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Below The Surface: Mat Woods
Testing the pros

It’s reasonable to say that Mat is a fairly talented sort of chap. He’s been an accomplished writer outside of the angling industry, a magazine editor within it, subsequently the media manager for Korum Tackle and is now the Brand Manager of Avid Carp. That shows a determination to succeed, and an endeavour to improve. In other words: hunger and effort – two perfect traits to have as a carp angler.

W

e’re on the bank at Baden Hall, but not on the famous Quarry Pool, the one with the big commons in. We’re in fact on the Bridge Pool, a slightly smaller water, equally as difficult, with a bit of a weed issue in peak summer. The wind has been horrendous, and I truly mean horrendous (think back to the big winds of early May) and this has had a massive effect on where Mat could fish. Why? Because you can only fish from one bank and the wind was blowing straight at it. In fact, it was so strong that it was nigh-on impossible to get a three-quarters of the 100 or so yards to the other side with any sniff of accuracy and finesse… and you need that here, as there are a few things that can trip you up.

Living some 4hrs closer to the venue than me, Mat got there a bit earlier and was already fishing when I arrived.

“The weed isn’t too bad at the moment but it’s coming,” announced a grinning Mat (he almost always has a cheeky grin on his face). “When it comes up, it can be horrendous, and there’s a big hedge halfway over that’s a bit troublesome, but after that is gets a little bit lighter and is manageable. Where it shallows up the shelf on the far side there’s clean gravel so that’s where I’m fishing… Just.”

From my point of view I was really looking forward to diving Baden. Because of the weed in the summer, the owner had decided to treat the lake with the blue dye that a lot of venues are using to try and prevent it growing. Whilst causing no harm to the fish, it was bound to have a bit of an effect on the underwater world and I was keen to see how it affected what and more importantly, how we see underwater. Mat confirmed there was a difference almost immediately…

“There was an absolute howling wind when I arrived this morning. There are no swims on far bank so I walked the lake a couple of times looking for fish. I saw some sand being kicked up and then some purple shapes over the sandy spots that let me know there were carp in the margins. However, I couldn’t reach the area that they were showing so I carried on my hunt. Slightly later in the day the wind swung into a new direction and I saw fish on the far bank. A walk around showed some similar close in gravel spots so I’ve put a couple of handfuls of hemp, corn and crushed baits by eye onto one of the gravel spots. I put a sight reference on the far bank for exact accuracy as there is a little weed around and it’s still a big chuck in these conditions. There’s so many small spots on the far bank you have to be accurate but at the same time you’d be unlucky not to land on a reasonable spot. Having started fishing within a few minutes I had a fish on the bank, a nice gnarly 25lber. I saw another two fish roll in the more open water and thought I’d have one but it’s been tough going since.

The wind changed direction, dropped in intensity and pushed into the corner. No brainer.
Walking round, Mat saw a few purple shapes in the water, so the margins looked good for a bite
Precision is important for the far bank and distance sticks are a must. To short and it’s out of the game, too far and he’s fishing for squirrels
Plumbing around there was quite a lot of weed. In particular a large hedge halfway across… boooo!
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“I saw more fish move in the area that I decided to fish but still left 20 odd yards between them and where I was fishing so as not to spook them. I cast slightly up wind of them so that when they backed off the wind or moved along the marginal slope they would hopefully find me. And it worked!

“After the fish I went around and had look to see what they’d eaten and opted to give them a bit more as the first dose was only light. I put it down the slope with a small trail leading to the main mother load. I like feeding by hand as it’s something that you can’t do with a Spomb which just makes a pile. Being so close in and having the luxury of being able to see, it meant I could be so much more precise.

“Sadly, the wind then picked up to hooligan force. Landing nets were dancing round the bank and the mat went for a fly so I had to pack down and hide. Getting back on to the spot was impossible, as there was more line in the air in a bow than there was on the spools. Booooo. However, it’s since settled again a little and we’re fishing again.”

Having established how he was fishing, I then asked him to describe the spot in detail.

“It’s like a landing strip of clean sand with a few stones on, running down the slope and coming back towards me. To be honest, it looks like someone has been chucking a lot of bait in and it’s that sort of banana shape where you get a curve when you’re baiting up. There’s weed around it but not too high at the moment.

The German Rig

“I have to say I experiment a lot with rigs. I’m always interested in trying different rigs, working out the mechanics and finding out why they work and what they are specifically for. Being a brand manager it’s important for me to know why a certain item behaves in a certain way, so I suppose experimenting and understanding is part of my job. Usually if I find an idea that I like, e.g. the basics that involve XYZ I will try a different hook pattern or a ring etc. so essentially it’s the same rig but with some tweaks. All rigs are very specific to the situation that you are fishing in. Sometimes it may not be the best presentation but if it’s the best hooker then it works incredibly well.

“I used to have three or four standard “starter rigs” – e.g. a Chod, combi or braided rig for a solid bag. They would all usually involve a bit of PVA in some way, but I wanted something that I could cast out without PVA and that wouldn’t tangle and a German friend showed me this rig.

The weed was full of food!
Hemp and corn is a carp winner. Add some Code Red boilies and Mat was ready to rumble
Spodding was a no-go, so it was a walk around and a gentle underarm lob to get the bait on the spot
Rig-wise he uses ‘The German Rig’ as he has called it for almost all of his fishing these days
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“He’s part of the Avid Team and comes over for a month every year and I’d seen the fish that he had been catching in Germany. I fancied a trip but I waited until the lake switches on and nipped over to see him. He had been baiting a bay and had a 37lber off it. He let me know, so I headed off to Germany on a mission. I had no gear as he has everything so I’m using his tackle box. I spotted a rig in his box and it looked not quite right. He demonstrated it and showed me the difference between a stiff linked rig and an un-coated or supple version and every time he picked one with the coating peeled back, it fell out of his hand, whereas with the un-stripped version it caught every time. The key principle is when the bait is picked up, the hook hangs prone and is always ready to hook. I was sold, and I can happily say that since I’ve started using this rig, I haven’t lost a fish. More to the point, I’ve caught some absolute whackers. The first fish was a stalked 48lb in Germany, and since I’ve got home, some of the successes have included three forties and countless thirties, plus some big hits on lakes that wouldn’t usually produce that many. On Baden Quarry Pool last year for example, I had 12 fish in 24hrs which is an incredible result for on there.

“The hooklink is Avid’s Captive Coated Braid in 15lb for a soft lakebed and 25lb for more interesting conditions; nothing is stripped back at all. The length depends on the bait and how clear the spot is, but I usually fish it between three- and six-inches. I like a size 4 or a 6 CRV and it may work with other patterns, but this is my favourite. I then use a big eye hook swivel, stopped with hook bead roughly between the point and the barb, but don’t have it too far round. On the hooklink a sinker about an inch from the hook is used to make it hang properly and that’s it. Deadly.”

With the rig made up and the wind dying back, the rods were back on the spot with a bit of bait over the top and we sat back to wait for carp.

Dead simple, but effective
Confidence in a tray. Mat’s rig box is full of Germans
Giving it the big one was important as the crosswind was making hitting the spot tricky
After casting out, the slack line was tightened by hand to remove the bow without moving the lead
The fight was a tricky one, as the carp hit the hedge halfway over and we didn’t know if it was still on. Unravelling the ball, we saw it was.
…and what a stunner it was too!
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Over to Hughes

Despite being dyed blue, the water was still crystal clear. It was quite surreal dipping into the depths and it looking like the sea. Usually, even on crystal clear lakes, when I look laterally across the water it looks green. This one didn’t. The addition of the blue dye took out the green pigment and the light that filtered through was blue. I was intrigued to see how it would affect the colour of the bait.

I dropped down the marginal slop just up from where Mat was casting and noticed that it was fairly steep; certainly steep enough for round balls to roll along. It was also pretty clear with clumpy weed here and there and a flat and sandy bottom on the flat bit at the bottom of the shelf. This was about 10ft deep and note the colour of the silt in the picture. Once again, it isn’t black!

The weed was a mixture of plants, but the dominant one was Canadian which was about a foot or so deep. The line, fished quite tight, was disguised quite well in the deeper water, and as I went up the slope I could see the clean areas where Mat’s bait had landed. The slope was still quite steep and some of the round baits had rolled down it. The hemp and corn were mixed up a little, but there was significantly more hemp higher up the slope than lower down it. Something to think about when baiting up. From above the surface we see that the bait separates a little due to the differences in weight. The boilies always fly further than the hemp and the corn is somewhere in between. What isn’t so noticeable from above the water is how far apart they can spread. If you want a mix then putting them in separately might be a better bet.

The rig was very easy to find, sitting perfectly on a clean spot just up the slope with a nice mix of bait around it. The white boilie stood out well and hadn’t changed colour at all. The corn was still yellow, but interestingly the red boilies were not red at all. They were grey in colour. It was incredible seeing them and a shot of some on the bottom and the same baits out of the water shows how effective this blue dye is. Red light is effectively cancelled out by blue as they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Bear that in mind if you are fishing a lake that has dye in it and you like to use pink or red baits. Maybe a yellow or certainly a white is a better bet for visibility.

Anyway, back to the rig and it was sat well on the slope with the bait kicked out behind it. There was a clay mark on the lead which showed it had moved slightly, probably when Mat had sunk the line, but careful pressure rather than simply tightening it up had helped stop it roll or pull down the slope.

The first thing I noticed was how blue the lake was. It was fantastic to swim around in
Closer to the marginal slope the line blended in with the weed
The clean strip was very clean, and there were quite a few clear spots with the odd bit of weed around. The bait was nicely spread
The rig was presented bang-on the spot and the hookbait was balanced off the weight of the hook. An ideal bottom bait presentation
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I’ve gotta say I loved the presentation of the boilie and how the rig was sat. It’s definitely a rig for a perfectly clean bottom, but if you are sure that’s what you are fishing over it looks really sweet.

The second rod was a little further down the margin and I didn’t concentrate on that one as it was this spot we wanted to see performing and the other was a rover. It’s two rods so with no other choices to look at I left the swim settle to wait for more action.

It of course came. Mid-afternoon and the rod was away. The slightest tightening of the line and a bend in the rod indicated that something was amiss and Mat was on it like a shot. Interestingly, his old alarms hadn’t made any sound at all but he said it wasn’t the first time. It shows how important it is to have good indication, especially in this situation, fishing to a far bank where a dropback or a kiting fish is all you can expect. I’ve spoken to him since and he has now changed them for a decent set and is well happy with the increased sensitivity his new set-up allows him.

As the battle ensued, the carp had the upper hand as it was already on the move. It got into the weedbed part way over and eventually ground to a halt. A massive weedbed was then slowly dragged in and it was only when it arrived in the margins that we could see the fish on the far side of it. A careful netting operation involving fishery manager Roy Russell, a massive landing net, three-and-a-half tonnes of weed and a scoop of faith resulted in a load of gardening and a fantastic mirror whose size I have unfortunately forgot but that is of course irrelevant when you see what she looks like.

Mr. Woods had done it not once but twice, in pretty tough conditions and fishing properly not looking for any short cuts. Fair play, squire!

Snaps taken, I dropped back into the pond to see the aftermath of what a feeding fish had done. It was obvious to see straightaway.

For a start, the bait had been moved. Some had been scoffed but a lot had actually been fanned away. I’ve seen this before where the movement of water by fish feeding on the patch, especially by the tail and pecs, and also the blowing of bait out through the gills, shifts bait around the swim. Being on a slope, a lot had been shoved sideways and came to rest by the weed. The spot had been polished so a lot of the bigger debris items such as pieces of weed, stones and sticks etc. had been moved. In some places the stones were cleared completely and the fish had been in and had a right dig around. I reckon if he had two rigs on the spot there would have been a chance of another bite, as from the look of it, a small group of marauders had come in, done the damage, and disappeared when one of their mates got nailed.

Whilst in the water, I asked Mat to re-cast so I could see his rig land and also carry out the indication test. I was amazed at how far it bounced back having hit the clip and splashed in front of us. Both Roy and I saw it clearly land and yet on the bottom it was a good rod length and a half further back. That had very little to do with depth, but a lot to do with the way it hit the clip and bounced back. Wind effect and a big punch gave it the ‘bouncebackability’ factor.

There was a small clay mark on the lead showing where it had landed and it had twisted when the line was tightened up
It was noticeable that the lighter grains of hemp hadn’t travelled as far as the heavier baits
Some of the boilies and other heavier baits had rolled down to the bottom of the slope
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On the deck, once again it dropped well and this time got held up by a stone to stop it going back down the bank. It’s certainly something to think about if you are casting to a slope that drops back at you. It’s not difficult to dislodge the rig and pull it into something nasty. Be careful when tightening up or sinking the line.

Mat was careful, and it was interesting to see the line pull very tight, then drop suddenly slack, presumably when the line on the surface had broken through the surface layer and pinged straight. The leadcore dropped suddenly, looked bang-on, but over the course of the next couple of minutes it tightened itself back up again. I think that this was as a result of the tow in the water as the wind both now and the previous day would have kept it moving round a bit. Definitely something not to be underestimated when fishing a shelf as it could potentially dislodge the rig at very long-range due to the pull on the line. As it happened, it simply lifted the leadcore again.

Back to the rig and the hookbait once again looked lovely. The presentation really was perfect, and as a bottom bait rig I was once again suitable impressed.

All that left us to do was look at the indication. It was 27 wraps to the spot, so 108yds in old money. The line was what I would class as semi tight although the tow had tightened it up a bit more and the pull test indicated the regulation elbow to hand and a little bit. Bang-on the money.

Looking at the spot after the fish had been feeding on it, there were lots of clear areas and a load of small bait had been washed to the edges of the weed
The main area had been polished very clean and it looked like the spot had been dusted
Clumps of bait like this are a tell-tale sign of fish activity in the swim. Their movement and feeding causes the bait to be pushed around
Have a close look at the colour of the boilies; they look like washed-out fishmeals. Whereas when out of the water they look clear and strong red colour
Have a close look at the colour of the boilies; they look like washed-out fishmeals. Whereas when out of the water they look clear and strong red colour
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Mat's conclusion

“It’s been interesting on the whole ‘cos it’s focused my mind a little. I wouldn’t say that I go through the motions when I go fishing but I have a set formula of things I do and this has opened my mind to a few extras. Like loads of things in fishing, those formulas can’t be concrete because wind, tow, slope, bottom make-up, what the fish are doing etc. always changes. Every time we go the circumstances are different and this has made me respect that a little more.

“For the main part, carp are big bumbling idiots but you have to forget that sometimes and remember that they are wild animals as well. You’re fishing in their house, but unlike your living room theirs changes all the time so every time they visit this corner it may look a little different to what it was last time they came. They almost expect stuff to be different so it hides a multitude of sins for us as an angler. However, the more we can make it look like it did the last time they were there will help us as anglers.

“I’m happy that what I’ve done has worked. Catching two is very different to catching one. Catching shows that what you did worked. Catching two shows that it does work… and there is a big difference between did and does.”

1. Highpoint

“Catching two fish. Observing where the fish were, fishing properly for them and fishing the spot properly. In the conditions with the wind, being able to fish within my own capabilities was the key to success. It was tough going. At 110yds to the far margin, landing and presenting the rig properly took a lot of effort but it was worth it. How the rig itself sat hovering on the deck was great; exactly how I wanted it.”

2. Low point

“How far it was bouncing back off the clip made it very hard to fish tight to the far margin. The line stretch, the rod and also the strength of the cast and how I follow through will be looked at. Having to thump it through the wind makes a big difference on how you hit the clip, and that causes bounce. Bounce reduces accuracy, and that’s something we all need to think about.”

3. Biggest eye opener

“The effect of the tow and the way it lifted the leadcore leader up really surprised me. I knew it had been windy, but the amount of tow still around really surprised me.”

4. If you could do one thing differently?

“I would and will now pay a lot more attention to line lay. I think we need to find a balance being able to hit the spot, get a bite and get decent indication. I have been a bit blasé about line lay, but in the attempt to catch bigger fish and general attention to detail this will now be higher up my list.”

5. Genie in a bottle: The opportunity to ask Rob Hughes one question

Mat: “How do I combat the lift?” Rob’s response: “Fish a tight line and use a fluorocarbon leader. It will allow the cast to be punched a bit harder, but at the same time allow the line to be fished tight. Leadcore stands out. Fluoro is much better as a clear water tight line option.”

The re-cast was interesting; it tightened up to a stone
Once again the bait was presented very well indeed. The rig’s a perfect bottom bait rig
Watching the line was interesting. It was tight and then as Mat sunk his tip, it tightened some more before slackening off to look really good
However, after five minutes or so the tow had pulled it tight again and the leadcore was off the bottom
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Hughesy's thoughts

1. Clarity

“The colour of the water blew my mind. I thought it would be harder to see down there. It was actually easier as there was less algae. Treat dyed lakes as crystal clear in future.”

2. Colour

“The blue dye turns on its head any previous thoughts about colour of bait. Red doesn’t exist. It’s not invisible, it’s simply not there. Yellow works, and white is true. Something for more investigation.”

3. Tow

“Tow is a little like stirring a cup of tea: just because you take the spoon out, it doesn’t stop spinning. Tow is the same. It would take a while for the tow to stop.”

Rob Hughes
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