There are often situations that arise whilst carp fishing when we have to decide whether to use a pop up or a bottom bait. As with most methods there are many different theories on both the success and downside to using either or method. I know of carp anglers who use pop ups all of the time and catch a lot of fish using them, as with a lot of fishing, confidence is key and if you’re getting bites on a regular basis using a pop up and are confident using them why change? The same can be said of bottom baits and I don’t believe there are any set rules as to what you should use, most of the time it is down to personal preference given the situation the angler may find themselves in. Personally I use both methods and which one I choose will usually depend on the type of bottom I find myself fishing over or which one I feel will give me the edge in any given situation.
There are the obvious times when an angler may prefer one method over the other such as when fishing in weed or over debris when the bait can get lost or the hook point can become masked. By using a pop up your hookbait can be presented above the weed and when fishing over debris the hook point is also “off” the bottom avoiding it getting masked. I believe another advantage when using a pop up is the angle at which the hook sits (point down). Due to this the hook sits in a perfect position in relation to the position of the carps mouth as it takes the bait resulting in a very effective pricking of the carps mouth followed by usually a very good hook hold. Another theory when using pop ups is that bigger fish (due to their shape and size) approach a bait in such a manner that a pop up is easier for them to pick up. A late friend of mine and fellow angler Malc Grice used to catch many big fish on pop ups which also backs up this theory.
There are often times on my syndicate water when the fish are feeding on top of the gravel bars. Over the course of the summer silkweed forms on the bars and although there are often clear spots where the fish have been feeding they can be few and far between. By fishing a pop up on these spots you can get the bait sitting just above the weed in a position where the fish can find it a lot easier. I have cast onto these spots using a bottom bait and the weed instantly masks the bait. Another method that has proven effective in this situation is to fish a critically balanced bait in conjunction with a small pva bag of pellets. I also put one or two squashed down pieces of Gardner Rigwise Dissolving Foam nuggets inside the bag so that when I cast out the pva bag sinks slowly once the lead has landed and settles on the weed. As the pva melts, the balanced bait is left sitting on the weed alongside a few pellets that offer some extra attraction.
I like to keep my rigs as simple as possible and the way I like to tie my pop up/critically balanced rigs is by using either a coated braid with the coating stripped back making the last section of my hooklink supple or an uncoated braid. My two favourite hooklink materials for doing this are Gardner Tackle’s Chod Skin and Trickster Heavy Camo; this is an uncoated braid available in brown, green and silt. After stripping back the coating (unless I am using uncoated braid) I put a loop on the end and add the bait of my choice and then tie on a size 6 Covert Incizor hook knotless knot style. How far I strip back the coating is determined by how far I want the bait to pop up. I then add a shot at the position where the hooklink is stripped back to and cover this with enough Gardner Critical Mass Putty to hold the hooklink in the correct position as to not allow the pop up to lift it.
When I’m fishing a critically balanced hookbait I prefer to use an uncoated braid tying the rig in the same manner as above but without the lead on the hooklink. To get the bait critically balanced, I will either trim down the pop up until the weight of the hook is just enough to balance the hookbait or add a lead shot onto the hair just below the pop up so the bait hovers just off the bottom. This can be a devastating method giving the hookbait a very natural look as it moves when a fish enters the swim. I have caught lots of carp by fishing either a trimmed down yellow pop up or some imitation sweetcorn critically balanced over a good bed of hemp, sweetcorn, chickpeas and chopped boilie’s. For some added attraction I add some Mistral Baits 4season liquid food, which is primarily hemp oil based. I believe the fish in my syndicate lake respond to leads/spods constantly hitting the water in a negative manner so I use my bait boat to take out my hookbait and around 2 kilos of my chosen mix. This is a good way of getting my hookbait and loose feed on the money with minimum disturbance.
Another method I often use is a chod rig, for me there are two very important parts of a choddy and something that is an important factor as to whether the rig works properly or not is the use of an extremely buoyant pop up and a quality sinking leadcore leader. Not all anglers are big fans of leadcore but I feel if used correctly and more importantly safely it is a great part of a carpers armoury. Bait wise, I find that Mistral Baits range of pop ups are extremely buoyant and they remain so for a good twenty four hours which is important when fishing long sessions. I always carry a selection of colours both in the summer and in the winter. I do this in the summer so that I have a range of colours to choose from and if at any given time during a session the fish appear to be cruising off bottom I will switch to a zig rig if I feel the change may be to my advantage. In winter it is more of a visual attraction I am looking for, during the colder months I will usually fish a brightly coloured pop up on a roving rod in the hope that I may cast near to a fish and get a fairly instant take. I will usually cast this rod to different spots on a regular basis, every hour or so.
Most of the time if it’s possible I prefer to fish a single 20mm bottom bait, once again my rigs when doing this are very simple consisting of a Subterfuge Super Soft Fluorocarbon hooklink tied knotless knot style to a size 4 Gardner Covert Mugga Hook. I have caught a lot of fish from my syndicate water over the last couple of years on this simple but effective rig.
Over the years I have used both pop ups and bottom baits over big beds of bait. On a lake I fished a few years ago bream were a problem when fishing beds of particle/pellets but I found that if I fished a pop up just off the baited area I had a better chance of a pick up from a carp.
If I’m fishing over a large bed of bait, be it either boilies, pellets or particles and there are no nuisance fish such as bream present I usually opt for a bottom bait as I feel that when the carp have really got their heads down in a feeding frenzy and are grubbing around on the bottom. They lift their heads a lot less and are more likely to suck in a bottom bait as opposed to a pop up. The same applies if I am fishing using a small pva bag of free offerings. My favoured method is a single bottom bait fished in conjunction with a small pva bag of either broken boilies or pellets. In this situation the effect I am looking for is for the carp to take the loose offerings and the hookbait almost in one mouthful giving the carp less time to decide which of the baits is safe. Carp fishing is often about staying one step ahead of the fish and trying different methods to fool our elusive quarry, this is one of the factors that keeps me fishing and always keeps me coming back for more regardless of the conditions or other factors that may be against me at any given time.
Another time when I prefer to fish a bottom bait is when I am fishing the margins, carp definitely approach baits in a more cautious manner when they are presented in the margins. This is due to the higher light levels in the margins which make visibility for the fish a lot better making it easier for them to spot anything unusual. The other obvious factor is that the carp can hear more sounds coming from the bank the nearer they are to it. My method when fishing the margins if possible is small pockets of bait close together with my hookbait somewhere amongst them keeping the fishes movements between mouthfuls to a minimum. I like to keep everything pinned down when margin fishing and will always use a back lead if possible. When you are fishing the margins always sit well back and keep noise to an absolute minimum by doing this you will have a better chance of getting one close in. Margin fishing for me is one of the most exciting aspects of our sport especially if you can see the fish feeding.
Finally never rule out fishing a pop up and a bottom bait together this method known, as a snowman rig can be a brilliant way to catch carp. You can tie a snowman rig in the same way as you would tie your normal rigs but instead of your usual hookbait choice put both a bottom bait and a pop up on the hair. By putting the bottom bait on first (nearest to the hook shank) followed by a pop up you will get a critically balanced bottom bait that sits on the bottom literally like a snowman (hence the name). I have used this method in France and have caught a lot of fish on it using a 20mm bottom bait in conjunction with a 15mm pop up and the presentation is brilliant especially for big carp. You can also tip a bottom bait with a piece of artificial corn or a piece of trimmed down foam or a small bright pop up, which will add a bit of visual attraction to your hookbait.
Whether you decide to fish a pop up or a bottom bait the most important thing is to enjoy your fishing and make the most of the warmer months ahead
Tight Lines, Rich “Fatbloke” Adams