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Carp Fishing made easy……Get on the Bolt rig !!

Carp Fishing in North America is still in its infancy. Where we are now is EXACTLY what it was like in the UK in the 1980`s. Being the tender age of 52 now, I lived through the golden age of carp fishing developments also having worked in an English tackle shop since I was 13 years old I have been truly blessed by the opportunity to fish with, and learn from some fantastic and innovative anglers over the years.

My personal journey to carp addiction is I think as good a way as any to tell the story of how to make carp fishing easy.

I started fishing at 5 years old, but by 12 was a fanatic, landing the Saturday job in the tackle store was like heaven to me and I was quickly working after school during the week days for free. School holidays were sheer bliss…being paid to talk fishing all day and accepting invitations from the top local anglers to fish with them on my days off.

In those days I fished at least 4 times per week, evening sessions with my dad, and the regular Saturday night session often until 2 or 3 in the morning. I fished for anything and everything, but bearing in mind we mainly bait fish in England the “prize” was when we caught a carp!

Before the late 70`s carp were strange mythical creatures, you could see them on the surface, hear them crash and jump in the dark but they were all but impossible to catch …. unless you got lucky. Every village pond or vast lake had its own story. Monster carp that swam in the depths, rarely hooked and never landed.

By the early 70’s I was a Carper, My homework from school and all my studying for exams was done with two carp rods out on the buzzers. I got good grades at school because in those days we caught so few carp, but all that was going to change.

The invention of the hair rig is usually credited to Len Middleton and Kevin Maddox and most internet sites give the date as being 1979/1980. My memory is that it was a little earlier than that but who cares IT CHANGED THE FACE OF CARP FISHING.

Prior to the hair, we English carpers like everyone else, baited our hooks with live baits like worms or maggots hooked on the bend of the hook, or with paste baits like, bread paste, sausage meat etc molded around the hook. The hair rig in simple terms is the use of a loop of line under the hook so that the bait can be threaded on the loop and hang below the hook, so called because the original hair rig was made using a human hair to make the loop.

The hair did two things, it allowed us to fish very hard baits that other nuisance fish could not eat ( the birth of Boilies) but more important it meant we started to actually catch fish we had previously thought were almost uncatchable.

Carp are naturally filter feeders; they are continuously sucking in and spitting out and rarely swallow on a first date. Along with any edible items the carp is also sucking in mud, sand, stones and various other rubbish, as they blow out, (since the “rubbish” tends to be heavier than the natural foodstuffs) they filter out their chosen food. Imagine then what this is doing from an angler’s perspective. If you are using soft baits like worms or tinned corn. Your rod top or bobber will hardly even move and the carp will be sucking and blowing out your baits until it comes off the hook and he gets his free meal.

Sure occasionally they make a mistake but when you guys are worm fishing on the bottom, 95% of the times you come in with a bare hook it is because carp have sucked your bait off. Carp absolutely love worms, but how often do you accidentally hook them when fishing for other species?

Now compare the number of carp hook ups you get with the number of bare hooks you bring in?

In the case of a paste bait molded around the hook. The carp will suck in and spit out the bait a couple of times, if it is soft it comes off the hook (another free meal) if it is fairly stiff the carp will recognize it as food and swim off with it …..At last a bite!! Immediately you pick up the rod the carp will feel that something is wrong and try to spit the bait. In the seconds this takes, you have to set the hook; striking very hard to pull the hook through the thick paste at precisely the time the carp is trying to eject it.

Carp fishing pre the hair rig was a very frustrating business. We all thought the carp had super intelligence. It could see the hook, it could feel the line, it was very cautious etc etc. Out of every cast 50% came back with a bare hook. For every 10 runs we were lucky to hook 3 fish. Even then because we thought carp were so spooky we all used very light line and small hooks so lost 2 out of the 3 we hooked.

Now let us look at the mechanics of the hair rig. The bait (normally a boilie or some grains of corn) hang below the bare hook. As the carp sucks in the bait, it naturally sucks in the hook also. As the carp blows out the bait (something it will do several times before eating) the weight of the bait being more than the hook swings on the hair, overtaking the hook and therefore drags the point of the hook over the fishes mouth point first. As good carp hooks are very sharp, the point will lightly prick the carps lip stopping it from being ejected. The fish will then panic and what we call “bolt” giving that precious few seconds for us to strike and set the hook properly. The photograph below shows this graphically, note how the boilie is in front of the hook and the hook itself free to catch the fish.

Carp Rig

UTOPIA we were catching carp. I went from averaging one or two carp in a day to ten or more. With the hair rig the bait never came off so we could leave the rods out for long periods confident that we always had bait on the hook. When we did get a run we had a few seconds to set the hook before the fish managed to eject the hook that was lightly imbedded in its mouth already. We still missed plenty of runs as it only takes a carp a few seconds to eject the bait and hook but I was probably then hooking 5 out of 10 runs.

Now, there was still the myth that carp were incredibly wise and careful. So we still used light lines and very small lead weights, so we did not spook the fish. The original hairs were tied either with 3 lb test or fine dental floss. My leads were the smallest I could use to cast the distance I needed, maximum 1 oz and often 1/8 oz. Them damn carp are clever!

YEAH RIGHT……Bring on the bolt rig.

I have no idea who invented the bolt rig but God Bless him. Previously not only were our leads very small they were also fished “running” style. This means they were free to slide up the line based on the theory that the fish would not feel any resistance (as an aside it has now been 100% proven that if you actually want to fish a running lead that fish cannot feel you should use at least 3 ounces. Light leads move when the fish pulls the line. Heavy leads stay in place so ONLY the line moves through the swivel and the fish feels nothing. But that is another story)

A bolt rig is a fixed heavy lead. It is locked onto the line so it cannot slide. I have written elsewhere about making these rigs fish safe (anti tether rigs) so please bare this in mind. But basically any means of fixing a heavy lead will produce a bolt rig. Of course as this is carp fishing there are 50 ways and many expensive widgets to achieve this, and I am more than happy to sell them to you J

If we now go back to the mechanics of the hair rig: The fish sucks in the bait, and attempts to spit it. The bare hook pricks its lip and it “bolts” off. Now with a heavy fixed lead in place, as the fish bolts the weight of the lead pulls the hook more firmly into its mouth and the fish is on before you have even seen the bite. To achieve this you need at least 2 ½ ounces of lead and I prefer 3 oz or more.

Now we have carp fishing made easy. The carp can do what it wants, but as long as the hook is sharp and the rig is set properly, 99 times out of 100 if it sucks in the bait we will hook him. Instead of rushing to hit runs that will stop quickly, we can now take our time, put down the beer without spilling it, or wake up from our comfy sleeping bag, put on our slippers and go out to fight our carp.

No need for fine lines, small hooks or a degree in fish psychology.

The problem all along was NOT that carp are super clever THEY ARE NOT. It was simply the way nature designed them that made carp hard to catch. Now as long as you are in the correct place, have chummed the water and they are feeding it is easy. They are eating machines. Water temperature plays a big part and ideally should be above 55 degrees F. Below this they do still feed but very little. At 60 degrees they will feed almost constantly all day and all night!!!

Now for a very important point: I do not concede that carp are super clever, but they are not stupid either and if caught repeatedly will “wise up” to rigs, baits and tackle. THE CHANCES OF THIS HAPPENING IN NORTH AMERICA ARE VERY SLIM IN THE SHORT TERM. I want to make a big point of this. I started by saying that North American carping is like the UK in the 80`s. In the late 70`s early 80`s we had bonanza time on the English carp. I was slaying them every trip, but it only lasted 5 to 10 years.

England is the home of carp fishing; it is also a very small country. The entire UK would fit into Lake Superior and still leave room for me to go carp fishing around the edges. We have over 60million people, a massive amount of anglers with carp being the most popular fish. Our lakes are small and very heavily fished. Each and every carp has been caught numerous times with all the bigger fish being known by name. People come into my UK tackle store and say “I have just caught Mary, or Scar fin,” or whatever. Another guy will normally answer “I had her in May at 33lb 4oz what is she now?” That is European carp fishing.

What I am saying here is that in my experience many North American anglers look at the European websites and get all hung up on complicated rigs and tackle. It is true that on some UK waters regular hair rigs and bolt rigs no longer work, because the fish are so scared to pick up a bait they have become ultra careful. Underwater video shows them slowly backing off with a bait “checking “to see if there is a lead on it.

So many clever and sophisticated rigs have been developed; most of these revolve around small hooks, delicate rigs, and rigs that use running leads or eject the lead immediately the fish is hooked. Out here not only do we not need these, they are actually far worse than the simple 80’s style rigs I recommend to everyone. Your fish have not and probably will never wise up to rigs so just keep it strong and simple. The carp out here also fight much harder than European fish, yet another reason NOT to follow the European trends.

Lastly, you can fish a hair on a bolt rig on any medium to heavy spinning outfit and catch plenty of carp. The proper 12 feet carp rods are better, because they cast further, control the fish better and the length lifts the line off the bottom to stop the line being cut on rocks etc. But for $25.00 anyone can buy all the rigs leads and stuff you need to catch carp, and catching carp is as good as it gets in freshwater fishing.


Asian Grass Carp