7 June, 2023 |3 Comments
Adam Whittington: Tippings Lane Fishery Gold
Dynamite carp angler Adam Whittington talks us through his spring’s fishing at one of Berkshire’s finest venues – Tippings Lane Fishery, and how salt has played a huge role in his fishing…
Salt of the Earth
It’s been a couple of decades since I started using salt in some form or another in my bait application, whether it be adding a little rock salt to a PVA bag or putting a whole, kilo plus block designed as a supplement for livestock, into the swim.
I’ve drifted between times of absolute certainty that it’s a game changer to having major doubts it’s having any effect at all. Carping is such an un-exact science, with many variables out of our control, that firm conclusions are almost impossible to make – however, after all these years, I am happy that certain patterns keep repeating, so I’ll share my own observations and would like to hear of what others have seen.
Firstly, to cast my mind back to my Sparsholt College days in the late 80’s, this is a summary of the science involved (I’m amazed anything was retained during those years of chasing girls from the Farm Secretaries course, swimming in Newcastle Brown Ale and brawling on the streets of Winchester!
None of which I’d recommend to young angers today. See how fluffy I was there?)
Most freshwater fish and saltwater fish maintain a salt concentration in their blood of approximately 10 parts per thousand (ppt) or 10 grams of dissolved salt per liter of water. Since freshwater fish swim in water with approximately 0.5 ppt, the chloride cells in their gills are designed to pump sodium, calcium, and chloride into the fish. On the other hand, since saltwater fish swim in water with approximately 35 ppt, the chloride cells in their gills are designed to pump salt the out of the fish. This process of controlling water flow across the body is called osmoregulation.
In summary – carp actively take on salt and it stands to reason that when they are growing eggs they need to take on even more.
A good friend of mine has a stock pond where carp are grown on. As an experiment, he dropped a whole mineral lick/salt block into the pond one spring afternoon and sat back to watch. The carp in the pond responded in emphatic style and spent the next couple of days giving a really strong response to the block to the extent that, even when the block had dissolved completely, the carp continued to excavate the area and left a good sized crater as a result.
Most animals seek out salt occasionally, from a horse licking the mineral blocks supplied, to insects tasting the sweat off your skin. So I’m happy in my own mind salt can be an attractor. It took a little longer to conclude when, and how to use it. I have used salt all year round in the past, but these days I will include salt from early Spring through to spawning time in late May/early June.
I am increasingly convinced that salt addition gets increasingly effective as spawning draws closer and will up the quantity used accordingly. In the few weeks immediately prior to spawning, I generally use double the weight of salt to weight of actual bait. Fish eggs are naturally salty and I’m convinced the carp become laser focussed on the sodium content at this time.
25 kg sacks of large-chunk Himalayan rock salt are less than 30 quid and the big chunks will take a day or more to dissolve, depending on water temperature.
I avoid heavy baiting in the spring and generally go for a handful of crumbed CompleX-T, small pellet and lots of liquids to boost attraction from a small amount of bait. I would happily fish this over two kilos of the salt blocks though, and think it would be hard to overdo the amount used. I’ve seen talk on various forums where people express concern over the salt affecting the lake negatively but think you would need lorry loads to have any discernible difference to a body of water and, even then, I’m not sure the effect would be a negative one.
Enough science and speculation, let’s take this salt fishing and revisit a recent jaunt down to a Berkshire gravel pit. The lake itself is something close to carp fishing paradise, with shallow, tap clear water, more than twenty islands and a stock of incredible fish. They are not always easy, having so much sanctuary within the maze of islands, but there are some incredible prizes when they do come along.
I chose to fish an area of relatively open water, where depths reached up to five foot, with most areas well within wading depth, allowing me to place baits by hand in amongst the vast weedbeds which appeared almost fluorescent green with their new springtime lustre.
An hour or so with the Krusha and some Shrimp Extract infused CompleX-T had provided me with a bucket of crumb and an aroma reminiscent of an August scrotum after two days in the chest waders. Solid bags of the crumb was my attack, with Frenzied Naked Tigers as hookbaits on two clear gravel spots and a CompleX-T Food-Bait pop-up as a third option over an area of low lying silkweed.
A kilo of the pink Himalayan rock salt in roughly tennis ball sized chunks completed each trap.
Once done, it was time to sit back with my old and dear mate Deano and chat about life, loves and even the occasional mention of fishing. The weather was not our friend that first evening, and Deano sat on a bucket in the pouring rain, sipping rum whilst I had the relative luxury of canvas over my head.
Thunder loomed behind us, hailstones peppered the lake and a brisk north westerly wind picked up, eventually sending the hardy Deano back to his swim. The rain just got harder, causing a deafening drumming on the taught material of the Tempest.
Thankfully, the morning dawned with clearer skies and the kit started to dry out. I was just noticing how my reels appeared to have been pebble-dashed by the mud kicked up during the previous day’s monsoon when the left hand tip pulled down sharply and the clutch started ticking.
I use inline leads fished drop-off style on this lake, due to the savage weed, and a large swirl on the surface 60 yards out told me the lead had done its job as the fish rose high in the water. A few minutes later a broad back, conker-brown in colour, popped up in front of me and a lovely old carp was mine.
Over 32lb, dark on the top with a creamy belly made this a brilliant start and Deano did me proud as always with the pics.
This carp was so deeply hooked I needed to unhook it with forceps, and this is a pattern I’ve noticed when the “salt fishing” is at its pre-spawning peak. It’s as if there’s an abandon shown by the fish caused by the mixture of hormones and a need for the salt.
Lunchtime saw a huge bow wave erupt from my middle rod spot in four foot of water followed by a blistering run. This fish did everything it could to avoid the net and eventually stuck fast in an unseen snag near the centre of the lake.
I ended up wading out 60 yards along a bar, which took a zig zag route towards a set of dot islands, just to try a different angle. This tactic worked a treat and I felt the line ping free.
Sitting in the snag seemed to have taken much of the fight from this fish and a very substantial, grey mirror rolled into my net. Bigger still this time at over 35lb, the forceps were once again called into action. A distinctive, long healed black scar on its flank told me this was an old character called the “Welly Fish”.
I was watching the broad back of this fish swim off and about to take up Deano’s offer of a celebratory beer, when my left hand rod pulled round again. This was getting a bit silly, on a lake which can seem overly protective of its residents at times.
This fish was heavy from the start, no spectacular runs or dramatics, just plodding. The sun had briefly won the battle against the looming rainclouds and I started to get some incredible views of what was clearly a good fish.
Another dark Mirror, with huge plated scales that lifted and showed flashes of whiteness underneath them, each time it twisted its body towards the numerous weed beds that still lay between the fish and my waiting net. Once more, the incredible hookhold meant the prize was mine and I gazed down on a fish I had seen pictures of for the first time just a week earlier.
My comment at the time I got the Whatsapp’d picture was unrepeatable. Seeing it in the flesh didn’t improve my vocabulary.
The fish was from a strain of carp very dear to my heart and is called the Wasing Linear. 36lb 10oz this time and a lovely reminder of the stunning carp I chased for years in the Kennet valley. They are always dark, generally scaley and have a really long tail root. This one was a vintage example I was honoured to hold.
Now I was most definitely ready for that celebratory beer. So ready in fact, I decided half a dozen beers made a lot more sense, which helped take our minds off the fact that the weather turned against us once again, with thunder, hail and frequent showers, combined with a real temperature drop in a northerly wind.
We turned in earlier for our second and final night on the pit and all was quiet, aside from some tench testing Deano’s patience.
My wake-up call was of the very best kind just after first light and I found myself attached to another carp bow waving its way across the many bars of the ultra-shallow pit. The temperature had dropped to the extent I could see my breath coming out in clouds as I gradually gained on the fish.
They always seem to fight hard in such shallow water, having only got the option to zip around sideways. An ancient looking mid-twenty was my prize and wooly hatted pictures were taken shortly before I had the pleasure of returning the favour as Deano landed a cracker of similar size, again on the CompleX-T crumb.
We were leaving the lake later in the day feasted on bacon butties to help us along the way.
Mid-morning saw me sipping tea whilst busily engaged – I’d like to say I was scanning the water, heron-like searching for signs, however that would be a lie as I was scrolling through Instagram, marvelling at all things good and bad in carping, when something again stole my Naked Tiger Nut and the rod demanded some attention.
A fabulous fight this one, with all the hallmarks of a chunk. And so it turned out to be.
One of the charms of this brilliant lake is the massive variety in the stock and what I eventually netted was both special and very different. Laying in the mesh was one of the true originals in the lake and, for me, my favourite capture.
The carp is again over 35lb, known as the ‘Slate Grey’ and is just bloody proper. I appreciate the current fashion is for heavily scaled fish, but for me, this fish was near perfect, with a tail as wide as its body. Incidentally, when I hear an angler say “scaley banger” I have an almost irresistible urge to force a stickleback in each of his nostrils.
I watched the old fish waddle back, casting a great shadow over every pebble and weed frond on the way back out and contemplated what an incredible session it had been. Was the salt the secret, or would they have been mine anyway? That’s one of those questions that is impossible to answer, but I’m convinced enough to always include salt during Spring and make it my main line of attack for the month or so before spawning. In Winter, for me the jury is still out, as it is for the post spawning time, but catch that sweet spot and I believe you’re onto a winner.
Come lunchtime, my bivvy was down, bags were slowly filling and the rods, as always were doing their thing till the grim death. And a good job as well – another carp with a taste for Complex T and salt made its presence known and tore off my right hand rod. I’d had takes on all rods now, all on bags of heavily soaked CompleX-T crumb and all with incredible hookholds. The ever faithful Nora rig needing forceps on all but one of the carp and no fish lost.
This last fish rolled in the strengthening sunlight and I grinned at the sight of a bloody great big Common! That’ll definitely do to complete a magnificent set of carp with real diversity and character to them. Deano, with his endless patience and brilliant camera skills did me proud once more and we watched the fabulously dark Common swim off into that crystal clear, magnificently rich Berkshire water.