Advanced Watercraft Skills – Catch more carp

24 April, 2023

What’s the difference between watercraft and advanced watercraft?

To some anglers watercraft is not part of the equation. They’re happy just enjoying the outdoors and the escape from everyday life that carp fishing provides. To a great many though, watercraft does form part of their thinking and simply means one thing – location. There can’t be a carp angler around who hasn’t read or heard that location and swim choice is the most important aspect that contributes to success.

The neatest rigs, tastiest bait and most accurate casting is not going to get you a bite if there isn’t a carp within the vicinity and the old adage of “an hour in the right place is worth five in the wrong” is as relevant now as it ever was and probably more so on today’s busy waters.

Now, whilst location forms a major portion of watercraft, it isn’t the whole picture. There is a whole lot more that comes under the bracket of watercraft. Advanced watercraft is a subject that covers the less obvious facets to locating carp as well as several other aspects that come into it.

watercraft skills - carp fishing

That sounds like a lot to take in.

Yes, it is. There is much to cover and it’s all further complicated by variables, interpretations and the fact that there are no rules. Most of what we’re discussing here is just a guide and you’ll have to decipher what you witness. Every venue is different and a sign on one water might mean a totally different thing on another. Watercraft is not something that can be taught in the same way as rig tying for instance. Whilst it is largely observation, it is also partly interpretation and a modicum of intuition. There’s even an element of watercraft that’s instinctive or subconscious. The way we naturally remain still and quiet when coming across fish in the edge, for instance

Can we start with carp location?

Location is probably the best place to begin really. The very first thing to say about location is that it’s an ongoing process. We’ve all read articles that mentions how the successful angler has spent time looking, making several circuits of the lake, before deciding on a swim and then applied that to our fishing. What we maybe don’t take quite so much notice of is the continued observation that takes place throughout the whole session. Things change but, by watching and listening the entire time, it is much easier to stay in tune with the carps’ movements and react accordingly.

Getting on fish is vital but staying on them is equally essential. If stimulated to move, carp aren’t going to wait for the end of your session before vacating the area. They’ll do it when they fancy and it’s only by continual observation that you’ll know when they have “done the off”. It’s not sufficient merely to be in the right swim either. Catching carp is as much about casting to the right spot and knowing where that might be is largely down to a picture that is built over time, not just while walking round and setting up. Advanced watercraft is a mindset of constant observation and analysis.

spotting carp

So we’ve got to keep our eyes peeled the whole time.

Yes, but it’s not only visual. Your eyes are directional whereas your ears are listening through the full 360°. More often than not, the first you’ll know of a carp jumping is by hearing it. During darkness, your ears are your prime sensory organ so will be especially useful throughout late autumn into early winter, when carp seem keener to show during the night. Your ears will also help you pinpoint the location of a show but sound does become distorted if you’re under a shelter and can seem like it came from a different direction. The more of your time you spend out in the open the more accurate your hearing will be.

Ah yes, of course. So what carp signs are we looking…..and listening for?

In addition to fish jumping, sticking their heads out or rolling we need to observe more subtle signals. Most of us will notice carp bow waving or cruising but the ones lower in the water column regularly go unseen. Consciously looking below, rather than at, the surface can help you see a slightly darker shape or two drifting through. This can be a false friend however as occasionally a ripple can have the same effect so be wary if they’re all traveling in the same direction.

It’s possible to spot the tiniest part of a carp in the right light. A single dorsal will reflect bright sunshine and the glint that can be seen from a long way off. In surface weed it’s common to see no sign other than a few inches of jet-black back poking through. Easily mistaken for sticks or reed stems they’re well worth watching for a while as, every so often, one will gently rise or fall telling you that they’re not inanimate.

Peering deep into the little holes in the weed might reveal a tail or a pectoral fin waving. Surface weed does seem to draw carp towards the top and another subtle sign, when they’re a foot or two down, is a very slight rock of the water. It appears to dip first, the gap filling again to create an almost imperceptible wave.

carp location

What about when it’s difficult to see.

There are lots of things that give carp away without you actually setting eyes on them. Sometimes, all it takes is a bit of movement to alert you. When looking into the margins, especially under overhanging trees or within snags, a deficit of light means visibility is diminished and carp flesh is difficult to make out. However, a carp moving through might brush against a branch, moving it slightly and reed stems knocking or bending are classic clues. A gentle flick of a tail is sufficient to create a vortex that kicks up detritus from the bottom with leaf litter being especially visible.

Birdlife sometimes makes a good indicator of the presence of carp. Tufties can be hesitant to dive whilst carp are below them but will occasionally follow them about, presumably as an aid to finding food. Coots can be extremely helpful. They’ll rear up and turn turtle or deviate if they come across a carp near the surface. Seeing them dive on your spot doesn’t mean carp are absent but often they’ll spook off when they are. One of their most revealing traits occurs during night time when suddenly a coot gives out its alarm call, followed by another and so on, alerting the lot of them. The cause of the commotion is, of course, a carp jumping sufficiently near to their roost to frighten them. It’s the location of the first coot you need to take note of. During desperate winter conditions, when there is little else to go on, even grebes can offer a tiny little pointer, as the water in which they are hunting silver fish must be of an acceptable temperature to cyprinoids.