River fishing is no-nonsense carping in every sense, so it’s fitting that the Brian Clough Stand at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground is visible through the trees on this section of the Trent.
There’s no record ‘Old Big ‘ead’ having caught carp, but you can’t help feel the master of straight talking would have appreciated our endeavours. His trademark green jumper would probably fit right in with modern carp fashion, too.
River carping, especially here on the urban Trent, isn’t easy but it is carp fishing stripped of frippery. Getting in tune with the river is not an overnight process, but find the fish and you should catch. And that’s exactly what Ian Hirst, assisted by river guide Mitch Godfrey, did just before Carpfeed turned up.
Having got their rods out the night before, the pair – tucked away on a swim only accessible by boat – lost a couple of fish during the night but finally brought one to shore at about 9am.
The double-figure common was a typical river carp. Snub-nosed and lean, it’s a product of its environment and, although it’s unlikely to get much bigger, it’s a rewarding capture.
Unlike lake carp, there’s mystery and toughness about river carp – the attentions of anglers are nothing compared to winter floods, boat traffic, construction work and pollution.
“When I first started to fish rivers as a teenager this was the place I wanted to come,” said Ian, who hails from the North West, “I’ve always held a soft spot for the Trent.”
“I’ve fished here for years but when Mitch posted a photo on Facebook of one of the carp he’d had from the river and invited me to come down I jumped at the chance.
“Having someone like Mitch who knows the spots really helps.”
A Trent man through and through, Mitch lives on a houseboat and has a rigid-inflatable dinghy to search out carp – and likely looking swims – along the river.
His smaller boat is the only way in and out of this particular spot, and it’s beautifully isolated even amid the din of central Nottingham.
The pair had to hack down nettles and brambles to pitch their brollies, but the brick and metal in front of them (presumably once used as a mooring) provided a sturdy base for the rods and tackle.
Located on the inside of a gentle bend, the swim has slack water, depths down to 12ft and an inlet to its left – everything you could wish for in a river carp swim.
Having taken some photos and released the common, Ian recalled the bite. “I’m fishing just on the edge of the crease in about 12ft of water.
“It was just a one-toner and I didn’t get time to put my shoes on and I ran through the thorns to the rod.
“It’s an average fish for the Trent – there aren’t too many huge fish here but they’re all worthy fish. A 20-pounder is a big fish for the Trent, but the carp really do seem to be doing better at the moment – they’re thriving in here.
“A lot of fish have been washed in through the floods and I think most of the big fish have come from lakes.”
“There’s a few of us targeting carp on the river,” said Mitch, “most of us have been doing it a long time. A small boat is a big edge as there are lots of place you can only get to by water – it opens up whole new areas to you.
“You’re looking for secluded spots, especially on bends. It tends to be good around bridges, manmade structures, mooring areas and marinas.”
“There’s a lot of margin fishing and using short rods in tight holes,” added Ian, “There’s no need for 12ft rods on the river, especially if the swims are cramped.”
Unlike modern day-ticket lakes, rivers are full of other fish that could intercept your bait before the carp arrive – so Mitch and Ian’s baiting strategy reflects that.
“Avoid pellets or you will just get breamed out,” said Ian. Mitch added: “I’ve found spicy and fruity boilies have worked well for Trent carp, especially curried flavours.
“Hemp is also a great bait but you need to put a lot in to get through the smaller fish. A light-coloured pop-up over the top of it is a great presentation for river carp.
“Prebaiting can be good but it works best in deeper swims, rather than shallower ones. Pop-up rigs tend to work well, as do bigger baits to avoid the bream if there are nuisance fish around, but try to target areas where there aren’t nuisance fish around if you can.
“The fewer nuisance fish there are, the more likely it is that you will find carp.”
With so much water flowing through big rivers like the Trent, it’s tempting to want to bait heavily, but both anglers advocate a moderate approach.
“If you are doing a short session a couple of kilos of bait is plenty,” said Ian, “freezer baits are my preferred choice because there are no chemical traces, just natural food.
“You can fish with large or small baits, but it all depends on the situation. If you are using small baits you will get indications from bream and once that happens you can switch to bigger baits to avoid them.
“I like to cast out with a PVA stringer as it’s just something a little bit different. These are wild fish, they haven’t seen rigs and bait.”
Location is the main thing on the river, with obvious features the best starting points.
“The fish definitely do show themselves so use your general watercraft,” said Mitch, “if you see a spot that looks ‘carpy’ or some features that you think hold fish then give them a go.
“If the fish are there then you will probably catch them.
“To give yourself a fighting chance start by targeting the marinas, moored boats and manmade features. In winter, sewage outlets run warm and can be a great holding spot, and they’re also full of bloodworm.
“Unlike chub, I don’t think you really get resident carp on the river – they’re pretty nomadic. There are areas where they feed and areas where they don’t. I think you have batches of fish come in and then go.”
Ian added: “Time on the water is never wasted. It’s like any venue, it takes a while to learn what’s going on. If you fish in pairs it can help. You can learn the river twice as quickly.”
While some river anglers advocate simplifying rigs, Ian is of the opinion that you should stick with what you know and not ‘dumb down’ for the sake of it.
“Use your normal setup that you feel confident with, but perhaps up the strength of your lines and sizes of your hooks because the carp do fight totally differently to lake carp.”
“You can get away with longer hooklengths because the river straightens them out, but if you are fishing slack water it’s really just the same as lake fishing,” added Mitch, “Hook sharpness is key, so always check your points because the flowing water can wash the hooks against the bottom and blunt them.
“If you fish the outside of a bend it can be rocky and snaggy, and you’ll want to fish pop-ups. On the inside of bends it’s nearly always clear gravel and you are better off with bottom baits. Have a lead around first to avoid snags.”
Dusk and dawn tend to be the best bite times on the Trent, so our flying visit ended shortly after lunch.
It’s not often you clamber into a dinghy to be rowed back to your car when leaving a swim, but then again it’s not often you see two carp anglers targeting this varied waterway from a manmade outcrop.
Perhaps that’s why it’s so special to those who dare.
To book a guided river session with Mitch email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07886 599078