Warren Martin shows why it pays to have several different baiting approaches up your sleeve when fishing for big summer carp ‘down the edge’
There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to fishing the margins for commercial carp. The first, and perhaps more traditional tactic, is to use a mixture of fairly big particle baits, such as 4mm or 6mm pellets, sweetcorn or meat. Those who favour this approach tend to build the swim gradually and expect the fish to turn up.
The second, somewhat ‘new school’ tactic is to cup in large volumes of loose groundbait containing just a sprinkling of hookbait samples. This is perhaps setting up more of a ‘bait and wait’ scenario.
But which one is better? The answer to that question is that each set-up has distinct advantages over the other, as well as shortfalls. To attempt to identify these strengths and weaknesses, we headed to Norfolk’s Barford Lakes complex to meet up with top matchman and former Fish O’Mania winner, Warren Martin.
New school ‘rules’
Angling, like many sports, is subject to trends, and margin fishing is no exception. The current trend for many anglers tackling the margins in search of carp is to pile in plenty of loose groundbait and then present a large single hookbait over the top, the idea being to give the fish a target to home in on.
The main advantage of this approach is that there is very little solid food to satisfy the feeding fish, just a huge cloud and carpet of smell, flavour and attraction. Your hookbait sits prominently in the centre of this loosefeed like a cherry on a cake.
Another plus-point is that you are able to feed very heavily, helping to attract the biggest carp in the lake with little fear of overdoing it.
“I love to feed heavily and really attack a swim, that’s why I’m a fan of using loose groundbait,” said Warren. “Sometimes I use as much as ten kilos or more in a session!”
The idea behind this tactic is for the large carpet of crumb to attract the carp, which slowly graze over it sucking up the groundbait, rather than charging around looking for solid food items. This leads to less foul hooking and better peg management.
The downside to the loose groundbait attack is that it only tends to work late in the day, when the fish are naturally looking to come into the margins to slurp up the unwanted bait and groundbait bowl contents thrown in by departing anglers.
In contrast, ‘old school’ margin fishing tactics dictate the use of particles, usually pellets and sweetcorn or cubed meat, fed on a little-and-often basis. The big advantage of using this approach is you are able to drip-feed the swim all day, fishing for one bite at a time, and so are unlikely to run the risk of pulling in too many fish at once, a scenario which leads to foul-hooking problems.
This approach enables you to fish the margins right through the entire day, rather than having to wait until later.
The only real danger with this tactic is that by feeding particles all day, there is the distinct possibility that you can overfeed the area and the amount being introduced must be strictly regulated.
“It sounds barmy, but with the groundbait approach I would think nothing of topping the swim up with one or two full 250ml cups, and yet with the particle approach I will only be feeding 30 to 40 small pellets and a dozen kernels of corn to kick the swim off, and then a third of that amount as a top-up,” said Warren.
“Even though it looks meagre in food value terms, the pellets and corn will be much more filling than even three or four cups of crumb. It’s something to be mindful of when you’re margin fishing.
“It’s all about gauging what you are catching and the speed that you are doing it, so you are able to manage your swim effectively.”
When it comes to choosing between the two tactics, Warren often likes to adopt both if the swim he is in enables him to split his attentions between both the left and right margin.
However, if he had just one margin that was fishable he would go for the loose crumb option first, feeding it in the last 60 to 90 minutes of his planned session.
A marginal call
Visit any decent commercial venue during a match and most anglers will be using long poles of around 16 metres. The fact is that many of them will inadvertently be ‘casting’ over the top of a lot of carp which may be cruising or feeding much closer in.
This is because the margins, especially on heavily-fished commercials is where the big fish can often be found. They have grown wise to the fact that over the years, this to be the place where a ready supply of ‘safe-to-eat’ food can be found.
This may take the form of natural offerings such as berries and bugs that fall off overhanging trees, aquatic life in and around the reedbeds or left-over bait heaved into the swim by departing pleasure and match anglers.
Add to this the fact that the margins also offer the fish a degree of safety and shelter, and it’s easy to see the appeal of these areas to the carp.
“It is well-documented that carp love to feed in and around features and there is no bigger feature on any lake from a tiny farm pond to an inland ‘sea’, than the margins,” said Warren.
“Fish, particularly big ones, love to come and feed very close in. It is a place for natural food as well as being an area where they feel safe, so they are often very easy to trip up.”
Three steps to success
There are three ‘golden rules’ to follow when targeting the margins. Fish as far away from your peg as possible (along the margin), present your bait over a flat-bottomed area and then fish as tight to the bank as possible.
The first rule speaks for itself, and regarding the second, Warren looks to find a flat bottom offering a depth of around 18 inches. This, in his mind, is the perfect depth, and when a large carp comes into the swim, it has to have its mouth close to the deck to prevent its back being out of the water. In deeper swims the fish can come in at half depth or go down, feed and rise up to half depth to swallow it. This all leads to the dreaded foul-hooking problems that you are trying to avoid.
If the margins in your swim are deeper, Warren will feed his groundbait in solid balls rather than loose crumb in a bid to keep foul-hooking to a minimum.
The third golden rule – fishing the rig as tight as you can to the marginal plant or reed growth – is arguably the most important, to the extent that Warren will even use garden shears to trim foliage to facilitate his aim.
“If you fish the rig out from the bank, even six inches, carp have room to get in behind the rig and you will be plagued with foul hooking.
“If I had to choose between fishing a spot that was shallower than the magical 18 inches but tight to the bank, or further out from the bank in exactly 18 inches, I would choose the former every time,” said Warren.
“It is surprising how shallow a depth you can catch fish in, but if you allow them to get around the back of your rig, you are inviting trouble.”
Tackling up for the job
The main consideration here is strength. As already mentioned, the margins are home to some of the lake’s biggest fish and to tackle them using undergunned kit is a recipe for disappointment. Of course, it’s easy to overdo it and go in too heavy, something that Warren also recommends avoiding.
“There are plenty of bespoke margin poles on the market that are designed for targeting big fish down the edge, but any decent strong pole will do, as will a rod and line. Poles just help you get better presentation,” said Warren.
As far as his terminal tackle is concerned, Warren starts off with a size 14 solid elastic, which is ample for a water like Barford where there are no underwater snags to worry about. His mainline is 4lb Maxima, a product he has a lot of faith in.
“I’ve used it for years. The 4lb version is only 0.15mm in diameter, plus I once tested it on a line puller and found that it consistently broke at over 9lb. If I were to use the equivalent breaking strain in a hi-tech mono, I would have to use a diameter of 0.20mm or 0.22mm.
“My hooklink section is made from a high-tech mono, however, simply for better presentation, and I’m using a size 14 hook, with the bait fished at dead depth.”
After accurately plumbing up his left-hand margin, which was to be the line fished over groundbait, Warren then left it alone without feeding, turning instead to his particle line.
Do not to feed too early and then leave a line alone for hours as you have no way of gauging what’s happening – fish-wise – in that area. This is why he plumbs, but doesn’t feed.
Cupping in 40 or so 4mm pellets and 12 kernels of sweetcorn, he lowered in his rig and awaited the first bite, which came from an 8oz roach a few minutes later.
Topping the line up with a pole pot of loosefeed every five minutes or after every fish, Warren spent the first couple of hours being plagued by small fish and large F1s, until his first ‘proper one’ appeared, a stunning common carp weighing around 7lb.
Continuing on this line for a further hour, Warren took another carp of a similar size, before switching his focus over to the groundbait line.
He kicked it off with four full loaded cups of loose crumb, then left it for 10 minutes to give the fine bed of bait time to attract the attentions of any passing fish.
The reaction was markedly different from that received on his particle line, with his very first drop-in resulting in a fine carp just into double-figures hoovering up his quadruple dead red maggot hookbait.
Two more big cups of loose groundbait were promptly cupped in, which quite quickly brought another two fish to the net.
After a short period of relative calm, the pole was almost dragged out of Warren’s hands as what was clearly the biggest fish of the session was hooked from the shallow spot right against the reeds.
After a powerful fight, a common carp of over 15lb eventually surfaced, beaten and ready for netting. It proved to be a fitting end to a fascinating session, during which Warren had provided a valuable insight into the merits of having two approaches when targeting big summer carp from the margins.
The final scores on the doors for the session showed that the particle approach had produced the greater quantity of fish, although in terms of size, the groundbait tactic had won hands down.
However, Warren was keen to point out that on another day, the reverse could apply.
“We could come back tomorrow and fish another peg and a drip-fed approach with pellets and corn might do the damage. That’s fishing for you and why it pays to have several strings to your bow,” he concluded.