Margin Fishing with Elliott Gray

Margin fishing is, without doubt, my favourite way of catching carp. There’s something about the whole experience of fishing in the edge that really excites and captivates me. I find the whole approach and tactical mindset that goes into stalking carp extremely rewarding. To me, there’s no more exciting method in angling than finding fish, getting them feeding and then getting a rig in position as you watch them take your hookbait.

Margin fishing is a totally different skill and you have to bring a whole new dimension to your angling. You have to continuously assess the situation and act with caution as one wrong move can ruin an entire spot. Stalking is an artform and once you’ve mastered this technique, your catch rate will no doubt improve.

When it comes to fishing in the edge, my first port of call is always location. Looking for the carp is of real importance and finding areas they feed in is key: areas of coloured water, ripped up weed, bubblers and tail patterns are all classic signs of carp feeding in the edge.

The average angler will often turn up and jump straight into one of the ‘main’ swims and cast in the same open water zones as everyone else when, in reality, the population of carp could be holding sanctuary in a neglected marginal snag. These are the spots that are prime for this approach; lesser fancied swims and areas that are hard to fish that simply get ignored, are quite often, the best areas to bait.

Baiting a variety of areas around the pond gives me plenty of options to choose from. I like to have half a dozen or more baited patches around the lake which I’ll keep a regular eye on, establishing which spots are being fed on and when. The longer you can prime the spots and keep them under wraps, the better, gaining the carp’s trust and confidence. Just a handful of bait on your way to or from work can be a real edge and will put you one step ahead of others.

Depth of water is something I pay close attention to when choosing spots in the edge. For example, if I find the carp holding in the upper layers of a margin with depths of 10 feet or more beneath them, I’ll often ignore this particular spot, but bait an area close by in which I think they’ll patrol through. I’ll preferably only bait marginal areas where I can see the bottom or at least feel the carp will feed. Often a spot 20 or so yards away from where they sunbath can be a great place to get the bites. Locating the carps’ patrol routes is a game changer and, if you can find an area they regularly pass through, you’re onto a winner.

I try to target lesser fished spots around the lake, focusing on swims or areas that others ignore. For example, a large fallen tree would be a really obvious feature that all anglers would probably fish to, but a spot 20 yards along the margin may rarely get fished and these are the spots I’ll look to concentrate my efforts on. You want areas that receive frequent carp traffic yet little angling pressure. These spots are real gems and you can reap the rewards once you find them. Once you’ve found the spots you wish to bait, you then need to plan your approach.

With regards to baiting, I bait as often as I can – when fishing in the edge, less is more, so I keep the quantity to a minimum, often giving them just a handful or two per spot. Of course, this completely depends on the venue and time of year. When there are silver fish, tench or bream present, I’ll bait primarily with larger food items, such as tiger nuts or boilie but, in an ideal scenario, I like to give them a real variety of bait. Hemp, sweetcorn, tiger nuts, pellet and boilie (chopped and whole) are my favourites, using liquids and powders to make my bait really stand out. I bait as discreetly as possible, so as not to draw the attention of the wildlife or other anglers, who could profit from your hard work.

Certain areas may need a bit of extra work to get them primed, so you may need to clear weed, remove fallen branches or cut away debris. I try to keep this to a minimum and leave the spots as natural as possible. If a spot is particularly bad, then I may give it a quick rake, but I’d much rather let the fish do the cleaning for me, so if a spot is particularly weedy, a nice carpet of hemp will get the silvers to clean it off nicely. Once I’ve baited the spot, I’ll check it regularly, establishing exactly what time the fish are feeding on it. Certain spots will only get fed on at first light for example, so planning your sessions around this can work massively in your favour. You may literally need a couple of hours in the morning, so your time may be better spent with an hour or two before work as opposed to wasting a whole weekend. Paying close attention to your spots and the carps’ behaviour will put you one step ahead and save you a lot of time. Once I’m happy the carp are frequently visiting the spot and feeding on it, it’s game on!

I’ll ensure the spot is clean before positioning the rig, so patience is key. You can easily rush and ruin a spot before it’s ready. Priming it over time and gaining the carps’ trust and confidence will certainly lead to more fish in the long run so be cautious not to get greedy and over fish it. Sometimes, waiting a week or two can result in big hits as opposed to one or two fish, so timing and patience is really important.

When it comes to getting a rig in position, I always favour positioning my rig with a bait spoon. Not only is it more accurate, it goes in with a lot less disturbance than casting and you can position your rig in some totally unfishable looking places. The baiting pole has been a big part of my angling for as long as I can remember and when I think back through the years, I owe a lot of my captures to the bait spoon. Getting a rig into areas that others can’t is a huge edge and will, without doubt, get you more bites. It’s important to note, fish safety should always be considered, and I’d never place a rig unless I felt I could safely land the fish.

I use a homemade baiting pole with unlimited extensions, which allows me to fish in uncharted water, giving me a real edge. It’s one of my prized possessions and has caught me a lot of carp that I simply would not have caught without it. The baiting pole can be a tricky piece of kit to operate and takes practice to master, but over time and with experience, it can be a deadly tool in your armoury and it’s a bit of kit all carp anglers should own.

Personally, I would never use a bait boat but, in my opinion, the bait pole takes a form of technical skill to use and I have no qualms in using it. When using the pole, I try to keep it as short as possible as it just makes it that bit easier to handle. When you start adding sections and getting lengths of 50 foot or more, it can be really difficult to manage. To get around this, I try to wade as close to the spot as possible, sometimes casting to the far side and walking around with the waders and the bait pole, allowing me to drop the rig much easier and more accurately.

When I use the bait spoon, I have a little trick that helps keep my rig sit nice and neat, helping prevent tangles when being shipped out. I form a ‘V’ shape out of a piece of 25lb Mouthtrap and stick it to the end of the bait spoon with a blob of putty. This acts as a holder for my hookbait, so I will place the lead in the spoon and the rig will keep straight with the hair trapped between the Mouthtrap section at the end of the bait spoon. This ensures my hooklink cannot tangle.

When I’m happy the spoon is over the spot, I always feel the lead down. To do this, I position the rod behind me, and hold the line at the rod tip with one hand. I ensure the line is fairly tight, before tilting the spoon and lowering the rig on the spot. I feel for a ‘crack-down’ to ensure I am on firm bottom; sometimes this may take several attempts, but it’s best getting it right, so you can sit back with absolute confidence that your rig is presented. I’d rather take four or five attempts at the start to make sure it is bang on.

Unlike most people, I never put loose feed in the spoon and only ship out the rig by itself. This is in case I accidently tip the spoon or if I’m not happy with the drop, I won’t have deposited any bait unnecessarily. Instead, what I do is use a PVA foam nugget around the hook, which not only protects the hook point and prevents tangles but also acts as a visual marker. Once I’ve dropped the rig and sunk the line, I’ll use the PVA foam as a marker and bait around this. When fishing in the edge, you can often see your rig so can position your loose feed exactly where you want it. Don’t fall into the trap of baiting with too much once the rig is out - just a handful of free offerings is all you need for a quick bite.

When using the bait spoon, you’re often shipping your rigs under low lying branches so it’s important your line stays low and out of harm’s way. To do this, I fish a long leadcore leader with a small back lead, keeping the last few meters of line under the surface.

Once the rig is dropped and I’ve felt the lead down, I’ll carefully sink the line by hand, ensuring it’s pinned tight to the bottom and out of sight. Sometimes, I’ll use an additional back lead to ensure it’s hugging the bottom. You can never be too careful when fishing in the edge so the more discrete you can be, the better.

Alternatively, the washing line approach can be a great way of fishing in the edge and it’s my preferred way to fish if I can. It’s a timeless classic that’s caught loads of carp through the years and it’s a tactic all anglers should have in their locker. With the use of a spare bank stick and a hair band, you can fish your line bow string tight and above the water’s surface to the far margin, with your rig carefully lowered in the edge on a slack line. The hair band holds the line in place, so when a carp takes your bait, it pulls the line out of the band, giving you an instant drop back - which is extremely exciting.

Once the rig is in position and the trap is set, it’s time to sit back and relax. The last thing you want to do is continually check the spot and risk spooking a feeding carp so you’re best trying to take your mind off it; stick the kettle on, check your phone, just try to stay patient and the bite will come. That being said, there’ll come a time when you need to check the spot and I always check the spot before reeling in - the last thing you want to do is reel a rig away from a feeding fish so be patient and approach with caution.

Fishing in the edge is all about keeping a mobile approach, travelling light and being really in touch with the carp and their feeding patterns. When stalking, there are a few pieces of kit I never leave home without, one of which is my 6ft stalking rod. It gets me into little nooks and crannies around the pond and through the years it’s been a right little helper, catching me several good fish from right under my toes. Quite often I’ll get the bite and wade under the shrubbery and land the fish in the pond - something that would be almost impossible with the 12 footers. Not only are they great fun to play fish on, they are easy to transport so I’d seriously recommend getting one if you want to add more margin work into your angling.

It goes without saying that you need to see the water clearly, yet it still amazes me how many anglers I see without polaroid glasses. These things will catch you more carp - it’s that simple. They can often be the difference between finding fish and not so always carry them with you. I favour the Korda Wraps glasses, which are in fact the cheapest in their range, at only £14.99. I prefer the Amber lenses as they help emphasise the light levels, which is ideal when under shady trees and marginal snags.

Something else I’ve added to my stalking kit in recent years is a ghillie suit, which can be picked up fairly cheaply online. They are so effective at helping you blend into the environment making you almost invisible. Although some may say it’s a little over the top, if a ghillie suit helps to avoid being seen, then it’s something I’m prepared to do. The mesh suits are definitely the best as they keep you cool and also, in my opinion, offer better camouflage. I favour the suits with a large drawstring hood which I tighten down around my face, showing as little flesh as possible. I believe the carp have a much better eye sight than we give them credit for. Much like we do when we feel we are being watched, I think from experience, the carp also have this sixth sense so the quieter and more discreet you can be, the better.

You can really get your mind working when it comes to margin fishing. No two spots are the same and each area will require a different approach. Thinking how to outwit our quarry really excites me as I feel it brings out the hunting instinct that’s within all of us. Trial and error, tweaking your tactics, learning from your mistakes and putting in the effort all account for good angling. Getting down the lake on a regular basis and going that extra mile will lead to more fish. For me, priming a spot over time, watching the fish feed and getting a rig in position is as exciting as it gets and, when you finally get that fish, the feeling of reward and achievement is the ultimate buzz.