Like all the other fish in the Cyprinidae family, carp are considered coarse fish. However, especially in Europe and Asia, it is sought-after as game fish by recreational anglers. Carp fishing seems to grow in popularity in the United States as well. That’s because even the smaller specimens can put up quite a fight and they weigh pretty heavy on the line.
There are many species of carp worldwide and their fishing may differ. Thus, before proceeding with this post, we’re going to specify here that it refers to the common carp (Cyprinus carpio). So, in this post, we’re going to cover the best fishing conditions, methods, baits, and the best tackle for common carp fishing.
The Common Carp – Preferred Habitat, Habits, and Diet
The common carp is widespread throughout Europe and Asia, but it’s also found in many habitats of the Americas, Africa, and Australia. It’s an invasive species in many countries, and due to its high adaptability and reproductive rate, it’s very hard to nearly impossible to eradicate.
Carp can adapt with ease to a wide array of environments. But in general, they prefer large bodies of slow-flowing or still water, with muddy bottoms abundant in vegetation. They even tolerate brackish waters, as well as waters with low levels of oxygen. In low oxygen conditions, they actually gulp air at the surface.
Common carp are omnivorous fish. They have a down-oriented mouth and feed mostly (but not exclusively) on the bottom, rummaging through the mud. Their diet consists of a wide variety of aquatic plants, seeds, and plant matter, as well as insects, insect larvae, worms, small crustaceans, and even fish remains. When locating their food, they rely mostly on their highly sensitive sense of smell and touch. However, in shallow, clear water, they can rely on their eyesight, to also prey on insects, larvae, plant matter, etc, available on the surface or in the topwater layer.
Last but not least, carp usually congregate in small shoals consisting of specimens of similar sizes. Thus, if you’ve caught one in a certain spot, you’ll probably catch more. They also typically feed throughout the day, but their feeding is more intense early in the morning until sunrise.
Optimal Weather Conditions And Water Temperature For Carp Fishing
The optimal temperature range for carp fishing is 60 to 72°F (15 – 22°C) during summer and 45 – 57°F (7 – 14°C) during the colder seasons. If water temperatures rise past 72°F (22°C) and oxygen levels drop, their appetite usually decreases and they’ll be pickier with their food. If the water temperatures fall below 45°F (7°C), they’ll pretty much activate winter mode, considerably reducing their movement and feeding.
Wind usually affects carp feeding positively. Especially during summer when water oxygen levels drop, wind helps re-oxygenating the water, so they’ll breathe easier. This leads them to be more active. Also, carp almost constantly stir the sediment of a water body in search of food. Strong winds and waves do precisely that as well, basically doing the carps’ job. So, they’ll naturally be more active during windy weather as they need to spend less energy while searching for food.
Similar to wind, rain helps oxygenate the water. Not only that, but it also hits plenty of insects, fruit, and seeds from the banks placing them into the water. Thus, rain almost always pushes carp in the shallows in lakes, while in rivers, it’ll move carp to the backwater spots, out of the main current. Also, especially during summer, cloudy days and days with light rain should produce considerably better results for carp fishing, than days with bright sun.
Where To Look For Carp By Season
During winter, when water is below 45°F (7°C) carp aren’t very active. They don’t move and don’t feed, which makes winter carp fishing pretty challenging, but not impossible. As a general idea, if a fish is served a free meal right under its nose, there’s a pretty high chance it will take it.
During winter, carp usually congregate in the deepest spots of a lake, or in pretty deep, muddy holes in rivers. A warm front and a few sunny days during winter can enable carp to “wake up” and leave their holes in search of food. So, in a case like this, before placing your baits, it’s best to look for any signs of fish activity or aim for spots with vegetation and snags.
Conversely, a cold front during winter can enable carp to completely shut down.
During spring, as waters begin to warm up, carp become more active. As they begin spawning, they’ll move to the shallow areas, both in lakes and rivers. During this season, look for bays, places with snags, and re-emerging vegetation.
As water is still fairly cold, below 54°F (12°C), they’ll mostly feed throughout the day. However, even though carp feed more intensely in the morning, in spring, they can feed more in the afternoon, in shallow places, where the water has warmed up through the day.
During summer, carp feed mostly early in the morning. Especially if the weather has been constantly hot and sunny for several days or weeks in a row, their feeding may drop considerably after sunrise. So, in this case, the best carp fishing is done between 4:00 and 7:00 AM.
In summer, carp roam a lot, but they typically stick to shallow spots along the shores during the day, and move to deeper spots at night. They also look for places with a lot of aquatic vegetation because water plants not only that shelter plenty of food, they also keep oxygen levels higher.
During fall, as the water temperature begins to drop, carp move to the deeper areas of the lake. However, you can still find them in shallow spots. That’s because shallow water warms up quickly. So, especially during sunny days with clear skies, look for carp in the margins.
Similar to spring, afternoon or evening bite can be better than morning bite during fall. Also, a cold front can make carp fishing quite challenging, as cold weather slows their metabolism and moves them to the deeper spots of the water body.
Methods, Baits, and Tackle for Carp Fishing
There are three methods largely used worldwide for carp fishing with a rod and reel. These are:
Ledger/Feeder fishing. This fishing method is also referred to as still fishing. It’s best used in larger bodies of water and when targeting larger carp specimens. It calls for medium-heavy to heavy gear and involves rigs with heavy sinkers or feeders, with 1-2 hooks featuring the preferred baits.
Float fishing. Various float rigs can be used for carp fishing, but most anglers use drift float rigs or simple, fixed float rigs. The simple float rig is best used in shallow water allowing the float to drift along the shore, or when targeting carp hiding in the snags. The drift float rig is best used in places with a very slow current, or during windy conditions, and in deeper water.
Carp float fishing can also be done with a variety of gear, from long and flexible Tenkara-style rods, without a reel, to heavy spin-cast gear.
Fly fishing. Although this isn’t a very common carp fishing method, it’s pretty viable and in many areas, it is actually gaining popularity. Evidently, you’ll need heavier fly gear than you normally would use for trout, if fishing for carp. This method requires quite a bit of stalking and it’s best done when carp can be seen feeding in the shallows. Also, fly presentation and play can really make a difference. For example, if targeting carp that slowly roam the shores, dragging and dropping the fly can work wonders.
Pre-baiting a fishing spot is also a common carp fishing tactic. For this, special gear is used pretty often, including spods, spombs, spod casting rods, as well as slingshots, small remote control boats, or even drones.
Depending on the body of water you’re fishing and fishing method, carp fishing may call for different types of rods. For example, if you’re fishing with feeder or ledger rigs, you’ll need rods in an 11-13 ft. length range, with a 2.0 – 2.75 lbs test curve; you shouldn’t need more than 2.75 for most waters. Action can be medium to fast, while power, medium to medium-heavy. Usually, fast-action rods are better for casting baits at a long distance and have a stiffer backbone. Medium action rods are easier to work with and easier to master. A few good names to go by would be Shimano Spinning Aero X1, Drennan Vertex Medium, Maver Reality Plus X2, or Daiwa Maddragon.
If you’re targeting carp on float rigs, it’s best to go with a power float rod within a 10 – 13 ft. range, medium to fast action should do. A few good names to go by are Advanta X5, Drennan Specialist X-Tension Compact Float, Daiwa Black Widow XT Carp, or Free Spirit CTX.
Finally, if you’re targeting carp on flies, you’ll need a 9-10 ft. rod, 7/8 wt (give or take, depending on the fish you expect to catch). A few good examples would be:
As a general idea, carp fishing calls for three types of reels. These are bait runner reels, big pit reels, and quick drag reels. And, of course, if you’re targeting carp on flies, you’ll want to pair your fly rod with a fly reel.
For still fishing with feeder/ledger rigs you’ll need spinning reels with a heavier and stronger build, especially if you’re targeting big specimens. For still fishing, it’s best to work with bait runners and big pit reels. Here are a few good examples.
For float fishing, lighter reels with fast drag are better. Here are a few good examples:
Of course, for fly gear you’re going to need a fly reel within 5/6 – 7/8 wt range. Some of the best brands are Redington, Orvis, Moonshine, and Lamson Liquid.
Fishing line and leaders
For general carp fishing, 15 – 20 lbs line should work in most situations. But line diameter actually matters more than strength when it comes to carp fishing. That’s because they can weigh very heavy on the line. Also, for most types of low diameter fishing line, the strength of the line considerably diminishes where there’s a knot. For carp, it’s best to use the thickest line possible. So, for a general 15 – 20 lbs test line, it’s best to use (0.30 – 45 mm).
Of course, if you’re targeting monster carp, 30 – 40 lbs test may be more appropriate.
For line type, monofilament and braided can both work. Mono offers flexibility and can absorb dives or jumps of the most powerful fish. It’s can also leave some room for mistakes. Conversely, braided offers rigidity for a better hook setting, as well a high abrasion resistance, great for snaggy waters.
It’s important to note that carp can get spooked by the fishing line, but that’s especially when the line it touches them when they can’t see it. That’s why using fluorocarbon as main line may not be the best idea. However, concealing the leader can give the fish more confidence when approaching the bait. Thus, using fluorocarbon for carp leaders, especially when using pop-up baits. For bottom baits, fluoro isn’t necessary. Leaded leaders aren’t necessary either. A piece of green or brown braided leader, with a split-shot on it can blend pretty well in the environment.
Carp leaders should be at the same strength or slightly lighter than the main line. Length can vary from a situation to another. For example, in snaggy, murky water, or when using PVA bags or feeder rigs, it’s best to use short leaders 5 – 6 inches (12 – 15 cm). If the fish finds your feeder, it needs to find your hook as well. For ledger rigs, especially in rivers or big reservoirs with clear water, and silty bottoms longer leaders up to a few feet may be necessary. If the bottom is very soft, the sinker may bury in it along with the bait, if the leader is too short, which may take much longer for the fish to dig it out.
The common carp doesn’t have a super large mouth. Thus, you won’t need super large hooks. Size #4 to #8 is is pretty much the perfect hook range for carp. Evidently, since you’ll be presenting relatively small baits, circle hooks, octopus hooks, j-hooks and sickle hooks are the best choices that you can make.
If you’re fishing with nightcrawlers or other large worms, bait holder hooks may be more appropriate, but circle hooks should work as well. Finally, if you’re using boilies or other hair-rigged baits, curved shank hooks may be a better choice.
It’s important to note that carp have feeding patterns. In other words, on certain days they will almost exclusively bite on a specific bait, and totally ignore others. That’s why it’s best to be prepared and have at least a few types of corn, boilies, worms, maggots, etc. in your arsenal for each fishing session.
When it comes to boilies, they’re available in various mixes, colors, and flavors, in most bait shops. Also, many anglers have their “secret” formulas and make their own boilies. This also stands for mixes used for spod baiting.
In regard to bait presentation, hair rigs are the most commonly used when fishing for carp. That’s because they have “vacuum” mouths and suck in their food. A hair rig leaves the whole hook moving freely, so when a carp sucks in the bait, the hook follows and almost always attaches to its mouth, reducing the chances of gutting it as well.
It’s also a great idea to present bait combinations on hair rigs, or at least bi-color / tri-color baits. That’s because (as we’ve already mentioned) carp have feeding patterns and diversity can increase the chances of a bite. For example, rigging a brown and a yellow boilie on a same rig, or tipping a brown boilie with a yellow corn seed, a few maggots, or bloodworms, can make for a more appetizing presentation.
If you’re targeting carp with fly fishing tackle, one of the most important things to know is that they have a rather narrow favorite color range. They’ll go after flies in different combinations of yellow, orange, olive, brown, and black. So, nymphs or other similar flies in this color range almost always work, if you’ve found a shoal of carp feeding on the surface. Flies that imitate fish eggs like “Glo Bugs”, or flies that resemble various seeds, like corn, peas, cottonwood seeds, or tree buds, can produce excellent results as well.