There can be few coarse anglers in Ireland who have not heard of The Lough, Cork City. The urban lake, which is actually totally natural, has held carp since 1954 and has long been regarded as the best public access carp fishery in the country (yes, its free to fish! All that is asked is all are cared for when out of the water and that all fish go back alive). Not just for numbers of fish, but also the high average size, at least by Irish standards! Although the number of waters containing carp in Ireland are increasing all the time, if you want to catch a double figure carp then the Lough is still your best bet. But what if, like many anglers, you are new to or inexperienced at carp fishing? Surely targeting big 10-20lb fish is very complicated and technical, and just too expensive and specialised for the average angler? Well, in a word, NO! With the right approach and attitude a big Irish carp is within the reach of anyone…
First of all, I will start by saying that, in my humble opinion, there is an awful lot of rubbish spoken and written about carp fishing, far more than any other branch of angling. Reading magazines and watching DVD’s will have convinced most that carp are super-intelligent fish, which require the very top-end tackle and latest bait advancements to catch them – this is absolutely untrue. I can only presume that this narrative is spread by tackle and bait companies in an attempt to sell products, which often, you do not really need. So let’s cut the bulls**t and look at how to tempt a fish or two from Ireland’s most famous carp water.
Rest assured, carp gear doesn’t need to be expensive – you can spend basically what you like, just as with cars, or clothes or houses. Today’s budget rods, reels, rod pods, bite alarms, bivvies etc. are of surprisingly good quality and will suffice for all but the hard-core angler who fishes regularly all year round. Rods of 2lb to 2.75lb test curve are perfect for small lakes like the Lough (approx. 11acres of water). Of course you can go heavier but when are you realistically going to be trying to cast much over 120 yards? Lighter rods, I feel, allow the angler to enjoy the fight far more and they also, due to their softer action, usually mean less hook pulls under the rod tip, a common problem with stiffer ‘casting’ rods.
Reels, so long as they hold 200m+ of 12-15lb mainline are fine. If you don’t have ones with free-spool mode then simply slacken off the clutch! By using a minimum of 12lb line you will be able to deal with any unforeseen snags – at the Lough these include lots of glass bottles, old bikes, random bits of metal and sunken branches, among some more ‘interesting’ items such as cash registers! Urban lakes, as you can imagine, are sadly used by some as litter bins.
Terminal tackle, i.e. your rigs, are often touted as the be all and end all of carp fishing. We are constantly bombarded with adverts in the press and online telling us that we must buy a company’s new hook, hooklink material or lead system. Sure, there are occasionally genuine advances in tackle technology that lead to sharper, stronger hooks or hooklinks less prone to tangles on the cast but, by and large, much of it, as I said earlier, is rubbish! However, what tackle manufacturers prey on is an anglers confidence – if you use any product, be it cheap or expensive, and you catch a fish using it then you will likely use it again. Confidence is a huge part of angling and so as long as the products you choose are safe and functional who am I to tell you what and what not to use. It’s up to you.
For those unsure as to what is ‘safe’ and ‘functional’ in terms of terminal tackle, it would be silly of me not to direct you to the multitude of ready-tied rigs available from various companies. They are usually simple and strong and more than good enough for 99% of occasions. Like all angling, matching the size of your hook to the bait is important. A single grain of sweetcorn or a 10mm boilie on the hair of a size 6 hook isn’t really the most effective combination, its unbalanced – a size 10 in this case would be much more suitable.
Hooklinks can be as simple as a short piece of your mainline or as technical as an expensive coated co-polymer braid – again, as with most things in fishing, the choice is entirely to you. The length of your hooklink should depend largely on the nature if the lakebed. At the Lough this is often fairly soft, deep silt (the margins are mostly gravel up to 10-15 yards out), so it makes sense to use a lead system and hooklink that will allow the hookbait to lie on top of the silt. A heavy lead an ultra-short hooklink (say 3 inches) could well, on most casts to silty areas, end up buried out of sight. Simple lead safety clips or helicopter arrangements are now bog standard for such situations and are, importantly, safe and reliable. Simple running lead setups shouldn’t be forgotten – a lead, a bead and your hooklink. They are safe for the fish (should you snap off) and are also very cheap to construct! Adding a dissolving PVA bag or stringer to your hook before casting will also stop the rig from pulling into any deep silt so easily and, of course, means you can have a pile of free bait near your hookbait. It will also significantly reduce tangles, which can happen with poor casts or more supple hooklinks. The size and contents of your bags/stringers is totally up to you, so long as it doesn’t dissolve the PVA!
Adding buoyancy to your hookbait (whatever that may be) can be a good little edge too. A small piece of foam or cork added to the hair can negate the weight of the hook, making it behave more like the rest of your free bait (so more natural) and also helping it to stay out of the silt that little bit more. This hookbait arrangement is often termed ‘critically balanced’, a semi-buoyant hookbait that does not pop-up off the lakebed. It also usually improves the hooking efficiency of your rig. One point on the use of in-vogue artificial or plastic baits (like fake sweetcorn) is that whilst they may be buoyant they are nowhere near buoyant enough to balance out the weight of a typical size 8, 6 or 4 carp hook. A common thing for many anglers to do these days is to ‘tip off’ a standard boilie hookbait with a small artificial bait, thinking they are balancing out the weight of the hook. This is not true and all you achieve by doing this is adding a splash of colour to your hookbait. Of course, this is not by any means a bad idea, especially when the water is clear and carp are better able to see baits! The simple answer if you are unsure as to how your chosen hookbait and rig are looking underwater is to test them underwater! – either by dunking them in the lake margin or in a glass of water at home.
Leaders of heavy fluorocarbon or even leadcore are a good idea in general for carp fishing, as they offer that extra safeguard against any serious snags like rocks or branches. They are basically a mini-snag leader of 3-4ft in length. Again, readymade ones are easily available and come with detailed instructions of how to safely set them up. You could of course use the more old-school anti-tangle tubing behind your lead, which is cheaper, prevents tangles on the cast and protects the flank of the fish from the rubbing of mainline during the fight. The standard starting point would be something like a 6-10 inch hooklink with a strong size 8 or 6 hook, tied on using the simple knotless-knot method. Hair length should, in my opinion, allow for plenty of hookbait movement to give a good presentation, so having the bait 8-10mm from the bend of the hook is recommended for bottom baits, always shorter for popped-up baits (5mm). Overall, rigs are a personal preference. Although there are seemingly hundreds of different ones nowadays, it’s worth remembering (again) that simple is often best. At the Lough, stalking carp using nothing more than line, a hook and a piece of bread or a worm is without doubt one of, if not the most effective tactics…
Briefly on to bait, another minefield of carp angling. Some baits are certainly better and more attractive than others. Sometimes natural baits like maggots or worms are the most effective, sometimes a brightly coloured boilie, sometimes a dark coloured boilie; sometimes a fishmeal based one, sometimes a birdfood; sometimes a popped up bait, sometimes one hard in the lakebed; sometimes particle baits like corn are best, sometimes not. It is debatable, when talking boilies, if any one of the reputable companies are any different from the other, so don’t fall into that trap either.
It pays to experiment on the day with different baits, much as a sea or pike angler would. With two rods you can fish different baits and try to see if there is a preference on a given day. And the carp’s preferences can change on an almost daily basis! There are so many factors that affect bait choice that there are literally books on the subject. Yet again I would encourage you to not take too much notice of what sponsored anglers are using or what the adverts say because – shock horror! – bait is not the most important part of carp angling! I say this as an angler and a fish biologist. It’s more about how and when you use it, and of course, where (i.e. location).
Watercraft, the ability to read the signs from nature and adjust your tactics and approaches accordingly is the real key, though, for all angling. I am afraid that there are no real shortcuts to good watercraft – it is learned through experience. You cannot buy it all at once, but there are always a few hints to get you on the way. The Lough is no different.
For those thinking of trying their luck at the Lough there are a few things to consider. First of all, it is relatively heavily fished for much of the year and the carp have seen it all and are aware when they are being fished for. This is nothing to do with fishy intelligence, simply learning from repeated experiences. You can be forgiven for assuming that the carp are not one bit shy of humans, being a busy public park. To an extent that is true but if you clumsily cast a couple of 3oz lead’s on top of their heads they usually know what’s happening and move elsewhere to feed. The little practiced art of stealth is still as important on the Lough as it is anywhere else, especially as Lough carp are often very close in, even during the daytime.
The textbooks will tell you to follow the wind when carp fishing, fish on the end of it and catch fish! If only it were that simple. Sometimes it is of course, but often not. It depends on so many factors such as the time of day, time of year, strength of wind, amount and type of natural food being blown downwind, other weather conditions, angling pressure… Generally in the colder months it is best to fish where you think the water is warmest. Fish are cold blooded and probably love sunbathing more than us! In the winter the warmer the fish is the better they can see, move and digest food. In the warmer months fish often do the opposite and seek the coolest water they can find as it hold more dissolved oxygen, which enables them to again feel most comfortable. Dissolved oxygen is abundant in cold water.
There are always exceptions to the rules when fishing and it really pays to be open minded. If you walk around the lake (highly recommended before you set up) and find a load of carp rolling or rooting through the silt then it doesn’t really matter if they ‘should’ be there or not, does it? They are where they are and you should go and get your rods!
The Lough is a very shallow lake. In fact, during normal summer water levels there are only a few spots which reach 1m deep. Take it from me, as someone who has fished the lake for a fair few years now and who has been involved with many scientific surveys involving boats and wet suits, the Lough is pretty much the same depth all over. There are no big deep holes or shallow plateaux or large drop offs that you would expect to find on most lakes. In fact, the two biggest features are the margins (known as the Wall) and the snaggy island (known as the Bog).
In winter especially, many larger, deeper lakes contain what are known as thermoclines – bands of warmer water. They occur usually in the middle third of a lake’s depth and, as carp naturally seek out the warmest areas when it’s cold, they can often be found here. The last few years has seen the popularisation of zig rigs, fishing buoyant baits well off the bottom, in this warmer water. If the fish are not on the bottom then there is little point in fishing there. No doubt most of you will have by now read about anglers fishing and catching carp 10ft off the bottom in 15ft of water and so on. Very few fish species spend the majority of time on the bottom.
For various reasons (trust me!) thermoclines cannot form in the Lough, it’s just too shallow. But, believe it or not, the carp often refuse to feed on the bottom. Even though a hookbait is literally just 2 to 3ft below them, they very often will not dip their heads down to investigate. It is quite incredible and yet another unique characteristic of the Lough. The lake is so rich in small invertebrates such as Daphnia (water fleas) that the carp (regardless of size) will often feed on very little else. Fishing with conventional tactics when the fish are swimming around up in the water feeding on algae and Daphnia like this will usually fail completely. But a thinking angler may notice this behaviour and decide to try a small bait in the upper layers… It all comes back to watercraft.
Rigs, bait and tackle aside, the most important thing you can do to improve your chances of catching a Lough carp (or indeed any fish, anywhere) is to learn to read the water. Watch for signs of feeding fish like rolling, bubbling, plumes of silt being kicked up as carp root through the lakebed. Don’t be afraid to move from one area to another if you are not catching – the carp will not always come to you! Try to think like a fish, and try to picture your end tackle underwater. Are the rigs suitable for the bottom I am fishing on? Are the fish in a feeding mood and have I put too much or too little free bait out? Is this area where the carp are, and if not why not? Why isn’t anyone else fishing a certain method or in a certain area – is it laziness or is there a logical reason? Is the bait suitable for the time of year (oily baits in winter for example are largely ineffective and hard for the fish to digest)? Are the fish even feeding in given weather conditions?
There are now hard and fast rules in fishing, and long may it continue! We are forever guessing and acting on instinct. Sometimes it pays off, more often than not it doesn’t! Hopefully I haven’t been too vague in this article. Try to think outside of the box and work at your fishing. Effort really does equal reward. Good luck carp hunters!