Greg Shepherd explains his thought process behind fishing single hookbaits in the run-up to spring.
Many people I speak to struggle with the concept of using single hookbaits and only feel confident when fishing over quantities of bait or using PVA products to create a mouthful for the carp. However, at certain times of the year too much bait can seriously hamper your chances of a bite, none more so than as we come out of the depths of winter and approach the very start of spring.
I tend to start my spring campaigns during the first half of February when the days get that little bit longer and nature in general starts to wake up from its long, winter slumber. I try to stick to days at this time of year, as the fish seem far more active during daylight hours and it suits the mobile, single-hookbait approach I favour before the weather really kicks into gear and the carp get their heads down.
I like to target venues with a maximum depth of around 5/6ft during the very early shoots of spring, as deeper ponds will take far longer to wake up and so will their inhabitants. Travelling light, staying mobile and being alert really can nick those bonus chunks at this time of year.
Location, location, location
With a venue selected, it’s time to find the carp and, fortunately for us, at this time of year that task is often made easier due to the fish enjoying the extra little bits of daylight and marginally milder days, leading to increased activity in comparison with previous months. It’s important to arrive before the sun comes up and to position yourself in an area of the lake that allows you to view the maximum amount of water possible – first light is always the best time to spot fish, no matter how cold it is, so don’t be late! I’m still amazed at how many anglers don’t arrive until mid-morning and are gone by mid-afternoon and, as a result, they see nothing all day.
Don’t be in a rush to get the rods out straight away, even if, like me, you’re only fishing short day sessions. Bites can come about quite quickly once you’ve found some carp, so keep your eyes peeled and your ears open and, more often than not, they will show you where to fish. On the odd occasions where there’s nothing to go on, pick an area with some sort of feature. Snags, dead pads, reed beds and plateaux are all excellent places to start when nothing’s showing, and by travelling light, staying mobile and not using free offerings, you can move on to showing fish that little bit easier.
My hookbaits of choice at this time of year are exclusively pop-ups from the DNA range. They will have been pimped throughout the winter months with liquid additives, such as the matching Intense Boosters, little and often so that when the time comes they are punching maximum attraction out into the pond. I add a few drops of the Intense Boosters to a tub of pop-ups and give it a good shake, repeating this process every couple of days until I’m happy the baits have taken on as much liquid as possible. Don’t worry that overloading the hookbaits with liquid will affect the buoyancy, as this is easy to get around. My preferred method is to remove the baits from the tub and lay them out on a towel to re-dry them over a couple of days. This will return the baits’ buoyancy to normal while still retaining the extra attraction added by the liquid over the winter months. You can also plug these baits with a piece of cork if required, although personally I’ve never felt the need to with any of the DNA pop-ups, as they are ridiculously buoyant anyway.
Getting riggy with it
There are several rigs that can be used to fish a single pop-up effectively, but my absolute all-time favourite is a hinged stiff rig. This rig is effective with a soft boom section and lead clip and will catch plenty of carp, but I choose to fish them in the traditional style of a mega-stiff boom on a helicopter set-up with a leader, where rules allow. Material-wise, the choice is endless, but I opt for the stiffest one possible. You could use a stiff-coated-braid boom section in a higher breaking strain if snags are an issue, but for 90% of my hinged stiffies, I prefer fluorocarbon for its invisibility. I like to tie the chod section of the rig as short as possible, normally only an inch in length, so the pop-up sits only about an inch and a half from the lakebed. I would maybe extend this a bit if fishing over a spread of bait, but I have generally found it to be the shorter the better. It’s a bit fiddly, but with plenty of practice, very short chod sections are easily achievable. You can, of course, buy these pre-tied from most tackle shops if you prefer.
It’s all a balancing act…
There are different situations in my angling where I want the pop-up to react in a certain way. For example, if I’m fishing over a spread of bait, where I’m expecting fish to be moving quickly between each mouthful, I like to make sure the hookbait is over-weighted with putty, meaning it will sink quicker and not waft up when one or more fish is grubbing about in the area. If the area’s a bit dirty, again I want the bait down quickly so it doesn’t get hung up on any debris as it kicks away from the lead, often choosing a softer boom section with an anti-tangle sleeve. However, in certain situation I want the bait to come to rest very slowly. Because the fish are generally just waking up, they can be quite lethargic and cumbersome in the way they feed. A delicately balanced bait can be absolutely devastating in this situation, as it means there is minimal effort required to suck in the hookbait, giving you the best chance of a pick-up. It also gives excellent presentation when combined with a mega-stiff boom and gives me lots of confidence when fishing days and moving about a lot.
To achieve a delicately balanced rig, it’s simply a case of trial and error. Fill up your bucket, or better still clear margins to get you somewhere to test the rig. I favour a small bait, normally something in the 10-15mm range, and prefer to tie my pop-up on to the ring with floss. You can also use the blob method, although doing that will reduce the amount of time your bait will stay buoyant. If you are fishing short sessions and casting regularly like I do, though, then that won’t be an issue. With your hookbait in place, start by not adding any putty at all and see what it sits up like in the margins or at the bottom of your bucket. I have used individual hookbaits, especially in the smaller sizes, that haven’t required any counterbalance at all and have been perfect on their own, but in most cases you will need to add some putty. I apply this to the swivel a little at a time until the hookbait is just sinking. This can take a bit of messing about putting putty on and then removing it again, but once it’s right, you should see the stiff boom kick away from the leader and the upright section slowly settle as far away from the lead arrangement as it physically can. This is now ready to go.
This set-up enables a perfect, tangle-free presentation for casting at showing fish and, when fished with a hookbait pumping out attraction, you have got a real chance of putting a fish on the bank. Get out there and give it a go!