Paddy Ramsden- The Open Access Approach
Accessible club waters are great way of honing your skills, but there comes a time when a new challenge is needed. Joining a syndicate is a great option if you have the chance; but waiting lists, the cost of the ticket, fuel, travel time, vehicle wear, family commitments and the amount of free time you have are all factors we have to consider when making decisions.
For a number of reasons mentioned, day ticket carping has always been a big part of my fishing and as a result, for the last 25 years or so, I have travelled all over the country in search of opportunities to catch. When approaching these venues, there are number things you might want to consider to maximise your chances of success and make sure you are prepared in order to make sure that your valuable time on the bank counts!
Preparation, preparation, preparation….
Your time on the bank is precious and can be costly, so why waste it not actually fishing when you are there. Here are some ideas that may help you prepare for your trip.
We all have our favourite ‘go to’ rigs; so always have plenty of these tied up ready, ensuring your hooks are as sharp as they can be. These might be for a solid bag approach, maybe a wafter rig, a zig or even your favourite pop-up rig. Don’t underestimate how corrosive lake water can be to your hook points. Hooks blunt very quickly even with no bites, even more so if you prefer to sharpen them as many anglers do.
With regards to pop-ups rigs like the Spinner/Ronnie or my personal favourite a hinged stiff, I prefer to tie rigs up in volume without the boom section. This allows you to adapt your rig to any given situation on the bank, once you know whether you’re fishing over gravel, weed, silt etc. The boom section only takes seconds to tie up, therefore this method is a much better option than choosing a fully pre-tied rig from your rig bin, which actually isn’t quite right for the job.
A great tip I have found is to have everything you need for solid bag fishing in one place rather than spread throughout your tackle bag. I use a small bucket loaded up with pre-tied bags, pellets, liquids, hookbaits, rigs, leads and PVA materials which are all in one place and ready to use. Make sure any pre-tied solid bags have plastic hookbaits or wafters as the buoyancy of pop-ups is affected by the pellets drying them out. This approach allows you to grab your bucket and be fishing in a matter of minutes if needed. I would also do the same with your zig kit too, ensuring they are long enough to be trimmed down if needed, it will pay off and save you a lot of time in the long run.
At any one time, the lakebed of most day ticket fisheries can be literally covered with old bait. This may be unwanted bait or bait yet to be found by the carp, but it is a fact that most anglers put too much bait in the lake than is actually being eaten. The fish can therefore roam the lake at will, feeding on whatever they want to and wherever they choose. In fact, carp become adept at finding older bait, knowing that this is a far safer food source with less chance of being caught. Mindful of this, you should assume you are probably fishing over old bait and therefore your bait choice and tactics should consider this on these venues.
The single biggest mistake day ticket anglers make is to introduce too much bait into their swim, both at the start and throughout their session. In fact, I would go as far as saying that if you only ever fished solid bags and zigs for the rest of your fishing time, most anglers would catch more carp on these types of venues!!!
A good start is to choose bait that is very easily digested, which might well include pre-soaked boilies. This doesn’t necessarily mean ‘washing out’ your boilies and dulling the flavour, in fact it can mean ‘washing in’ flavours by adding liquid to the point where the boilie is fully saturated, meaning they can’t take any more liquid in and are at maximum attraction. This also creates a natural barrier around the bait, a little bit like a fully loaded sponge, stopping it taking on unwanted smells, silt for example.
Once a bait gets to this stage, the only direction flavour can leak is out from the boilie onto your spot. Personally, I always soak my boilie in a mix of water and a liquid of choice for 3-4 days before I go. This softens the boilie to a point where it breaks down when you squeeze it, meaning once eaten the carp don’t need to work hard when digesting it - this particularly applies to winter fishing when a carps’ digestive tract, as well as its appetite, has shrunk in the cold water conditions. I tend to prepare my boilie content in larger batches and freeze into kilo portions, allowing me to grab and go ‘old bait’ at short notice.
The day before a trip I would defrost some boilie, the amount dependent on the length of my trip. The rest of my chosen bait mix can be added once you are at the lake and you have chosen a swim and tactics. I take hemp, nuts, corn and liquids in jars/tins with me ready to use but only if needed. This method creates minimal waste as any unused boilie can be taken home and re-frozen for your next session.
Added to the softened boilie I would add tinned sweetcorn which is sweetened and has a high-water content of around 75%, again helping the bait pass through the carp much more readily therefore meaning they get hungry much faster and in turn come back for more food. A small amount of hemp, groats or chopped nuts/tiger nuts (where allowed) add a crunch factor, my preference being a mix of all three.
Pellets too are a perfect addition to the mix, quickly leaking attractors into the area, and again these can be added dry as required. Finally, I would add a good dose of a heavy liquid food, something like Marine Amino 365 or Amino Blend 365 are perfect for adding instant food signals into the swim.
In the lead up to a session, follow the weather for the location you are heading to both before you are due to arrive and for the weather predictions when you are there. New winds, wind direction, air pressure, moon phases can all affect where the carp might want to be and most importantly, where they might end up whilst you are there. The more you take note of these aspects, the more you will understand them and their behaviours. For example, if you learn that the carp on the lake follow a new wind make sure you are fully aware where the wind will blow toward in the hours/days after you arrive, this can allow you to capitalise on a situation before others do!
Let’s not beat around the bush, day ticket venues are almost always very highly pressured, albeit they are usually highly stocked too. For all the preparation you might have done prior to your session, the key aspect in catching is observation. You can’t catch what isn’t there!
On arrival at the venue, don’t be in a rush to find a swim. Watch the lake and where possible, find the showing fish, however long that takes. Once you know the area you think your best chance of success is, politely and quietly talk to the anglers who are already there. Have they caught? How much bait have they used? When are they leaving? There is no such thing as the ‘best swim’ on a lake. The best areas are the ones with fish in them! If you have to wait for a swim in the right area to come free, then wait. Getting ‘on the fish’ is usually the difference between success and failure.
If the area you have found the carp is completely taken by other anglers, and there is no chance of a swim coming free for the remainder of your trip, you need to consider other options. With an eye on the weather, as we have covered, maybe a new wind is due to blow into another area at some point therefore that could be an option. There may be sunshine due which could push the carp into the shallows or snags for example. If these are the only options you have, you need to adjust your approach accordingly. If there are lots of carp showing in one area, by deduction you can assume that other areas are likely to contain far fewer fish, meaning your chances of multiple bites are far less.
If all else fails and you can’t find the fish and there is no change in the weather due, head for the quietest area of the lake with the least angling pressure. A secluded corner or a swim that commands its own water are both good options. Bait very lightly in these circumstances. Even on the very busiest lakes, it’s noticeable how many times carp will show in the only available swim, the one with no lines in the water.
So, you’re in your swim at the start of your session and hopefully the odd carp is showing here and there. My approach here would always be to start with solid bags or zigs BEFORE you set up all your kit if possible. There is almost zero disturbance and a mouthful of bait is far more likely to result in a bite when the carp are already in front. Get the rods out and intently watch your swim, casting to showing carp if you can. It’s amazing how many times this will pay off with an early bite and both methods are definitely underused tactics!
If bites aren’t forthcoming after a few hours, I would wind in and walk the lake again to see if the carp have drifted away. If that’s the case, you are all ready to up sticks and move on to another swim. If not and you’re happy with your first-choice swim, you should look to spending some time finding spots to fish through the night and maybe in preparation for an early morning bite.
Lead around to get a feel of the depth and the type of bottom in the swim. If you’re on a long session, don’t be scared to get the marker float out. It seems to me they are little used these days, ‘carp scarers’ and all that. One or two casts is well worth the gamble of swim disturbance, knowing for sure the actual depth and any depth variation like bars or gullies. On longer sessions, I would have no hesitation in spending 4-5 hours mapping the topography of the swim properly. Make sure all the information is logged for future use.
Gravelly areas seem to be a magnet for anglers but they are not necessarily for the carp. In fairness, these areas offer great presentation, but it isn’t a food source apart from any old bait that may be there. Silt and weed being loaded with natural food are a larder for carp and they spend most of their time in these areas. As a rule of thumb, I tend to aim for weedy areas in summer and silty areas through the winter. If you’re not confident fishing this way, try and find a clear area as near as you can to silt beds or weed.
I think it’s widely accepted that the more lines you have in the water, the more pressure the area you are fishing is under. At shorter ranges it’s much better to slacken off to hide your lines, at range tight lines are fine. The deeper the lake, the more this affects your chances.
It’s too easy to try and follow the ‘3 on a spot’ advice, which in reality takes a lot of skill and experience to perfect. For most anglers, I would advise two rods on one spot is enough and far easier to achieve especially at ranges over 80 yards or so. If you prefer to fish a third rod, have it as a margin rod or a roaming rod casting to showing fish. Once you are happy with the spot(s) do not put too much bait in. I’m sure most of us have all seen the underwater videos where the carp feed a little then move off, then coming back later for another feed. I’ve spent a lot of time watching carp in the edge and they feed little and often rather than feeding until full.
If spodding, I generally start with 5 medium spombs in summer, and maybe 3 in winter. It may seem a miniscule amount but a medium spomb holds around 75 x 10mm baits, that’s 3-400 baits (or equivalent) which is easily enough to get you started. Day ticket carp aren’t usually scared of a splash therefore I much prefer to have this mindset and build up the swim than overload the swim with say 20 spombs when I haven’t yet established if they are feeding. Remember, the more bait you put in, the more your chances are diminished if the carp are only feeding lightly - a big hit is a once a season opportunity, not the norm!
Your choice of hookbait can be key and the norm for most day tickets waters is the bright bait approach. This can and does work on many occasions but don’t be blinded by always going down this route.
A hookbait that looks and smells different from your free offerings can sometimes be too much, maybe try just changing one of these aspects. For example, a hookbait that is the same flavour as your bait but a different colour can be devastating. Similarly, a hookbait of the same colour as your free offerings but a different flavour works well too. Both these options can make a huge difference on highly pressured lakes. If you find that the carp are feeding hard, I would always ‘match the hatch’ in both colour and flavour.
As mentioned earlier, during the summer months I’ve had most success fishing directly into or up against weedy areas. When fishing this way, I have always found that a natural coloured and flavoured hookbait, such as balanced tiger nuts or maple peas are deadly and works by far better than any other bait. Alternatively, during the colder months, I’ve had most success using a bright bait, fished over the dirtiest, thickest silt I can find.
These are a few aspects I always take into consideration when approaching day ticket venues; they really do take some time and effort to perfect your approach and not on is ever the same, you can always pick up on small tweaks and adapt to ensure you gain success! Be lucky