When I first started fishing 30 years ago, the river was all I knew. I grew up near Tewkesbury where the rivers Avon and the Severn meet and was out fishing for roach and bream aged 11 for hours on end.
The closed season seemed to last forever and the sense of anticipation until the glorious 16th was upon us was tremendous. At 13, I discovered still water angling and caught my first carp. One taste and I was hooked and with this new found pot of fishing gold I spent more and more time on lakes than I did rivers.
Fast forward to present day and I’m back fishing the rivers, but this time it’s for carp! In fact I’m on the river Mayenne in France as I write this piece, a river similar to The Thames, and the sense of anticipation is phenomenal! I’ve been dabbling with river carping for 18 months now and this year I made the decision to really go for it properly. I’ve learnt a lot along the way and it was a magic moment when I landed my first river carp of 24lb 12oz a few weeks ago. Catching a carp of this size from a river is a thrilling experience and one I’d like to repeat today if possible!
I’m no river carping pro but I’m a quick learner and have met a number of river carp veterans along the way. By combining their experience with my own abilities, I’m experiencing the sweet taste of success that is River Carping.
With the glorious 16th finally here, now is the time to really go for it! Here’s a quick road map of how to begin the journey:
1) Locate a nearby river that contains carp. The closer the better as you’ll be travelling there frequently to pre-bait. Use the Internet and talk to as many people as you can in your search. Even passersby and dog walkers can provide valuable insights into the carp fishing prospects along each river stretch.
2) Choose a swim. Safety for yourself and the fish is paramount. River carp fight very hard and you’ll need space to work. High steep banks should be avoided. You’ll need to be able to get down to within at least 2ft of the water to safely return a carp. A 10m wide swim is great and the less branches or snags stick out into the water on either side the better.
3) Marker floats are entirely useless so the only option is to cast about to gauge depths and bottom type. I use the line clip a lot and feel the lead down. Depth can be gauged by counting the time for a particular size and shape of lead to fall through the water. If you’re not familiar with the technique use a marker float on a still water and cast to it. It’s then possible to correlate drop time to the actual depth as given by the marker.
4) Marginal snags and deeper holes are definitely number one on the hit list. Find these and your prospects should soar.
5) Use a lead to drag the entire width of the water in front of you. If you find a mid-water snag, move on. Once you’ve gained more experience, targeting such a swim maybe possible but until then choose somewhere else.
6) Choose three spots to fish to. You want to fish your rods in a fan pattern but if you go too wide you may well lose the carp in the near margin. I’ve seen this happen to others and without a boat, failure is imminent! It’s a sick feeling watching someone pull for a break with a snagged carp.
7) Right gear for the job. Big pit reels and powerful rods of at least 3lb TC are essential. Mainline is the next biggie. I’ve chosen to spool up with 50lb power pro for the Mayenne.
Every river is different as is every stretch of it. Using braided mainline is not for the inexperienced or the faint hearted!
After suffering multiple cut offs, this was recommended to me by a veteran of the French river system, Tony Davis Patrick.
Following a few sessions with this, I’ve since added a mono leader of 0.45 Teklon Gold. This stuff is incredible and is being used by sea anglers and catfish anglers. At 0.45 it’s rated at 50lbs! Abrasion resistance is the best I’ve seen and it will withstand being dragged aggressively back and forth over the edge of a set of braid blades many times! It’s also relatively supple and has low memory. It’s still early days but its looks man enough to me! I’ve added the leader for a number of reasons:
additional abrasion resistance
to add a small amount of elasticity which makes hitting the clip and landing it tangle free on the lake bed easier. It also makes playing the fish slightly less terrifying!
the leader is also kinder to the carp’s flanks and fins during the fight.
8) Terminal tackle. I’m a massive fan of inline lead setups and use a tricked up version when I’m fishing a lake. It’s totally useless on the river though! I’m still in the development stages of my ultimate river rig. These are some of the rig design challenges I’m faced with:
Lead choice – On average the Mayenne is 70 yards across, with slow to moderate flow. 4 oz gripper leads haven’t let me down yet (unless the river is steaming through which makes it un-fishable anyway).
Back leads – You’ll need to use captive back leads. Forget every other style you’ve ever used unless you fancy losing plenty of them! I bought some 4oz Fox ones which I’ve modified to be 2oz (the engineer in me isn’t entirely dead!). They take some getting used to and can be tricky to set. You may need to mount them further on a separate bank stick or lengthen the cord depending on the exact geometry of your chosen swim.
Lead clips – Accurate casting to far marginal snags is a top tactic but the risk of losing gear is high. I’ve found the Avid flat lead clips are remarkable bits of kit. Following multiple casts into branches, they released the lead and I was able to retrieve the rig, leader and line. The clips are flexible enough to withstand being opened out and are ready for action without issue. They are also the most reliable lead dumpers I’ve ever used which is essential to increase the chance of landing each one you hook! All lead clips are different and only personal experience will tell if yours are up to the job.
Hooklinks – I love supple braid and use Kryston super nova in 25lb exclusively in my standard carp rig. It’s also useless on the Mayenne as it tangles too easily! I’ve experimented with coated braids in 35lb but I’m still not happy with the anti tangle properties. This session I’ve got two rods out on stiff hinged rigs but until I source some cork balls to make some 22mm pop ups, I won’t be trying them again as I’ve had a hook pull. My third rod is rigged with a 5″ stiff rig made with Ace’s Riga-Mortis in 0.45. I’ve D-rigged a hand rolled 28mm bottom bait to this. Having high memory enables me to set the exit angle of the link perfectly each cast. I get this right by using the palm test. Coupled with a hand sharpened hook, the rig flips and grabs virtually instantly. I like a rig that grabs as far back as possible as the chance of a hook pull is greatly reduced.
Hooks – Confidence with hooks is essential. I’ve probably tried most of them over the years but have stuck with the size 4 wide gape X recently. They’re not very sharp straight out of the pack but by reworking the point with a file, hone and eye glass, perfection is guaranteed. You’ll get pickups when others can’t and they don’t drop off…. ever (currently my hook to land ratio exceeds 98%, that’s 2 hook pulls for 120 carp over three years that I’ve been doing it!). One thing I have noticed though is that point damage on the rock hard bed of the Mayenne is an issue. Rather than sharpening to my usual super fine needle point, a steeper angle makes the point sharp but more robust.
9) Bait – You’ll need big boilies and lots of them! My 22mm home rolled Blue Oyster baits are just the job.
Bream can be a big problem and a single 22mm bait is not big enough!
Try doubling them up or make up some hand rolled 28mm plus donkey chokers!
Pellets and particles can be used to spread the cost but should be used with caution, you’ll be inviting everything to the party!
10) Bait application methods. A boat is ideal but this is not something that you need to begin with. Bait boats are an option but it’s a seriously risky business.
Risk can be limited by using a 50lb braid safety line attached to a spod rod. I’ve used the technique with a friend but it’s not something I’ll be doing frequently!
I’ve tried spombing but I’ve never been a fan of individual groups of bait. There is also the risk of losing your spomb in a tree! If you’ve not mastered a throwing stick, now is the time to learn. You’ll need the right length for the distance required and the right diameter. I’ve found a 24mm stick puts 22mm out more accurately than a 22mm stick and the chance of imparting side spin as the baits fly through the tube is reduced.
There are lots of different designs of curve and some will suit you better than others. Try before you buy and go for a balance between lightness and ruggedness. You need to be able to stick out 1-2kg easily at the range required.
11) Pre-baiting. If you’re not prepared to pre-bait with at least a couple of kilos of boilies the day before, you’re wasting your time. Regular baiting over multiple days is the best method. Teaming up with a mate and targeting a couple of swims between you is a good plan.
If you choose to embark on the river carping journey I wish you all the best and hope you fall in love with it as I have done.
While writing this piece, I’ve banked another lean mean fighting machine in the form of a 20lb common. It fell to the stiff rigged 28mm Blue Oyster presented 2m to the right of a far margin tree. Happy days!