by Colin Peters
It's what keeps us sitting there, the voice in our head saying, “Ok, 10 more minutes, then I'm reeling in and I'm done”. Of course, that's providing there isn't the slightest indication of a twitch, tug or rod tip nod. The list of excuses is endless, then another hour goes by.
Our fishing scene here in the US is just amazing isn't it? Sometimes it's like having your own private fishery with 1000's of acres to explore... Sure the the bass guys are around but there's usually no other carp fisherman looking over your shoulder. Carp angling doesn’t have to be trendy or gimmicky unless you feel the need. We can think for ourselves or at least we should because our carp fishing scene is unique; often taking a true pioneering spirit, thinking outside the box to tame the huge waters and gain real results. When we do catch, most of the time, the fish have absolutely never been caught before and deserve the respect we show them...
In my home state of North Carolina, as in many other states I’m sure, I find that the best way to find new places to carp fish often starts with research on Google Earth followed by exploratory car or boat rides because there’s very little water access that’s not private. That's why sometimes we have to make our own paths and venture into forgotten lands, you know those places I'm sure. It's where snakes and beavers live and fortunately the ticks haven't evolved wings.
So onto the untrodden path and where the story takes us today.
A slightly meandering narrow hidden river that runs its course through farm land and the pretty North Carolina countryside. It shows a teasing glimpse of itself only through the trees at each bridge overpass on the country roads leading to our destination. A tromp through the tick infested undergrowth brings you to a different world where the water runs maybe 6’ deep on average, there’s hard bottom in places and there’s also silt.
For the silty areas requiring just a short cast, my go to rig is a small lead on a stiff boom with everything free running as shown below. The light lead plugs into the silt on the cast, the stiff boom holds everything else up neatly and the running rig lays on top of the silt. Fish this with buoyant plastic corn, or a tiger tipped with plastic, catapult canned sweet corn over the top, and it's a method that usually doesn’t fail.
And you never know what’s lurking beneath… it's why we spend the money, why the great preparations, why we obsess. But sometimes all is not what it seems...
Like many other states, we have an abundance of turtles here in our North Carolina waters and big ones at that! They seem to be masters of deception by eating up all your bait and making you think fish are present.
If you’re not paying attention you can easily be oblivious and you’ll return home wondering why the fish were just not having it today. The line may twitch or lift, the beepers may beep but that one toner never comes, or if you’re float fishing the float may dip or lift, but never sails away in any kind of assuring manner, nothing ever to really get your teeth into.
Unlike fish that are constantly swimming and moving, turtles will walk a long the bottom slowly, they’ll sit and graze on your free offerings and chew the bait off the hair; it’s the lack of movement that makes it hard to realize they’re even there.
But they do slip up and get themselves hooked, I’ve caught turtles up to about 30lbs at different places and often you hook them around the collar or in the flipper as they’re rummaging around. If you get a 30lb turtle like that camped out over your bait, you’re not going to catch a fish and when I say camped out I mean camped out! I’ve read turtles can stay under water for a very long time, in fact during winter time hibernation, it can be for months. Even during non-hibernation periods in cold water, lab studies have shown they can go as long as 14 days. They’re not holding their breath, they literally have the ability to breathe, extracting dissolved oxygen through special membranes in their throats and cloacas – which pretty much means it’s butt.
It’s been my experience that sometimes putting bait in the water can have an adverse effect, even with pre-baiting efforts you can pull turtles in and move fish out and what’s worse; they can be so subtle about it, that it's easy to miss the signs and not realize what is happening.
In this little river, as with so many other places here in the US, there can be lots of turtles. They love muddy, slow moving rivers or quiet shallow coves in the lakes.
Pictured above is a large turtle going to town on some bait – the growing area of disturbance you can see is about 8’ in diameter only evident because the waters shallow, under a lot of circumstances in a little deeper water and greater distances you could easily be unaware that kind of mayhem was even going on.
Although Turtles can be found widespread throughout the states, they are more common and problematic in the southern states due to the warmer climate. If you’re seeing turtles on the surface in the general area, or you get the twitches and the beeps and no runs and your bait comes back mysteriously gone or a portion missing - (which is the reason I always tip my baits here in North Carolina with plastic maize for the durability) the options are few: You can stop putting bait back out on that spot and cast somewhere else, give it a break or move. It’s either that or tough it out, hope it’s just one turtle and hope you catch it.
Although Turtles are supposed to be nocturnal, I have found they are less of a problem at night, the only logical thing I can think of is perhaps they take that opportunity to patrol the extreme shallows, looking for frogs, snakes, fish fry or another unlucky victim… but then again I think you would see them if that were the case, like little alligator eyes glowing in the light of a headlamp. Research is conflicting as I have read plenty about turtles sleeping at night underwater, I think this is a more likely scenario.
A large snapping turtle is very aggressive, it’ll eat anything it can get it’s jaws around, it’ll drag under a duck and it’ll even bite off the heads of smaller turtles! I’m sure it’ll be happy to take a chunk out of any sized fish given the opportunity, although I’ve yet to catch a carp with a piece missing, I do think turtles can take a dominant role over fish on a small baited spot.
They are versatile predators and efficient scavengers and have been on this planet for millions of years with very little change so they’re obviously very good at what they do and you know anything that can breathe through its mouth or it’s butt is just a survivalist’s dream.
To wrap this up, the river depth is restricted here where the story is today so the choices are limited but depending on where you’re fishing, turtles are much less of a problem in a harder bottom, deeper water environment.
And now water depth – well that’s another story.
Just remember…you never know what’s lurking beneath.
– tight lines everyone.