Anyone who has caught a carp by accident, probably thought it was the largest trout, muskie or pike they have ever hooked. Few anglers have had any luck targeting them seriously, as they refuse virtually all baits and bolt away at the first sign of trouble. However, will a little preparation and the right approach, carp fishing can be extremely successful. Using the same delicate floats and light lines that we use for steelhead, we've had some phenomenally successful days.
My best day so far produced upwards of forty carp, including several monsters in the thirty pound class and plenty of twenties. The single biggest carp we've been able to land on float fishing gear topped the scales at forty four pounds - and, of course, we've lost a few that were undoubtedly bigger.
CAUTION: Float fishing for carp is extremely addictive.
The keys to successful float fishing for carp include choosing a productive venue, preparing an effective groundbait (chum), chumming efficiently, using and rigging the proper float, fishing it correctly and having the right gear to fight and land the fish.
When selecting your venue, it is essential to do some research ahead of time. More than likely you've already seen carp cruising around in weedy bays or deeper pools of meandering rivers. Go back to those places and look for structural elements that will concentrate carp within or close to those areas. In lakes, key areas tend to be points, river mouths, drop-offs and weed edges. Hot spots in rivers tend to be the top end of large pools, inside the river mouth, around feeder creeks and along the edges of large slow eddies. Spend some time observing different areas on bright sunny days, carp will often sun themselves, revealing their favourite holding areas.
Having found a good potential spot, it's time to focus on the bait. Carp have one of the most acute sense of smell of any fish and are quick to locate and exploit any new sources of food in their environment. One of the simplest and most effective baits is frozen or tinned sweet corn. Corn can be thrown in as groundbait and also used on the hook (tinned corn is easier to use on the hook). However, more complex groundbaits are much more effective, dispersing scent further and drawing carp in quicker.
CarpWorks® offers an excellent groundbait designed for North American waters. Our tests have yielded great results - averaging a fish every 15 to 20 minutes. Simply dump the dry mix into a container, add about a cup of water and mix it together. For added drawing power, we like to add a tin of corn or a couple handfuls of frozen corn to the groundbait. There are also a number of commercial flavour additives that can be added to the mix to give it even more punch, some of the most popular are strawberry, curry and Scopex.
Many serious carp addicts use maize (field corn) as groundbait. It is extremely important to boil (for about 20 minutes) any dry grain or seed baits (maize, nuts...) and allow them to soak overnight. This allows them to swell and soften, and ensures that they won't germinate. Furthermore, never use any dry grain or seed baits as groundbait as they will swell inside the fish and cause internal damage. It is important to use groundbaits ethically, making sure not to use large grain baits (such as corn/maize) in areas heavily populated by trout and bass. Both species have trouble digesting corn and may die if they eat too much.
As far as hook baits, sweet corn is one of the best. Many anglers have had success using boilies, dough balls, cheeses, worms, crayfish, chick peas, peanuts, etc... Just make sure that you include plenty of free offerings in with your groundbait. Carp will accept the hook bait with confidence if they've had a few freebies to start.
Once you arrive at your fishing spot with your bait, it's time to chum the area. I usually do this before setting up my rod and reel. The most important things to remember about chumming are to feed in bait consistently throughout the day and to throw it in with the up most accuracy possible. Scattering the bait will scatter the fish. This lesson was driven home while fishing with a British match angler. His groundbait was hitting the same spot, a small two foot by two foot area about 10 yards out, with uncanny accuracy. My feed was landing in a five foot by five foot area. Not too bad I thought, until I did the math. His bait covered a four square foot area, mine covered a twenty five square foot area. The carp needed to search six times harder to find my hook bait. The final score at the end of our four hour match was UK 19 , Canada 6 (and that included stealing two carp from his spot while he was busy fighting some of his bigger fish).
In rivers, it is best to use a firm groundbait and feed it in slightly upstream. This draws carp from a long distance, as they will follow the chum line washing downstream. We generally start off with a few good handfuls and feed in constantly to keep the carp feeding actively. As the number of carp following the feed increases, you can occasionally set off a carp feeding frenzy as they aggressively compete for food. Although feeding frenzies rarely last long, we have had a few stretches where it was a fish a cast.
Still waters require slightly more savvy and research, as your groundbait must be fed into an area to intercept cruising carp. Ideally, you should choose a spot that has few snags. Otherwise you'll lose most of your fish, as carp will to tangle themselves into fallen trees and heavy weed if given half a chance. Once you have your spot selected throw in a few handfuls of groundbait at a comfortable range (10-20 yards out). In general, don't feed too much more until you see some activity. We will usually feed in groundbait after every fish, trying to avoid excessive splashing that will spook the fish.
While the groundbait is doing its job, attracting carp to your spot, its time to rig up your float.
In rivers, use a float that attaches top and bottom with silicone tubing or with a removable stem. Use the smallest float that can be fished effectively and have it shotted so that only the slightest tip of the float sticks up above the water. It is best to spread the shots out along the line to offer a natural presentation, much like when float fishing for Steelhead. We usually run a 12" fluorocarbon leader (typically 6-12lbs) after the last split shot to a top quality hook size 4 to 8. A good hook is vital, as carp will strain it to the limit. Make sure to use a long rod (10'+) to provide good float control and help keep your line off the water. Matched with a centrepin reel, this presentation is unbeatable and incredibly fun. It is quite an experience to hook into a huge carp and have it tear line off the reel so fast that your finger feels like it's burning.
The set-up for float fishing still water is somewhat different. The two rigs that have proven to be the most successful are the standard waggler rig and the lift bite rig. We always run clear floats in shallow water to avoid spooking the fish. Here again, the use of a long rod is a great advantage as you'll be able to pick up a lot of slack line and set the hook quickly when a fish takes. We will usually run a centrepin with this set-up as well. It's not necessary, but once you own one, you tend to get addicted and try to use them all the time.
Now that you're all rigged-up and the fish have moved in on the bait, it's time to start fishing.
On a river venue, cast your float out and let it run along the chum line. Keep your main line out of the water as best you can, allowing the float and bait to travel naturally downstream to the fish. If your cast is off the mark, reel in and cast again, don't waste time fishing off of the chum line. Make sure that your bait is always close to the bottom and the moment the float pulls under set the hook. Carp can be extremely quick at dropping the bait and a keen eye is vital for success. Typically big carp will hardly move for the first half second, making you wonder if you're snagged, then they explode. Have your drag set perfectly if you're using a spinning reel and don't even try reeling up any line until they stop their first run. Be ready for them to turn and rush straight back at you, forcing you to reel up as quick as you can to keep the line tight. In general, if you survive the first run you have an excellent chance of landing it, as long as you can keep it out of snags and have a big net.
Again, still water calls for a little more accuracy and skill. Cast your float out past your chum, drop the rod tip below the water, sinking the line and reel in until the float is directly above your chum. Don't move your float unless you must, as any movement can spook feeding fish. With your line below the water the wind will not affect your float and the only thing that will cause your float to move is any movement from your rod or a carp on the feed. Set the hook the moment the float starts to move. If the float starts to ride higher than normal, set the hook, as this is a lift bite. A lift bite occurs when a carp grabs the bait and swims upwards towards the surface, instead of away. When in doubt, set the hook. Still water float set-ups are very sensitive and you will get a number of missed strikes. Fish brushing against the line and small minnows picking at the bait can pull the float under. Surface weeds can be an irritation on winds days, as they will catch the line and drag the float off the bait. There is little that you can do, simply reel-up and cast again. Once you get the system working properly, it is extremely effective. Most of our biggest fish came from still waters and we love fishing them.
Once you have your carp under control and ready to land, draw it in slowly over the net and scoop the net up around the carp. Never try to lift a decent sized carp out of the water with the net handle, as most will break under the pressure. Simply draw the net in to shore, holding the carp half out of the water, reach in and remove the hook. To release the carp, just drop the net back into the water and let carp swim out. We will rarely lift a fish to shore, and when we do, we always place them on grass or mud, never on rocks. When holding carp up for pictures, keep your hands out of their gills. Just support them under the belly with your hands. As far as nets go, its difficult to find a good carp net in North America. Ideally, you want something with a soft knot free micro mesh or hex mesh netting, with a 30"+ width and a six foot handle. Avoid knotted nets, as they tend to knock the scales off carp.
After catching a few carp, their sheer power and size will earn your respect. In return, treat them as gently as possible before returning them to the water. We once had an onlooker, seeing us put back all our carp, ask us to give him one for dinner. When we politely refused, the onlooker took offence and yelled at us, asking why the heck we were wasting our time and just putting them back. My British friend just smiled back at him, proudly proclaiming “because we love them” and gently returned his carp to the water.
Rod: Long powerful rods help present floats properly and control big fish. One of our favourite rods is the Raven 11'6 Steelheader. It has a soft tip that helps in presenting the float and has loads of power in the butt section to put serious pressure against big carp. It is rated for 6-12 lbs line and will perform perfectly for all but the toughest conditions. Standard 13' float rods lack the power to fight big carp effectively, but do an excellent job on smaller fish. In snaggy situations, we run the Raven 11' Specialist rod. It has tons of power to turn carp from cover, but lacks the finesse of the 11'6" Steelheader.
Reel: Centrepin reels are our number one choice. There are few products in the fishing industry that enhance the angling experience more. Without a drag system and powered by a one to one ratio, mastering the centrepin reel is the pinnacle skill in the art of angling. Raven offers a solid selection of reels, with the Vectra SST proving itself as one of the best in the industry.
Main Line: We will generally run 8 to12 lbs test line, with 15lbs for snaggy situations. Any good abrasion resistant line will perform effectively, but avoid all super lines - they tend to cut deep into the lips and fins of carp. Fluorescent lines run down to the float (but not below) help keep track of the float and of fish at the end of the line. We run Raven Main Line on all our centrepins.
Leader Line: Fluorocarbon has become our leader of choice. We usually run 5 to 8lbs leaders, but increasing strength 10 or 12lbs, if we start losing too many fish to snags. Lighter lines are less likely to put fish off of the hook bait. Our choice of leader is between the Raven Invisible and the Drennan Fluorocarbon.
Floats: Drennan is it. From Crystal Wagglers and Carp Antennas to Avons and Loafers, Drennan offers the best range and quality of floats. Most are made of clear plastic and give the angler every advantage for a subtle presentation.
Split Shot: Proper float presentations require a good quality shot that holds tightly to the line. Avoid split shot with ears, they spin when being retrieved and cause tangle-ups. Our favourite split shots are Sure-Shot and Raven Pro-Shot.
Swivels: We always use tiny swivels between the main line and the leader. Swivels reduce line twist when reeling in and offer more strength than a line to line knot between the main line and leader. Raven Ultra Micro Swivels are our favourite, as they are tiny but extremely strong (20lb breaking strength).
Hooks: Avoid poor quality hooks with big barbs or fine wire. The best carp hooks are micro barbed, medium to heavy wire and made in Japan. The Raven Specialist Hook in size 4 and 6 is our hands down favourite.
Anglers International Inc.