The term Water Craft is banded around a lot in various fishing styles and circles, in this section we're going to take a look at the various elements of watercraft and how they can be used effectively when Carp Angling.
Due to the fact that this website is available to all anglers; whether you're completely new to the sport or have many years under your belt already, we shall start at the beginning with a simple question: What is watercraft?
+ LEARN MORE ABOUT WATER CRAFT
Watercraft is a skill that you gradually learn and continually add too over many years of pursuing your chosen quarry. It is your 'experience', 'skill' and ability'to locate and capture your chosen quarry. Each species of fish have their own life styles and habits, and react to environmental elements differently in the river or lake they reside in.
In our case here, Carp (Cyprinus Carpio) most certainly have their own little "personality quirks'or habits and likes and dislikes that we as anglers need to familiarize ourselves with if we want to catch and release them on a regular and consistent basis.
Watercraft is without doubt, the most important factor in the equation leading to catching carp on a consistent basis.
If you're new to the sport and are lucky enough to have a really experienced angler to fish with and learn from, it may sometimes seem like he/she has a "6th sense", they always seem to know where the fish will be, even on a lake that is new to them. Where as in reality, when looking at a section of the lake or river to be fished, the experienced angler will draw a mental picture from years of experiences in similar situations. Plus you can bet that he/she has already done a fair amount of 'homework' on the lake; whether it be via prior reconnaissance visits, talking to local anglers and/or a good look on google maps etc. for contours and other features we will be addressing.
Ultimately, watercraft is the skill, which when honed, eventually turns into an Angler's 'Intuition' of sorts; where the fisherman knows or at least has a good "educated" idea of where the carp are likely to be feeding within any particular body of water during certain times of day by taking into consideration the following main factors:
- Underwater Topography
- Weather (heat, cold, air pressure, precipitation, winds)
- Moon cycles
- The time of year (length of daylight during the day)
- Water Temperature at various depths
- The Thermocline in Summer months
- The availability & types of food sources available for the Carp.
- Knowing the Carp's habits, likes and dislikes
Lets start with what might be a rather shocking statement to some…
We believe that on our larger US lakes and water impoundments, where there is a reasonable fish and wildlife/ecosystem balance, you’ll find that at least 90% of the surface area of that lake is void of Carp at any particular time and its probably closer to 95% in the lakes with extreme acreage!
There are always more than one way to approach finding and then visualizing the features that affect a carp's habits and feeding patterns. Like all things pertaining to Carp angling, there are no hard and fast rules, just perhaps guidelines. Take what you like from here and other sources and use the ideas to help formulate your own methods/techniques.
We will share our approach here and over time, this will help you formulate a strategy of your own and hopefully answer a few questions for you.
An important fact to mention is that Carp like fast and easy access to the deeper water in the a lake/river. This last statement also has an added variable, especially in the summer months called the Thermocline (explained below). Generally, when we say deeper water, we mean 30, 40 and even 50+ feet… or, the deepest section of your lake/river if the particular water you fish isn’t 30 foot deep. Also bare in mind, that even in 50+ feet of water, the carp may not be on the bottom, they may well be suspended at for example, the 30 foot mark in 50 feet of water or just above where the thermocline (explained later) is located in the summer months. Carp like deeper water because it gives them a feeling of safety from predators, a more constant temperature free of rapid fluctuations, better Oxygen levels and also we think a stable light level.
So, to be very successful over a period of time on a particular lake we need to identify and utilize two very important pieces of information relating to the Carp in a body of water;
- The deep holes in a lake or river where the carp feel safe.
- Areas where the carp feel comfortable seeking food!
A third piece of the puzzle that is important to work out and learn is the actual route that they take between the deeper water and the shallower feeding areas.
Slapping a bit more paint on the picture, lets for the sake of arguments think of this “deeper water” as their house or safe area and as a general rule it’s a very comfortable, "middle class house located in a very nice part of town with very little violence/danger." The only down side is the fact that the "fridge and larder cupboard" in their house is usually near empty of food down there… When the Carp are at “home” they appear to be near dormant or at best, busy digesting their latest meal and are far more difficult to catch.
Dependent on way too many variables (which could include general climate where the lake is located, time of year, weather including air pressure, water condition, thermocline position, moon cycle, natural food availability, topography of lake, wind direction and many more possible situations that have given many an experienced angler sleepless nights and migraines just trying to figure out) the carp “wake up” once, twice or maybe even three times per day in the summer months, become more active and decide that they’re hungry.
In their “town” they have to leave the house and get on the “Carp highway” to go to the food larders which just happen to be up the hill, in the shallower sections of the water. Once we decide to fish a certain body of water, one of the most important jobs we have as successful anglers is to figure out and map where these carp highways are and where their many “fridges and food Larders” are located along the highway.
We could call this their daily migratory food patrol route. Knowing this now begs the following question. What kind of structure should we be looking for so we can identify:
- A typical “Carp highway”
- Typical food larders or feeding areas along the highway?
When the decision is taken to "work" a lake or section of a lake that we’ve never fished before, we try
to learn as much about the water well in advance of the 1st session from the local fisherman, topographic maps, Navionics app, Google earth, via marker float use and/or the use of a fish finder if access to a boat on the lake is possible. Other good feature finding products to use that can be cast from the shoreline are: Hummingbird's Smart Cast, The Deeper fishfinder, iBobber castable, Vexilar's Sonar phone etc. all these kind of technology based tools will give us valuable information about the underwater topography that can be used to build a picture.
We’re looking for the deeper sections of water connected to the shallows via old river beds, feeder creek channels, gullies, a land point bar jutting out into the lake, sandbar or maybe a man made structure such as a submerged roadbed, dams, Rip-Rap etc… Along each of these type of “highways” emerging up from the deep will be various staging areas known as break points where the fish will stop to feed (Food Larders). These break points (food larders) may consist of a ledge or drop off, a rock reef on a shelf, a weed bed, a hump or submerged “island,” a running water inlet, submerged brush or timber or even a flat area of silt, gravel and/or larger rocks where enough light penetrates down to the bottom to sustain crustaceans, shell fish and insect larvae in light vegetation etc.
When the likely break points are identified we note their position on a map (electronically via the Navionics app or hand drawn) or, if available for your water, a commercially printed topographical map of the water for future reference. This is important because at the risk of stating the obvious, these are the best areas to present a bait.
We’ve often found that at any one particular time, or time of year,a different stamp or size of fish can hang out at different break points along the highway. If we’ve found a break point where we’re catching low to mid teens size carp then its probably worth moving one of the baited rods (if within casting range) to the next feature along the highway to see what is there. If not, then we play the waiting game to see what moves onto the chosen feature next.
How often the carp visit and how long they stay to feed at a particular “food larder” break point along the highway is very much dependent on the time of year, climate, weather and water conditions etc. This is the main reason that we advise keeping a detailed fish journal of each session so you can look back, compare and learn from past experiences at a particular swim on a lake etc.
THE WATER TEMPERATURE VARIABLE
A very important fact to consider when the water temperature gets down to 10˚C or 50˚F and lower, is that the carp start to switch "modes" where they feed and do so far much less frequently.
The carp go into an 'anaerobic state' (where there is less oxygen circulation around their bodies) or a state of' semi hibernation' where they use Glycogen as a source of energy. It's stored in the liver and is converted in to Glucose and Ethanol to be used as energy needed to survive the tough winters.
+ LEARN MORE ABOUT The Water Temperature Variable
Carp will feed at these lower temperatures but far less frequently; remember, carp don't have stomachs but instead have a long intestinal tract. No stomach means no digestion acid. So they rely on enzymes in the intestines to help breakdown the food before absorption into their bodies for nourishment; at these colder temperatures the necessary digestive enzymes are not active and will not break the foods down for the carp to absorb.
Other factors relating to carp feeding in colder temperatures to bare in mind: They tend to gather or huddle together and will not travel to find food because this will expend more energy than they can receive from food at this time of year; again due to the lower enzyme activity in their intestinal tract. If you can find where they are huddled in Winter, you can keep catching throughout the year, even via ice fishing.
Also if you can get water temperature measurements at various depths along the "Carp Highway" that we mentioned earlier, you will probably find that the fish are hanging at the "Break point or food Larder" where the temps are a few degrees warmer and feeding there more often too!
On the sunnier/warmer days, look for carp warming themselves in the shallower areas of the lake, even through the ice.
Wind direction can play a massive part in locating carp! We can't get into the notion of whether it is best to fish an East, West, North or South wind because each wind direction will affect your body of water in a vastly different manner depending on what part of the US it is that you live. But, we can state the following with a fair amount of confidence:
Relative to the recent prevailing conditions, fishfor carp with a warm wind blowing into your face or a cold wind blowing over from behind you or fish a section of the water that is sheltered from the cooling effects of the cold wind.
This is a subject that, as Carp anglers, we should familiarize ourselves with as it is a very important piece of the whole 'watercraft puzzle', particularly during the hot summer months. We can eliminate any 'break points' below the thermocline when we are trying to place our hook baits in close proximity to our quarry during in the summer months.
+ LEARN MORE ABOUT THE THERMOCLINE
As the days grow longer in the Spring/early Summer, the rays of the sun warm the surface layers of the lake and the water starts to stratify. That is, where the warmer water actually sits on top of the colder water because it is less dense (lighter in weight) than the cooler waters. So, going from the surface down to the bottom we have the warmest water on the surface followed by a layer of water that is mixture of warm/cooler temps, constantly mixing. Below that is the coldest layer of the water.
The Thermocline is actually that middle layer of water with the constantly mixing temperatures. As the summer progresses, the water below the thermocline becomes increasingly hostile to the fish. This is because much of the vegetation and animal matter that has fallen/settled down there during the previous several months starts to decompose. The bacterial bugs that do the decomposing use up most of the available oxygen leaving the water fairly lifeless, this is often referred to as the Dead Zone. That's not to say that you will not find any carp below the thermocline as a few fish will enter this oxygen depleted zone at the bottom of the lake to grab a quick mouthful of food before quickly returning up to the more fish friendly layers above the Thermocline where the oxygen from the air above the lake mixes well with the water. Generally, if the thermocline is sitting at the 15 foot mark and you're presenting your baits on the bottom at around 20 to 30 feet or more, the chances are very high that your baits will remain untouched.
When you fish the structure/breakpoints that the thermocline either straddles or passes through and shallower in the water table; you are likely to have higher success during feeding spells.
Different lakes will have the thermocline form at differing depths from each other, this is usually dependent on overall size and depth of the lake and very importantly, the water clarity, or how fertile the lake is. The murkier the water generally means the lake contains more nutrients and therefore is more fertile. On these fertile lakes, the thermocline might form at the 8 to 10 foot depth mark and end at 11 or 12 feet depth mark and so again, in this case, casting your bait into 15 feet of water or more will likely not yield the results that you are looking for.
The best way to find at what depth the thermocline is located is to use a fish finder set to it's most sensitive level. if you haven't got access to a fish finder, please do ask a passing boat fisherman. Most of them will be only to happy to help out a fellow angler, especially once he/she realizes you're not competing for the same species. If there are no boaters, try setting your baits at various depths starting at less that 10 feet and staggering them out to around the 20 foot mark. Trial and error is the name of the game in this case. Maybe your deeper set baits will get line bites but no actual takes, that means the carp are closer in etc.
Later in the year as the Autumn approaches, the thermocline will start to sink and slowly break down. This can happen over a period of 4 or 5 days or sometimes even over night if a big Fall storm passes through at the right time of year. As the thermocline sinks, it mixes with the colder waters from the depths and the lake "turns over." This process brings up rich nutrients from the bottom of the lake; mother nature is in effect 're-fertilizing' the lake which is good news for the food-chain within the lake. Fishing is likely to be slow for a few days during and after this "turnover" time however patience is always rewarded after the fact.
Note: Along with the dissolved Oxygen/temperature/Thermocline chart below, these optimum habitat requirements should offer some help in locating your quarry as the carp will always search out these conditions, or as close to them as is possible under any prevailing conditions within the water environment that they live.
Optimum Habitat Requirements for Cyprinus Carpio (Common Carp)
Dissolved Oxygen: 6-7 ppm (6-7 mg/L )
Temperature range: 68ºF - 82ºF (20ºC - 28ºC
pH range: 6.8 - 7.5
As long as ample food sources are available, the above ranges are optimum for best growth rates but as you're perhaps already aware, carp are very adaptive fish and can tolerate extreme, adverse conditions for long periods of time.
KEY for the above chart:
Epilimnion Zone - The upper levels or stratum of the lake where the water temperature is usually steady, varying by less that 1ºC per meter of depth. Due to the fact that it's open to the elements (Sun and air), its typically warmer and has the highest dissolved oxygen concentration. Can be turbulent due to wind action but contains the highest percentage of phytoplankton supporting the lake's food chain. As they die, they sink to the bottom of the lake (Hypolimnion).
Metalimnion Zone - This being the middle of the water depths, just below the thermocline; the water temperature drops at more than 1ºC for every increased Meter of depth.
Hypolimnion Zone - Sat at the very bottom of the lake contains very dense, much cooler with very little dissolved Oxygen during the summer months with extreme nutrient depletion. During other times of the year, this bottom layer literally feeds the lake with massive amount of nutrients supporting the food chain within the water. Conversely, it's often the warmest section of the lake in areas with harsh winter conditions.