Looking to learn how to catch carp? This guide will give the details on how to get started carp fishing.
In the US, Carp are often seen as a nuisance. However, this view may be changing. Anglers are starting to discover that carp are a great sportfish. Some anglers are even enjoying them as table fare.
I like the fight they put up. They can definitely be a formidable game fish.
Carp – Background For Anglers
Carp are a large family of fish in the same family as minnows. When we talk about carp in the U.S. we refer to four main species that are not indigenous. These species, the Black, Grass, Silver, and Bighead carp were introduced accidentally in the 1970s.
They are typically not a sought after for food or game fish in the Americas. However, they are regarded differently worldwide. Fishing for and eating carp is common in both Europe and Asia where they make up the largest portion of their game fishing.
The carp commonly seen in the U.S. were brought in as either farm or ornamental species. They are often large, sometimes topping over 100 pounds.
They can adapt readily to poor water conditions and live just about anywhere. Carp are considered an invasive species which can be detrimental to our ecosystem. Many anglers catch them just to help with their removal.
Types Of Carp
Anglers normally go after three main carp species.
The common carp(Cyprinus carpio) is named accurately. It is the most common type of carp you’ll find. They are found in most freshwater bodies in the US. They’re omnivorous. They’ll eat plants and small creatures such as worms and crayfish. The world record Common carp weighed 75 lbs and 11 ounces and was caught in Lac De Cassien, France.
I truly enjoy catching mirrors, but they are harder to find. The Mirror Carp has a different scale pattern the common carp. Instead of having a regular scale pattern, it has a sporadic scale pattern that can often result in just a few scales.
The Mirror carp is considered a sub species of the Common carp, so the same world record applies.
The Mirror carp is not as common. But, it can reach very large sizes of over 50 lbs.
The Grass carp is similar in appearance to the common carp except it is elongated. It has many of the same habits as the common carp. The world record for Grass carp is 87.6 lbs.
Are Carp Good To Eat?
Carp are definitely edible. They make up a large part of people’s diet in many European countries.
However, you may find them a bit bony as well as fishy tasting.
There are ways to get around these problems. By properly filleting a carp, you can avoid the Y-bones.
As for the flavor, many anglers like to soak the carp meat in a buttermilk soak. This can help get rid of any fishy flavor.
I’ve written a whole write up on eating carp, just click here to view it.
Where to Fish For Carp
Carp occupy a large number of lakes, rivers, and ponds in the U.S. They are hardy and can live just about anywhere. They can tolerate a variety of temperatures and water conditions. They can also tolerate pollution, turbidity, and stagnation.
Finding a body of water that holds carp is easy. Check with your local wildlife agency or DNR to find waters that contain carp. You should also find out what the regulations are for catching them.
In any body of water, the first place to look are the warmer shallows. Carp can often be seen cruising. Check backwaters, side channels, and open flats.
Carp eyesight is very good at spotting movement. While they don’t often use their eyesight for hunting, they can easily spot predators. Finding stained water might help you catch them.
While these are all great clues, the best place to fish for carp are where you see them. They are so adaptable, they could be most anywhere. Here are a few tips on locating carp:
Feed the Fish/Feed the Duck Spots
Anywhere around docks, marinas, boat ramps, or other structures where people commonly throw pellets or bread to animals will be likely to attract carp.
Vegetation – Carp love a good, sparse track of aquatic plants. They will often cruse back and forth, covering the whole area for any insects or other edible matter.
Silty, muddy Bays – Shallows with soft, muddy bottoms that the carp can nose into are quite popular. They dig for worms, insects, and vegetation along these stretches. You can often spot the plumes of mud where they are digging.
When to Fish For Carp
Carp will feed most any time of the day and will feed readily in all four seasons. They can be caught year around, especially in southern climates but some times and seasons will be more productive than others.
Time of Year
Late Spring through early Fall is a long, productive period for carp fishing. The hottest days of summer may send them deeper but they are more tolerant of high temperatures. They may favor the backs of bays but will still be active at mid-afternoon on a 90 degree July day.
Any time the water temperatures are in the 60s and 70s is high time for carp. This will be their most active range. This usually means late spring to late summer in most of the country.
Best Time of Day To Catch Carp
Usually carp will feed later in the day than what most fishermen are used to. You don’t have to hit the water at the crack of dawn to get them. Sleep in and show up a little later and they will be ready.
Note: I said a little later. Usually a prime time for carp is around 10:00 when the water starts to warm in the sun. Hit the flats and you are likely to see the freshwater leviathans emerge from the deep.
Carp will stay active until just after noon when the sun is a little too much before seeking shade for a few hours. Usually by late afternoon, they are back on the hunt.
They will continue to be active until the water cools in the wee hours of the morning.
Carp Fishing Gear
Compared to many fish species, carp require a lot less. There are no special carp reels or rods. You don’t need a special line. Any basic setup with enough strength will often do the job.
The most important trait in a rod for carp is strength. Carp can weigh in excess of 30 pounds and commonly are caught in the high teen and low twenty pound range. Any pole meant for catfish will usually work for carp
To get more specific, use recommended line weights for a guide. I would recommend something that maxed out at no less than 20 pounds and would prefer more than 30.
As far as power you are going to need a lot of it. Rods in the medium to medium-heavy range are best. You can go with a heavy rod but you will likely have to fight harder to get the carp to the surface.
Action is very important when fishing for larger fish. When a carp takes your bait, there usually won’t be a light or false hit. You will know in a big way. Your rod won’t have to be sensitive, it will need to have a solid hook set.
I recommend a moderate action but you could go as far as slow, especially if there are big carp present. You need the slower action to keep good pressure on the fish. Carp are notorious shakers.
Reel & Line
Reels and line are best covered together. You can use spinning gear or casting gear but the line weight will often be the biggest factor in choosing a reel. You are going to need strong line, at least 20 pound test and maybe more for the true giants. There is little reason to exceed 50 pound line.
You want a reel with a lot of torque. Forget the fast reels you use for bass and go with something with more power. Gear ratio will help out a lot by easing pressure. Somewhere in the 3:1 range is good.
For line, you can use mono, braid, or even fluorocarbon if you are so inclined. What you want is something strong that doesn’t stand out. When carp take a bait they can be very sensitive to heavy lines or large hooks. It’s for this reason that hair rigs are popular. More on hair rigs below.
Carp Bait & Tackle
Where you can spend hundreds trying to get the prefect setup for bass, musky, or trout, there is nothing that complicated about carp. This is one of the beauties of fishing for this species. They eat cheap and readily!
Corn has been the staple bait for carp in much of the U.S. You want it salty if you can get it and a good pro-tip is to opt for Hominy. The alkali process used to treat it makes it much more attractive to carp who love the salty smell.
It can be as simple running your hook through a few kernels or you can rig them see below). This is a very effective bait and you can get a whole days supply for a buck.
Many carp fishermen will chum the water with a little corn as an attractant. This can be very effective where it is legal to do so. Check your local regulations before trying this. And remember that less is more. Don’t give them a full belly for free.
Also, Grass carp love cherry tomatoes. They are hard to bait effectively on a hook but if you can find a way, this is one of the best baits for grass carp.
There are a few, commercial carp baits that can be effective. This depends on the water you are fishing and the particular fish. Some will be called to it like it was the best feast in the water. Others will swim by it and never take a second glance.
Commercial baits come in both pellet and boilie form. You may occasionally see shad as well but these are only effective on a small number of carp species. These baits are cheap and worth having in your toolbox as another option.
You can chum with these as well. You may as well use them up while you are there. After they are opened, they will lose their attraction after a few days.
There are also sinking and floating versions of these. If you get the floating versions, you can use them with a sinker and then have them float up just off the bottom for a distinctive presentation.
Carp often find a piece of corn floating up off the bottom to be irresistible.
A less common but occasionally effective bait are worms and leaches. Not all carp will take these but bighead, silvers, and black carp will snatch them up if they find them. Fish them lying on or close to the bottom. Being on the bottom is preferable and can be done with a heavy hook.
Corn and other salty/smelly baits will attract carp to a location over time. Worms and leaches will not. If the carp are not in the area you are fishing, try another bait first.
For an in depth round up of the best carp baits you can buy click here.
Speaking of hooks, it bears repeating that carp are very sensitive. Your hook selection is important. Shiny silver or red hooks are not attractive to carp. They don’t want anything that flashes. Stick with matte or black hooks whenever possible.
Carp have very thick jaws that can be hard to puncture. Make sure you use a hook that cuts readily to get a solid hook set. Avoid wire hooks that can actually hook inside the jaw and not penetrate fully. Not only is this bad for the fish but it also decreases the chance of landing them.
Your hooks need to be thick to handle the fight a carp puts up. Carp are hard fighters. They can flex and bend thinner hooks.
Any bottom bait presentation rig can be used for carp but there are two that are used more commonly. Both had their start in Europe where carp fishing is a more popular sport and were designed to catch carp.
The Hair rig uses a bait suspended below the hook so that when the carp sucks it down, the hook is in a perfect position. The carp’s sensitive mouth may feel a hook and cause it to drop the bait. The hair rig helps prevent this. You can learn how to tie this rig here:
The Chod rig allows the bait to float just above the hook with the hook positioned upside down. This puts the hook in proper alignment while ensuring the bait lies in a natural way that the carp will want to feed on it. You can learn to tie the Chod rig here:
Some carp fishermen swear by lures. There are even fly anglers that target carp. Sight fishing with small flies or hair jigs is an effective tactic.
Try to cast in front of moving carp. Then as the carp approach, give the jig a twitch. That may be all that’s needed for the strike.
This is a common tactic in the clear waters of the great lakes are. But it can work anywhere you can see the carp.
In murky or stained water, this may be a more difficult tactic. In these types of environments, carp are more likely to rely on sense of smell.
I’ve caught carp with lures designed for bass fishing. Some people may accidentally foul hook a carp using bass lures. However, I hooked this fish just under the mouth with a lipless crankbait. Check out the video below:
Tips, And Tricks On How To Catch Carp
- Don’t rush carp, they are a slow fish with a slow feeding pattern. Take your time and you will have more success. Even if a carp has passed your bait several times, leave it. Only when he leaves the area should you reposition or change baits.
- Getting a large carp off your hook can be harder than getting one on. If you land a big one, cover its eyes with a wet cloth and it will fight less. These are immensely strong fish and people have been injured when taking them off a hook.
- Look for ducks. While this is not a universal, many species of ducks share a similar feeding ground to carp. If you see ducks cruising around, give the area a once over for some decent fish.
- Chum where legal. A little corn or crushed up boilies can draw in carp from quite a distance. It will take a little time but in warmer weather, you can see them hit it on the surface. Just check your local regs before you do.
Special Note: Some states and specific waters have laws regarding the return of carp species. Where I live it is illegal to put a carp back in the local lake. You have to take it or kill it. Check your local laws and follow them.