Saturday 27 December 2014

Braxted Reservoir 'Shallow Water Success'

It had been a while since I last paid Braxted reservoir a visit and now with the weather starting to cool down, a session in the shallows was definitely on the cards. This was a zone of the water that I was yet to explore and during my previous trips I'd witnessed a lot of fish activity showing up that end of the lake. The weather was very different compared to my last reservoir session. Gone was the burning sun and empty skies, I was now met with over cast clouds looming down upon me and the sun was pretty much obscured, it felt like Autumn was well and truly taking hold, it was only just T-shirt weather, these conditions usually make for really good fishing. 

The carp are starting to sense the change and the autumn/winter feeding spell was no doubt imminent. As anglers, it's our time to maximise on what nature does to our quarry. Some of my best fishing memories have been from Autumn onwards, the bank side slowly becomes less vibrant and I know that when the temperatures start to really drop, the waters will be near deserted and more times than not I'll have the lakes to myself. This creates the prime environment to really get stuck into how I want to approach the waters.

A big part of angling for me is escapism, there aren't many situations in life where you can feel like the only person alive. When the frosts hit and the days grow shorter, the waters take on a very different form. Fishing in the pitch black at 5:00pm is nothing short of exhilarating, it's just you, the lake and the yearning for your bite alarms to sound. Sometimes in the distance you can hear the cars from the surrounding motorways hum, the rest of the world is racing around whilst you sit there quietly in the dark with visions of big carp floating around your mind. It's as if the world, if only for a short time has become a bearable place to exist.  

The day I arrived at the Reservoir there were a lot of people on the first section of the water so the pressure was concentrated towards the dam wall and the centre of the lake. This was perfect because no one was up the shallow end and I started to get a sense that a fair few carp could be hiding away from the pressure. The fish aren't stupid and they do have a very acute sense regarding angling activity. I have mentioned it before but I don't think carp are as spooked as much by something visual as they are from something audible. The noise from the bank side is the ultimate fish repellent, hammering of bivvy pegs being the biggest culprit. I find that you can use other peoples inability to be quiet to your advantage.

Sunset On The Reservoir
Before I set any of my tackle up I sat very quietly and watched the water. I could see patches of fizzing and there was the odd carp topping over in the opposite corner, if I played my cards right I could be in for a quick result. Casting to showing fish has put me in good stead as of late, it doesn't work on all waters but I had a feeling it might just work here, the Reservoir has an awesome head of fish so there's an awful lot of competition going on below the surface.

As I watched closer I could see silt had been kicked up where fish had obviously been feeding. My location was spot on, the bottom of the res is fairly uniform, along the dam wall you have a nice silt bed about two rod lengths wide, then it drops down on to the hard clay, towards the middle of the lake it's pretty solid with clay and gravel mixed in to one another. From everything I was witnessing it was pretty clear that there was a load of silt out in front of me. This made perfect sense considering the shallows are surrounded by tall over hanging trees, through the years the leaves drop and ferment on the bottom of the lake bed. 

Regarding my presentation, I was going to stick to bottom baits, one rod was going to be fished over a large bed of Garlic Sausage and Bloodworm & Tuna combined, the other, a small bag of 4 Raspberry Ripple boilies, including the hook bait, 5 baits in total will be fishing. Applying two presentations will allow me to gauge what's working the best, large beds of bait have worked really well in the past but I was interested to see how a 'mouthful' offering was going to work, especially because the weather was now cooling down, I needed to start to adjust accordingly.

My lead system was slightly different this time around, I was using a 3oz flat pear inline. These are leads that I got 'Carpy Chris' to knock me up, they're reminiscent of the old coffin leads that were popular back in the 80's. Despite their shape they actually cast really well and enter the water with a tidy little clipping noise. In the images below you'll see how I set it up. 

Setting Up The Flat Pear

Step One
Step Two

The lead system is now semi-fixed, you attach your tail rubber and tubing to the back end of the lead, then you're ready to go. I have had great success with this tidy little setup and I find most takes are real 'one toners'. The carp really hits the full weight of the lead on the take. Paired up with this I use my ever faithful 'trigga-link combi' hook length, the trigga-link works so well with heavier leads. The complete rig isn't really complicated it just has a few subtle little components that make it different to the standard bottom bait bolt rig and I believe they all aid positive hook holds, which in turn leads to more fish in the net.

Trigga-Link Combi Rig
I was very conscience of the fact that there were still carp feeding out in front of me, the baiting up hadn't spooked them, if anything, they were already feeding on what I'd put out. I knew I had to get both rods out first cast. My right rod was loaded with my mesh bag and cast over to the back corner where I saw carp showing. My left rod was cast into the middle of my baited area. On landing, I noticed a few vortex's show, so I'd spooked a few. I had a feeling it wouldn't be too long before they returned.

View From The Swim
Both rods were spot on, back leads where placed and bobbins tight, I sat back in anticipation, I knew I was going to get some action. It took about thirty minutes before I saw evidence of fish back in the swim and it looked like they were on the feed, big time. My left rod was the first one to go, this was from my baited area, as the carp sucked the bait in and bolted I saw loads of fish bolt away, it appeared a lot had moved into have a feed. It was a spirited fight and I was soon looking at a lovely mid double common in my net. 

Mid Double Common Off My Baited Zone
Once she was back I loaded the swim right up with bait again and got the rig smack bang in the middle of the loose feed. I had a feeling that this spot would be slow going, as the fish move in and the bait is picked up, the take would no doubt spook the whole area and it would obviously take time for the carp to make their way back. If I kept my baiting consistent I saw no reason why it wouldn't keep producing.

Forty five minutes passed and I was getting a few knocks on my right rod, the bait had been sitting unassuming over in the quiet back corner. When I looked closer I could see some minor eruptions going on very close to my spot. Without a doubt, there was something digging around, surly it had to find my bait. Within minutes of this thought the rod looped round and shot off like a bullet train. I scrambled, grabbed and lent back, the rod arced round and I was in to what felt like a very heavy fish. 

The fight was intense and after a few minutes I really hadn't gained much ground with the situation. I held on for dear life and my heart was in my mouth as the fish shook its head furiously. This is when the 'trigga-link' comes in to play, it cushions all of the sharp movements due to it's 'spring-like' quality. After what felt like a decade, I finally slipped the net under a awesome big common. Scales sunk to 25IB, I was blown away.

25IB Common Caught On 'The Mouthful' Approach 
My mind was slightly blown for a while, the carps proportions and shape were perfect, maybe fishing small bags was now the way to go, the amount of good sized carp I have caught on minimal bait has been slowly climbing over recent sessions. I made up another mess bag with four baits in it and got it back out in the same area. I also added another three handfuls on to my large baited spot. Within minutes of doing this that rod tore into life, again loads of carp bolted from the area, I applied steady pressure and got her in quick, as expected she woke up underneath the rod tip, a minor battle commenced before I managed to net her. Scales fell to 17IB, this was a good demonstration that the baited spot was also working well.

17IB Common On The Garlic Sausage

Again, this was such a clean and perfect looking carp, it's an honour to catch fish like this and 'they deserve our up most respect', as do all the fish we catch, ... including Bream. 

It was the same procedure as before, I loaded the swim right back up with bait, spreading it a little further this time. After this things fell quiet for a while, I expected it, the last fish spooked the whole zone. I had a chance to make a real strong coffee and have a little look about my swim through my binoculars. 

I could see more fish activity over in the back corner, there were a couple of flat spots and some silt being kicked up. Something was having a munch and I really wanted to catch it. It was during this period of the day that it started to cloud over and a bit of a chill was in the air. I had a minute or two when I was getting a few single bleeps periodically off my right rod. It soon roared off, along with a big explosion from the back corner.

As I lent in to the fish, it was racing towards me, most of the fight was underneath the rod tip, it stayed down for along time, as it surfaced I was met with the sight of another good looking common. Soon she was resting on her side and I gently slipped the net under her, scales fell to 22IB.

22IB On The Raspberry Ripple
I found it interesting that the better fish had both come off the small bag presentation. I didn't know if this was just coincidence but it started to make me think even more about my bait application. Sometimes I think it's just too dam obvious to turn up to the water and fill it in with a shed load of bait. The occasions that I do this, there's part of me that feels like I'm 'not really fishing', I think there's a lot more art involved in finding interesting little spots and placing a bag or a single on them. 

The rig went straight back out, again on the same spot, I didn't introduce anymore bait over my other rod. Time was ticking by and the session was coming to an end, there was enough bait out to possibly entice one more bite. The signs of feeding subsided and it generally started to feel like a ghost town, I felt a lot of the carp had moved off. I still held on to hope and as I was in the process of getting my tackle together for pack down, out the blue, my left rod arced round and my ATT let off an almighty YELP!!, once again I was in to another had fighting fish, it put up a real battle which had me using a hell of a lot of side strain to steer it away from the marginal snags. Ironically she literally jumped into my landing net. Scales sank to 16IB, it was a lovely proportioned fish, yet again.

A Common To Close The Day
What an awesome fish to end the day with, it had been another successful session on the Reservoir and the shallows were certainly worth paying a visit. I am not sure how productive they'd be once the frost sets in, but it's an area of the water that I will be considering, especially when the majority of the angling pressure is towards the dam wall. 

Again, Little Is More

Once again it's left me with a few question marks regarding bait application. Reviewing the sessions I've had over the recent months, all the better fish seem to be coming off a small amount of bait, sometimes singles. This really interests me and I am thinking that the 'minimal' bait approach is something that I will explore further. As we know, different waters respond differently when it comes to bait presentation and flavour etc. There's still part of me that thinks one bait in the right place is still more effective than 5 kilos in an area that's rarely visited by feeding fish. I never feel like I'm fishing to my full potential when I pile the feed in, I feel like I am relying on my bait to do all the work for me, instead of using watercraft and careful consideration of placement.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Braxted Front Lake 'Singled Out'

Since my first capture from Braxted front lake I'd managed to fit a few more sessions in which all resulted in blanks. I found that I'd fallen into a bad 'fishing mode', I have written about 'modes' before. Basically it's a term I use when I feel like I'm stuck on auto-pilot or just going through the motions, what I mean by this is, I am turning up to all the waters, picking a spot, casting to it and then chucking some bait over the top, sitting back and waiting. There are times when my thought process brushes over the specifics, it was pretty obvious that the way I was approaching the front lake just wasn't making the grade. I had to take a step back and refocus on exactly what I needed to do.

I started to think about my bait application, I felt like this was where I was going wrong, I was using far too much. I started to feel like the fish I managed to have out was more luck than judgement. I had to put the 'less is more' approach in to practice, it worked for me on Boreham Mere, I saw no reason why it wouldn't work here as well. Instead of piling it in I felt I needed to spend more time on finding my spots and scaling right down to singles or stringers.

In regards to the make up of the bottom of the lake, I have mentioned it before in my first Braxted front lake blog, it's clear with no weed, apart from the marginal features there aren't any visual targets. I've had a lead around, on the right hand side it shelves right down to 10ft about a rod length out. On the left hand side it seems to gradually drop to 10ft with a least three shelves that step down progressively. The end nearest the carp park was the zone that I was interested in, taking in to account that when I arrived the wind was gently blowing down to this part of the water.

Car Park Swim
The tree line in this swim looked very tempting but I had a feeling it probably sees a lot bait, I decided I was going to fish slightly off from the overhanging branches, about one and a half rod lenghts. Like my previous sessions, I stuck with my semi fixed bottom bait rigs, I opted for the imitation weed leads to help make everything look as inconspicuous as possible. I chose 2.5oz inlines, because of the material that's used to make the imitation weed, the leads were perfect for soaking in some flavouring. Because my plan was to fish singles, I glugged both leads heavily. Doing this follows the "maximum attraction with very few solid food items" theory, I carry this approach on through the winter. The bait I'd chosen for this session was Raspberry Ripple, this is a milk protein blend and its proved to be a very effect boilie, its produced everywhere that I've taken it.

Inline Weed Leads 2.5oz

Once I'd set all my tackle up I put a coffee on, I didn't feel the need to cast out straight away, I took time to watch the water, by this point the wind that was pushing down my way was nice and warm, a lovely scum line was starting to develop and it looked spot on for a bite. After some focused observation I managed to spot a carp top right over in the corner opposite me and it looked like a good fish, 10 minutes later it showed again slightly closer to the tree line. I wasted no time and cast a single as close to the trees as I could get it, a meter or so down from where it topped. Literally minutes later the rod was off like a shot, the observation paid off straight away. The fight was spirited and the fish had me holding on for dear life, as she surfaced I could see it was a lump, getting her in the net was a pretty smooth transaction, scales fell to 23IB.

23IB Common, Gave Herself Away
Once again this goes to show the importance of observation, if I hadn't have clocked her showing I doubt I would of caught her. It happened so poetically, two shows, one cast, one fish on the bank. I was very pleased with the quick result, I put the rod back out and made the first cast on my left hand one, just a few rod lengths in front of me.

View From The Swim
Rig-wise - one point that I would like to bring up is the everlasting debate of "Closing The Gap". This term seems to have found a place in rig discussion over recent years, now I am not sure why this is, I think it's just an extension of the circus that is 'modern day carp angling'.For those of you that are not familiar with the "Closing The Gap" argument, it's basically all based around the heat-shrink tubing that you can add to your rig to help create an aggressive angle on the hook. "Please see picture below" 

Aggressive Silicone Kicker

You'll notice in the picture above that I have an aggressive silicone kicker coming off the eye of the hook. People would class this as 'closing the gape', I look at it as extending it, I go from the point of the hook up to the end of the silicone. In theory when the carp picks the bait up the kicker will aid the hook in to turning in an aggressive nature, upping the chances of getting a solid hold in the bottom lip. Now, I know there will be a lot of people reading this thinking 'that I'm talking crap', and that might be so, but every fish I catch using a bottom bait rig has a big silicone kicker on it and more times than not I have to use forceps to get the hook out. Either way, it works very well for me and I'm confident in continuing to use it.

Back to the fishing..... 

With both rods now cleanly in position it gave me a chance to sit back and soak up the surroundings, there wasn't anyone else on the water. The Braxted complex as a whole has a great atmosphere about it, the front lake is very much an unknown element and since spending time on it I really haven't come across many other carp anglers, usually I am sharing the water with pleasure fisherman, which makes a nice change. 

I've heard a fair few carpers tell me that they get bothered a lot by the bream and tench that live in front lake, so that puts them off fishing it, I can understand that especially if they're spodding pellet and particle. I think if I continue with the 'single bait approach', the carp will beat both the tench and bream to it. In waters with mixed species, I find myself steering away from everything other than boilies. When you know the water only holds carp, then ground baits and pellets come in to the equation.

The Water Will Tell You Everything If You Listen
The day was passing by at a relatively slow pace, there weren't any signs of fish down my end, but that doesn't mean they're not lurking. I quietly sat by my rods staring into the depths, it must have been about 6:30pm when my left rod started twitching, it soon developed in to a full blown run, a stream of bubbles came from the spot the rig had been placed on. I lifted in to the fish which seemed to be trying really hard to get under the trees too the left of me. Applying side strain I kept it away, under the rod tip an immense fight resumed, I could see that it was another good looking common. It took along time to tire, eventually she was in the net, 23IB 5oz, what a result.

23IB 5oz Of Pure Perfection
Two 20IB carp in a session as opposed to zero, which was my tally on my last few trips. It really goes to show that rethinking your approach can make a huge difference. It also goes to show that no two waters fish the same and fishing each one in the same way as the other, can not only effect your results but can also turn you in to a one dimensional angler. You don't learn anything if you're not willing to experiment and change in accordance with the angling situation that stands before you. It's all about learning and putting what you've learnt in to practice, it's like that with everything in life, the more understanding you have in what you do, the more of a human you become. I am looking forward to spending more time on the front lake. Below is a 17IB common I had adopting the same tactics on a short afternoon session a few days later.

Caught On A Single

Saturday 6 December 2014

Carping In The Winter 'Still Life'

I still have a few sessions to write up before my late autumn blogs start to appear but with the first signs of winter slowly showing I would like to share with you my thoughts and feelings about how I approach my angling once the cold weather has set in. I know that come the first frost a lot of people hang their carp rods up and they're eventually dusted off again once spring has arrived. My carp rods are never hung up, I will continue to fish all through the year, the only thing that stops me is thick ice, having said that, there's been a few occasions where I have cracked the ice to be able to fish and managed to have a few.

I believe that carp do continue to feed how ever cold it gets, maybe not every fish in the lake but a few will still be on the look out for a bit of grub. I also believe the time that they feed for is condensed right down, it could be for half hour, or maybe just ten minutes. That is why location is so important, I want my bait to be where the fish are so if they do switch on I am giving myself the best chance of landing one.

"I am a very firm believer that in life you have to be able to deal with failure before you're able to deal with success. Learning to live with little money gives you the foresight on how to handle money when/if it's in abundance. One other example that I am very familiar with is on the drums, you have to be able to play everything slow before you can play it fast correctly"

Now move all the examples in the above paragraph over to your angling.

To understand fully how carp feed in the summer you must have a solid experience of how they tend to feed in the winter. To keep those 'productive sessions' during the summer months in perspective, you've got to be able to deal with the empty sessions that barely even produce a liner, when you feel that every fish in all the waters have been magically transported to a secret world where we 'the angler' has no access to, and the idea of you bite alarm sounding is almost a lost memory. 

Sitting in a swim surrounded by the beauty of a world in bloom is so much more appreciated when you've seen it bleak with leafless trees and the so many tired worn out greys. It's as if the life that once inhabited the banks has flat-lined, with not so much as a faint pulse as evidence of it ever being alive. I call this time 'the dead season' and for me it's so very important to experience it in its beauty. It can be hard and soul destroying at times but it's all part of the angling process.

Still Life
I have mentioned it in the past a few times but angling to me isn't just about catching fish, it's the connections that we make, not only with ourselves but with all that surrounds us whilst we spend our hours by the water. I yearn for clarity, after spending years dulling reality with excessive alcohol I now find myself trying to make up for all the time that I'd lost being in the haze of a hang over. 

Come the end of Autumn when the weather is teetering on the edge of the first heavy frost, being by your rods, sitting in silence can produce a strange panoramic sensation. It's the prime opportunity to become part of everything around you, the colours seem richer, the detailing more dense, it's as if we are caught in a 'still life' photograph that only us, 'the angler' has the pleasure of witnessing. Maybe if we are lucky a lovely carp, now draped in its winter colours might just include itself within our picture, but how do we go about catching them when everything around us is in hibernation?

Scaling Down The Tackle

As we know, the colder the waters get, the carp become less active, their metabolism slows down meaning they don't feel the need to feed as much. It's taken me many fruitless winters to fine tune how I approach catching them when they're not up for feeding a great deal. Firstly, the less active the fish become, the more active I have to be, I scale all my gear down to the bare essentials so I can move and stay as mobile as possible. I have major OCD when it comes to my angling and I'll be the first to admit that I love setting my swim up like a home from home, everything tidy, lined up and organised. 

Staying Mobile

My winter fishing is the complete opposite, everything stays on the barrow and I simply set up what is needed. The carp cradle changes to a large padded unhooking mat, the big rods are now traded in for my stalkers, 8.5ft, paired up with my mini bait runners. My buzzers are simply two alarms, two bobbins with no back rest, just a single bank stick to prop them up. My tea making kit, food bag and any other luxury is left at home, anything to make the load lighter. My bait will be a few freezer bags of boilies and some pellet, the amount of bait I use decreases greatly.

The Dead Season 
My baiting strategy is simply fishing for a bite at a time. I want to create as much attraction as possible with no real solid food items for the carp to pick up. I favour pellets with a quick breakdown time, over the top I might fish cut down boilies or reduce the boilie size with a single or double 10mil on the hair.

I'll also introduce ground baits mixed in with the pellet, in theory both the pellets and the ground bait will dissolve and rest upon the bottom of the lake, be it silt, clay or gravel, I believe enough attraction will then be in the water to send signals to the carp, because the only solid food item in the swim is my hook bait, I feel I am doing the best I can to up the odds of getting a bite. I don't believe the 'big hit' approach works very well when temperatures drop, maybe if you are on the water for 24 to 48 hours but I don't night fish, I need to find ways of getting results in limited time. 

Less Is More

For me, moving between spots is vital, dropping a few handfuls of bait along marginal areas and then moving and rotating between them during the session can really pay off. Depending on how much fish activity I am getting, be it liners or little jolts on the tip etc, I will fish on each spot for 45 minutes to an hour. 

During this time, if I see evidence of carp anywhere else on the lake, I will move on to them. Adopting this approach means that you are pretty much on the go all the time and you have to be prepared to stay active. But there's nothing quite like landing a fish knowing full well that you've done everything you could to make it happen. Again, winter sessions aren't about comfort, they're about trying to get amongst the carp.

Winter Skin

Moving around also has its psychological benefits, I remember so many sessions in the past where I've stayed static, perched behind lifeless rods, it always got to a point in the day when you knew that nothing was going to occur, it was a draining experience and I always felt like I could be doing so much more to get a bite. 

With each move comes a huge level of refuelled enthusiasm, if you keep the feed sparsely going in on all your chosen spots then there's a good chance that the odd fish might of moved on to at least one of them whilst you were fishing else where. It's that infinite feeling of 'anything could happen', winter fishing is the prime opportunity to think outside the box. It takes me a few sessions to really get in to the rhythm of staying mobile but it doesn't take long for things to slot in to place, it's all about your mind set.

Target More Than One Swim

In regards to bait, I predominately stick with milk protein base mixes, all fruity type flavors seem to do very well. I still do use some fishmeal based baits but nowhere near as much as I do during the warmer months. Despite popular belief fishmeal baits can work very well in cold conditions and I've had the results in the past to prove this. To give my hook baits that added boost I will preserve them in glug too the point where they expand and soften right up, I steer clear of any oils because they have a tendency to congeal and not perform in the same way that they do when the waters are warm.

Fruity Blends

Regarding rigs, I don't change anything, common belief is that you need to go down a hook size and possibly switch to running rigs. I think the 'running rig' theory tends to come into play because "as the carp are moving slower" they might eject off of a 'semi-fixed' setup. I don't find any need to change, if it works in the summer, it will work in the winter. 

The only aspect I pay a lot of attention to is 'rig concealment', some waters do tend to clear up during prolonged cold periods so I want my end tackle to be as unassuming as possible. Due to the fact now that most of my fishing is under the rod tip, my lead size will go down to 1.5oz. This means if I am lowering a rig on to spots that fish might have moved in to, I want to keep disturbance to a minimum. When I use lighter leads I will fish a tight clutch on the take, doing this should help to drive the hook home.

Subtle Rig Presentations

Along with all the points above I can't stress enough how important observation is. I keep my eyes on the water all the time, I like to position myself where I can see the majority of the lake that I am fishing. Even in freezing conditions the carp can be rather clumsy at giving themselves away, the odd show is worth clocking, but if fish are continuing to show more than once in the same area its worth acting upon and investigating it.

Finally ... use winter to your advantage, get to know your chosen waters better, maybe dedicate a few hours to some marker float work, map spots that you've always liked the look of, suss out the typography of the lake, everything that you learn can be used as ammunition come the following season. Make notes on certain areas of interest, mark the distances to interesting spots that you might find, there's so many things that can be done by the water if you don't actually feel like fishing it.

I think I've pretty much covered the main aspects of my cold water tactics. As we know, we all fish for different reasons, some of us are far more intense than others as to how we go about catching a fish. Be it summer, autumn and winter, we all have our favoured preferences, either way, enjoy it, I know I can sound pretty intense about my angling with the way I write it all up but the remaining constant through it all is the ability to enjoy your time on the bank, what ever the weather and what ever the season. 

Still in two minds about hitting the bank this winter? 
Wrap up warm, get out there, and see what happens, and most of all ...... Enjoy It