Carp Retention – Martin Crackoff
Whilst more of a rant and not a “dodgy theory” nor “questionable science” I did want there to be a little bit in the book, about Carp Retention. This could be (to some) a little more controversial than the rest of the book, but as I am writing this book as a look into my angling on the Big Pond, and am trying to leave nothing out and be honest about it, I have not tried to cover up the fact that I often retain carp so feel that this is a good time to bare all.
Retaining carp can come about for several reasons… And most won’t agree with my “excuses” but there you go, I’m not fishing for others, I’m fishing for me, and always have. It’s something I have always done, and I always follow a strict regime whilst doing it. Being an “Oldskool” angler, I was introduced to sacking carp at a very early age. It was a simple introduction through necessity, but one I would always remember. I had caught a carp in the middle of summer, and after a good fight, weighing and photo’s done, I went to release the carp back into the crystal clear waters… I was careful with the release, as being surrounded by some very well-known carp anglers, I didn’t want to look like the newbie I was. I held the carp in the margins to let it recover for a few good minutes… waiting all the time for that flick of the tail that lets you know it’s time to let it go…
But that flick didn’t come… confused I looked over at the most experienced of the guys behind me, and he just said, keep it there… and he jogged out of my swim, returning a few minutes later with a sack. We sacked the carp up and he stayed with me explaining what, and why we were doing this. Every couple of minutes, he would walk to the front of my swim and look down in the deep margins to check it was both upright, and that the gills were flaring in a regular way. The carp had sunk right down to the bottom, and he explained that this was probably because it was a more comfortable depth for it (which I didn’t really understand at the time, I mean, it’s a fish, surely as long as it’s in the water???)
Anyway, he sat drinking my tea supplies for an hour, constantly bobbing up and down to check the fish, as we sat chatting about this and that. Until he felt the carp would be recovered enough to release. Sure enough, it was, and sprayed me unceremoniously as I set it free. This was my first ever sacking experience, but it taught me so much about how to do it right, and certain rules you NEVER break when retaining a carp. Some of the things he said, and the way he explained them to me, have stuck with me, even nearly 40 years later, and are a guide that I follow every time I decide to retain a carp, whether that’s for ten minutes, or 4 hours, the guide is the same, and the results are the same, a 100% healthy carp returning to the lake, fully aware of its surroundings, and fit to fight another day.
Like I say, I’ve never hidden the fact that I retain/sack carp, but that’s because I do it right. You can call that arrogance if you wish, which is fair enough, but I’ve caused less damage to carp in 40 years of sacking carp than a lot of anglers who have never sacked a carp before in their life, and never will, because as with all things in carp care, common sense is a huge factor.
Take a look at carp mats as an example… I see more damage to the flanks of carp now, than I did before carp mats were thought of as an essential bit of kit. It has nothing to do with the mats being in-effective, and everything to do with the angler being blasé because he has a mat to protect the carp. In the old days, anglers knew that dropping a carp could kill it, so they didn’t, under ANY circumstances, everything was calm and calculated. The patch of grass we chose to place the carp on, was the best bit in the swim, fluffy and soft. The carp was never left unattended, and would constantly have at least one person kneeling over it paying it all the attention he could, ready to dive on it in an instant if need be. Once unhooked and weighed, carp were held close to the chest, none of this “out at arm’s length” rubbish just to get the carp to look bigger than it is. Each detail of an “oldskool” anglers method was about the carp, even to the point that the only time the angler looked away from the fish, even during photos, was when he was talking to the camera man, (usually telling him how to work a camera) and then only for a second, before returning his eyes to the carp, to watch for the tell-tale signs that it’s about to freak out.
So, what are these “rules” that dictate my sacking of fish? Well first off, there’s the swim, or more to the point, the sacking location within the swim. It needs to be deep, preferably shaded if the suns out, weed and snag free. If there isn’t a place that is deep, weed and snag free in the swim, then the sacking isn’t done, or if retaining a carp to recover, then a spot will be found close by that does have these. If that means I have to reel in and not fish, so be it.
Why deep??? One of the things I spoke about earlier was a carp’s preferred depth. During recovery, a carp will almost always head to deeper water, and there are a few reasons for it to do so. The simplest, is lower light levels in deeper water. I know when I’m stressed; I want to sit in a low light environment, it calms me down, and allows me to think without all the outside distractions. Next, is getting away from the waves and ripples. Imagine trying to calm down when someone is knocking you and nudging you all the time, it’s bloody annoying, that’s the same thing waves do to retained carp, stick a carp in a floating retention sling and see how calm the carp stays in it when there are waves rocking it all over the place. (One of the reasons I only use a retention sling for long enough to get my kit ready on the bank) Temperature is another reason they drop down in the water, the term “cooling down” isn’t just about losing a temper. Stress causes the body to rise in temperature, as does a long fight to a fish, it is burning carbs in its body to use muscles, and using muscles creates heat, not to the same degree that a warm blooded creature does, but it is still warmer than is comfortable for the carp. Lastly, we have oxygen levels. Too much oxygen to a stressed body, be that carp or human, can cause hyperventilation, keep the oxygen high, and the body starts getting “high” from the overdose racing through its veins. In humans, we use a paper bag to counter it. Breathing into the bag, and then breathing back in the air you’ve just breathed out. This increases the carbon dioxide you are taking in, and reducing the oxygen. As a result the body stops hyperventilating, and you calm down. Putting a paper bag over the nose of a carp though, has issues, one, the bag will fall off, two, it will get very soggy, and three, the carp doesn’t “breath” through its mouth it uses gills. The only way a carp can reduce its oxygen intake, is to sit at the bottom of the lake where there is less dissolved oxygen in the water. (Another reason not to use floating retention slings)
Why weed and snag free? Well, weed and all plants use a process called photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide and water into glucose during the day, using the light from the sun absorbed through its leaves to create this reaction. As it does this, oxygen is released as a by-product of the reaction. So, during the day, it is fair to say that weedy water can become saturated with oxygen, and this happens in a lot of weedy lakes to the point where the water looks more like a fizzy drink than a lake. As we know Oxygen rises in water, and is one of the reasons that the higher reaches of any water contains more dissolved oxygen than the deeper areas. So this is a clear indicator that when weed is about, a carp will not recover well, as it gets higher and higher with the concertation of dissolved oxygen in the area.
But, what about at night? When the suns light is not on the weed, surely this means that the weed can’t be producing oxygen? That’s right, but what happens is quite the opposite. Plants during the day and night, respire, that is to say, they breath. During the day, when they are using photosynthesis to produce oxygen, they use some of this oxygen to respire… but during the night time, when due to the lack of light they are not photosynthesising any water and carbon dioxide into glucose, they don’t have oxygen as a by-product so instead, they absorb the oxygen around it. In a field, that’s not an issue, as there is oxygen all around it anyway, but in a lake, it can only remove the dissolved oxygen within the water. This makes the dissolved oxygen level around weedbeds fluctuate massively between day and night, to the point where dissolved oxygen is virtually devoid in large weedbeds on small lakes. Now, if too much oxygen is bad for a recovering carp, imagine how bad suffocation will be.
So that’s weed, but why snags? This one is so much simpler. Purely and simply, it is so the carp can’t poke its eye out on a stick, or cut its flank on a razor sharp mussel, or get tangled with the branches of a fallen tree. It’s not about the risk of the sack being torn and the carp getting free, when you put a carp into a sack, it is effectively blind, with the material over its eyes. It may be able to see a bit, but not enough to stop it damaging itself.
So, now we have our location, what else is there?
Firstly, there is a secure fixing/tying point. If at all possible, I won’t use a bankstick or storm pole, I’ll tie it off to something fixed, like a small tree, bush or similar. If a bankstick is used, it will be in as far as I can get it, and in as firm a piece of ground as I can use. It is angled away from the lake, ideally at 45° or so, as this gives the most stable anchor point. I loop the cord of the sack over the bankstick push it the bottom of the bankstick, and make sure it is on there tight, I normally have an open grinner at the end of the cord for this reason. This gives the carp as little leverage as possible on the bankstick, those that use the thread at the end of the cord to attach them to the bankstick are in my eyes asking for trouble. Whilst they may well be securely attached to the bankstick, they offer the carp a better chance of levering the bankstick out in less than ideal soil.
Secondly, there is the amount of attention I pay to any retained carp. Make a cup of tea, then check the carp, finish the tea, check the carp, roll a fag, check the carp, smoke the fag, check the carp. I am up and down checking that carp at least every two or three minutes. Once every ten minutes, I will lift the carp higher in the water, to ensure it swims back down, and this is done regardless of what the time is, how tired I am, how cold it is, and how inviting the sleeping bag is.
The last thing to pay attention to is the absolute rule. At ANY time, regardless of pictures, regardless of weight, or even if you haven’t even weighed it yet, if at ANY time that fish gets destressed, or start leaning over to one side, or its gills stop flaring regularly, your time is up. That fish gets released… and if that means standing in your underpants in the lake at two in the morning in the middle of January in order to keep the carp upright and moving water through its gills, then that’s what you have to do. I’ve had the pleasure of watching some idiot sack a carp then pay no attention to it, and that was in December, with all the rotting leaves on the bottom of the lake starving the lakes edge of oxygen and for the benefit of the carp, I stood there helping it recover when it started to struggle and keel over for two hours. He was not happy when I finally released the carp, as he hadn’t weighed it or photographed it, but at the same time, he was lucky I just wanted to get in my bag and stave off hyperthermia rather than cave his head in with a mallet.
So what is the right sack to buy? Really, there are only two types on the market, and though they come in different sizes, the theory behind them is the same. Firstly, there are the tie top sacks. These have an open end, with a cord and toggle method to close up the end. These are okay, but are not the best ones to buy given a choice. The only real issue I have with these, is that by closing the end, you are in effect, “scrunching up” the material around the cord area, which limits the water flow through that section of sack. The much better option, is the zip sacks, as these don’t have the same “scrunching” issue, and all the sacks material is well spread allowing much better water movement through the sack.
I use as big a sack as I have available, to allow the carp plenty of space around it for fin movement, and whilst I know the sack tends to be pushed against the carp by water pressure, I think the larger sacks offer a bit more leeway to the fish.
Lastly on the subject of the right sack, is a floatation indicator. There are several ways to make sure that if anything goes wrong, you at least have a chance of finding that sacked fish, and by “anything goes wrong” I mean you have tied a knot bad, or your bankstick gets pulled out, and the end result is the carp swims off, still in the sack. All you really want is something that floats well, and is clearly visible at range, so that if Mr Carp swims off you can see where it is, and take action to get it back. Fishing a 200 acre water, the last thing I want, is to notice the sack has gone, and I have no way of tracking it or retrieving it. One thing I became aware of when first using a float indicator on my sack cord, was the ease at which the float went under if ran through weed or snags (during tests, not real situations) this led me to using much more buoyant items on the cord, with small coke bottles being a decent size and buoyancy to use. These are tied about 15-20 foot from the sack directly onto the cord with a strong abrasion resistant braid. This is one of those things that although I have never had to use, due to never having a sacked carp escape, but I can see the need for it, so use it anyway. In my mind, I try to think that it’s too late to think about it being useful after the problem.
Remember IF you do ever sack or retain a carp, the vast majority of the time, you are doing it for you, don’t try and say it is always for the fish to recover, it isn’t. 9/10 times, a carp can recover in your arms in the edge of the lake, it’s a rarity that sacking/retaining a carp to recover is needed. In 40 years, I can remember every time it has happened to me, and I’ve still got two fingers left of counting before I get to the second hand. You are sacking for your own purposes, accept that, and also accept that the carp should not suffer for your selfishness. 100% of the carp I’ve sacked have been released in fine health, and gone on to live many more years, growing and fighting as they go.
The last thing I can say about sacking carp, is probably the most important. If you can’t follow all of the rules above, don’t do it… if you are unsure, don’t do it… if you are inexperienced and don’t have someone who has experience of sacking with you, don’t do it… Ideally, don’t do it. I was very lucky in that the area I grew up in, and the time I grew up, I was in the right place to mingle with, and learn from, and even angle with, some of the greatest carp anglers that have ever walked this earth, and even at the ripe old age of 12, I was getting help from legends. But even the carp legends can’t do miracles, hence why I’m still a mediocre angler struggling on this lake, too stupid to understand that I’m trying to doggy paddle up the Niagara Falls.
As most carp anglers know… there has been a new method of carp retention raising its head over the last few years, and whilst it is a very popular method, there are a few things that need to be understood about retention slings before they use them.
First off, I’d like to say retention slings, or recovery slings are great. They hold the carp safely in a place that the angler has a clear view of them, and are buoyant. But… they are not a long term retention method. I think we’ve all heard tales of at least one poor bloke who’s had a carp bolt out of the top of the retainer, bursting through the gap between the two arms, even when they are Velcro’d together. There are several reasons they do this, and all of them aim at these slings not being suitable for any long term retention, and by long term, I mean anything over half an hour, and probably less.
Firstly, their greatest asset is their greatest failing. Floatation sling is another name for these systems, as they float, and whilst it gives the angler a good view of what the carp is doing, it also leaves the carp far too high up in the water to recover properly. Higher oxygen levels means there is a chance of hyperventilation, and the “high” effect I mentioned earlier, it also leaves carp in higher temperature water near the surface, again not good for recovery purposes. Lastly it leaves the carp being suspended by something that is bobbing up and down on the surface, which can be disorientating. Whilst the carp may well recover energy, it doesn’t get any relaxation from the ordeal, and often the result is the carp becoming uncomfortable in that enclosed environment, and trying to get out. If it sees a gap, it will go for it, and whilst the zipped options don’t leave any gaps, it is still a show of discomfort from the carp, and one that the angler should take note of.
I’ll be honest here, until 2015 I never really bothered about it, and felt the retention slings were as good as sacks. The tales I’d heard of escapee carp through the top, I put down to bad angling rather than any discomfort from the carp. BUT an event in 2015 gave me serious pause for thought, and forced me to look into why a carp acts so differently in a sling, as it does if sacked, and how high it sits in the water is probably the biggest difference between the two. It was then just a simple case of looking at my sacking techniques and rules to answer the questions posed. They like to go deep, in lower oxygen levels, away from waves, and into lower light conditions. None of which the carp can get in a sling. I still get gutted and a bit choked when thinking back to that event, and can only think I should have done something…
Since that incident in 2015, if I ever need to retain a carp whilst I get my camera, scales and bits ready, a retaining sling is fine, but for anything longer, I sack the carp. Even though I have never heard of any physical harm coming to a carp that has escaped, or even just thrashed around in a retention sling, the stress levels of the carp are something I am not willing to put aside for my own selfish needs.
The three pics are all of the same fish, once at 23lb, once a year later at 34lb, and a couple of years after that at ounces under 40. All captures had me using a sack, and all captures saw the carp returned unharmed, and none the worse for wear. That carp went on a year later to reach 46lb, but I have since lost touch and haven’t heard of any more recent captures. Done right, sacking isn’t an issue… anglers not paying attention to simple rules, are.