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08 Jun 2017
by Nick Helleur
How to conquer small rivers
Short session expert, Nick Helleur, gives us an insight into his small river carping exploits in preparation for June 16th

Small rivers can be fantastic venues to target carp, and you’re talking ideally about some nice fishing in the summer – hopefully with a few carp to fish for and very few other anglers targeting the carp. The bigger rivers like the Thames have become much more popular in recent years, and like most bigger stretches, the fish aren’t everywhere and often you can bump into anglers trying to fish for the same carp. The spots get fished and then things get congested, it’s not quite as enjoyable as it used to be. 20 years ago you could roam far and wide and hardly ever see another carp angler, but it’s just not the case anymore.

There are lots of little rivers in the South of England near where I live, tributaries of the main rivers like the Colne and Thames, plus the Mole and Lea so there’s plenty of bank to get lost on. They’ve all got really, really good stocks of carp and the stretches vary in size from canal width to 30 or 50yds wide or even just a rod length or two like the one I’m at today.
I first fished here five years ago and quickly found a group of carp, the fishing was spectacular and simple with just a bag of pellet and some stinky hookbaits. They were sheeting up, I’d get liners and the fish would roll, all clearly visible with a set of polaroids, a magnificent day’s sport.

You’re talking about a bit of river that if you took a good run up on a BMX you could jump across it. It’s really intimate fishing; you’re right on top of them and there’s only one way to fish it. In the heat of summer, floods are rare, and if they do burst their banks, which happens quickly as I found out a few weeks ago, it only takes a couple of days to run clear again. Snakey, short deep runs, long straights and fallen trees – there’s lots to explore.

Everyone focuses on the bigger rivers these days
Snakey, short deep runs, long straights and fallen trees – there’s lots to explore.

The flow of the river is your biggest ally and the smell will carry downstream, and you can pick up how the fish will move about the stretch too, often dropping down the flow and meandering back up in the slacker water. It’s easy to make mistakes by casting the wrong side of a bush but as it’s so intimate and you can be stealthy lowering rigs in, you can afford to get it wrong a few times, that’s the beauty of it. You never quite know what you’re going to catch either, just yesterday a huge, long grass carp just appeared in a swim, easily a high-double if not twenty-pounds, I couldn’t believe it. I’ve fished the stretch plenty over the years and it’s the first time I’ve seen it. There’s also a chance of a good chub or barbel, you literally don’t know what you’re going to catch and that excites me, it’s always surprising.

Little rods and reels but all is uber strong and reliable
The end tackle needs to be serious strong
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Quick-fire small river edges

Here's Nick's eight top tips when it comes to conquering these negated small rivers

Tip 1: Bait size
Use a strong smelling, fishy boilie in large sizes, you can break it up to release loads of attraction into the flow while retaining big pieces of bait for the carp to home in on.

Tip 2: Use a baitdropper
With the flow pushing the bait down river, often there will be obstructions like cabbage weed. If you want your bait accurately on a shallow, sandy spot for example, a bait dropper will do this perfectly, especially if there are obstructions just upstream of the spot.

Tip 3: Consider where you’re fishing
If your line is up in the water then a fish dragging your lead off a far shelf may not be noticed if the flow absorbs the slack line, so be really aware of how and where you position your rig and get the best line lay to the spot you can.

Tip 4: Fish heavy
As heavy as you can in fact. You may be fishing a tiny river but that just means there’s less room for the fish to charge once it’s hooked. They may only go to low-twenties, but they’re pretty wild and they will give you a scrap. A double-figure carp in shallow, well-oxygenated flowing river will require strong line and big hooks to land it. I only use a long length of leadcore on rivers these days as there’s no need on lakes but it really helps with line lay and the savage amount of snags that can wash down the river.

Tip 5: Start at the bottom
Don’t bait the whole stretch, start from the bottom and pull the fish up to your bait in the smallest section of river you can. This applies more if you’re fishing blind, but equally, if you find some high up the stretch and begin fishing for them, you will draw others up from further down so consider the best approach and look along the whole stretch first.

Tip 6: Drop your lead
You’ll be fishing in hairy, tight conditions. By the time the line’s picked up tight and your rod’s bent over, the culprit can drift into the flow and be 20yds down stream, through a bush and round some branches you’ve not seen on the bottom. They’re like rocket ships so make sure there’s no lead to catch and aid the fish’s escape, or worse still, help it snag itself on obstructions.

Tip 7: DO NOT wander off!
Everyone likes to have a rod in the water at all times, and you may be tempted to check the spot just a few metres down, but I guarantee the moment you wander off that big carp in the stretch will appear and snaffle your hookbait. You literally have seconds to get control of these fish and you will lose a fish as quick as a flash.

Tip 8: Prepare for the night
Don’t fish in those tighter, shallower and slacker areas through the night as there’s often too much for them to snag on; just fish in the deeper, main flow where you have a chance of landing them, it only takes seconds for them to make cover, so make sure your bedchair is on your rod butts too.

Another river stunner
Forget comfort – you need to be on the move!

Don't take a chair

Because you won't have time to sit down!

The stretch I’m on today is short at only a half mile or so long, but there’s an incredible amount of fish holding features along its length. You can walk along for one minute and see nothing; on the way back you’ll see a couple; and then they’ll move 20yds up stream and you’re off chasing them again, it’s really exciting fishing and you’re never sat still.

Your eyes are your biggest tool fishing in this way, and when you do stumble across one you know others won’t be far. They can quite literally just appear out of nowhere and it still shocks me how they manage to hide behind what looks like a leaf in an inch of water, but trust me, they do. All of a sudden that single carp you’ve followed up stream catches up with a small shoal of eight carp and then you clock them moving in and out of a bush and circling the deeper flow – you just need to be clever getting your rods in after that.

Don’t worry about others finding them and setting up on top of you either, rarely will you see another carp angler on these smaller, narrower stretches. It’s perfect for travelling light, nicking a few bites and enjoying your hot summer evenings without spending days on the bank.

Moreover, with the river fishing it’s a special little bit of exciting fishing and it’s just yours, there’s no distractions, you can go down, find them and fish for them, it’s really, really exciting fishing getting a good bend in the rod in limited time. Satisfying and rewarding and challenging all at the same time.

Use the flow

Think about line lay, baiting and bait spread

So you’ve arrived after work to a stretch you’ve already done a few recces on and you know there are carp there somewhere. It’s boiling hot so you do a complete run of the stretch and find a group of carp holding in a shallower, slacker and shadier part of the river so you’re keen to get a rod in position. I liken it very much to stalking carp from the margins of a lake, several things are crucial including concealment and disturbance. The small rivers flow is between you and the fish so line lay needs to be considered, you don’t want your line bowing in the flow if the carp are going to come into contact with it and spook, so try accessing the spot you want from slightly up or downstream to avoid them spooking and think about your baiting situation too.

I will ALWAYS advise that you start fishing as far down the stretch as possible. The smell of your bait will carry well in the flow and draw fish up to it, so don’t bait multiple spots, just limit how far they have to travel and you’re increasing your chances of a bite tenfold. Carp are sensitive to smell in the flow, like barbel, so don’t draw them over great distances, you’re just making it harder for yourself.

If nothing happens, move upstream a bit and repeat the process and carp will appear out of nowhere when that stinky, fishmeal bait rolls down the flow and grabs their attention. When you do drop some bait in, watch it in the flow and see how far it travels, similarly with your rig. You don’t want your bait spreading all over the swim so you need to counteract the flow with your feeding.

A classic small river carp: pretty and unique
When it comes to bait, smellier is better

Feed them, but put them on a diet...

And make sure you're using really smelly baits

Use smellier bait – there’s no question that this will bring quicker bites. Well soaked boilies, really oily pellets, bag mix coated in fish oil – just the strongest smelling bait that will carry in the flow as previously mentioned. It will give off loads of attraction really quickly and just keep pumping it out until the fish can’t resist it. They will come to the bait but there’s no need to leather it in if you’re staying mobile and working your way up stream until you find yourself in a feeding situation. You don’t want kilos of bait for the fish to get through before picking up your hookbait, so often a small handful of broken boilie and a PVA bag of pellet with the hookbait is plenty, soaked in liquid if you have some to add that extra attraction – it couldn’t be simpler. I had no boilies for this trip so I actually blagged a kilo of Sticky Krill off the camera man, and the fish have really liked them. Anything fishmeal-based and smelly would do the trick I’m sure.

You may catch them on a small bright pop-up in some situations but I’ve noticed on this stretch of the River Lea that the smaller roach and dace are quite active. People are saying that a lot of rivers aren’t in great condition but this stretch is just alive with all species. The small dace, roach and chub will find a bright hookbait easier, and today they’re attacking it on the way down so I’m just using a hardened oily boilie to reduce the attention of these species. The last thing I want is small fish moving the rig and making it look unnatural when the carp do move in, but I can see a bright much more clearly, so if I can get away with it, a small bright topper is preferred.

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