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Edges in the Edges (Stalking)
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Edges in the Edges (Stalking) Posted by Mainline Baits,

It has been said that “every day, there is a chance to be had, somewhere on the pond” and, with the exception of the winter months, carp will feed, to a greater or lesser extent, at some time during a twenty-four hour period. One of the most effective and enjoyable ways to exploit these chances is by stalking. Whether you are on a session or only have a few hours to spare it is certainly worthwhile having a little mooch around the edge.

It has been said that “every day, there is a chance to be had, somewhere on the pond” and, with the exception of the winter months, carp will feed, to a greater or lesser extent, at some time during a twenty-four hour period. One of the most effective and enjoyable ways to exploit these chances is by stalking. Whether you are on a session or only have a few hours to spare it is certainly worthwhile having a little mooch around the edge.

On many venues, particularly the more difficult ones, we see a familiar pattern. Angling pressure drops off from November and throughout the winter followed, on some waters, by closed season. By the time the new season is upon us the majority of the fish have not been caught for seven or eight months and are, consequently, less cautious. This, coupled with their biological need for a post spawning feed up (to replace lost energy, repair damage, replace scales etc.), leads to plenty of captures throughout June. As we move into July, a good proportion of the fish will have seen the bank, angling pressure will be at its greatest, the weed and natural food will be on the increase and it is scratching time again until September. Of course fish can be stalked out at any time of year but it is during the difficult months of July and August that I believe the tactic really delivers.

There are numerous advantages to adopting a stalking approach or at least keeping it in your armoury. Firstly, not many anglers do it. The rewards are there if you are the only one looking for, finding and feeding them in the edge whilst everybody else is sat behind their rods. Consequently the spots that you are able to fish may rarely, if ever, see a freebie, let alone a hookbait. Each and every stalking session will give an opportunity to learn something about your quarry and the knowledge gained from observation can be extremely useful for your static angling. Through finding carp on certain spots on different occasions it is possible to build a picture of which areas appeal to the carp in particular conditions, or what conditions are likely to see them feed. Even finding no carp in the margins will give you an idea of when it would be better to fish out in open water. Feeding and fishing for carp at close quarters puts you in a fantastic position to judge the carps’ reaction to bait and rigs.

If the water is clear enough you may be able to identify individual fish. Some carp will give away their idiosyncrasies and watching one may just give you a clue as to how to trip it up. On Horton, one year, I found the rarely caught Tetley’s four feet from the bank. I scattered approximately twenty grains of corn on a nearby spot and placed my rig with the hookbait easily visible, between two freebies in the clear water. Around three hours later the fish showed signs of being up for a feed by becoming more active. As it approached the spot the huge Common tilted to feed and took two grains. Still with head down it drifted a foot or so until over the hook bait, picked up one of the freebies adjacent to the hook bait and simply drifted off, in no way spooked, out of the bay. This manner of feeding could go some way to explaining why the fish has only seen the bottom of a landing net on a handful of occasions. My observations were of no assistance on that day although, if I am lucky enough to be in a similar situation, with forty pounds of common a few feet away, I’m damn sure I won’t have twenty baits on the spot!

Another benefit of the approach is time, or more importantly, the requirement for little of it. Once you take out of the equation the bivvy, bedchair, cooking kit, spod and marker rods etc., a few hours angling after work becomes a viable proposition once again. Last July I moved house and, therefore, had no time to fish my usual three night trips. However by utilising a stalking approach I was able to pop down for the odd afternoon session, when conditions were right, resulting in a couple of bonus captures. Conversely the angler with a more appreciable amount of time at his disposal can maximise it by having a look around the lake during the quieter times of day. There have been a number of occasions when we are all sat behind our rods on a hot, summer’s afternoon, knowing a bite is unlikely, merely killing time until the evening. A circuit of the lake with the stalking kit has given me many chances and lead to a number of opportunistic captures. This is my general approach to stalking although I will use a stalking only approach when I don’t have session time available.

The equipment needed for a stalking session is minimal and it is indeed refreshing to load the car with a rod sleeve and a small bag and be ready to go. Although it is quite possible to grab a rod from the rest, gather up a few bits, pick up a net and mat and go off and catch one, I do prefer to have a dedicated set-up with me from the start of the season until the beginning of winter. If you stumble across an opportunity you may need to take advantage there and then. By the time you have returned to your swim at the opposite end of the lake, changed the rig to something more suitable for a close up encounter, rummaged through your tackle box for a few bits and pieces and returned to the spot, the chance may well be gone. Even if the fish are still there you may find that the 12lb line you were using in open water not up to a snaggy, under the rod tip encounter, thereby introducing compromises to your angling and you can virtually guarantee that you will have left your baiting needle behind!

Having said that, it is only my preference to carry dedicated kit and is not essential. On some waters the stalking kit can be left in the car and taken out when necessary although I wouldn’t advocate leaving it on display. I also find it more convenient and speedy, if I have a few hours to spare, to grab the stalking bag, rod sleeve and mat from the garage knowing that I have everything that I need. Tackle is largely personal preference so what suits one angler or venue may not suit another. All I can do is describe the equipment that I use and leave you to decide what applies to your situation.

Horton's Dumpy at 30lb 2oz - hooked 4ft from the bank.
Horton's Dumpy at 30lb 2oz - hooked 4ft from the bank.
It was clearly a spot where they had been feeding.
It was clearly a spot where they had been feeding.
The Boxer at 34lb 14oz - chops and corn in the margin
The Boxer at 34lb 14oz - chops and corn in the margin

Rod

Whilst in many situations one of your normal rods would be fine, you may find a 13ft 3½lb TC casting beast a bit unwieldy. The stalking rod is likely to receive a fair bit of abuse from being laid on the floor, dragged through bushes and knocked against trees so I use one of my old rods, a 12ft 2¾lb rod, that I need not worry about scuffing or scraping. A nine or ten foot stalking tool would be better for using in tight spots but I choose to use a 12ft model as it doubles up perfectly as a floater rod. Your stalking rod needs to have enough backbone to keep your quarry away from snags but be soft enough in the tip to set hooks at very close quarters so I would recommend a test curve of 2½lb to 2¾lb.

Reel

This is no place for your big pit reel although it will still do the job. What is required is something small and light, which is easy to carry around all day. Most of the smaller carp reels will be perfect although quality gearing is a must for close up, hit and hold situations. My stalking reel is a very old Shimano Seaspin 3500 which is extremely reliable and has the advantage of a clicking sound from the rotating spool warning you of a take when fishing without a buzzer. The line lay is appalling compared to the later Baitrunners, however, this is of no consequence when fishing a few feet out.

Line

I have used several different lines for stalking purposes before finally settling on 20lb BS X line. Fluorocarbons are ideal for angling close in where their advantages come to the fore. They sink straight to the bottom where they become far less obtrusive and their lack of visibility can only be of assistance. On occasion I have witnessed fish nosing around, for some time, between my baited spot and the bank and I remain convinced they were searching for lines. The chief criteria for your stalking line should be toughness and strength. You are likely to be fishing in small gaps in the bankside vegetation and catching your line in branches and undergrowth goes with the territory so I would treat 15lb BS as a minimum.

Simply the best - by a country mile
Simply the best - by a country mile

Other Essentials

There are several other items in my stalking bag, which I should like to mention prior to discussing end tackle and rigs. These are as follows:

Polarising glasses - absolutely essential for locating fish and spots - if you forget them - go home.

Clothing - while camouflage clothing is not essential - dull clothing is and a brightly coloured T-shirt will not do you any favours towards concealing your presence.

Weighing Equipment - this is one area where I won't and don’t cut down. Fish care is paramount so please don’t skimp. If the use of sacks is permitted on your venue you can leave the scales and camera to be collected if and when necessary otherwise you will need to carry them. A large unhooking mat is vital for the welfare of your quarry and earns its keep as a comfortable seat. Your weigh sling should also be up to scratch and although you will cut down vastly on the amount of gear that you take, you will still require forceps and antiseptic fluid.

I also carry a catapult, scissors and needles, etc along with a few pva bags and a bank stick with buzzer.

Other Essentials

There are several other items in my stalking bag, which I should like to mention prior to discussing end tackle and rigs. These are as follows:

Polarising glasses - absolutely essential for locating fish and spots - if you forget them - go home.

Clothing - while camouflage clothing is not essential - dull clothing is and a brightly coloured T-shirt will not do you any favours towards concealing your presence.

Weighing Equipment - this is one area where I won't and don’t cut down. Fish care is paramount so please don’t skimp. If the use of sacks is permitted on your venue you can leave the scales and camera to be collected if and when necessary otherwise you will need to carry them. A large unhooking mat is vital for the welfare of your quarry and earns its keep as a comfortable seat. Your weigh sling should also be up to scratch and although you will cut down vastly on the amount of gear that you take, you will still require forceps and antiseptic fluid.

I also carry a catapult, scissors and needles, etc along with a few pva bags and a bank stick with buzzer.

End Tackle

The amount of end tackle that you take can be vastly reduced. One spool of coated braid is adequate as it can be used coated or completely stripped if you want to use a supple hook link. A few assorted beads and swivels, some lead core leaders which have been previously spliced, a couple of packets of hooks and a handful of leads is plenty to be effective. The leads I choose for stalking are the superb in-line Atomic Dung Bombs that are the most natural looking leads I have seen. I believe inline leads to be the most effective at close range and should give excellent presentation with a supple hook link.

We all have our favourite hook patterns, although, I use a different pattern for my stalking, to that of my static fishing. In a stalking situation you won't have the luxury of a steaming kettle and will, therefore, require a hook and rig that works effectively without the addition of shrink tubing. I am currently testing a new hook from Atomic but generally, my choice for eyeball to eyeball situations is their Claw or Stinga patterns.

This was brought home to me during an afternoon's stalking. I found a group of eight fish in a corner of Horton’s Dog Bay. Once they had drifted off I introduced my, very basic, rig followed by a handful of bait. They were back within minutes and immediately began to feed before drifting off again under some nearby weed some fifteen minutes later and I awaited their return. Half an hour passed and I decided to introduce some more bait. Within seconds of it going in they were back and feeding hard. The spot was only a couple of feet deep and tails were sticking out of the once clear, but now coffee like water. Again they drifted off under the weed leaving me dumbfounded. I had obviously been mugged so retrieved the rig to see if the hook bait had come adrift - it hadn’t.

Everything appeared OK and the hook was still razor sharp. The whole scenario was repeated twice more and I could not believe I’d not hooked one. Enough was enough; I needed a more effective rig. None of the hooks I had with me turned particularly well but I did find a pattern with an in-turned eye. A length of silicone over the eye had the desired effect and the rig was replaced followed by another good dose of chopped Mainline Grange. The fish returned and moments later one was nailed.

By necessity stalking rigs need to be simple and quick to construct but the mechanics should still be sound. The alternative is to have a few rigs already tied although I generally tie them as I need them.

There are always exceptions but, normally speaking, this is not the place for a pop-up. In the shallow water close in, light levels are higher, as is visibility and subtlety in your presentation is a distinct advantage. I tend to use a dull, coated braid such as Jel-E-Wyre that I can be confident has sat down well and not looped up off the bottom. In all cases I will add a wrap or two of lead core inner to the hook link to ensure it is pinned down. Hooks are kept on the small side to be less noticeable with a size 7 or 8 predominately ideal. I also make use of a long length of lead core to keep everything around the rig pinned to the deck. I have witnessed carps’ reaction to leadcore and am certain that they treat it as if it were a twig or other piece of debris.

Atomic in-line leads - the most effective at close range.
Atomic in-line leads - the most effective at close range.
My choice for eyeball to eyeball situations.
My choice for eyeball to eyeball situations.

Bait

I have had the majority of my stalking success by using smaller than average baits with my favourites being chopped boilies (Grange, Maple 8, NRG, Assassin 8, CP2000, Cell in fact any of the Mainline baits that I have used), sweetcorn, pellet and tigers. There are plenty more to consider though. The bonus with using chops is that each introduction can only assist in accustoming the carp to your bait and each stalking session also becomes a pre-baiting expedition. I find small bait more suited to the task by encouraging a more sustained feeding situation when there are a small number of fish present. They are also far less blatant and can be introduced a great deal more subtly than 18mm boilies.

The corn, pellet, tinned tigers or tinned hemp, being long life, can be left in the stalking bag, as can some chopped boilie if you air-dry it. My bag also contains a selection of plastic hook baits and various shaped boilie hook baits.

All of the Mainline baits that I have used have been very effective as chops.
All of the Mainline baits that I have used have been very effective as chops.
A selection of baits for close in.
A selection of baits for close in.

When

On the waters that I fish, good stalking conditions, thankfully, coincide with poor conditions for fishing further out - these being hot summer afternoons. Many times an 11am tour of the lake has shown the margins to be devoid of carp, when another circuit a couple of hours later, has revealed them in abundance.

The carp will, however, do what they like and, on occasion, can be found in the edge at any time of the day. Observation will be the key to the habits of the fish in your venue and I use the previous scenario to emphasise the need to look and keep looking.

Where

With careful observation the carp will tell you where best to stalk them and you may well find yourself spending more time looking than fishing. The stalker is not restricted to fishing from recognised swims and a whole new world is opened up. He will be able to angle in a myriad of nooks, gaps and corners that are unreachable to the static angler. Areas that are unpressured, that the fish feel comfortable in, can be targeted and a bait can often be placed where they are now rather than where you hope they may move to when they leave their safe haven. Don’t ignore the standard swims though. Having one rod that can be poked between gaps in trees does not mean that is what you have to do.

Although there are fewer limitations upon the stalking angler there are still some no go areas. Carp love snags and heavy weed and it can be tempting to fish for them there. As a rule of thumb don’t put a bait where you can’t land the fish from. Doing so will jeopardise your quarry and you are liable to lose your ticket. You may well be OK close to the snags but please, not in them. Gaps between swims are fair game generally but not if there is an angler on one or other side of the spot. He could be fishing down the margin and won’t thank you for creeping through the bushes. The same goes for the angler fishing over to a far margin, so it is not a bad idea to check first.

The carp will have favoured areas such as snags, quiet corners, under overhanging trees, reed beds etc but for any given day ‘they are where they are’ and can be found in the most unlikely of places.

This group of carp were visiting a spot in the edge.
This group of carp were visiting a spot in the edge.
My favourite stalking spot.
My favourite stalking spot.

General Approach

As previously mentioned I treat stalking as another method to be called upon when a bite is looking unlikely. By far the majority of my angling is done from a brolly behind a pair of rods. I use a stalking approach, typically, on a sunny summer’s afternoon long after the morning bite time has passed.

Many anglers are successful by baiting several spots around the lake, checking them throughout the day but I prefer to find them first and bait and fish one area at a time. These are the tactics I use on difficult waters and would use the previous tactics on the more heavily stocked lakes. I find it beneficial though to keep a few spots that I know the fish visit, regularly baited. This is particularly useful if there is a snaggy area that the fish frequent. Regular baiting of a nearby spot, where it is safer to fish for them, will encourage them to leave the snag in search of food. Once you get to know your fish and lake well, you will be able to select a handful of spots in areas that the fish are happy to visit. I will often bait a couple of spots the day before I intend to stalk but only if I have located fish in the general area beforehand.

Getting a rig in the water without betraying your presence can be problematic at times although there are several ways to achieve it. For example, if I found a few fish sitting beneath the canopy of an overhanging tree I will first spend some time observing them. Often they will leave the spot only to return a few minutes later giving you an opportunity to introduce your hook bait and freebies. A lot of the time when they do leave the spot, you will be able to see where they go and it is frequently for a little rummage along the margin. This gives you the option of setting your trap along the route. This is the option I would choose if the spot where they are sitting is unfishable due to snags etc.

If your observations reveal that the fish are remaining static then the alternative is to encourage them to leave by throwing a few small baits on top of them. Most times they will drift off and then return a short while later with you having placed your bait in the meantime, although there is the risk that they ‘spook’ and don’t return. The other drawback with this method is that sometimes they immediately start feeding on the bait with which you are trying to encourage them away from the vicinity. You will then have to increase the amount you are putting in to move them. If they continue to feed and won’t be discouraged, then you should be able to get away with introducing the rig with them present. I have also used this tactic to be more selective or rather de-selective. Having found a group of five fish, one of which I did not want to catch (having caught it previously) I was able to throw a few small pellets onto the four target fish - one by one, getting them to leave the area. With the one fish remaining I deposited a handful of pellet onto it, spooking it away, leaving me to set the trap which was sprung a few minutes later as soon as the first four fish returned.

The fish returned and moments later one was nailed.
The fish returned and moments later one was nailed.

The levels of baiting that I use for stalking are far lower than I would use normally. Obviously each situation is different but usually I will be fishing over less than a handful of free offerings as I often find myself targeting a small group or an individual fish. The aim is to create a competitive feeding situation in a short space of time and you will be up against it with just a couple of fish feeding over a kilo of bait. They will be able to take their time and feed more carefully giving them every chance to suss your rig ,which is more visible in shallower water. It really is surprising how often all the freebies are eaten before the hook bait is picked up. They may also leave having had their fill so I usually err on the side of caution. Unlike when fishing further out you will be able to see if they have cleared you out so you can always introduce some more if necessary. The size of the baited area will be dependent on the number of fish in attendance with the area being tighter for fewer fish. As a guide, with three or four fish present, I would spread the bait over a 2ft square area to enable them to feed together.

The free offerings are always put in prior to the rig. The reason for this is so that I can see how they have landed on the bottom and position the rig on the part of the baited patch that gives me the best chance of a pick up. This is invariably towards the nearside edge i.e. on the edge of the free bait closest to the bank, leaving no line running across the spot to be picked up by fins.

Once the rig is in position I will ensure that any line in the water is as unobtrusive as possible with it flat to the lake bed. This can involve weaving it between a couple of reed stems or around a clump of weed. The rod will be positioned with the absolute minimum protruding over the water and the line will be left slack. As a drop back is hardly possible there is no need for any sort of bobbin in this situation.

There may be benefits to sitting back and waiting but I find myself unable to do it for more than a few minutes. I feel compelled to watch the spot and the fish as there is so much to be learnt from their behaviour and witnessing their feeding around your hook bait really is the essence of stalking. Keeping your movement slow and to a minimum is paramount though as a sudden movement can destroy your chances.

Having just advocated the softly, softly approach to the introduction of freebies, I should point out that it is not always the best way. On a recent stalking session I had a group of three fish sitting close to my, quietly introduced, handful of bait for a couple of hours, seemingly unaware of its presence. With time running out and, more in desperation than any tactical thinking on my part, I deposited two big handfuls of chops and corn right next to them. This was followed, not by them bolting off as expected, but by almost instant, frenzied feeding, resulting in a mid-thirty mirror on the mat. This scenario is the exception rather than the rule but it does illustrate that, whilst on some occasions the slightest thing can ruin your chances, on others you can take absolute liberties with them and get away with it.

Before introducing your hook bait it is imperative that you have a game plan to play and land your quarry. This is particularly important close to snags and weed but is necessary in any tight spot. Hooking a fish and then finding that you can’t lift the rod due to an overhanging branch is likely to end in a hook pull but a little pre-planning can avoid losing the fish. Could you pass the rod around the tree trunk and play it from the other side? If so, is that where the landing net should be? Do I need to hit and hold or would it be better to let the fish run to open water away from the tree roots? I might need to jump in the margin to play the fish, therefore I don’t want my phone, keys etc in my pocket. It is far easier to follow a plan than to try and invent one with your ‘personal best’ stripping line off your spool and a “5p/50p” situation occurring!

Having stalking as another string to your bow really can save a blank session and is a great way to learn about your lake and its inhabitants. There will be frustration as you watch a rig being spat out with disdain but there is no substitute for the rush of adrenaline as a large mirror starts feeding and you watch as it picks up your hook bait. A days stalking can be hard work but, catch or not, you will feel that you have not just gone through the motions but got back to basics and really angled.

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