Dave Lane On Silt

Dave Lane’s no-nonsense approach for effective carp fishing over silted areas….

I suppose a lot of today’s carp anglers have started off their fishing on silt bottomed lakes, most smaller ponds and fisheries, especially the natural old lakes, will be sited up through time.
I know all of my early fishing was on either Estate lakes or ponds surrounded by trees and, usually, fed by an inlet stream of some sort. Both of these things will contribute towards a build-up of silt.

Back in the early days we didn’t really think about a lot, we just cast out and caught fish, there were no fancy carp rigs and the question of where your bait ended up in relation the silt never raised its head.

Most of the rigs cast out in the seventies and eighties, by me at least, involved a basic nylon hook-link of about ten inches and a lead somewhere between one, and one and a half ounces which, bizarrely enough, is the exact rig I would now advocate for fishing in deep silt.

We certainly never considered methods to stop the hook-baits sinking into the silt, such as pop-up’s because, after all, that was surely where the free offering ended up?

Such a simple philosophy and one born, I suppose, through lack of outside influence but like I say, still something that I firmly believe all these many years later.

The food does not sit up nicely on top of the silt so why on earth should you want your hook-bait to do so.

All the interim years spent mucking about with helicopter rigs, paternosters, slow sinking leads (made from a float wrapped in fuse wire) and various other balancing devices were, in hindsight, a waste of time really. None of the afore mentioned ‘developments’ ever caught me more carp than a standard nylon hook-link and a bottom bait when fishing soft bottomed lakes.

I will admit that the addition of a very small PVA bag of crumbed baits has slipped into my armoury on occasions but, this is due more to the want to add smell to the area than by a need to keep the bait aloft.

I don’t want to give the impression that I am happy to just chuck a basic rig into any old smelly silt filled ditch and feel confident because that is really not the case at all; there are many different types of silt ranging from clean and barely settled ‘soup’ to hard packed detritus of the ages.

If I look back at the history of some of the siltier places I have fished it is amazing just how much they have changed over the years and the sheer depth of the silt that has collected there.

I recently fished for a winter on particular Estate lake where the average depth is about three feet and, whilst there, I got chatting to a guy who had fished the lake a decade or more prior to my visit and he assured me that is was closer to ten feet deep back then.

Now that is a lot of silt but when you look at the way the lake is fed and the depth variations throughout the year you can see just how this has happened.

There is a small steam at one end that runs through a dam wall into the lake, most of the year this is either dry or just a mere trickle but, during the winter and spring, it can turn into a raging torrent. Not only does it empty the contents of the stream bed into the lake but the stream itself is fed by the run off from the surrounding fields and the water is the colour of chocolate as it pours into the lake.

So much water comes in at one go that the level of the lake can rise two feet over night and that is a lot of suspended particles to add to the silt. By the time the water floods out of the other end it is much cleaner and a lot lighter, having dropped its payload of new silt as it travels along the lake.

Year in year out, three or four times each winter, spring and probably autumn, it doesn’t take long for the build up to accumulate and the lake to lose another foot of depth.

For a while I did muck about with various pop-up and balanced presentations but, in the end, I cut the whole lot off and fished all my rods on nylon rigs, bottom baits and tiny little bags of crumb, just to add a bit of smell. I caught plenty that winter, multiple catches on some occasions, and all from below the top layer of silt.

Not all silt is nice though and I am sure that a lot of areas are not favoured by the carp because of the ‘wrong type’ of silt. Nobody likes to retrieve their leads and rigs to find them covered in stinking black ooze and, I must admit, I have never knowingly caught from these obnoxious smelling areas.

Silt that has arrived via an inlet is probably going to be cleaner than silt that has occurred through a rotting process that has taken years of decay and trapped a lot of gasses during the process.

Try dragging a heavy ball or square lead through the silt to investigate which kind you have and avoid the disgusting black smelly stuff. A FishSpy camera float is also a good way of taking a real-time look at just what you are fishing over.

The FishSpy camera float

The FishSpy camera float.

When the carp are feeding in silt they also release a lot of the trapped gasses and you can sometimes see very obvious bubblers as the patches burst onto the surface.

Occasionally I fish a small silty lake set on the edge of Thetford forest and the fish in there bubble like crazy, particularly at first light when your swim can resemble a Jacuzzi.

I have only fished there a handful of times and always caught fish but, I had always thought I should have caught more and spent most of the day chasing bubblers up and down the lake. Eventually I decided to take a different approach and, rather than chase the fish, I would try and make the fish find me and offer them more than they were getting by feeding on the natural food within the silt.

I didn’t try for a clear or hard spot, I just picked somewhere they had bubbled up that morning and then fished as accurately as I possibly could, by this I mean baiting on the exact spot with every pouch-full and marking and clipping up my lines to ensure I was not just close but ‘bang on’ every single cast. I also put at least a kilo and a half of bait on each of two spots; I wanted them to stop when they found it rather than just keep trawling all over the swim rooting for food.

The next morning was a completely different ball game and just one glance at the surface told me my plan had worked. Rather than little individual streams of bubbles popping up randomly all over, there were two huge patches of froth, one over each spot and as soon as the bites started they came in frenetic succession. I had about six fish in as short a time as it was possible to land them and recast again.

All I had done different was to give them something to home in on, and a reason to stay there once they had. My rigs were just the trusty nylon hooklinks and bottom baits but the method change had been the key, it was that simple.

I have used this heavy baiting approach to concentrate bubbling fish in both silt and weed to very good effect quite a few times since then. The most noticeable of these was on the shallow lagoon at St Ives last year. By baiting heavily and accurately I managed to put together a string of incredible captures that culminated in the big mirror known as Colin at over fifty pounds, all from very tightly baited spots.

A big St Ives bubbler from a tightly baited area

A big St Ives bubbler from a tightly baited area.

Once again, I managed to condense the feeding activity to just my baited areas but outdoing the supply of natural food.

A lot of anglers will avoid silty areas and always be searching for that elusive ‘donk’ of the lead as it hits a hard spot but sometimes you can be missing out by not fishing the areas where the fish are used to finding natural food.

Don’t be afraid of silt or weed, just find a way to embrace it.

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