Fresh watering fishing wouldn’t be the same without carp. Despite the bulk of some types of carp this is every bit the fighting fish as other species, but those who fish recreationally know luring the carp, figuring out the best ways on how to catch carp, and getting one to take the bait is the real sport to this fish. Standing on the shore those hoping to learn about carp or wanting to capture and release a big one often feel as if they too are being watched and observed.
Carp are native to Asia and Eastern Europe, but were introduced to lake and streams in the U.K. and the U.S. where they now thrive. Because the carp is an outside species capable of breeding in high numbers this fish can be found in many parts of America as a “carry home” rather than a “catch and release only” fish. In fact, because carp will compete so readily with other native fish, carp fishing is often actively encouraged.
The Carp and its Habitat
Several species of carp can be found in different types of water. The carp after becoming mature will distain areas where the visibility is low from sandy silt. If a lake feeds into the ocean look for the tidal influence point back to the portion where muddy silt water lies. The carp is most often found between these two points enjoying the fresh water, but free from the pull of the current. The carp will be in areas where there are vegetative sediments found in spots which are darker than sandy bottoms.
In concentrating on how to catch carp consider that this fish tends to grub at the bottom of the lake for food. Because of this they often disturb native vegetation. When looking for the carp find those areas where there’s plant life, or submerged vegetation. The carp will usually be toward the bottom, but can be enticed toward the surface by pre-baiting the area. Because carp can overpopulate and cause damage to vegetation many lakes in the U.S. will have specific times when it’s possible to catch and carry carp home to keep this species from permanently stripping away bottom food sources.
Types of Carp
The common carp is one of the easiest to find because they can live in a variety of conditions and will survive as long as the water remains above freezing, and usually stays below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Common carp are easy to spot as this fresh water species has two distinctive barbels on each side of its mouth. They have one dorsal fin, and the head has no scales. The common carp arrived in America in the mid-1800’s when immigrants from England were disappointed to find no carp. The introduction of this species was certainly successful, as the environment was ideally suited to the carp, and they faced few natural predators. Often found in schools the largest will tend dwell off on their own. From the anglers perspective this is the more sporting fish among all the species of carp. This is also the easiest to catch and a good species to start with for those learning how to catch carp for the first time.
Silver carp require special methods to catch, because this is a filter feeder species. Silver carp or the Hypophthalmichtys have a very distinctive appearance. The head of this fish is small and absent of scales, the mouth is upturned, and the eyes are in the middle of head, and are angled downward. The body is thick and strong, but when jumping the oblong shape will make the fish appear “flat”. Living on diet of plankton and small insects, this fish can grow to 100 pounds, and measure 40 inches. Those who study how to catch carp, have noted there’s some evidence this fish can adapt and broaden its diet when necessary. Most silver fish need flowing water to spawn. Because of over population, and danger to native species of fish and the need to remove as many carp as possible during certain parts of the year active fishing for this species in some areas is a necessity.
Bighead carp as the name suggests reach a much larger size than other carp, but like the silver carp these are also filter feeders. This fish is dark, with an off-white underbelly. The body is thick and heavy, but looks compressed when seen from the side. It’s easiest to spot characteristics are its large eyes, small mouth, and long gill rakes. This fish is a plankton eater, but can grow to a remarkable size often over 80 pounds. The bighead isn’t a jumper like the silver carp but since they are often near the surface especially when baited bow hunting is another method for catching the bighead.
Crucian carp are smaller rarely larger than three pounds, although some argument has been made that four pounders have been caught. In looking at how to catch carp one important point is not to confuse this species with an immature common carp. This fish will have rounded tips to the large caudal fin, and a smaller tail fin. This fish is often used as bait fish, or to keep predator species feed, but those who love fishing have at times found this a good sport fish as well.
Grass carp is found mostly in smaller lakes and backwaters, and are heavy eaters. This fish looks much like an overgrown olive and silver minnow with a sleek body, and in fact it is one of the largest members of the minnow family. A grass carp will have three simple rays and three branched rays on its tail. Growing up to a whooping 400 pounds in some environments this species will eat more than twice it’s own body weight a day in vegetation, and some have reported their best moments in fishing have involved the grass carp. Along with its weight it’s the fish that will put up the most fight and is thus more favored by many who fish for recreation. Along with vegetation they will also eat some insects, but it is often still considered a filter fish.
Techniques for Carp Fishing
The first important piece of information necessary in managing how to catch carp is to know the species residing in the area you want to fish. Because some carp are insect feeders, while others are filter feeders there are two distinct methods of carp fishing which are regular hook and line, and the suspension method.
Pre-baiting isn’t needed for the suspension type of fishing, but in looking for the common carp, crucian carp, and the grass carp pre-baiting is a method of drawing the fish closer to the surface. Many anglers prefer using corn, while others swear their best way of fishing for carp is to use small sized dry dog food. It’s important to only use enough of the pre-bait to work up some competition among the fish, but not enough to have them become full or no longer interested in feeding.
- Hook and Line
It’s possible once the carp are interested to use a normal hook and line method for common carp, crucian, or grass carp. After the excitement of pre-baiting the fish are usually nearer the surface and feeding quickly and competitively.
Many anglers use the lift method by using fishing floats that offer a lot of buoyancy. The tip of the fishing float should just break the water surface so it can detect the carp bite easily when a carp takes the bait by lifting the shot that lies on the lake or river bottom.
- Fly Fishing for Carp
Fly fishing for carp is a challenging endeavor, but many anglers are beginning to take on these clever and cautious fish using fly fishing techniques. You may have heard experienced anglers disparage carp by writing them off as trash fish. However, this reputation is starting to change because the fishing community is beginning to realize that the species exhibits the attributes that make the sport popular. For instance, once a carp is hooked, it will make a run that will likely take you by surprise. Also, the fish species can grow to large sizes, which increases your challenge of catching one. Keep in mind that you will need to fly fish for carp using different methods than you will when you are trying to catch other fish species with a fly.
While fly fishing for carp, be sure to pay close attention to your rod and reel setup to confirm that it can hold out against a fish that weighs 20 to 40 pounds. In fact, you’ll likely need a six to eight weight rod. Also, the rod must have a good drag level, and a heavy line is necessary to reel in a carp after it decides to eat your fly. Before casting, assess your fishing hole’s conditions because when the water is opaque or at a high level, you’ll need a heavy line, but if you’re fishing in clear water, then a lighter line may be required to prevent the fish from becoming wise to your dinner scheme.To determine the right type of bait, review the eating habits of the fish species. In most cases, carp feed from the bottom of the waterway. Occasionally, the species will feed from the surface, but the behavior is unusual. Therefore, you should be ready to fly fish for carp from the bottom. When fly fishing for carp, you can use some of the same types of bait as you would for other fish species. Crayfish designs, nymph patterns and wooly buggers may tempt a carp to take a nibble. Be sure to weigh your flies down so that they’ll reach the bottom of your fishing hole. If you notice that the carp are feeding from the top, then you should attempt to mimic the way that they are eating in the moment to have a successful fishing expedition.
While fly fishing for carp, keep in mind that the fish species features barbules along the sides of their mouths. The barbules are full of taste buds. This means that you should handle your flies as little as possible because they can detect your scent. The fish species also has taste buds on their fins.
Experienced anglers often pursue carp when they find them in shallow waters. If you have the opportunity to catch them using this method, then cast out in front of a fish. Permit the fly to sink, and then, give it a small tug. Once a carp is tempted to take a bite out of your bait, be sure to set the hook. By perfecting your fly fishing technique for catching carp, you’ll have the chance to take on one of nature’s feistiest creatures.
- Suspension Method
The suspension method is a controversial method, but will come up in discussions regarding how to catch carp. In catching a filter feeder fish typical hook methods are at times ineffective and it’s necessary to use a completely different type of bait. The bait in this case is usually dough based. As tiny pieces fall away from the dough the fish become attracted following the source of food.
Important note: If looking at different lakes and streams for filter feeding carp check ahead to find out if suspension is allowed as this is a method that will harm and scar the fish even if not caught. Checking ahead of time to make sure suspension fishing is legal in the area is recommended, as is attempting other more humane forms of baiting and catching these species. In Texas for example, in areas where a Triploid Grass Carp Permit is in effect, only catch and release is permitted. Since the fish taken with the suspension method are harmed in the process this method is illegal in those areas. Check with wardens, park and lake websites, or with bait shops in the area to find out what is and isn’t allowed. Often the only times this method is approved is where the filter species are considered invasive and damaging to the natural environment, but is permitted only at certain times of the year when all the fish in the stream or lake are at genuine peril of starvation, or loss of habitat due to over spawning.
Best Fishing Gear for Carp
Because some species of carp are large and capable of putting up the same type of fight you find with bass and trout it’s best to have a sturdy fishing reel in order to bring in what you hook. If you need guidance with choosing the best fishing reel for you please check our fishing reels buyer’s guide. In the consideration of how to catch carp the best equipment will be able to sustain a medium to large fish, which will mean a casting or spinning rod capable of holding 120 yards of 12-pound line. The most commonly recommended reels are the Daiwa SS Tournament, Shimano Baitrunner OC 6000 and Daiwa Emblem Pro or similar.
The recommended sinkers are egg, slip, and small split shot. Bobbers are not recommended. The most popular size for hooks among those with experience and who know how to catch carp is 6, but it’s a good to also carry 4, and 8. A fishing net capable of holding up to 40 pounds is also recommended.
If you are going for the larger carp species you will need a rod at least 6 feet long with some flexibility, but made with quality materials. Medium to heavy rods are recommended for the bighead and common carp especially since these will be able to bear the weight and pulling of the fish. There are rods especially designed for carp and while some enthusiasts swear by these, most that fish recreationally will not have a use for these, and rods created for other fishing work well as long as these are long enough and sturdy enough to take on a large fighting fish.
Another reason to know the species in thinking of how to catch carp and to be prepared for the environment before arriving at the destination is the weight used on the line should match the weight of the fish you are hoping to catch. Many recommend at least a 12 pound weight to start, and add a bigger weight if necessary. The line itself should be heavy duty and should match the watercolor since this will make it nearly invisible once submerged. The Camo Carp fishing line is recommended for this purpose. Strong line is recommended if the water has weeds or debris.
Using Bait for Carp
For pre-baiting or chumming the most recommended type is a shredded wheat mix with cream corn. Some have luck simply using torn up pieces of bread, small dog food, or cooked corn. Other suggestions include chopped up lunchmeat or hotdogs. Almost anything might work as long as you consider the size of the carp in relation to the food. Everything tossed out on the water should be small enough to grab in a nibble or two.
On the hook bait follow the same principle, you want something small enough so the fish will find it a possible food source, but not so small that the fish can grab it off the hook without even snagging it. At times considering the size of the fish you wish to catch is critical in seeing how to catch carp effectively.
For suspension fishing use bread balls, hardened dough, or a commercial fish bait ball. The bait should sink into the water so don’t use so much the hook and line will float at the top of the surface. The bait should be something like cornbread, which will break apart slowly enticing the fish toward the hooks.
Common carp will respond well to a variety of different baits, as will the other species that eat insects along with vegetation. Some have used live insect bait for these carp with good results. There are also artificial baits for these species, but many report better luck with live baiting, or organic material like lunchmeat, corn or breads on the hook.
One favorite technique for carp fishing in the southern part of the United States is to use a ball of cornbread dough. Cornbread made from corn meal will entice the silver and bighead carp because the smell is much like the vegetation they thrive on, and it breaks down to almost the same size particulars as commercial fish food. Almost any type of dough will work, and many shops in areas where carp fishing is popular will have commercial baits like this available, and some even have their own unique varieties.
Seasons for Carp Fishing
Because there are several species of carp it’s possible to find some way or learn how to catch carp some place all year long in America and some parts of Europe:
- Larger carp will be more active in the spring.
- The bigheaded carp, and common carp are most active in May.
- Silver carp will be most active in spring, and continue to remain active through the summer months.
In summer, it’s still possible to catch larger species, but because of the warmer water the larger fish are likely to look for cooler spots in the lake.
Fall is perhaps the best time depending on the weather for carp fishing as the sun doesn’t keep them from coming to the surface and remaining there longer. This is a good time for all species of carp.
In the winter, cold weather will slow down the carp’s metabolism so the fish will need to eat less. This can make it hard for those just learning how to catch carp. These fish will feed for shorter amounts of time in the winter. This will make the fishing harder, but carp enthusiasts don’t let this deter them. Many camp out and wait for those opportunities when the carp are interested to drop their lines. Some use two rods and reels for winter fishing of carp. Drop one line and hold it in place, and use the other to rove from spot to spot to check for schools of carp.
Weather and Carp Fishing
One unique aspect of all species of carp is the ability to survive in lower oxygen than most fish native to the United States. This enables the carp to be one of the last survivors in a damaged lake system. In looking at how to catch carp effectively consider that even at the height of summer when in some areas the water is low these species should still be thriving. It’s important to note however that in a non-catch and release situation to look for warnings that fish might not be consumable if the water levels are too low.
Warm weather will not deter any species of carp, but sunlight on the surface if it heats the area beyond 85 degrees will drive them downward. In most states this isn’t an issue, but in the United States in places such as Louisiana this is a possibility.
Very cold weather dipping below freezing will drive fish downward as well. They will not arrive on the surface even when their favorites are pre-baited or chummed. For those brave few who want to fish in weather below 32 degrees it’s going to be necessary to drop a deep line and be prepared to wait. Cold weather will drive the fish to eat less, and feed for shorter time periods. This doesn’t mean these fish will die out in the cold. In fact, while native fish will often decrease in extremely cold weather the carp can survive even if the water becomes blocked with ice. Even in these conditions then the angler can hope to entice a few carp to surface if they are hungry enough.
Good news in thinking of how to catch carp is this fish is more apt to bite in the rain. Rain will not affect fishing for insect feeding species of carp. Carp are used to finding feeding opportunities during the rain, so unless the weather turns particularly nasty they will continue to feed.
While rain will not deter the carp, air pressure changes can. When the barometric pressure drops these fish will move slower, and tend to remain at the bottom feeding on dead materials rather than facing the surface. In situations where the barometric drops those fishing will either need to be extremely creative in baiting, or they will need to wait until they see the pressure make a change.
Spawning habits of the carp are also affected by the weather. For the carp the spring is the time for spawning although in some areas it is also seen in the early summer when the temperature is around 68 degrees or 20 C. Those who know most about how to catch carp will watch the temperature more than the calendar to know when spawning occurs. The first few warm days in spring are the most likely times, and spawning will take up to three days. If as sometimes happens there is a cold snap after a long set of spring time days the carp fry will sometimes die off, as these are too immature to survive in cold temperatures unlike the adult carp.
Best Times of Day
As with any fish as you consider how to catch carp, thinking of the eating habits is the key to knowing when to try the lake or stream. All fish are naturally hungry early in the morning, but this could mean looking for spots in a highly sought after fishing area. This is because anyone baiting early in the day can expect to see the most competition from the fish, and carp will be the most aggressive in taking the bait bringing them to the hook early.
The best news here is there are other times when the carp will be active, and the schools typically move around throughout the day. On a warm day this fish is apt to be more active even until the late evening, so through baiting it’s possible to gain the excitement of the carp, and pull in the same size as you might earlier in the day.
The carp is well suited to using its environment to survive, and as anglers we would tell anyone new to fishing for this type of fish, it takes some knowledge of them and their environment to successfully learn how to catch carp. We hope you have found this guide informative and useful.
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