While only recently gaining popularity as a sport fish in North America, carp have long been prized by anglers in Europe. Hard to get biting, but explosive when hooked, these giants can make for an exciting day on the water and an equally fine meal.
Do you know what baits and techniques work best for carp?
Keep reading to find out our top carp fishing tips on how to catch carp!
Table of Contents (clickable)
Carp Rods and Reels: UK vs US
Carp can get big, and at any size, they really know how to fight!
Some carp anglers like to use very long rods, stating that their choice is conditioned by the need for long casts. And in Britain, where carp angling is a national obsession, that need is pretty clear.
Motorized boats are largely illegal on fishing waters, and most British anglers are casting from shore. Moreover, wary carp will move once they’ve been pressured, and often, fishermen are limited to a small stretch of shore that they rent for the day.
Unable to move closer or take to the water, anglers in the UK need to cast as far as they can, so they favor rods of 12 feet or more!
You’ll notice that this British angler is running what are essentially surf casting rods.
These specific concerns and limitations just don’t exist in the US, and even when you fish from shore, given how few anglers target carp, pressure will be non-existent. In other words, you simply won’t need the tackle that your European counterparts are recommending.
A more standard rod is a better choice for carp in North America, and I recommend medium to medium-heavy spinning rods of 6 ½ to 7 ½ feet in length. Moderate fast to fast actions are ideal.
Most carp anglers elect for spinning reels, as most carp anglers are in Europe where this tackle choice is dominant. That’s not to say that baitcasting tackle won’t work--it will and has!
Some hard-core carp fanatics like bait-feeding reels, essentially a spinning reel with two drag systems. The advantage of such a reel is that the initial drag setting is very light, not alerting the wary carp until switched by the angler. But these are pretty carp specific, so unless you’re really dedicated to these gentle giants, I’d skip the bait-feeding reels.
For my money, I prefer standard spinning tackle, since I don’t want a dedicated carp set-up.
Among my top choices, I include Shakspeare’s Ugly Stik Elite in the 7-foot, medium action. This rod provides enough power to tame a brute without sacrificing feel for smaller fish, and from the long, cork handle to the excellent guides, it’s all business.
I like to pair this rod with an Okuma Ceymar 55. Providing plenty of capacity for lines in the 15- to 20-pound range, it offers a great drag and plenty of speed for these hard-fighting fish.
This is the tackle I personally own to tangle with carp!
Carp Fishing Tips
Not only are carp not voracious predators, but they can also be downright choosy in what they consume. This makes them a challenge to hook, something that anglers are starting to recognize in the US.
But the reward of catching a big carp is an exciting fight followed by an excellent meal.
Don’t let carp fool you--it’s an excellent fish for the table.
Chum where legal
Anglers in the UK typically use static techniques, meaning that they cast and wait, never moving their terminal tackle.
Without action, flash, or vibration to attract a bite, they turn to a variety of chum methods, including slingshots, torpedo-shaped chum dispensers called “spods,” and even dog biscuits scattered over the water from remote-controlled boats!
A typical spod.
In North America, the first question when thinking about chumming is, “Is it legal?”--and this question always deserves a solid answer before you start throwing food in the water.
If it is legal where you fish, anything from bread to dog food can help attract carp, and legions of Brits can attest that it works.
One option for using the technique is what’s called a “feeder float.”
By packing bread or a home-made mixture of corn and grain into the spiral portion of this float, you suspend chum above your baited hook, encouraging carp to take a look.
Check out our Top Carp Bait Recipes
Elfishes offers these in No products found., and I think they’re worth giving a try for the price.
Run strong mono as main line
Carp get big, and in the UK, lots of carp anglers run braid to increase casting distance and pack more line on their reels.
That’s not a bad idea, if you understand the limitations of that choice. For instance, you’ll need to keep in mind that knot strength will suffer significantly in comparison with mono, requiring even heavier line to keep up with the fight a monster carp can deliver.
Unless you really need every foot of casting distance your tackle can deliver, I recommend sticking with strong mono like Berkley Trilene Big Game. I typically run 20-pound test for carp, relying on my rod, my drag, and my technique to wrangle a big fish to shore.
Choose the right hooks for carp
Carp are big fish with tiny mouths, and it’s easy to overestimate the size hook you’ll need.
A Gamakatsu carp hook.
Keep in mind that circle hooks are self-hooking, meaning that it’s counter-productive to set your hook. Just tighten your line with a crank or two on your reel, and the hook will turn and penetrate the fish’s mouth at the corner.
The best baits for carp
For carp, you can leave your lures at home.
The American Carp Society suggests, “Sweet corn and bread are two of the best baits to use for carp but nightcrawlers (earthworms) are excellent as well. For bigger fish and longer fishing sessions hard boiled baits or ‘boilies’ as they are known are excellent to use on a hair rig. They really do tend to catch the bigger fish.”
As their name suggests, boilies are boiled concoctions, usually containing milk proteins, grains, and other ingredients. Easy to use with a hair rig, Phecda Sport boilies are probably your best option in the US. Available in four flavors--each with its own bright color--this is definitely the bait of choice for big carp.
But simple bread can work wonders, too. Just mash it into a hard ball and pack it around your hook, leaving the tip exposed. Sweet corn, whether threaded onto a hook or trailed by a hair rig, is also a strong option.
And as the ACS suggests, a big nightcrawler can be just the ticket when the carp aren’t interested in anything else.
Learn about about what do carp eat?
Rigs for carp fishing
There are three rigs that I really like for carp: the drop shot, wagglers, and the hair rig.
Often used by largemouth bass anglers as a finesse presentation for soft plastics, drop shot rigs can be ideal for carp.
A drop shot rig is designed to suspend a hook, beneath which rides a cylindrical weight striking the bottom. Enabling precise orientation of the bait from the bottom, and being generally very hard to snag, it can work amazingly well for suspending corn, bread, or boilies.
But in a break from American tradition, you fish the drop shot rig for carp by just letting it sit.
Check out our full guide on drop shot tips!
British anglers use a float called a waggler, a long, thin bobber to which your line is attached at the bottom. It’ll help suspend a small hook baited with bread, corn, or a boilie or two, letting you know when a carp has taken interest.
Wagglers are a common fixture in carp fishing in the UK.
I’ve never used a waggler, but the idea is very similar to a long float you might use for panfish like crappie.
If you’re not sure how to rig one, this tutorial is easy to follow:
A hair rig leaves the hook free, allowing the carp to take a bait and inadvertently hook themselves in the process without being spooked by heavy line or a thick hook. Originally tied with human hair--thus the name--this rig is now produced by some slender braid.
A finished hair rig with an attached boilie.
The alternative is to buy pre-made hair rigs like those from JSHanmei, available in mixed packs of #2, #4, and #6 hooks sizes.
Native to Asia and Eastern Europe, carp are a generic name for a huge range of species in the Cyprinidae family.
The common or European carp.
From tiny goldfish to the decorative coy you might find in the garden of your favorite Chinese restaurant, carp are a diverse lot.
But the carp species most commonly sought after by anglers is the common or European carp (Cyprinus carpio). Introduced into the United States in 1831 as a potential food source, this large fish never really caught on as table fare, despite being quite tasty.
Now considered an invasive species, fisheries managers are encouraging carp angling--and taking--in an effort to keep their numbers in control.
The common carp grows quickly in the wild, though not nearly as fast as domesticated specimens. At adulthood, it reaches an average length of 16 to 32 inches, with a weight range of 4 ½ to 32 pounds. Carp can get much larger, however, and trophies in the neighborhood of 100 pounds have been caught on rod and reel.
I think everyone can agree that this is a keeper!
Carp make their homes in slow-moving and still water, and in ponds, lakes, and lazy rivers, they can survive both cold and heat as well as very low oxygen levels. Hardy and hard to kill, once they find a stretch of water to call home, they tend to survive and thrive.
Adult carp are omnivorous, feeding on a variety of aquatic vegetation and working the bottom for insects and other invertebrates like crayfish. Unlike catfish, they’re not true scavengers, and they can be picky eaters.
According to the American Carp Society, their diet also includes “snails, shrimps, beetles, various larvae and some plant seeds/tubers.” Mussels and freshwater clams make that list, too.
And the International Game Fish Association advises, “Carp usually patrol the shoreline perimeter when foraging for food. Look for them near reed beds, lilies and other structure, especially early in the morning and late in the day.”
Carp fishing is catching on in the US, and more and more anglers are looking for tips to help them get started.
We hope that this article has improved your carp know-how, and we’d love to hear from you!
Please leave a comment below.