When I returned to the sport of carp fishing I knew nothing of the modern accepted standards of carp care. Back when I first started fishing, in the late 70s, early 80s, weigh and retainer slings, cradles and mats, dedicated nets for carp, medicated kits to treat wounds and sores, simply did not exist. The fish were often placed upon a grassy bank and weighed in a simple plastic bag. Kevin Nash had only just pioneered the first commercially available carp sack in the late 70s. We have learned so much in the decades since Richard Walker landed the UKs first 40 lb’er back in 1952 from the Redmire Pool, ironically the very same County I was born in, Hertfordshire.
As I began to catch carp again, my first in nearly three decades, I proudly displayed my capture photos to the members of the Carp Anglers Group here in North America. I had joined CAG but a few months earlier to learn more about carping here in the USA. The feedback I received was not something I expected, or was prepared for; members politely sending me private messages to let me know that the standards of carp care I was demonstrating was sorely lacking!
Surprisingly, especially in a world full of keyboard warriors, this was not done in a hostile manner. There were no personal attacks, no vitriolic replies.
Instead, CAG’s members offered encouragement and provided a more gentle message of how carp care has evolved over the past few decades. They helped me learn the appropriate techniques and tools available to catch, unhook and return the carp to the water in as good, or better condition, than it was caught.
Honestly, if instead I had received a hate storm of feedback it is unlikely I would have continued on with the same passion in my angling endeavors today. Any enthusiasm I had for sharing my captures would have stopped, as would my contributions to the many forums and local fishing communities.
Over the past few years I have learned so much more and now endeavor to share this with others, encouraging and educating on what is appropriate or recommended, especially with new anglers to the sport.
The most common feedback I now receive when recommending the use of mats, cradles, slings and carp friendly nets to new anglers is,“it’s too expensive!”
I can appreciate where this is coming from. My first round of carp care equipment, retainer sling, carp cradle, a good net, cost me well over $300. This may not sound like a terrific sum of money to some, but to me, it certainly was. However, years later, there are now good companies out there providing affordable ranges of quality carp care products that even the most frugal of anglers can afford.
Over the past couple of seasons I have been putting Next Generation Tackle’s (NGT) range of carp care products to the test, both in my own angling and when out with others on the bankside. I was especially interested in both their functionality, durability and price point with a focus on those new to the sport, or the budget conscious angler.
I am passionate about demonstrating that carp angling can be affordable for all and NGT’s products fill this niche for me. I use their products in my everyday angling and when taking new anglers out onto the bank for their first time carp fishing. This allows me advocate to the new angler that they don’t need to sell their car, or children, just to get into the sport to see if they enjoy it !
I have been using the NGT 6 ft Carp net handle, the 42” Carp net with metal spreader block and a basic net float.
Personally I prefer a net with the metal spreader block and threading. These are the two components most prone to failure, especially when a new angler tries to lift the fish out of the water still in the net, by the handle. The single piece handle is sturdy with little flex and the net arms fit easily into the spreader block. Sometimes I do regret not getting NGT’s net, with the longer telescopic handle. There always seems to be times when a 6 ft reach is just is not enough. The mesh is not as fine, or soft, as that of a more expensive product but it still lands the fish without their fins getting caught.
After 2 years use, with well over 150 carp landed, the mesh is now worn and ready to be replaced. Consequently, with NGT constantly working on their products and innovations, this year I will be upgrading to the new 42″ Specimen Net, with a Dual Net Float System, eliminating the need for a separate float.
Mats & Cradles:
I have used many of NGT range of mats, and their 2015 award winning Cradle, for over a season now. The most simple, and affordable of which, would be the Quickfish Mat. An inexpensive, no frills lightly padded mat, that folds down for easy storage and transportation.
If the beginning carp angler can afford nothing else, then the Quickfish Mat works and is a huge upgrade from simply lying the fish in the dirt or upon the rocks.
However, when I am using a mat, I do prefer one with sides. This helps to stop the fish from sliding off the mat and keeps some water on the fish. Thus, I have also used the Beanie Unhooking Mat.
This mat has plenty of support beads for padding and side walls. Measuring in at 24″ x 48″ x 5″ it is plenty big enough to accommodate a pretty decent sized carp though with the beads it does not roll up all that well (end up folding mine in half for transport atop the wagon).
For me personally, I prefer to use a cradle over a mat. I like to keep the fish elevated off the ground, padded, secure and at a height better suited to me for handling the fish. I also enjoy having the cradle stable and level, especially on uneven ground. Thus adjustable leg height is a must. When taking that important capture shot, I only need to lift the fish a foot or so up above the cradle and can easily lower it back down if it becomes too lively. Perhaps i’m getting old but leaning over at mat on the ground wears my back out quickly!
In 2015 NGT released a new product that immediately caught my eye, the framed Carp Cradle. This proved to be well worth the investment. Made with a strong, yet light weight aluminum frame, soft PVC durable material, the cradle folds down easily for transport and is very quick to setup.
The height adjustable legs come with mud feet. The attached cover folds down and be used as a knee pad. The cradle incorporates soft, but strong, rubber mesh in the bottom corners allowing for drainage.
Having used a few other styles of cradle in the past the NGT Cradle hits just about every mark for me.
If I had to find a criticism, I would be that NGT needs to release a larger version!
The current 304 model is 101 centimeters wide, including side walls and frame. The cradle easily holds carp of up to 36″ in length comfortably. Perhaps an XL model will eventually be made for those real big slender torpedoes?
Having used this cradle now for over a season I can see why it was voted for, and won, the Angler’s Mail Award as “Best Cradle of 2015”.
Never, ever, weigh a carp using a scale with the hook through the carp’s lip or use lip grips. This is so totally unnecessary and causes damage to the mouth of the fish. For a big heavy carp, they could easily rip through mouth causing permanent and disfiguring damage to the fish. It’s simple, please, just don’t do it, instead get yourself a weigh sling or combination weigh / retainer sling.
Having previously used a retainer style sling it was a change to use the NGT Carp Sling System. The sling comes with zips on either side allowing you to put it on the mat (or in my case, the cradle), place the fish on the sling, zip up, weigh via the handles and release it again safely afterwards. There are fiber glass rods running through the two upper seams for added strength. The system even comes with a stink bag, which I highly recommend the use of after a long hot day of catching.
I did find during the prior seasons fishing that I missed the retainer element of a sling system, when I had a double run for myself or when with a guest we both had fish on. Yes I could sack a capture if necessary but i’d rather use a retainer sling.
For the 2016 season I am looking forwards to getting myself the newly released, NGT Captur Floating Sling and Holding System. This sling incorporates 8 independent floats to ensure it stays afloat even in the harshest of conditions. With a double zip and locking clip there is zero chance for the fish to escape the sling in the water.
Included are a 6 ft rope and peg to secure the system to the bank. There are removable bars that hold the system open at all times. Constructed of fish friendly materials, with a fine mesh running along both the sides and bottom of the system, there should be fast drainage for weighing and after the release. There are 6 Carry handles which cover all contingencies and yes, this sling is large in size, ideal for specimen fish. Heck it even comes with a carry case!
In closing, carp have a protective slime coat over their scales. This is the carp’s first line of defense against infection and disease, shielding the fish against such organisms in the water. The coat also prevents the loss of internal electrolytes and fluids. Any removal of the slime coat can make the carp more susceptible to disease, bacteria or fungal infections. This could potentially lead to the death or disfigurement of the fish.
Carp should never be placed upon a dry surface such as the ground, dirt, rocks, a boat deck or anything that could pull the slime coat from the fish. Everything that touches the carp needs to be wet first, from your net, to your mat, sling or cradle, including your hands. Carp care does not have to be expensive. There are plenty of products available at very affordable prices.
I would also recommend for the new carp angler reading this article, checkout this great essay by BCN Contributor, Iain Sorrell. Carp Safety – Going Beyond the Mat
So when you next see a post, or image, or angler on the bank that does not portray the standards of carp care you expect to see, please take just minute to pause. To think of how you first learned or were helped to understand by others. Encourage others, offer advice in a positive and non-confrontational manner.
The majority of anglers are usually open to feedback depending on how it is presented to them. Catch & release anglers do really care about the welfare of the fish. Perhaps they just need a gentle nudge in the right direction.
We all started our carp care careers somewhere.