Attention To Detail | Kris Ollington
What a dream – 18 months of angling which included the capture of an unprecedented eight 50lb+ carp, and resulted in me winning several accolades: the Angling Times’ Carp Angler of the Year, Mainline’s Carp Angler of the Year, and Carp-Talk magazine’s Southern Angler of the Year. It was all a bit extraordinary really, as if the fishing wasn’t enough on its own. After all, most of the anglers I know don’t go fishing to try to win prizes or accolades – the carp are the motivational focus. After all this, I thought it might be interesting (or fun!) to try to pen a retrospective semi-technical rig and tactics piece about my extraordinary year in angling, which produced some incredible results. I also thought that the readers may be interested to see an insight into the factors that governed why I chose the tactics I did, and used what I did in relation to specific angling situations. The lake environment changed dramatically as a consequence of a massive algae event, and the fish changed their habits and feeding patterns with the changing water conditions and seasons, so this had an impact on the intense angling pressure the Welly fish are under 24/7 for most of the year.
During the previous year, the lake had been extremely weedy. Getting a drop while leading around was extremely difficult, and I spent literally hours and hours trying to find a clear enough area to present a bait with my favourite rig, which is a balanced bottom bait/Snowman rig that I know works as long as I can get it down on the lakebed. The rig itself is a Blowback-style presentation and is simple to tie; I just make a couple of tweaks so that it works well. The length is absolutely crucial. I'm a massive fan of long hooklinks, but not just any old length. Over many years of playing around, I've found 14ins is optimum when fishing over a soft bottom such as silt or low-lying silkweed, and 12ins when fishing over gravel or a firm bottom.
The reason I'm so fastidious about the length of my rigs (and to be quite honest, just about everything in my fishing) is because I want to know why I've caught. I simply don't want there to be any guesswork involved in any aspect of a capture. Consequently, if I can narrow things down over the course of time, the only thing that’s left to do when I get to the lake is find the fish. Everything else is organised, and I find myself in the prime position of being focused on this pivotal aspect of big-carp fishing.
Like a few other anglers fishing on Welly, I tend to use hooklinks that are much longer than the norm. The reason why I like such long hooklinks is because I believe that the fish find them very difficult to deal with, and here’s why. If I can get the fish to suck the bait in, it has the potential to go in a little bit further than usual because of the length, and simply for that reason, getting rid of the hook is much more difficult. I also add a large piece of Covert shrink tube (1ins in length), which acts as a kicker to get the hook to spin and turn over as the hooklink is straightened by the feeding carp. The shrink tube also pushes the pivot point for the Size 4 Mugga arrangement further away from the hookpoint – a small but essential detail when targeting the large-scale carp. This means the hook has a propensity to turn earlier, and further, inside the fish’s lip because the end essentially acts as the fulcrum (the point at which the hook pivots). Additionally, the stiff extension makes it a bit more difficult for the fish to spit the hook out, as it keeps the orientation of the hook in the correct direction (with the hookpoint facing the lip). It just makes everything awkward for the fish to deal with, without inciting panic reflex and hooking itself.
There are a couple more details that I consider to be extremely important. The first is to use a supple hooklink; in fact, as far as I’m concerned, it’s certainly a case of ‘the suppler the better’. It offers more unrestricted movement which, in turn, means it is easier for the hookbait to be sucked in further. It’s common sense really (especially in conjunction with a long hooklink) that the further back in the carp’s mouth you get the hookbait, the better, and it usually results in more hooked fish. I also like to add a small amount of Critical Mass Putty, about half an inch, in front of the shrink tube. This helps to pull the hook down, as the tungsten putty always wants to drop down (again, it helps to enhance the vital twist effect of the hook) as soon as it passes the outside of the fish’s mouth. I really believe it has a big part to play in the rig’s efficiency once the bait has been sucked in, because it is always working, pulling the rig down towards the carp’s bottom lip. It really is a key part in the fundamental mechanics of the rig. Anyway, back to the fishing.
After a few initial trips thrashing various swims (emptying them of carp), while I was leading around in a futile effort to locate really nice clean drops amongst the weed, I ended up biting the bullet and changing over to Chods. All the effort I was putting in soon added up to a fair few fruitless nights, and all of a sudden I found myself fishing in a manner that was alien to me. It was wrong and I knew it.
Fishing Chod Rigs over the top of the thick weed in an effort to successfully present a bait cleanly always seems a little random (chuck it and chance it). My lack of confidence in the approach inevitably took its toll, and I found myself questioning how I would be able to turn my season around. As far as I was concerned, Chods weren't going to be the one on Welly. The fish have seen absolutely everything over the years, and that particular rig had been used a hell of a lot. They've been fished for day in, day out by some of the country's finest, so rather than follow the crowd, I was determined to do things my way. I knew the Chods were still being used a lot and I could see the benefit in some situations, but deep down I just knew that doing something different to most could potentially have a very positive impact on my results.
One piece of advice I would offer anybody is to always try to be different from everyone else. By that, I don't necessarily mean tie up some crazy rig and fish in 6ins of water, but try to be different in a logical and considered way. Just be aware of what other anglers are doing; if everyone is spodding, or using a throwing stick, or just using singles, if you do the same you are only ever going to be as successful as everyone else. Perhaps the best way to phrase it is to try to be the one who finds the breakthrough with a slightly different method or approach, and by doing this, you will most certainly be the one who reaps the potential rewards. To be honest, I would much rather fish with my own C-Rig 100% of the time, which is a presentation in which I have the utmost confidence. It covers so many angling situations, and I can fish over every lakebed with it and still be confident that my presentation is perfect.
Back on Welly, Mother Nature was about to step in, and my fishing was about to be utterly transformed. That summer, the lake changed massively due to a massive algae bloom – it was savage! The problem was so severe that it resulted in the lake being on the brink of catastrophe. Each night, oxygen levels would naturally plummet from a super-saturated state during the day to a potentially lethal oxygen crash, as the algae quickly depleted the oxygen it had been merrily producing during the hours of daylight. It really was a critical situation for the lake’s astonishing stock of big fish, and without doubt, the bailiff’s decisions to close the lake and get some aerators running at night, along with a huge effort from many of the syndicate members to help remove 99% of the weed by hand, helped preserve the inhabitants and averted a potentially disastrous situation.
Believe me when I say that removing all the rotting weed that had bobbed up and floated down to the windward end of a 40-acre pit was a monstrous job. Pete Rossario in particular spent many days dragging out putrid decaying weed! It was a job that had to be done though; the decomposing weed was feeding the algae, and removing the stuff meant that the lifespan of the bloom would be reduced because the algae would soon consume the excess of nutrients that fuelled its life cycle. In the end, the lake (quite rightfully) was closed for around 6 weeks to allow the aquatic environment and the fish to settle down, and for the water’s oxygen levels to rise to a suitable and consistently safe level.
On our return to the lake, I was absolutely amazed. There wasn't a single strand of weed in sight. It had changed dramatically, going from a lakebed that was like an overgrown football pitch to a bare gravelly/silty bottom. This is when things really changed for me, and the turn of events led to some extraordinary captures. All of a sudden I had the perfect opportunity to revert to fishing exactly as I wanted, and the lift in my results came very quickly.
It took a couple of nights before the old faithful rigs kicked into gear, but once the first bite came, there was no looking back. That first bite resulted in a monumental fish known as the Ulcer Fish, aka the Beast, at a spawned-out 49lb. I quickly followed it up (an hour later) with a lovely 42lb mirror, and if that wasn’t enough, later that morning, a 38lb mirror known as Spangles came coughing and spluttering over the net cord, so to say the change had worked is an understatement. The rigs looked to be working perfectly, as all the fish were hooked 2ins back in the mouth and the hooks were absolutely buried.
There’s a marked difference between using something you've read about, or seen on TV or YouTube (these are fine as a starting point or in the right situation), and actually having 100% confidence in something. For all my angling, a simple approach has far outweighed a complicated setup, with strong, reliable components that all play their part in constructing a simple but extremely effective setup. The power of confidence is not to be underestimated. Last year, I got to a point in my angling where I knew I was going to catch, not just one, but a few each session. There's something that comes with being confident that seems to make everything else go smoothly – baiting up is always spot on, you never miss a cast, and, more importantly, you always seem to make the right swim choice. So once you've found that winning formula, stick with it. It’s easy to get sucked in and chop and change things after a blank night or two, which leads to a muddled and inconsistent approach. Be assured that if it worked then it will work now; be confident in what you do and the results will come.
In years gone by, the fish in Welly were reputed to be pretty easy to find in terms of making their location known; crashing out and fizzing up on the rich bloodworm beds were the norm. But after the weed had gone, location of the fish became a completely different prospect altogether. The carp became very shy and extremely flighty, and they reacted extremely adversely to the disturbance of the smallest lead and rig combination going in near them! This meant that if you saw a subtle show and got on them, putting a bait in front of them was difficult because the fish would be long gone, disappearing to quieter parts of the lake. It was extremely frustrating at times, but an enjoyable challenge nonetheless.
I got down to the lake late one Friday evening to find that there weren’t many swims available, so I ended up setting up in Animal Farm. It’s pretty much right in the corner of a bay into which the northwest wind blows, and it’s a small quiet area (apart from the sound of the animals in the children’s petting farm that’s situated behind the swim). The following morning, I'd done a couple of laps, and as was the usual form at that time, the lake was very quiet in terms of visible fish activity, with very little to go on. When I got back to the swim I thought about all the other lakes I'd fished, and there was one thing that jumped out at me. Cover – all fish love cover. To be honest, a lot of the areas that had plenty of cover were lightly fished, to say the least, but since the loss of the weed, the fish had to seek cover elsewhere.
They weren’t getting caught in the usual places because their home had gone, and they had been forced to seek sanctuary in other places instead. I packed up straight away and moved into an area called the Little Lake, which is a beautiful secluded snaggy bay that offered the carp everything they needed. I had another three fish that night, including a couple of upper-30lb commons, so my hunch was proven right. After that I pretty much spent the next few months in this little bay, catching loads and loads of fish, including four 50lb+ from an area that most ignored because ‘you only catch little ones in there’. Oh, I don’t think so.
Bait and rigs are obviously massive factors when it comes to these captures, and the choices I made in both of these had a massive effect on my results. For instance, before I joined the syndicate, the consensus of opinion amongst members who had been fishing the lake for a few seasons was that nutmeal boilies dominated the lake in terms of overall effectiveness. There are some really clued-up and hugely talented anglers on the lake, and whilst it would be a bit reckless to ignore their insight into the bait thing (Welly IS a bait water, through and through), I'm not one to simply follow the crowd on bait.
For years, I've been an avid Mainline Baits’ user, just because the consistency and quality is there for all to see. A company like Mainline doesn't stay at the top of the bait tree for all this time without providing an exceptional product, and one bait in particular, Activ-8, is a bait in which I have absolute unshakeable confidence. Why? Well, I've never fished a water where it doesn't catch instantly, and it's stood the test of time. Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s an all-time classic, so I made the decision to steer away from the nut-based baits and use a high-grade fishmeal.
OK, so it was a slight risk, but in the back of my mind I knew it wasn't too reckless. The last thing you want to do is take a chance with bait, and that consideration is magnified tenfold on any venue holding monsters – waters like Welly. It turned out that the decision was right, and the Welly fish once again showed that there’s not a carp in the land which won't eat it. The results speak for themselves. I was getting as much as possible in to start with, in order to get the fish switched on to it, and it really didn't take very long, while 90% of the syndicate were still plodding along using a nut-based bait. It just made sense to offer them something else. Rightly or wrongly, I tend to look at it from a human perspective – if you ate a roast dinner 7 days a week, every week, you would soon get sick of it, so offering them something different, with a higher nutritional value, had to be an advantage.
Boilie fishing is, without doubt, my strong point tactically. I'm at my happiest when I’m on the bank with a 10kg bag of Mainline’s finest and a throwing stick in my hand. This preference really worked for me, as the majority of the syndicate were still spodding in order to get the freebies out; this extra disturbance can sometimes be of benefit if you are fishing at catapult or throwing stick range – the ability to bait up quickly and quietly can account for a lot of extra bites. I hoped that a wide scattering of bait from the stick would offer me another opportunity to be different, and gain another small advantage over the other anglers, and the fish. The fish were very flighty/spooky, and along with the lack of weed, this meant the swim was devoid of fish by the time you were done with the spod rod. Once you were on them, making as little disturbance as possible was absolutely critical, so all in all, the throwing stick approach was the obvious choice. Of course, another option would have been to set up near them (the same end, but not right on them) and hope they would drift through during the night – but that’s a throw of the dice. The chances were that the action would be sporadic and based more on chance than actual watercraft and observation. I like a bet, but I certainly don’t gamble when it comes to my fishing.
The longer rigs are specifically designed to complement boilie fishing with a wide spread, and the application of large quantities of Mainline Activ-8 was the way forward. I want the carp to be moving between baits as much as possible, to maximise the chances of getting a bite. Essentially, this was all part and parcel of the approach, and proved to be a real game-changer for me. I could get large amounts of bait out without crashing out a Spomb and sending the fish in all directions. These fish were so cagey that they wouldn't even stand for one lead cast near them, let alone 20. The fact that I could actually bait up accurately, even when I had fish on me, was another real advantage. The ideal scenario was to get the bait out during a shower – this was also a great opportunity to recast if I wasn’t quite happy with something, or get some bait in, as the pitter-patter on the water dulled any noise of a crashing lead or boilies hitting the surface. Making use of little windows like this is vital to gaining as many small percentages in your favour as possible. Line concealment was another aspect that I gave a lot of thought to. The carp were extremely aware of the presence of anglers, so hiding the lines as much as possible was very important. I originally used semi-slack lines, but after a few funny occurrences when the fish picked up the bait, hooked itself, and kited 30-40 yards before I had any sort of indication, I knew I needed to change things slightly.
I decided to go down the backlead route, which is something I'm a huge fan of, but in the right situation they can work perfectly, and with the distinct lack of weed and a reasonably flat bottom, they were the perfect choice. We all know that feeling when you’re playing a good fish and you get a horrible sensation of the backlead bouncing up and down on a tight line as the fish kites left and right – well, after a quick chat with Gardner Tackle’s main man Lewis Read, he recommended Drop Out Back Leads. These small ½oz leads were absolutely perfect for the job; just heavy enough to pin everything down, but not too heavy to make playing the fish uncomfortable in any way. Once again, this seemed to have a positive effect on my results because my catch rate improved once I started incorporating these into my fishing.
I've probably touched on just about everything that I felt was important to share, and what made that particular season so incredible. We never stop learning as carp anglers, and there is a lot more to share with you, as the lake once again changed when winter arrived. It really was an incredible time for a few anglers on Welly that year, but that's for next time.
Thanks for reading, and be lucky.