Once you think you have located a likely area see if you can narrow that area down a bit so as to concentrate feeding activity into a smaller and smaller spot. You can do this by introducing bait. Seeds and grains are best as they promote prolonged and preoccupied feeding so a bucket of hempseed or groats will not go amiss. Don’t go too mad with the bait. Often if the fish are feeling safe they will approach a newly introduced bait carpet quite quickly and you may even be lucky enough to watch them feed on your fresh bait. If you can see feeding activity then pile in the bait to keep them occupied while you go for the rod! Keep the baiting tight rather than spreading bait about willy-nilly. The tighter the bait carpet, the more competitively the carp will feed and thus the less caution they will be. Use a bait spoon or even a bait dropped to create the concentrated patch of seeds and grains.
Note I said ‘rod’. This kind of fishing is best carried out jungle fashion with a single rod, a bucket of bait and the minimum of tackle. A battery of rods, buzzers and bedchairs – the three ‘Bs’ have no place in spot fishing like this. It is more akin to jungle stalking that the relaxed 3Bs style we are more familiar with.
These next few photos show the sort of areas that I call ‘bankers’; spots where if you have done your homework you will almost certainly score.
This is the perfect spot within a spot. You can clearly see it is a hole in the weed, but in the centre of the picture is a small piece of wood or a branch buried deeply in the silt. The carp use this as a scratching post (whether they are indeed scratching or not I can only guess, but that’s what it looks like!). I have watched fish move cautiously out of the weed but totally refuse a bait placed anywhere other than right next to the branch. Pop one right next to it and you are guaranteed a take. Far-fetched? Maybe, but a fact nevertheless!
Islands attract carp like a magnet and there will certainly be hot feeding areas around their margins. However, believe it or not it is not uncommon for fish to show a marked preference when it comes to feeding zones. For instance, in this photo they seem happier to feed this side of the island rather than the other side, which is closer to the opposite bank and therefore easier to cast to. The fish seem to know that it is a trickier cast from ‘my’ side and are less suspicious of bait cropping up in the margins.
Carp are adept at finding their way into some of the most inaccessible areas of a lake, areas where it is impossible to cast to or where you’d be a fool to try! Look carefully and you should just be able to make out one or two carp behind the pads.
Two plainly obvious hot spots for sure but accurate positioning of the cast is vital as landing the hookbait six inches short might just as well be a mile.
If I can illustrate the importance of finding the exact spot in a lake, perhaps you will allow me to go back a few years (a couple of decades actually!), to the days when I fished College Reservoir in Cornwall. In its day College Reservoir was probably one of the most significant carp waters in the country. Though it is sadly lost to us today, in the 1980s and ‘90s the lake played host to many of the country’s very top anglers and it was certainly the breeding ground of carp fishing in the southwest. My own history as a carp angler and writer is inescapably tied to the history of the lake, as it was here that I cut my teeth as a proper carp angler.
The lake lies roughly southwest to northeast. To the west of the lake lies a forest with a neat winding footpath giving access to the lake. To the east the steep rolling hills of the nearby farms curve down towards the lake. It is roughly oblong in shape, with a narrow arm, known as the Cut, running down to the dam. At the southern end lie two islands while to the northern end of the lake you will find a large bay of about a dozen acres.
For the most part College is fairly shallow, the deepest water being found near the dam at the end of the Cut. Here the lake plunges down to about twenty feet. Elsewhere in the main part of the lake, the depth varies between two to seven feet.
College was always a weedy water and milfoil, various pondweeds and a thick stand of mare’s tails behind the island, were the dominant types of weed. From time to time Canadian Pondweed took a hold, but as is usually the case with this species, it grows in cycles and while one year it might be thick and almost unfishable, the next year it will practically disappear.
Water milfoil holds a vast larder of natural food but when the Canadian Pondweed is bad the milfoil is choked off. However, it always makes a speedy recovery the following year and then it provides ample food and shelter for the carp.
The lake has a high pH of around 8.5 and this accounts for its richness. All the usual foodstuffs are present including freshwater snails and shrimps, mussels (swan, zebra and pea varieties), bloodworm, daphnia and other insects, as well as leeches and small crayfish. And therein lies the problem.
Finding the fish wasn’t particularly hard as they were the most visible fish I have ever encountered. Here a College fish shows itself on the surface behind the long island. However, finding them was one thing: catching them quite another! With natural food in abundance they could put their heads down just about anywhere to get a face full of natural food; the silt and the mud was stiff with it! By the same token they seemed very fussy about where they would pick up angler’s baits.
The lake bed is very silty with up to 2ft of silt in places. Elsewhere the lake is dotted with slight contour differences of no more than a foot at the most. You could hardly call these bars as such but they were the key towards successful fishing at the lake. Gravel areas were few and far between at College but if you could find a slight layer of silt overlying the gravel you would also find the fish. These we soon identified as hot areas. Obviously the weed too was key to finding the fish but again they were very fussy about where and in which type of weed they would feed. Find milfoil on a semi-hard bottom and you had a chance.
As if all this wasn’t enough of a challenge, the fish definitely had favourite feeding areas, so not only did you need to find the general area they favoured but also the spot within a spot where they fed more confidently. Once such area was off the point of the smaller island that could be fished from a swim called the Swamp. For obvious reasons this was one of the most popular swims on the lake, not surprising when you consider the features in front of it.
This photo taken during a drought year shows why the Swamp was so productive. The swim itself is in the centre of the photo with the point of the small island just entering the photo from the left hand side. In the background, behind the point of the island you can see the thick bank of mare’s tails growing out from the bank and you can also see the gravel areas at the foot of that weed. By wading out and actually placing the bait by hand on the gravel in front of the mare’s tails you stood a very good chance of a pick up. The funny thing was that the bait had to be almost touching the weed stems. If it was a little as six inches away chances were greatly reduced, even though it was clear that there were fish in the area by the way the mare’s tails used to sway and bump as the fish moved through them.
In front of the swim, off the point of the island you can see the four main “bars” that formed the main hot spots for the swim. I’ll call them bars for want of a better word as they only come up a foot at most so they were not the prominent bars you might encounter on a typical gravel pit. However, they were prominent enough to encourage feeding. These bars lie at about 90 yards but at that sort of range they were often hard to find if there was any kind of a crosswind blowing. When the reservoir was full only three or four feet of water covered them so by the time the lead splashed down there was no time to tighten to it and feel it down onto the lake bed to see if you’d landed on the hard stuff. The whole area was best fished with a marker float and with the line in the reel clip for casting hookbaits out. If you landed on the top of any of the four bars you were well in with a chance. If you landed in the middle or to the left and right your chances were drastically reduced.
Finally there were the larger areas of gravel that lay to the left of the swim (the right as you look at the photo). Many of these produced fish but not all of them by any means. Again the trick was to wade the baits out and drop them where your feet scratched on the gravel. The best spot I found was tight to the bank in less than two feet of water. I caught shed loads of carp off this tiny little hump especially when the weed was up.
The swim is the North East Point swim at the mouth of the Cut and the entrance to the North Bay, which you can see to the right of the rods. As you can see the areas of weed were extensive during the summer months but it’s whereabouts told you a lot about the water. You see this weed would only grow in about three feet of water. Any deeper and for some reason it failed to grow properly. It also seemed to favour the more silty areas of the lake bed so it you took the weed as your starting point it was quite easy to find deeper, more gravely areas.
You will have heard how many anglers set great store in the strength and direction of the wind. Well let me tell you, those College fish were so set in their ways as far as feeding hot spots were concerned that even if it was blowing a hoolie from the south west with waves piling into the North Bay, as it is in this photo, the fish would hang resolutely around the islands at the tail of the wind, refusing to move however hard it blew. That was why so many visiting anglers came unstuck as they always assumed that the fish would follow the wind. They could never understand why we locals would be fishing the southern end of the lake when the wind was pushing hard up towards the other end.
Come the height of the summer and I moved off boiled baits and started to use particles at the lake.
Red Band blended with hemp seed
or hemp seed coated with Robin Red
Both were very effective, as were tiger nuts ( Being able to wade to the hot spots was a big advantage as I could drop the micro seeds and particles right on top of the hot spot. In all honestly this was not exactly conforming to the rules but for the most part I had the lake to myself, and I certainly didn’t practice my wading technique if there was anybody else on the lake at the time!
I had also experimented with peanuts and was astounded at the success we enjoyed on them. However, their reign as a top bait as short and after a brief spell when they would not look at any other bait, the carp eventually became less and less keen on taking peanuts. This tended to confirm what others had said about them, namely that they had a short but hectic catching life. This is something I have found to be the case on many other waters since those far off College days.
A typical College fish from the early 90s, one of over 1,500 carp I caught from the reservoir over the many years that I fished there. Though it close to fishing in 1998 I still mourn its loss deeply.