Catching Carp Off The Top
Top carp angler and star of the Challenge, Mark Pitchers takes a look at the ins and outs of catching carp off the surface.
At this time of year the first pieces of kit to be loaded into my van before setting off from home are my floater fishing gear. This form of catching carp is perhaps my most enjoyable and something that I really find exciting. The adrenaline rush of watching carp feed on the freebies, getting closer to the hookbait, really is insane, and that build-up of anticipation as a big pair of lips comes out of the water to nail the hookbait really does make my heart pound more than anything else in carp fishing.
I often hear anglers say that carp off the top don't count, but my reply to that is "absolute garbage!" That kind of nonsense is no good for carp fishing and has no place in my angling philosophy. Catching carp with floating baits can often take far more patience, skill and ability than blindly chucking a heavy lead and a hair-rigged boilie out into the lake and then waiting for an electronic device to inform you that a carp has hooked itself and is waiting to be reeled in. If you have yet to try surface fishing then you are missing out on some of the most prolific and exciting sport on offer. Here I will document several areas of surface fishing that will definitely help you on your road to success.
Of course you could rig up your 3«lb rod with 12000-sized big pit reel and a controller float, and no doubt you would catch a few fish. However, that is all a little too heavy-handed and certainly not going to enable you to reach your full potential on the surface. It is far better to invest in some specific kit for this style of angling so that you can fish with lighter, more balanced tackle. Try investing in a rod with a test curve of around 2lb and partner it with a small reel such as the EOS 10000. By having a softer rod you will be able to cast your controller further and also when playing a fish on a light hooklink and small hook the rod will bend much more and vastly reduce the chances of hookpulls or breakages. A lighter setup will also enable you to fish for longer on the surface without getting arm ache, as this style involves holding the rod for long periods as you wait for that bite.
The reel you choose will need to be spooled up with an appropriate line. There is no point using a thick mono or, even worse, a fluorocarbon line, as these will sink and drag your float out of position and also make striking very hard. Instead you should look for a purpose-designed, neutrally buoyant floater fishing line that has a fine diameter yet is strong and abrasion resistant. I spool up with Surface line, which Fox designed specifically for this job. Due to the fact that it lies across the surface to my float, I can easily 'mend' the line to ensure I stay in direct contact with the float, which aids hooking when I strike.
There are a couple of models of controller float that I like to use and both of them have brought me a fair amount of success in recent years. When fishing at extreme range on the surface I opt for the Bolt Bubble, an inline float that can have water added to it. This water gives extra casting weight and means I can fish well over 80 yards should I need to. Due to its clear nature it is very low vis on the water whilst its shape means that the fish will often hook themselves rather than me needing to strike the hook home.
If I am fishing at short to medium range then I will opt for the Exocet. This float is designed not to dive too far into the water on the cast, so it has less chance of spooking fish when casting in amongst them. It also has a semi-translucent green body that blends in very well with the water. In addition to this the float has flat sides, so when a carp picks up the hookbait it is immediately met with resistance in the same way as with the Bolt Bubble.
The business end
Fishing for carp on the surface requires quite a bit more finesse than fishing on the lakebed, where often you can get away with using big leads, large hooks and 25lb coated braid hooklinks. For fishing on the top it is important to scale your rigs down so as not to cause too much suspicion. I usually use a size 10 hook coupled with a purpose-made surface fishing hooklink. These lines are pre-stretched, which means they are much thinner than normal lines of the same breaking strain. The hooklink I tend to use is Zig+Floater Hooklink. I often use the 12lb version unless the weed is really thick and then I beef up to 15lb. The length of my rig depends on how confidently the carp are feeding (the more aggressive they are the shorter the rig will be) but I'd say 4-6ft is what I tend to use on average.
Since last summer my number one choice of hookbait has been a brown Zig Aligna coupled with a small sliver of brown foam, which nicely mimics a floating pellet. The Zig Aligna not only helps to camouflage the hook but it also extends the shank of the hook at an aggressive angle and greatly aids the hooking potential. The HD foam I use is so buoyant I can get away with using it really small when the carp are feeding with great caution, which is another added bonus. On days when the carp won't take the foam hookbait I will experiment with other options such as small bits of cork or a hair-rigged floating pellet.
I am not a great fan of floating dog biscuits and instead prefer to feed with floating pellets; over the years I have found that carp tend to feed more aggressively on them than dog biscuits. I like to add a nice coating of hemp oil to the pellets, which not only increases their attraction in the water but also adds a slick to the surface, making it easier for me to see my float and hookbait. How I introduce feed into the swim depends on the range I am fishing. At over 40-50 yards I use a spod to get the pellets out; at less than 40 yards I use a catapult or throwing stick. The beauty of a throwing stick is that it enables me to keep feeding freebies whilst I'm playing a hooked fish, as it can be done one handed.
In addition to the actual fishing kit you need to invest in to make a serious effort at floater fishing, you will also need a good pair of polarising sunglasses and a baseball cap. These will reduce the glare on the surface of the water, enabling you to see into the water easier, which helps when fish spotting. The glasses also help to protect your eyes from the sun's rays when staring out across the water at your float for long periods.