From an apprentice maggot drowner on the river Avon to the capture of a dream: a wild 30lb carp from the river.
My life as an angler began 37 years ago on the river Avon near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. My dad was no angler but he had an old boat and took me fishing for whatever species was silly enough to pluck at my bait. By the age of eleven, I was fishing with friends and by thirteen, I was catching the highly prized bronze bream. I’d also ventured on the river Severn which seemed massive to me at that age.
I caught my first carp 30 years ago before I knew what carp fishing was!
Fast forward to 2011 when I moved to France to follow my dream of running a fishery. On moving to France, I knew that I really wanted to get to grips with river carp fishing. I’d had a night on the Severn and the Avon but in hindsight these were not exactly serious attempts at catching a river carp, more like fishing in blind hope! The river Mayenne in North West France, where I currently fish the most, is quite similar to the Severn (apart from the lack of tidal influence).
The Mayenne is split into many sections by a series of locks and weirs.
Generally speaking I don’t believe in luck, in life or in fishing.
I do believe that you make your own luck, but sometimes various pieces of fortune drop into your lap all by themselves. French carp anglers are called “carpistes” and they are quite a rare breed. To give you some idea, I’ve been fishing my local river, the Mayenne, for three years. I’ve spent many hours walking and cycling and fishing along its lengths and during this time I’ve met two carpistes that were actually fishing! Through a friend of my wife and another piece of good luck, I met Alexandre, a local carpiste. He, like me, can best be described as a meticulous angler. Wow, this boy can fish and over the last ten years, he’s caught hundreds of river carp up to 37lbs!
Alexandre with a fine 12kg (26.5lbs) mirror carp that he caught recently.
And so began my journey from expat carper with only three words of French to apprentice carpiste that can parler with the locals in my quest for river carp.
The learning curve was steep. In fact, despite the fact that I had Alexandre to guide me, I caught nothing from the river for the first year. In some respects, I had to throw away everything I thought I knew about carp fishing and start again from scratch. I found lots of new problems that I’d never faced before and knew the only way forward was to solve them one at a time.
The first problem was a bit of a shocker.
Alexandre took me out for my first night of river carping and landed a nice brace of mirrors. I remained run less, and wound in to find my rigs tangled. I’d chosen to fish with my standard rig that I’d been using religiously for a few years that had rarely let me down. This simple inline running rig uses 10” of 25lb braid knotless knotted with a two turn kicker.
Couldn’t be simpler right?
Yet, here was this same rig tangled on all three rods. I chewed this over for a number of weeks and concluded that it must be the current or the bream (most likely both) that were causing the issue.
My standard double bottom bait rig is perfect for estate lakes but not a good choice for the river!
There was only one thing for it and that was to develop a dedicated river carp rig.
First, what line to use? There are a vast number of material options now available that are designed to solve the problem of tangled rigs.
► My first thought was to try 6” long stiff rigs made with fluorocarbon. These variants caught me carp but I suffered a number of cut offs. Through Facebook I’d been chatting with river carp veteran Tony Davies-Patrick and found out that he uses the same 50lb braid for his hook links as he does for his mainline.
► Alexandre prefers a 35lb coated style material.
► My current favourite is a 10” hook length made from 45lb heavy braided snag leader but which incorporates a 2nd material to create a soft hair.
I got the idea while fishing with Alexandre.
His version combines the properties of fluorocarbon to create a tangle free main hook link with a soft braid for the hair for better hooking. He uses this version when targeting the large public lakes. To create my version, I simply mount the baits on some soft 15lb braid and knotless knot them to the hook but only leave 2” to poke through the eye. Then I take the 45lb braid and tie a dumhoff knot (whipping knot) over the top of the knotless knot. To finish, I simply cut and blog the tag ends. This creates a super strong hook link with a nice supple hair that enables the rig to flip and turn instantly.
Other early problems on the river were the frequency and size of the boat traffic.
Back leads are an absolute must
Problem was, the 0.75oz back leads I had were hopeless and got washed all over the place. When Alexandre told me he used 4.5oz captive back leads I nearly fell off my stool. Captive back leads aren’t the easiest thing to use amongst the brambles and nettles of the Mayenne but they are now an essential part of my river carping kit.
I’m a massive fan of in line leads for short/medium range. I quickly learnt that in line leads are very bad choices for river carping! The problem is that rivers contain all sorts of hidden nasties such as rocks, trees and branches. In this environment, an in line lead can quickly become irretrievably jammed and leave you pulling for a break and I hate the thought of leaving tackle in any body of water.
So swivel leads it is then, fished on a lead clip setup.
My lead choice for the river is 4.5oz grippa leads. While fishing the river, I discovered an interesting property of lead clips. One day, I was just getting set up and making some test casts towards some far marginal spot when I over cooked a cast and strung it up a tree at 80 yards range. I hadn’t put a rig on yet so I was pretty confident that I could yank it free. Suddenly the line sprang loose and I heard a delicate plop. I wound in the slack and discovered, to my delight, that I’d got everything back apart from the lead. On inspection it was clear that the lead clip leg had opened up and released the trapped lead. What was surprising was that that leg was not permanently bent, deformed or damaged in any way. It had simply deflected under the load and sprang back into shape.
I’m a big fan of lead clips now that I know that with the right one I can get my rig back.
Test the brand you use and if they survive that test then great, if not you might want to try another brand.
Until I moved to France I must admit that the fear of mainline failure was not something that kept me awake at night.
Although my river carping experience has only been in France I’m sure that any decent sized river will potentially be chocked full of underwater nasties so it may well be something you need to consider when tackling up for an English river for carp. I knew that Tony’s choice for most of the venues he targets around France is 50lb braided mainline. I’d never had the need to use braided mainline before but, based on his recommendation, I spooled up with some. The first time I went out with the braid saw me bank my first river carp at just over 24lbs.
As you can see I was one seriously happy man!
Doing battle with my first river carp on braid was a terrifying experience that left me slightly shaken for hours.
The physical sensation you get is accompanied by an audio soundtrack the like of which I’ve never heard; braid is ripped through rod rings and torn from the clutch which such force, it’s like your gear is literally wailing in pain at the abuse!
The age old problem when casting braided line is wind knots.
Somehow, no matter how careful you are or religious about wetting the spool before each cast, if you’ve got a side wind you are going to have problems. I know that Tony uses a boat for a lot of his carping and if I was boating rigs out at range then 50lb braid is definitely the way to go.
This year I’ve dropped the braided mainline and gone for a 10m length of 45lb braided snag leader (the same stuff I use for my hook links). This setup seems to gives me the best of both worlds with the ultimate in abrasion resistance where I need it the most, coupled with the forgiving yet robust nature of top quality 0.40mm mono.
On the hook front: think big, think strong.
No matter whether I’m fishing my own lake for big carp and catfish or the river Mayenne, a beak pointed heavy gauge size 4 hook is all I use nowadays. Alexandre doesn’t mess around either, in fact he normally fishes with size 2 on the Mayenne. Big hooks aren’t very sharp straight out the packet but respond well to hand sharpening. I haven’t fished with a hook straight out the packet for 4 years and would never dream of doing so again.
If you’re serious about catching river carp then you need to get serious on the bait front.
On pressured venues, quality is everything but on the river, it’s quantity and frequency.
I’ve been rolling my own for the last couple of years and in order to make my river carping a little more affordable, I’ve chosen to cut the standard Nutrabaits Blue Oyster mix with 50% 50/50 mix. I’ve kept the level of the UTCS liquid the same. Air dried for 72 hrs, they develop a nice firm crust which makes them less attractive to nuisance species and at 20mm they have sufficient mass to travel the 80 or so yards necessary. As far as bait application goes, it’s hard to beat a throwing stick. Some shapes are quicker to learn to use than others, and learning to use one properly was one of the best things I ever did.
One of the major challenges of river carping is avoiding the attentions of other species.
The Mayenne is stuffed with bream of the 1-2lb variety and the larger ones are quite capable of picking up 20mm baits. I followed Alexandre’s lead on this one. He sticks with a boilie only approach and after seeing what happens when you deviate from this plan, I can definitely confirm it’s the best plan! On the hook bait front, double 20mm bottom baits or a 20mm/15mm snowman presentation is a good choice. I have experimented with hand rolled 30mm baits and they certainly work too but do take that bit of extra effort to make.
My standard baiting strategy is to pre-bait my chosen swim for one or two days before with 2kg of 20mm baits each time. I spread them far and wide, making sure that there are baits that drop into the far side snags and baits that drop well short too. I top up at the start of the session and then again after each take. This tactic has produced up to 5 carp in a session and I mainly fish days.
Obviously one of the biggest hurdles when starting out on the river is where to fish.
Wild carp are very mobile and if you know they are there before you start baiting, so much the better. When I first started out, I’m not sure which was lower, my expectations or my confidence. I had a complete mental block when it came to river carp. I had no idea how many carp there were in the river and I truly believe that if it wasn’t for the guidance and success of Alexandre, I would have given the whole scheme up as a waste of time and money.
It’s like a religious test of faith for carp anglers: they are there but you have to believe they are there with all your heart and fish for them fully expecting to catch!
At the end of the day, it comes down to the same basic carp angling problem: find them, feed them, catch them.
They like to hang out around snags and features and they usually aren’t too coy when it comes to telling you where they are. The trouble is that you have to be in the right place at the right time. In my first year here, I walked and cycled for many miles without the faintest sign of a carp. My top tip on this front is that the magic time before dusk is when you need to go exploring! Some evenings I’ve been witness to a proverbial dolphin show of carp with thirty or more shows occurring in certain areas over an hour or so.
Find carp doing this and find a fishable swim from which to fish and success is virtually guaranteed!
River carping is a massive buzz and I find the whole experience hugely exhilarating.
For me it’s been like starting carp fishing all over again.
If you’re a bit a bit of a geek (like me) it’s carp fishing 2.0 or if recreational drugs are you thing (not like me), think carp fishing on acid! The other week I found myself swimming in my pants after an upper double dived into some near side brambles…
A wild 30lb river carp is the stuff of angling dreams and I was recently lucky enough to lift one for the camera. I’ve made many mistakes along the way and learnt an awful lot. I’ve always been happiest being slightly out of my depth. It’s when I learn the most. I recently devoted the good portion of a week to my river campaign. I fished three afternoon/evening sessions with a day’s break in between to bait up. I ended up with ten carp from less than 20 hrs behind the rods ranging in size from low doubles to a new river cap PB mirror of 29.5lbs.
River carp fishing is not for everyone and like with many things in life there is no substitute for learning on the job. You will have failures and various minor disasters but it’s OK, it’s all part of the process. I fought against the current for some time, but I didn’t start to make real progress until I learnt to go with the flow.