Tom Stokes - Fishing in Weed
Fishing amongst the weed can be one of the most effective ways to catch carp, especially in the summer. It provides warmth, cover and an abundance of natural food and is therefore a magnet to carp. Tom Stokes is an expert at fishing in extreme weed and this is how he approaches it.
Fishing in and around weed is something that is part and parcel of the fishing on many lakes, especially so during the warmer months. There are many different types of weed you may come across, milfoil, Canadian, onion weed, silk weed, to name just a few. But if there is one thing it all has in common, it's that carp absolutely love it, especially if it's growing in any volume. Large weed beds give them cover, and they are full of muscles, snails, and invertebrates, offering the carp a larder of natural food. The carp can very often be found near to, or in amongst the lake’s weediest zones, and fishing in those areas can often be key to getting the best results.
The key to fishing in and amongst the weed is presenting your rig and bait effectively. A chod rig will present your hookbait much of the time, especially over light weed, but personally I prefer to actually try and find a clean spot as near to the weed as possible. By spot, I mean a clear enough area which I can then present my rig and bait on, in the hope that a carp will come along and find it on its way in or out of the weed. Sometimes, if the water is clear and shallow enough, you may be able to actually see the clear area's around the weed, climbing trees if it is safe to do so will make this easier, as will a pair of polarised sunglasses. But quite often it is too deep and coloured, or too far out in the lake to do this, so usually it is a case of using a leading rod to find a spot. In order to do this, I will use a bare lead on braided mainline, in most cases the Korda Spod braid combined with 15ft of Arma Kord acting as a shock leader. I like to use a lead of around 4 ounces, as I feel a heavier lead gives me a more positive reading as to what I'm landing on or dragging it over. Don't use a pronged lead to begin with, as every time this lands in the weed it will get snagged up amongst the stems and drag a load of the weed in with it, whereas a bare lead cast into the weed can often be 'plucked' out, so you can bounce a lead back towards you through the weed, giving you multiple chances to find a drop on each cast, rather than just the once. If the lead lands soft, then it has more than likely landed in or on the weed, whereas if you get a decent, clean drop, you know that lead has landed completely unhindered by the surrounding weed stems. What I am looking for ideally is a clean, firm 'donk', then gently pull the lead back towards you, and if it drags across the bottom smoothly and unhindered, then you know that area is relatively clean, and a spot has potentially been located. After clipping up at that range, further casts in and around that area will help to give you a better idea of the size and shape of the spot and just how clear it is. It is only at this point that I may use a pronged lead, as this will really help to show just how clean that spot is, as any weed or debris which may be covering the spot will catch in the prongs of the lead. If a pronged lead comes back clean, then you can be confident that the spot is clean enough to present a rig.
The mainline you use when fishing in and around weed needs to be up to the job. A hooked carp will try it's best to get in amongst it. As I mentioned before, the weed can be full of muscles and snails, therefore your mainline needs to be extremely strong and abrasion resistant, as the last thing you want is to get cut off. The strength is needed to stop them getting in the weed in the first place, or to help extract any carp which may have already found sanctuary amongst it. I prefer to use Sub Braid in 20lb where allowed, as this ticks all the boxes in terms of strength and abrasion resistance. Its lack of stretch, combined with a tight clutch helps to stop them getting in the weed in the first place, and the braid creates an almost cheese wire effect during the fight, cutting up through the weed, helping to keep you in direct contact with a hooked fish. In the most extreme scenarios, I will sometimes add a long Arma Kord leader for added security, something I was forced to do in the summer of 2021, whilst fishing a large pit in Cambridge. The snails were an absolute nightmare, causing cutoffs. As soon as I tied on an Arma Kord leader, I had no issues and proceeded to land two 40lb mirrors the very next day!
The rigs I use when fishing around weed are based on strength, much like the mainline, they need to be up to the job. Once a fish is hooked the first thing they are going to try and do is get in amongst the weed, as that is where they feel safest. Strong rigs and mainline are needed in order to try and stop them doing this in the first place, but if a big fish does get in amongst the weed during the fight, then it can often take lots of pressure to get them out. X, or even XX gauge hooks are a must, especially when using a braided mainline, as the hook is going to be taking a lot of pressure during the fight. Thinner wire gauge hooks can often open out under pressure and the fish will be lost. The two rigs I tend to favour when fishing near to or amongst the weed, are either a D-Rig tied with a size 4 Choddy or a spinner, tied with either a size 4 Kurv XX, or a size 2 Kurv in the standard gauge. Both are tied with XT Snag Leader in 50lb as the hooklink, as this is extremely strong and stiff enough not too tangle. The key elements of both rigs being that they're simple, strong, and efficient.
It is also best if you can eject the lead on the take when fishing near weed, as a hooked fish will usually rise in the water once the lead is gone, bringing it closer to the surface away from the worst of the weed. Also, if a fish does manage to get in amongst the weed, you haven't got the added worry of there being a large lead still attached, which can itself, often get snagged up in the weed, making it harder to get a weeded fish moving, and giving the fish an anchor point where they can shake their head and get rid of the hook. Losing the lead gives you a much higher chance of landing any fish hooked amongst the weed, and the easiest way to do this is by either using a Hybrid Lead Clip or Heli Safe. Personally, I tend to use a Heli Safe, as you not only guarantee presentation, they drop the lead instantly when a fish is hooked and suit the rigs I use perfectly.
Playing a fish amongst the weed can often be fraught with worry and problems. But a few simple steps can make life a lot less stressful and help avoid many of the common issues people tend to have. Firstly, I tend to fish with a very tight clutch, almost locked up infact. This ensures that a hooked fish can't dive deep into the weed on the take and will often cause them to rise up to the surface straight away, as there is nowhere else for them to go. Once the rod has been picked up, keep the tip high and apply steady pressure. I will often walk backwards slowly rather than trying to wind a fish in through the weed. If the fish does manage to get amongst the weed and it goes solid, then don't panic, again, just keep the tip high and keep applying steady pressure. After a few moments they will often kick themselves free, and that steady pressure will slowly get them moving again. The key is to keep them moving, as if you go easy on them for even just a second, that can often be enough to allow them to dive down and get their head in amongst the weed. If after a couple of minutes, they still happen to be stuck in the weed and don't seem to want to budge, then put the rod back on the rest and give them a bit of time, again I have found that more often than not a fish will eventually come out of the weed on its own accord. Occasionally though, they just don't want to budge, and in these situations a boat may be needed, but this is usually only in the very worst cases on the weediest of waters. In a normal situation, patience and a bit of steady pressure is all that is needed. Of course, if you have to go out on the boat, always ensure you are wearing a lifejacket and you have a friend there to aid you. Safety is paramount and no carp is worth risking a life for.
With a few adjustments to your set up and a little bit of thought, fishing amongst weed can be not only be enjoyable, but also hugely productive. Over the years, many of my biggest and best carp have been caught fishing near to or amongst the weed, and during the summer months, the weediest area of the lake is often the first place I will look. A perfect example being last summer over on Longreach lake on the St Ives complex. Longreach is an incredibly low stocked and difficult pit of around 40 acres in size, but in a couple of days fishing amongst muscle infested weedbeds on the end of a fresh southerly wind, I managed a total of five bites, including a brace amazing of forty pounders, which just so happened to be the biggest and best looking carp in the lake, a true red-letter trip.
If you're not fishing the weed, then you're missing out!