.
Obviously not every hot spot calls for casting to the far bank and where possible it is easier and less problematical to fish under your rod tips. On the other hand, there are times when they actively seek out the less disturbed areas of bankside. Carp usually prefer a quieter, undisturbed, unfished (or unfishable) stretch of bank to one that is heavily populated with anglers, their cars and the disturbance they inevitably create. The carp in the Charente are no different and if you look for quiet areas away from roads and so on, you'll generally find carp. They like to lie by the far bank treeline less than a couple of yards out. Here they can also find respite from the steady, powerful current which dominates the centre of the river.
If you do find that you have to cast to the opposite side of the river, perhaps to a snag, a set of lily pads or under the far bank treeline, you will find that the lead will stay in position more easily if you cast upstream to the baited area or feature rather than down stream. This is due to the angle at which the current pressurises the reel line between rod tip and lead.
The rewards of river fishing can be tremendous. You never know what's coming along next. It might be a streamlined little double figure common that nearly pulls your arms off, or a big fat beastie like this 331b 8oz mirror, currently my personal best river carp. This fish just put that big old flank across the current and let it carry him downstream. It took me 45 minutes to get him back to the net!