Alan’s Essential Skills
Alan Scotthorne explains why finer tackle can give you the edge at this typically changeable time of year.
Fishing with really strong gear is absolutely fine in the height of summer when the fish are really lively and active. With a lot more competition for bait, the water will be much more coloured, meaning you can get away with stronger hooks, thicker line and stronger tackle in general.
As we move from winter through to spring, however, things are often a lot trickier. You will have some really good sessions when the carp and F1s feed with a vengeance, but there will be just as many days when they are a lot harder to catch. While the water temperature is still low and the clarity quite high, you have to pay particular attention to your rigs and overall setup. Regardless of the bait, you are using – be that pellets, meat, worms, corn or maggots – fishing with a bit of finesse leads to better bait presentation and will undoubtedly bring you more bites.
The Fine Line
Fishing with a relatively fine hooklength is possibly one of the hardest points to get across to a lot of anglers who target carp and F1s. I cannot blame them because when you are hooking fish that could be 5lb or more it probably doesn’t sound right to use line that is of a much lower breaking strain. For instance, I use 0.117mm Supplex or 0.12mm Supplex fluorocarbon a lot at this time of year. These have a breaking strain of only 2.5lb and 2lb respectively, yet I will happily use either of them for fish that could potentially weigh more than twice that amount.
There are a couple of points that can be made here. Firstly, Drennan line is very accurately stated in terms of diameters but the breaking strains are more conservative than some other lines you may see on the tackle-shop shelves. The breaking strains on Supplex are based on achievable average knot strengths. Because you cannot use line without having to tie a knot, this should be the only way to measure its strength. If you tie a good, well-moistened knot then the breaking strain will, in fact, be slightly higher.
Cover your options and sey up a lighter strung-out rigs, as well as heavier bulked rigs.
What you must also realise is that a 5lb carp does not weigh 5lb when it’s actually swimming in the water. As long as there are not many snags to worry about and you tie decent, reliable knots I would be very confident of getting fish in the net with low-breaking-strain hooklengths.
Slim, pencil floats offer little resistance to a talking fish and strike cleanly from the water.
Of course, you have to be sensible when choosing the right strength of hooklength for commercials. I wouldn’t dream of deliberately fishing with 0.075mm (0.9lb) Supplex fluorocarbon just because it is the lightest in the range. However, it is still surprising just how easy it can be to get really big fish in the net on light tackle such as this.
Over the past few years, there has been a massive boom in silver-fish-only matches on commercial fisheries. Carp do not count, so people deliberately fish with very light gear intended for roach and skimmers, matched up with fine-wire hooks and very light pole elastic. I have lost count of the amount of ‘nuisance’ big carp I have seen banked in these events. Unless the fish has been foul hooked it is often quite difficult to get broken, even if you did try to deliberately pull for a break!
You can sometimes find that a carp will pull back less on this light gear and comes to the net with relative ease. I am sure that if you had used more substantial gear and more powerful elastic, the same fish might have fought twice as hard all the way to the net. It must be the extra resistance that causes a fish to pull a lot more the other way, so the stronger the elastic and the more you pull, the more a fish will pull back.
Light, soft, hollow elastics mean you can fish with fine hooklengths, but when matched with a puller bung, land very big fish!
These lessons learned from accidentally catching carp in silver-fish-only matches only serve to strengthen the case that you can catch carp on light tackle, even if you hadn’t planned to.
Now that we have established that you can land carp on light lines I must stress that the key is to use sensible and balanced tackle at all times. In summer I will typically use a hooklength that is anything from 0.15mm to 0.20mm (approximately 4lb to 7lb). When things are trickier, or if I’m targeting both carp and more fickle F1s, I am more likely to use hooklengths from 0.10mm to 0.13mm (2lb to 3lb). Match it to an equally light and soft elastic and I can fish with complete confidence.
Tie hooks to a variety of line diameters so that you can experiment during a session!
Puller bungs and puller kits have played a big part in the ability for us to scale down our tackle. In short, they have completely transformed the way we can play fish. You can now use much lighter elastic, which is really soft and forgiving when you lift into a bite and puts less pressure on the fish. When it comes to netting the fish you can also reduce the amount of elastic with the puller and play fish comfortably with just your top kit in your hand. A puller kit means that there is no longer any need to have several pole sections high up in the air when netting a big carp on light elastic.
Puller kits and light hooklengths go hand in hand with hollow elastic because this stuff is so much more forgiving compared with traditional solid elastic. It is softer and stretches much further, so there is less likelihood of having a breakage should a fish make a sudden lunge. I still use solid elastic, especially doubled-up elastic in the depths of winter, but that’s perhaps a subject for another time. For spring I still recommend you use soft hollow elastic for the majority of commercial-fishery situations.
At this time of year, there are two that I use the most, Drennan Green (6-8) Carp Bungee for general use and even lighter Aqua (4-6) Silverfish & F1 Bungee. This is most commonly used on F1-dominated venues and when a mixture of species such as roach and skimmers is also on the cards. You will still get those bigger bonus carp out on it, however.
Over the years I have fished with a huge number of poles from different manufacturers and that has made me appreciate that they all have different length top kits. This makes things much more difficult when it comes to recommendations because fitting elastic through a pole with a very long top kit will behave in a very different way to the same elastic fitted through a pole with a much shorter top kit.
I am fortunate with my Acolyte pole because there are two types of top kit available. The standard top kits are relatively long, so I can have plenty of elastic threaded through them. This is ideal for playing all sizes of fish, particularly in colder conditions when they are harder to come by. The other is called a Double 2 and this is the same length but allows you to thread elastic through just the first two metres or so. This means I can use incredibly soft elastic but because there is not so much of it inside the pole I can land fish of all sizes relatively quickly. This is more useful on better days when you are expecting more fish.
Complete The Puzzle
Although I won’t dwell too much on these aspects, the final pieces of the jigsaw are the floats and hooks. A slim pole float such as my latest AS5 ‘pencil’ is ideal for continuing the delicate and sensitive theme because you can dot it right down to register the most delicate of bites and it will lift really cleanly from the water on the strike.
The hook is even more important and at this time of year, I typically use a size 20 or 18 Kamasan B911 F1 for maggots, pellets, corn and small cubes of meat. If I am hair rigging baits (yes, you can most certainly still use a hair rig with fine hooklengths) then a size 20 or 18 B911 eyed hook is my choice.
There is another related point that I must stress when you finally need to use stronger tackle in the height of summer. Just because you are fishing for 10lb carp it does not mean you need 10lb line, size 10 hooks and No20 pole elastic to catch them. The only time you will ever need tackle this fierce is for extreme situations. With the advent of puller kits, I actually don't see the need for pole elastic stronger than Pink (14-16) Carp Bungee. I regularly fish for 10lb carp and have hardly ever felt that I needed to use elastic that was any heavier. In fact, I don't know many top anglers who would dream of using No20 elastic on your average commercial fishery swim. By using softer and more forgiving elastic I guarantee you will catch more fish in the long run.
Another reason why we can normally use these light and well-balanced setups is because there are not so many snags to worry about in most commercials. Yes, there will be the odd reed stem or platform leg to deal with, but that’s nothing compared to all the weed beds, obstructions and underwater hazards you might discover if you were targeting big fish on a canal or river. On a commercial, so long as you take your time I would be really confident of getting out fish of all sizes.
Finer tackle can certainly help you to increase the number of fish you hook. And once you have managed to hook a fish, you should take your time playing it. After all, if you’ve gone through all that effort to fool it, you want to make sure it counts and ends up in your net!
Typical Summer Carp Tackle
Float: Drennan AS2 or AS4
Main line: 0.18mm to 0.20mm Supplex
Hooklength: 0.15mm to 0.20mm Supplex
Hook: Size 16 Kamasan B911 up to a 12 Margin Carp
Elastic: 10-12 Yellow Bungee or 14-16 Pink Bungee
Typical Light Carp Tackle
Float: Drennan AS1, AS3 or AS5
Main line: 0.14mm or 0.16mm Supplex
Hooklength: 0.10mm to 0.13mm Supplex
Hook: Size 20 or 18 Kamasan B911 F1
Elastic: 4-6 Aqua Bungee or 6-8 Green Bungee