The importance of location and feature finding in carp fishing
There is a word used amongst seasoned carp anglers that describes the skill of a fisherman in identifying the best place to cast a bait. Some carp fishermen seem to have X-ray vision when it comes to finding where the carp are.
The word to describe this skill set is watercraft.
If this word reminds you of witchcraft then this would be a good analogy. Have you ever been on a lake where no-one is catching anything, there are no signs of fish, and someone turns up and catches right away? Perhaps by the end of the day, the newcomer has caught a few fish while the rest of the lake has blanked? Does it seem like witchcraft? Where the fish seem to have been put under a spell?
If you were to walk around the lake it is likely that you will hear different explanations for the success.
Explanations and rationalizations such as:
- “I bet he is on the new flavor/oil/pellet. I heard that there are a few field testers that are doing really well. By the time we get our hands on it, the effectiveness will be waning.”
- “I wonder what rig he is using? These fish are very crafty, very hard to catch, I think I need to do some new rig research when I get home.”
- “I knew that I should have moved into the swim, I had a feeling that it would produce, I am kicking myself for not fishing there.”
- “Lucky guy.”
Whilst the successful carp angler who is “bagging up” might have… A special rig… He might be a field tester that has discovered a carp attractor that acts like a drug… He might just be a lucky guy!..
… It is far more likely that he is highly skilled at watercraft.
Especially when we see these types of people going from lake to lake and out-fishing everyone else consistently.
These top anglers might even hint that they have a special rig simply to throw you off the scent of the truth. The truth is that these top anglers are very good at finding feeding hotspots, and feeding fish.
Location! location! location! Is not just about real estate… Location is easily the most important factor in your carp fishing success.
What are the different parts of a watercraft skill set?
Part 1) Understanding the effects of weather and season
There are many “rules” that apply to carp fishing and carp behavior. Some of these rules hold true all of the time, some most of the time, and some are just worth experimenting with.
As a rule, the fish feed better as the air pressure is dropping, and the weather is taking a turn for the worst, this tends to be the best time to go fishing. The second best time is during low pressure. The third best time is during high pressure where the skies are clear. The worst time to fish for carp is when the air pressure is rising.
The exception to this rule is possibly during a nasty cold patch in the winter. If we see a sunny day in the winter the daytime temperatures can create a thawing effect that can sometimes get the carp moving out of their slumber or semi-hibernation state.
The rule of thumb here is that cold rain tends to be bad and warm rain tends to be good. That might seem unscientific, but to explain further, if the air temperature seems warm, then a cold weather front comes in the rain “adds a chill” to the water it tends to turn the carp off from feeding. If for example you are fishing on a cold clear night then some heavy clouds come in and the rain and atmosphere seems warmer or more humid, this can turn the fish on to start to feed.
As with the rain, the temperature of the wind makes a difference. If you live in Northern Europe and a new weather front comes in from the north or east and the wind is cold, it is better to fish on the sheltered side of the lake rather than the end that is the most choppy.
If the wind is coming in from the Mediterranean or from the west then the opposite occurs…
… The carp literally follow the wind.
Setting up with the wind in your face then dropping your bait into the margins can be an awesome fish catching method. There will be an added bonus of the lake bed being stirred up a little. The reason why this is good is partly because fish will be attracted to the stirred up water looking for insects and crustaceans and worms. The other reason why I think that colored water is good is because it decreases visibility and the likely hood of the carp seeing your rig.
Snow and Ice
Snow and ice is nearly always bad, this is why catching a carp in these conditions is always an achievement. Some waters do seem to fish better than others however. So if you really need to get away from the Wife, or you want to hit that fish target for the season then you need to choose a fishing venue that is known to produce carp in the winter.
If you can find shallow lakes and shallow areas in the lakes then this can be good. This might sound counter-intuitive because of the thermocline effect, but it is also the shallow water that brightens and warms up more quickly if we get some sunshine on it.
Part 2) Observing other carp anglers
This point might not qualify as watercraft per se, but keeping an eye on what others are doing will also give you extra data to help in your decision-making process.
A lot of time and effort can be saved through other people’s trial and error. A couple of important points on this one though. Very important.
- Factor in the knowledge and skill level of the person you are observing. If you see that an experienced carp angler has blanked for a weekend, and they seem to be using similar baits and tactics to what you would be doing, this is valuable information. If the information comes from what we used to call a “numpty carp angler” then factor this in as well.
- Observe what they do – not what they say. For example, seeing someone on the bank and observing where their lines are entering the water, or where they are casting is infinitely more valuable than the “carp anglers grapevine”. Dismiss anyone who tells you things that do not add up. Remember that the use of red herrings in carpers stories is legendary. If an experienced carper who is bagging up on a water tells you that they are baiting heavily at range with boilies, no not discount the possibility that he is using a free lined worm plopped in the margins.
[box]Top Tip: One other point is to keep an eye on what other types of fishermen are doing. For example, you might hear some general course fishermen complaining about huge carp snapping their lines while they are fishing in a certain place, or while using a certain bait. Jackpot![/box]
Observation of the water looking for signs of feeding carp.
Most of the top carp anglers spend a lot of time looking at the water. Not just when they are fishing, but they visit during the week and keep a track of any signs of fish.
A top carper will get up at dawn when the carp are more likely to show themselves. Whilst everyone else is tucked up in their sleeping bag after a late night socializing with the other anglers on the lake, the master carp angler is up making a cup of tea just before the sun rises.
It is at first light that you are more likely to see movement. There are different types of carp movements and signs of water disturbance though. We can learn to differentiate between the different habits of the carp.
For example, a group of fish cruising around just under the surface are less likely to eat a bait than a single fish who is rooting around the lake bed. I would much prefer to see some clouded water where the fish have stirred up the bottom than 50 carp jumping out of the water creating a big splash, even though the latter is more dramatic and exiting.
Observation becomes even more important at the times of the year when the carp are either moving very little, or moving a lot. For example, in the winter it is normal for a carp angler to see no fish presence at all, for a whole session. At times like this, even the roach seem to have disappeared.
During the winter it is more likely that you will see carp at dawn or dusk, and signs of feeding fish may be every subdued and not noticed by the average fisherman. In the summer the opposite can occur, there might be signs of fish everywhere, all over the place as the carp become very active. But are any of them in the mood for feeding?
Again, it is often early in the morning that you will find carp feeding. Then you can either try to catch one by stalking, or make a mental note as to where to place your baits the next morning.
Observation skills get better with practice!
The decision-making process in relation to what to do about what you observed will get better with practice.
With trial and error.
Some top carp fisherman say that an hour looking is better than a whole day “fishing blind”.
[box]This is probably the most important carp catching tip that you will ever hear. To hone your fish finding skills takes time, effort and dedication. Just like anything worthwhile in life, there are no real shortcuts.[/box]
Features and feature finding
Feature finding is a powerful tool in the carp anglers armory. If you cannot see feeding fish to cast to, then the next best thing is to look for a likely fish feeding feature. A feature is literally something that is different from the surrounding area.
If you have a 10 acre lake, it is likely that 5 of those acres do not hold any carp at all. This is where fish observation comes in on a macro level. Even in a small section of a lake such as a bay, the carp will only be in certain areas. On a micro level, there will be even fewer areas where carp will look for food, be prepared to feed, or perhaps already feed.
A gravel or sandbar is a popular feature for carp and carp anglers alike. Carp often swim along at the base of the slope of a bar or plateau. Often if you can figure out where the natural food is likely to collect, you might have found a natural feeding spot for the carp. A bait actually on the slope or even on top of the slope might be seen by a carp swimming mid-water. Carp only spend a portion of their time actually on or near the bottom.
Snag areas A sunken tree, bush, branches or any kind of shelter will attract fish. On some lakes this might apply to an abandoned vehicle or even a submerged building or wall after a valley has been flooded and dammed. Fish will shelter in these holding areas and the take a bait positioned closely, but not so close as to mean that you will lose any fish right away. You do not want to be casting amongst these areas.
I remember fishing a lake that had bramble bushes along one whole bank. A cast right under the brambles would result in lost fish, a cast one meter away from the edge produced no bites. There was a sweet spot of a few feet that seemed to result in run after run on a good day.
Weed beds are a great fish attractor, they give shelter and protection, and are a great source of natural food. Casting your bait into holes in the weed, or along the edge of the weed are 2 killer tactics.
Change in depth. Now, most carp anglers realize that weed beds and snag areas are a good place to catch carp. As you become more experienced then there is a new set of features to consider. An important one is any sudden change in water depth . If the lake bed in front of you is 2 meters deep, but one area is 1.5 meters, or 2.5 meters, you have found a feature.
As with a bar or plateau, experiment with different placements. It could be that the more shallow area is a firm place to present a bait surrounded by sludge and silt. If so then bingo! You might have found a hot spot. Likewise, the deeper area might collect natural food. It might even be deeper as a result of fish burrowing into a natural bloodworm bed, if so then you might be able to slip your bait in amongst the carp’s next dinner!
Change in texture. This one is often overlooked. If there is a gravel patch surrounded by sand or silt, this is a great place to put a bait. Even if the bottom of the lake is silty, but one small area seems a little firmer when the lead lands on it, you might have found the only good place to present a bait in the area.
Imagine a lake bottom where your bait sinks into a layer of silt so that it cannot be seen by the fish. If there was a patch a few meters away where your bait would sit there in all its glory, wafting a tasty scent trail, which spot will you feel more comfortable placing your bait? Sometimes this factor is even more important. Many fishing venues contain patches on the bottom with a foul-smelling silt, these areas never seem to produce fish. It is like fishing with no bait attached.
[box]Top tip: Sniff your bait and examine it when you bring it back in. If it smells like sewage, or is discolored with black gunge, then find a new spot.[/box]
Lastly, the biggest and best feature on any lake.
The margins! Just as skin is the largest organ on the body that is often overlooked, so is the margin area or your fishing lake. The margin is literally the water under your feet, within a meter of the bank.
- Just as fish patrol along bars, plateaus and weed beds, they patrol along the margin.
- The margin is the area where natural food washed up or drops into the water.
- It is the area where other carpers and coarse fishermen throw their discarded bait.
- It is also the area that is most overlooked.
These factors combined make the margins my favorite fishing spot on almost every carp fishery.
This is especially the case when everyone is spodding at range, or casting to a particular fashionable sunken tree or weed bed. Carp start to get suspicious of baits in hotspots that get angler pressure. I have lost count of the days when my margin rod was the only rod to deliver a fish. There are plenty of times when the margin rod delivers the biggest fish of the session, not just for me but for the whole lake. It is even more satisfying when you are margin fishing on a lake where EVERYBODY is casting to a center island.
I sometimes imagine looking from above and see the island as a hub in a bicycle wheel, and the fisherman’s lines are like spokes. No wonder the biggest and wisest fish often hang around patrolling the margins
[box]Top tip: When fishing the margins, I try to avoid situations where the I am fishing directly down from the rod tips, so that the line is vertical. Instead I will set up perhaps 10 meters to the side, this will give me the chance to allow the mainline to rest along the bottom. It will also help reduce disturbance if I get a noisy visitor. An ideal situation would be to have one margin rod running to the left, and one to the right. Then have my third rod cast out further to another feature. This obviously depends where I am fishing. If I truly believe that the island is my best bet, then I might cast 2 to the island and on down the margin. I nearly always have one rod cast to the margin however…[/box]