Carp advanced ledger rigs

by Lonnie King | July 1, 2003

man holding a carp on the shoreline

“I love carp fishing!” I felt like a kid who blurted out something he wasn’t supposed to say. Looking sheepishly at my partner, I paused momentarily, before the reel started to scream again. On its first sprint the fish had torn off enough line to retire most medium-sized spinning reels, but thanks to my oversized spool, I wasn’t concerned. The steady runs dulled gradually to a throbbing pulse, and eventually the big fish turned.

It was a good sign, but with more than 100 yards of weed clumps and zebra-mussel-coated boulders between us, it was still anyone’s game. As the carp angled towards me, my line lagged behind, slicing and sawing through one clump of vegetation to the next. Mats of floating greenery appeared on the water’s surface, adding yet another obstacle to the playing field. From a spectator’s vantage, the odds appeared to be in the fish’s favour, but I remained confident that the battle was nearing a turning point. On occasion, I lost all contact with the fish, likely too entangled in weeds to move. Each time I responded with steady, even pressure and waited for telltale headshakes to signal the fish was free again. It was a drawn-out affair, but with a bit of luck and a great deal of patience, I worked the fish closer to shore and finally guided it into my waiting net.

At 32 pounds, it was an impressive specimen. A shining example of a great fish that’s overlooked in many Ontario waters, it was also a testament to applying the right rigging solutions to difficult fishing conditions. Since starting to angle for carp, I’ve caught them on an array of artificial lures and natural baits. But, by far, the most consistent approach involves anchoring bait on bottom — a term referred to as ledgering.

Most commonly used is the free-sliding confidence rig. It allows a fish to move off without feeling resistance that might prompt it to prematurely eject the bait. It’s the rig of choice when carp are sluggish, such as in cold water, or are being picky. But, it places emphasis on the angler setting hook, often at the slightest movement of the line. The confidence rig is often fished with delicate bite indicators, such as electronic beepers and/or weighted clips that attach to the line.

The bolt rig, however, has revolutionized carp fishing. It capitalizes on the fish’s basic nature to dart away when it senses danger. A heavy weight is fixed on the line above the hook. When a fish “‘bolts” away, it sets the hook itself. This is an exciting rig to use, because most times there’s little warning before line starts peeling off the reel. As good as the basic bolt rig is, it’s not without rough edges, one of which is a tendency to tangle. This is no trivial concern, considering that serious carp anglers might leave baits in the water for hours without checking on them.

diagram of ledger rigs

One solution, devised by European anglers, is to put a short section of thin rubber tubing over the main line. When most hook-and-sinker rigs fly through the air, the heavier sinker leads the way, with the hook length flapping along behind and up against the main line. A limp leader and a thin main line have a high probability of becoming tangled. Rubber tubing reduces tangles by increasing the thickness and rigidity of the main line. Tangles can be further reduced by using semi-rigid hook lengths. These have a multi-strand core coated with plastic, which can be peeled back to expose a limp section near the hook. Unable to find any in Canada, I order mine from U.K. carp-tackle specialty outlets.

Anti-tangle tubing can also be combined with other gadgetry to further improve on the bolt rig’s effectiveness. A clip, teamed with a rubber sleeve, can be used to produce a semi-fixed safety rig. The clip holds an eyed weight, such as a standard bell sinker, and allows for easy sinker changes without the need for retying. The clip slides over and holds the barrel swivel, which connects the leader and main line. A rubber sleeve slides over the clip and holds the lead and rubber tubing in place. This set-up offers hook setting efficiencies of the bolt rig, while allowing the sinker-holding clip to pull away from the barrel swivel and slide up the line in extreme circumstances.

For instance, if a fixed bolt rig becomes snagged, a fish could escape by either breaking the leader or having the hook tear free. A worse scenario would be to have the main line break, leaving a fish tethered to a snag, to die. Simply crimping the eye of a bell sinker onto the rubber tubing is one way of achieving the desired effect, but the specialized clips and sleeves offer a more consistent solution.

A popular modification to either the bolt- or safety rig is to replace the lead weight with a method feeder or a swim feeder. A method feeder has a weighted rigid frame. It’s often intended to be fished in a sliding fashion, much like an egg sinker. A swim feeder is a weighted light wire cage or plastic cylinder riddled with holes. It’s attached to the line like a bell sinker.

Both of these feeders are meant to be packed with a mixture of food particles(trout pellets, hemp seed, maggots, and the like), often using bread crumbs as a base. Depending on how hard you pack the feeder, the food particles can either release on impact with the water or settle to the bottom with the bait. Both approaches can be effective. In either case, the feeder chums an area adjacent to your hook bait, offering considerably more fish attraction and holding power than a hook bait alone. It’s especially effective when fishing at long range, where other chumming methods are more difficult to use. When fishing with feeders, packing your hook bait inside the chum ball eliminates any chance of the hook tangling on the line during the cast.

With either type of feeder, you need a rod with backbone. A loaded method feeder can top 8 ounces. Rod length is also important, because it allows for longer casts and improves an angler’s ability to manoeuvre big carp to shore. A standard carp rod runs about 12 to 13 feet in length and costs between $100 and $300. If the number of fish hooked and landed is your measure of success, then they’re well worth the price.

The hair rig is another carp-centricity developed by Europeans. Rather than placing bait directly on the hook, it’s threaded onto a small tail of line. This allows carp to taste or otherwise inspect a bait without the risk of it detecting the hook. When the fish decides to inhale the bait, destined for powerful grinding teeth at the back of the throat, the hook follows behind. With the hook’s gap and point fully exposed, ejecting it is difficult for fish.

Specialized carp hooks can further increase your hooking percentage. They’re strong, sticky sharp, and have plain finishes, so as not to alarm carp. My favourite is the Kamasan B725. It has an extended shank, which is ideal for tying hair rigs, yet sports a proportionally smaller gap, to offer less resistance when a fish sucks it in. Use hooks sized appropriately for your bait. A string of corn kernels fits best on a No. 4 hook, while a stack of boilies calls for nothing less than a No. 1 or 2.

Hooking a big carp is one thing, but playing and landing it is an entirely separate discussion. The first reality about landing carp is they have a soft mouth, compared with many Ontario gamefish. A common mistake is to apply too much pressure when playing a fish, causing the hook to tear free. Big fish are even more susceptible to this, due to extended fighting times and long runs, which are often complicated with weed, wood, or boulder interference. This calls for light drags and high-capacity reels. While monofilament lines are the most popular choice, a growing number of carp anglers insist that braided superlines offer improved casting distance and superior abrasion resistance. To compensate for the superline’s low strech, anglers set the reel’s drag even more lightly than they do when using mono.

Most local waters are teeming with fish that have never been caught and released. It’s inevitable, however, that as interest in carp fishing grows, so too will the level of expertise required to catch them. These fish learn quickly to avoid what gets them into trouble. Rigging for carp is not complicated, but small details can have a dramatic effect on hooking and landing percentages.

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