This is one of the joys of angling, being able to set your own targets, create your own goals and achieve your own dreams. Sometimes fishing can be frustrating, sometimes it can be exhilarating, sometimes it can be the full gambit of emotions in the space of a couple of hours but it is always absorbing in one way or another. If you are fishing in the right spot at the right time, the sky’s the limit as regards catches - but how do you know the right time and place every time?
Feeding times vary from lake to lake but feeding areas seldom do. Fish are masters of their own environment and soon become aware where their natural ‘larders’ are situated; they also become aware very quickly when and when not to visit the stores.
I’ll cover feeding times first, as this is easier.
The times that a fish ‘gets its head down’ tend to stay quite consistent due to differing circumstances at any given water. Simple things like night fishing bans, the time a venue is most pressured (weekends maybe), sluice gates opening or something as basic as someone coming down at a certain time each day throwing out bread for the ducks can all have an influence on feeding patterns.
If you’re new to a venue try to put in a twenty-four hour session, as this combined with a chat to the ‘locals’, questioning them subtly on the times of recent captures etc, should establish any specific occasions when the fish are at their most vulnerable.
Fishing at feeding times will of course produce better results as I’ll explain; on one occasion I was sacked from my job (or was it twice…) unfairly I may add every time. (How was I to know ‘all proceeds’ were meant to go to the company!) But I digress; with my newfound freedom I decided I could spend far more time at a water I had been having difficulties with for some time.
I had been fishing forty-eight hour sessions at this lake for two seasons from Friday nights at six o’clock to Sunday nights at a similar time with inconsistent results.
With my ‘newfound freedom’ and being able to fish 24-7 if I chose, I discovered that a short session between six o’clock Sunday evening as everyone else was going home and six o’clock Monday morning would have produced staggeringly better results.
So here I was, formerly confined by work obligations to fish for a mere two days a week with little to show for my efforts, against a ‘carte blanche’ agenda to fish whenever I liked, to find a twelve hour trip each week was increasing my catch rate. Hells bells, I could now fish whenever I liked but fishing less was helping me more!
Another lake I fished for a few seasons, never produced a fish during the afternoon, to the best of my knowledge. On one occasion my mate Andrew banked nine carp and lost two others in a manic Sunday session there; all fish came before noon despite him fishing on till teatime.
Why this phenomenon occurred is still as much a mystery to me as how Ronald Reagan ever became president but it is a fact none the less. I’ve come up with more theories than why John F. Kennedy was shot but all with similarly inconclusive proof.
I read a piece by Jim Gibbinson he wrote recently about a French water that only produced between three in the morning and dawn. He made the point that if you were a local, fishing every night after work until midnight, the lake would seem a virtually impossible task, however if you fished four hours a day at the right time you would’ve had more ‘big upper doubles’ in your hands than Hugh Hefner on a good night; the difference between a legend and a leg end is only a short space!
So. Now that you’ve sorted out when to catch, where do you put those baits? I had one friend that caught a personal best 27lb something mirror carp from a place known as the ‘crap-swim’, not because it wasn’t any good, more due to the large dock leaves and ample foliage to hide the weaker bowelled members of the syndicate.
As a consequence of this one capture he has never fished in a different spot on the lake regardless of conditions. He has had some success but nothing like he could’ve hoped to have achieved with a less blinkered view.
Fish feed in a variety of areas and you must be alert to why. The common denominator is always ‘because there is food there’, the ‘why there is food there’ is useful to know but not essential.
Carp are a creature of habit driven by a survivalist instinct; they must feed for you to catch them but more importantly they must feed to exist, combining when the two factors meet is the key. With the obvious gravel bars, lily beds and islands out of the way, more documented than Mick Jagger’s sex life, I’d suggest, there are less apparent areas that require a further look.
If you get the opportunity, and your local ‘Gestapo’ allow it, take a slow boat around your selected venue. Invariably you will find ‘clean’ areas that are almost inexplicable as to why, in a mass of blanket weed, they should be so. - It’s because feeding carp keep them that way!
While a gravel bar is a hot spot you will often find one particular area out fishes any other place on it. This could be due to a slight rise or fall of the bar or maybe just being directly in the path of the fishes regular patrol route (they are creatures of habit remember) but for whatever reason a hot spot on another hot spot is worth investigating!
One friend I knew, an ex-borstal type that could relieve you of three gold rings by just shaking hands, regularly fished a swim that everyone else found featureless. Whilst all others blanked he would regularly nick a fish or two without exception or explanation. After his trial I visited him at his new home of Her Majesty, and knowing he wouldn’t be fishing for a while, I asked him how he did it. He divulged that whilst there was no obvious feeding area there, he had found out, through his dubious acquaintances, that the local gypsies always used that swim to set up eel traps each night and would throw in carcasses from earlier hare coursing sorties as an attractant. Now, little Davey-boy, who set the traps had a throw of some fifteen feet, something the fish had become aware of, and as a consequence always frequented on the off chance of some free tucker.
By fishing the exact spot the young would-be-roofer targeted, my friend would capitalize on the fish’s greed; a featureless spot but a very hot spot none the less.
Hot spots can be as varied as a Dalmatians spots but with regular fishing and always questioning why carp are caught, and where, a pattern will emerge.
Another pattern that will emerge is that feeding areas are as tight as a ‘Maynard wallet’ when the price of gold has dropped 0.1%. Casting twelve inches either way can result in a ‘red letter’ day or a ‘pay and display’ day accordingly. A feeding area can be as small as a dustbin lid and no amount of coaxing can convince a carp otherwise. The little clearings fish make will be visited regularly and cleaned, but if your bait is in the thick weed to the side it will just be ignored.
Some anglers seem obsessed with distance, whilst I appreciate some fish feed at 120yrds plus, the majority feed underneath your noses and it is a lot easier to pinpoint a spot from five foot away than it is to be precise from a long way off.
What is the difference between the edge of an island and the edge of the bank? Only our misconception. I knew of a man-made reservoir in Kent that is completely square and has a uniformed depth of eight foot. The lakebed is as interesting and inspiring as a party political broadcast, yet everyone seemed obsessed with casting into the middle. Despite the odd fish being taken, no angler ever seemed to be ‘having it away’ on the lake. I could never drum up any enthusiasm to fish the place, such was it’s blandness, however I needed to catch a few baits for an and coming pike adventure and so went along with a mate for a spot of rudd bashing. Armed only with a float rod I set about nicking a few a tiddlers out on maggots in the margins. Imagine my surprise, hooking into three carp on the method in the space of two hours.
Despite losing all three, I think my mate, who didn’t get a sniff on his ‘slung-in-the-middle’ set ups, may have learned a thing or two. Just because everyone else fishes a certain way doesn’t make it the best method.
Challenge yourself, question why it’s happening (or not), be lucky but above all else enjoy it!