Carp Letter from America: July 2018

Simon Blanford and Andy Bell let us know what they've been up to this month...

Mid-summer arrives and with it comes an inevitable slow-down in catch rates. In fact slow down is not quite the right word, at least for one of us. Simon has been suffering. Good fish, a large twenty (shown above) that ate a RAT-P corkball was the only fish he's had after a number of short sessions and overnighters. Areas that had produced for him earlier in the season had gone dry and visits to other lakes only saw a small handful of low doubles and singles in his net. It was with some trepidation that he looked forward to a first trip of the season with with Andy to the Other Lake. We mentioned back in March that our catch record had been falling at this venue in recent outings. Simon in fact had blanked on his last two visits there, and Andy's catches have dropped precipitously too, a rare occurrence for multi-day sessions on these invariably productive American waters. Though there are many factors that might explain the general decline in banked fish (incompetence being a significant one obviously, but we’ll set that aside for the moment), we have begun to think that it is the pressure we have brought to the small bay we target and that this pressure has created a local population of educated fish. Since we now also know that this bay has been fished hard by a few other carp anglers it is a reasonable assumption. Still, as it is a lovely lake, as the wooden cabins are comfortable and lakeside, it is a hard water to ignore when an opportunity arises. That opportunity came when Mrs Simon abandoned her family to attend a conference and Simon booked the children and himself in for a two-night stay. Andy and Mrs Andy would turn up in the evening.

Rods reaching over the lilies still produced very little on our first visit of the year to the Other Lake.

Simon had only just organised himself by the time the Andys turned up and he watched with some chagrin as Andy conjured a run within an hour of getting his kit out. The fish got off, the hook having straightened. In the dead of night Andy had another run, a big drop back with which he didn't connect but then around dawn there was a burst of activity and he landed two low doubles before losing another when again the hook straightened. Simon in the meantime had been catching bugger all again.

Oh well - if the carp aren't obliging what about a bit of sketching and panfish bashing.

Andy left after twenty-four hours without adding to his tally and Simon immediately put a rod on the only spot that had been producing the action for Andy. He caught nothing. Two small fish and only a handful of runs to six rods certainly suggests the fish have become attuned to our approach. In English waters this type of result might engender much tinkering with rigs and bait and all the other intricacies (and absurdities) associated with carp fishing over there. Here such navel gazing for limited rewards can appear too much like real work - we can simply up sticks and try somewhere new. So that is what we did.

The new lake - we shall call it Mirror Lake - was a water Simon had dismissed previously. No carp he thought. A kind informer earlier this season told us something different. Not only were there carp (and a lot of them) but there seemed to be a decent chance at a mirror. Now Simon has only caught three mirror carp in the four years we have been writing this piffle. And Andy? Well Andy has caught none. This may seem surprising but isn't in fact, unusual. Carp in the wild don't like having no, or only a few scattered scales. And the inheritance of the genes dictating scale type is skewed in favour of the ancestral, fully-scaled commons. In fact, recent research indicates that mirror carp left to themselves in the wild, try very hard to put back on as many scales as they possibly can. But that might be a topic for another time. The general result is that, except for a few rare waters, and certainly in the waters we fish, commons dominate.

Simon went to recce the water and only five minutes into his bankside stroll found some carp. A couple of short sessions of an hour or two confirmed the place had plenty of potential when he banked some singles and low doubles. Clearly we needed to commit to a longer session and so mid-month hauled our baggage around the lakeside trail, installed ourselves in a suitable spot and had at it.

Oh, there's one!

It turned out to be a fine overnight session. The first fish came quickly, snaffling a Northern Special pop-up, a hookbait Simon has been using regularly just to see how often a fish (presumably with no or very little knowledge of boilies) will go for the odd food item among a carpet of corn and maize and seeds. Andy had the next, except that he didn't - the hook opening again as he was playing the fish. This happened another two times as the action began to pick up and carp came fairly regularly. Nothing large, Andy's sixteen pounder topping the bill, but all were clean, good-looking fish and after the frustration of our previous sessions this was a welcome outcome.

A mid-double for Andy on his first visit to Mirror Lake

We'll certainly be back to this water even if it only proves a sinecure to more torrid attempts on other venues where we think the carp are larger. One needs a simple, no fuss, no frills water up one’s sleeve when the going gets tough elsewhere.

Now something that has been bugging us recently. You may well have noticed that we've mentioned that hooks have been opening on us with more regularity than we’re happy with. At General Pinochet last month Andy had a number of hooks relax into a less than appealing straightness. Then in the session on the Other Lake, the Mirror Lake and elsewhere we’ve both had regular hook failures. It’s annoying of course as the inevitable result is a lost fish. It also highlights a wider dissatisfaction with the modern carp world and one for which the carp fishing media seems to have abdicated any leading role - any role at all in fact.

Amongst the clutter of our tackle boxes we have a various hook patterns made by Fox, made by Korda, by Kodex, Partridge, Eagle Claw, Gamakatsu and even Solar. We've had some brand loyalty in the past (Fox) and conversely have rapidly dropped others after a few sessions where they haven't come up to scratch (Kodex). But still, we have regularly had hooks from all manufacturers fail. Well, apart from those by Solar of which we only have one packet in size 2. We're sure they could land megalodon except they look like they have the penetrating power of a mallet.

Not just straightened by a carp but point and barb broken off too.

Given all this, wouldn't it be nice to find a critical review of hooks. You know the kind of review that compares the manufacturers one against the other; examines each brand’s hook of a particular type against the same type from other brands; conduct tests for strength, for sharpness out of the box, for gape width, for eye size, for barb type? Wouldn't it be nice? Or what about comparing spombs especially now that Fox have rid themselves of a major competitor in this area. Is Fox's spomb as good as the original spomb (certainly not in our experience - their Impact Spomb is poorly made and disintegrates with only moderate use). Is Nash’s Dot Spod better than both of them? Where are the comparisons between all those rods that are twelve feet long with a 3lb test curve? And what about the different versions of the Big Pit Reel? It’s not as though kiting yourself out with one (let alone three) isn’t going to make a dent in the bank balance. So where is the help to make the right sort of decision about which one to back with the readies?

The original Spomb family - the gold standard for its kind? How the hell would we know?

This is where the magazines have given up their critical role. When they have a new bit of equipment to tell us about they tell us not that it is better than X competitor’s version but could do with some improving in comparison to Y. No, instead they tell us everything is “Awesome”. All spods are “Awesome”. All hooks are “Awesome”, all reels, rods, bait, braid and buckets are all - “Awesome”. Nowhere in any major print or online outlet (CARPology included just as much as all the other carp magazines) is there any real critique of the stuff they highlight in their paper and electronic pages. Of course magazines say they live and die by their advertising revenue. If they are critical of any particular brand, that brand can simply threaten to pull its adverts. It doesn’t matter that the magazine may have been equally critical of any number of its competitors in the past and would be in the future. All that matters is that the media blandly accepts the drivel the tackle company’s marketing people put out. It’s a shame because this current practice of sucking up to the manufacturers does a large disservice to the anglers they purport to be publishing for. For one there is no resource of information to refer to when, like us, we are frustrated with the quality of a bit of equipment and want to know what has been shown to be the best. Sure, we could go online and trawl through any opinions we get a hit on. But they may equally come from Terry - a truly good carper with extensive experience; or from Johnny Five-Fingers - a former telesex worker now living in a bedsit in Scunthorpe whose carping fishing knowledge is limited (having been originally aroused by reading about low hangers and stiff swingers) and figures posting in the carp world will reinvigorate their online status. How are we to know? The good thing about magazines used to be that they were the font of experience and knowledge who passed the results of their critical eye on to their readers. Not now. The second aspect is that now magazines never bother try to establish a gold standard for a piece of kit to which other brands have to aspire, manufacturers find themselves in a critique free environment and subsequently are quite free to cut corners, reduce quality control and generally turn out kit that maximises their profits, not the quality of their products. If Fox don’t see a gold standard in hooks established by Korda in tests magazines have carried out (just for example, in fact Korda hooks have been one of the most consistent failures for us) why should they bother try to usurp Korda from that pedestal by producing even better hooks that the magazines tests will critically approve of. No, no published tests, no gold standards yet everything in the carp fishing tackle world is apparently, “Awesome”. Good grief.

After replenishing our bank balance of runs and fish landed at Mirror Lake we decided to give the Other Lake another bash. You’d be forgiven for thinking we are a few wotsits short of the whole fruitcake, but we had a cunning plan. We would not fish the bay by the cabins. Oh no. We researched the rest of the lake and plumped for a new area, one we had no clue about but one whose looks we certainly liked.

A grainy dusk shot of the session's first twenty.

So saying one afternoon saw us nosing our way down a small country lane, parking, hauling our tackle burden over a rocky, root strewn path to a new swim for an overnight session. In the gathering dusk and two hours after bait hit the water we were both away at the same time. Andy banked our first twenty from the water for a while and Simon put a mid-double in the net.

Tapetum lucidum aglow - a long nighttime double for Andy.

Through the night Andy continued to pick up fish. Simon didn’t, even though we were sharing baited spots and the hook positions varied by only a yard, the fish invariably steered for Andy’s rig rather than his. Finally, shortly after dawn Simon did pick up his own twenty and a little later Andy rounded off the session with his second of similar size. The area it seemed had potential, three twenties and a handful of upper doubles was encouraging and certainly bumped up the average size of fish we had been landing in recent trips.

Simon caps his meagre results in July with a nice twenty.

Perhaps the other lake has forgiven us for plundering her stock so hard in previous years. Or maybe we are just consummate fishermen who have a nose for sniffing out good swims and reaping the rewards after our careful baiting and efficient rigs (hook quality aside of course) have been expertly cast. Or maybe it’s simply that we fortuitously happened on an area with some fish in it this time. Whichever, is the most likely (answers on a postcard to the editor) plans were laid for a three night stay. Whether we filled our boots or sat behind static bobbins you can find out in next month’s Carp Letter from America.