Even if some anglers will never admit it, everyone loves catching big fish. There is something special about watching that monster carp roll in front of the net and hoping it will stay on long enough to eventually make it onto your mat. Sometimes they come along when you least expect it, and other times you have to graft like heck to eventually catch the one that you want.
Over the years I have fished a number of target waters chasing the bigger residents, whether they have been 20s, 30s, 40s or even 50s. I’ve been fortunate to have caught some lovely fish along the way, and I have to say there is no greater feeling in carp fishing than seeing a target big fish finally in the net.
Each capture of a biggie has a special meaning because they all come about on different pathways. I have my own views on how to target the bigger fish and this week I’ll discuss a few of these and hopefully give you some pointers on how to track them down.
Effort & reward
When I went after Black Eye from Chad Lakes which at the time was a mid-fifty, I caught it on my second ever trip to the lake. Although I was chuffed to bits to catch it, the elation was nothing like landing the finest carp in Yorkshire (the Nostell Fish) when I spent almost two full seasons in search of it. The effort I put into catching the Nostell Fish was like no other carp I have ever fished for. It was a day-only venue with 20 carp in more than 20 acres of water, and it was 44 miles from my home. When it eventually went into my net at 43lb 6oz I stood staring at it for several minutes, trying to convince myself that it was definitely that fish. The feeling of elation was incredible as I drove home that day, knowing that a significant chapter in my life had finally come to a close.
More than anything the capture of the Nostell Fish made me realise how much effort can go into some of the catches we see in the news pages of the magazines. When we see the likes of Terry Hearn with another target fish in his arms, it is so easy to say “It’s OK for him as he has the time to go and catch it!” but there is much more to a capture than just time. For a start, I believe everyone can make time to go fishing if they really want to. It’s all about time management, something we all have the ability to change.
Outside of this comes the hardest part of the equation, which is effort and this is where most people fall down. Effort is the fundamental key to catching big carp consistently, having the tunnel vision to keep going when there appears to be no end in sight. It is so hard to do because there is no escaping the negatives that come with the passage of time. Even the very successful guys have the negative thoughts and I remember speaking to Darrel Peck just after he’d caught Two-Tone the former British record carp. He applied so much effort to his campaign he said there were times when he believed he was destined to never catch that fish. Those negative demons would put many other anglers off, and it is the perfect example of why Darrel is as highly respected as he is. It is also a fundamental reason why the same people are often regularly seen holding their target fish because they are made of different stock to the majority of everyday anglers.
Of course time does play an important roll in tracking down a target big fish so the more you have available to go fishing the better your chances are. I tend to think that people who have a shortage of time look to other areas of their fishing to try and gain an edge. This is where it gets a bit confusing because it is very easy to get caught up in the technicalities of the carping industry if you are not careful.
There is no such thing as a ‘big carp rig’. If there was, we’d all be using it. The very fact there are so many variations of rigs out there should tell you that understanding this minefield of a topic is mainly about being confident in what you are doing. Other than using a big enough hook to hold well, if anyone tries to tell you that there is a big fish rig in existence, well just leave them to it. In my experience it’s all about being confident in what you’re using and nothing more. If you aren’t, you will faff around too much, forever reeling in and changing something when you would perhaps be far better off leaving the rig in place and sitting patiently.
Big carp are generally older, meaning they will sense danger much more easily than younger less pressure-experienced fish. For this reason, I will try to use a rig that the majority of anglers aren’t. I only use braided hooklinks like Missing Link (stripped of the outer coating) and in a day and age when everyone is chod rig mad, it certainly puts me in the minority which is how I like it. Big fish will have seen it all before. Keeping everything discreet and camouflaged therefore, can only be of an advantage.
As for bait, well I have much deeper views on this to those I have on rigs. I don’t believe there is a bait in existence which will single out the bigger fish from the smaller ones. I do, however, believe there are baits that most definitely give me a better chance of catching the biggies. There are so many examples of great big fish baits, such as The Key, Club Mix, Big Fish Mix, Cell etc. Lots of companies have them and their evolution comes after many years of use and field tests. You only have to look through past issues of Carp-Talk to see the track record of such baits, and a good starting point is when a bait is still on the market after many years of existence. God knows how many big fish have tripped up to the Nashbait Squid variations down the years; it must be thousands of them.
Big fish are usually much older than smaller fish. They will have different taste stimulants, just in the way that humans have. Compare what foods children like to adults, there is a massive difference. Well the same exists in animals and fish which is why you get adult dog and cat foods, cattle feeds for the older breeds etc.
Taste buds change with age, and in fish there are many examples of carp changing food preferences as they get older. It is a well-known fact that the bronchial apertures in carp are much more useful in smaller and younger fish. This results in the older and bigger fish having more difficulties sieving out the zooplankton as easily. The same can be said for the pharyngeal teeth on carp, these are known to wear out with time, especially amongst fish that feed heavily on crayfish and mussels etc. Carp therefore switch food items depending on lots of different factors, such as the time of the year, type of venue, water quality, food availability, etc, etc.
I used to laugh off a lot of the bait theories that were put forwards by the top anglers when I was young. Bait chemistry was so technical a lot of it used to go straight in one ear and out the other. With the passage of time, however, I’ve seen how consistent some baits are with big fish. Ingredients like liver and milk powder, green lipped mussel, yeast and Robin Red, and combinations of them all, have the knack of working time and time again, and when you see it in action it is very difficult to believe there is no connection between bait and big fish.
A couple of years ago on the Mesters syndicate in North Lincolnshire I landed the three A-Team members on Nashbait’s Scopex Squid fairly quickly. Mark Watson was on the same water and within no time he too had two of the A-Team on the bank using the same bait. The two of us hardly touched the other fish in the venue, and the fact Mark went back on there this year and caught one of them again very quickly is a great example of demonstrating such a connection.
When I’ve set my sights on catching a particular fish, one of the first things I will do is to track down its past history. This may sound like a tedious task but there is so much to be gained by finding out past capture records, especially if you are on a limited fishing time.
I fish a lot of short sessions, dashing between the lake, work and home. Although I fish a lot of overnighters, a lot of the venues I have fished in recent years have been much better ‘day waters’. Obviously this has worked against me so finding out the best feeding times for the biggies has been very important. Fortunately I have flexi-hours at Carp-Talk which comes in very handy when I need to stay on for a couple of hours in a morning or get back to the water later in an afternoon.
Most of the big fish I have targeted are very religious in the times that they get caught. Arnie at Manton Old Lake was known for getting caught more often than not between midday and 4pm, and quite often during the middle of the summer. As a result I channelled my fishing between those times, even going to the water just for a few hours around that time. It was much more than coincidence then when I eventually caught the great fish at 3pm on a sunny mid-July afternoon.
I did the same at Woldview when I went after Floppy Tail, ensuring I stayed on the water until 10am as much as possible because that fish was known as an early morning feeder. I eventually caught it just before first light at 5am which again was more than coincidence when trying to understand the patterns of big fish habits. I can give you many other similar examples.
The same can be said about swim choice too. Most big fish aren’t just clockwork with their feeding times, a lot are also very territorial. They have their favourite haunts and feeding spots so uncovering these can only be of benefit. It happens on tiny waters like Emmotland where the big common in Pond 3 is known for coming out from one end of the pond only. This sort of behaviour stretches right the way up to the larger ocean-sized reservoirs of the continent too, as an example The Bulldozer in the 6000 acre Forest of Orient in France used to only get caught from Geradot Bay.
Of course big fish are all different and you may find a dose of good old fashioned luck will help you more than any method or tactic when it comes to tracking them down consistently. Even the luckiest anglers in existence, however, can’t be lucky all of the time. Sometimes they need to rely on the key ingredient of all, which is to keep working at it even when things aren’t going in your favour. Effort is what it’s all about, working the grind stone and walking the walk; something which only a very few are prepared to apply to their big fish hunting time and time again.