Author: Dean Brookes

Spring Preparation – Pimping your Hook-baits

A variety of options for my spring hook-baits

With Spring just around the corner this is the month where I will be busy preparing several hook-baits, in preparation for when I hit the banks. This includes both bottom baits, wafters, pop-ups and plastic options, all with slightly different additives or liquids to boost their attraction.

What follows are several of my own favorite spring hook-baits and how I prepare them. These are all tried and tested and I’ve caught many carp on them over the years, but there are literally hundreds of different options available to you with the only limit being your imagination.

Plastic Baits

Plastic corn soaked in a flavor fooled this upper 50lb common

For the most part I use plastic corn and maize with nearly every hook-bait I cast out. This includes using them as a topper to bottom baits and pop-ups, but also on their own.

My standard additive is Hinders Betalin as this leaves a lingering odor on the plastic. In some cases I’ll also add a flavor, such as pineapple.

Application: After using the plastic for a few sessions, simply put it back into the container to soak again. If needed, add extra liquid to coat.

Betalin and a flavor to boost attraction

Korda Goo

Almond goo soaked hook-baits

Goo has been out for several years but I don’t see it being used that much. I’ve had great success with both the smoke’s and the supreme variations, with the main difference being the viscosity of the liquids. My particular favorites have been the almond, bumbleberry and mangonana although this spring I’m trying the mystic spice as I’ve found spice baits to be particularly effective in the spring.

An autumn capture using Korda goo

Application: Add the supreme first as it will penetrate the baits better. Over a few days make sure to shake the container to completely coat the baits. Once coated, add the smoke liquid and repeat the process.

Mangonana pop-ups ready to go

Boster Sprays

I typically add a few squirts of the boster spray to the baits, every week or so as it will soak in and then dry. Prior to a session I will repeat this process.

Classic corn boilies ready for boosting
Coated and ready to go

Application: Once the bait is ready to be cast out, I will add a quick spray onto the hook-bait, pva mesh or even the lead to boost the attraction levels.

Pink Pepper – A firm Spring favorite
A single hook-bait boosted with a matching spray can be deadly

Liquid Glugs

These come in several variations and make be a complementary flavor or something completely different; such as the Spotted Fin Finamino which is specifically designed as an additive.

Finished product
Hook-baits ready to go

Application: With the glugs I will place the hook-link with the attached bait into the pot (during the session) and leave for a few hours. If the glug is pva friendly I will also soak the pva bag (mesh or solid bag). With the Finamino I use this ahead of time and soak the hook-baits for at least a few days.

A matching flavored glug resulted in this beauty


I generally use alcohol additives during the winter as they do not coagulate in low temperatures. However, these can be deadly in early spring. Over the years I’ve used whisky and vodka which is especially effective on maize hook-baits.

I also use Bailey’s Irish Cream (there are cheaper options available) for pop-ups. You can also add this liquid to your feed bait as well.

A liberal glug of Baileys

Application: Liberally add this to your hook-bait pot. With vodka or whisky, you can also add a flavor, although it’s not really needed.

A winter thirty, taken on an alcohol soaked bait


These hook-baits take much more time and effort to prepare but have produced several big fish for me in the spring. I start by taking my hook-baits (usually ones I’ve made myself) and adding them to a container. I then will coat them in an oil (Salmon or halibut oil is my preferred choice). The next step is to add a powder (I use a pre-made ground-bait such as betaine) and shake them until coated.

You will repeat this step several times over a period of at least a week, until the baits develop almost a paste wrap around them.

Cultured bottom baits

Application: These baits will last several seasons if prepared correctly. Ahead of the session, just add a little oil and powder and repeat the process to freshen them up.

An upper 30 that took a liking to the cultured hook-bait

To buy and try your hand at pimping you’re very own hook baits. Follow the links below over to Big Carp Tackle.

Product Review – Fox EOS Barbel Rod (11ft 1.75lb)


11FT 1.75LB

In my last article I went into my approach to winter fishing, specifically using a feeder method and approach. To fish this method effectively you do require a few specialist items, the first being a good rod, that is not only capable of registering subtle bites at the tip end, but one that can also handle carp up to around 20lb’s in weight.

Over the last several years I have used a few different rods to achieve this, however, in truth these have been other rods I have had on hand that while useable were not really designed for the job. Around 18 months ago I started to look at rods that could match these needs and fortunately, around the same time period Fox International started to release a range of barbell rods which look perfect for the job.

Looking for a rod to land carp up to 20lb’s

I took a look at several of their offerings and as I typically use these rods in the winter, I wanted a rod that was up to the task, but also would not break the bank. I also wanted a rod that would offer a nice action to play carp on as well and not be overpowered on the small rivers. I settled on an 11 foot rod, with a test curve of 1.75lb’s and ordered them to arrive in the spring of 2020. Over the past 6 months I’ve used these rods several times and caught over 50 fish on them. They are exactly what I was looking for and at less than $75 per rod are also a great deal. Below is a short review of my experience of the rods.

Fox Website Description

  • Designed to offer outstanding value for money
  • Perfect for small river barbel
  • Also ideal for specimen chub and small water tench/bream
  • Lightweight low resin carbon construction
  • Fox Slik guides throughout
  • Top quality 17mm reel seat
  • High grade cork handle
  • Understated graphics
  • Matt black finish with gunsmoke cappings

Rod Styling

The rods while on the cheaper end of the spectrum are very pleasing to the eye. On inspection the reel seatings are solid and the guides are of a higher quality than I’d expect from a rod in this price range. I also love the cork handles which again, is of a much higher quality than I was expecting.

The tip section is colored white to stand out and has a nice soft action, ideal for registering bites. The rod is ideal for a small carp reel such as an EOS 7000 reel. As I had an old pair of Shimano 3500 bait-runners I put them on, and they have matched perfectly. The reels were spooled up with 10lb line and ready for action.

Rods in Action


For most of my small river carping I am fishing fairly slow moving water and either using cage feeders or small leads. I am not typically casting more than 2-3 ounces of weight and while I’m sure these rods could ‘lob’ something bigger, the soft tip is not really designed to do this.

I have found the rods to be very accurate when casting both feeders and leads and I have also free-lined with them to good effect as well.

Typical groundbait mix for use in the feeder

Bite Indication

As these rods are designed for barbell fishing they are ideal for the type of fishing I am using them for. In the UK, most anglers are fishing for barbel between 5-15lb’s but the record is in excess of 20lb’s and these rods are more than capable of handling that strain.

I use the tip section for indication and while it is not super sensitive, again it is ideal for carp. It does register small knocks but does not bounce all over the place. A ‘proper’ bite will see the tip pull around and most times the fish will already be hooked.

Playing a fish

Playing Fish

So far I have caught around 50 fish on these rods and they have performed excellently. They are soft and forgiving under the tip but also have plenty of power in reserve when you double them over. I have caught carp to just under 20lb’s on these rods so far but I would guess they could handle bigger fish, as long as you’re using balanced tackle.

One in the net


My initial 6 months use sees me very impressed, especially considering the price of the rods. They were exactly what I was looking for and are now a permanent fixture to my year round fishing tackle. I will primarily use these rods for feeder fishing but they will also be used for free-lining and most likely floater fishing as well. All in all excellent value for money and highly recommended.

Nice double landed on the rods

The rods are also available in 12ft versions and higher test curves (2.25lb’s).

To purchase the rods from Big Carp Tackle, follow the link below:

To purchase the Specialist net from Big Carp Tackle, follow the link below:


Feeder Fishing for Carp

Before I ever started to target carp specifically I fished for other species both small and large. I’m sure many carp anglers started the same way; float fishing for small fish or throwing a lure around to see what would hit it. My own fishing journey started with canal perch, then progressing onto larger species such as tench, bream, chub and barbel before finally specializing with carp.


Along the way I fished many different methods with several of these methods suitable for many different species. One method I particularly enjoyed was fishing using a lighter rod where bites were registered on the tip of the rod. Dependent on the rod you are using and the specific end tackle arrangement this can be referred to as the quiver tip (light rod with adjustable soft tips), feeder fishing (using various swim feeders), swing tip (a tip attachment that swings, rather than bends) the bomb (use of a lead) and so on. For this particular article I’ll just refer to the method as feeder fishing, but basically I am referring to the use of a lighter rod set-up where the use of the tip of the rod is the bite indication method.


Why Change Methods?

Generally I will adjust the methods I am using to target carp based on several factors including; size of venue, size of carp, depth of water, feeding habits, time of year, weather patterns etc. Most of the year you will find me fishing for large carp and as such my methods are much more Euro-centric. I will be fishing with alarms, rod rests, bolt rigs and baits such as particles and boilies. However, when it comes to my winter fishing I like to be more mobile and also not limited to a static feeding approach. This is where the feeder comes into play.

A snow carp, caught using a feeder approach

I decided to switch over the feeder rod tactics three or four winters ago. I was fishing a venue I have caught hundreds of fish from with regular carp tactics but with increased pressure I was seeing that the carp were very, very cute. They absolutely knew they were being fished for and most of the time, bite indication on a standard bolt rig was very finicky. It also coincided with a Christmas gift from one of my friends; a rod that I would usually be used to tame big chub and barbell. This would prove the perfect tool for catching wary winter carp over the next couple of years. I was also targeting carp in the 5-20lb range, but it is also possible to purchase stronger feeder rods that are designed for big carp.

Traveling light and keeping tackle to a minimum

Equipment Used

Rods – My own rod is a 12ft through action (3 piece) Specialist. While it has no test curve stated, it’s approximately 1lb to 1.25lb in test curve. It will comfortably cast a couple of ounces of lead and so far I have landed fish up to 20lb’s in weight, although I have heard of an angler using the same rod in France for carp over 30lb’s!!

There are many ‘feeder’ specific rods you can purchase online, but you could also look for a 9-11 foot rod with a soft tip. Basically, you want the rod to have enough power to land decent sized carp but the tip of the rod needs to be soft enough to register the bite indication without too much resistance.

Quiver tip rod

Reels – As the rods are lighter you need to drop the size of the reel so the set-up is balanced. You will be holding the rod more and will be much more active so a heavy reel will definitely be a burden. I use a couple of Abu Garcia CD 1000 reels, which I have had for several years but any small reel which holds about 100 yards of 8-10lb line will be sufficient. One thing to bear in mind is that you also want a reel with a smooth drag as this will help when playing the fish. Spending a little bit more on a quality reel will definitely be appreciated when you are playing a double figure carp.

My preferred reel for feeder fishing

Line – I load my reels with 8-10lb mono, usually Berkley Big Game as it’s very tough and abrasive resistant but any decent mainline will suffice. For the hook-links I use a fluro-carbon line, usually in the 6-8lb bracket, depending on the size of the fish I am catching and also if I am fishing near to snags.


Hooks – As I am using lighter rods, reels and lines the hook sizes are also reduced. As I am fishing for hard fighting carp that can many times be over the 15lb mark I need a hook pattern that is strong and reliable. Most regular carp hooks do not go below a size # 10 so after some research I have settled on a fly fishing pattern, made by Mustad. These hooks are available in size # 10 all the way to # 20 and are very strong.

Some essential rig elements and a home-made cage feeder

Feeders and Leads – Again, you can purchase swim feeders from Europe on many online websites and while these are purpose made, they are fairly pricey. Most of the time I am feeder fishing I am using a ground bait as well and the best feeder to use in this case is an ‘open ended cage swim feeder’. I can make dozens of these for only a few dollars simply by purchasing a sheet of metal gutter guard, some steel cable wire and either lead strips or cheap ½ to 1 oz flat leads. I also use basic non-lead sinkers in the ¼ to 1oz range which are easily picked up at any Walmart or sports store.


End Tackle Arrangements

Similar to the different swim feeders available there are also multiple ways you can set-up your end tackle arrangements. I’ll highlight the two set-ups I use the most below.

Loop Rig – Allows the feeder to move up the loop which minimizes the resistance when a fish picks up the bait.

Paternoster Rig – The hook-link is longer than the lead/feeder link to avoid tangles and also to aid indication.

Bait Attachment

With the invention of the modern hair rig back in the early 1980’s carp fishing was revolutionized. No longer were anglers hovering over their rods attempting to hit ‘twitches’ and coupled with the bolt rig, carp fishing and hooking carp in general became a much easier and more consistent process.


For most of my fishing you will find me using modern approaches and as well as the hair rig I’ll also utilize heavy leads and bigger hooks. It’s the complete opposite when I approach my feeder fishing. Yes, I could use a hair rig, but remember, I am not attempting to have the carp bolt when it picks up the bait. In fact, quite the opposite! In theory, as the carp sucks in the bait I will see the indication on the rod tip and thus strike into the carp.

Simple bait choices; with sweetcorn, worms and a decent method mix

With this approach I use smaller hooks, in the size 10-14 range. As importing hooks specifically for feeder fishing is not a consistent approach I have found a few decent patterns of hooks in the fly fishing world. Specifically, I look for a strong wire nymph hook, usually with a curved shank pattern. You’ll be surprised how strong a little hook can be and I have landed many carp up to 20lbs on relatively small hooks.


Attaching the bait is a very easy affair, with one or two grains of sweetcorn nipped onto the hook. I also use other particles directly on the hook, such as chick peas, black eyed beans and maples peas but sweetcorn is truly the king of feeder baits!

A simple set-up with a paternoster rig and two grains of corn directly on the hook

How to get Started

A typical session for me will range from 2-4 hours. I will arrive at the river and depending on the weather and fish activity I will put a little bait out before I start fishing. Usually, this will be 15-20 minutes prior to me setting up which will give the carp time to find the bait and hopefully start to feed.

A deer feed based ground bait and sweetcorn for the hook

Once I make my first cast I will be looking not only for solid bite indication but also for any fish activity. In the winter the carp tend to be more localized and as such it may take several casts to locate the fish. Line bites and sharp hits are usually a good indication that the fish are willing to feed.


At this point I will feed with a little and often approach, catapulting in a few grains of sweetcorn and sometime sinking pellets with every cast. If bites are coming regularly then I will keep the same approach, but if they slow down I will either increase the feeding regime or stop it all together! It really depends on how active the fish are and what indication I am receiving.


On days when the fish are not playing ball, then I may shorten or lengthen the hook-link and at times drop to an very light lead, even touch ledgering where I am in direct contact and can ‘feel’ the carp pick up the bait.

Sitting and waiting for a bite – Patience is the key

The beauty about feeder fishing is that due to the lighter set-up and lead arrangement you can recast regularly with little disturbance to the swim. You are also traveling relatively light so moving swims is also very easy. It’s not unusual for me to fish 3 or 4 different areas in only a few hours of feeder fishing.

However, the main draw for me is that playing the fish on a lighter rod is much, much more fun. It may take you longer to land the fish but I lose very few, even with light line and small hooks as the soft action rod(s) take the lunges and runs with relative ease. You really can’t help but smile as you are playing the fish, it really is that much fun.

Another beautiful mirror caught using feeder tactics and a big smile from the angler

St Lawrence Revisited

The stunning background of the St Lawrence River

It’s often said, ‘you should never go back’ but in the case of the St Lawrence River it had been a long 4 years since I had last walked it’s banks. I first visited this magnificent river system in 2011 and fished several swims over 3 days, searching for fish and all in all having a wonderful experience. If you’ve never fished the St Lawrence let me highlight a few things that make it so special.

First off, it’s around 740 miles long and in several of the sections is around 1-1.5 miles across. It’s referred to as the ‘St Lawrence River Seaway’ because on a daily basis you will see ships and tankers making their way up and down the river. The sheer size of the water may intimidate some, but it’s one of the beautiful aspects of the water. Secondly, along both the American and Canadian sides you have all manner of stretches; fast flowing shallow sections, deep dredged areas, inlets, bays and islands galore. The real challenge is choosing an area to fish. Third, the bank access is very good, if you do some research or even better, talk to the locals who are more than happy to share their river. Last but not least, the carp! Like all fishing, it can be hard at times but with big shoals of carp roaming the river the action can be thick and fast if you manage to locate them. The average size may be 15-25lb’s, but 30lb fish are common and there have been fish caught to over 50lb. Whatever the size, one thing I can guarantee is that they all fight very, very hard and will put your tackle to the test.

A nice ‘muddler’ to start

Back to my story; after my 2011 visit I was eager to get back the following year and when I did I had another great session with plenty of good fish and my first 30lb+ common from America. Again, I vowed to be back, but with work and also a big fish obsession on my local rivers I kept putting it off. Fast forward to this year and with my wife working and knowing that the first weekend of September would be my last one free until the middle of November I decided to hit the road.

Bait was order, particles were prepared, the car was packed and I also loaded my dog Lily to accompany me on the long 350 miles drive up to the Canadian border and the town of Ogdensburg. As alway’s the ride to the start a fishing trip is much easier than the one home, and with only one stop to walk the dog I made it up to the river in only 6 hours. My plan was to pre-bait one area where I thought the fish would be and then go and fish the next 24-36 hours in two other spots. If the first swims were successful I could always stay put, but it never hurts to have a back-up plan or two. I liberally baiting with around 3-4kg of boilies over one spot and around 2 gallons of mixed particles and tiger nuts over another spot and then made the short drive to the first spot I would fish.

This first spot was one that was alive with fish on my first visit but was a challenge to fish as the margins were strewn with the remains of an old dock! Due to this reason, I attached a good 25 feet of 30lb mono leader onto my reels and also upper the strength of all my other tackle. I set-up camp and put out some bait and sat back to wait for some signs of carp. Unfortunately, over the next 5 hours I didn’t see one sign of fish. Due to this I decided to move several hundred yards to the edge of the fishable area to see if the carp were hanging out in the slightly deeper water. Again, nothing occurred, apart from a fat channel cat.

I decided to stay put until the next morning at which point I would move, unless the fish turned up. It was a relatively quite night, until 3am when one of the rods screamed off and I was attached to a carp at last. Knowing the snags were a factor I wanted to let the fish run a bit and then let it tire itself out, before dealing with it in the margins; however the fish had other ideas. It kited to the right and swam straight to shore. It knew exactly where the snags were and even though I kept up with it and moved down the bank it inevitable found sanctuary! I was gutted, but realized this swim would be very hard to fish on my own as a second person with the net is really needed so you can stay high on the bank and keep pressure on the fish. I quickly packed away all of my gear, even though it was 3.15am and made the drive back to my pre-baited area.

Once I arrived I took my time to set-up again and baited one rod at a time. The area in question is fairly uniform in depth with the margins being as deep as the water 100 yards out, due to it being dredged to allow boats to run through. I put out my first rod in a margin spot about 3 rod lengths out from the bank and threw 3 or 4 handfuls of tiger nuts over the top. I would then put my other 2 rods over the area baited with boilies. I was quite surprised when only 10 minutes later the margin rod tore off and after a 5 minute fight I had my first fish on the mat which was joined 5 minutes later by another nice fish from one of the boilie rods.

Long hard fighting commons is what the St Lawrence is known for

It was obvious I had fish in the area and they had been feeding on my bait. Over the next couple of hours until daylight broke I had another 3 fish, all falling to my marginal tiger nut rod. Rather than heavily bait again, I went with a baiting approach I often use; fish for one fish at a time and then re-bait. This consisted of a few handfuls of tigers, 30-40 soluble boilies and 5-6 spods of hemp and cracked corn.

It was interesting to note that out of the first dozen fish only one of them fell to the boilie rods. In fact I may as well have been fishing with one rod! A rethink on how to fish the other two rods was required as I really wanted to have 3 productive spots. I could have been swayed by my results on boilies in the past, but it was obvious that tiger nuts and particles were more effective on this session, most likely due to the water temperatures which were still over 70 degrees. In warm water it really is hard to beat tiger nuts and having retained one decent fish for 30 minutes in the sling it was easy to see that they were loving them too; the sling was covered in crushed tiger nuts that the carp was expelling. I also noticed as the session went on that several of the carp were also excreting zebra muscles which may explain their love of crunchy food.

A chunky early morning common was a welcome visitor

Back to my spots. When I last fished the swim the depths were 17 feet from the margins to over 100 yards but on casting this did not appear to be the case 4 years on. The margins were still 15 feet deep (a lack of rainfall had the river down 2-3 feet) but once you got 30 yards out the depths were only 10 feet or so! What had changed? After speaking to a local angler, I discovered the area had not been dredged for the last 4 years which was creating a build up of silt and sand from the nearby connecting smaller river. I’m not sure if this was the reason the fish were more comfortable in the margins but the activity was definitely greater.

I moved on of my boilie rods off the baited area and placed it in a second margin spot, again only 3-4 rod lengths out. My margin spots were well spread apart so in effect I was fishing two separate areas. Both spots were fed with tiger nuts and particles. I kept my boilie spot going and even though the action was lacking I regularly put 50-100 baits over the spot in the hope that when the carp did feed on this spot I would attract a few bigger specimens.

During my second day the action was steady with runs coming every hour or so. My second margin spot began to produce and by early evening I was up to around 15 carp in total with a few over the 25lb mark. The great thing about the St Lawrence fish is that for the most part they are in immaculate condition. Most likely the vast majority have never seen the bank and they certainly put a fight up to avoid the net. I wasn’t the only one having fun either. My dog, Lily was loving the action and would either howl at me from a distance when I was playing a fish or if able, swim out and try and land the carp herself. I’m not sure she’s the ideal carping dog, but she certainly keeps it interesting.

My dog Lily loves the water and she also loves to bark!

Towards the end of the day one of the local anglers, Tim, came down to chat and as the action continued helped me net a few fish and also landed one himself when I had a double take. The local anglers and the people in general are very friendly and helpful and really embrace visitors to their area. I chatted to time past midnight and as I had slept only 3 hours the previous night I decided to turn in. The carp had other ideas though as the boilie area finally sprang to life, along with the margin rods also steadily producing.

The boilies finally started to produce some better fish

I moved my chair and sleeping bag next to the rods but didn’t really get more than 10 minutes rest at a time as I had around 15 carp before dawn finally came. The best part was the fish weights went up with the last 7 or 8 fish all being between 23-29lb’s. No thirties but I really wasn’t complaining. Finally, as the sun came up I took a few shots of the better fish and started to pack up slowly. I had another 24 hours fishing scheduled but with no sleep and work to do at home I was happy to leave early. No doubt I would have continued to catch and may even have got through to bigger fish, but I was happy with the session and I always like to leave something for next time.

Overall, my results were pretty good considering the water temperatures were still pretty high. I much prefer Fall conditions when the fish really start to feed, but by finding some fish and maximizing the area I had been able to catch fish regularly. I don’t keep meticulous records anymore, as I prefer to enjoy the ride now and not get hung up in numbers, but I would guess I had around 35 carp or so with around half of these being over 20lbs and 6 or 7 over the 25lb mark. All in all, well worth the 700 mile round trip.

Two tone - Copy
A cracking two tone common was the highlight of the trip

If you’ve never been to the St Lawrence, I can’t recommend it enough. If you have visited, you no doubt are keen to get back. For myself, I’ll be hoping to get back in a few months and maybe next year I can get across the border to the Canadian side for a real adventure.


Surface Fishing with Pellets

With the summer heat and humidity in full swing at the moment I find myself much preferring short sessions or night fishing. As I’m originally from the North of England I am not a lover of the sun, in fact I prefer the winter, which might sound strange but then again I’ve been called much worse over the years!

A couple of weeks ago I decided to nip out for a few hours in the middle of the day. The weather was 92 degrees and very humid so it was not exactly good conditions to catch carp in. However, I headed for a very shallow section of the Blackstone Canal and the plan was to either walk around and stalk a few fish or drift some small floating pellets across the canal and get the carp feeding on the surface.

Now many of you I am sure have used bread; either floating or sinking to stalk and catch carp. I also utilize this method and have caught carp to over 40lbs doing exactly this as it’s a great technique to catch carp that are cruising or feeding in small groups. I’m sure some of you have even used dog or cat biscuits to catch carp off the surface, but I’d bet very few of you have ever used floating pellets.

A Yellow Koi carp that couldn’t resist floating pellets

Why use pellets? I have to go back to the early 1990’s when I was happily catching carp on bolt rigs and boilies. I was visiting ‘The Anglers Workshop’, which is owned by Kev Baines, who builds rods and generally gives out sage advice. He is also well known for telling you where you are going wrong! In this case, he was asking why myself and my fishing partner were wasting our time sitting behind rods. He then proceeded to show us a large bag of floating trout pellets and over the next few hours described how they were best employed. Fast forward to the following week where I saw first hand exactly how effective they can be in the right situation. Let me explain.

Pellet Choice

Originally I was using floating trout pellets, approximately 4mm in diameter. However, I have used various sizes over the years to see if their effectiveness differs. I have found that if you use solely larger sizes (8mm+) the carp will feed very similar to how they do with mixer biscuits; they will come up for one or two baits and then drop back down to cruise around. With the inclusion of 4mm and smaller pellets the carp eventually come to the surface and then stay on the surface! They basically swim around with their backs and mouths out of the water, sucking in the pellets.

A dog biscuit caught carp, before I discovered floating pellets
A dog biscuit caught carp, before I discovered floating pellets

I would be quite happy to fish with trout pellets, but I have found a much better and cheaper pellet that is easily ordered from a grain or feed store. There may be other makes but my own personal choice is Purina Aqua Chow Pellets. They are available in sizes from 200 to 800 and I generally order two sizes and then mix them up. Price wise they usually retail for $30-40 for a 25lb bag. In a typical 2-4 hour session I will use around 2-3 gallons of pellets, but they are very versatile and you can add them to method mixes or scald them with hot water and form them into paste; I have also blended them into a powder and used them as a base mix for fishmeal boilies!

Enhancing your Bait

The pellets on their own are excellent but if you want to give them a boost or if you have any duck weed present a simple dousing in oil will really help. Personally I use hemp or sesame oil. I will also add liquid/flavor to the pellets on occasions and a personal favorite is Nutrabaits Blue Oyster booster liquid. With the oil added the duck weed will disperse and if you have any wind on the water you will also be able to create a flat spot where the bait is located.

Feed Them before you Fish

On occasions when a fish is close in I will free-line a bait to them without feeding as you can sometimes get an instant result. However, when using the pellets correctly I am attempting to create competition amongst the carp and more importantly, confidence. If the fish are feeding warily they are much, much harder to fool.

The best way I have found to feed the pellets is with either a catapult or a throwing spoon. I will set myself up in an area where I can get the pellets to drift; this usually means you want to be on the back of any wind that is blowing. I will then feed them in regularly, every 2-3 minutes. This may go on for an hour or more until I get the feeding response I am looking for. It’s very tempting to cast in as soon as you see the fish feeding, BUT if you do you will most likely ruin your chances of catching more than one fish.

Once the carp are up on the surface, cruising around and feeding heavily I am then happy to start fishing for them. This does not mean that I will stop baiting. It’s almost impossible to overfeed the carp with these pellets and a bucket of 2-3 gallons usually sees me through a session. I will keep up the baiting every 2-3 minutes and if I see the fish slow down I will increase the feeding! I will even continue feeding as I am playing a fish and it is not uncommon the see fish actively feeding next to a hooked carp as they become preoccupied.

In this shot the fish are taking the pellets but are not pre-occupied
In this shot the fish are taking the pellets but are not pre-occupied


After regular feeding the fish are now up on the surface, feeding very confidently
After regular feeding the fish are now up on the surface, feeding very confidently

After you have landed a fish you may notice the feeding will decrease. Be patient and resume the feeding and in most cases the fish will resume their activities each time.

Equipment Needed

You can certainly use whatever carping equipment you currently have, but I would recommend scaling down. Generally you will be fishing lighter lines and using smaller hooks, so a soft through action rod will be ideal. It does not have to be 12 feet in length and in fact a 9-10ft rod is ideal as it can also be used as a stalking rod. You also can scale down your reel size as there is no need for reels that hold 200-500 yards of line.

A balanced set-up makes surface fishing much more fun
A balanced set-up makes surface fishing much more fun

My own set-up consists of a couple of different options, based on the size of fish I am targeting. For larger fish I will use a 2.25lb rod, coupled with a 4500 Shimano bait runner whereas for smaller fish (under 20lb) I will use a couple of different rods (8-11 feet) which are very soft and have test curves of between 1-1.5lb. I will also use much smaller reels that hold about 100 yards of line.

Traveling light with only the essentials
Traveling light with only the essentials

Line wise you will want to use mono-filament as the added stretch is a major help when playing fish on lighter set-ups. Again the breaking strain depends on the size of fish you are targeting but most times I will be using 8-10lb main-line and a 6-8lb hook-link. With the hook-link I will be using a fluro carbon for the added invisibility; just make sure you take care over your knots as fluro carbon is not forgiving if you kink or damage it.

With hooks you will really need to scale down, but make sure you still choose a pattern and make that is very strong. I used size 8-10 hooks, usually Fox Arma Point SSBP’s.

You will also need a float of some description, unless you are fishing within 15 yards of the bank. Fox, Korda and Nash all make good models and you can also use bubble floats. I will set these up, inline style with a float stop to keep them in place. They also will aid with hooking the carp if they take the bait positively as they have some resistance to them. With a float I will use a hook-link of 4-8ft, depending on the size of the rod.

Hook-Bait Options

This is where it can get complicated!! My choice and style of hook-bait will be very much dependent on how confident the carp feed and if they are wary of bigger hook-baits. Generally your hook- bait will be bigger than the feed so the carp can be more cautious when taking them.

You can choose to hair rig a plastic imitation bait, a mixer biscuit or even a cut down pop-up. If you do hair rig your bait I would recommend that you mount the bait tight to the hook as in this case you do not want separation between your hook and bait; in fact, you want your bait and hook to go in at the same time. When I am waiting to strike, as soon as I see the hook-bait disappear I know the hook is inside the carp’s mouth and this I will hit into the fish, hopefully hooking it.

Terminal tackle and some hook bait options
Terminal tackle and some hook bait options

In some cases the fish will suck in and blow out your bait before you have chance to strike or they may simply approach your hook-bait and then abort the take or back off the bait. In this case the fish knows something is wrong and most likely sees the hook. My approach now would be to side hook a bait and trim it down to mimic the actual feed. However, remember that you also need to see your hook-bait otherwise you are relying on the fish to hook itself!

This fish took a cut down boilie
This fish took a cut down boilie

Other Necessities

Without a doubt make sure you have a decent pair of polaroid glasses, which will help you both see the carp and also see your hook-bait. A peaked hat or baseball cap will also help you vision. Stay off the skyline where possible, but more importantly be stealthy. Do not stamp around the bank and make slow deliberate movements. I have been within a foot or so of feeding carp and not spooked them, even when moving but sudden noises or movement will see them disappear.

A baseball cap, a decent pair of polaroid glasses and a catapult are all essential tools for the surface fisherman
A baseball cap, a decent pair of polaroid glasses and a catapult are all essential tools for the surface fisherman

Another little trick you can use is to grease your line with a small dab of vaseline which will help it float and thus make controlling the float and hook-bait much easier.

Recent Results

Lets go back to the Blackstone Canal where I was out for a few hours. I arrived to find a shallow section covered by duck weed, which was also acting as a cover for lots of small carp. As soon as I introduced the pellets the carp were feeding, although knowing this spot I was not fooled as they are usually very hard to tempt off the surface. As an example I also had a feeder rod with me and on several occasions while I was feeding pellets I cast out a couple of pieces of corn to a different area and had to wait less than 5 minutes on each occasion before I was winding in a carp.

Over the course of the next hour I tried a few different hook-baits and each time was frustrated. In the end I resorted to fishing my hook-bait 1 inch under the surface on a 12″ hook-link (basically a short zig rig) and this really solved the problem as I landed 4 carp in quick succession before I decided to go home to the AC.

Little Blackstone mirrors like this one are a challenge to catch on the surface
Little Blackstone mirrors like this one are a challenge to catch on the surface

Lets move forward a week or so and after fishing a night session with little success I decided to drop into a pond filled with Koi carp on the way home. I knew these fish had been fished for heavily over the past 5 or 6 years and I wasn’t expecting the fishing to be easy. I was not disappointed! I got the carp feeding confidently relatively quickly but getting them to take a hook-bait was not quite that simple. They clearly knew they were being fished for and they clearly knew the difference between the feed and the hook-bait.

I persevered and kept the feed going in and finally hooked one…..unfortunately it was a greedy Grass carp which although weighing around 30lb’s only took 5 minutes to subdue before it went mental in the net.

This 30lb+ grass carp couldn't resist the chow pellets
This 30lb+ grass carp couldn’t resist the chow pellets

After releasing the grassie I then fed the fish again for around an hour before they got their confidence back and I was able to get one to take again. This time it was a koi carp and it was a nice golden specimen.

I left, vowing to come back with more pellets and a better presentation in order to fool these wary koi carp. A week later I arrived just after noon. Conditions were far from ideal but I got on the back of the wind and started to introduce feed. It was about 20 minutes before I started to get a good response with around 6 fish feeding competitively. Over the course of the next hour I tried several hook-bait presentations, all of which were rejected by the koi’s. They would approach the hook-bait then either abort the take or sink under it, both of which told me they could see the hook-bait was not right!

Scratching my head I decided to go back to a simple presentation and side hook a boilie. With this method the hook is partially buried in the bait with the point exposed. I also trimmed the bait down a bit so it was not sitting too high in the water, another reason the carp were most likely aborting. Within 5 minutes I had two koi’s in the net and I knew I would get a few more chances.

Two koi carp caught in quick succession
Two koi carp caught in quick succession

I ended with 4 koi carp before I headed home and although I still had some missed takes the chances I did get were much more positive. The fact of the matter is that these carp were very, very wary and are pressured most days of their life as the pond is probably less than an acre in size. I’ll be going back in a few weeks to try my luck again and as it really is a very exciting way to catch fish. What ‘s better than watching your quarry take the bait. It’s definitely a great opportunity to watch and learn and even if you are not that successful you’ll learn a lot from just observing.

A cracking orange koi
A cracking orange koi


Dean Brookes – Year in Review (Video)

After a challenging year in 2014 where my fishing time was severely shortened due to a new job, I found myself in the same position entering 2015 as once again work meant fishing had to take a backseat. I did manage to get out for an early session in January for a short session on one of my favorite winter locations, the Blackstone River. These are always fun sessions with plenty of small carp to go after which are usually willing to bite, even on the coldest of days.

As the winter bought a record amount of snowfall (nearly 100 inches in my county) I really felt the need to get away to warmer climes and a trip to Austin, Texas certainly fit the bill. I flew in on a Saturday expecting t-shirt weather, only to find a cool system moving through although I certainly wasn’t complaining as there was definitely no snow. I checked out a few places the first day before heading to Emma Long, a dammed section of the Colorado River. My first 36 hours were spent socializing and fishing a swim at the end of a productive area, due to half a dozen anglers also having the same idea. However, I managed several commons and my first Buffalo, a 35lb specimen.

As the other anglers were leaving to fish a Tournament I wasted no time in moving into what I felt was the best swim and spent the afternoon spombing plenty of bait out and getting ready for some hectic fishing! I was not disappointed as over the course of the next 36 hours I caught lots of commons, buffalo’s to 45lb and several grass carp to 43lb.

As the weather turned to high winds and a drop in temperatures I spent a night in a hotel before hitting Town Lake for a day session where I managed a few cracking commons in one of it’s iconic bridge swims.

Returning home to the snow and a busy job, meant I had little opportunity to get back out until June. I picked a day where the air pressure was dropping and went out for my first overnight session. The stars aligned and a had a great night catching several big fish, topped by my fifth capture of ‘The Pet’ and a common only a few ounces under the 40lb mark.

A change of jobs in early July, meant greater flexibility and a few summer day sessions kept me ticking over, with some nice tidal river fish and a low thirty to keep me happy.

I also got up to the Seneca River for two 24 hour sessions. Despite a 450 mile round trip my efforts were rewarded with over 60 carp, topped by a 30lb common.

What I was really waiting for was the start of the Fall. I managed to get to my venue a few times to pre-bait prior to fishing, which is a rarity for me and it certainly paid off. Over the course of six, one night sessions I managed several nice thirties and two more 40lb commons.

Moving into December I typically try and fit a session in on the Seneca River and this year it so happened that the weather stayed mild and my wife was working on Christmas Day. We decided to cook Christmas dinner a day early and open the presents. I left early morning for a traffic free drive of 5 hours and hoped that the carp would be where I thought they would be!! It only took a few hours before I was catching and I packed away by 10am the next morning having caught several nice twenties and another 30lb common.

Overall, despite not actually fishing that many sessions in 2015 I had some excellent results. This I put down to knowing my waters, being in the correct areas during good weather patterns and using tried and trusted tackle and bait. Looking back I caught over twenty 30lb fish and 5 forties with a few PB’s thrown into the mix.

I also managed to win the CAG Big 4 Fall Contest and also claim the Gold Pin for catch and release carp in Massachusetts as well as writing many articles, featuring on the Cover of North American Carp Angler and finally being interviewed as a guest on ‘The Carp Cast’.

I’m hoping 2016 can be just as productive.

Check out my Year in Review Video:





Christmas in New York

It’s been a funny year, weather wise. After a brutal winter with over 100 inches of snow in the Northeast it’s an understatement to say I was not looking forward to the coming winter season. The Farmers’ Almanac prediction didn’t help but as November came to an end the weather stayed stable and mild. By the middle of December I found myself looking at the long term forecast to see if I could squeeze in a session in Upstate New York over the Christmas Break. As luck would have it, after consulting with my wife and finding out she was working we decided to hold the family Christmas on December 24th and I made plans for a 48 hour session on the Seneca River.

Catching a Christmas Day carp is something I had already ticked off the list so I set myself a target of catching a 20lb+ fish which I felt very confident of achieving even though the locals had informed me the area was not fishing particularly well.

Christmas Day Double
A Christmas Day carp from 2012

After enjoying festivities on Christmas Eve I set the alarm for 5am but have to admit I turned it off and got up at 8am. After a coffee I set out on the 290 mile journey and after only a brief bathroom stop I arrived just after 1pm and began slowly setting up. A little background information on the swim I had chosen as I have fished it a few times in prior years. It is a well known area and the carp are generally fished for regularly by a mixture of both serious carpers and the more casual anglers. As such the carp know they are being fished for and in my experience do not usually feed hard during the daylight hours unless you can get them into a competitive feeding mode.

A fish caught by creating competition
A fish caught by creating competition

Rather than rushing to set-up and get the rods cast out I first set about baiting up my swim. My approach was two fold. Firstly I made up a ground bait mix consisting of liquidized bread, beet deer feed, canned sweetcorn and creamed corn as a binder. I initially baited a spot in 9 feet of water with a dozen ground bait balls with my intention to see if this would attract the smaller fish. On this spot I fished one rod with a 10mm white chocolate pop-up.

Ground bait mix to attract active carp
Ground bait mix to attract active carp

My second spot would be a boilie only approach with an initial 100 baits spread out in a line between my remaining two rods. With this approach the key to getting a good hit of carp is to bait consistently and regularly after every take or capture. In this case my plan was to re-bait with 10-20 baits after every fish (if I was lucky enough to capture any carp). I was hoping to pick out the bigger fish by using only 20mm+ boilies with the only extra attraction being a high attract stick mix.

An attractive stick mix and boosted hook baits
An attractive stick mix and boosted hook baits

After baiting up my areas I slowly set-up my rods and tied up some new hook-links. I also set-up all of my carp safety and camera equipment as if I did catch I wanted to make sure that the carp had a short stay on the bank. All of the rods were cast out and after eating a nice chicken stew I retired to my car just before dark to try and grab a short nap which may seem strange but I was confident that once darkness had descended the carp would feed and sleep may be hard to come by. I only had to wait an hour or so before one of my boilie rods absolutely ripped off. After a decent scrap the first Christmas carp was in the net and at just over 23lb’s my goal was achieved with the first capture.

Christmas Day Twenty
Christmas Day Twenty

After sharpening the hook to a sticky point I recast the rod and deposited another 20 boilies over the top of the area. Another 30 minutes or so passed before the same rod signaled another carp and another nice low twenty. Using 20mm+ boilies and big hook baits seemed to be attracting the larger carp and as the ground bait rod was quiet I was hopeful the smaller, more numerous carp would not make an appearance.

Second fish.....second twenty
Second fish…..second twenty

Over the next few hours this process was repeated with several more solid twenties and a few doubles making an appearance. After each capture I would rebait with 15-20 boilies over each spot and would also make sure to check my leader and hook-link as usually the area had weed and zebra muscles which can easily damage your end tackle and result in lost fish. I would also check the hook point of the rigs and in most cases would spend a minute or two sharpening them to a fine point. It’s easy to miss out some of these steps when you are tired or catching lots of fish but it definitely results in more fish on the bank. In this session I had a total of 19 takes and due to the durability and quality of my tackle, combined with being meticulous with the hook points I landed every one of them.

A solid fish with lamprey damage
A solid fish with lamprey damage
A fat boilie eating maching
A fat boilie eating machine

The action continued through the night and only slowed down when the temperatures dropped into the 20’s resulting in frozen nets, mats and slings. During this time I unhooked many of the fish in the net and released them without pictures or weighing them, in an attempt to get back into my sleeping bag ASAP. Any pictures were taken with a self timer and only resulted in the fish being out of the water for a minute or two which is very important as the temperatures drop as the carp’s gills can freeze once the temperatures are below zero.

A picture before everything froze!!
A picture before everything froze!!

During all of the action there were times when I had double takes and in once case all three rods went in succession! It was during one of these occasions while I was netting a nice upper double fish when one of my other rods signaled a take. I quickly secured the net and picked up the other rod to connect with a fish that did not want to cooperate. After several minutes I finally got it into the net and it was a very long and lean common that looked around the thirty pound mark. I quickly released the other fish and weighed the bigger carp which pleasingly went 30lb 6oz. Happy days, a Christmas Day thirty.

Big carp equals happy angler
Big carp equals happy angler

Once the sunlight appeared the action stopped which is not uncommon during the winter on this particular section of the river. This gave me a chance to grab a few hours sleep and gather my thoughts. Originally I had planned to fish two nights but with the hectic action of the first night and rain scheduled for the second night I decided to pack up and head home to watch some Boxing Day Soccer. It might seem strange to drive nearly 600 miles to fish for only 20 hours but the Seneca River really is worth the travel, especially when you get it right.

Signs of Carnage
Signs of Carnage

Texas Gold (Video)

After a truly brutal winter last year it wasn’t until May that my local spots were fishable with many areas covered by a layer of ice well into April and most of the rivers in flood. With this in mind  I decided to make plans to beat some of the upcoming winter doldrums by planning a trip to Texas in late February and boy was I happy I did. This winter has been one of unrelenting snow and cold weather, with records set in many categories, so when February rolled around I was chomping at the bit to get the rods out, only having fished 2 day sessions the whole of the winter so far.

My plan was simple. I would book a week off work and fly into Austin, Texas; home to not only big carp, but big grass carp and buffalo’s. Having fished the Austin Team Championships two years before I was keen to fish the area on my own terms and not be reliant on a decent peg draw. Rather than fishing one area or lake I would try to fit a few sessions on three different waters in the hope of catching some decent fish while Boston was stuck in the depths of winter.

I always like to set myself goals and knowing I would be fishing several areas with different species I set myself a target of a 35lb+ grass carp and a 35lb+ buffalo. Both were species I was yet to catch and I was looking forward to the challenge.

I organised my tackle and packed only the essentials, shipping my rods down to Texas and begging and borrowing some of the bigger items from one very kind local. I arrived Saturday night and after picking up a rental car headed over to the ATC social to meet up with anglers who had been fishing the Carp Anglers Group competition the previous 2 days.

After a few beers and some food I headed back to the hotel and got a good nights sleep, only to be greeted by temperatures that were not much warmer than the ones I left in Boston. I had originally planned to fish a few days on Town Lake, but after looking at a few of the better areas and sitting in the biting wind for a few hours I was sorely lacking motivation.

The Gazebo swim on Town Lake
The Gazebo swim on Town Lake

A quick change of plans was devised and I plugged in the directions to Emma Long Park into my phone and headed over , hoping that one of the hot swims would still be available. I arrived just before dusk to be greeted by several anglers already in situ, as they were fishing a few days prior to heading to the Lake Fork Tournament. Instead of rushing to set up I decided to socialize for a few hours. Nothing much had been caught apart from the end peg, which seemed to have lots of fish in front of it. Unfortunately, I would be several hundred yards away with 18 rods between myself and the swim!! Instead of getting pissed at the situation I decided to make the most of it and just enjoy the fishing. After a few hours chatting to the anglers already fishing I made my way back to my swim and started setting up in the dark.

Rather than baiting heavily without knowing what was in front of me, I cast out 3 PVA bags and retreated to the warmth of the sleeping bag in the car. I had a great nights sleep, undisturbed by carp. Fortunately, Paul Hunt in the next swim had had seven fish with a couple of 40lb+ Buffalo’s which was very encouraging as at least the fish were moving. I had a chat over coffee and saw that most of the fish were coming at range and so I got back to my swim and made plans for the next 24 hours.

My first swim at Emma Long
My first swim at Emma Long

Getting the spomb out I clipped it up at just over 100 yards, using a couple of marker sticks for accuracy. This was a good distance and right where most of the fish were moving so over the next hour I spombed around 20 balls of particle laced ground bait and another 12-15 spombs of boilies and tiger nuts. My area was about the size of a tennis court and using method feeder rigs I put all three rods out at the same distance. Hook baits were either tigers and fake corn or a boilie and fake corn. I had heard lots about rigs and baits for buffalo’s but I decided to use 7-8 inch hooklinks, strong Fox Arma Point SSSP hooks in size 5 and a bolt rig consisting of a 60 gram method feeder. Throughout the session I did not lose one fish and all were nailed in the bottom lip, proof that the method and rigs worked for all species.

Method Feeder and simple blow back rigs
Method Feeder and simple blow back rigs

I only had to wait a few hours before I had a slow rise on the bobbin and I bent into a solid resistance. Unlike a regular carp run the fish gave no head shaking and instead plowed around. I was pretty sure I had a buffalo on the end and so I played it a little easier than I usually would. Paul kindly helped with the net and in she went. My first fish of the trip and my first from Emma Long, being a 35lb+ buffalo. Exactly the reason I had traveled 1900 miles.

My first 35lbs+ my first goal was achieved
My first buffalo…at 35lbs+ my first goal was achieved

The rest of the day passed pretty uneventfully, although the odd fish was being caught but in the middle of the night my area kicked into life with several common carp, typical to Emma Long. They were hard fighting teens up to low twenties and I was happy that my rigs and bait were working. However, the rest of the anglers were leaving at mid day and I knew I would now be able to fish the area that most of the fish were occupying.

Typical Emma Long common
Typical Emma Long common

I packed up early and secured my spot before talking to the very kind Polish anglers who were leaving. They gave me a good idea of where they were catching and I slowly set up my area so that I could get a feel for the swim. I knew the margin areas were prime for grass carp but I also wanted to establish a baited area well away from the grass carp in hopes that the buffalo’s would come into feed.

My second swim, nice and comfy
My second swim, nice a comfy

After a few casts with a lead I decided to concentrate two rods on the marginal spot, where the grass carp seemed to be feeding and then heavily bait the spot further out. The Polish anglers had been catching from around 50 yards, but having seen a lot of fish feeding at 100 yards I made the choice to fish at longer range. I just had a feeling that I could create a competitive feeding environment as I was the only angler fishing. I spombed quite heavily at the 100 yard mark and on my margin spot I used the catapult to put out some ground bait, tiger nuts and boilies. At this point I was quitely confident, which was quickly replaced with annoyance as firstly another angler turned up and only 20 yards away proceeded to thrash the water to a foam over my margin spot, before a speed boat entered the fray and started doing donuts in front of me!!

Oh well, at least the water was 20 feet deep. After a few hours the other angler left and peace returned, at which point the area in front of me came alive with fish activity. I was expecting my alarms to sound at any time but they remained silent. At this point it is very easy to question tactics, when you know the fish are active but you are not getting bites. This is where experience is invaluable. Having gone through this pattern many, many times I knew it was just a case of sitting on my hands! My rigs were good and my bait was working and in many cases the fish activity can be prior to the fish actually feeding. Don’t panic, trust in your methods and be ready for action once it comes. Shortly after 3am I got my first bite, a common carp.

First fish from my second swim
First fish from my second swim

This was followed by four more, with the biggest around 24lbs.

A nice 24lb+ common
A nice 24lb+ common

All of these fish were taken during the dark, and once it became light my margin spot really kicked off with a savage bite! I was surprised when I picked the rod up as I preceded to wind back what I thought to be a very small common, before a big grass carp popped up in the margins. In the net she went and another goal was achieved with the fish going 37lb+. I quickly took some pictures and rebaited the rod with a few catapults of ground bait.

First grass carp, mission accomplished
First grass carp, mission accomplished

 At this point the margin spot went into over drive. Another savage take signaled a grass carp was on the end. This grass carp fought very differently than the previous one as it jumped around like a salmon and made several electric runs. While not lasting long it certainly put up a good account for itself and I had a big smile on my face as it was engulfed in the net. I didn’t have anytime to rest though as my alarms sounded and another fish was on. This one turned out to be a double figure common carp and while playing it the last rod also took off!! I was already knee deep in water with a fish in the net and another on the end of my second rod and could do nothing but hope the fish on my third rod stayed attached. I played the common in and unhooked it in the water before securing the fish in the net into a retaining sling. At this point I have found it is better to sort out what you already have rather than rush around and risk damaging fish.

A mental grass carp
A mental grass carp

Fortunately, the fish on the last rod was still on and I slowly played it back in from over 100 yards out. It didn’t put up a massive fight but had some weight to it and once it surfaced I knew I had a 40lb+ fish on the end. After a few more minutes the fish was beaten and I had a brace of grass carp weighing over 80lb. I don’t like brace shots at the best of times and as grass carp are notorious for their unruly behavior on the mat, I took a few shots of the 37lb+ fish first before getting some video footage of the bigger fish, which went over 43lb.

Another goal smashed
Another goal smashed

After returning all of the fish I surveyed the scene in my swim and only one word came to mind…..CARNAGE. All of my rods were wiped out but I quickly put on new hook baits, recast and lightly rebaited the margin area as I was sure I could pick up one or two more bites before the feeding spell was over. It only took a half hour or so and another common carp was quickly followed by a cracking upper thirty pound grass carp. I only had one rod left in the water and shortly this one went too with another common carp joining the party! Instead of recasting I left the rods out of the water for a while and made myself some fresh coffee and a couple of bacon sandwiches, a true carpers breakfast. I’ve found over the years that fishing is much better when you eat and drink properly and the breakfast and coffee revitalized me for another spombing session.

Proper food is a must
Proper food is a must

Having caught several decent grass carp I now decided to move one of my margin rods and rebait the distance spot, that had also produced several common carp. The buffalo’s had not showed up yet, but I was confident that with regular baiting they would eventually start to feed. Prior to the trip I had read a lot about the buffalo species and it seemed evident that most anglers used a particle and method mix approach. I didn’t want to completely go against the grain but I also felt that the inclusion of a good boilie would only add to my baiting mix. I spombed another 20 balls of method mix (laced with hemp, corn and boilie crumb) and I also spombed the same amount of boilies, mixed with tiger nuts and corn.

I then tidied up my fishing area and recast the rods. I was expecting a lull in the action as the previous day of spombing had seen several hours of inactivity after, but I didn’t have to wait longer than an hour before the action started again. In quick succession I landed a couple of commons before getting into the biggest of the trip at just over 24lbs.

A bigger common from Emma Long
A bigger common from Emma Long

Another blistering take shortly after resulted in an upper twenty pound grass carp, before my first buffalo in the new swim made an appearance.

A solid 36lb+ Buffalo
A solid 36lb+ Buffalo

A few more commons followed before I was into another buffalo that gave a fight that had me thinking it was much, much bigger. I was not complaining though as it was over 45lbs and was a cracking fish. The fact that I had managed a 40lb+ grass carp and buffalo was more than I could have hoped for and I was grinning for the next few hours.

45lb+ of American Buffalo
45lb+ of American Buffalo

At this point I knew that I still had a few more days left to go and plenty of bait. If I kept the bait going into the swim and fished well I was sure the fish would keep coming and I would have the chance at a 50lb+ fish. Texas had different plans!! The weather had been unsettled at best, and over the next 2 hours the temperature dropped by over 30 degrees. This in itself wouldn’t have been that bad as I was fishing deep water and had plenty of warm clothing. What was a problem though was the 30 mph wind that started to blow down the lake, which resembling a canal in structure was now more akin to a wind tunnel. With tree branches snapping and the bivvy about to take off I decided to pack everything away and fish from the car.

The fish seemed nonplussed by the change in weather though as the distance spot was still producing as I continued to pack away. I played another cracking buffalo through the white caps and posed with it just as the light was fading which made for a nice shot.

A Buffalo that took little notice to the weather change.
A Buffalo that took little notice to the weather change.

As I was now unable to rebait with the spomb, due to a massive cross wind and with the rain increasing I made the choice to retreat to the safety of a hotel for the night. As much as I wanted to stay and keep fishing I also knew the smart option was to wind in and call it a day. With age comes experience and although I knew I was leaving feeding fish, I also knew I could benefit from a shower and a good nights sleep without the risk of a falling tree! With everything packed away I was winding the rods in, when the only rod left signaled my last buffalo of the trip which was also the only one under 30lb’s, all be it by only a few ounces.

Last Buffalo in vile conditions!
Last Buffalo in vile conditions!

Once safe and dry in the hotel, I relaxed with a shower and some beer and pizza while deciding what to do next. I still had two days to go and was unsure as to where to fish next. I had loved Emma Long, but felt like I had achieved what I set out to do and did not want to set up camp again. I did have unfinished business with Town Lake though as my previous trip had been hard fishing with only one carp caught, saving me from a blank. It was decided then, I would return all of the camping equipment I had loaned in the morning and then fish the iconic 1st Street swim at Town Lake for an afternoon session.

The next day saw me having a leisurely morning and I did not get to Town Lake until around 1pm or so. I’d fished a few other areas at the ATC and I have to say that the 1st Street swim was pleasantly surprising in it’s looks. It was landscaped with several trees and was next to a gazebo with the parking lot only a couple of hundred yards away. Before getting my gear out to the swim I surveyed the areas to fish. Being a bridge swim it was obvious that the main feature would be the bridge stanchions. I counted out the light poles on the bridge so that I could match up where I was fishing and then took a walk up onto the bridge itself to bait. I chose a stanchion that was around 80 yards from the swim and baited with a couple of kilo’s of ground bait, tigers, corn and boilies.

Back at the swim, it was just a matter of getting the distance correct as falling short would result in no bites and over casting would result in being stuck on the bridge! I only smashed one feeder before I got the distance correct but I made a point to wait until the bridge was clear before each recast.

A classic bridge swim
A classic bridge swim

After an hour I decided to recast both of the rods and I had one positioned to the left of the stanchion while I was casting the second to the right side. As the second feeder was in flight the first rod absolutely melted off as the fish was intent on reaching the sanctuary of the bridge. I dropped the second rod onto the ground and loosened off the clutch. I then walked backwards with the first rod to move the fish away from the bridge. The fish fought very hard and had me fooled it was much bigger as it stayed deep and made several strong runs. Eventually, I coaxed it into the net. Just in time as the second rod started to move, with another strong Town Lake common attached. This one fought just as hard and after another 10 minute fight I had a brace of mid twenties in the net. I felt elated and also like I had gotten the monkey off my back after my last experience of Town Lake. Pictures were taken and the rods recast in hopes of a few more fish before dark.

First of a double of nice twenties
First of a double of nice twenties

Over the next couple of hours I landed two more twenties and packed up just after dark so that I could take a few shots of the bridge.

1st Street swim, Austin on dusk
1st Street swim, Austin on dusk

Back at the hotel I decided that my last goal was to fish Decker Lake, although I was sure I would have caught a few more fish from Town Lake if I had baited and returned. I got up relatively early and headed for one last day session at Decker. I decided to fish near the parking lot as the buoys in the water were surely fish attracting features, even though my water craft told me to fish further down in the teeth of the wind as it looked to be hammering into the corner. At this point though, it was more about packing up and organizing my gear and the further away from the car, the harder this would be.

Close to the car, meant fresh coffee! Easy choice.
Close to the car, meant fresh coffee! Easy choice.

I was also tired and spent the day relaxing and just enjoying the surroundings. Safe to say….I BLANKED!! Packing up on dark I drove back to Austin to ship my rods back with Fedex and then made my way to the airport, returned the rental car and went to the terminal to catch a few hours sleep before jumping onto a 6am flight back to the artic tundra of Boston.

All in all a great trip, where I put faces to names and made new friends, fished three cracking Lakes and surpassed all of my initial goals. I kicked off the 2015 season with seven 30’s and two 40’s, more than I had hoped for. I’m also keen to return in the winter of 2016 to get back among the Texas giants. If you’ve not been fishing in Texas…….what’s keeping you????

 For a look at the video footage from the trip just click the following link:

A Common Obsession


Carp fishing is often referred to as an ‘obsession’, generally by non carpers, friends, family and spouses! It can bring out the worst traits in human nature, with the obsession leading to shattered friendships, relationship breakdowns and tattered reputations. Even in the USA where carp fishing is still relatively unpopular, I see some of the same behaviors that are all too common in the UK and Europe. Like life, fishing also needs to be balanced. Fish too much and you risk the alienating the people you love.

Looking back at my fishing career, I can honestly say fishing has been a ‘passion’ rather than an obsession. Even when I was single, working a job that allowed me to fish a few days at a time I can not recall many sessions where I fished beyond 48 hours. In fact my longest session was 6 days at my Syndicate water and I realized early on that I much prefer to fish than ‘camp’. At times I do become very focused on certain elements, whether it be targeting a certain fish, breaking a PB or conquering a new water. However, as much as I love fishing I also love life. Having a great group of friends, a loving family and a rewarding job are all part of the puzzle for me and I would never sacrifice one of these just to fish more. For me, short sessions are my bread and butter. I generally get 12-24 hours every few weeks, and I try to make the most of these by taking weather, locations and the water conditions into consideration before making my decision of when and where to fish.

Over 20 years ago, when I dreamed of a 20lb+ common
Over 20 years ago, when I dreamed of a 20lb+ common

For the last few years I have sacrificed one element of my fishing to focus on another area. About 5 years ago I picked up my carp rods again, for the first time in the USA and was only interested in catching fish, no matter their sizes. I spent the first two years fishing a number of different waters and catch carp I did, with over 1000 carp hitting my landing net. As I continued to move forward the passion for larger fish returned and I gradually widened my horizons first fishing rivers with 20-30lb fish and then moving onto what I will describe as ‘Specimen’ Waters. I realized early on that while I could catch large numbers of 20lb fish, they were generally not going to be in the same locations as the much larger specimens.

My first American Twenty
My first American Twenty

Fishing for larger fish is not always easy and sometimes you will spend several sessions with the odd fish before you start to work out what you need to do in order to achieve success. Let me ask you a question; if you had to catch 80-90% less fish in order to catch the fish of a lifetime would you do it?? It’s a hard choice to make and certainly, when you see other people hammering fish of decent sizes the urge to abandon your own convictions is sometimes strong.

Fishing for big fish of any species is mind set. You have to accept that you WILL blank, you WILL leave your rigs out for over 24 hours at a time, you WILL question whether you are in the right spot and you WILL question your tactics. However, the work you do from session to session will all add up in the big picture. Sometimes you will be lucky and catch ‘specimen’ fish right from the off, other times you will really work for it.

My first 30lb+ common that took me over 2 years to break
My first 30lb+ common that took me over 2 years to break

So back to my ‘Common Obsession’. After a few years fishing in America I really wanted a 20lb common. I was primarily fishing a river with lots of small mirror carp and having never caught a 20lb common in the UK (19lb+ being my best) I decided to move onto the tidal Merrimack River. I achieved the 20lb mark relatively quickly and enjoyed several sessions fishing for these amazing carp, which fought like they were on steroids. As my PB got up to the mid twenties I moved back onto my mirror waters and put the common fascination aside. I realize for most American carpers this is back to front as the majority of you fish for common carp, with mirrors being very rare. I’m lucky as the North East of the country has many waters with mirror carp. I fished the next year or so on these mirror waters catching some cracking fish with the occasional trip to the St. Lawrence River to try and tempt a 30lb common, which I eventually achieved.

Fast forward to a year or so ago and although my common PB was now up to a respectable 36lb+ I very rarely fished waters where they grew to this size with any regularity. On one particular session in the early spring I was fishing with friends and had to return to work after 24 hours, only to receive a text in the middle of the night that one of the boys had just caught a massive common well over 45lb’s. After I saw the pictures I knew that I just had to have this fish in my own photo album.

I can't be disappointed with the lack of big commons when I can catch fish of this stamp!
I can’t be disappointed with the lack of big commons when I can catch fish of this stamp!

I fished the water regularly through the spring, summer and fall and although I caught some absolute belting carp I did not see the common and the season ended as the snow fell on the North East again. Fast forward to this year and again, this was going to be my target fish. Why? Well, the first reason is because I wanted to catch it, but the second reason is because I always fish better when I have a target. Any other fish I catch along the way are appreciated but I would be focused on tempting this fish and using tactics that I knew would give me the best chance, usually at the expense of catching other fish.

Unfortunately for my fishing, my job became really busy but as I stated at the beginning this is part of the balance of life. Yes, I was envious of some of the fish caught in the spring, but I was also happy with what fishing I could manage and knew that once the fall arrived I would have a little more time. My first trip to the area had to be aborted due to a few different reasons but a week or so later I was able to get in a night session.

I arrived well after dark, not getting my rods and rigs sorted until around 11pm. Knowing the area helped and I got the rods out with no problems, fishing one rod over a tight pile of bait and the other over 200-250 boilies scattered over a large area. At 4am the rod fished over the boilies melted off and on picking up the rod I was amazed at the first few runs the fish made. Fishing with braid, everything is amplified and this fish was trying it’s best to get rid of the hook, shaking it’s head non stop for at least 2-3 minutes. After 5 minutes the fish stopped charging around and kited into the bank making me think the battle would be soon over. Think again!! Another 10 tense minutes under the rod tip and I could see it was a very long common. Was it my ‘target’?? It was hard to say but I knew it was a very big fish and I knew I wanted it in the net. Eventually, I did scoop it up and after transferring the net into the retaining sling I made my way to the unhooking mat. Lifting the sling up it was obvious that the fish was 40lb+ and once I saw the width of the fish I was now thinking it was the target.

On the mat it was obvious it was a new PB
On the mat it was obvious it was a new PB

I unhooked the fish, gave it a quick weigh and then slipped it into the margins to wait the 1 hour or so before first light. During this time I arranged the unhooking mat, set up my camera and weigh sling and generally paced around, buzzing as I knew I had shattered by common PB. On the scales the common went over 43lb’s and she behaved very well for the few pictures and quick video I took of her.

A glorious big common in the Fall
A glorious big common in the Fall

Returning her I then checked out the pictures and after matching them up with my target I knew that it was not the fish I was after. Disappointed? Hell no. It was a new 40lb fish for the water, a new PB common and even better my target was still out there. Hopefully, we’ll meet in the spring but until then I will be more than happy with this fish being my PB and my ‘obsession’ can continue.

Hard to be upset even if it was not the one I was after!
Hard to be upset even if it was not the one I was after!

Chasing the Fall

After a particularly busy summer coaching soccer camps I was rather hoping for a few more opportunities to fish in the Fall. However, with work not slowing down and wanting to spend what free time I had with my family my fishing ground to a halt. Desperate remedies were required and in early September I decided that although I did not have any days at my disposal I would have to be creative in order to get some much needed carp therapy.

My plan was to fish after work, typically leaving for the lake at 7.30pm. Problem was that the areas I wanted to fish were around 2 hours away from me! Deciding to suck it up I packed the car before coaching and then headed out to fish, usually arriving between 9.30 and 10pm at night. This usually gave me around 10 to 12 hours to fish, before I had to return home to shower and then work again. I chose to do this mid week and again on Sunday’s to try and maximize my chances of nabbing a few decent fish.

While many anglers have the benefit of extra time or opportunity to pre-bait with large quantities I was limited to a matchmans approach; mainly fish for one bite at a time. To be honest, this is how I fish most of the time anyway as I rarely fish beyond 24 hours and I don’t really get the opportunity to visit my spots regularly as they are usually at least 100 miles from me. This makes me work harder at location, both in regards to the areas I fish and also the actual spots within these areas. On the flip side it’s much cheaper as I am not piling in bait so I tend to buy very high quality baits as I want to make sure I have 100% confidence in them. My main baiting approach would be boilie based, but also adding in high quality pellets and also a particle laden ground bait for flowing water. One product I have used a lot over the last 2 years has been deer feed powders. I can get them from several locations and they are relatively cheap ($10 for a 5lb bag). They are also loaded with attractors and have a decent protein  content, both of which add to their effectiveness.

Deer Feed, a great alternative to European ground baits
Deer Feed, a great alternative to European ground baits

For many anglers the dark is a strange medium to fish in, but for myself I thrive in it. Most of the waters I fish are busy in the daylight and the fish feed less cautiously once the sun goes down. Having fished a lot a night, I find I rarely need a head light and can operate quite well in the dark. I am also tuned into the natural elements and don’t have a great deal of fear as to what’s out there!! Obviously, it pays to fish areas you know are safe and there are certainly many areas I would not entertain fishing at night. However, if you pick a good venue you may find you catch more and the added benefit is that now one will know you have been there.

My first session I headed to a know fall area to see if the fish had turned up yet. I opened my account with three fish, with a couple of decent doubles and a nice low twenty scatter scaled mirror.

A nice upper double to open my Fall account
A nice upper double to open my Fall account
Scatter Scaled twenty
Scatter Scaled twenty

Three fish from this area on a short session is certainly a decent result and I knew my tactics were spot on. The Nutrabaits boilies I had been using in the summer continued to work and the added addition of hemp oil, certainly made the fish aware that the baits were in the water. I was baiting relatively lightly as I was unsure as to who else was fishing the area and the best choice was to fish for a bite rather than trying to compete with what was already out there.

Typical baiting situation for short session success
Typical baiting situation for short session success

I returned on Sunday night, but on turning into the pull off area the reflection from another anglers car shone back at me. Rather than disturb the angler (as it was 10pm) I turned around and drove the extra 15 minutes to another spot that I had only fished once or twice before. I was actually happy that the first area was occupied as it had forced me to fish somewhere I had been thinking about for a few weeks. Knowing that the spot was relatively unfished I changed my baiting approach. I had a few casts with a lead just to make sure I knew where I was putting my baits and then put out around 1kg of boilies, soaked in hemp oil. The oil puts a massive amount of attraction into the water and I knew that it would attract the chub population which would in turn bring in any carp that were in the vicinity. After only an hour carp were already rolling over the areas and I was confident of action.

After several hours without a beep and constant carp activity I was unsure what to do next. I knew the carp were attracted to the bait and I knew my rigs and hook baits would work if they decided to feed. After another hour of scratching my head, finally one of my rods ripped off. A very spirited batter commenced and I was very happy when a cracking upper twenty common rolled over the net. On closer inspection it turned out to be a two tone common and it was very angry with me and the whole ‘being caught’ situation!

A very angry two tone common
A very angry two tone common

One interesting thing I discovered from the capture was what the carp were actually eating and why the activity had not resulted in more takes. After catching the common I put it in the retaining sling for 30 minutes to sort out my camera gear and on inspecting the sling the fish had expelled a whole bunch of muscle shells and actual muscles themselves. From this I deduced the fish had been attracted into the area by the boilies and hemp oil which had triggered a feeding response. However, they first fed on the abundant natural food before finally picking up my offerings. This was further hit home when 30 minutes after the common I had a take on the same rod which absolutely roared off. The fish felt much bigger and gave me a proper run around heading to the deeper water and stripping line off a tight clutch on several occasions. After 15 minutes I got some control over it and finally bundled it into the net. What emerged was a big mirror with a massive head, a true wild American carp. A few quick pictures were rattled off and then I had to pack up and head back to reality.

A proper wild American carp
A proper wild American carp

My next couple of overnights were coinciding with my birthday and I was keen to keep up the tradition of catching a carp or two to celebrate. I split my time between the two swims and picked off a couple of nice looking fish but kept up my run of good form with a brute of a fish that again, took a liking for my boilie approach. This fish just fell short of the 40lb mark but I was very, very happy with it as it was in fabulous condition and gave me an excellent fight, at one point picking up my other line and snagging me. Never the less I did manage to get it moving again and once on the bank it cooperated nicely, posing for several nice shots, displaying some beautiful fall colors.

Solid and wide, and in great condition
Solid and wide, and in great condition

The next few weeks were busy and it looked like the middle of October would be my best chance to get out for a few nights. The weather had been very mild for the fall and as such many of the good cold water spots were still inconsistent. With this on my mind I decided to spend a more social session with a friend, the only problem being that my first choice of areas was not an option due to an access problem! Even more of a problem it looked spot on for a few bites. Sulking a little bit we decided to fish our second choice of areas, which although we had several fish each, resulted in quite a few smaller fish. Not what we were looking for, but I did learn a few things. Similar to one of my other fall swims, there was an abundance of natural food and the carp were reluctant to pick up baits. My answer to this was to increase my baiting in the hope that they would not be able to resist.

This worked as I had most of my bites over the one area I had put in about 3kg of bait. Although non of the fish were over mid twenties I did land one that would not be out of place in an Oxfordshire Estate Lake.

A very pretty carp
A very pretty carp

The last day of the session was very slow and so I decided to once again set up a meal the carp could not refuse. I put around a kilo of hemp, cracked corn and pellets and around half a kilo of boilies over one spot in the hope a bigger fish would find it irresistible. In the middle of the day the rod sprang into life and a tussle with a carp I though was much bigger ensued. Once in the net it got a bit smaller, but at over 30lb’s I was still happy to salvage a session I had hoped for much more.

Smiling, because this 30lb saved a tough session
Smiling, because this 30lb saved a tough session

Fortunately for me, the spot that I had wanted to fish was once again accessible and I jumped on the chance to fish it. This session was an even later arrival as I had my dog in tow. I did not get the rods into the water until around 11pm and it was a bit of an adventure with my dog and a pack of coyotes, yapping away around half a mile away. Fortunately, they never came any closer and I settled down for some sleep only to be awakened by a savage take around 3am. The run and fight was truly brutal and as the fish got closer I could see a long common on the surface. It got bigger and bigger as it got closer and eventually I had it in the net. I’ll leave the full account for another time but I was very, very happy with my prize.

Massive tail of a massive common
Massive tail of a massive common

During the session I also caught another fish and returned  two weeks later to tame a few more beauties. I have to say I never get tired of catching carp and I have been rewarded with some truly special creatures over the last couple of years. This fall has not been any different and I’ll leave you with a couple of other stunners that my last two sessions have produced. As the temperatures continue to drop I find myself with a little more time and over the next few weeks I’ll be fishing hard to try and tempt one of my targets before the snow arrives in force. Even though the nights are long and cold the rewards are still there if you stick at it.

A chunky linear
A chunky linear


Another classic looking carp
Another classic looking carp