To actually see the carp coming up to the surface and taking baits really gets the adrenaline going. Then, when a carp moves towards your bait, the tension can be almost unbearable. However catching carp off the surface is not always as easy as it appears. On hard fished waters they can be very cautious and tackle shy. Top class presentation and the right bait are essential.
It's many years since I first fished a floating bait. In those days it was free lined floating crust in the local parks for carp. We used to put a largish piece of crust on a size 6 hook, dunk it in water and cast out to the edge of the weed beds. Although we caught a few small carp we mainly caught nice sized rudd and the odd tench. In those days there were not the terrific numbers of carp about and our still water fishing was predominately for tench, roach and rudd.
The first time I ever used a controller was one Summer at Radnor Gardens on the tidal Thames at Twickenham. At low tide on a hot day, my friends and I would watch carp cruising about in the cabbage weed down the edge. This was the early sixties and there was certainly a fair head of carp present then. They were not as big as present day tidal Thames carp and very few would even make double figures but I stress again for the sake of modern day river carpers that they were present in fair numbers and clearly visible on a hot day. Naturally we tried to catch them on floating crust but the ducks were on to it so quickly that it was impossible. Then one day, Dave Stroud chucked in some old floating chrysalides and shortly after there were some big swirls. We could see carp, big dace and roach taking the chrysalides. The following week we came back with more chrysalides to try out. We fished with a match stick as a controller which was fished double rubber about 18 inches from a size 14 hook baited with two floating chrysalides. We called this "flick fishing" as we just flicked the match stick and bait out to the cabbage weed. The tactic worked but produced mainly roach and dace with the odd carp. Although there was the odd double figured carp caught, an eight pounder was regarded as a good fish. If my memory serves me right the biggest carp was a common of about 10lb 4ozs. This was a long time ago, before the numbers of cormorants had built up to plunder our river. I doubt if you would catch much off the surface with that technique now.
Many years later, my friends and I were fishing a lake with trout pellet paste over trout pellets to catch some big tench with the odd carp. Unfortunately I had picked up a bag of smallish floating pellets and decided to throw them away at the end of the session. As it approached mid day we decided to pack up and I fired out the floating pellets on to the water with my catapult and then started to pack away my gear. I was nearly fully packed up before I noticed fish coming up for the floating pellets. There were some good swirls which became more and more common as the fish built up confidence. I had thrown in all the pellet so all we could do was watch.
During that week I built my first controllers, which was easy as at that time I used to make most of my own floats and had all the gear. I had some drilled balsa bodies and I inserted a length of brass welding rod in one end and a swivel in the other. I used a strong epoxy glue to secure both the swivel and the brass rod in position. The balsa wood was giving two coats of cellulose paint to seal it. The tip was painted first with a base white then a bright orange for visibility. Most of the body was painted black and then stippled with green paint to give a camouflaged look and to break up the outline of the float.
The following Saturday, I was back on the water firing out more floating trout pellets before setting up my 1.25lb test curve 11ft rod with a fixed spool reel loaded with 81b line. This was threaded through the controller and attached to a swivel the other side. I used a 5ft trace of 61b b.s. line to a size 8 hook that was super glued to the shank of the hook. By the time I was set up, the fish were up taking the bait. On my first cast, I immediately had a take and I struck into a nice common that went mad putting up a terrific fight. I landed it and weighed it at a fraction over 11 lb. I knew that my approach and tackle were right.
Unfortunately that carp had disturbed all the others and it took me over three quarters of an hour to get the fish feeding on the surface again. Then out went my light controller and again, it went virtually straight away but this was a much larger fish that slowly moved off taking over 50 yards of line. This was of no real concern as the water was virtually snag free. After approaching twenty minutes of playing the fish it started to tire and I saw it for the first time. It was by those days standards a very big carp. It took several more minutes to land and weigh it at 22lb 3oz. At the time it was a personal best.
My friends and I continued to fish with this technique for several years and enjoyed some good catches. Unfortunately other anglers had realised the surface fishing potential of the water and had really given the water a hammering. The fish appeared to spook at the sight of a controller. I decided to build some controllers that laid flat on the surface in an attempt to fool the carp. Again my float making skills were put to good use. I used drilled out balsa wood with a circular cross section. I glued in a long length of brass welding rod so that both ends stood proud of the balsa wood body. I rounded off the both the edges of the balsa wood and brass rod. The wood was again sealed and given the camouflage treatment as I had previously used in the earlier controllers. The new controllers were fished double rubber with the bottom rubber going over the brass rod and the swivel. This broke free very easily so that I was not fishing with a fixed float that would be towed around by a fish if I broke up. The system also had the advantage in being exceptionally versatile, allowing me to change easily to a heavier or lighter controller with ease.
I returned to the lake armed with these new controllers but could not get the fish to rise to the floating trout pellet. I then changed to using Kellogg's corn pops as a bait. I dipped these in water before firing them out. It did not take long before the carp were rising freely for them. I cast out with a corn pop on a size 10 hook. Again the carp freely took the bait and I was again regularly taking carp.
At this time I also started experimenting with mini marsh mallows as a bait. These were highly visible and at times proved to be an excellent surface bait. They worked particularly well with the new controllers as they could be seen at long range. On many occasions this technique at long range produced good carp whilst other anglers on the venue blanked.
Like many anglers, my time is limited and I find that I have not got sufficient time to make all my own floats and controllers. Fortunately Gardener tackle make a good range of flat line controllers that I now regularly use to good effect.
Fairly recently I have been fishing fisheries in Devon that contain koi and ghost carp. Both these species are highly visible which makes them highly vulnerable to attack from predatory birds when they are on the surface or near it. This I believe, has made them ultra-cautious surface feeders and a real challenge on surface baits. I found flat line controllers fairly useful for both species but I have noticed that they often spooked if they saw any line coming from the bait.
At Clawford Vineyard we solved this problem by using the reeds to support the line so that only the bait was in contact with the water. This worked exceptionally well and regularly produced good ghost carp out of Fletchers lake. Naturally, for fishing further out we needed a rig to keep the line off of the water. Gardener make a suspender controller for line-shy surface feeding fish. It consists of a long thin hollow plastic tube which is weighted at one end with a brass weight. Directly above the weight is a polystyrene ball. Dropped into the water it floats with the thin tube in a vertical position. A rubber sleeve is fitted at the top of the antennae. The reel line is pushed through the controller so that it emerges from the rubber sleeve. The reel line is secured with a small swivel that is pulled back into the rubber sleeve to lock it in position. A short hook link of about 6 inches is tied onto the swivel.
In use, the tube tilts to leave the bait suspended on the surface with no trace line in contact with the water. However it should be remembered that, as the rig works on the bolt principle, it is essential that a very sharp exposed hook is used.
When I first used this rig at Clawford's Fletcher's lake, I selected a swim off of the front reeds in deep water. It was a very hot day and good ghost carp could be seen near the surface. I deliberately set up a rig to fish floating trout pellets, as I knew that owner John Ray often fed the fish with these floaters as he liked to watch the action. I fed the fish for nearly an hour before casting out my rig. The fish appeared to be feeding very confidently on the trout pellets. The rig landed with a fairly heavy splash that caused several fish to spook but within a few minutes they were back taking free offerings. It was not long before I had a take that resulted in a scale perfect mirror ghost of just over 121b. This was followed by several other ghost carp that averaged just over ten pounds. Although there were much bigger fish out there that could be clearly seen under the surface, I could not get them to rise to take a surface bait. However I was content with my catch of five fish taken in the heat of the day under rather adverse conditions.
Although I am not a long range carp fanatic, I do fish long range tactics on large waters with floaters. For this work I use a large polystyrene sea float that I have converted in to a controller by running wire through it's central sliding tube. This secures a 4oz bomb to the base of the float and a swivel at the top. It is in effect, a large traditional controller holding up to 4oz of weight. Naturally this is fished with a powerful 12ft 31b test curve carp rod with a large fixed-spool reel. I use a 20 lb b.s. shock leader with this rig and fish it with a floating boilie as bait. I tied a P.V.A. bag full of floating trout pellets and the hook bait around the body of the float. When I cast out it makes a very neat package. As the bag dissolves, the floating trout pellets and floating boilie are released. It is surprising how confidently carp take a bait at range yet can be surprisingly shy a shorter ranges. Perhaps they do not think anybody would be stupid enough to fish a surface bait 100 yards off.
Although this is a free running rig, it produces very positive takes and the line often just tightens up to the rod tip. I once used these long range tactics to fish near an island, allowing the float to be blown in under the island trees. Under the trees fish could be clearly seen rising to the feed. As soon as the floating boilie hook bait had floated in under the tree, the line tightened up to the rod tip. There is no doubt in my mind that the fish had hooked itself. I was soon playing a nice mid double-figured common to the net. This was followed shortly after by two mirrors of similar size. These gave good takes but did not tighten up to the rod top like the common. However there was no mistaking the takes. Unfortunately the last fish spooked the shoal and they dispersed.
Finally, I am convinced that carp anglers need to use a good range of controllers to get the best out of floater fishing. He must be more like the float angler carrying a whole range of different patterns in a good range of sizes.