Carp Fishing Tactics

How to Fish for Carp

Overview: Carp fishing tactics vary from bottom fishing to surface fishing, daytime to overnight sessions and float fishing to fly fishing. Below we have provided some brief insights into all these different carp angling options, hopefully giving you enough information to decide how you might like to go after a carp of your own. Tight lines!

Bottom Fishing

Modern bottom fishing for carp includes two primary ideologies – ‘boilies & leads’ and ‘method’ feeding.

Carp fishing hair rig

Hair rig (image from Wikimedia user, ‘Bastet’)

Boilies and Leads

Boilies are perhaps the most popular form of bottom fishing in the whole of Europe. They are made from a mixture of milk proteins, eggs, flour and artificial flavours, which are rolled into little balls and subsequently boiled in water (hence the name boilies). They can be fished on the hook or attached via a ‘hair rig’ (shown above), which keeps the bait free and the hook clear of impediment for easier hooking.

Whether homemade or store-bought, most boilies are laced with attractive flavour additives (which can themselves be either homemade or store-bought) to appeal to the carps’ keen sense of smell. Additionally, although carp are known for having excellent eyesight, the boilies are typically infused with artificial colours, such that they can be made into any single colour, or rainbow of colours, in order for them to be both highly visible and visually attractive to the fish.

Most anglers like to carry wide range of boilies in a variety of shapes, sizes, colours and flavours, as it allows them to tailor their bait to a specific venue, body of water, time of day or weather condition.

Boilies are usually rigged to a lead weight with a 2” – 4” leader line, allowing the boilie to lay on the sediment bed where carp typically look for food. Another popular option is to rig the pop-up boilie, which is designed to float ever so slightly above the bottom with the hook lying in wait just below.

Either way, the boilie and lead method is one of the most popular rigs around the world, probably due to the fact that it boasts a simple, straightforward approach while consistently accounting for a large number of carp catches in all conditions.

‘Method’ Feeder

This is a system designed to attract fish by surrounding your baited hook with an enticing ball of free food. To use the method feeder, you’ll need a to select the right kind of groundbait, which can be squeezed around the feeder and which is adhesive enough to stay in position when it’s cast into the swim. Upon making contact with the water, the groundbait loosens and dissipates, leaving the area full of tasty fragments and delicious smells. Once attracted, a carp will eat through the bait ball and, with any luck, it will discover the hooked bait and voilà – Bob’s your uncle – you got your catch.

This is a very popular and successful bait system, that requires only a modest amount of equipment. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy and extremely effective. If you’d like to see a method feeder in action, take a look at the video above.

Surface Fishing for Carp

Some would argue that surface fishing for carp is the most exciting method, given that you can often see your quarry actively stalking your bait and finally swimming up and engulfing it. For surface fishing addicts, it adds a level of excitement and satisfaction to the normal fishing excursion.

While carp have been known to go after artificial surface lures like crank baits, that is not the preferred method. For more consistent success you can simply choose any of your favourite baits – be it corn, dog biscuits, cereal, bread, floating boilies, etc. – and place them on a hook with a 5-foot leader. If the bait floats, like bread crust, you can literaly fish with nothing but a free-lined hook, but for lighter baits or sinking ones, you’ll need a couple of small additions. A float or indicator can help add weight for casting, while a small piece of coloured foam can turn a sinkig bait into a floating one (imagine a string of corn with a corn-shaped piece of yellow foam). After that, it’s just a case of cast and wait. Carp are happy to eat from the surface, and on a hot summer’s day you’ll be able to cast right to them, as they’ll often be found basking within a few inches of the top.

Carp in Herbert Park, Dublin

Not all bodies of water are ideal for surface fishing, of course. You will have to, literally, test the waters and find out if the conditions are prime for this approach. You may also have to get tricky with your presentation, because once a carp has been caught on a surface rig they may be wary of surface presentations (remember, as we explained here, the carp is smart and has an impressive memory).

A key part of surface fishing, or most types of coarse fishing for that matter, is giving out free samples. Throwing out some ‘freebies’ will let the carp to get comfortable with the idea of surfacing feeding, and it’s often a good idea to get them feeding confidently before you make your first cast. It can be frustrating but it’s fun at the same time. In fact, it wouldn’t be as much fun if it wasn’t challenging!

Stalking Carp

‘Stalking’ carp literally refers to actively looking for carp along the banks or margins of the waters by sight – almost like hunting – in fact, very much like hunting. Often it can be done by means of a leisurely stroll along the margins but, depending on the terrain, wariness of the fish, and clarity of the water, it may require a less obvious approach, like crawling on all fours!

Stalking carp in camouflage

Due to the more physically demanding nature of stalking carp, it may not be for everyone, but it can be a fun and exciting twist on the more traditional approaches. It will require some modifications to your normal routine, however, and maybe to your clothing. For example, you will have a much better chance of success fishing in the early morning or late evening, when the carp are more likely to be found around the lake margins. During daylight hours most carp prefer the security of the deeper water or the centre of the lake. You may also need to add to your wardrobe. Due to their excellent vision, carp are capable of seeing objects not just in the water but out of the water – like a fisherman looking to put a hook in them, for example! So, you will need to wear camouflage to help avoid being spotted, or at least some very dull colours. You will also need to keep a low profile, walking stooped, and keeping a close watch on where you’re putting your feet. Snap a stick and it could be all over.

Once you find a particularly ‘carpy’ looking area or have indeed successfully happened upon a swim, you will want to employ some trickle-feed tactics to get them used to eating the bait you intend to present. This lulls the carp into a false sense of security, thinking that it’s a safe spot to feed and that the food is reliable. When trickle-feeding (sometimes called loose-feeding), it’s usually best to use foods that the carp will find familiar: bread, for example, or worms, maggots or perhaps corn – all popular baits that may have been thrown in by other anglers. If they’ve seen it before, it’s likely that the carp view the offerings as relatively safe, giving you a better chance of a hook-up.

Float fishing for carp

Float fishing

If you are into carp fishing because it allows you to sit and relax, enjoy nature, ‘be in the moment’ and all that good stuff, then float fishing could well be the method for you.

Why? Simply because it’s simple.

As opposed to other popular approaches – which require you to lug around a ton of equipment, sometimes pre-bait a swim, plan your tactics and often bed down overnight – this is possibly the most basic, straightforward, economical approach to carp fishing there is. It takes less equipment, less preparation and less set-up than perhaps any other method (well, except for freelining bread crust or fishing a worm in the margins). And, it combines the excitement of surface fishing (show me an angler that doesn’t like watching a float?) with the practicality and productivity of bottom fishing. You don’t hear of many 40-pounders falling to float tactics, but it’s a great way of catching smaller carp, and is probably the best way to get introduced to carp fishing. Keep it simple at first, and then with time, and a desire to catch exceedingly large carp, it will make more sense to invest more time, effort and money into the equipment, travel and water-access required for those big fish thrills.

Pretty much everything you need for float fishing can be carried to the water by hand, in one trip – rod and reel, chair and landing net and perhaps one small tackle box to carry the rigs. Bring a couple of floats – maybe a waggler or a stick float – a few hooks (sizes 12-6), weights (split-shot or putty) and the bait (small boilies or natural bait like corn, maggots, worms and tigernuts). The set-up and methods vary wildly, but the overall concept is straightforward. Attach the float to the line and add enough weight that only the top, coloured section appears above the surface, bait the hook, then wait. There’s something very special, almost therapeutic, about watching a float, and when a fish takes the bait and the float starts to move, leaps up or disappears completely, and you’ll know it’s time to set the hook. Then it’s time to see what’s on the end. Magic.

Carp on fly

Fly Fishing for Carp

Carp naturally feed on a variety of live bait and are widely known to search for meals on the surface. If you can present a fly in front of a feeding carp, you may well find yourself in business. Flies that are known to catch carp are all manner of nymphs, crayfish patterns, San Juan worms and, oddly enough bonefish flies, but it’s also hard to beat a brown and white ball of deer hair while loose feeding dog biscuits or bread.

The gear you use will depend on the size of the fish, but as a general rule you will need:

  • Fly rod: A 9’ fast action 7, 8 or 9-weight rod should suffice for most fish.
  • Reel: A reel with a good drag is necessary, with at least 100 yards of backing (this is important as you will probably see your backing on almost every fish)
  • Net: A BIG landing net (you never know!).

If you’re a trout fisherman, why not try out your fly gear on one of your local carp waters? You may not know it, but you probably already have all the gear and flies necessary to catch carp, and they’re a hoot on a fly rod.

We hope you enjoyed this section and we hope you go forth and catch a netful of carp, of all shapes and sizes. If you’re interested in reading further, check out our main carp page here, or read our review of the best carp reels. Thanks for reading. Happy fishing and tight lines!

[Image credits: Wikipedia and Damien Brouste]