As Matt banks his first 30lb river carp, here are some ideas and tips on how to catch carp in rivers
It’s late May and after a week of stormy showers the weather has warmed and stabilised. I’d already planned a carp session on the river this week and was originally heading off to pre-bait a swim in preparation, but as I was doing so I had this niggling feeling that this wasn’t the right plan. With bait throwing stick and flask packed, it dawned on me that I was wasting a good opportunity. It was only mid afternoon and with 30 minutes of preparations I could be on my way with enough sustenance to keep body and soul together and enough tackle for a short river carping session.
With the car re-packed, I set off roughly in the right direction although I wasn’t exactly sure where I was headed. I’ve lived in France for three years now and always dreamed of catching a 30lb carp from the river. I spent countless hours driving about and exploring its length that is local enough for me to fish regularly. I caught my first river carp in 2013 and I have learnt plenty along the way on how to catch river carp. So I headed downstream to a sector that I was familiar with hoping to find an unoccupied swim or two.
On arrival at the small car parking area, there was not a soul to be seen which boded well. Barrow ready, I rolled my way towards two swims which I knew well enough. Much to my delight there wasn’t a soul in sight and I busied myself to get a rod out ASAP. Following a few losses last year, this year I’ve decided to be much more conservative with how far out I fish. It’s all very well fishing 2m in front of far marginal cover but at 80 yards range, even with braided mainline, stopping them before disaster struck was not always possible. This year I’ve dropped back to around 5m or more. I’ve also changed to mono with a braided leader rather than the other way round as wind knots when casting where doing my head in and compromising my fishing.
After getting my three rods out I set to with my throwing stick and scattered a 1kg liberally over the three rods. It was time for a brew and some dinner before lying back and taking it all in on the bed chair. I dozed quietly, half awake half asleep for an hour and half before the need for more tea became too strong. Tea! That magical liquid that warms the bones of many a hardened carper and, of course has been known, though only when poured correctly of course, to induce that much longed for take! Two sips in and while nibbling a delicate slice of cake, the buzzer let out a flurry of beeps and the rod arched sharply downwards as the 4.5oz back lead was torn from the bottom.
As I lifted into the carp, I clamped my hand over the spool to put the brakes on and immediately felt that incredible surge of power. If you’ve never fished for river carp, nothing prepares you for the unbridled ferocity of a freshly hooked one. A few more clicks of the clutch enabled me to lean in to the fish and assess which direction it was heading. To my horror it was kiting hard right across the flow and as every second passed was getting closer to the near side margin. I’ve lost a couple of carp in the near side margin thanks to a multitude of branches and snags.
Walking left to avoid an overhanging willow, I leant into the fish as hard as I dared but was powerless to affect its course. I only had a few seconds to act to avoid disaster so I walked quickly towards a rowing boat that was moored at the base of the trunk of a large willow. The boat was tied tightly to the right hand side of the tree which meant that I had to descend the bank, pass the rod round the tree trunk and step into the boat in one do-or-die move. I’d tried the move on a previous occasion and knew it was possible but tricky. As my weight transferred to the boat it slipped away from me into one of those inevitable slides that means without intervention getting wet was a given. At that moment the chain tightened and halted the slide. Confident that I had a solid footing I passed the rod butt over to my right hand. Ducking the rod through the willow fronds, I manoeuvred myself along the boat, crouching low to avoid tangles.
Once settled at the stern I re-gained full contact with the carp which to my delight was still happy to pull back as hard, if not harder, than me. The boat was moored nose to the bank and placed me at least 4m further out and shortened the amount of line that was exposed to potential disaster. This was good news as the carp was still determined to end this game in the near side snags. Tired from its initial surge and with the rod tight to the water’s surface I pumped and wound it steadily towards me and got the first glimpse of a heavily scaled bronzed flank.
All seemed to be going my way but of course in the panic of my do-or-die move I’d elected not to worry about the net which was just out of reach on the bank behind me. I flicked the clutch open to pay line if necessary and carefully made my way back across the boat and up the bank to retrieve the net. In the mêlée, I let the line go limp momentarily as I fumbled my way back into the boat dragging the net behind me but one turn of the reel reassured me that the game was very much still on. At this point I thought it was game over for the carp. I had the net and the carp was directly in front of me, surely after such powerful runs she would admit defeat and slide over the cord? I turned out to be very wrong on this score. As I started to show her who was boss she ploughed strongly off again into the flow. The braided leader made a horrendous noise as it was ripped through the rings from the tight clutch, cursing my over confidence I flicked the clutch open a couple of clicks to ease the strain and calm my nerves. After each surge I regained the ground lost only to be knocked off balance again as the carp dived first left and then right. I looked nervously over at my other 2 rods hoping to god that one of them didn’t surge off as, with not a soul in sight, help would not be forthcoming no matter how loudly I screamed! I knew that patience was the name of the game, patience and a little luck. All I had to do was keep my cool, play the carp out and net her when she was ready.
With the first gulp of air, I knew the finish line was in sight. It was clearly a good fish as when I drew her over the cord and her nose touched the spreader block, the wrist of the tail still hung over the cord of the 42” net. Lifting the net, I carefully folded her in and dragged the net closer to the boat. Following the line down I unclipped the hook link and wound in the slack on the rod as there was no way I could transfer the carp and the rod from the boat, up the bank safely. With the net secured, I made haste with preparations for weighing and photographing my prize. Back in the boat, further evidence was provided of her weight as I rolled down the net and carried her over the boat and up the bank. At the top, it was just a few yards to the mat and I set her down greatly relieved.
One of the great moments in carp fishing are the first glimpses you get as you peel open the net to reveal your prize. Only when the net has been removed can the real size and beauty be appreciated. In common with a number of the river carp I have caught, there is a slight grey tinge to the features. I see this as a sign of dignity (nothing wrong with a few grey hairs you know!). On the scales, she weighed 30lbs on the nose; a fine weight reflecting the solidity of her frame and the power of her muscles. I found her to be in excellent health and condition with hardly a scale out of place and no obvious sign of a previous capture. Laid before me was a truly wild carp, free to roam as far and wide as the river system that she inhabits will allow. This formidable combatant had lost today despite her very best efforts but was rewarded with the due care and attention deserved of such a worthy adversary. After a dab of antiseptic, a short video and a couple of self takes, it was time to slip her back. Although well behaved on the mat, she didn’t need asking twice and powered off strongly back to her home, the River Mayenne.
Here’s the video of that magical session: