Many anglers will use the same bait they are feeding into the swim as their hook bait, invariably dog mixers, but that’s no good. The mixers you are feeding will be compromised by the weight of an attached hook, and therefore sit much lower in the water. The biggest part of floater fishing is the ride height of your hook bait in relation to your freebies. Carp will see the difference and sense danger so it’s imperative that you try to counteract this. I will use an 11 or 12mm pop-up, straight off the shelf, that is slightly lighter in colour than the free offerings, which are always 11mm expanding pellets. The flavour is irrelevant, I concentrate purely on colour, and ensure that it will sit at the same height as the rest of my bait. I prefer my hook bait being slightly larger for the carp to pick out and hone in on as well as the colour difference, and this also helps me to see the bait in the water myself too. There’s nothing more confusing than having 10 or so matching baits in the water and not knowing which is your hook bait, before you know it the fish has spat your hook out and it’s too late.
Coating your bait
As floater fishing really takes off in Spring, it’s then more than ever that you need to consider glazing your baits. One day the lakes crystal clear and devoid of any floating debris, the next there’s a mountain of pollen from the surrounding trees making it a nightmare to present your hook bait or encourage a feeding situation. The fish can’t pick baits out among it and it makes everything more difficult. One of the biggest tips of all is to give your baits a glazing with oil. I like to use a fish oil but something as simple and cheap as vegetable oil will have the desired effect. Beyond catapult range I will use either a small PVA bag or a spomb, and once the bait is released it will open a large hole, pushing all of the scum and pollen to the outer edge, perfect to cast your hook bait into. Imagine being a carp below the surface and this big, clear window opens up above you with a host of oily mixers to slurp down… Every leaf that gets sucked and each time the carp misses your hook bait is one less opportunity to land a carp, so it’s important to utilise oil and maximise your days fishing.
Going fishing without a set of polaroid glasses is pointless, you might as well not bother. The difference it makes to your sight and breaking the surface glare, enabling you to see more clearly, is a huge advantage when the carp are up in the layers near the surface. You have to accept that you will probably have panda eyes, but just run with it, pretend you’ve been on a skiing holiday. Watching the bites occur is vital. Often you don’t see the baits disappear but the carps lips come out of the surface, and just as they’re descending over the bait is when I want to be striking, having a clear vision of this makes it so much easier.
There are lots of ways to set up your surface fishing arrangement, and I make sure I carry a box of controller floats with me. Anything over an underarm chuck and I will use the inline style floats from 20 grams and up. They enable me to fish up to 140 yards, and not only are they a visual sight, even at that range, but their bolt machine action will help to hook the fish too due to the resistance when the carp tries to pull the float under. You know roughly where your hook bait is in relation to the float too, they’re cheap as chips on eBay, and carp often come up and try to eat them so they must draw fish in on occasion. I’ve found that the skittle type controllers tangle so I don’t tend to use them anymore, the last thing you want is a tangle when you have carp taking in front of you.
Line is very important when surface fishing. A lot of people you see floater fishing will chuck their set-up out and leave it to drift around the swim, and when the tow is particularly bad, or the wind is cutting across you, large bows in the line can form. When you strike at this point you don’t even strike the slack line out of the water, so it’s essential to keep as straight a line as possible to your float. You can do this by ‘mending’ the line (whipping it up off the surface to straighten it), or just re-cast. If the fish are taking confidently then casting past them and drawing it back slowly shouldn’t spook them too much, and I use an 8lb Guru mainline straight through, even at ranges of up to 140 yards. For me, mending your line is in the top three of most important aspects to fishing on the surface and it’s vital to hooking bites.
Balancing Your Set-Up
You need to bear in mind that you’re going to be holding your rod all day. Similarly to if you were fishing the waggler, holding it all day, you need a light set-up that is going to be easy to hold for long periods. A regular carp rod is too heavy, has the wrong action and you’ll struggle to mend the line too – everything about it is wrong for surface fishing. If you haven’t got the right kit, you may as well use a sea fishing rod. A 12ft rod with a 2.5lb test curve is a great all-round surface set up. It’s soft enough to cast inline floats, 30 grams is only an ounce remember, to where you need to get them but is also an enjoyable fight with plenty of bend in the rod. You need to balance it with a small reel too to get the most from it, a feeder reel is often perfect. I also like to use a smaller 9ft Extricator rod coupled with a feeder reel for shorter range work, often in tight swims where 12 foot is too long. I will free line baits with this set-up, and again, it’s great fun to play an angry, charging carp on, sporting you could say.
I use a size 10 Korda Wide Gape for my surface fishing, any small, similar patterned hook will do. Due to always using light line, I will tie the hook on with a Palomar knot. As this is a non-strangulation knot it is much stronger and enables me to stick with light lines. I also shank tie the hair to make the hook bait sit better against the hook. I’ve landed carp into the forties on 8lb line using this knot – it’s never let me down. For any close range surface fishing, I simply tie the hook directly to my mainline in this manner and free line for them. If I need a bit more weight I will just attach a small PVA bag of mixers to the hook, this not only adds casting weight but places a small amount of mixers right around the hook bait.
If you’re planning on surface fishing, don’t leave the house with one venue in mind. If you get to your chosen lake and the fish don’t look up for it, or you can’t get them feeding, then move onto the next lake. A hook bait in the right place for 5 minutes is better than one in the wrong place for an entire day. There are windows of surface fishing throughout the year where you can really take advantage, to a point where I’ve had a season’s worth of fish in just a two-week period. A good week’s floater fishing is worth a whole year of fishing on the bottom to me. You need to maximise your chances and be willing to move around the lake or to different lakes if needs be. I remember having 6 thirties off the top in one day, returning the next to have 10 thirties and a forty on Kingsmead 1 years ago, and the following day they were spawning, it really is about timing.