Watercraft is, I believe, something you either have or you haven’t! It’s a bit like having an eye for taking a photograph, or a talent for driving a car. Some people are naturals and others will have to put more effort in to learning.
So it is in carp angling and despite that fact that anyone can now go out and get the proper gear, and get on a lake with big carp, we are not all born equal when it comes down to fishing talent.
As carp fishing seems to get ever more popular, there are a great many anglers coming straight in to the sport, the problem is thus compounded. Many have never fished for any other species. I guess they see their mates getting out on the banks, they see the social side of fishing, the sexy gear and the pictures of big fish. Seen this way it certainly has more to attract new and younger anglers than maggot drowning for ruffe and gudgeon on the Grand Union.
But are these new ‘instant’ carp anglers not missing out on the essential apprenticeship that most of my generation went through and helped us hone our watercraft?
It is natural that new anglers are seduced by bigger and bigger fish. But are they not missing out too on the gradual build up to ‘Specimen hunting’ and the ultimate goal of big carp? I have seen guys arrive at my French lake after six months of carp fishing experience and knock out a 40lb fish. Where to they go from there? They can’t possibly get on waters where 40’s will crawl up their inexperienced rods back in the UK.
I’m glad I served my apprenticeship of singles, doubles, twenties, thirties and forties… I’ve yet to bank a 50, but my time will come, I’m in no hurry after 30 years in pursuit of carp.
Watercraft is though, about the learning process of becoming an angler (as opposed to a guy who goes carp fishing). The whole approach to fishing is important to learn.
The way you dress is important, not so you can impress the crowd with the latest Carp fishing fashions, but to blend in with your environment, to pass by virtually unnoticed.
The latest ‘Real Tree’ this is fine, but it’s not any good with a red branded sweat shirt or a white t-shirt. In fact you don’t need ‘fishing’ clothes at all. I have only recently got a piece of angling clothing, a Free Spirit fleece I was given. Outdoor and military clothing has been fine for as long as I can remember, is often cheaper, harder wearing and more practical than the fashionable fishing attire.
But clothing is only one part of blending in, you can have the best wardrobe available but if you don’t move, talk and act in harmony with your environment you’ll never be in tune. Your watercraft will suffer in consequence.
General attitude on the bank is all part of this; heavy footfalls and clumsy steps can send the carp scuttling off to the other end of the lake before you even get set up.
Part of watercraft is learning to move around the venue, to observe the fish (how many anglers climb trees any more?) without frightening them away.
Even spooking them slightly is enough to make them wary of feeding in your area.
The same goes for setting up your pitch, slamming car doors and boots and hammering bivvy pegs into the ground will certainly frighten the fish.
Be aware too what the fish can see from below the surface.
Avoid being visible. If you stand up against the skyline you can be sure the carp can see you and will exit the swim.
I learned this lesson years ago when I was observing carp on a water. I had been able to walk in amongst them with waders in shallow margin flood water, by moving slowly and quietly. I was amazed that I did not spook them. However when I later climbed the bank and for an instant broke the cover of the trees I became a visible threat, and those same carp erupted in the swim and fled the area not returning of hours, despite the bait I had laid out for them.
Many carpers would then learn a lot by fishing for other species.
Stalking or fly fishing are fabulous ways to learn stealth and discretion on the bank. These skills can give you a head start when it comes to using more static techniques of carping. It also gives you the best chance of exploiting the best area of most lakes … the margins.