New to carp fishing? This guide will help you!
Let’s Go Carp Fishing – The Basics
Catch & release angling for common carp in North America is now growing at an unprecedented rate! More and more anglers are recognizing that not only do common carp grow big but also fight as hard as any freshwater species. Common carp should not be confused with many of the invasive Asian species such as big head or silver (jumping carp). Common carp were introduced by the US Government in the 1800’s to provide a sustainable food source for the growing population. Angling for common carp is now a $ 5-7 billion industry across Great Britain and Europe and almost all the carp fishing tackle shown on many sites and video channels originates in Europe. While purpose made carp tackle is sometimes quite expensive and complex you can, if you are new to carping, begin with just a very few basics. You may even have enough tackle items already or easily find them at a local store to get you catching carp!
Rods, Reels & Line
A 7-10’ rod capable of casting 2-3oz (heavier if you are adding method or pack bait) plus a spinning or bait runner reel holding 150-200 yds of 15-20lb mono or 30-50lb braid is a great combination. We’ve included some suggestions for rod & reel combinations that you can find locally. If you can stretch your budget a little further there are also some very reasonable 10’ – 12’ entry level carp rods for less than $100.
Hooks & Rigs
A couple of grains of sweetcorn on size 8 or 6 hook fished under a bobber or on a sliding sinker is often all it takes to catch a carp. But a carp’s ability to spit out a baited hook can make setting the hook a real challenge! Overcoming this challenge led to an ingenious set up called the ‘hair rig’. Here the bait is suspended on a short length of braid (known as a ‘hair’) instead of being placed on the hook. The carp confidently sucks up the hair rigged bait and tries to spit it out when it feels the hook, which by now is already inside its mouth. The action of ejecting the bait causes the hook to take hold and the carp is hooked! The reaction of the carp when hooked on a hair rig results in a sudden and powerful run that, unless the angler has loosened the drag or uses a bait runner reel, can result in the rod being pulled into the water! When you pick up the rod with a carp that has been hooked on a hair rig and is running away from you there is no need to strike. Just tighten the drag or engage the bait runner and keep a tight line to the fish.
How to Tie a Simple Hair Rig
There are now US & Canadian carp tackle companies that sell top quality European Carp hooks. You can also find some excellent hooks in local tackle stores. Here are some recommendations from fellow carp anglers that can be found online or in local stores:
A carp over 20lbs is typically considered a trophy sized fish and could easily be ten to fifteen years old. Care in the handling of carp of any size will help protect them & ensure more reach trophy sizes. The Carp Anglers Group strongly recommends that anyone fishing for carp practice catch and release (especially of trophy sized fish). We recommend the use of an appropriate sized net to land fish, a protective mat or pad to keep fish from laying or flopping around on dirt or rocks while being unhooked & photographed, a weigh sling or bag (such as a simple laundry tote with a couple of drain holes) to lift the fish for weighing. We also suggest newcomers spend time studying proper handing techniques (do not lift or weigh fish using the mouth or gills) when handling the fish.
The choice of baits is extremely varied and almost all will, at some time, catch carp! We’ve limited the range of choices in this section just for simplicity.
Particles: Canned Sweetcorn or Chick Peas, Field Corn (soaked 24 hours and boiled 40mins to soften) and other seeds such as tiger nuts (chufa) etc.
Boilies: Specially prepared dough balls made with nutritious ingredients, flavors and eggs. The term boilie originates from dropping the baits in boiling water for 1-2 minutes to harden them. There are now several US based boilie makers as well as European made imports available.
Imitation baits: A carp’s inclination to pick up objects while feeding has led to a wide range of plastic imitations that look like grains of corn, tiger nuts, boilies etc.
Puffs: Corn puffs can be flavored & treated then mounted on a hook. A popular bait among anglers using pack bait. Arrowhead Mills Corn Puffs are among the most popular.
Flavors: Carp anglers like to flavor their bait for added attraction. There are many commercially available carp flavors plus a visit to your local supermarket will also provide plenty of choice. Fruit flavored drink powders & jello are good options especially in pineapple or strawberry. Savory spices including turmeric, chili oils & garlic work well and don’t forget umami, yeast or amino based products which can also be very effective. But don’t overdo it! A ‘Less is More’ approach usually works best as too much flavor can actually repel or disorientate fish.
Chum or Ground Baiting
The use of chum or ground bait to attract fish to your hook bait is a highly effective tool in consistently catching carp. Just don’t put too much in as you want them to be able to find you bait. Once again a little but often, especially after landing a fish, is a good routine. Warning: Chumming is illegal in several states so always check local regulations!
Method & Pack: The use of chum squeezed in a ball around the hook (pack) or around the lead / sinker (method) is a very effective technique especially when fishing a water for the first time. You can find many recipes for Pack and Method using grits or oats. Feed Corn is an inexpensive chum and can be purchased at many outlets. It needs to be covered in water for 24 hours and then boiled for 40mins to soften before use.
A simple method recipe: One can of creamed sweetcorn, One 54oz tub of Regular oats (not instant or quick). Place the oats in a bucket and pour in the can of creamed corn. Mix thoroughly for at least 2 minutes. The mix will feel ‘tacky’ but should not stick to your hands.
Let it sit for a couple more minutes. Take enough to mold fully around your lead / sinker. Firmly squeeze in place using your hands until you have a tight ball around of method around the lead.
If you’ve got it right then this will withstand casting but breakdown quickly when it sits on the lake or river bed.
Top tips: Cover the method in your bucket with a wet towel to stop it drying out. If it is too dry and won’t hold together add just a little water at a time until it molds nicely again. Some anglers like to add some salt and / or flavor (add this to the creamed corn before mixing with the oats). While some anglers prefer to place the bait & hook in the method ball so it does not tangle on the cast some prefer using a short hook length of 3-4” which also keeps the bait in the method pile. A boilie wafter, imitation corn or couple grains of field corn on the ‘hair’ are ideal bait choices when fishing method!
If you are using a baited hook then watching the tip of your rod or float and being prepared to strike is critical to setting the hook. A couple of taps on the rod tip followed by a steady pull will indicate the carp has taken your bait and you should strike firmly before it spits out the bait. If you are fishing a float or bobber then you may see the float dip a couple of times before moving steadily away which is the time to set the hook.
If you are using a self-hooking hair-rig then a couple of taps on the rod tip are usually followed by a screaming run with line being rapidly pulled off the clutch or the bait-runner. There is no need to strike with the hair-rig just tighten down and the fish will be on!
A rod rest or bank stick is a good way to ensure the rod tip is easily visible and clear of any bankside vegetation or obstructions. There are plenty of indicators available that clip or hang on the line and with a little ingenuity you can even create your own. Inexpensive bite alarms, that sound when the line is being pulled, are a nice option and give you a rest from staring at the rod tip all day.
Playing a Carp
If you have never battled a carp, especially against a river current, then you are going to be amazed at the incredible power and endurance of these fish.
Setting the reel clutch / drag properly is critical. A good way is to have someone hold the end of the line (with NO hook attached!) and set the drag so that it pulls from the reel when the rod is bent over to about 90 degrees. This is usually around 2-3 lbs of drag. Less drag is often better than too much as you can always hold your finger against the reel spool to apply more pressure as needed.
The initial run after being hooked can be quite intimidating. If there is space to let the fish go against the drag provided it won’t run into any snags. One of the biggest dangers is allowing the carp to ‘kite’ towards snags further down the bank. If the carp is ‘kiting’ then change the angle or direction you are pulling the fish, or move further down the bank, if possible to land it – but don’t forget your net!
After that first run you can steadily ‘pump’ the rod (lift the rod tip without winding then wind the reel as you lower the rod) to recover line and bring the fish towards you. The carp will likely make some more powerful runs against the reel clutch but you will gradually get the fish closer to you.
When the carp is closer or under the rod tip this can be an especially tricky time. A lot of fish can be lost when the carp surges under the rod tip and it is best to let the carp pull the rod tip downwards instead of trying to keep the rod tip high in the air.
A good sized net with a fish friendly mesh will make landing the fish much easier. Do not chase the fish with the net as you are more likely to spook it. Simply draw the fish toward you and over the net, then lift until the fish is safely in the mesh. Unless you are going to weigh and photograph your fish then it often best to simply unhook and release it while still in the water.
We hope that this introduction helps you in catching your first carp! The North American Carp Angler (NACA) magazine offers more advanced tips as well as ideas on how and where to find key spots to catch carp.
The carp fishing apprenticeship is a learning experience. Joining the Carp Anglers Group can help you learn from experienced anglers as well as find local groups where you can join others on the bank and pick up key tips and tricks. www.joincag.com
You can also find us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/carpanglersgroup
Thanks to Dave Ash and Tim Mathewson for allowing us to use a couple of their photos.