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2015 Retrospective

There is snow on the ground and as of this morning, the local carp pond is frozen over. Is winter finally here? This evening, I am “unboxing” my latest tackle order. Inside are the last few pieces of kit I will be using this upcoming season including some new items that have come out of many lessons learned in 2015.

In the software world, after every 2 weeks or “sprint”, we have what we call a “sprint retrospective”. During our retrospective, we take time to ask ourselves 3 questions:

  1. What went wrong?
  2. What went right?
  3. What changes can I make?

I find that these questions can be applied to many other aspects of my life other that work and that of course includes my angling. So here is my 2015 retrospective.

What went wrong?

One of the big things I learned last year was how absolutely important location is. I spent a lot of time searching unknown water and while this paid off at times, I also blanked a lot. It may seem like such an obvious thing to get wrong but my issue stemmed from maybe being a little too zealous to find “new” venues, especially very early in the spring when I could have been targeting big hungry spring fish. The old adage applies here, “10 minutes in the right place vs. 10 hours in the wrong place.” This doesn’t mean that I won’t be exploring new places this year, it simply means the majority of my time will be spent at a handful of “known” locations.

Second on my list is my baiting approach. I had been struggling to catch from one of my bigger target waters last year and after discussing some tactics with another local carp angler, I came to the conclusion that I had been baiting it up incorrectly. He mentioned to me that this particular water responded really well to heavy pre-baiting. Until then my approach had been lightly baiting when I showed up and fishing with a method feeder, an approach that worked well in more intimate locations. I followed his advice and the next few sessions on the venue produced a couple fish over 20lbs. I experimented further, bypassing the overnight pre-baiting and showing up extra early to bait heavily and then have a 1-2 hour session. This proved successful as more often then not the fish would move in after an hour or so. I was convinced that it was possible to catch even if I didn’t get the opportunity to pre-bait, though the pre-baiting was definitely helpful. Ultimately I learned a valuable lesson: with every venue comes a unique baiting situation.

Speaking of bait, I’m sick of sweet corn. I associate sweet corn so much with being covered in mud, slime and gunk that I can’t eat it at all. That being said, there is absolutely no question that carp absolutely love sweet corn. What went wrong for me was that I struggled to find any other hookbait that I had the same amount of confidence in. I did have a few fish on alternate hookbaits like nuts and boilies, but even then, sweet corn and maize were my go-to baits. In the summer the turtles were ravenous sweet corn munchers and the bullheads would take it on the drop sometimes. I knew ahead of time that I’d need to switch baits in those scenarios, but what could produce the instant attraction of those magic golden kernels? Well, I’ve been searching high and low for an alternate bait and I’ll be putting it to the test this summer.

There are many more things that went wrong for me last year, but these are 3 things that stand out in my mind. I am by no means any sort of expert, in fact, I am a complete novice. Some say it takes 10,000 hours to master something, catching carp included. I say… that’s a lot of sweet corn.

What went right?

A summer mirror caught on maize cooked with dried chilies

At the beginning of the year I set a few goals for myself. These included things like “catch a 20” or “catch from location X”. I’m happy to report that I met and surpassed all of them. If I’m lucky, I may do the same with this year’s goals which include catching a 30. I had a lot of small victories too. Things like, learning to cook new baits, improving casting accuracy and learning to spot fish. With help from a friend, I cracked a few waters I was struggling with. I explored a whole heck of a lot, sometimes to my own detriment, but I ended up discovering 4 or 5 little “spots” for myself where I’ve yet to see signs of other anglers. More importantly, whether I was blanking or netting a big scaley mirror, I had a really good time.

Changes

Finally, what changes will I be making this season? Well I’ve already talked a little about finding an alternative to sweet corn. Along those lines, I’ll continue to work on my baiting strategy especially when it comes to baiting tightly. Its easy to blanket a spot with bait, but if I’m not careful its easy to cast my rig “off the mark”, so to speak. This means, while fish may be snacking on my free offerings, my rig may be slightly too far off the baited area for the fish to find. I’ll be making a focused effort on getting my rig right on the money. Additionally, I’m incorporating more PVA into my fishing. I do this over the ol’ pack bait or method because I prefer to fish with particles though I’ll still use the method feeder from time to time. I’m also going to start carrying a Spomb/Spod type set up to some of my larger venues. This will allow me to fish new areas that I can’t normally reach with my waders and baiting spoon arrangement.

Last year, when I joined CAG I received a package that contained a number of end tackle items. Included was a size 4 long shank hook. I’d read a few things written by people that exclusively use long shank hooks most notably, Frank Warwick, and I decided I’d tie one up “just in case”. Towards the end of the year, the day came when I was out of my regular hooklinks and so I used the long shank hooklink I had tied up. I had a fish that day and once I landed it, I noticed that the fish was really well hooked, right on the bottom of the lip. I was impressed and intrigued enough to pick up a package of size 8s and put them into my regular rotation. You may have heard about the concept of “aggressive” rigs or about rigs “turning” in a fish’s mouth, well, the long shank hook is one way of accomplishing this. To further enhance this mechanism you can “line align” your hooklink which involves using a piece of shrink tubing that forces the hook to sit at a more aggressive angle. By the end of the season I had completely switched to this arrangement and while I wasn’t “bagging up”, almost every fish I caught was well hooked. Moreover, I was extremely confident that when a fish would inhale my bait, it would be hooked.

The Claw Rig

Along with my hook arrangement, I’ve upped my lead size to 2 ounces as the standard, going up or down as needed. I decided to try this after having a few experiences where my line lifted up briefly and then fell back down. I have a suspicion that in some of those cases the fish may have picked up the rig but failed to get hooked due to the lead being too light.

I’ve scaled down my rods and reels for this season, opting for two 9ft carp rods vs the traditional 12ft. I realized that there are very few instances in my fishing where I have to cast any great distance and therefore have no real need for 12 footers. Also, when you are sneaking around the woods, it’s a little easier to get into those tight swims with shorter rods. I’ve spooled up my new scaled down reels with Korda Touchdown main line. Last season I borrowed a page from the Dark Carper and used fluorocarbon as my mainline. This worked really well for me but I wanted to experiment with a heavy (as in dense) mono this year. I was surprised to do the math and realize that price was about the same. You get roughly 1093.61 yards of Touchdown for $38.50 and a 200yd spool of fluorocarbon sells for about $9.99. It made sense to me and after using it for the Jan 1 CAG event, I’m happy with my choice. There are a few other changes I’ve made, but that about covers the big ones.

Onward and upward

Will I catch more fish because of my new fangled wizzy bangs? Who knows? I think what will catch me more fish this year will be the experience I’m carrying over from the previous year. Tackle, rigs and such are just tools in a toolbox. Needless to say I can’t wait to be on the bank again. Come on March!