Get SMART - Get on the Float - by Jeff Vaughan
Standby to get schooled. Jeff Vaughan is responsible for the capture of some serious carp tonnage at his Canadian Carp Club venture. When he says ”Dave, I want to tell the story of a record catch”, we listen. He charts the development of a method that has recently accounted for one of the biggest and most significant captures ever seen on the Larry.
Today I would like to tell you a story that has been 5 years in the making and has recently culminated in what must be one of the greatest carp catches of all time.
Within the brotherhood of the carp we are all searching for that edge. That special something to make a difference, whether that’s a new bait, a new rig or even a new prayer! Who cares as long as it works?
Now I lay no claim to inventing the method I am going to discuss, it is an old and trusted rig that was actually invented for bream fishing in Ireland, but I feel it is possibly the most underused and devastating method of catching carp there is.
I am talking about the simple float leger. More specifically the sliding Polaris float leger. As you can see from the photographs, nothing could be simpler. On its day and in the right conditions I believe it will out fish any other method by a factor of 4 to 5 fish to 1.
Whilst I love my carp, I am an all rounder and when I took on the Canadian Carp Club and began to fish professionally I quickly began to miss all the other forms of fishing I previously enjoyed. Because of this I tried many different methods to catch carp. Some worked and some did not. I had brought out a few Polaris floats in that first year and tried to fish them as I would in England with decidedly mixed results. My 1.75 T/C Power Waggler rod was great up to mid 20 lb fish, but I felt the big old girls were just swimming away from me and not even aware they were hooked. My 10 lb test nylon lasted about four fish before the line twist created by the drag rendered casting impossible. The standard Polaris floats also have a flaw in them and I quickly ran out of the stock I had,but my appetite had been whetted
During that first winter back home in the UK, I began to think and plan and by the second year I was equipped with a big stock of floats, a more powerful 2.75 T/C barbel rod and my trusty 10,000 XTEA loaded with 30 lb braid.
That second year I had some fantastic sport and quite a few 30`s on my new rig, but really I was still thinking that the float was just a bit of fun and proper carping was sitting behind my 3.5 T/C bolt rigged carp rods. In the third year things dramatically changed!
Early in the season we found a big shoal of fish in a shallow bay. This was April so it was strange they were there but if you see them... Well you just have to have a go. Colin, who was fishing with me a lot and always ribbing me about float fishing not being proper carping, used normal lead tactics while I went on the float and did him 14 fish to 1 in just 90 minutes of crazy action. Colin came back and bought a float rig and a carp monster was born.
Colin and I began to use the floats and develop the tactics more and more, but still we were strangely reluctant to introduce them to our customers. It was not a matter of us being secretive or anything but simply that, as European style carpers, we are all blinkered into thinking that anything other than the conventional lead set up is not right. Even today about 50% of our customers will not use them or look at us a bit sideways when we suggest they try.
Anyway, the dog days of July and August came and we were struggling with blue skies and light winds. Every customer was saying the same, all were experiencing short aborted runs or hook pulls from lightly hooked fish. On one particular day I was out on the carp boat with four customers and had caught only one fish and had a frustrating morning of short savage bleeps, the runs stopping before we could set the hooks. I called back to the motel for two float rods. We caught 15 fish and lost a few in four hours. The genie was officially out of the bottle.
Since that day the Polaris has been a staple method at our place and many of the big catches have come to the float along with a large number of our biggest fish. We have developed and modified the method and tested it against the conventional carp tactics in every way we can think of. In still water at ranges of up to 30 - 40 yards from the bank NOTHING can touch it.
To be a little more specific, we fish the Polaris with running leads of between ¾ and 1 ½ ounce. They work by the use of a clever widget where the line goes in one side of a tube at the bottom of the float and out at a slight angle. To cast, you wind the float down to about a foot from the lead. When it hits the water, you straighten the line and then release enough line until the float slides up to the surface and then slowly tighten until the float locks in place at the correct depth and stands up. We use 30lb braid and 2.75 T/C carp rods. Normally we are on size 4 or 6 hooks on 30lb hook lengths. Bait is the normal stuff, three or four grains of corn, boilies or giant corn and always tipped off with some plastic corn. We always fish with the bait runner on. Actually, I rarely watch the float. The rods sit on alarms and we use the bait runner to create a bolt effect and hit the screaming runs as normal. Occasionally you will get gentle takes that need you to watch and set the hooks but 99% of the time the float wavers slightly and the reel is screaming.
I believe I now know why it out fishes everything else. For a couple of years I was baffled. We have tried fishing exactly the same rig, hook, lead and bait without the float, it does not work. Cast into the same area beside the float, the float will still smash it to pieces. Why does it out fish the standard lead by such a large factor?
Well I believe it is two factors. Partly it is the extreme accuracy you can achieve with the float. Because you have a target you can be very sure your free offerings are all around your hook bait. Also we feed “match” style. We select a point in the swim (normally maximum catapult range, so we can be 100% consistent with the feed distance) put in half a dozen catapults of bait and then feed little and often, every cast or every fish, just two catapults and a few boilies each time. If the fish are coming fast we speed up the feeding and if the catch rate is slow we slow down the feeding. If we are catching and then the sport dries up we assume we have been wiped out and give it another six pouches and start again. I will stress here how important accuracy is. To get the big catches and the big fish you need to be very disciplined in always casting to the same spot. 10 feet left, right, longer or shorter is just not acceptable. If you are not on the spot, recast. By keeping it tight two things happen. Firstly the fish start competing for the food, so all caution goes and they start to feed in a frenzy. Secondly, fairly quickly the bigger fish will bully out the smaller ones. It is also important to keep the feed going in. If fishing with a friend whilst one is playing a fish the other should be feeding the swim. If alone, as soon as the fish is on the mat and safe, feed the spot BEFORE unhooking, or weighing the fish. If you take too long between baiting with feeding fish in your swim, they will move off or spread out again. Also if fishing with a friend, only feed one spot and not two, do not be afraid of fishing two floats just 6 feet apart. Building a big catch in this way can be hard work, but the rewards are worth it.
Now to my theory. If there is no wind and flat calm water, the float has no big advantage over the lead. If it is blowing an absolute gale, the float is inferior to the lead. Everywhere between it will smash the usual lead methods to pieces. The best float fishing conditions are a fairly windy day with winds up to say 30 KPH. What I believe is happening is that the wind/wave action is imparting either small movements or vibrations down the line to the bait. I know as carpers you may feel that this is a bad thing, (because those damn carp are so clever they will suspect there is something wrong and swim away) but look to European match anglers catching the smaller carp on the pole. The successful pole anglers are always twitching and lifting the bait.
With a Polaris, water depth is not a problem; we use them in four feet of water or 40 feet. There are places they do not work. As described above, in very heavy winds they do not function. Additionally, they don’t work as well in flowing water or in areas of heavy undertow--they work but are problematic. I have modified some of my floats for extreme conditions by adding more buoyancy at the top. Also only the largest sizes are any good. The smaller models or ones without bodies will drive you crazy. As I mentioned in the opening section they do appear to have a fault in the construction but having said that my new stocks for this year seem to be lasting much longer. However, be aware that where the plastic widget thingy joins the balsa wood body of the float is a weak area, and I personally have modified my floats by taking them apart and strengthening this point.
Many of the biggest catches we have at Long Sault come on the Polaris and now I want to tell you about something very special that happened to Colin Ewen this year. Before I give the details I just want to say how rare and exceptional these days are, and how privileged we are when they happen. Catching 30 fish in a day is common but over 50 fish in a day is special. It is nothing to do with luck; a normal angler could fish here every day for 50 years and it would not happen. They say luck is “opportunity meeting with preparation.” That is certainly true with these mega catches.
Firstly the conditions have to be right, low air pressure and strong SW winds. It cannot be sunny but also not raining.
Secondly, the swim has to be right. All of these big catches come from swims we have baited everyday for weeks. If our guys are fishing them they are baiting while they fish and if not we take the boat in to feed them. Pre-baiting swims is a vital ingredient to carp fishing and, again, is something many anglers neglect. Especially in North America where the fish are not used to “unnatural” baits like boilies and corn.
The timing must be right. In my opinion, such catches are only possible between mid May and mid June, when the smaller family pods of carp are combining into far larger breeding shoals, and feeding up to store the energy for the forthcoming orgy.
Then, the angler must be right. The level of physical fitness needed to catch 80 odd fish in a single day is far more than you think. A few days before Colin’s catch I had 39 fish on the float myself and my shoulders were killing me. 80 fish is not fun. After the first 30 you are in pain and it only gets worse. Not only must the angler be fit, he must also be a superb angler. (It is no accident our third highest bag of 76 fish also came from Colin.) Tactically the angler must control feed levels to keep the fish competing for the bait and he must “feel” what is needed. Colin used less than a bucket of corn to set his record. When another customer, Paul, set the old record of 80 fish last year he fed 8 buckets. Feeding is everything and every day is different. Both anglers were correct on their days but knowing how much the fish want is an art form. The angler must also have the ability to beat the fish quickly. You cannot mess around when you are averaging a fish every 8 minutes for 11 hours!
The tactics must also be right. Paul’s fish came in fast water so he was on a 4.5 ounce lead and a 3.5 T/C rod. Colin’s came from a shallow still bay so he was on the Polaris float and a 2.75 T/C rod. A further point here is that, curiously, we find cheaper carp rods make the best float rods. Top quality rods tend to have a higher carbon content so are stiffer. The cheaper rods are softer and in the same way as with a fly rod, this elasticity in the rod tires the carp faster. Probably the ultimate carp float rod is a top quality barbel rod, which is what I use my self, but these are few and far between and difficult to find in North America.
And lastly, you need some sort of support group around you bringing bait, cold drinks, (in Colin’s case cigarettes) coffee, and replacing broken items. In short the angler has to stay focused on the fish catching and everything else be brought to him. For Colin, he did not even have help netting the fish as he was waist deep in the water in chest waders all day.
So record breaking is not for the faint hearted. You cannot plan these events, but when a potential record is on, word spreads quickly and the team kicks into action. By 11 am Colin was on 38 fish and it was still a fish a chuck. Also by 11 am he had 3 x 30`s in the sack so don’t run around thinking this was pasty (small fish) bashing. Colin ended on 4 fish over 30, 7 back up 29`s and probably another 40 fish over 25lb. All but a handful of the fish were over 20lb. He lost 7 fish, and caught four mirrors to 25lb. All the fish came to a single Mainline boilie tipped with plastic corn, he changed hook lengths only twice and changed his hook bait only 3 times. I bet Danny Fairbrass felt the movement in the force at such savage tactics all the way back in Essex.
From 11am onwards someone was with Colin most of the time. This was actually a double record with his catch beating both the old float record and the “any tackle” record and, as the old float record of 64 came close, a few of us went down to see the final stages. The last 20 fish came in just over an hour and a half. That is under 5 minutes per fish!!! Hooking, playing, netting, unhooking and recasting. Basically he could have gone on to break the 100 mark, the fish were climbing the rod, but we had tables booked at Grumpies bar and anyway the boy was busted.
I wonder at such catches. Is this the biggest ever catch of carp in one day? I have no idea but it was a truly awesome display of carp fishing by an exceptional angler using a fantastic method.
So that is my story. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating and I promise you that once you master the tactics the carp love eating off the float.