Spectacular St. Lawrence River....Steve Briggs from Carp Talk. I’ve been lucky enough to fish some fabulous waters around the world but from the very first time I saw the St. Lawrence I fell in love with it. There’s something about this huge waterway that sets it apart from the rest and the fishing is just out of this world.
My introduction to the St. Lawrence came during the 2005 World Carp Cup in New York State. Before then I’d had a picture in my mind of what the river would be like and expected to see mainly straight banks with little in the way of features. In reality it was nothing of the sort and what I found was a mass of different fishing options. There are huge bays, islands, fast runs, slow runs, deep sections, shallows all of which have been made by man as the St. Lawrence is not a natural river as it is now, but one that has been made by damming certain sections and holding back the water to expand the river to the size it is today. It was a truly massive job to undertake but the result was to create something magnificent – not to mention the fact that it now holds millions of carp!
The St. Lawrence also forms the border between America and Canada along the entire length of New York State. The river starts its journey from Lake Ontario and ends at the Atlantic Ocean around 500 miles later. At this moment in time the river is virtually untouched in terms of carp fishing, just small sections have been opened up but presumably carp run through more or less the entire length? It’s fair to say that access to many sections is difficult or impossible for anglers but the areas that are already known are more than big enough unless the fishing over there takes off in a really big way.
I think what makes the fishing so attractive is that the carp are totally wild and there are just so many of them that you never really know what you are going to catch next. Perhaps what many people see the St. Lawrence lacking is the monster carp that are available in so many waters around the world today, but for true wild river carp they are actually very good sizes. Finding big carp over 50lb is like looking for a needle in a haystack – but they do exist. In Lake Ontario for instance there are people who frequently net sections of the lake to see what’s going on and their findings make for interesting reading. They tend to net areas three miles long and when you consider that the lake is around 190 miles long you can see that it’s just a drop in the ocean as it were. But these people have reported netting carp over 50lb on a regular basis and the biggest so far weighed over 68lb! The carp in both Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence are of the same strain and so the big ones are there to be caught. Generally though, the average size tends to be around mid-20’s, a thirty is a good fish and a forty is something quite special.
During my first couple of trips I had fished Lake Ontario and along the American side of the St. Lawrence in New York State. I had yet to fish on the Canadian side and it was one of my ambitions to do so at some stage. Actually it was almost the first place that I went to when in early 2005 Paul Hunt contacted me to say there was a space on one of the trips around June time. At first I agreed to go and then news came through that the WCC was going to be held at the same time and the competition had to take priority, which of course turned out to be a great event for myself and Tim Paisley.
So fishing in Canada was put on hold until Paul Hunt once again got in touch to say that there were a couple of spaces on their October 2007 trip should Joan and I be interested. Well there were a few reasons why we wanted to go, firstly the timing of the trip. My previous St. Lawrence fishing had been done around May and June. At that time of year most of the fish are heading for the shallower bays with spawning in mind. Tim and I won the WCC from the mouth of Whitehouse Bay and I’d fished with Rob Hughes in another huge bay further down stream where we caught loads of fish. But later in the year the fish move back out in to the main river and in to the deeper water, which is a different prospect and one that I found very attractive. Secondly, Joan had yet to see the river and was very keen to see it at some stage and of course it was finally a chance for me to catch a Canadian carp.
I literally had next to no time to prepare for this trip. I had agreed to fish the Russian Masters event in Croatia with Rob Hughes, which I had to leave early to get home in time to pack for Canada. It meant that I arrived back on the Sunday afternoon and we flew out from Gatwick early the following afternoon! I knew that different gear was needed for fishing the deeper water mainly due to the flow and to the marginal ledges which are generally covered in razor-sharp mussels. We would be fishing in around 35 to 40 feet which means the line going down at quite a sharp angle. I spoke to Steve at Droitwich Angling as I knew he’d been out at a similar time of year and he suggested 80lb braid as the only thing that would stand up to the job. Having fished other places such as Raduta in the past I knew what he meant and took his advice on board. What I didn’t realise at the time was that Paul Hunt already has all the gear needed, including reels loaded with 80lb braid! I should have done my homework and looked at the www.canadiancarpin.com website, but as I say I was a bit short on time.
Just under seven hours after leaving Gatwick airport we arrived in Ottawa. I still hadn’t met the other guys on the trip, I had seen a few people in Realtree tops and presumed it was them. It’s amazing just how many times at airports and ferry terminals that we bump in to other anglers going away these days – it’s a small world. We were greeted by the lovely Lisa who introduced us to the rest of the gang before driving us back to their house at Iroquois on the banks of the river. Paul and Lisa’s home used to be a golf lodge and although the golf course is still next to them they now have a magnificent home in the perfect location. Some people have said that it’s actually too good a place for carp fishing but I think that our sport is overdue a bit of class.
Arriving late evening meant that there was only time to get to know each other a bit better before heading off to bed. Only day fishing is normally allowed on the Canadian side of the river so the plan was to be up at around 6am each day and then after a shower and breakfast be out on the river for about 7am. Food and drinks are all supplied and it’s just a matter of putting together what you want for the day and loading up the cool box which every pair is supplied with. By the time we opened the patio doors the sun was just rising over the far bank of the river to reveal the start of a glorious Autumn day. Paul has several swims up and down the river which are used at different times of year. Luckily the Autumn swims aren’t a great distance from the house and are all accessible by a short boat journey – and what a boat for the journey! The aptly-named Double-Take is Paul’s new boat complete with large canopy and leather seats and is the most incredible fishing boat I’ve ever seen. Apart from Joan and I there were three other pairs to drop off. John and son Simon, Ron and Ray and the dynamic duo of Robin and Gary, all went on the specially built platforms along one deep-water stretch. Paul, Joan and I went further up river to a swim known as The Rock, which is situated on the point of an island. It was the one swim that I had heard of before after being fished by such people as Chris Ball and Derek Richie.
It was a cracking swim to start off in with a fair bit of scope. To the right it dropped off quick in to the deep channel which the huge ships use to make their way up and down the river, it was only an underarm flick to reach a depth of almost forty feet. But being on the point of the island also gave us the option of casting down stream as far as we wanted, the deep water continued down stream although further around to the left it began to shallow up and become more weedy.
The beauty of heading to the swim in a boat is that baiting up can be done on the way in. Maize is still the main bait used by everyone on the river. It’s cheap, effective and always readily available. But boilies work as well and it’s often the case that maize will get you more action but the better fish can come to boilies. What did surprise me was how little bait Paul put out. With so many hungry mouths out there in a big stretch of water my initial thought was that it would take a fair bit of bait to attract the fish in and then keep them there. But as he explained, the fish should already be there patrolling up and down and putting in more bait it would just take longer for the hook baits to be found. Literally it was just about half a kilo of boilies downstream and five or six handfuls of corn in the deep water to the right.
The plan was to just take it in turns on the runs. I was expecting to wait perhaps an hour or two before anything moved in so I was a bit shocked when one of the tips whacked over within a couple of minutes. The St. Lawrence carp always tear off as soon as they are hooked and while the fish was taking line I made my way out on to a small platform that Paul has put in place to make playing the fish easier. No sooner had I done that than another rod ripped off which Joan took. Soon we both had our first Canadian carp on the bank, not big ones both probably upper doubles, but a great start as we hadn’t even been fishing 15 minutes!
At least one thirty was banked every day.
That really was just the start of it. Conditions were spot on and after a sunny start the clouds had rolled in with the odd light showers. The fish were well on the feed and as soon as we got the rods back out they were away again, although this time with fish of 24lb and 25lb. The St. Lawrence carp are lovely fish always in perfect condition and looking like bars of gold – and so many of them. We’d had about a dozen fish when Joan latched in to a better one and after a prolonged battle she put the first 30 of the trip on the bank. There’s something very nice about getting constant action. I spend a lot of time travelling around different venues and for most of the time it is hard work to catch fish. While even Rainbow Lake is not particularly difficult, you do still have to put the effort in and make sure everything is right all the time in order to catch. It’s actually very rare to come across a venue where you can just fill your boots with carp that are unpressured and stunning to look at. It was just one carp after another, admittedly most of them were upper doubles with a sprinkling of decent twenties but just as the light was fading I did manage my first thirty of the trip at 32lb. By packing up time, which was around 7pm we’d received no less than 42 runs! It just shows the incredible action that is possible on the St. Lawrence and that was just the first day!
After picking the others up it was back to the house for clean up and dinner. Lisa’s cooking is certainly something to look forward to after a day on the bank, but it was also a chance to find out how the others had done. It’s fair to say that everyone had caught a few. Simon had the best of the day at 35lb beating his previous PB by some margin. Gary and Robin were proving to be quite a double act! They had met up on a previous trip and had become good friends and it’s easy to see why. They provided the entertainment every night and had everyone laughing. Jet lag was still having quite an effect on me and after a hectic couple of weeks I was more than ready for an early night. It’s not very often that I only fish days, I normally like to bivvy up and spend my time on the bank but catching so many fish during the day meant that it was quite nice to get away and spend the night in comfort knowing that you’ll catch more fish the next day.
I didn’t need the alarm the next morning, in fact I was awake from 4am more due to the five hours time difference than anything else. It was another day on The Rock for us. Gary and Robin went further up to our right in the Lighthouse swim, while the others went back to the platform swims. It was a much brighter day which was great for us but not so good for the carp. It’s amazing how the weather affects their feeding habits so much even when fishing at such depths. Mind you with such crystal-clear water it was possible to see the bottom in over 30 feet with sun glasses on so perhaps it’s to be expected. That’s not to say that we struggled because we didn’t, it just wasn’t quite as hectic as the first day. It might sound a bit strange but I was happy not to catch so many, the first day had been all go and quite tiring so a chance for a rest in between fish was more than welcome.
There are a lot of sights to see on the river and one that everyone likes to see are the huge ships passing by. On The Rock swim they pass by incredibly close and it’s quite a sight. After fishing the canals of Europe I thought I’d seen some big boats coming through from time to time, but they were nothing compared to these monsters. They do move quite a bit of water around and it tends to almost drain out of the swim as they arrive and then the water rushes back in a series of waves. As ever it’s normally a good time for a bite as the boats dislodge a lot of food and most of the time it did work. The majority of the fish from the second day were between mid-doubles and low twenties but out of the blue one good fish picked up my boilie snowman out in the deep channel. It was starting to get easier to pick out which were the better fish. The smaller fish tended to knock on the tip a lot more and nearly always kited to the shallow, weedy area, whereas this fish was much slower and more steady, staying out in the deep water. The result was a cracking common of 36lb and my biggest St. Lawrence carp so far.
We were a bit more limited where we could fish as we always needed somewhere to moor the boat. It put the platform swims out of the reckoning but we fancied a change from The Rock, besides Paul likes to rotate the swims so everyone gets a fair crack at the different areas. He suggested one spot that had not been fished for two years. It wasn’t allowed to fish from the bank, but it was possible to moor up there and fish from the boat. I was certainly up for that but I think Joan had a bit of retail therapy in mind and planned to head off to Wal-Mart with Lisa.
It was an exciting prospect to fish a new swim and especially from the luxury of the boat. As Paul said you don’t blank on the river and every day is different and it keeps you interested all the time as you really don’t know what will happen? Straight away we could see the odd fish showing further down and I didn’t have to wait long for the first screaming run which produced a cracker of 31lb 12oz. That was quickly followed by a 24lb and then almost immediately by a much heavier fish that held itself in the deep water in much the same way as the fish had on The Rock. It was difficult to gauge the size until it was on the mat where we could then see its true size. At 39lb it was another St. Lawrence best and just a very beautiful carp.
The difference in this swim was plain to see and the average size was much bigger, although it may well have just been the group of fish that we had in front of us rather than the swim itself, either way I felt more good fish were to come and by mid-afternoon everything I’d landed had been over 20lb including another two thirties and two more over 29lb. We were losing a few fish here and there, it’s rarely possible to land everything and most of the losses incurred were down to hook pulls. I felt that it was mainly the smaller fish that were falling off as they tend to twist and turn more, but there were certainly some good fish lost too. I took a wide variety of bits and pieces with me just in case, including several different hook patterns. I think I tried all of them while I was there and while I lost at least one or two on all patterns it was definitely the size 2 Solar Long Shank hooks that came out on top. It was a good test for many things although things were kept fairly basic on the rig front. 80lb braid mainline was doing the job although the odd wind knot through the rings was frightening. 45lb Quick Silver for the hook lengths was as reliable as ever. Even though we were suffering a few losses, it was easy to see how much worse it would’ve been without the right gear.
We thought this one was 40 but it was the second biggest of the trip at 38lb 4oz.
The first day fishing from the boat produced seventeen fish with all but five of them over 20lb so it was a lot more manageable and with a better stamp of fish so I was keen for another go the following day. But although conditions seemed very similar, we seemed to have a different group in front of us that day as there were more doubles with a few twenties thrown in. The other guys up on the platforms were getting some better fish so it could have been that they had just moved upstream. However right on last knockings as we were about to pack up I did latch in to a much better fish of 33lb 8oz, which kept the run of thirties going as I’d caught at least one thirty every day and I was keen to see if I could keep it going. Saturday was a short days fishing as it’s normal practice for everyone to go out for a meal in the evening. But there were no worries as the first fish of the day was a clonking fish of 36lb. The big fish were back and the first ten fish were all decent ones apart from a couple of nineteen’s that spoilt the averages. But then I hooked another one of the big ‘chuggers’ that stayed down deep and when we saw it go in to the net we were all convinced that I had finally cracked the 40lb mark. It was a lovely deep-bodied fish, but the needle wouldn’t go past 38lb 4oz. I was a tad disappointed but could hardly complain as it was brilliant fishing and there were still other fish of 29lb 12oz, 32lb and 32lb 4oz to come before the end of the day!
The meal that night was great! It was one of those eat-all-you-can places and we did our best. The food was spot on and as-ever so was the entertainment from Gary and Robin. All too soon it was Sunday morning and the last day of the trip. We were back on our ‘boat spot’ and again the day started well with a good ‘un of 34lb. It was the last fishing day of the trip so I’d completed the run of catching thirties every single day and really this was about to be the best day of all. In all I landed 22 fish that day and only three of them were under 20lb with eleven of them going over 28lb! and to finish everything off nicely, just as I went to pick the rod up to reel in at the end it tore off in front of me with one final 30 of 31lb 8oz on the end.The final tally for me after six days fishing was 117 fish with thirteen thirties and a further fifty-four twenties – amazing fishing by any stretch of the imagination! Perhaps the only thing I missed out on was getting a 40 and I’m sure there must have been one or two about, but that’s always something to go back for. Thanks certainly go to Paul and Lisa for a fantastic week and to all the other guys on the trip. All in all it only reinforced the feelings that I already had for the St. Lawrence, it is a very unique and special place and one that has so much to offer!!
My P.B 39lb from the St. Lawrence River with CCH
Paul Hunt has actually put together a short video (click here!) of the week on his website so if you want to see how it all went on film then check it out!!!!!