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Off The Top

September 22 2011

Of all the types of fishing I have sampled, taking fish off the surface has to be my favourite.
I must have been about 15 when I caught my first carp on a crust. I had spent many fruitless hours lobbing crusts (boilies did not exist) at the carp that cruised around the middle of my local lake.
These fish invariably appeared in the summer months during the heat of the early afternoon, materialising ghostlike from the depths to hang just below the surface. Of course these fish were not feeding and had no intention of taking any sort of bait, but the temptation to chuck a crust was just too much. I had no knowledge of bubble floats and the like so the crust would be dunked to add a bit of casting weight.

This had to be quite precise as too much water would soften the bread and cause the crust to fly off the hook when casting, frequently vertically. Amusing when you are 14 and it descends from 30ft up to land on your mate in the next swim!
Through observation (so often the key) I became aware that the carp spent a lot of time underneath a particular patch of bushes that overhung the lake by 3 or 4 feet. You could not get to these fish from either side of the bushes so the cast had to be from the opposite bank. By drifting 'freebies' in on the wind I could get these fish to feed. I also noticed that there appeared to be an invisible line that the fish would not cross.
Getting a baited crust inside this line involved the wind being just the right strength and direction and the cast being perfect first time to allow the bait into the 'taking area' before too much slack developed in the line.

Eventually I managed and finally got my first carp off the top.
Over the following years I got better at it and realised distance casting was, more often than not, pointless. Particularly at first light the carp could be caught right against the bank and I frequently tempted them by standing well back, dropping the crust in and crawling forward to peer over the edge. This was really exciting stuff as you could see the fish so clearly. Sometimes it would nose the crust five or six times before taking it, on other occasions it would appear from nowhere and take in one movement, disappearing instantly with the bait. Of course on many occasions it would mouth the bait once and never return.
I also learnt the trick was to find a feeding fish. Only experience will teach you this but a 'feeder' will behave differently. Moving a little quicker and more deliberately, seeming more alert and switched on. You can also find fish (I'm talking small west country stillwaters here) by dropping crusts around the margins of a lake in likely spots and waiting for a fish to come on the feed.One that's really going for it will happily take half a dozen freebies before you drop in a baited hook. That's as close as you will get to a guaranteed fish.
It's not just carp either. Dry fly fishing for trout is also awesome fishing, requires considerably more skill though.Of course there are many other variations; plugs for pike, poppers for bass, muddlers and the like for fry feeding rainbows, and more.

Graham Sleeman editor of Get Hooked.

This article was inspired by the picture below (I had hair!) from an old photo album and,some 32 years later, I get exactly the same feelings of heart fluttering anticipation when that nose and those barbuled lips nudge a baited hook just a few feet away from my own nose.
That's fishing and that's why I love it!