Ramblings of a Carp Angler – Carp Sacks and Retainer Slings

Should I contain a carp in a carp sack or retaining sling for photographs? Paul Cooper discusses yet another controversial subject in carp welfare.

Carp sacks have been around for years now and nearly every carp angler had a couple of sacks with him so that a carp could be retained until a decent trophy shot could be taken. Carp were left in sacks for hours on end if caught during the night until first light with the age old excuse of “I am resting the carp before I release it”. It was all about that trophy shot to show off to fellow anglers, nothing to do with the carps welfare.

There was an incident on a 35 acre gravel pit that I used to fish were an angler had sacked a fish overnight and in the morning it had gone. Weeks later when the sack was eventually recovered with one emaciated dead carp, it could be seen that the old frayed cord had in fact broken.

Carp being safely returned to the clear waters of a French lake

Carp being safely returned to the clear waters of a French lake

Since those early days of carp fishing, photography and the awareness of carp welfare have come on leaps and bounds. I rarely see carp sacks being used on any of the waters that I fish, and in any case most waters have enforced bans on them. But what about retaining weigh slings? Are these the modern day carp sacks? I hope not.

Retaining slings now come with floatation buoys along with zips, velcro, a cord supplied and snap in clips to ensure that the carp cannot escape if placed inside one and placed into the water. Very useful if used properly, but they can be abused.

Uses – So what uses have the modern day retaining weigh slings got with regards to fish welfare?

Once a fish has been netted and placed onto a wetted, well padded unhooking mat or cradle, the retaining weigh sling is the next and only item that the fish will be in contact with before it is returned to the water. This should also be well wetted and your scales zeroed to the wetted sling before the carp is gently placed into it.

Here I am holding an exhausted Margot grass carp ready for release.

Here I am holding an exhausted Margot grass carp ready for release

Weighing and returning the fish back to the water is all done with the fish still in the sling so this sling needs to be well maintained. I have seen anglers using slings that are old with the material cracking, causing an uneven and dangerous surface for the carp to lie on. This material is the main contact the carp will have whilst in our care on the bank, so look after it and if necessary throw it away and replace it.

Now we have the question of that trophy shot. I am generally well organised, and always have my tripod, air release system and camera set up in my swim. This means that as soon as I have got over the business of unhooking and weighing the fish, I can get it photographed, treat any wounds and released back to the lake as soon as possible.

Very occasionally a carp can be completely exhausted and rather than sit holding the fish in the margins I will use the retaining sling until I feel that it is fully revived. This usually takes between 1-10 minutes and this is the only time that I will retain a carp, whether it be day or night. Carp get stressed very easily especially when the water temperature rises or they are close to spawning, so returning them quickly is always in the back of my mind.

This carp is ready for its photo in a wet sling on carp mat

This carp is ready for its photo in a wet sling on carp mat

Misuses – Well this one is an easy one to describe!

Not maintaining the retaining carp sling. In other words, once the material loses that soft even feel and becomes crumbly and hard, it needs replacing.

Retaining a carp for longer than necessary is totally unacceptable as you will put it through unnecessary stress. Before even casting a line your work station (that is your swim) should be ready to accept the capture of any fish species and if you intend to take a trophy shot then your camera needs to be set up and ready to go, not hidden away in the bottom of a tackle bag.

When on a session, these days I even carry 2 nets with me so that if I do get 2 runs at the same time, I can retain one carp in the net.

If you do not have the facilities to take self portrait trophy shots, then the fish needs to be retained for the shortest amount of time while you fetch a fellow angler to assist. In my opinion carp should not be sacked or retained for any length of time, just for a photograph because the light or weather is poor. Cameras these days are capable of taking night shots or low light pictures, so there really is no excuse to retain a carp.

Paul Cooper

Treating a wound on the carps back before it is returned to the lake

Treating a wound on the carps back before it is returned to the lake



6 thoughts on “Ramblings of a Carp Angler – Carp Sacks and Retainer Slings

  1. Shaun Harrison says:

    Good sound advice Paul. I haven’t carried sacks for years, in fact if you remember back to 2002 when I caught the record brace from the Mangrove and Rich Seal insisted I kept the big unrecognised mirror for proper inspection in daylight I had to borrow a sack from someone despite having plenty at home. If the same happened to-day I doubt I would have let anyone talk me into retaining a fish for more than the absolute necessary amount of time to get organised.

    Retention slings I think are a marvellous idea but not for keeping fish in for long. In a big wind the fish get knocked about too much and in cold weather the fish really doesn’t want to be up in the upper layers of the water.

    Carp retention to me is something we all used to do but fortunately and hopefully most of us now realise how wrong this is. Not only is it unfair to the fish after it has exhausted itself and given you the pleasure of the capture, but it is also getting all of its energy back and once removed from the water after a lengthy retention they simply kick themselves silly which results in the angler smothering them and removing far too much protective body mucus as well as risking injury to the fish kicking around too much.

    Size of the fish should never come into it. I can show you pictures of 50 lb plus carp that I have photographed in the dark as well as 100 lb plus catfish. Whatever time I catch the fish, then that is the time I photograph them.

    Before leaving this subject I will add that I give the fish a good breather in the landing net when I first land them. It is wrong to remove them from the water when they are totally out of breath. I usually leave them where they are whilst I arrange everything on the bank for weighing and photographing etc. I am also always very careful when releasing fish making sure they are really ready to go before letting them go. I have seen more than one good fish turn over and drift out on the wind before they have been up to swimming off properly. Remember, some of the fish we catch can be very old.

  2. Pat Gillett says:

    I agree with you Paul, there is really no place for carp sacks in today’s carp angling scene. I witnessed a cord snap a few years ago, the angler in question was very lucky has he was wading out to get the sack to take a photo, he manged to grab it before it was to late, otherwise that would have been one dead carp.

    With today’s camera technology you can take excellent photo’s at night, so again no need to retain the fish. Good quality camera’s are no longer ridiculously expensive either. You can pick up very good camera’s off the likes of ebay for as little as £50.

    Cheeers, Pat

  3. Shaun Harrison says:

    Good point that one Pat about Ebay. Jan Porter put me onto Canon G5’s a few years back as a back up camera or as I use it a ‘pocket camera’.

    They are great for self takes with a flip round screen so you can see what you are doing in the screen. I use mine quite a bit on the river when I don’t want to be lugging my bulkier EOS around.

    I have just taken a look and there are several on there for £10 at the moment http://www.ebay.co.uk/ctg/Canon-PowerShot-G5-5-0-MP-Digital-Camera-Black-Kit-w-7-2-28-8mm-Lens-/100217103 These usually end up around the £50. mark but often much cheaper. Very affordable for the quality you get. Anyone who has seen any of my fellow Free Spirit Fishing team member Pete Castles stunning photography work, a lot of it is done on a old G5.

  4. Paul Cooper says:

    Going back a few years I had to search hard to find a decent camera with a flip screen. In fact at one stage the only flip screen that I could get was on video camera’s, so this is what I used. Poorer quality pictures, but I could self take and know that what I saw on the screen is what I got for my photo.
    Now, most manufacturers have good value flip screen camera’s on the market and there is no excuse not to have one for self take trophy shots. Along with an air release system a self portrait is simple and can be operated with a knee or foot as you are kneeling.
    One of the most important points that I did want to get across in this short article was maintaining and replacing weigh slings when necessary. You would be surprised how many good anglers fail to change them when they become tatty and old, but as I said, the surface of of this item is the main one that comes in contact with the body of the carp.

  5. Shaun Harrison says:

    I did see a fish at Grenville – one of the big ones get scratched up by a retainer sling that needed replacing so really does need emphasising as you say Paul. The bigger the fish the more prone to scratching as there is more weight on the sharp bits.

    Just for those who may be new to self photography, here is a video clip I did several years ago http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfN1cNkun44 that shows my simple process. I have photographed carp over 50 lb myself without bothering to fetch someone else to do them. Self takes on the tripod will always be so much sharper than having someone hold the camera.

  6. Shaun Harrison says:

    Here is a question I received on my Quest Baits Blog and follows on from the video clip above on self photography http://www.questbaits.com/blog/self-take-carp-photography/

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