In 2014 I’d concentrated on the carp on Swan Lake on the Bluebell complex in Northamptonshire from July through to the middle of October. With 16 carp to my credit, I’d been happy enough, but had missed out on any of the real big fish and felt that there was unfinished business to be attended to.
This year I started earlier, my first couple of sessions taking place in April, but with nothing to show for my efforts, and I was soon distracted with fishing for (and finally catching) some huge crucian carp ‘down south’. Come June I was back on Swan, but the carp were proving to be tricky, with much less weed about than the previous year and some spells of scorching hot weather they didn’t seem to be adhering to any predicable pattern and trying to find reliable feeding areas was proving difficult. Any multiple carp catches seemed to be almost exclusively to guys willing to use large quantities of maggot; a strategy I’m slightly unsure about in terms of long-term benefit to the carp and one that I don’t like to use outside of the colder months.
To add insult to injury the two carp that I did manage to hook during this period were both lost; one became immediately tangled around a mess of someone’s previously lost rig and line that eventually led to a hook pull, while the second fish, that felt like a proper lump, managed to pick up a large branch during the fight, which ended up sliding down the mainline and bumping the hook out!
To help ease the pain I’d started to have a go for some of the sizeable tench that were often to be seen rolling close in. Dedicating a rod or two to the tench rather than the carp led to some specimen tench over 10lb being landed, but didn’t improve my chances of catching any carp. However it was while watching some tench that looked as if they were gearing up for some spawning activity that led to a fresh opportunity. I could see some big carp following the tench around as they chased each other through the weed growing along the shallow margin shelf, looking as though they were waiting for the tench to start spawning before helping themselves to a feast of their eggs.
A possible carp feeding opportunity was too good to miss, so I moved swim to cover the area and chose to position a bait in a small clear patch, right up close to the weed where the tench and carp were most active. I figured the carp would most likely be tempted by a natural bait if they were focussed on tench spawn, so direct hooked a sizeable snail on a size 6 Twister, taken from a tin of cooked hemp and snails. A section of dendrobaena worm slipped onto the rest of the hook shank to help disguise it. A couple of other rods, with more standard baits were positioned further out, but as evening drew in it was the snail baited rod that I had the most confidence in.
The bite I was expecting on the snail rod occurred during the hours of darkness and after a fierce, close-range scrap, I was drawing a hefty carp over the cord of the landing net just as the first rays of dawn crept over the horizon. The big common weighed in at 42lb and I felt just reward for a bit of lateral thinking.
Over the next few weeks the carp fishing became even trickier if anything, but the weights of the fish seemed to be good, so I assumed that they were stocking up on naturals and tending to avoid some of the more obvious baited areas. One of the things I’d been thinking about was the amount of black, gooey sediment that appeared to be covering a large percentage of the lakebed. I figured that with so much natural food, plus the many patches of bait all over the bottom, the carp could be very fussy about where they chose to feed and would likely choose a nice firm, sweet smelling spot over an area covered in the nasty smelling black “chod”.
The sediment I guessed was a result of so much dead weed from the year before, but the layer tended to be quite thin and difficult to detect via standard marker or lead work. You could land on these areas and still feel a reasonable donk as the lead hit the deck, but you needed a slow, smooth pull back to discover if you had any muck wrapped around the gear before being confident a spot could be classed as clean. I got into the habit of leading about with a relatively light lead and an old hooklink, but leaving it in position a while after each cast to let the line sink, then carefully easing the lead back across the lakebed slowly before retrieving and checking for any muck on the tackle. Most casts resulted in some of the nasty black sediment being retrieved with the end tackle, so I immediately discounted these spots. The only spots I wanted to present a bait on were the ones that appeared sweet and free of stinking detritus.
Being particularly fussy about this aspect of my presentation eventually led to a three carp catch in August, after cramming all three end tackles onto a spot that both felt and looked clean after some careful lead work. They weren’t big carp by Swan Lake standards, with two twenties and a double, but it supported my ideas about the sweet spots, and was encouraging during a period when bites were very hard to come by.
On my next session down to Swan there were plenty of fish in evidence in a particular section of the pit, but chatting to the guys already fishing around the area indicated that getting a bite was proving super difficult. After watching the lake for a while I decided on a swim on the opposite side to where most were already fishing, but with signs of carp in the area. I needed to check the swim for my “sweet spots”, but wanted to keep disturbance to a minimum, so just leaded about with 1.5oz leads to find three super clean areas before swapping the leads for 2oz versions and fresh rigs for casting out the hookbaits.
At this stage I’d been experimenting with a version of the Multi Rig, using Chod Twisters in a size 7 or 8 and a short length of 0.75mm No Spook rig tubing on the hooklength, butted up tight to the eye of the hook and a tiny piece of the same tubing carefully mounted over the hooklink loop and hook shank to hold the loop in the correct position and the hook up against the larger section of rig-tube. The hooklink itself was the green 25lb version of the excellent Combilink material. Once the rig was put together and everything slid into place with a 14mm pop-up tied onto the little rig-ring on the loop, it took on an effective claw-like look to it, with a small section of the hooklink coating stripped off just below the rig-tube and a small shot and some Cling-On tungsten putty placed on the stripped section, just a millimetre or so from the tubing. It reminded me of the old bent hook rig to look at it in the water, but as the loop would slide down the hook shank whenever a fish was hooked, it didn’t have the issue with the double-hooking tendencies of the original version.
The “sweet spots” and rig proved their effectiveness again, as two good looking 27lb-plus mirrors found their way into the landing net within the first 24 hours of the session, the first of the two, a beautifully scaled 27.12 was a fish that had obviously recently spawned and had been placed on my wish list earlier in the year when I’d photographed it for a mate at 32.08.
To help reinforce the idea that the tactics were sound, a session a couple of weeks later provided me with another lovely Swan Lake mid-twenty common and rounded off a challenging, but eventually rewarding summer’s carp fishing.