Simon Mansbridge – December on Badgers

12307460_1723737397850065_9127802641319408396_oDuring the last week of our 2015 season the carp in Badgers Holt had been quite actively showing. The weather conditions had been high pressure with very cold frosty sub-zero nights. There was very little in the way of visible activity during the day time. But each morning I walked along the Badgers dam just before dawn and again just after first light and there were clearly carp feeding with small patches of fizzing and a few very subtle shows where the fish would either, almost silently, head-and-shoulder or sometimes roll just under the surface leaving a nice vortex but again making no noise. I love this time of day and while the world is still sleeping, the carp almost always give you a sign. After watching for a few days, I was pretty certain that there was one spot that several fish were active over. The spot was about two thirds of the way between the monk and Koi Corner and about 10m off the dam. Although I had planned to fish Lac Serreire for the first week after we closed our season, I decided to do the first 24-48 hours on Badgers Holt before moving down to Lac Serreire.

After everyone had left on Saturday I walked up to Badgers and put a few boilies over the spot and also stood in the main swim and cast to the spot, lined up a tree on the far bank horizon, marked the line and put it in the spool clip to hopefully only need one cast to get on the spot when I started fishing. I then decided to leave the lake for the rest of the day and night and start fishing on the Sunday.

12314422_481759462004586_2688901555509685505_oIt’s worth saying at this point that I believe that the exact spot that you present a rig is absolutely critical on small high pressure lakes like Badgers Holt. There are general areas where you can often see the carp show and these are all spots that can produce. But for each of these there will be spots within the spots that produce far more takes. Sometimes these spots can be really small. Spending as much time, day and night, watching and listening for the carp is time really well invested. Location of the exact spot is the most important aspect of carp fishing in my opinion. I believe that echo sounders on bait boats are leading to a reduction in the amount of anglers that use a spare rod to ‘lead around’ with and map out what’s really out there on the bottom. This is a pity as I believe that this is a major edge. I like to spend a lot of time slowly pulling a lead across a spot and it’s amazing what you can feel especially at close range on a lake like Badgers Holt. You can very often feel the ‘polished’ areas where carp recently fed which feel different to rougher areas that still have, for example, dead leaves on them at the back end of the year.

12308085_481978681982664_6183291882082480995_oI set up around midday on Sunday. The left rod was cast to the spot that I had seen the fish the last few mornings. I decided not to bait any more as I wanted minimal disturbance on that rod having put a few baits in the day before. The right rod was positioned roughly half way across the lake and straight out from the tree that separates the two main Badgers swims. I loosely scattered a few boilies over this rod.

I only ever fish two rods on Badgers as I believe that ‘less-is-more’ on small waters. More rods can actually reduce your chances instead of increasing them. I have long been of the opinion that one rod on the identified ‘best chance’ spot is better than lots of rods being used in hope. Too many lines and more disturbance can really stress the carp.

I also prefer to fish just under a brolly whenever possible and for this short session decided to stay up as much of the night as possible and listen for activity. An open fronted brolly is much better for this since bivvies restrict your view and can demotivate people to be up during the night which can be the best time to work out what the carp are really doing.

12279150_481978645316001_850491992193894296_nRigs were my standard D-blow-back set ups with Wide Gape barbless size 6 hooks, fairly aggressive shrink tube line-aligners, 5” hook links, MCF clips and light leads for minimal disturbance off the cast. I also think that tricky carp can sometimes use heavier leads to their advantage and get rid of a hook without moving the lead and therefore giving the angler no indication. Hook baits were the ever-reliable Crayfish & Squid cork-dust wafters fished on long hairs of around 40mm. This is another thing that very few people use these days and is a huge edge once you gain confidence in it. It is worth reading about the original hair-rig and how devastatingly effective it was back when it was developed by Lenny Middleton and Kevin Maddocks all those years ago. I remember using 2 inch long hairs almost 35 years, when I was first shown the rig, and catching carp of around 10lb. Now imagine how much bigger the mouth cavity is on a 40lb+ fish. Long hairs usually give fantastic hook holds. And pressured carp make many more mistakes with long hairs for all the reasons that the rig was invented for in the first place. Because 95% of anglers these days use very short hairs, in doing so we have educated the carp to easily detect a bait that is attached to a rig. Use a long hair and it’s totally different for them. It pays to be different.

The first half of the night was very quiet with no activity that I could hear. Around midnight I had line bite on the left rod. Just a couple of bleeps but definitely a liner as the indicator settled back to exactly the same position. At around 2am a fish topped towards the monk and I guessed a couple of rod lengths my side of it. In the next couple of hours several more fish topped. It was a very dark night, but by standing in a couple of positions just left and right of the swim and watching the direction that the ripples came from, I guessed that the spot was just left of the monk and about 2 rod lengths my side of it. I had in fact seen a few fish crash in this area two weeks before and always at night. I also think that the earlier line bite was from one of the fish in this area since my left rod’s line cut through just to the right of where they were showing. At 4am I decided to re-position the left rod so I wound it in very quietly keeping the lead high in water but not skimming the surface. The lead was changed to an even lighter 1oz dumpy pear for minimal disturbance and I put a three half-bait PVA stringer on to give a tiny bit more attraction and also reduce the risk of a tangle on the cast. The rig was cast as close as I could to where I thought the activity had been and, out of habit, I marked the line.

For the next few hours I drank brew after brew and listened, hoping that I had managed to get the rig in without spooking them. At about 5am another fish topped on the same spot and up until 8am there were a couple more shows but no activity on the rod. The activity completely stopped at 8am but I decided to leave the rods alone since there was nothing to be gained with disturbing them. At about 10.30am the left rod, that had been re-position in the night, bleeped a couple of times and the line tightened up, a typical Badgers Holt take resulting in a lovely 40lb 6oz half-linear mirror in it’s cold water, winter colours.

01-12-2015 09-33-49I re-cast the rod back to the same spot and decided to bring in the right rod and leave it wound in unless a carp showed in a different area. I decided to sleep for a couple of hours and then scan the water again in the late afternoon for any signs. At around 3pm, I thought I saw a vortex down to the right about half way down to the shallows and roughly on the centre line of the lake. There was a light ripple on the water, but something caused a very slight flat spot and it looked like quite a bit of water had been shifted so it did look carpy although I wasn’t 100% sure. As always, I lined the spot up with a tree on the far horizon and also a shadow on the water for distance. Just before dark, I cast the right rod on the new spot, again with a stringer attached.

My nightly routine of brewing cups of tea started again and around midnight a fish topped in the same area as the night before and very close to the left rod. I finally fell asleep in the early hours but woke to a few bleeps on the left rod at around 4am. Again the line was tight but not moving, but it was obviously a take resulting in a lightly scaled mirror of just over 40lb. Again, the rod was re-cast to the spot using the line marker and spool clip.

After watching it get light, at 8.45am the right hand rod was away and this time a ‘proper’ take as opposed to just a couple of bleeps. This resulted in a mid-40 very deep mirror which was a great way to finish the short Badgers session. By midday I moved down to Lac Serreire for a week’s fishing there.

A few people asked me what are the key factors to catching the Badgers Holt carp? These are just my personal opinion; I believe that location of the exact spots is the most important factor. The carp always give you a sign, but often the signs are subtle and at night. They are very easily missed. To me it’s absolutely critical to watch and, very importantly, also listen and then act on what you see and hear. A few feet off the exact spot that a fish shows can be the difference between not catching and catching. The next factor is to use a bait that the carp really want and apply it correctly for the given conditions. There is a huge difference between a well applied HNV food bait that they search for and eat like it’s a natural food source compared to a bait that they haven’t really seen before or that is just an attractor bait with little nutritional value. Bait choice on Badgers is absolutely crucial. The last factor is to use an efficient rig that presents well on the type of bottom it lands on, fools the carp to take the bait and hook in their mouth and where the hook turns and pricks them after only very slight movement at that point. Very small details and changes can make unexpectedly huge differences. For example a 10mm shorter hair or a 25mm longer hook length would have probably resulted in much less chance during this session.

Finally there is no one solution to catching these carp. The tactics used here would be totally wrong in warm water conditions where a lot more bait would be an advantage, the application of the bait would be different and the presentation would need to be adjusted to suit. Watching, thinking and adapting throughout the session is very important.

Tight lines everybody for 2016!

Simon Mansbridge