There are places, and plenty of them, where you can catch as many carp in an afternoon as people used to catch in a season. These aren't small fish either - I've only today heard of an angler who caught nine 20 pounders in a 24 hour session. Tackle has improved, and so has rig and bait technology, but by far the biggest contributing factor to catches like this are the fact that waters contain far more carp than they used to. Some small lakes are overstocked to the point where you could probably get a take on a cigarette end, so hungry are the fish in them.
My own carp fishing has always been carried out on waters that, at the time at least, were quite difficult. I see no point in going into the tactics adopted on these waters in this article as anglers who fish this type of water have probably been through the "easy water" stage and arrived on the banks of the difficult waters with sufficient experience to make their own decisions. But these aren't generally the places to start - better to find a smallish to medium size lake to learn on and develop your own ideas from there. If the lake is overstocked you are likely to catch, whatever you do, and will very likely learn nothing except maybe that carp can be very easy to catch. You might even become so bored with catching them that you actually give up fishing altogether.
To start then I would look for a lake between 3 & 8 acres, holding perhaps 15-20 fish per acre. That will give you a chance of catching without making it too easy - just enough of a degree of difficulty to make you feel you have achieved something by catching a carp. When I returned to carp fishing some 20 years ago, after a long lay-off to pursue trout, salmon & sea-trout, I started on a water similar to this, though the stock at that time was only around 8 fish per acre. The water was 4.5 acres, an estate type lake, shallow at one end, deep at the other where the dam had been put across the stream to form the lake. The bottom was mostly composed of thick black silt, and the carp happily fed in this. After picking away at the lake for a summer, fishing dawn to dusk weekend sessions only and catching very little, I decided to get serious about bait. I had been making the mistake which I've found to be quite common, and that is to change the bait if I went a session on it without catching. Having caught carp on all sorts of strange baits in the past I had this silly idea that bait wasn't that important. Let me say now that I believe in many instances bait is the most important thing of all. Some people won't agree with this, but I believe in it firmly. Too many times I've seen fish caught from under my nose by anglers who had established a good bait on a water. And many times too, once a bait has become established, I've done the same thing to other people.
I don't think it is too important on the hungry overstocked waters where there is little natural food and competition for any morsel is rife; but then I'm not talking about those kind of waters. And I'm not saying you need a top quality/expensive bait. What I am saying is that there are many good baits around. You should have good reasons for choosing the bait you do (and don't believe all you read in the press!). Once you have chosen that bait, stick with it. That is most important. Chopping and changing on a regular basis will have you chasing your tail. There are many bait suppliers around who will supply you with a good quality baits. One who I will recommend unreservedly is John Baker of Wargrave in Berkshire. Give him a ring and tell him your requirements & he will develop a quality bait to suit your needs. If you don't catch on it, it won't be the fault of the bait. Listen to what he will tell you about flavour levels and don't put too much in. Bill Cottam at Nutrabaits is another man who will give you good advice. I've used baits from both John Baker and Nutrabaits with great success and have every confidence in them. There are plenty of other people making good bait (and I'm referring to boiled paste baits here) out there, but these are the two I have used for many years.
So - having got your bait, what do you do with it? That might sound like a silly question - why - you put it on the hook of course! No - I didn't mean that! First, let's talk about pre-baiting. Is it worthwhile? Well it certainly can be, and on occasions it has worked very well for me. It depends on other factors, like how many other people are doing it, and on where it is put. Regular pre-baiting with a good quality bait can work for you. Regular pre-baiting with a poor bait may work against you. So go for the quality bait - you'll have enough doubts in your mind while the indicators aren't moving without having to worry about the bait. Putting bait in the wrong place is wasteful and ineffective. If there are 20 other anglers piling in bait as well, it might not be worth you pre-baiting. The way to get the most out of your pre-bait is simple - put it in the right place, that is, where the fish are, on a regular basis. That might sound obvious - a lot of this article will - but you'd be surprised at how many people think that so long as the bait is in the water then that will do. On very small waters it is perhaps not so important, but even on lakes of 5 or 6 acres, there can be places the carp don't go, and equally places they don't feed. Reckon on a 20lb carp eating approx. 4-6 ounces of bait in a day and calculate quantities accordingly. If you are ever fortunate enough to find almost all of the lakes population gathered in one area, then, if you can do it without spooking the fish, I'd advise you to put in as much bait as you can - you might not get another chance. This has happened to me and on some occasions it was the only pre-baiting I needed to do.
I'll give two examples of pre-baiting. I was fishing what was considered a difficult lake of about 6 acres holding 12-14 carp. For 3 weeks prior to the season opening I baited a known (to me) feeding area 3 times a week, each time putting in a couple of pounds of small milk-protein based boilies. I arrived to fish around 6pm on June 15th. You weren't allowed to cast out until dawn. There were another 5 or 6 anglers on the lake, some who had cast out at midnight. I waited until dawn, at which time nothing had been caught. Between dawn and 2pm I had 11 runs. I hooked 9 fish that were definitely carp, and 2 others which might have been tench. Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen circumstances, I landed only 1 carp (the lake was new to me & threw up problems I hadn't anticipated and wasn't equipped to deal with on the day!). Only 1 other carp was landed, and that by an angler who craftily cast into my swim when he thought I wasn't looking… The bait continued to dominate on the lake and after solving the lost fish problem (to a degree) I had a terrific summer there.
Fishing another water, I had trouble in getting the carp to take baits at all. The carp were extremely difficult to find, and getting the bait in the right place was very hit and miss. Guesswork was mostly a waste of time, as baits placed on the most mouth-watering of features would lay there 'til they rotted. Then, one evening I found nearly all the carp together in a corner of the lake, after some short-lived spawning activities (err theirs - not mine - I should be so lucky…did you ever hear that joke about what food is guaranteed to turn a woman off sex - answer - wedding cake!). I rushed home, quickly made up 6 or 7 mixes of bait and returning to the lake put the whole lot in where I'd seen the fish. From that point on I caught fish on those baits, in fact did very well on them.
Of course you will only pre-bait a lake you are going to fish regularly, a water where you want your bait to keep working. All the more reason to use a good quality bait, and keep the flavour levels low. Fishing away days on waters you might only visit once or twice I would go for maximum attraction. Not that I'd overload the flavour levels as in some cases this can act as a repellent. But I would certainly give the baits a good soak in some natural additives, probably a liquid liver product, dissolved Betaine and the like. Expensive, but for a one-off it can be worth it.
I'm not talking here about specific ingredients as related to quality, biological values or protein content. More to content as related to what you want from a bait in terms of behaviour. For instance, do you want a light or heavy bait, soft or hard? I can't answer those questions for you as I don't know the waters you will be fishing, but I can tell you what questions to ask. First - if you are fishing over a soft bottom, or weeds, you might want a lighter, less dense bait. The drawback will be that it won't catapult so far as a heavier bait, but then it won't sink out of sight either (though you might not consider this important). Hard or soft? A hard bait will stay intact longer, a consideration if there are other species of fish present, or if you think you might need to leave the bait out for long periods. But a harder bait will provide a slower leakage rate for flavours than a softer one. That may not be a disadvantage, but it should be a consideration.
For years I've experimented with colour without coming to any firm conclusions. Mostly now I don't put any colour in, leaving the bait as it comes out, which is generally brown (which tends to fade to beige after a period of immersion). Some conclusions I have reached are that tufties can find them no matter what colour they are, and that when fishing for sight feeding carp (as younger carp, especially stock-fish tend to be) that you catch more on brighter baits.
I've already warned of putting too much flavour in. You might even half the recommended amounts. The best baits I ever used contained no flavours at all, just powdered natural ingredients such as Philips Cold Water Fish Food (that was a good one!). If you are using flavours, be aware, some sink, some float. Some are highly water-soluble, others are not .The speed at which a flavour will leak from a bait will be governed by this, and also by the composition of the bait. Hard baits made from fine powders such as Casein will hold their flavour longer (and stay harder longer) than baits made from more coarse materials such as bird foods. The less water-soluble flavours will disperse more slowly in the water, and possibly travel further than the highly soluble ones. Think about this and relate it to how long you expect your baits to be in the water before a carp finds them.
I don't want to go into particle fishing here (the use of relatively large quantities of seed/pulse type baits) as this could form an article in its own right (in fact, I wrote one somewhere). What I would like to mention are pellets. In various forms (carp, trout, salmon) these can be very effective. They break down fairly quickly and release flavours and attractants into the water. Some of the non-oily pellets can even be lightly soaked in any flavours or additives you might fancy. I tend to use Ambio or other liquid liver products for this. Pellets can keep fish in the area for longer periods, as once broken down they make it more difficult for the fish to pick them up. Either fish a different boilie over the top of them, or better still grind up some pellets to make a hook-bait, perhaps adding some Nutrabaits Nutra-Pro or egg albumen to keep the hook-bait intact longer. Try to buy your pellets in bulk from an animal feed or fish farm supplier. A 56lb sack of quality pellets should cost you no more than £25, sometimes much less. Buy them in the tackle shop and you'll likely pay a tenner for a few pounds. Oh yes, and unless you want to use them as floaters, be sure to ask for the sinking version!
One of the drawbacks is that they do attract other fish, especially bream. If you can put up with that, or your water doesn't contain bream then that isn't a problem. I do believe however that the presence of any other feeding fish in your swim can attract carp.
Another biggie - I could write a book on rigs… oh! I did! (ref: Rigs & End Tackle - Angling Publications Carp in Depth series c. 1991). I haven't the space here to go far into this subject but as you might have already gathered, I consider the rig of secondary importance to the bait, all other things being equal. If they don't want your bait, (or indeed if it's in a place where carp either don't go, or don't feed - and I've found plenty of both) then there isn't a rig in the world that will catch you a carp. I reckon the basic hair rig in its original form takes some beating. Funny thing is though, hardly anyone seems to use it. It might well be due for a revival. For those who weren't around at the time, this was a 2-3 inch human hair, which was quickly changed to extremely fine monofilament (1lb mono) when all the Kent carp anglers went bald (sorry Lee!!). This was tied to the bend of the hook, no tubing or anything else required. The presence of other species might make this impractical, and this also depends on how you are fishing. I wouldn't fish a bait on a 1lb b.s. hair if I was using a fixed 4 oz lead and there were tench or bream around. Why? Well I just hate reeling in bait-less hooks in the morning having had no indication at all. Don't just opt for the latest all-singing all-dancing rig. Think about what you want from a rig, how it will behave under-water. Try it out in the bath. A rig is basically (or should be) a solution to an angling problem. Use it as such. I know it gets difficult when you aren't sure exactly what the problems are, when those problems only manifest themselves by non-moving indicators. If you can see the carp it becomes easier - if you can't then it takes longer, and becomes a case of trial and error. It is probable that most carp are caught on fairly standard rigs - an 8-12 inch hook-length & short hair. It may be that's because most people use this rig. But then it might be that most people use this rig because, for much of the time, it works.
In all my years of carping, apart from the initial hair & bolt rigs, I can't think of a single rig that made a massive difference to my fishing. Much will depend on how the carp approaches and picks up the bait, and they don't do that the same way every time do they! And be aware that carp are very efficient at clearing up all the free offerings and leaving the hook-bait, probably after having sampled and rejected it. They can do this without giving any indication at your end. This makes baiting the swim difficult - you don't want too much out there, but then again, you probably don't want a previously rejected hook-bait sitting in isolation either. This is where baits that break down, such as pellets, come into their own - it is difficult to over-bait with these. React to anything that suggests carp are out there - swirls, liners, birds spooking. Try to bait accordingly, don't just blindly fire out another 2 mixes every morning. Better still, if it's allowed, take a boat, or swim out and have a look.
If only I knew the answer to that one! I have come to the conclusion that the biggest aid to locating fish is to be self-employed. Having a job that gives you the opportunity to visit your lake on a regular basis is a massive advantage. If you can do it, then do - get down there, and keep looking. On some waters carp follow the wind, indeed on some it will only take a light scuffing of the surface on a previously still day to send all the carp scuttling down to the windward end of the lake. On other waters they ignore the wind, or seem to. Maybe they have been conditioned to do this by the gatherings of anglers at the down-wind end of the lake. Gravel bars, islands and weed-beds can also affect these movements. On some lakes I've found that certain groups of fish will move on the wind while others don't. Carp seem to prefer different things in different lakes and natural behaviour is liable to become modified by angling pressure. There is no substitute for time spent at the lake observing (unless you can get someone else to do it for you!). We would all catch more carp if we could find the time to do this.
Can you make carp come to you? I think you can, on some waters. I have seen evidence of fish actively searching for one bait and ignoring others. Again this goes back to pre-baiting, and bait application. But even then this is dependent on having your bait in the right area - I don't believe you can make them go where they don't want to go.
This is one of angling's intangibles. I think we all have it to some degree, but it is definitely more developed in some anglers than in others (as are other faculties). Many of the top anglers have it to a high degree - they just seem to know where the fish are. I also think that the more you fish, the more likely you are to develop this sense, though whether you can develop it to the almost supernatural level that some anglers seem to possess I don't know. I don't think you'll get it by sitting in a bivvy in the same swim for weeks on end until eventually the fish come around. You'll probably catch fish like that though.
Doing Something different
In all my years of angling, for many different species of fish, I have always tried to do "something different". How many times have I read that doing something different will work for you? Lots! How many times has doing something different paid dividends for me when carp fishing? Very few… The usual advice is if everyone on the lake is using long hook-links, then use a short one, or vice-versa. If everyone is using big baits, then use small ones. The list goes on. And the proprietors of this advice then go on to say how many carp they have caught using this approach. It always works - never fails. Easy, isn't it… Well it hasn't worked for me. I find that usually people on the lake use an approach or tactic because it works. That's why everyone does it. Yes, occasionally something different will get fish for someone, but it's by no means as simple as that. I'm not saying you should blindly adopt the tactics and tackle arrangements of other anglers, but if those other anglers are successful, then it's a good starting point. But don't get stereotyped - keep thinking and change things when you see the need.
Largely a matter of personal choice, and of financial resource I'd imagine. The most expensive isn't always the best, and the latest developments aren't necessarily better than last years models. The standard carp rod seems to have been gradually moving upwards both in length and power. Many people now consider a rod of 13 feet and 3lb t.c. to be the standard equipment. Fine if you are fishing huge waters. But I've seen these rods in use on 3-acre lakes where a double is a big fish, sometimes matched with huge Daiwa reels capable of holding miles of line. There's no need for it. If you are starting on small to medium waters I'd recommend you look for a rod of 11-12 feet with a nominal test curve of around 1.75lb. I promise you you'll get a lot more sport from the fish you hook. One advantage of everyone swapping last years rods for the latest models is a very good second-hand market.
Reels. For most carp fishing in this country I see no need to look any further than the Shimano Baitrunners, either 6010 or 8010. I've been using their predecessors, the 3500, 4000, 4500 since their inception and have had no problems with them whatsoever.
Lines. It might be that some of you are contemplating using braided line instead of mono and are wondering what difference it will make. The main difference, which I'm sure everybody knows, is that braid has very little stretch as compared to mono. It is also generally thinner than mono for a given breaking strain. Generally, braid casts better, though is more affected by side and head winds. Many braids float, which may be an advantage (fishing over weed for instance) or a disadvantage (visible to fish). You have to be more careful with your knots using braid - the wrong knot can reduce the breaking strain considerably. I can't recommend any one knot for braid as they all seem to differ - you will have to experiment. It is generally thought that braid has better abrasion resistance than mono. This is not necessarily true, as some monos are better than braid in this respect. Advantages of braid? Finer than mono for its breaking strain, more direct contact with the fish, generally casts better. Brilliant for feature finding on a plumbing rod.
Recommendations? Haven't seen all the latest braids (Berkeley Whiplash sounds interesting) but have tried Power Cable in 20 & 30lb b.s (prefer 30lb - less casting tangles), Suffix Herculine and Fireline, and have found them all very good. There are 2 types of braid - "braided" braid, which is the standard braid made as its name implies by braiding fibres together, and fused braid, which is made by applying a coating to level strands. Power Cable is a braided braid; Fireline is a fused braid. Fused braids are somewhat stiffer, and in some cases thicker than braided braids.
Hooks. I won't go far into this - there are far too many hook models around. The 2 hooks, which have given me the best hooking to landing ratio, are the Terry Eustace Penetrator 2, and the ESP Raptor T6. A friend of mine who fishes a very easy water has in the past few weeks landed 98 carp out of 100 hooked on the ESP's - fish up to 25 pounds. Sounds pretty good to me.
Well, that's about it - a brief summary of my thoughts on carp fishing. Really one could write a book on the subject; many have. And talking of books, I would recommend you get hold of some of the older ones, like Kevin Maddocks original "Carp Fever", George Sharman's "Carp & the Carp angler", and Rod Hutchinson's "Now & Then" which incorporates the earlier "Rod Hutchinson's Carp Book". These three books, unlike most of their predecessors which are mostly a re-hash of the original material, contain a wealth of original thinking, much of which is still relevant, and some of which I'm sure is ready for a revival.
It's not really practical for me to try to give you definitive answers to all the questions you might have; waters and the behaviour of the carp in them vary so much. And there are some subjects (floater fishing for example) I haven't touched on at all. What I've tried to do is to give you a basis on which to think, to answer your own problems. I hope it works.