Having determined that at least the lake is rich enough to hold fish, and possibly spotted a few signs of fish showing, you should next ensure that you won’t be wasting bait by putting into the wrong area. This is where a boat and echo sounder come into play. This Eagle sounder is nearly as old as I am (well, maybe not that old!) but it is still a reliable old soldier that keeps on going year after year and has been a constant companion on my European trips since I bought it new in the US in the late 90s.
A good starting point for your exploration afloat is in the general area where you might have seen fish showing. The sounder will show you if there is anything significant that attracted them to the area and by carefully expanding a search box around a fixed marker you should soon be able to find out the salient points of the lakebed.
I usually take two or three H-Block marker rigs out with me in the boat when I set off to explore. When I find an interesting feature such as a bar, a gully or a drop-off immediately I chuck the rig over the side, having roughly adjusted the length of line according to what depth the echo sounder is showing me. Then I slowly motor around the H-Block keeping a close eye on the sounder. Gradually I'll build up a picture in my mind's eye that shows me the extent and size of the feature. I then go to what I feel is the focal point of the feature using the initial marker as a reference point and drop a second marker, before going back to retrieve the original.
Look out for sudden contour changes on the lakebed, snags, bars and plateaux, slopes and shallows. In addition it is a good idea to search the underwater contours off a point or headland such as the one in this photograph, as it is almost certain the point extends some way out into the lake under the surface creating a slope that itself will be a feature
Indeed we had some very good carp from the slope that forms the sub-surface extension of what shows above the surface. Snaggy areas of stones, rocks or old tree stumps are very productive spots, as crayfish love to hide in the shelter provided by such snags.
Way back in the mists of time, before I became the globe-trotting superstar that I am today, I earned a living on the sea and for some time skippered a charter boat taking out anglers to deep water marks offshore. It was at sea that I learned the art of using sonar equipment, echo sounders and track plotting gizmos. These were the days before GPS made feature-finding so much easier. I also learned not to let modern technology lull me into thinking that an echo on the screen invariably turned into a boat full of fish! There is an angry giant skate pulling back on me in this photo, the reward for finding a productive feature and fishing it correctly.
In fact Don’t expect the echo sounder to show you every carp in the lake. It is far too easy to take the indications that show up on the screen too literally. In fact, I don’t use my sounder to find fish and actually switch off the Fish ID feature. However, I find a sounder invaluable for finding features. With practice you will be able to spot the difference between a hard and a soft lake bed; you’ll be able to note the profile of the bottom, the whereabouts of gullies, plateaux, the course of an old river bed and so on. You will also be able to identify weed growing on the bottom, its thickness and the height that it grows up from the lakebed, at the same time locating snags such as old tree stumps, and other snaggy areas that may hold carp.
As I mentioned earlier, it is vital to carry out a thorough investigation of the likely area with your sounder so don’t be in too much of a hurry to get started. Having built up as detailed a picture as possible of the underwater features you now want to see if carp are going to visit the area in the first place. It is very important to take intersecting landmarks in case the marker is moved during a fight or by boat traffic. By doing this you will be able to put the marker back in exactly the same place. Better still use a hand held GPS unit. They are relatively cheap nowadays and the pinpoint accuracy ensures you can return to a set of saved coordinates time and again.
OK, now let’s try and tempt some fish into the area. On relatively unpressured lakes your intention should be to attract pull not only just carp into your swim but all types of fish, including small fry. Don’t worry if the carp don’t respond straight away, as it’s highly likely that the feeding activity of small fish will attract the attention of carp that are in the area. They soon move in and push the small fry out.
In order to build up a head of feeding fish in the swim I use a highly flavoured groundbait comprising crushed hemp, groats and pellets with a few chopped baits and a some whole mini boilies as well for good measure.
I invariably add some liquid food to add still further to the overall attraction and Sanchi Fermented Soya Bean (Tamari) is by far the best option in my opinion. I use the stuff liberally and I am certain it adds considerably to the 'eat me' message I am trying to generate. A good dollop of Worcestershire Sauce will not go amiss either.
Red Band Pigeon Conditioner, blended with Hempseed is a first class groundbait that will quickly attract small fry followed inevitably by carp that home in on the enticing attraction given off by the bait carpet.
Depending on the size and number of carp you are targeting, a good starting point would be to introduce about five kilos of this gooey mixture and maybe a kilo of boilies over quite a wide area around your chosen spot. It might be that the carp don’t arrive straight away but if you have seen fish showing in the area and have isolated a significant underwater feature, it is a good bet that they will arrive eventually. Once they do so you need to be ready to top up the bait carpet with more groundbait, this time increasing the ratio of boiled baits in the mix. The small fry will have done their job so you want them to leave the bait to the carp. The more fry-resistant boiled baits in the swim, the more confident the carp will become.
If you are well familiar with a particular lake you will probably know the position of the more significant features well so your baiting strategy will be different. In such a situation you are now looking not so much for features as for fish and usually the more experience you have of the water the easier it will be to find fish. I know when I fished Le Queroy, a small lake in France, my first attempts were laughable as I always seemed to be in the wrong place. However, after a couple of trips I managed to isolate certain feeding areas and by my third visit I was catching well.
You may ask, how can he get the location aspect so wrong on what is, after all a comparatively small lake. I am rather embarrassed to say that at first I took the lake for granted thinking it would be easy. After all, the fish were pretty 'green' having only been subjected to light angling pressure, however, somehow I managed to make a complete hash of the first couple of trips.
Of course, angler pressure may dictate where you can or cannot fish. I remember when I went to The Orient for the first time with the Nutrabaits crew. We arrived to find the whole lake stitched up. There were bivvies in every swim! The only area free was the dam wall at Mesnil-Saint-Père. Normally this area usually known as Bivvy City is one of the hottest zones on the whole lake, hence the name. However, we sat out a week there before coming home chastened and fishless! There was a reason the swim was free: there were no bloomin' fish there! The lesson here being that just because the hot swim is free, it doesn't necessarily mean you will fill your boots!
I think the best baiting tactic for big fish waters where you know the feature and the hot spots is to put plenty of bait in. By this I mean plenty of good bait! I do not believe that you can achieve anything like the kind of feeding activity you get over, say, a bait of top quality boilies and a bait carpet of groats and hempseed if you are using a relatively poor quality bait, so don’t compromise your results with inferior bait.
Clearly and area of natural food will act as a magnet drawing carp from far and wide. You can tell if a lake is rich in such food by looking along the margins for dead shell. The presence of swan mussels is a good indicator of a lake's richness. Swan mussels live and feed in silt, but it has to be the 'right' sort of silt. Black, stinky stuff formed by rotting leaves and dead weed is nothing like as rich in natural food as the clean, light and soft silt that builds up in large, windswept lakes.
And once you catch a fish make sure to examine the weigh sling, sack or retainer for excreted shell, the remains of the carp's last meal. This photo clearly shows that the carp has been feeding on crayfish and zebra mussels, quite possibly in the area where you caught it. Keep a note of where you cast that last bait as it may well be a natural food larder that carp visit regularly.