Tales From The River Bank

A stubby nosed Trent common

Bait-Tech’s Ian Hirst goes with the flow.

Many moons ago I could only dream of catching a carp from the River, especially one like the Trent. Living in the North meant it was not on my doorstep, but never far from my mind. It’s such a beast of a River with such a variety of challenges that will test any angler regardless of ability. It’s wide and deep, shallow and fast, slow and tidal, and water levels can vary by the day, so where do you start? It can be quite daunting when you look at it like that.

My advice would be to treat it like you would a lake. The first thing to do is to target an area that looks carpy, a typical area of relatively slack water. Look for features like bridges, deep bends, bankside cover, lily pads – basically just use your watercraft skills. Carp in rivers are similar to their stillwater cousins. They want an easy life if possible and prefer to avoid pacey water. They want to meander around the margins in slacker water and any area offering good cover will certainly help you track them down. I’ve had a bit of good fortune lately doing just that.

Sleeping under the stars
Poloni boilies and a running rig setup
Poloni Dumbells – another hookbait option

River carp generally tend to be lighter in weight than the stillwater boilie munchers, which I guess is pretty obvious considering they spend half the year fighting the current. In fact, the first six weeks of this season saw conditions far from ideal due to constant rain. The ground was saturated and whatever rain we had just kept on seeping into the River, leading to higher than normal water levels for the time of year, which is not good. Add the fact that the water had added colour and it meant the carp were not where you would normally find them when the River is at normal level. When these conditions rule carp will head to the sanctuary of the boat marinas and any backwaters or areas of slack water, often tightly grouping them – or potentially spreading them if it’s a big flood. Fear not, though, as soon as the water level drops back to normal then they return to the spots that look carpy!

Before I headed off on my last session I checked the weather forecast a few days in advance and the EA water levels on the website. It looked bang on! A lot of the Trent can be explored with a rigid inflatable dinghy and a petrol outboard, which gives me an advantage to go in search of carpy looking swims. After the rigmarole of inflating the boat, and loading the gear and motor, I was off in search of these wily old river creatures. By the way you do need a boat licence which is easily obtained via the Waterways Canal & River Board Trust.

A typical Trent common

It didn’t take me too long to stumble upon a swim that had all the features that looked like they would hold a carp or two. On the inside the water was slack with good marginal weed growth extending out into darker water. I set up the rods with running flat leads stopped by a buffer bead. Slightly longer than normal hooklinks were tied to take account of the gentle flow, the idea being that the flow would straighten them out, along with a long anti-tangle sleeve. Tungsten putty was used to help pin the rigs.

As we all know rivers also support a host of other species which I wanted to avoid. The bream are anything from 3lb to 8lb and can easily pick up small baits, so those are best avoided, as are pellets; they home in on those like a magnet. I will put hemp in the margins if I think it’s too shallow or close for the bream to venture. It works most times and gives the carp something to grub about for, holding them for a period of time, hopefully giving them more time to locate the hookbait.

I finished my rigs with my tried and trusted Poloni boilies, and to avoid the bream two 18mm boilies went on to the hair. A strong hook is required, so a size 4 Nash Fang X, which is a really strong pattern with a mega-sharp point, completed the setup. A great alternative hookbait I will also try is the hardened Poloni Dumbells. They’re available in two sizes and for the River I prefer the larger 14 x 18mm size.

Rods were positioned carefully, two upstream and one a couple of rods lengths downsteam to the edge of a big raft of weed. Just a handful of 14mm and 18mm boilies followed each rig; I could catapult them as it was close range, which helps group them quite tightly.

Carp fishing on the Trent
Loading the dinghy ready for another river session

I was fishing for marauding carp. I think they stay in small groups, so if you do get one then you just repeat the feeding pattern and wait for another small group to pass. These carp will soon home in on the scent, and the Poloni boilies’ secret herb and spice mix gives a spicy flavour right through the bait. Hence they will be constantly leaking flavour, unlike artificially flavoured boilies which tend to leak out the flavour quite quickly. I want my bait to be working for a longer period and the Poloni does just that.

The odd large cruiser boat passed and fortunately stayed over the opposite side of the River, so no real disturbance was created. The boat traffic began to disappear as the evening drew in and I settled down for an expectant night. How often have you thought conditions look right and it’s only a matter of time before the alarm screams into action? That’s right, too many to remember. This evening was the same, as was the night. I woke a little dejected actually.

I made coffee and contemplated checking the rigs. I’d had a couple of bleeps through the night on my downsteam rod and assumed it was floating weed or perhaps a chub having a go at the boilies. It still looked good for a bite, so I reluctantly decided to leave it be. Another hour passed before I thought, “To hell with it! I’m bringing that downstream rod in and checking the bait.” It looked fine, slightly lighter coloured as it had washed out a bit, and the hook point was still laser sharp.

I had a bucket of river water which I had topped up with some Super CSL the night before and added half a kilo of boilies. I recast with a gentle underarm swing to position the rig back on to the edge of the crease and marginal weed, then topped up with around 15 pre-soaked boilies. I sat back as the sun began to burn through the light cloud and after a while I started to think about packing up. I lazily decided to give it another hour and lay back, soaking up the tranquility and sun, thinking, “This is what fishing is about – I just needed a carp to round it off.”

I just lay there waiting for the clutch to scream off and, like all good carp fishing stories, it happened. The downstream rod was arched over good and proper as the carp tore off at turbo speed – the reel just couldn’t keep up. I grabbed the rod and immediately slackened off the clutch a bit more, hoping that I wouldn’t get a dreaded hook pull. Fortunately, it held and a typical river common angrily ploughed up and down the current. These carp are really old, wild creatures, though there are plenty of newer residents that have been washed in from nearby lakes over the years when the River has flooded big time. My dark, lean, stubby nosed prize was netted and allowed to rest in the flow for a while. The session was typical of the River; unpredictable but enjoyable as always. Sometimes it’s great just being out there, but this little beauty had capped the short session nicely.

I returned to the River a couple more times in quick succession and each time the Poloni boilies were snaffled by more lean fighting machines.

Another River common taken on the Poloni boilies

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