Steve Briggs discusses the importance of being open minded about location.
I guess it was the recent trip to Euro Aqua that once again proved just how important it is to find the right areas when we are fishing. To explain what I mean, I had spent virtually a whole week fishing to a baited marker without a single run on that rod. As as a last resort I went out in the boat and found a nice area just a few metres from where I was already fishing – but that small move paid off and within 20 minutes I’d hooked into my biggest fish of the week!
It was another reminder that, no matter how good our rigs and baits are, they are only tools to do a job and it’s up to us to use those tools to the best of our ability. It’s one of the things I try to get across when talking or writing about fishing, as it’s the one area where people can really improve their fishing. After all, most people will know that I mainly use Monster Squid or Scopex Squid baits and Fang Twister hooks, and everyone can go out and buy the same tomorrow, but then it’s a matter of using them the right way. It was one of the things I used to really like about the writings of Rod Hutchinson years ago. He didn’t just say “here’s a rig and here’s a bait”; he gave a whole lot more away and, if you really read between the lines, you could really get an idea of his thinking and reasoning behind what he was doing. That to me was far more valuable than knowing what flavour he was using.
I guess the one thing which most people advocate these days is feeling the lead down for the ‘donk’. In other words you are holding the rod with a tight line after casting and waiting for the lead to hit the bottom, and if it lands with a thud then chances are it has landed on a firm clean area. Good advice on the whole, for sure, as most of the carp we catch definitely come from clear and firm areas – but if that’s what 99% are looking for then that will always be the case. The thing is I find good spots vary from lake to lake and they also vary at different times of year, so just constantly looking for the same type of area wherever you go won’t always be the answer.
When it comes to fishing on the Continent much of my feature finding is done with a boat and echo sounder, both invaluable bits of kit for saving time and finding out what the lake bed is like. Again they are only tools for a job, though, and it’s you that has to decide what is going to be a potential feeding area and what isn’t. Along with the echo sounder I also like to carry a Prodding Stick as well as a rod with a heavy lead on the end. The echo sounder covers the ground very quickly and I can soon see areas of weed, as well as snags, clear spots, etc. It can also give an indication of how firm or soft the bottom is, indicated by the black line at the bottom of the screen. Generally speaking, the thinner the black line the firmer the bottom. This is where the Prodding Stick comes in, as with it you can really build up a picture of what’s down there. It’s easy to feel if it’s hard silt or gravel and, with a bit of practice, you can even feel the difference between gravel and mussel beds. This can make a huge difference, as mussel beds are natural feeding areas and one place that I always feel confident fishing over.
I’ve fished one nice lake over in Germany a couple of times in the last year and I guess that place explains how areas can change. On the first trip the depth which seemed to produce most of the action was around 15ft. Much of the bottom down to that depth was covered in thick weed and, although the carp loved being in it, it was almost impossible to present a bait in properly. From 15ft the lake bed tended to drop off quite fast down to 25ft and beyond, but on the edge of the drop-off there was just enough room to present a bait nicely. With the prodding stick I was able to find where the weed stopped and get the rig right against it. It was a tactic that worked really well and I caught some great fish that trip.
Almost exactly a year later, though, I really struggled on the same spots! It surprised me a bit as the swim looked exactly the same. The only difference was that the water level was slightly lower, but that was enough to totally change the habits of the fish. This time most of the action came in 25ft, but there were very few of what I would call ‘fishable’ spots. Much of the lake bed in that depth was very soft and silty, and it was too deep for the Prodding Stick, so that is where the rod and heavy lead came in. By lowering and lifting the lead I found much of the time that I had to pull hard to unplug the lead from the bottom. Eventually I found a couple of small firm spots around one or two metres across and virtually all of the action came from those spots. It shows that what has worked before doesn’t always work again, but by changing things around I was able to catch decent fish on both occasions.
There will always be exceptions to any rule and a great example of that was my first trip to Poland earlier in the year. I arrived fairly late and, knowing that the lake was fairly shallow and weedy, I set about trying to find a couple of clear spots. It took a lot of searching. My echo sounder had packed up and I was left feeling around with my rod and the heavy lead. After lifting it up covered in weed for what must have been 100 times, I finally found what I was looking for. The lead landed with a real thump and showed no signs of weed whatsoever. It was only a small area two metres across but I felt straight away (like you would) that I had found that magic area which would produce most of the action. By the next morning I’d had action on two of my three rods – the only problem was that the rod on the clear spot remained untouched while two baits in the weed were picked up with no hesitation! Out in the boat I could see all the bait still there on the clear spot. It was as if the carp treated it as danger and would only feed in the weed. By the end of the week I’d caught several fish up to mid-forties and they all came on baits placed right in the weed. We all look for the clear spots and yet that trip proved that they aren’t always the best areas to catch fish from.
One more example of finding good areas will be much more familiar to us – but maybe not to everyone. A few of us had been invited over to Austria by our sadly-departed friend, Kurt Grabmayer. His lake was right in the middle of a forest and held some lovely fish. The Austrian guys fishing there knew far more about the lake than we did, so for the start I did no more than follow their lead. By all accounts most of the fish would come from baited areas in water of between 25ft and 30ft deep. To my left was an out-of-bounds bank, which didn’t seem to attract much attention. That seemed very unusual as we are brought up to think that carp will always head for anywhere which isn’t normally used by people. To add to that there were a few small areas of clay amongst the weedy margins which really screamed out to be fished; they almost glowed yellow amongst the gloomy background.
For the first night I fished the deep spots and didn’t receive a single bleep. Simon Crow had arrived by then and also noticed the clay spots immediately from his swim on the other side of the lake. We both decided there and then that the clay spots were the way forward and, literally within 20 minutes, I’d caught my first fish of the trip. We both went on to catch really well that week and the vast majority of the fish came from those few tiny little spots. It seemed so obvious to us because that is what we were used to looking for on our own waters. However, those areas seemed to be totally overlooked by the regulars!
I suppose that’s where experience can be so helpful. The more waters you fish and the more situations you are faced with, the more knowledge you have to fall back on. I’ve caught carp from some very strange places over the years, but what all those places had in common was that the carp were happy to feed there at the time. It’s very easy to take things for granted and I’m as guilty as anyone of doing it at times, but every now and then I get a wake-up call that I need to keep thinking about what I’m doing rather than going through the motions. Just because you’ve seen something written about many times before doesn’t mean that it works all the time. Carp can be creatures of habit but they can also change their habits very quickly. Of course if everything is going well and the alarms are sounding then there’s not much need to change. However, we all go through those tough periods when we blame it on the fish not feeding or being in the wrong swim, but maybe the fish are out there waiting to be caught and trying something just a little different could be the answer.