How to Learn Watercraft – Approaching a New Water
Carp fishing has come a long way in the last 10 years. When I started fishing, there were basic hooks in the tackle shop, sometimes I had to use sea fishing line as a hook link because that was the only type of line available to me that had a higher breaking strain.
Internet shops were few and far between.
Right now, you can type anything you want into Amazon, and if you have a prime account, it will be delivered the next day without having to even leave your house.
Anything you could possibly need, in terms of tackle, is easily accessible.
But, there is one thing that is not available to buy on the internet or any tackle shop. This one thing will increase your catch rate more than any particular hook or rig component could… Watercraft skills.
Many anglers think that if you have the sharpest hook, you’ll catch the fish. They think that if you use the latest bait in the tackle shop, you are bound to catch lots of fish, right?!
But, if you haven’t used watercraft to actually locate the fish, all you are doing is just waiting for the fish to appear, and you could be waiting for years if you are fishing a lake with only a few occupants.
You are wasting your time if you aren’t finding the fish first.
Carp fishing is 98% location, 1% bait and 1% rigs – Danny Fairbrass
There are mainly two types of anglers when it comes to carp fishing.
Angler 1 – Let us Call Him Joe
One type of angler will turn up at the lake, find the closest available swim to the car park and set up camp with no intention of moving for the whole session. This type of angler may catch a couple of fish during the session, but this is normally down to luck, or just because a shoal of fish was passing due to a change of wind.
This type of angler doesn’t visit the lake often, because he is visiting a new lake on every session, so never learns the patterns of the lake, nor does he learn what bait really turn the fish on.
He spods all of his bait into the water at the beginning of the session, casts his rigs towards the baited spot, in the hope that they are near the spodded bait. He is hoping that all of the bait he has cast out will attract the fish and send them into a feeding frenzy.
The angler sits in his swim and watches other anglers catching fish on the other side of the lake, but makes the decision to stay put, and just assumes the other angler is lucky.
He keeps watching the rod tips, but sees no movement and hears no beeps from the bite alarms, so he carries on reading his carp magazine looking at the photos and hopes he catches something soon so that the trip isn’t a waste of time.
Do you know someone like this?
Angler 2 – Let’s Call Him Shane
Before Shane organizes a trip to the lake, he searches the carp forums and sees what has recently been said about the lake he is visiting.
Shane also checks their Facebook page to see if there are any catch reports for the previous week and starts a conversation with the anglers to see what they know, and to see if they have any insights that might be useful.
Before he sets off to the lake, he checks the weather app on his phone is working and prints off a map of the lake so he can mark notes on it whilst he is fishing.
He turns up before the gates open so he can watch the lake from the car to see if he can spot any fish.
On some lakes, fish generally show themselves early in the morning when the mist is low on the lake.
Once the gate opens, he grabs a bait bucket from the car and walks around the lake looking for signs of carp.
What is he searching for?
- Fish jumping out of the water
- Colored water
- Lilypads or rushes moving from carp brushing past them
- Birds diving down on baited areas
When he passes other anglers swims, he starts a conversation and asks how the lake is fishing and whether they have seen any fish being caught. One of those anglers might have a gem of a tip that could produce a bite.
Only when he locates the fish does he find a swim to fish near to the showing carp.
He notes the spot on the map where he saw the fish and goes of to fetch the rods, leaving the bait bucket in the swim.
He has his fishing rods ready within 5 minutes and casts out a helicopter rig or chod rig because he isn’t quite sure what is on the lake bed yet. Before the rigs were cast out, they were checked for sharpness.
Because he has found the fish and cast out a simple rig to them, this normally produces a quick bite.
In the meantime, all of the overnight gear is left on the carp barrow ready to move at a moments notice.
Deeper Pro Plus For A Quick Overview
Once it quietens down, he sets up the Deeper Pro Plus to cast around the swim and build up a picture in his head as to what is in front of him.
As he is casting around with the Deeper Pro Plus, he is noting down areas of interest and marking interesting features on the map was printed out before he left the house.
Also, as he is casting the Deeper around the swim, it is building a depth map on to his phone so he can see what depths are in front of him.
Marker Float Setup To Find The Features
Once the Deeper Pro Plus has built up a picture, he uses the marker rod and marker float to investigate the interesting spots further.
Whilst casting around to the spots of interest, he is using trees on the far bank as a reference and notes it down if he finds a clear spot.
When a clear spot is found, he lets out the marker float and counts how deep the lake is at that point and notes it down on the lake map.
Shane tightens the marker back down to the lead and clips the line onto the line clip and reels in the marker float.
FishSpy To Confirm The Lake Bed
He clips on a FishSpy Underwater Camera, hits record on his phone and casts back out to what he thinks is the clear spot, feeling the lead down as it hits the lead clip.
He lets off the clutch and lets the Fishspy rise to the surface, again counting how deep the water is.
Now that the FishSpy is on the surface, he plays back the video to his smartphone and he can see exactly what the lead has landed on.
If the video confirms that he is fishing on a clear spot, he tightens the float down to the lead, clips the line up and reels back in.
Use Distance Sticks For Accuracy
Once the rig is reeled back in, he measures the distance using distance sticks and notes it down onto the printed map.
Distance sticks are a must-have if you want to fish accurately.
If he is fishing only one rod to that spot, he will use the distance sticks to mark the distance on the fishing rod and clip the line up, ready to be cast out on to the spot.
Fishing More Than One Rod on The Same Spot
If Shane is fishing more than one rod on the same spot, once the spot is confirmed as clear by the FishSpy, he will leave the FishSpy out on the top of the water so it can be seen from the bank.
Then set up a spod rod as a marker rod with a standard marker float and cast 6ft to the side of the FishSpy in each direction to see what is surrounding the clear spot, is it clear too? Or is it weedy?
If it is clear, the other rods can be clipped up at the same distance and cast out either side or the marker so that all of the rods are close together.
Once the rigs are out, and the bait has been spodded out, the Marker floats can be reeled in.
Being sure to remember that if you are fishing a deep lake, you need to allow for the pendulum effect when spodding compared to the clipped up distance.
Always Monitoring The Lake
Throughout the whole of the session, he is noting down where the fish are showing, where they have been caught from, what the weather is doing, and what bait, and rigs catch the fish.
If the clear spots stop producing fish, and they are showing elsewhere on the lake, Shane makes the decision to pack up the fishing gear and move swims to follow the fish.
And, because he didn’t set the bivvy up, it takes only ten minutes to get up and move.
Location Is The Key To Watercraft
Who do you think will catch more fish?
Who do you think will be the “lucky” one?
Sometimes, all you will want to do is relax by the lake in your bivvy, and that is fine. I do the same sometimes. But, if you are there to catch fish, you need to work at your watercraft, mapping out the lake, finding the clear spots and move with the fish if they aren’t in front of you.
Watercraft is a method of understanding the environment and the fish that live amongst it.
Aspects Of Effective Watercraft
A lot of people talk about wind when it comes to watercraft.
They say that carp follow the wind because carp swim into the flow of the water, but I’ve only experienced this on big lakes.
I prefer to use my eyes and ears to locate the carp, using polarized sunglasses of course.
But, let’s talk through the theory of the weather.
There are a few aspects of the weather that you need to take a note of.
- Heat / Air Temperature
- Water Temperature
- Cloud Cover
Look at the weather app to check the wind conditions. A South-West wind will be a warm wind, which carp should follow and keep feeding. A North-East wind will be a cold wind and carp will likely be on the back of the wind to stay warm. But, you need to keep this in mind, rather than take it as gospel because this is typically true for bigger lakes.
When you print out a lake map, mark North on the map so you know which direction the wind is blowing.
When you are making notes, be sure to note down the wind direction and wind speed (or at least strength, in terms of no wind, a little wind or strong wind), to enable you to see if the lake is affected by the winds by figuring out if there is a trend between the sessions.
Pressure is the effect of clouds and wind. The weather app will give you an idea of the pressure, but a barometer will give you an accurate reading.
In simple terms, less than 1000 would be classed as low pressure, anything above is high pressure.
An indication of low pressure without using a barometer would be when there are clouds in the sky, enough to not be able to see the stars. It might also be windy. Low pressure is said to be better for ledger fishing.
High pressure would typically display clear skies, with sunny days and cold nights. High pressure will bring the carp to the upper layers of the water, where surface fishing will likely catch you more fish.
Of course, these are only pointers and you should figure out the patterns of the lake by making a diary and noting down the details of each session.
If you fish cloudy waters as I do, fish can be more tricky to see. Instead of looking for fish, you will be looking for mud kicking up and the water being a different color.
Whereas, if you are fishing in clear waters, you might be able to spot the fish holding up from the margins.
Either way, a set of good polarized sunglasses will help you to spot the signs of moving and feeding carp.
If you can’t see the carp kicking up the lake bed, then you need to look out for bubblers, fish tails slapping on the water, or fins moving around on the surface.
Carp always show themselves eventually so be sure to put the time in looking for them.
Search The Margins
Fish always visit the margins, if it’s not to sunbathe, then its to feed on the bait thrown into the margins by the anglers at the end of the session. All anglers a guilty of throwing their bait into the water rather than taking it home and freezing it.
There is also lilypads or rushes in the margin which are a perfect sanctuary for the carp.
You will also find overhanging trees which are a perfect hiding place for carp and a get area for natural foods that fall into the lake from the trees.
I know of one lake that had an overhanging tree, close enough to the water that only a bait boat could be used to present a rig on the spot underneath it. This spot produced 80% of the largest carp in that lake because only one angler was smart enough to find the spot underneath.
Cast To The Islands
All carp love islands. Fish regularly visit islands because a lot of anglers will cast to them as they are a good safe haven from the other swims. Islands also act as a good shelter from the wind and hold natural baits for the carp to forage through.
These will also have overhanging trees for the fish to use as shelter and to feed off of.
The roots from the trees will provide an area for the fish to groom themselves as well as providing insects to feed on.
Some islands will have a slow and steady gradient to the edge of the island, so this area will warm up quicker than others on the lake, so you will regularly find fish basking in the sun.
Snag Fishing Can Be Rewarding
Fish feel safe in snags and most anglers won’t fish the snags due to the amount of gear that gets lost. But if you can safely get the fish out of the snags, or fish of the edge of the snags, snag fishing can be very rewarding.
Most of the time, it will be better to use float fishing gear to entice the fish out of the snags rather than casting a huge lead into the middle of it.
If you are using leads, be sure to make the rigs a safe rig by dropping the lead and not having any fixed components. Fish safety is paramount.
Diving Birds Are A Sign Of Feeding Fish
Technically, diving birds are a sign of bait, but if the birds are diving down to get to the bait, then someone has been fishing on that spot and there is a high chance that the fish will be feeding on the spot as well as the birds.
If you have a FishSpy, it’s worth having a cast on to the spot to see if there is anything worth investigating further.
Lake Bed Features
Fishing clear spots and gravel bars can put you onto the fish very quickly. Feature finding is a lot more laborious than spotting the fish from the side of the lake with polarized sunglasses, but it can be the key to picking off lots of carp rather than only one or two per session.
Finding the features on the lake is something a lot of anglers miss out on because they don’t put the time into the lake, learning the patterns of the fish and finding where the natural food larders are.
Gravel bars are used by the carp as navigation markers, and because those areas contain natural food.
At the bottom of gravel bars are silt gullies, which are also natural food larders, so don’t ignore these areas either.
Use the marker rod to find the spots, mark them down on your map and then get the Deeper Pro Plus and the FishSpy out to confirm what you are fishing on.
If there are no clear signs of fish and no islands to fish to, get the marker float out and start looking for the natural food larders.
Further reading: Coarse and Carp Fishing Watercraft – The Basics
Watercraft In Detail
Furthermore, be quick to move onto the fish if your swim goes quiet and you see them showing in another part of the lake.
What Is Watercraft?
It’s a skill developed over time of being able to read the water and the fish that live amongst it. Every lake is different in the way the fish feed and moves about the lake, but it takes time to really get to know the habits of the lake.
You can have all of the best tackle, all of the best bait, but if you aren’t in the right spot, or feeding the fish what they want, you are not going to catch.
Watercraft is about building a picture of the lake by learning the patterns of the lake;
- Where do the fish go when the lake is pressured?
- Where do the fish go when the lake is windy?
- Where do the fish go when the lake is cold?
- Where do the fish go when the lake is sunny?
Lots of little bits of information built up into one big picture, to give you the advantage of knowing where to find the fish, dependant on what is happening at the lake at that time.
It’s about knowing where the fish are and can be as simple as spotting a showing fish and casting towards it, rather than just accepting that the fish aren’t in front of you. But the more information you gather, the better picture you can build as to how to approach the lake.
To learn watercraft fully, you need to understand the quarry itself; it’s feeding habits, the environment they live in, and their characteristics. You will also need to understand how the weather and climate affect the fish, as well as angling pressure.
Many people would say that fish aren’t very intelligent and they just swim around eating all day, and that simply is not the case. They are quite intelligent and learn very quickly where the dangers are and when they need to be wary. You will see that for yourself when you see the fish moving around in the margins looking for food.
If you want to catch big fish consistently, you need to understand how they think and what their habits are. You can only do that by putting time into the lake.
Carp have a few ways of thinking, they use, what seems like, a short-term memory and a long-term memory. They use their long-term memories to go about their business day to day. Short-term memories become long-term memories through examples such as always being caught in a certain area or during a certain time of the day. These examples will eventually make fish warier and teach them where the danger is in the lake.
Knowing that these traits and habits exist, allow us to use them to our advantage by manipulating their short-term memory
Pre-baiting is one example of manipulating the short-term memory. If you are able to consistently put the bait into a certain part of the lake without any lines in the area, carp will learn that this is a safe area to feed without the risk of being caught.
Knowing they can feed on that bait safely, will get stored in their short-term memory, and then become a long-term memory over time.
An example of this is finding out where the fishery feeds the fish, and what bait they used. The fish will be conditioned to know that they will be feed from a certain swim, and that food is safe to eat. The fishery would have fed the fish this food throughout their life, so it will become part of their long-term memory.
A Carp’s Lifestyle and Environment
You need to understand are naturally inquisitive, but also very careful and easily spooked. The fish will decide when it wants to eat, and if it doesn’t feel comfortable they will move on and find food elsewhere.
The fish will learn that masses of bait is a trap if they have been caught on a baited spot in the past. So if you put out lots and lots of bait, their guard goes up and they will not feed off of your spot. Instead, it’s likely the young fish will be the ones to get caught feeding on baited spots because they haven’t learned about the danger yet.
The inquisitive nature of the carp is something else that can be manipulated. Many fish have been caught off of single baits cast out to showing fish because it isn’t very often that anglers put out single baits. Rigs that are cast in are usually followed by spods of bait or handfuls of boilies. There has to be a balance between temptation and fear. You need to add enough attraction to get the carp interested, without spooking them with huge beds of bait.
Now, obviously, there is a caveat to this. Big carp are caught off of big beds of bait all of the time, but this may coincide with them feeding up for the winter months, or coming out of hibernation during the spring months. But this will also differ from lake to lake.
All fish have different feeding habits and all fish have their own understanding of what is safe and what isn’t. This is apparently obvious when you hear of certain carp not being caught for years on end, then getting caught on a regular basis when the angler has learned the fish’s feeding habits, such as, what bait the fish likes and which part of the lake that particular fish will feed in.
You will also hear that big fish will feed on the outside of a baited spot because they know the rig (the danger) is probably in the middle of the bait.
Once you start studying certain fish on a particular lake, it is likely that you will notice that some of the fish are loners, yet some of them have a sidekick, and others swim around with lots of fish. Each of them has their own character and when you start learning about their characteristics, you will be able to start targeting particular fish and picking them off one by one as you will know where they like to go and what they are like when feeding.
If the fish you are targeting is a loner, you might find them in the margins. If they swim around in groups, you may opt to put out a larger bed of bait as it’s likely they will start competing for the food.
By putting time into the lake, testing, learning, talking to other anglers, trying new things, will teach you the patterns and build your understanding of the lake, getting you closer to understanding how those particular fish tick.
Using A Lake Map
Printing off a map before your session and marking it with notes whilst you are at the lake will provide you with information that 90% of anglers don’t bother collecting. Making notes will give you a huge edge when trying to learn the patterns of the lake.
Targeting a single water for a season rather than jumping between lakes will also give you a huge edge. Even the slightest practice of watercraft and making notes could highlight a particular area where certain fish like to feed. Reading my story of Dave and The Tree highlights exactly this. If I wasn’t on that particular lake, and I decided to go to the other lake with my friends, I wouldn’t have met Dave, and he wouldn’t have revealed his secrets. Just this one stroke of luck completely changed the way I approached that lake.