15.04.2021

Natural Baits for Big Carp! Spring Carp Fishing

Author: CC Moore
Categories: Featured Articles

New Spring- New Ideas

During spring, when fish start to increase their activity levels, their energy requirements and their predisposition to feeding, the water temperatures and angling conditions can still be less than favourable for long periods and can therefore still make ‘natural’ feeding spells infrequent and short. Many anglers approach early spring like they would early summer- find them and bait heavily, waiting for them to turn up and feed, when in reality, their energy requirements are a minor proportion of what they are come two or three months down the line. 

Therefore, thinking about and identifying the most effective baiting approach for this period can certainly be very challenging but at the same time, can potentially be the most rewarding period of the year too. Individual fish weights are of course often at their best in spring but even more exciting and motivating is the possibility that regular and even multiple captures are again becoming achievable.

As the majority of fish will have been fairly inactive for some time, stimulating moderate feeding activity from even a single fish can act as a powerful catalyst for encouraging other fish to feed for the first time in a while and possibly, with that infectious enthusiasm, that in turn rubs off on others and creates that vital competition for feeding for the first time in months. You will be quite amazed just how much of an impact a single feeding fish can have on others around it, releasing and distributing vital, feed- inducing signals into the water column that the other carp find incredibly difficult to avoid. 

    

Even though the same can, to some extent, be said of all periods of the year, the all-important process of inducing fish to feed in spring really needs to be triggered by stimulating one or more of their chemoreceptors that in turn trigger that desire to feed.

Chemoreceptors are sensory receptor cells within a fish’s body that identify the presence of chemical substances and, from this, generate a biological signal that triggers an action such as investigation, ‘fight or flight’ or, of course, feeding. This article takes a brief look into some of the determining factors and variables that have an impact on inducing carp to feed during the spring; the way in which we can apply these aspects into our own angling varies, but baiting approach plays a significant part in getting it right and reaping the rewards!

Sight

Fish have well-developed sight which has evolved over time to suit their surroundings and their individual requirements, and with the various anglers’ baits used, the tactics anglers employ and the natural food sources that come and go in the fish’s environment, it will undoubtedly continue to do so. 

As their sight obviously helps fish identify the vital food items they need for survival, the stimulation of fish through the use ‘visually attractive’ baits is a widely used method that has been employed for many years. You will quite often hear anglers say ‘just chuck bright singles’- no doubt, it works and does so every year.

Fish’s retinas tend to have rod cells and cone cells and so gives them the flexibility to see well in high or low light conditions. However, certain colours can also be more or less visible in different depths of water due to the varying levels of light absorption of the different colours. Colours such as orange and red (with longer wavelengths) are less visible in deeper water, whereas colours such as blue or purple are more so due to their short wavelengths. Ultraviolet (as you can imagine), has even shorter wavelengths and so is even more visible than blue and purple in deep water.

Why are so many deep-sea animals red in colour?

Red light does not reach the deep ocean depths, so deep-sea animals that are red actually appear black and are therefore less visible to predators. What we may think looks and appears to be a colour of bait/ hookbait when we hold out in our hand, may well actually appear to be completely different depending on the depth/ sunlight when out in the lake.

Visual stimulus to consider are: 

Colours:

Colour has and always will be a personal preference, but this usually stems from the success rate of those colours being used. You may notice particular patterns on your venue, certain times of year will have an impact on this and so will the given conditions on the day; light penetration, light levels etc. When it comes to colours in the spring, keeping your options open is always best, carp are very much like humans and will vary from venue to venue in terms of their individual eyesight and distinctive taste, aroma, nutrient preferences. 

Many anglers will favour those really bright colours; fluoro pinks and yellows, yet those who dare to do so may have successful catches on dark, duller baits such as glugged foodbait and darker pop- ups. Experimenting with your hookbaits in the spring can certainly be rewarding and thinking outside of the box when it comes to colours- how many anglers do you see fishing with black hookbaits on the lakebed? 

Remember the lakebed colour too, this will also have a big impact on how hookbaits look and contrast, making them either more visual or more discreet. Baits standing out and baits blending in can be both good and bad, as fish will react differently to each. High light levels (sun and shallow water) may lend itself to using duller, more discreet baits, as these will stand out a great deal more. Especially in the springtime when the carp are searching out warmer water, the shallower areas of the lake such as bays and bars, a much more subtle bait can often be far more effective than a glowing fluoro. 

Don’t forget to think about colour tones too! Washed out colours may out fish the real bright ones one spring, but then the following year it could be the reverse. 

Size: 

Using smaller baits occupies fish and increases competition for feeding (as it takes longer for the same weight of bait to be eaten). This is a tactic that many employ on the highly stocked venues, but this isn’t always necessarily the best way to go early spring and will vary greatly depending on the stock levels in your lake. 

Using larger baits can be effective too; 18mm baits will no doubt be highly visual to the carp, but remember these bigger baits will fill the carp up quicker; so, bear in mind how much you introduce. 

Also, big hookbaits seem to be a think of the past and many anglers now favour 12mm hookbaits, especially in the spring. Once again, thinking differently to the majority can be effective; how many times have you heard of anglers catching on 18mm+ pop- ups on zigs during the spring? It certainly happens but it very much bucks the trend of small slithers of foam that most companies promote. 

Shape:

Varying the shapes can help reduce suspicion, certainly as the spring progresses; remember how fish’s sight and recognition evolves, this plays a big part in their confidence and feeding behaviour. 

Dumbells are good option and something that very few anglers now seem to use, as are chopped baits, crumbed baits too; all different shapes, stimulating the carps sensory feeding triggers.

Also, natural items are visually attractive and visually indicate food for fish; maggots, casters, bloodworm, snails; they are much more readily accepted by carp of course and this no doubt shows by anglers who incorporate naturals into their approach. 

Natural items also work well if they are still alive and wriggling of course; fish can not only see moving food items such as wriggling maggots, or caddis fly, but they can also potentially ‘feel’ them too, especially when in abundance. Fish can sense water movement by tiny hair cells on many areas of their body; these are so tiny they cannot be seen by the naked eye, but it is believed they are very sensitive, so even if fish can’t detect very small moving items, they can certainly feel water movement when fish are feeding in fairly close proximity, even in poor light and visibility. In fact, carp come to rely more so on these sensory adaptations in water that is cloudy or with less visibility, so it is well worth thinking about how you can make your bait ‘active’, especially on venues where visibility is poor. 

Also, remember fish looking up (surface feeding and zigs). Often looking up through clear water at a light sky background; hence why a black hookbait is often successful. As shown above, red is also very effective in shallow water and is of course another popular zig hookbait colour, but how about trying orange too. Experimenting with zigs is something that a lot of anglers are afraid to do, let alone cast one out, but imagine if you could replicate the movement of a live big through your zig hookbait?

Signals:

We know anglers use clouding products to release a ‘cloud of attraction’, but it is also to mimic a silty cloud created by feeding fish; which is hoped will entice other fish to investigate. Natural Liquid Foods, such as GLM Compound or Crab Compound release amino acids and other nutrients into the water that would be emitted by the typical, naturally occurring foods they would find in their environment, such as bloodworm, snails, mussels etc. So, this would potentially trigger a feeding response through chemoreception (tasting in water).

As anglers, we think very little when it comes to creating a cloud on the lakebed; how can we get our bait to replicate and stir up to mimic feeding fish. Last year, a friend was fishing an incredibly tricky, clear venue, placing rigs in the edge and setting traps to try and trip up these wary carp. To get a rig in position, he had to wade 3ft from the bank in order to reach the spot. 

When wading in the edge on one occasion, a team angler disturbed the lakebed; moments after disturbing the water, a 40lb common waddled out from the nearby snag, straight into the cloud that had been created. It just shows how quickly fish are to react to these feeding signs, despite the fact this was purely created by an angler!

Also, white clouds are very effective too, especially when created among clay type spots; if you tread into clay, you will notice just how milky and cloudy the water becomes, which fish are naturally attracted too. This is clearly evident by the carp in the spring time rubbing and flanking against clay spots, creating smears down their flanks.  

Taste:

Aquatic animals have what scientists call the ‘common chemical sense’; which makes them sensitive to the presence of foreign chemicals anywhere on the surface of their bodies. Some of these chemicals are naturally occurring in water, but others are emitted by baits that we use. Acids and Esters included in baits, such as pop-ups, have significant impact on the receptors of carp. 

Humans vs Fish

As humans, taste buds that have been worn out by food; be that food which is too hot, too cold or too strong regenerate every 3-10 days when we are young and so, with such finely tuned taste buds our sense of taste is at its most acute in our early years. 

As we get older, our taste buds regenerate less often and so they become less sensitive, meaning we tend to accept, require or even enjoy stronger flavours as we get older.

But does a similar theory and process apply to fish?

It is reasonable to assume that a similar process applies to fish as they get older. Younger fish are almost certainly likely to be able to smell/taste baits in the water column more effectively than older fish and this may be another reason why highly attractive, soluble baits often catch so many small fish as they stimulate so many juvenile, care-free, naïve fish to feed which means the larger fish often either don’t get a look in or sit back and allow the smaller fish to feed and ‘test’ feed on the baits as they are so keen. 

How can we take this principle and apply it to our angling; well, if you think about it, how many times have you heard of the lakes big girl falling to a single, high attract chod or hinge in an unfavourable area? If we think about the age of the carp we are targeting and how they may respond to different baiting situations; mases of bait or singles etc, then we can certainly try to adapt our tactics and baiting to suit. 

Bottom feeding fish such as Catfish and Carp tend to have 10-20 times the number of taste buds of a human and these are found all over the body; hence why fish can taste chemicals and nutrients in water without them entering the mouth, nasal cavity or gills. Catfish’s and Carp’s barbs are where the highest concentration of tasting cells is found on the body. These help them to locate food and prey even in low light conditions, and deep and murky or dirty water. 

Having so many taste buds and such an acute sense of taste enables fish such as Carp to sense very small amounts of food, even when buried in silt, in the dark or metres away. Other fish species also have a very sensitive and famously effective sense of smell; e.g.; Salmon, for example, manage to find their way back to the streams where they were hatched, guided by their sense of smell.

Texture:

Some fish hear through their lateral line and their ears (called ‘otoliths’) and Carp also hear vibrations through their swim bladder and pass them to the inner ear. This is shown by crunchy products such as hemptiger nuts and frozen water snails, they are so successful and effective for creating competition for feeding. The sound and vibration caused by fish feeding on them undoubtedly has the potential to attract other passing fish and encourage them to investigate the possibility of food being present. Quite often you will notice snails’ shells scattered over a clearing or an area in the lake, these spots are perfect for presenting baits, but may lend themselves to mimicking the natural approach- a mixture of snails, chopped tigers etc.

Soft baits also come across as natural like bloodworm, inside of mussel, inside of snails; so, think carefully how you can replicate this with your approach. Many anglers use warm water to soften their baits, making them easily digestible but soft to the touch. 

Boilies that have been mushed to a pulp can be very effective on pressured venues, especially when used over the top of clean silt, as the food signals bury deep and keep the carp feeding for a prolonged period of time. Once again, that cloudy reaction from one fish feeding is often enough to draw carp in to investigate further. 

Buoyancy:

Buoyancy is quite often overlooked by anglers; checking a rig in the edge to see if it sinks slowly and then presenting it among a spread of large boilies, in reality, it replicates very little in terms of natural movement and appearance. In the spring, the carp are still not at 100% activity and energy levels are still low; it is certainly worth considering how reactive your hookbaits are to slow approaching carp and whether they may cause alarm bells to ring if unnatural. 

Minerals, trace elements and vitamins: 

These factors are all in great need in spring as fish start to feed more after a prolonged spell of inactivity which has led to nutrient shortages/deficiencies, they are also needed as they prepare for spawning a couple of months down the line. Salts in their various forms are good for ionic salt supply (sodium, potassium, magnesium etc) and for cleaning off leeches and lice after fish may have been ‘laid up’. 

Certain areas of the lake may be richer in natural occurring salts and minerals; deposits such as clean silt, clay, bankside undercuts of soil are also full of naturally occurring minerals. Anglers try to mimic these with adding salts to their mixes and baits, this can certainly be effective too, but spot choice certainly plays a big part as to how successful this technique can be. 

These are a few variables certainly worth considering as we move into spring, obviously, carp are wild animals and there is certainly no written textbook on variables such as the ones highlighted above; but they are certainly food for thought. As we learn more about the lakes we choose to fish, we can build a better picture on what trigger the carp to respond and how this changes through the spring as many environmental factors change. 

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