Understanding Carp Fishing
Carp are one of the few species in which you can make your fishing efforts as complex as possible, or as simple as you like, and still be highly successful. In true Peelin’ Drag style, we will be focusing on the ladder of the two.
Understanding a carp is much like understanding a cow or a turkey. Both seem to be relatively simple in nature, yet, very keen on keeping themselves alive. They travel in packs much like the two land based examples, using their numbers as protection, each individual more alert than the next. This level of alertness makes them a very respectable target when it comes to freshwater angling. Not only do you have to make the correct decisions, but you also have to be delicate, stealthy, and a little lucky to be able to outwit these skittish buglemouth beasts. Let’s not fail to mention their fighting ability. Though often referred to as a “trash fish”(For their quality as table fare) but nothing else in freshwater compares to their ability to burn up a reel’s drag. They’ll fight you all nine rounds and leave you wondering why you haven’t targeted them sooner.
Locating a School
Often times trying to find carp is half the battle. This is more prevalent with shore fishermen, kayakers and boaters have the upper hand when it comes to locating pods of fish. There are a few key things I look for when on the water, first and foremost being tailing fish or fish in clear water. If I can physically see the fish a lot of the work has been eliminated, you must then make it a point to distance yourself and cast on the fish without spooking them. When fish are not visible the task is obviously more difficult. You must then tap into your ability to peel back the water and make an educated decision on where to fish based on bottom contours. Having a basic understanding on what’s “down there” comes into play here. It may take you a few passes with your sonar, or a few fishing trips to learn the water, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t land on the fish immediately. Carp love soft bottoms, whether it is sand or silt, a soft bottom is what you want to be searching for. Pea gravel or small river stones can produce fish as well, generally you will find them there in faster flowing bodies of water, searching for crayfish and other tasty morsels. Structure or “snags” can also hold higher numbers of fish, they use these pieces of debris as a safe haven. Carp gain comfort in knowing they have protection if it’s needed and will often be centralized around a large piece of cover.
Lastly is the method I find myself using more often than not, surface stalking. This is basically where you scan water until you see signs of a pod of fish. Generally the most sure fire indicator would be carp slapping the surface, they do this primarily while they’re feeding. The next method you will have to use is slightly more difficult, it relies on bubbles visible on the surface, indicating that there are fish on the bottom. When a group of carp is rooting up the bottom they produce little pockets of air that rise to the surface, showing the exact location of a school of fish. This is not to be confused with the naturally occurring release of methane gas that we all see from time to time. The best way to tell the difference is by observing the bubbles in question. If they are numerous and sporadic then chances are its carp, if they are solitary and constant then it’s more than likely a methane release.
The main thing to remember when targeting an area is, once you make a decision on where to fish, stay dedicated and stay confident. Catching carp isn't always easy; more often than not it’s frustrating and difficult. Make sure before you wet your lines that you have a solid attack plan, because once your lines are in the water you’re going to be doing a whole lot of nothing. The last thing you want to be doing in that time is second guessing yourself.
Rods and Reels
As far as your rod selection goes I would recommend a longer rod at about 7-8ft, medium heavy action, with a fast tip. You want the rod to be stout that way it can handle the hard runs that carp make, but you want it to have a softer, faster tip that way you don’t apply too much pressure to the fish’s mouth, resulting in a torn out hook. A fast tip also helps with lobbing out oatmeal balls if you decide to freeline them.
When choosing a reel, spinning seems to be the more popular, easier to use option. A 3000-6000 size reel with a good drag will be your best selection. A reel with a baitrunner option is ideal. A baitrunner allow the fish to run with the bait freely before the spool becomes engaged. Once the spool is engaged, the preselected drag pressure is applied, thus making it easier to begin fighting the fish, without having to mess around with your drag settings too much. A baitcasting setup can be used as well, preferably a catfishing model with a bait “clicker.” Keep in mind that if you decide to use a baitcasting setup to have the drag adjusted before a fish picks up your bait. If you fail to do so it could result in the hook being torn out of the fish’s mouth.
As I stated before, carp fishing can be as complex as you want to make it, it is no more prevalent than with your bait selection. You can choose from thousands of store bought artificial baits such as boilies, or you can go the route of homemade route of corn and oatmeal. Fortunately, since carp aren’t as heavily pressured in the U.S. as they are in Europe, we do not need to delve into the complex world of artificial baits as much, to be successful.
There are three main bait selections I use when targeting carp.
( Oatmeal laced with Bisquik and Koolaid)
The first, and my favorite, is plain old oatmeal. It’s about as simple as it gets really, you take a handful of oats place the hook in the middle, make a fist, and flex underwater allowing water to mix with the oats without them floating away. You then take it out, make it into a more uniform ball, let it harden a little and off you go. It’s one of the most basic forms of bait, and one of the most effective! Not to mention it’s only about $2.50 for a tub…. And that’s only if you’re splurging for name brand. When it comes to casting your dough ball I recommend more of a lobbing style cast. If you try and cast it conventionally it will just fly off of the hook, which is great for chumming an area, however, it gets old pretty quick. Oatmeal works best in slow moving waters, once it settles on the bottom it begins to break apart slightly, which puts out a nice little scent trail attracting any fish nearby. If you use it in faster moving water it takes away from the baits effectiveness and you lose a lot of the pieces that break off due to the current.
Up next is another highly effective homemade bait, it goes by maize in the carp world but you’ll all know it better as deer corn. Maize is made after soaking and boiling deer corn. Essentially the concept is fairly simple, you go to the local outdoorsy store and pick up a bag of deer corn, usually for $5-$10 for a fifty pound bag, you then take it home and use as needed. Maize works better than sweet corn or canned corn due to the fact that deer corn’s tougher outer shells allows it to hold onto the hook better. I usually prepare about a pound to two pounds worth at a time, keeping the rest stored in a dry, bug free area. To produce maize you start off by soaking the corn in water for about 24 hours. This helps soften up the hard outer layer of the corn kernel. After soaking you then place the corn in a pot of boiling water for about 45 minutes. Make sure that the water level is above the corn to insure that it does not burn. Toward the last ten minutes of boiling I like to add sugar and/or other flavoring to my maize to boost its overall flavor, although it works fine otherwise. The maize proceeds to soak up the additives as it cools down, once it has cooled spread it out on a cookie sheet or another flat surface to allow it to dry, to ensure that it does not mold. Once you get on the water you can utilize maize by chumming an area in which you know carp are present. Keep in mind you don’t want to go crazy with it because this can lead to less pick ups. I suggest using the maize to your advantage, only enough to bring them in the area, in direct relation to your hook bait, should work the most effective. Maize should be rigged on a hair rig to gain optimum fishability, we will go over hair rigs in the “Rigging” section.
(Sweet Corn Boilies)
Lastly, we come to the newest tool in my arsenal, the boilie. Boilies are a carp specific artificial bait that is widely used in the European carp world. Soft and about the size of a marble, boilies can be very productive when used correctly. Generally I only use them when the situation calls for it. I fish them on a hair rig that is weighted when I am fishing higher current areas and areas where the bottom composition is mainly gravel and stone. They come in many different flavors, thus leading to the complexity of the whole situation. It can be difficult deciphering which flavors work better than others, it may take some time (and money) working through them all to find the one you prefer most. I usually stay with a sweet corn flavored boilie just to keep things simple. Boilies are most effective when paired with a mixture of maize or a collection of other tasty treats packed inside of a PVA bag. A PVA bag allows the bait to be clumped together on the bottom, creating a little mound of food to hopefully entice a hungry carp. We’ll discuss PVA bags more in depth in the next section.
Rigging and Gear for Carp
As far as your hook goes, you want something with a wide gap that is strong and sharp. I prefer a straight shank hook no larger than 1/0. When it comes to line I prefer braid, 20-65lb test, depending on conditions. Braid allows me to feel the bites if I’m free lining baits, a feature you do not get with mono or flouro. Mono works fine in most instances, it just depends on what type of rig you are using. Flourocarbon is always a great thing to have in your tackle box when it comes to the free lining technique or operating in clear water conditions, I recommend 15lb test.
When it comes to rigging there are three rigs I use regularly
First and foremost is just a plain hook to your mainline. If you’re fishing in clear waters it will be in your best interest to use a fluorocarbon leader with this set up. Although this rig is about as simple as you can get, it’s not always that easy to hook carp like this. If not performed properly, more often than not it will result in a dropped bait or failed hookup. This style relies on a lot of user interaction, meaning, you have to pinch the line in your fingers gently and feel for the bite of the carp. I use oatmeal with this configuration, that being said you must act quickly once you have a fish’s interest or else it will deteriorate your dough ball and leave you with nothing. Once you feel the fish pick it up, or make a slight run, you must set the hook quickly, almost like an old west quick draw cowboy to prevent missing a fish. Otherwise you probably won’t hook the fish and you’ll have to start all over. This style is as intimate as it gets and requires the fisherman to be very hands on. Generally I will use this style of rig when I am stalking fish and I don’t want to spook them by tossing a lead weight into the middle of their feeding area. Though oatmeal balls make noise when they hit the water, it is nowhere near as disruptive as a lead.
The second set up I use is mainly for unpressured fish, or fish in murky water. It is best used with boilies or maize and allows for the angler to be more relaxed in his fishing style. Known as the standard hair rig in the carp world, my variation incorporates one key component, a three way swivel. Overall this rig isn’t all that hard to tie either, just a bit more time consuming than others. When tying, your mainline should connect to one arm of your three way, a lead weight on another arm, and the last arm should have a basic hair rig tied onto it. This set up, if combined with a properly prechummed section of water, is a great set and forget rig. If the water has been chummed you simply cast out your rig, baited with maize or boilies, and wait for the carp to migrate in and begin working the area. The fish will then proceed to suck up the boilie and spit the fully exposed hook into its lip, once it feels the hook it will take off, lifting the setup and allowing the weight of the lead to secure a decent hookset on the fish. All you have to do is pick up the rod and get to fighting the fish.
(Brian Wingard's Sliding Bolt Rig)
My last rig, and most favorite, is one developed by fellow carper Brian Wingard, it is the sliding bolt rig. This rig, though more complex, offers superior hookup ability on pressured fish and non-pressured fish alike. To complete this setup you will need a few other pieces of terminal tackle, including: rubber bobber stops, glass beads, a small strong swivel, a 2-4oz no roll sinker(personal preference), and a hair rig. Begin tying this rig by first adding the rubber bobber stop onto your line, you eventually want it to be about a foot to a foot and a half above your swivel. Next you add a glass bead, the sinker, then another glass bead, then you tie it to the swivel. From the swivel you then tie on your hair rig. This configuration allows for the hookbait to be picked up and ran with quickly before the rubber stop hits the sinker abruptly, burying the hook home. You end up with one very unhappy, electrified carp on the other end of your line, which is always a good thing.
Another tool that can be very effective when utilized is the PVA bag. PVA bags are water soluble, made of a polyvinyl alcohol film shaped into bags. These bags allow a carp fisherman to chum an area around a hookbait. You simply fill the bag with your hookbait and choice of chum, tie off the lose end, and chuck into a spot of your choosing. Once the bag hits the river bottom it begins to break down after a few seconds of contact with the water, leaving a nice mound of carp grub all around your baited hook.
Working with certain carp baits also requires a tool not normally found in other forms of fishing, the bait needle. A baiting needle is needed when using baits such as maize or boilies, it has a pointed end as a needle would, yet it also has a slit cut into the needle end, allowing for a bait to be pierced and fed onto the hair of a hair rig. They are a must have when working with anything other than oatmeal or other dough baits.
(Clear Boilie Stops)
Another small but very important piece of gear is the boilie stop. Essential when fishing when fishing with boilies, it keeps the boilie from sliding off of the hair rig when fishing. It is really nothing more than a small piece of plastic; you can buy a year’s supply for just a few bucks. Although, if you don’t want to spend the money on the stops, they can be substituted with a small piece of mono fishing line or a tiny twig.
That is more or less all you need to begin carp fishing successfully. If paired correctly these methods and bait styles can lead to very good numbers and some very large fish. Carp fishing is an ever evolving and growing sport in the US and as new techniques emerge I will be sure to update the page. Carp fishing is very challenging and can be very rewarding when successful, they are one of my favorite species to target and I’m sure once you hook into a one they’ll be a favorite to you as well.
Fish Hard or Stay Home,
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