I was asked recently to write a short article for an angling website and it’s no coincidence that I chose to write about watercraft. Watercraft to many anglers just means finding a feature like a bar or silt gulley, following a warm wind to find the fish or having a good look around the lake before deciding where to fish but for me, watercraft encapsulates everything that makes carp fishing so enthralling and compulsive. Watercraft means making use of all of your senses to find the carp and be able to predict their movements and feeding patterns.
There is no doubt that good observation is critical. An angler who watches the water and the fish themselves as much as possible and responds to the clues he is given, will always out fish someone who simply arrives at the lake and follows a preconceived plan and who then spends their time buried in their bivvy.
The signs can be blatant of course: a sheet of bubbles; a rattling reed stem; a waving tail or a leaping fish. If you can find the fish you’re already a step ahead. Often the signs can be so subtle that they are missed by those anglers who spend their time on the bank encased within a bivvy and shut off from the natural world. A slight deviation in the passage of coot and an anxious glance over its shoulder. A single bubble, followed by another and then a third and fourth, not all from the same spot but moving in a slow and steady line across the surface. The slightest of movements in the weed, repeated several times over the course of a few minutes. All of these and more can be signs that are insignificant in their own right but which, taken together, mean “carp”!
Beyond just looking though, I will spend time listening after dark for crashing carp, or the slurping of fish feeding on the surface in the weed. Even the sense of touch comes into play and in winter, finding that area of the lake that simply feels a little warmer and sheltered from a cold wind can lead you to the carp.
The more you immerse yourself in the natural rhythms of the lake the more you will notice the changes and natural events that can put you on track to finding carp you may not have seen. Watch the water birds and their behaviour. I’ve said already that spooked birds can give away the carp but equally, feeding birds can lead to an area where there is a hatch of insects; you can be sure that the carp beneath the surface will be exploiting a hatch of food as readily as the birds above it. In the summer, swallows or martins swooping low over the water in a confined area of the lake can point the way and, after dark, even a concentration of bat activity over the water can do the same. It’s like a sea angler following the flocking gulls to find the bass.
I’ve learned to look at the bankside vegetation and water plants as a clue to likely feeding areas. For example, a dramatic change from reedmace to the Phragmites reed on the face of one of the Ashmead islands, marks an equally clear change beneath the surface from a silty lakebed to hard clay. Learning these connections and understanding the way they link to the preferences of the carp for which you are fishing is a huge advantage.
One of the biggest influences on carp location is weed. Not only does weed provide shelter, hold food and hold the warmth in the winter, it produces oxygen during the day and uses it at night. The impact of weed on the carp’s environment (particularly in terms of oxygen concentration in the water) can be one of the biggest influences on carp location and feeding, especially on small and heavily weeded waters.
I fish one deep and shaded pool where the carp follow the sun and their movement around the margins from dawn to dusk follows the passage of the day like a sundial, as the carp make the most of the warming rays. The carp in this lake are pressured and disturbed easily, so the secret is to catch one fish and then move ahead of them, so that you are waiting quietly when the warming sunlight reaches your next ambush point, bringing the wary carp to you.
I could go on and on about natural clues to carp location but they are so many and varied and can be so different for each lake or change at different times of the year, that I could fill a book and still not cover the subject.
Watercraft is almost impossible to teach and I’d suggest that exploring it and learning this skill for yourself strikes at the real joy of carp fishing, which is immersion in nature. Good watercraft should be at the heart and soul of angling and it is watercraft that gives us that direct understanding of the natural world around us. In our busy, technology filled lives, that break away to a simple contact with nature is more and more important and for me, that is why I am and always will be, an angler.
My three rules?
- There are no rules.
- Observation is the key but you must use all of your senses. Then question everything. Look for clues and patterns in your surroundings and relate them to your angling.
- Learn to use your senses and past experience to guide you to where the fish are likely to feed and don’t be afraid to follow your instincts. You may find that you can tap into a deeper hunting instinct that I believe is dormant in all of us. It is that instinct that lets us connect with Nature and to become so absorbed by it that it can seem as if a sixth sense leads us to the fish.
The great thing is, that honing your watercraft skills will also help you tune in to the magical natural world that surrounds all of our fisheries, without disturbing it. Even if you blank, that experience of immersion in nature will bring rewards that make any session a joy, whether you catch or not.