Nomads | Tobias Steinbruck
Carp have their peculiarities, just as humans do. Their environment shapes their character; hideouts, feeding spots and spawning grounds are remembered and familiar to fish and humans, and this issue makes carp fishing much more predictable. If we find where they live through experience and good location, and especially their larder, success can be had with suitable bait application.
Close to my place of origin, Dachwig, which is a small village in the middle of Germany, there is a lake that transforms itself. It’s a huge artificial water above 130ha that creates a paradise of a home, as the fish living there have space and plenty of natural food. During October, the water disappears in 2 weeks; it is drained and all that remains is a small torrential stream no wider than 10m, and rarely deeper than 1m. The carp have to wait for springtime, when the water is dammed again and river fish transform back into lake fish.
Over the years, they have adapted to this situation. The carp aren’t massive, but they are powerful, and it seems that they cherish and master this environment. The fish are well versed and issue a challenge to fishermen, plus there are enormous pieces of concrete, general rubbish, trees, roots and stones which line the banks and riverside. A never-drying plain lies where the lakebed once was, covered in slimy decaying weed which surrounds the channel for kilometres. The riverbank can only be reached through sweat-inducing marches, and not even a barrow can pass the area. On icy-cold winter days, the frost allows anglers to walk on freezing ground, but when the thaw sets in, there is no chance to pass.
At 7.00 o’clock in the morning, I headed to a small pond in a park which I wanted to fish, but unfortunately it was frozen solid. I had a useless day off, so to take advantage of the spare time, I decided to make the most arduous location-tour of my life; I walked 8km in icy-cold winds in search of fish. I hiked both banks, in total 16km, and was amply rewarded. I found no sign at all of other anglers, just masses of empty lake. There wasn’t a single sign of human beings, but I discovered the prints from raccoons, boars, foxes and herons, along with my size 43 footprint and four beagle paws.
Finally, at the end of my expedition, when I was heading towards exhaustion, I tramped through the last hundred metres of unfrozen riverside mud. I continued my frustrated search deep inside the empty lake, obsessed with finding the carp. I almost missed it, but there was a swirl close to a little cove about 3sq.m. It was formed by a huge rock and gave shelter from the strong current to three carp. My only chance to see them was by creeping up really carefully. I reckon two of them were approximately 22lb, but the other was noticeably bigger, perhaps even over 40. I was in a funk; I had a queasy feeling, a lump in my throat, but I didn’t budge a millimetre. I didn’t feel the frost, or my cold hands, or painful legs anymore.
They were perfect common carp, slim and powerful fish tarrying in the smooth water behind the massive boulder. Full of euphoria, I continued down the river. This sector was characterised by huge stone outcrops, which created boiling creases and small slacks. Suddenly, several rapid bow waves emerged in the flow, in not more than 1m depth, which I recognised as carp from their blurred dark shadows, and there were loads of them. I had achieved my goal, I had done the essential thing and found their winter habitat, now all I had to do was catch one of them!
I tiptoed really quietly and kept some distance from the bank, but I still spooked those timid carp. It might have been the infinite silence in the bleak wide landscape of the lakebed, and the small nature of the stream; the frozen ground echoed every single step I took to the water, regardless of how much I tried to stay undercover. I knew from this recce that I needed to be as quiet as possible, use any available cover, and keep me and my rods well away from the water’s edge.
At home, I couldn’t settle and had no peace of mind. I contacted my closest friends, because I wanted to catch those timid river carp that winter, and we stood more chance using teamwork. The nights were freezing, down to -10°C, so short day sessions were the way to go. I wanted to target the fish where I’d spotted them, so with plenty of space between us, Mario, Sven, and I would try the stream, and I would take the little cove. That night we had our first strategy meeting.
Due to the extreme nature of the banks, it was impossible to net a fish on your own. The slippery, frozen ground meant we could easily slip and fall into the icy water, and since the emergency services are far away, there is a risk of mortal danger. So, we decided to stay near so we could help each other when netting and handling the fish.
The first day on the bank, an icy December morning, I got nothing except some liners while trying the little cove. Mario Winter came around to keep me company and to see the spot for himself. I was pretty sure that carp were located in the small cove close to my bait, otherwise I wouldn’t have been getting such intense line bites. I could only observe what was happening from 50m away, and relied on my receiver, and I was curious about what was going on. I crawled on all fours until I reached my rods, and glanced at the little cove. When I reached them, my indicators became silent, and not a single fish showed up. “Damn, they detected me,” I murmured to myself. I crept back to my chair, and as I got there, the scenario started all over again. Liners were happening one after another, but not a single take. I was frustrated, and I wasn’t sure if the fish even recognised my bait. Was it just too unobtrusive?
Two days later, Sven Moeller went with me, as he wanted to have a try 100m down the river. I gave him an account of my observations and assumptions for us both to think about. The size of the bait was scaled down from 15mm to 10mm, and I introduced a white sinking boilie, Coconut Cream, to attract the attention of the carp. Some groundbait and just five free baits should be enough to escape the multitude of liners. A safety Bolt Rig was mounted with the heaviest lead I could find in my box, a superb 8oz Tractor lead! The drop-off system would ensure perfect hooking, as well as a lead-free fight between all obstacles. The lead would hold the rig reliably in place until the fish picked up the bait, and secure hookholds in even the hardest of mouths are guaranteed.
An hour after I’d put the rods out, the first common carp charged off; it suddenly came out of nowhere at 8.00 a.m., and the scales showed a magnificent 30lb fish. The fight without the lead ensured that the carp came to the surface and didn’t snag in the stones, branches or roots. I was stunned, happy and nervous. Another 24lb carp followed, and Sven, who was fishing in the stream, had a 20lb fish on the same day, with the same bait and rig. All fish were immaculate and in good condition. We went home completely exhausted but happy, and we were hooked by this style of fisning.
One week later, we were back on the bank, and this time Mario was with me. We wanted to fish one night in the small cove, as we believed the fish would feed more confidently and be happier in the dark. All hopes were shattered because we had no takes, only a few liners until midnight. It seemed that the fish had made a run for it. The first bite came around about 3.00 a.m., and we were lucky to catch a beautiful 24lb carp.
The night was like torture, thanks to the icy wind, plus we had to carry the bivvy and bedchair to the swim, which was 1,500m through mud. Prior to that we had to walk along the dam wall, cross a bridge, then a railway bridge, all on foot. No bivvy peg found purchase in the squashy lakebed, so there wasn‘t a trace of safety or comfort. After that one night we agreed we would never undertake such a procedure again. To stalk at daylight was definitely the better tactic.
On this basis, we experienced the most exciting and varied winter season so far in our experience. We stalked with the maximum amount of caution so as not to scare the fish, and we were granted a memorable winter, plus we didn’t catch a fish twice. Our efforts were rewarded, in terms of success at a time when most carpers wouldn’t think there was a real chance of a take. The carp were active because of the flow; they are in motion as we are. The energy reserves must be kept up, so the fish feed. Short time frames and tiny spots raised our hopes for an action-packed winter.
At the end of February, the water gauge raises and meltwaters come down the river. It’s icy-cold and dangerous when it occurs in enormous amounts. To protect Thuringia from floods, the water gauges of artificial lakes are lowered in autumn, and thus the habitat of fish is minimised, so they wander around the tight riverbed. In spring, it is upside down. The biosphere grows inexorably, the banks are overgrown, and giant lakes arise and provide food in abundance for the fish. They leave the channel and disappear into the gigantic artificial lakes. The oversupply of natural food entices and is essential for survival, as for the next severe winter, the necessary reserves need to be built up. Carp, restless as nomads, blaze their trail through two different worlds.