A Man for All Seasons All things seem possible in May
There is something fresh and new about the world in May – the greens are just that little bit greener, the bird song is just that little bit more vibrant. Dave believes May is a great time to be on the bank when opportunities are rarely better for big fish
There is something fresh and new about the world in May – the greens are just that little bit greener, the bird song is just that little bit more vibrant. Dave believes May is a great time to be on the bank when opportunities ARE rarely Better For BIG fish
In the late 1800s there was an author named Henry Van Dyke and, although I haven’t read his entire works, he did once make a quote that I wholeheartedly agree with: ‘I’m only wishing to go a-fishing; for this the month of May was made.’ May is one of those ‘prime months’ when dreams can be realised, and huge fish can be landed by using a bit of guile and a lot of mobility. The winds in May can be very influential, as are the areas of shallow water and the way they face into the south and eastern skies. Unlike the water temperatures during April, the water in May will be considerably warmer, the fish will be packing on natural weight for spawning, and the warmth is something they seem to crave almost as much as food. Shallow island margins that face into the sun are excellent areas to find fish during the daytime and I have caught countless carp by fishing right up on the shelf in very shallow water. Gravel bars are also a magnet for carp and they often patrol the entire length of these features, using them like roadways around large pits.
Weed is not usually a important factor at this time of year, although it won’t be long in coming, and this means you can confidently fish a single hookbait just whizzed out there for a few hours during the day. When I was on St Ives a couple of years back, the fish used to patrol the eastern side of a long island on a daily basis, basking in the clear sun-drenched water and, occasionally, stopping to scoop up the odd offering. It wasn’t the ideal scenario for lots of bait, as the coots would drive you mad in the shallow water and the fish were not exactly up there to gorge themselves – if that happened it would be during the night or early morning, in slightly deeper water. For an extra bite, however, it was the perfect method.
The tops of bars act in the same way, catching the sunlight and warming the water above them. I love fishing on the bar tops in May and June and this is also an ideal opportunity to establish a few spots and get the fish to strip back the silt which will, in turn, hold back weed growth and create feeding areas that will last you all season.
Reedbed margins are also a main feature at this time of year and during the day the carp will happily go up in only a couple of foot of water to grab a few rays of sunshine, and I am convinced that reeds actually transfer warmth down the stems into the water below. This may only be a tiny amount but every little helps at this time of year when the fish are looking for pre-spawning comfort during the daytime.
Again, on St Ives, I remember one specific day when I was just making my way back to the motor at the end of a session and I stopped off for a quick look in the shallows. I climbed a ridiculously tall tree on the bottom bank, one that overlooked a large, east-facing, reedbed on the mouth of an out of bounds area and there, in no depth whatsoever, I spotted two fish. One was a common around low twenties but the other was a very big, long-bodied
mirror and both were just parading up and down the outer stems. I knew from previous wading exploits that the water was knee deep at most, but I still thought that it must be worth a try.
Rather than fish from the base of the tree, where a small swim gave you a chance but a terrible angle for playing and landing a fish, I opted for a plot on the opposite bank and an 80 yard cast up against the reeds. From here I was dead straight on and any pressure I exerted, should I hook one, would pull them away from the danger area of the reeds.
Even though I only had an hour or so of the session left, I actually managed to catch both of those carp before I left, by fishing a small yellow offering as a single bait, placed right on their patrol route. The first was a mid-20lb common and the second, the long grey mirror, was the second biggest fish in the lake and weighed 46lb.
Seeing an opportunity and grabbing it is what May fishing is all about, but you have to be prepared to reassess the situation regularly and move off if needed because that’s exactly what the carp will be doing. During my spring on the mighty Burghfield lake the carp were getting noticeably active during the first two weeks of the month of May, mainly right out in the middle of the lake where they would show like crazy every single morning. It was deep water out there, but the fish were definitely ganging up in the area. The nearest swim was, understandably, very popular at this time, despite not really doing many fish, if any.
I eventually managed to get in there at the beginning of the second week of March and I was rewarded on my first morning with a brace of thirties, the biggest was 35lb and showing signs of packing on a bit of timber for spawning. I knew that it would still be a few weeks away but the carp, as they do on a lot of pits, had started to group together in large numbers and this presents the perfect opportunity.
I had taken a week off to fish as there was a major lunar event occurring later that week, an alignment of the planets and a full daytime moon which, apparently, was a very good sign.
Having waited weeks to get into that particular swim, and then to have caught two carp straight away, it would have been tempting to just plot up for the whole week, but things can change very quickly in springtime. By early the next morning I was getting very twitchy indeed as no fish had shown at first light, I hadn’t had any more action and the air temperature had risen dramatically.
I decided to wind in for a walk, which I did for about four hours until I eventually found the fish only 100 yards or so from where I had been fishing. The big difference, however, was that the water where they were now cruising was only six feet deep rather than 16 feet deep where they had
been for weeks – and that is why they had moved.
I relocated all the kit and over the next three nights I added at least half a dozen more fish from the new area, including two over 40lb. This just reinforced my theory that exact location is key and just being in the right area of the lake is not always enough – you must be in the correct depth as well. Those fish stayed in that general area for the best part of two weeks and then, all at once, they disappeared en masse and turned up ready to spawn in a completely different part of the lake. On large gravel pits I have seen this time and time again where the ‘meeting areas’ are not the spawning areas and you can get a period of a few weeks when a huge head of fish are using one nice comfortable section of the lake, either just in the daytime or sometimes during the night as well.
On Sonning for example there was one particular bay that was lined with snags that, once again, faced into the east and it was here that the bigger fish travelled to, at dawn, every single morning throughout the first weeks of May. They would just laze about all day and then disappear as the sun set into the western skies every evening. The opportunities for action came by placing baits on the transit routes, in and out of the bay, which were, obviously, the tops of the bars and I had a few nice fish by doing just this. Every day the fish grew a little bigger and every day they would just lay in the sun once they had arrived. On the final morning of this behaviour they were looking huge and the next sunrise brought nothing, not even a sign of a carp but, so it transpired, they had moved out into the main body of the lake and fed like mad before picking a totally new spot the next day and spawning like crazy.
Some years, depending on the weather, it might be June before this happens, even later if the weather is bad, but the ganging up is a regular occurrence in late May and the further from spawning the better really as you get longer to capitalise on the situation. You are not fishing for spawning carp here, you are not even bothering them at rest really, you are taking advantage of elevated feeding activity in the mornings and a greater density of fish in one area – as the other stuff will happen elsewhere and only when they are ready for it.
Carp in May-time are capable of eating a fair quantity of bait as well but, like I have already said, only in the right areas where they go to feed rather than the shallower cruising or sunbathing areas in the heat of the day. The early mornings can be a bonanza of feeding and some bumper catches are on the cards if you hit everything just right.
As with April, you will also still have some major hatches going on in May and these are definitely worth keeping an eye on by observing the behaviour of swifts, swallows, house martins and even gulls, who will all give the game away as they smash into any free bounty of food as it leaves the surface of the lake and you can bet that the carp will be there beneath them doing exactly the same.
Because my primary love in carp angling is fishing large waters and one of the best times of the year on a big pit is during May, most of my knowledge and experience is based on those types of venues, and carp might act differently on smaller lakes where angling pressure is a huge factor and sanctuary is hard to find. However, during May the fish will still want to be together a lot of the time but often there is a period of time when the larger, female fish, will be apart from the bulk of smaller males, as the females often spend
more time just absorbing the sunlight in sheltered areas.
I have noticed on places like Sonning, Brogborough, Burghfield and other huge pits that the males will be very active and zipping about on any breath of a new wind, behaving exactly as you would expect carp to do, but this is not always indicative of where the big girls are – and this is also worth keeping an eye on, if you can. At Sonning the males spent a lot of pre-spawning time on the shallows, moving in packs, whereas the females were about half a mile away at the other end in the snags. Yes, the males might have been easier to catch in that scenario but it’s the big ’uns you really want to catch so, quite often, I would ignore obvious signs of carp to try and target the correct group.
Just watching ‘The Eye’ and her mates lazing under the branches all day was so exciting that, often, anything I did catch was just a bonus really.
On Mary’s pit a few weeks before spawning commenced I remember one day when I was returning the boat to the boathouse, having needed it to land a mid-20 that got stuck in the weed. I was making a direct line across the lake to the compound when I literally ran over the six biggest fish in the lake, all laying out in the open, shallower water, side by side like sardines. They just moved slowly aside to let me pass and then regrouped again. With just one look I could pretty much tell that the chances of catching one in this area were remote and this turned out to be exactly the case – but I still had to try, didn’t I?
Aside from the actual fishing during May, the natural world around you is such an awesome place to inhabit and the banks of a big wild lake are like a paradise at times. Everything is going in the right direction and every single day can seem more glorious than the one that it follows.
This just reinforced my theory that exact location is key and just being in the right area of the lake is not always enough – you must be in the correct depth as well
I usually have my first night spent sleeping under the stars about now, a fantastic way to sleep and, although you get very little actual rest, it is such a great feeling to be part of it all. It can be a bit tricky if, like me, you take a dog along with you, though, as they also think it’s a great idea and spend most of the night rattling around in the undergrowth or chasing rabbits up and down the banks as they don’t have the confines of a bivvy to hold them back.
A few times I have woken to find Padwar exactly where I left him, asleep in his bed, but mysteriously covered in mud and soaking wet!
So, as good old Henry once said, the month of May was made for going fishing in, so what are you waiting for?
Aside from the actual fishing during May, the natural world around you is such an awesome place to inhabit and the banks of a big wild lake are like a paradise at times
BELOW Sonning, from the top of the bars TOP RIGHT A big St Ives 40 from two feet of water MIDDLE RIGHT Out in the middle at dawn BOTTOM RIGHT Mid May and a major lunar event
LEFT From a warm island margin
LEFT Returning a large Burghfield mirror TOP RIGHT The Sonning Eye, on the right, just soaking up the sun BOTTOM RIGHT A May-time 40 after a short move
ABOVE A pretty May morning BOTTOM LEFT First night under the stars BOTTOM RIGHT Knackered after a nightime excursion