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By Jeff Vaughan

OK let me say up front, I am not going to tell you where to fish in Long Sault. The purpose of this section is to help carp anglers understand what to look for to find the fish and is aimed as much towards the Canadian and American carpers who want to catch nearby their homes, as it is to visitors to Long Sault. For sure I am not going to be naming swims or handing out free advice.

Canadian Carp ClubI make my living selling holidays and carp tackle. It drives me mad that people come over to the area, think they are clever saving a few bob in a cheap hotel and then follow my guys around jumping into swims I have spent weeks pre baiting. I am not talking about the local Canadian anglers as most of these know a lot of the spots and come into my shop. Hopefully these guys will agree we help them all we can. For the record there are only two professional carp operations our side of the St Lawrence, ours and Paul Hunts, and he’s ugly (sorry Paul, couldn’t resist it)

Carp for 99% of the time are interested in only three things, conserving energy, comfort and feeding. For the other 1% of the time they are making love. Bit like me really, except I like a drink as well. Understand these things and you can start thinking like a carp. In the UK I would probably also add in “safety” as on pressured waters this also has a big effect, but in Canada this is less of a problem, and the swims that see most pressure in the main produce more fish (mainly because more food is going in). As with all these sections I am dealing only with the very basic concepts here, as there are dozens of other factors if we really want to get down to the nitty gritty

Carp are not like salmon, they have no big mission in life, they can handle the strongest water flows if they have to but why bother? Carp will move through fast water to get to a feeding area but in the main will be lurking at the edges to conserve energy and pick up food drifting down the current. Fast water is normally highly oxygenated water and carp love to be close to this especially in very hot weather. They will only be feeding in fast water when there is a food source that for whatever reason is more abundant there than anywhere else. Therefore the energy needed to stay there is more than compensated by the food intake available, for example in the late autumn when they go hard on the mussel beds. Even then they will rarely be in the faster water, but will be much closer.

Comfort for a carp is usually a matter of water temperatures. I am still studying the best temperature ranges in LS but some rough guidelines are already clear. If the carp could choose, I believe they would select a water temperature between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. To be clear here my readings are taken close to the surface so bottom temperatures may be a little colder.

In the spring we are out every day checking the water temperature and watching the shoals on the fish finder. It is like clockwork every year. Below 55 degrees we are catching “some” fish, as it climbs towards 60 the fishing improves. When it hits 60 it goes ballistic. Between 60 and 65 it is great fishing, and as summer comes it tails off again until the autumn chills.

Air pressure also has a bearing on fish comfort, as has the earths gravitational pull (moon phases) but this is more to do with when and how they feed rather than actual location, so another subject.

Natural or un-natural feeding spots are magnets for carp. Many of the best fishing areas in Long Sault are the best because we have made them the best. Those of you who have fished “THE BUSH” with me will know, there is bugger all there to attract carp, other than the small matter of the 20 kg or so of bait I put in every day. So many times, visitors to Long Sault see our guys bagging up off the bush, they get up really early and take the swim and catch very little. The reason is there is no natural feeding spot in this swim and the fish are congregated in the baited area. Cast 20 yards in the wrong position and you only pick up stragglers. Of course it is not a matter of just baiting anywhere and it works. Other factors must be in place also, and I will explain this in a moment.

If you find a good source of natural food, you will find the carp. However you can’t always catch them from these spots. Thick weed is often abundant with small invertebrates, snails and aquatic worms that carp love, but are very difficult to fish. Carp also love mussels; I am sure they feed on these all year around but appear to go crazy about them for a few weeks in September. Before I leave the natural food area, feeding beds of un-natural baits (corn boilies etc) nearby natural areas is often deadly as you can intercept the shoals on route to the “natural” feeding grounds, but hold them on the edge of the weed etc, where you can comfortably get at them.

The first point is always to be aware and constantly look around. Generally (but not always) the carp will let you know where they are, by jumping, rolling etc, or be visible just under the surface. To locate feeding fish, the magic times of one hour before dusk and one hour after dawn are best. During the middle of the day fish will often “Top” or sunbathe without being in feeding mode. You are looking for where they feed, not necessarily where they live or patrol. (Although these places are sometimes one and the same) The key point is, if you see carp repeatedly in the same areas you can normally catch them.

Be careful with patrol areas and feeding areas. The middle bridge on the Long Sault Parkway is a good example of a patrol area. Stand on the bridge and look over and you will normally see dozens of carp “patrolling” often monsters. Colin and I call this the carp telephone, we are there every morning to see if the fish are coming in or going out. (which has a bearing on our swim choices) However I bet none of you have ever seen us fish it!!. Fish do come out of this area and sometimes, some very big ones, but no one bags up here. There are areas to fish “Off” of this patrol route where you will bag up. The rules apply; Why should the carp use energy in the faster water under the bridge, when a short drift away are weedy bays, with no current and loads of natural food?

Fish finders are of only very limited use for carp. In my experience in water under 20 feet deep, no mater how slowly you move the boat in you are “spooking” too many carp to give you a good reading. Many times I have run the boat through a swim seeing nothing and had guys bagging up in the same spot 20 minutes later. The fish finder is invaluable for finding features, depth, snags etc but is not a good fish finding tool. What it will often do is show you where the fish live, and this can be the most frustrating thing in the world.

At Long Sault on ANY day of the year I can take you to places filled with 100`s of thousands of carp. But these are not feeding fish and very difficult to catch. Because the water temperature remains fairly constant summer and winter these “holding areas are often in very deep water 35 to 100 feet deep. Last year Colin and I fed a massive shoal of fish for 5 weeks, every few days we would put customers on them and they would catch a” few” but never many. One day they all just disappeared and the fishing came alive in all the nearby bays for a week. (Sometimes I hate carp fishing)

So visual awareness and observation is always the first call, but often the fish will hardly show at all, especially when it is windy and the surface rough. If you can’t see them, the next best thing is to consider “where are they likely to be” The answer to this will be “where they are most comfortable”

In the spring the water temperature is low and the fish will be holding in the deep water waiting for the temperature to hit good feeding levels. The first areas to warm up will be the shallow areas, especially the weedy bays. As soon as there is significant sunshine the shallow bays warm up first, and are normally the first spring areas to fish best. These bays will fish well for a period, usually 3 to 6 weeks, typically up until the first spawn. At this time the fishing can be devastating, but slowly the high light values and shallow water promotes weed growth and they become un-fishable. They will hold some fish all year but the big shoals will move out to cooler water as summer approaches. These same weedy shallow bays are also fish magnets as the shoals get ready to spawn, and for this reason the fish move in, in great numbers and massive catches are possible.

As the summer sun warms up the water, the fish move deeper and as oxygen levels decrease, will be looking for feeding areas adjacent to faster water and areas oxygenated by wind and wave movement. My experience is that they also become far more transient, spending long periods in the deeper, cooler water and only coming “within range” for briefer feeding sprees. Another point to consider in summer is the light values. Carp do not like bright sun shine, their eyes are on the top of their heads and they have no sun glasses. Dirty water (near muddy creeks etc) and shady areas will hold more fish. Also these same areas will stay a little cooler as the sun does not penetrate the water.

As autumn comes the fish are more spread out and you are fishing for smaller shoals. Several factors come into play here. Water depth/temperature, food sources, air temperature (affected mostly by the wind.) In the autumn the fish can be anywhere. For us at Long Sault, I am looking for feeding depths. If some of the guys are bagging up in say 15 feet of water I know to put the rest in swims between 12 feet and 20 feet deep. If the fish are down deep, we concentrate on the deeper swims. However, things can move fast in the autumn, while we put the punters onto the “hot” swims Colin and I are walking the water, out in the boat and fishing short two hour sessions in other areas to try to get ahead of the game, when the fish move.

In the autumn the fish are starting to feed up for the long hard winter. Sooner or later something will trigger a 3 or 4 week frenzy and this is my favourite time in Canada. It may be the first frost or the first 2 or 3 consecutive day of cold winds, but something will trigger this frenzy, when it happens it is important to know “where” it is happening and only hard work can guarantee this.

In another section I remember saying Colin and I are checking the mouths of fish as autumn approaches, part of the autumn feeding frenzy will be shown in the change in the carps mouth. As they move away from soft insects/worms and onto the mussels they quickly develop a very hard pad on the top of their mouths. Other signs are bleeding mouths or from the anus as they rip off and digest the sharp mussel shells. As soon as you see this, GET ON THE MUSSEL BEDS. These are all over but more prolific on the rocky sections where the fast water scours the weeds off of the rocks and gives high oxygen levels, andgood light penetration.

Another huge factor in fish location is the wind. In any slack or very slow moving area the wind direction is crucial. In the main (unless it is a very cold wind) a howling wind into your face is the best fishing conditions. Especially a warm wind in the spring and almost any wind (except an Easterly) in the summer and autumn. What we are looking for is a “prevailing wind” the rapidly changing gusts, that we often get, are not relevant. If the wind is in the same general direction for say 8 hours get in front of it. If it lasts for 2 or 3 days do not even consider getting behind it!!! It may be warmer or more comfortable with the wind at your back, but it is the kiss of death for carp fishing.

There are two exceptions to this advice. In the late autumn if a “cold “wind is blowing it is often better to get on the back of it. Also faster running water negates the wind too a large degree. For me, I will always be looking for the correct water depth for the time of the year with a wind blowing into it. If there is little or no wind I will normally fish the edge of a flow.

Once you have chosen the swim, you are faced with more questions. Where do you cast within that swim? Short, long, left, right etc. (no one said carp fishing was easy) the first question is; Does the swim have a feature?

If the swim had running water close by, I would be looking for the “natural eddy” the spot where the faster water in theory would be depositing any loose food into a deeper slower moving area. On true river swims (as opposed to the short fast water stretches like the bridges at Long Sault) this is often at bends in the rivers or junctions of two joining rivers, where the flow has cut out a deeper channel and the water slows down. If the swim had a weed bed with either a clear spot within it, or near to it. I would be straight in there. If the swim has a natural obstruction, like an island within casting distance, a bridge support, a sunken tree, a large rock or anything like that. As long as the feature has enough depth and the right amount, (or no flow) I would fish it.

The last and most important feature is a hole or a ledge. Carp love a ledge, a sudden depth change is a carp haven. I was always very aware of this from my fishing experience, but the importance of this is so evident when you spend time out in the main channel on a fish finder. You can travel miles over areas of constant depth only seeing the odd patrolling fish, as soon as you hit a drop off, and this can be as little as two feet in 70 plus feet of water, the shoals of carp will be sitting there. So if your swim has a hole in it, or a ledge, a gravel bar or any bottom feature producing a sudden depth change, fish just into the drop off. If the swim has no evident feature, you should have selected it because it is close to a natural feature or a patrolling area, so create a” holding” feature yourself. A bed of good bait is a great feature!!! Remember what I said earlier, simply putting down a bed of bait will not always work, UNLESS it is close to a natural area for the fish to be.

Lastly comes local knowledge. We have our favourite swims for different times of the year, this information coming from past experience. It can however be a double edged sword. There is one bay we “know” the fish come into first. It is the nearest large shallow bay to the deep water main channel where the fish spend the winter. Others warm up just as fast but this one is closest to the shoals. Every year the fish get in here first. This year they did not come at all and we wasted a lot of time and effort baiting it up and fishing it for few fish.

Last autumn our September “banker swim” was shite. Normally we will start doing short sessions on this swim from mid August waiting for it to start. This year we kept talking about it, but as it is a bloody long walk we never went down there until the 2nd week of September and it was alive with huge fish. How many good days did we waste by being lazy ??

My first season as owner of the Canadian Carp Club was apparently a bad spring. A lot of regulars not staying with us were struggling. As any of our guests will tell you we had it bang off. WHY? Because I had no idea what were the traditional spring swims. I had fished the area many times but always in autumn. I simply spent hours in the bloody cold looking for the fish until I found them. Once I found them I pre baited like mad and we bagged up. The moral of the story being, you can have all the theory, all the history and all the toys, but to find the fish there is no substitute for good old fashioned hard work. GOOD LUCK

Here are some great articles to get you started!

Casting   |   Feeding   |   Fish Location   |   Fishing the Method

Fishing With Corn   |   Flavouring Baits   |   Float Fishing for Carp

Float News   |   Getting an Edge   |   Hook Baits

Quiver Tipping for Carp   |   Spodding   |   Marker Floats and Feature Finding