...a deep and mysterious river, unlocking its secrets and catching its wild, hard fighting carp. This is the R. Lot in southern France, my favourite river so far!
Invariably you need to take account of many factors when tackling a river, namely the depth of water, the amount of current and the topography of the riverbed. These will affect where your bait carpet needs to be placed for maximum effect. It will also determine the placement of your hookbait and directly influence the kind of end gear you will be able to use. It is no good tackling a river with a strong current and powerful turbulence in the same way as you would a small stream you could almost hop across. Though each may hold carp, finding them presents a wealth of different problems.
Where possible it is always best to use a boat to bait up as it allows for more accurate placement of the bait carpet. Clearly you will need to assess the effect of the current and depth of the river may have on your baits both on the bottom and when you introduce it. When baiting up from a boat follow a scoop of bait downstream keeping over it as it sinks for as long as possible, at the same time judging how far downstream you have travelled. Unless the river if gin clear and fairly shallow you won’t be able to see the bait right down to the bottom but you should be able to make a reasonable assessment of how far it is likely to travel downstream from the spot where you introduced it. This will help when it comes to casting your hookbaits and make sure they land on or very close to the bait carpet.
I should stress at this point that most river carp are totally wild creatures and many will never have been hooked before, let alone landed. They are often completely naive and their lack of suspicion of rigs, baits and bait carpets can make them pretty easy to catch. The trick lies in finding them in the first place and the holding them in the swim. The use of groundbait can be a very useful aid in attracting all types of cyprinids into the swim and carp will invariably find their way upstream to the bait carpet once they detect those enticing aromas leaking from your particles or seeds.
Another way of attracting carp lies first in attracting other smaller fish and crayfish. The latter are now present in most rivers and they form an important part of a carp’s diet. This photo shows what was excreted in a sack that held a big common carp for about 10 minutes while I prepared the camera. You can see the evidence of the carp’s last feast and not content with a crayfish of two the carp had also tucked into a healthy diet of mussels. Natural food can often hold the key to finding carp in the rivers, and they feed a great deal on naturals such as pea and zebra mussels and on small swan mussels, as well as eating crayfish by the bucket load.
Where crayfish are present you’d be well advised to protect your hookbaits with either shrink tube or mesh. OK these hookbaits may look a bit crude but river carp are not going to shy away from a nice pungent hookbait just because it’s wrapped in purple mesh. If it keeps Reggie and Ronnie at bay for as long as it takes, that’s all that matters.
You should also switch to stiff rigs as crayfish can play merry hell with supple hooklinks as they fight each other to attack the hookbaits. This short stiff rig set up is very basic but where river carp are concerned it is all you will need to catch. Leave the fancy rigs for fish that are cute and crafty and aware of the tricks anglers can play on them. Note also the light running lead. You can often get away with this tactic if the current is not too strong.
River carp are pretty cosmopolitan when it comes to bait and I invariably have a few kilos of prepared tiger nuts with me whenever I fish a river. One great thing tigers have going for them is they seem pretty selective. That is to say, other fish don’t seem to find them attractive so nuisance fish like chub, bream, roach and barbell generally leave them alone. In this photo the tiger nuts have been allowed to ferment slightly. Many anglers think they are at their best when they are like this.
Another excellent bait to use on the rivers is maize in all its forms and red maize in particular is very effective often proving better than standard yellow maize. Why this should be I have no idea but it could be to do with the fact that yellow maize is pretty ubiquitous these days and perhaps the carp have got wise to the colour? Red Maize is smaller than standard maize so it tends to have a greater preoccupation factor. It is therefore a first class bait to pick when standard yellow maize starts loosing its effectiveness.
Let’s look now at a few ideas for creating a large groundbait carpet in order first to attract the smaller fish that in turn will pull the carp in to feed. Small fry that are feeding hard act like a magnet to carp and once the bigger fish move in the small fray are rapidly banished leaving the feast to the carp. However, you need to get the small fish feeding first. This is not a hard task as they will soon hone in on any strong smelling source of attraction. One of the best groundbait mixes is a combination of equal parts oat groats, flaked maize and Carpticle. Here you can see a bucket of the blend being prepared for use
While the blend can be used after just a 12-24-hour soak in cold water, say by the lakeside, it is greatly improved if boiling water is used. There is no need to actually boil the mix, simply leave it to go cold and then soak for the required time. The longer you leave the bait to soak, the better it will be, as the milky goodness of the flaked maize leaks out.
During the preparation stage some of the small seeds and cereals in Red Band break down to a mush and the seeds exude a thick glutinous liquid. Prepared thus it really gets them feeding hard. Red Band is highly visual, smells good thanks to the aniseed oil content and the gooey liquid, and best of all it is highly nutritious.
To prepare Red Band to its best effect place the dry conditioner in a large saucepan and add boiling water to cover the seeds. After about an hour or so you will notice that a lot of the water has been absorbed so add more boiling water to cover the seeds once again. After an overnight soak the seeds are ready to be cooked.
Place the pan over a high heat and bring the water to the boil. One the water is boiling turn down the heat to simmer and cover the pan with its lid and reduce the remaining water as much as possible without burning the bottom of the pan! The bait is now at its best and is ready to use. You will note that following the boil the seeds will have started to exude that wonderful sticky glutinous substance that carp simply adore.
NB: Many anglers believe that Red Band can be prepared simply by soaking it overnight in boiling water – either in a freezer box or simply in a bucket. Let me tell these folks: You are WRONG! Yes, the bait will be edible, and yes it will do the carp no harm…BUT, and it is a massive but! You are only getting at best 30% effectiveness by NOT following the above method of preparation.
I cannot begin to tell you how enjoyable fishing for river carp can be. The only challenge is finding the carp initially, but once found they are usually pretty easy to tempt. Fancy rigs are not required and as long as you have a good supply of decent bait you should be able to ambush patrolling carp. Keeping them there is another matter as they are usually nomadic in their feeding habits so once you have found them keep the swim topped up with bait on a little and often basis. If you don’t the carp will soon eat what is there and move on. I caught my first river carp over 17 years ago (see photo) and since then the rivers have been my number one passion. Try it. I am sure you won’t be disappointed.