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Back In The Day

I'm up on my soapbox now... I don't aim to be controversial, but I'm sure every carp angler has some issues that need airing, & I'm one of em!

Carp fishing as we know it, has come a long way since the late fifties. Fishing for these seemingly uncatchable species was almost frowned upon, & in many cases, you were considered mad to even attempt to try! Another stigma inherent with the early years of carp fishing was a theory that they wouldn't feed in the winter, so this was also deemed a waste of time. As our sport has evolved, these theories have been proved as nonsense, & the learning curve continues to progress. I wonder what Richard Walker would have made of being able to purchase underwater footage of our quarry's behaviour to view in the comfort of his own home? It all somehow seems so easy now - just turn up at the lake, set up your tent for the weekend, chuck out the latest bait with the latest fashionable rig & hey presto - a 30lb carp...or am I being cynical..?

I began fishing for carp in the late 80's, & even back then, 20lb carp were a rarity, especially in the West Midlands! Now they seem to be everywhere, & easy to catch! Open the weeklies, & there's bound to be some young kid there hoisting up a 30lb+ fish, when he's probably never even caught a perch or used a float. I'm sure some carp anglers were born with a 3lb test curve rod with a big pit reel & 15lb line in their hand! I'm not suggesting that every carp angler should serve some kind of general angling apprenticeship, but it would be nice! I'm not exactly impressed if I have to get out of a warm sleeping bag at 3am to land a 4lb bream, but I do respect it & appreciate the fact that it's a good fish. Don't you get the feeling that some of us are unsure of whether we're going fishing or camping? I'd like to ask some session anglers, just how many of you go out of the house early morning with just a rod, net & a few accessories for a days stalking? Fishing (or is it socializing with your mates?) behind three rods all day is great - nine rods out in a line & they haven't got a chance, is this the way our sport is going to end up?

As you will be aware, in the winter of 2006 I'd been targeting the fish of Blackroot Pool, with very little success, but I'd put in every ounce of effort that a married man can! I had been out on the bankside whenever it had been possible - even when the conditions had been far from perfect. My theory is simple - I wasn't going to catch them sitting on my backside at home! I was in almost constant contact with the lakes form, & spent a lot of time researching, trying to find an edge to crack this difficult water. I didn't get despondent, not catching just made me more determined to get a result. I'm happy to try unorthodox methods to achieve my goals, but equally happy to accept that if they aren't going to feed, there's very little I can do to change their mind! I'm not the greatest fan of 'turn up, fill it in, cast to the horizon, go to sleep, wake up & reel it in fishing', but if that's what is required to achieve the result I'm after, then so be it. I'd much prefer to be monitoring fish at close quarters, & examining how they respond to my presentation, this way I learn something for next time. If I just crack a single hookbait into the distance, & I have a pick-up on it, I really wouldn't be able to explain why it had happened. I would suppose that wouldn't bother too many people, but I would need to understand why I’d caught in that particular situation.

During the winter of 2006, my love/hate relationship with rigs resurfaced, due mainly to the lack of action whilst fishing at Blackroot. When you consider all the aspects of presenting a bait, it’s mind-blowing; long links, short links, hooks of all weird & wonderful shapes & sizes, braid, mono, fluorocarbon, stiff filament, coated links, pop-ups, bottom baits, balanced bottom baits, zig rigs, long hairs, short hairs, D rigs, withy rigs, upside down rigs, silicon tube, shrink tube, rig rings, rig resin…the list is endless! I have to admit to having lots of faith in particles & pop-ups on braided links, but I’ve been guilty of falling into the “they won’t touch them in here” stories. If I’m not catching, then I’m prepared to try something else. I haven’t got a lot of experience with fluorocarbon, but lately I’m excited about using it a bit more, having studied its properties in water, & not just visually. A lot of successful anglers explain to us the mechanics of their rigs, but I’m surprised at just how many miss the main focus of their operation. The now popular ‘flip & turn’ test relies upon gravity for the hookpoint to turn, & gravity has considerably less effect in water. The critical factor therefore must surely be water or more importantly, water displacement, upon our presentations. I believe this is why all rigs work, & some work better than others, because of different situations. Fish size, mouth size, feeding situation, the amount of fish in close proximity to the hookbait, their attitude to picking up baits all will have a considerable effect on water displacement. Take a quick look at any of the excellent KORDA DVD’s, to see for yourself. I personally didn’t see anything in this series of productions that surprised me, but was pleased that much of the footage backed up a lot of my theories.

I was approached a few weeks ago by an angler who asked me if I'd fished Rob Hales fishery - THE MONUMENT in Shifnal, to which I replied no. He went on to ask me for my reasons why & even suggested that I was an idiot for not wanting to fish there; I then proceeded to question why would people want to pay loads of money to catch these overgrown foreign fish, that held little credibility, when you would surely be better off spending the money fishing for french fish in a french venue (perfectly credible) & enjoying a holiday at the same time? Now don't misunderstand me, I think what Mr Hales has done is great, & it's all about what each angler wants out of the sport. It satisfies an important element of our sport - to go fishing & to catch big fish, but personally I'd rather spend my money on an obscure pit in the middle of nowhere with some potential massive english fish or alternatively on a CEMEX ticket chasing the Car Park lake inhabitants! Some 'carp anglers' are hell-bent on trying to catch a bigger fish, when surely all we're trying to do is catch the next one, regardless of size. Perhaps this is why some people refer to the sport as 'big carp fishing' as apposed to 'carp fishing'! It makes me laugh when people ask me "have you caught anything" after returning from a blank session, & then continue to question my sanity. Not many people can seem to grasp the theory that it's about being there - after all, this pastime that we participate in is referred to as 'fishing' & not 'catching'.

nother annoying aspect of this game is that my level of success is measured against other anglers that are able to fish the same venues as myself, but away from the usual weekend pressure. During the winter of 2006, one guy spent a total of three weeks bivvied up on the 'fence' at Blackroot, catching four fish during his stay. Now whilst I’m a bit jealous that I can’t devote that kind of time to my own quest & I’d love to catch four Blackroot fish in a session, I have a job to hold down & a family that I like to be part of. Perhaps I’ve got it wrong, & I should be working weekends & go fishing in the week! Frustratingly, looking back over a twelve month period spent on 'the root’, I have come to realise that I’ve ended up back where I started, trying many things in an attempt to make something happen, & finding that sticking to one thing is not making things happen quick enough. I know that 99% of the time, the battle is in my head, & not out in the lake, as I wrestle endlessly with ideas that will bring the rewards I search for. I’m lucky in many respects that I have an understanding wife, who puts up with my passion, & I’m careful to not let it control my life, as over the years I’ve learned the difference between a hobby & an addiction. Although fishing is a large part of my life, it doesn’t revolve around fishing & it is extremely important that I don’t get the two confused. I made this mistake in my teens, which is why I’ve quit the carp fishing scene a couple of times since beginning in the mid-eighties. I am often asked: if I’m so passionate about fishing as a sport, why I never pursued a career in angling, to which I’ve no reply, but I often wish I’d taken those steps!

With time being the most precious of commodities when it comes to carp fishing, I have increasingly found it important to search out venues where my quarry hasn’t been too intensely targeted. Many times have I raced to a lake in an attempt to secure the best swim in the given conditions, & left in a state of despair to find someone else has beaten me to it. I have found larger, more obscure venues where I have to do plenty of groundwork to discover how best to catch the resident fish, present more of a challenge & ultimately, more rewarding than chucking out rigs & bait as far as I can on my local puddle. Some anglers derive different requirements from their fishing. As a young lad, I’d get up at the crack of dawn, & walk miles with my gear to the local canal where if I caught a dozen roach, I would feel immense satisfaction for my days work. Some years later when I became a more competent angler, my appetite for carp fishing was born out of the desire to catch the ‘impossible’. Even when I took up match fishing, I was motivated by competition, & not the catching of fish. My fishing has always been driven by the need to move onto the ‘next level’. I find it very difficult to sit on the same venue year after year doing the same things on each & every session. I prefer to be challenged to produce results where many would prefer an easier route to their goals. I have often thought; why not just pay the money & join an expensive syndicate somewhere with some big carp in & stay there year-in, year-out until I catch all of the big fish? The answer is simple – I don’t want to. I’d just end up going through the motions every weekend & falling into the rat-race that carp fishing has essentially now become. Back in the eighties when I first begun carp fishing, another carp angler was a very rare sight! Information about tackle, bait, & rigs was scarce & if you took the sport up, it was mega expensive! I was wholly reliant upon friends & one or two specialist magazines for my knowledge of the sport. Now it seems as if everyone is a carp angler, which although good for the sport, I can’t help thinking how I had to be a little selfish & single-minded in my attitude to fish solely for carp. Now it’s a simple case of purchasing an entire setup for a mere pittance from a catalogue shop for any would-be carp angler! A bag of ready-mades & a few ready tied rigs later & you’re ready to catch some really big kippers! A very real fear of this was brought home to me some time ago when a guy hooked a carp whilst fishing the canal, & upon landing it, said he was going to take it home to show his mate! I persuaded him that I could weigh it for him & take some pictures that he could have for his moment of glory. That fish was probably over thirty years old – irreplaceable. So if the future of carp fishing is going down this consumer friendly route, then I should find it easier to do something different from the ever-increasing crowds that will retain my interest levels in targeting this species. Admittedly, I understand that if I were taking up the sport for the first time now, that this easy route to success cuts out the trials & tribulations that I had to go through… but that was one of the reasons for doing it - it presented a challenge. If my fishing doesn’t present me with a challenge, then I quickly lose interest & become bored. I have a theory that carp anglers are separated into three main categories: regulars, bounty hunters & pioneers. I would have to class myself as a would-be pioneer; I can’t devote the time, effort & money into being a bounty hunter & I’ve been a seasoned regular before, but my carp fishing future is undoubtedly in pioneering – the ultimate test of carp angling ability!!!

I read with interest a topic from a well-known Midlands carp-forum recently where a posted thread raised the question about how our rigs function. With this being such a grey area, I was not surprised that it caused quite a stir & the ‘argument’ even got quite heated at times! The author of the thread actually had very similar theories to my own, although my feelings aren't as deep-seated as his. The main part of the debate appeared to centre around the use of the ‘flip & turn test’… something I have not been scared to air my views on before! I whole-heartedly agreed with the author’s views, in as much as I think that it has a minimal effect in water. The counter-argument was that by testing rigs in this way, those that passed the test produced plenty of pick-ups, & if nothing else, provided the user with that much-needed ingredient in any rig… confidence. Personally, I believe that every rig works & there’s one thing for certain - as long as there's a hook attached to it, it will work in some form or another. There is a common belief in the carp-angling community that a carp picks up the hookbait, then it turns away & tightens the hooklink to the lead, activating the ‘flip & turn’ mechanism, causing the hook to take hold. The fish bolts & hey presto – that fish is nailed! I don’t believe fish feed in this way at all... Next time you’re anywhere near a fish tank, observe closely the way fish feed. Generally, a fish will suck in various items of food & debris (I find it difficult to imagine that a carp could suck in a boilie or particle without taking in some debris), then it stays in that position without shifting until it has separated the food items from detritus. As the fish is the master of its environment, it knows what is food & what is not (a sharp piece of steel is not a food item!), & the offending items are subsequently ejected, whilst the items of food are ingested. Now here’s the important part: I believe that it’s very rare that the hook finds a hold whilst the fish is performing this filtering task, & that if it’s going to get ‘pricked’, it’ll normally happen on ejection (it has detected the non-food item). Surely the displacement of water created from regulating the flow of water through its gills would render even the most advanced ‘nail-em-every-time’ rig virtually useless? This is another reason why I believe the original hair had such a devastating effect – not because carp wouldn’t pick up the hookbait, but rather when they’d successfully ejected the offending ‘non-food’ item, they were bamboozled to find they were rigged up. I also believe that this is a major reason why the now famous mag-aligner is so effective - if a ‘food item’ shrouds the hook, perhaps the carp cannot distinguish between the imitation grub & real food items (instead of being ejected, the fish accepts the rig as a genuine item of food). Once the carp has been successfully confused, surely it is then doomed, & here’s the real twist… does the angled piece of shrink tube / line aligner really do what we’re all led to believe it does, or does the addition of this piece of tube make the hook harder for a carp to detect (does it then begin to resemble a food item)? At this point, again I must stress this is only my view & I’m no marine expert or doctor of science! The only difference is that we know that some rigs work better than others, & to be perfectly honest, no-one knows why. Let's face it, were all second-guessing when it comes to why & how fish hook themselves & we also know that each individual fish will feed in a different way (this is why I believe that some fish successfully evade capture year after year). I have also tried hard to understand why certain fish have a habit of being caught at a particular time of year. Could it be that fish adapt to feeding on bloodworm & water snails for instance in the summer then switch to the more predominant mussels in the autumn? In each case, carp in particular will have to feed in a different way dependant on the available food source; for example carp will gorge on beds of bloodworm & largely they will be feeding just inches off the bottom, but could not do the same on swan / zebra mussels. Maybe this feeding adaptation makes them more susceptible to being hooked by our rigs by the very nature of how it has learned to feed at various stages of the year? Each individual carp angler has his own views as to how he envisages a carp gets nailed, & that's what makes it so interesting. If there was a ‘nail-em-every-time-they-pick-it-up’ rig, how boring would that be? There is no definitive answer & the ‘rig design cycle’ is simple, & will always remain. Firstly, someone will come up with a ‘wonder rig’, they’ll catch loads of fish on it, it’ll be made public in the angling press (selling lots of copies of their magazine of course...), then when everyone is on it, the carp will wise up to it, then we’re back where we started! We all know that fish adapt to their surroundings & learn by association & their natural self-preservation mechanism keeps us trying to be one step ahead. You’ll never find me knocking any rig design, but you might find me questioning its function in an attempt to understand more about how it works. I need only one major ingredient in any of my rigs… it has to be suitably different to what everyone else is using. Hopefully, by thinking ‘outside the box’, I hope to see a significant difference in my own results. I wonder, will we end up going full-circle & fishing side-hooked baits again, like back in the fifties? The thread certainly made excellent reading! Now I must start preparing my par-boiled potatoes…

I recently learned an extremely valuable lesson in this carp fishing game - an edge that I have found that I’m only too happy to share with everyone... I know what you’re all thinking – a ‘super rig’, a ‘wonder bait’ a special discovery about the lake I’m fishing that no one else has managed to figure out? Don’t you believe it! It’s a simple case of going back to basics & doing what I do best without complicating things, which in all fairness, is something that I have wholeheartedly been guilty of doing. In the past my rigs have been constructed with all manner of little bits & pieces attached, leads that have a particular shape & coating, bait that is the right shape, colour, texture & make up & many other things I have incorporated into my fishing that has only served to provide me with more things to lose confidence in! Following a straight-forward question from a friend, I finally realised what it was I was doing so wrong – he asked: “Are we trying too hard?”. Without a shadow of a doubt, the answer was ‘yes’. Fundamentally, I have gone back to employing the relatively simple methods that were successful for me in the past (if it has worked before, why should it be any less effective now?), preferring to concentrate all my efforts on location in the conditions I’m presented with. This way, by using a rig that is uncomplicated & that I have total confidence in & bait that I know the carp are happy to eat, I can fish my sessions with infinitely more focus. Rather than sitting behind my rods with a lack of confidence thinking, “what if the rig doesn’t work” or “what if the bait is blown”, I can now put those worries to one side & concern myself with making sure I’m applying my presentation to the correct area of the lake I’m fishing. It’s been said a million times, but what’s the point in having the best rig & bait if there isn’t a feeding carp in your swim?

I begun employing a simple system into my fishing during 2008, & it is one that I truly believe has had a major impact on my results. Yes, I know it may seem a little sad, but I’ve done plenty of research before adopting this style of setting up. It is commonly believed in most fishing circles that fish of all types are able to ‘smell’ very effectively & carp are especially very good at detecting these. Different smells are interpreted in various ways by fish – some will obviously repel, others will stimulate them to investigate. With this in mind, I want to swing things in my favour as much as possible so removing any alien smells from my presentation is now of paramount importance. I have often wondered when watching the now popular underwater DVD series, why when a carp swims over the rig, approaches the hookbait does it turn away at the last minute almost having a sixth-sense that something is wrong? Could it just possibly be that it has detected an alien smell coming from the hookbait / lead / rig after being 'contaminated' by human hand? Is the ‘Dynamite stick’ presentation so effective because it covers the hookbait & rig, disguising that alien smell? Why is it that we seem to catch late on in a session as opposed to the start of a session? Could it be that the alien smell has started to wear off after time? Some people regularly catch more fish than others & are clearly more successful, but appear to approach their fishing in much the same manner as everyone else. It is a fact that humans secrete different levels of oils from their skin, & at markedly different rates - does this have some impact upon their success rate? Now without wishing to sound like a complete nutter by suggesting that perhaps one angler is more successful than another because perhaps he uses a different soap, but if the smell of nicotine for example on a bait is commonly believed to repel fish, then why not other unnatural odours? This brings me to one final question – is it possible that particles are so effective because they don’t absorb alien smells as well as a boilie does (the surface of a boiled bait is much more porous)…? I don’t believe it’s the sole reason particles work so well, but it may be another attribute that adds to their level of success. With this in mind, all of my leads now undergo a simple procedure that will help to conceal their presence. I dull the glossy surface of the lead by using wire wool, & I leave them to stand in a bucket that has a sample of damp silt in (ideally taken from the lake I’m fishing) for a month or so before use. This ensures they’re not carrying any alien smells & don’t shine like a new pin when they’re in position on the lakebed. When using leadcore leaders, I leave them in the same bucket as the leads for 24 hours before my session too.

Before I begin fishing, I will take a small amount of mud, silt or gravel from the lake margins & work it around my hands before rinsing them in lake water to make sure that I don’t contaminate any part of my rig whilst setting up. Although I sometimes have to put up with a bit of ‘mickey taking’, I find that my presentation is offered as natural as possible & carrying no alien odours. My hookbaits will also have been treated in a liquid coating of preference well in advance. In this way, hopefully the only signal being emitted from my rig & bait is a ‘food-only’ signal & not one of danger. I am also careful to avoid using saliva on any part of my set up (I used to moisten the quick change swivel before sliding the anti-tangle sleeve over), now I just add a little lake water to it. Many will perhaps believe me to have gone mad, & even I will question my sanity from time to time, but we’re all looking for that slight edge in our own fishing that will bring our rewards a little closer & even if employing these measures don’t gain me any advantages, I know for a fact it will not work against me & will give me one less thing to worry about whilst my traps are set.

I have been an avid reader of carp magazines for many years, firstly because it was a good way of keeping up to date with developments within the industry as well as being a good supply of information to the minority groups of carp anglers being spawned throughout the country around the early eighties. As I remember, CARPWORLD was one of the first dedicated carp angling magazines that was commercially available, originally introduced on a bi-monthly basis. Over its eighteen years of production with Tim Paisley at the helm, each edition has been full of interesting & informative content. However, in recent times I have not purchased this magazine on a regular basis, mainly because at a retail price of £4.40, I have considered it a better option to invest my hard-earned cash elsewhere. My reluctance to purchase the magazine has been further compounded since Mr Paisley handed the editorial reigns over to Martin Ford in October 2006, & the content quality in my opinion, seemed to be lacking. Ultimately, my dismay with the magazine came to fruition upon purchasing the March 2009 edition, whereby I read Paul forward’s diary piece ‘the F word’. Oh dear, what a shame it was to hear this mans rant about the former editor of rival magazine ADVANCED CARP FISHING, Mark Holmes. Not wishing to pass judgement on Mr Forwards statements, I concluded from his piece that he clearly did not like Mr Holmes & after putting the said magazine down, I would have to say that my respect for Mr Holmes had been severely shaken. It was at this point I realised that when I pay almost a fiver for a magazine, I want information & entertainment for my money, not this kind of slanderous drivel. After all, if there is a market for this kind of publication, where known anglers put pen to paper in an effort to publicly disrespect other anglers, I’m sure it would be several hundred pages thick & not have a huge target market. Sometime later, a friend handed me a copy of the May 2009 edition of CARPWORLD in which Mr Holmes was given his ‘right to reply’. In redressing the balance, I have to say well done to Mr Holmes as my respect for him has been regained & conclusively, my regard for Mr Forward has been somewhat tarnished. I was further surprised to see that Mr Holmes had to fight for his right to reply to Mr Forwards article & I fully realised the implications this would have had, had I not have been fortunate enough to have read Mr Holmes’ reply article – my perception of Mr Holmes’ integrity would have been very low & I’m sure thousands of other readers would have had a similar opinion. In essence, I believe that talented journalists & authors will captivate readers & their style of writing will keep the magazine buying masses fully entertained. To pen articles that have the sole intent of disrespecting other anglers can, let’s face it, be written by anyone with a grudge to bear. Suffice to say, it’s unlikely I’ll be purchasing another copy of CARPWORLD again in the near future.

One of the fundamental requirements for my first ever European carp fishing excursion in 2009 was ensuring I had a carp antiseptic treatment liquid in my possession. Commonly marketed by KORDA, KRYSTON & THINKING ANGLERS, I begun to ask myself the question - why have I not been using this before? For certain, I cannot remember the last time I saw another carp angler administer this form of treatment to a fish he’d caught & I think that the simple reality of its lack of use is down to cost. Having relieved my wallet of almost £12 to purchase these treatments, I could now see why many other anglers would be more likely to buy other items of tackle, or even a kilo of bait from their favourite manufacturer instead. I can think back now to a few fish that I have caught, or have seen on the bank where I wished I could turn back the clock & give them the benefit of a little TLC afforded via a small dose of these treatments, especially where I’ve had / seen recaptures & the area of infection has become significantly worse. I know that by simply asking anglers to purchase these treatments that it is unlikely to promote their use, but I’ll certainly be administering it to all my captures from now on. If nothing else, after my hook’s been in its mouth I think it’s the very least that these creatures deserve. It seems almost ironic that we are willing to spend hundreds (& in most cases, thousands) of pounds on rods, reels, alarms, bivvies etc, but we can’t spend a few quid on a bit of care for our quarry.

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