Tackling Smaller Lakes

Looking for a new carp fishing challenge? Think small…

Intimate pools. Big carp. Minimal angler pressure. Chuck in a fat bloke and a tree, you’ve got Christmas – right?

Well, maybe not.

In fact, as  I write this, four very capable carp anglers are ‘blanking up a storm’ on my own one-acre pond which – for the record – is home to a substantial head of fish approaching (actually, possibly by now exceeding) 40lbs.

Angling Lines has several similarly ‘diminutive’ French ponds on their books; many of which are available on an exclusive basis to small groups of anglers. And they’re extensively stocked too – with 100s of carp to 50lbs+.

Given this you’d be forgiven for thinking said carp will be climbing up your rods, from the minute you open the Transporter doors.

You’d be wrong.

In reality, small waters can be tougher nuts to crack than big, windswept gravel pits: though the carp in these ponds may have fewer places to hide, they will of necessity wise-up fast. And they are mistresses of their own domain.

On warmer, sunnier days, you may spot the lion’s share of the stock congregating in a quiet corner of the lake – eschewing every bait, rig and presentation (save gelignite) that anglers choose to throw at them.

Then, when the temperature (and pressure) drop, you’d be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t so much as a pasty in the pond – forcing you to draw deep on your watercraft, guile and rig-smarts to buy a bite.

Carp fishing on small, pressured waters can be a challenge. But approach them correctly and the rewards will follow…

The greatest edge I can suggest when targeting smaller venues: a lake exclusive booking – hiring the entire lake, either by yourself or with a small group of likeminded anglers.

This takes one of the key variables – angler pressure – out of the equation; eliminating the need to double-guess what ‘the competition’ is up to and allowing you to focus solely on finding and fooling the fish.

Just a couple of Angling Lines’ more intimate pools which are available for exclusive hire include Bletiere – which is stocked with roughly 150 carp to over 40lb – and Eau De Vie, a spring fed two-acre lake which, being new to the portfolio, is home to a stock of relatively naïve fish approaching an impressive 50lbs.

Leading you, no doubt, to wonder: How hard could it be?

The fact is, though, even the recent stockies in our pond  – all of which are well in excess of 20lbs, with appetites to match – know when they’re being fished for; and appear remarkably adept at picking out and avoiding rigs.

By its very nature, small water fishing is about stealth. There’s no need for big leads or big pits, here; rather, more successful small-water anglers adopt a sneaky-beaky ‘Scope’ style approach: decked out in the drabbest of camo; creeping through the more overgrown, treelined margins; staying low to the skyline, eyes peeled for the tiniest signs of feeding fish.

Since many of these ponds are just a couple of acres – and many even smaller – tracking down the fish is seldom too onerous a task. Finding where they feel confident feeding – and are catchable – however; well that’s an altogether different challenge.

As with any unfamiliar lake, a little research can pay dividends – allowing you to shortcut the learning curve and get catching quicker.

With this in mind, the Angling Lines website contains detailed venue descriptions, lake maps and pics, as well as ‘warts and all’ reviews from previous visitors. And of course the many forums, Facebook and other social media enable you to tap into an extended network of anglers to help to fill any gaps regarding your preferred pond.

Knowing the main characteristics of the lake before you travel can help you formulate a plan of action – and determine the tackle and bait you’ll likely need.

Of course, any and all advice you receive should be taken with a liberal dollop of salt. Carp are contrary creatures, affected by myriad variables – from changing weather conditions to prior angler pressure and the presence of natural food – so you should never kickstart your session based solely on preconceived ideas.

Rather, a thorough recce should always be the first order of business.

Which means donning the polaroids, grabbing a bucket of bait, and having a good look around.

And taking your time.

Sure, you’ll want to get fishing fast – but with a week or more at your disposal it really will pay you to familiarise yourself thoroughly with the challenge at hand.

Getting to know your swim before casting a line can spell the difference between a whacker and a washout.

Approach each swim quietly; stay well back from the edge, watching for boils and bubbles, cloudy or coloured water –  signs that carp have stirred up the bottom in search of food.

This is far more important on smaller ponds, where the fish are constantly on their guard, wary and easily spooked; and may thus feed confidently only in short bursts, and on ‘spots within spots’.

It’s within these micro-locations – holes in the weed, small gravel patches amid the silt, and so on – that you should place your bait.

And like it or loathe it, finding these areas, with minimal disturbance, is best achieved with a Deeper or Smartcast, as you can be sure: ‘leading around’ will have the carp running (well, swimming) for cover.

Islands, overhangs and plateaus are always worth targeting.

If the lake bed is relatively featureless, the slightest variation in the substrate can mean the difference between a bite and a blank: so ‘there or thereabouts’ just won’t cut it…

That said, the biggest and most obvious feature on any lake is the margin where, fish can often be nicked out of the edge as they go about their daily routine – either picking up discarded baits or following their natural patrol routes.

There are few more exciting styles of fishing than watching your quarry hoover up your free offerings at your feet. So during the days – and maybe nights too – consider leaving the bulk of your kit in the bivvy (or gite) and setting out with your staking gear.

Seek out the most awkward, unfished and unfancied areas, which are invariably overlooked by more ‘sedentary’ anglers; lowering baits into nooks and crannies – anywhere you can safely land a fish.

Scatter a few pellets, particles and crumbed boilies in likely areas close to snags, between bushes, alongside reed beds, pads, weed rafts and the like.

Bait a handful of spots; then  return to them in rotation, looking for signs of carpy activity.

Once you have carp feeding confidently in an area, you’re ready to lower a rig. But what rig?

Well, to my mind, the watchwords are efficient, unobtrusive, and strong; capable of withstanding screaming initial runs, and enabling you to bully fish away from snags if necessary.

My preference: going ‘full Crabtree’ – either freelining a trimmed-down boilie; or float-fishing a worm or a couple of grains of corn; techniques which can account for cagier fish that may spook off more conventional – and thus familiar – line angles and lead set-ups.

Whichever approach you adopt, stealth is the order of the day; so stay well back from the water’s edge; or, if possible, walk your rod back along the margin, out of sight of the feeding fish.

On more intimate venues, you’ll often be fishing just over the nearside reed stems; so bankside noise must be kept to a minimum.

This might sound fairly obvious. But if I had a fiver for every time I’ve seen anglers crashing along the banks, hammering in bank sticks and bivvy pegs, shouting to mates, and so on, well: I’d have paid off my mortgage several years sooner.

This kind of disturbance can result in every carp within 100 yards – and in these smaller pools, almost ALL the carp may be within 100 yards! – hightailing it to the opposite bank.

The early evening is a great time to nick a bonus biggie (or two) by fishing down the edge; leaving the carp to move in on your main baited areas – gaining in confidence whilst your lines are out of the water.

Selective surface fishing can help you pick out the lake’s bigger specimens.

Of course you shouldn’t just concentrate on placing a bait on the deck. Where conditions – and rules – allow, floater fishing is one of the most selective methods there is for picking out the bigger carp; allowing you to literally lower your bait, which may be a freelined piece of bread crust, mixer or whittled-down pop-up, right onto the nose of your target fish.

All well and good; but what of your main  ‘plot’; where should you pitch your tent for at least the first night or maybe two?

Well, assuming you’ve elected to bivvy-up, rather than take advantage of the ‘mod cons’ afforded by a nearby gite, then the usual rules apply: when choosing  a swim, time spent watching and listening is seldom time wasted.

On smaller ponds, however, there’s another technique that can work really well when it comes to fish location – especially when you’ve nothing more concrete to go on – and that’s: fishing for liners.

Using a semi-slack line (so as not to spook wary fish) combined with a light bobbin, cast your rigs to where, instinctively, you think the carp might be. Then, as you start get line bite, lifts on the bobbin, recast a little shorter – the inference being that the fish are located between you and the rig.

If, on the other hand, you don’t receive any indication, try recasting a couple of rod lengths either side.  

Rinse and repeat, till you start getting liners and you’re happy you’re in ‘the zone’.

Then start small – ‘fishing for bites’ using tiny mesh bags, stringers and so forth – only introducing bait as the session progresses and the runs develop.

And moving if they don’t.

Which leads us to the final piece of the puzzle: bait presentation.

Here again, camouflage is key. So once you’ve selected your spot(s),  pin everything down using, ideally, fluorocarbon mainlines, flying back leads, back leads, and either leadcore, fast-sinking leaders or tungsten tubing, as the rules dictate.

Rigs-wise, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel: instead, keep things simple, with proven and dependable presentations that you know work.

Fact is,  carp are carp – be they residing in larger gravel pits or intimate pools; in the UK or on the continent.

So, don’t waste time experimenting with this week’s jingly-jangly wonder rig; provided your hooks are sharp, turn and deliver solid hookholds, stick with the tried and true; and look forward to the kinds of screaming takes and intense battles that keep so many ‘small minded’ carpers coming back to ponds like ours, over and over again.

Steve Calder


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