Carp is one of the most popular game fish to target throughout North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. They are a freshwater fish that can be found all over the continent in a variety of different conditions. If you’re new to fishing common carp, or even if you are an experienced carp angler, learning more about the species can help you improve your fishing game. In this carp fishing guide, we will cover everything you need to know to catch more carp.
Common Carp Identification
Common carp are often gold, olive, or brown shades with lighter coloring on the lower side and belly. They have a rounded snout, forked tail, and single dorsal fin. Carp also have a toothless mouth and a pair of barbels (whiskers) on the sides of their mouths.
In terms of size, carp can vary greatly depending on the environment they are in. In many areas, carp will average around 3 to 10 lbs, but they can grow to huge sizes in some areas. World record carp can reach sizes upwards of 100 lbs.
Where to Catch Carp
Carp can be found all over North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Asian. They prefer slow-moving freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers. They can also be found in slightly brackish waters.
Locating carp is pretty simple. In lakes, you have to look for areas with structure and plenty of food sources. Places in the lake that are full of aquatic vegetation are good spots to target, because there is usually plenty of structure for the carp to hide in, and plenty of insects for carp to feed on. Usually, in hotter weather, the carp will be in shallower waters, but in colder water, fish deeper sections of the lake
Carp are definitely easier to catch in lakes because they prefer slow-moving waters, but you can also catch carp in rivers if you are fishing the right spots. Look in areas where the river connects with another water body. Looking near inlets and outlets can be a good spot. These kinds of areas are usually full of food sources, which will attract carp.
What Do Carp Eat
The key to locating any fish is to locate their food source in the body of water they inhabit. That’s why it’s important to understand the kinds of forage that carp will regularly feed on. Carp are known to eat mostly insects and worms, but they have a very varied diet which also can include crustaceans, fish eggs, algae, plant matter, and mollusks. If you focus your fishing on areas full of vegetation and insect activity, these are prime locations for carp fishing.
Carp will feed pretty regularly throughout the day, but generally, as the weather becomes colder they become less and less active. When the water temperature is under 46 degrees Fahrenheit, carp feeding virtually stops altogether.
Carp Seasonal Patterns
As temperatures start to drop in the autumn months carp can be found in a variety of different areas. The most likely spot to look is in shallow waters near vegetation.
The easiest way to fish over the vegetation is to use a bobber and float bait just over the top of where the carp are feeding. This should get the attention of any fish in the area. Usually, you want to use a brightly colored lure or bait that will contrast the color of the vegetation and get the attention of the feeding carp.
Catching carp in the wintertime can be a challenge because the fish are a lot less active when temperatures turn colder. The key to having a successful winter outing is to choose the right fishing waters. You need to make sure that the lake you are choosing has plenty of carp in it for you to catch. Ideally what you are looking for is a shallow lake that is full of carp. Deeper lakes are difficult to fish in the wintertime.
If you’re serious about fishing winter carp, there are three different periods you will want to fish. Earlier in the winter before lakes and ponds are frozen over, you can have a lot of success still.
Bottom fishing tends to work well for carp most of the year, and this holds true for winter too. Find a place where it looks like the carp are feeding and try to get your bait down to the bottom.
In the middle of winter, fishing river currents is a good spot to look. Mouths of rivers can be teeming with food pulled in by the moving waters. There may also be sections of warmer water coming in, which is a good sign that the carp may be feeding a little more heavily.
Lastly, ice out is another good time to fish in winter. Lakes and ponds are good during this time. If you can find parts of the shallows where the sun is hitting more than other spots, this area might be full of life, which will attract the carp.
The rising water temperatures of spring slowly bring the carp back to life. Their feeding activity increases when the water is warmer. Focus your early spring efforts and areas where weeds and aquatic vegetation appear early on in the season. These areas are usually getting a lot of sunlight and attract a variety of food sources. The shallows will be very productive early on as hungry carp prepare for the spawning season. Shallow bays can be great spots to fish for carp in the spring. Some anglers use polarized glasses to identify fish movement beneath the surface as they cruise the shallows searching for activity.
If you’re after giant carp, the best time to catch them is generally just before the spawning season begins. When they are worked up into a feeding frenzy presents a great window to snag a trophy-sized carp. Once the spawning begins carp feeding slows down.
Carp can spawn anywhere from March to August depending on the area. They usually spawn earlier in the south, and a little later in northern regions due to the temperatures. They usually spawn in shallow areas of lakes in about 2 to 3 feet of water. Grassy or weedy areas are ideal locations.
In the heat of summer, the carp may be looking for places to escape the heat. Your best bet is to fish the shallows near shorelines in the early and late parts of the day, but fish deeper offshore waters in the middle of the day. In the early mornings and late evenings the carp will go to the shorelines in search of food. But when the sun is at its brightest, they will look to escape the heat and hunt for food in deeper cool waters.
The key is to look for areas where there is plenty of vegetation and food for the carp to feed on. This can be near the edges of rivers or in lakes and ponds with reed beds, lillies, and other structure.
Best Time to Catch Carp
Usually, early mornings and late evenings is the best time to fish for carp. They will often be cruising shallow waters in search of food during this time. Just as the sun is rising or just before sunset is one their bite will be at its peak.
Carp Fishing Equipment Recommendations
Rods and Reels
For most scenarios, a spinning rod and reel is ideal for catching carp. Use a lighter spinning rod if you’re fishing smaller carp, for larger carp use a medium rod. Around 7 feet in length with a fast action is a good choice. A medium gear ratio will work great for carp.
If you’re fishing an area with a lot of messy structure and vegetation, the accuracy of a baitcasting reel might be what you need. The same specs for a spinning casting reel are also recommended for conventional equipment. Around a 7 foot length, fast action rod, A medium gear ratio reel. You want a blend of power and finesse for carp fishing, and this gear will give you that.
Sometimes when fishing carp, a good fly reel is a good call for the situation. Carp love to eat smaller insects which can make fly fishing very enticing. Stick with around a 4 to 6 weight rod with fast action. Carp aren’t known to have a super strong bite, so you need something a little sensitive so that you can feel any potential action.
Lures and Baits
When fishing carp feeding in the shallows, a small plastic grub can be a great choice. You just need to bring your lure down to their level and present it a few feet in front of them. If the carp is hungry enough they may attack your lure. You can try to slowly bounce the lure along the bottom and see if the carp will give chase.
Since carp are used to feeding on insects, catching them on flies can be very effective. Something that closely resembles a small insect worked along the bottom is sure to get the attention of any feeding carp in the area. Whatever kind of carp you are targeting just try to use something that mimics what they are feeding on.
Carp are known to be scangers, meaning they will eat almost anything that falls into the water when they are hungry. That is why many anglers use corn for carp fishing. Sweet corn is known to work best, but you can also use other common foods like cherry tomatoes and bread to attract hungry carp.
Homemade dough balls are also popular among carp anglers. There are a lot of different carp dough ball recipes you can make using common household items. Next time you’re going fishing it might be worth spending a bit of time in your kitchen creating a killer carp bait.
Worms are a tried and true bait that work well for almost any species. For carp earthworms and mealworms are good choices.
You can use monofilament, braided, fluorocarbon, or fly lines for carp. Generally between a 6-20 pound test line is a good option. It will depend on if you’re fishing smaller carp or larger carp which strength of line you use.
Monofilament line is a good cheap option that works well when you need to get your bait on the bottom. You just have to use an adequate amount of weight.
Braided line has superior sensitivity which will allow you to feel the lighter bite of carp much more easily. It is also fast sinking, and since carps are used to eat small insects off the bottom, this is definitely a plus.
Carp are known for having good eyesight, which is why fluorocarbon lines are often used as leaders. Fluorocarbon lines are nearly invisible underwater, which makes them great for fishing species who may be line shy.
Lastly, fly lines that are forward weighted are also great for carp. Sinking or floating lines can be used depending on the situation. Since carp are usually feeding on insects and other vegetation on the bottom, most often you will be using a sinking fly line to get your fly on their level. But sometimes catching carp with a floating line is a good option.
Circle hooks between size 4 and 8 are good options for carp. The curve of the circle hook helps set the hook into the carps mouth, and they are generally easy to remove. Bait holder hooks are also popular among anglers.
Tips to Catch More Carp
Don’t Use Any Movement
Carp are known to be very shy when it comes to feeding. Even the slightest amount of movement in your presentation can scare away the carp from biting. Many anglers use rod holders to keep their rods still when fishing for carp. Still fishing is the name of the game when it comes to catching carp.
Many anglers have success chumming when fishing for carp. A popular tactic is to chum with canned corn right over the spot you place your bait. Just try not to overdo it. A successful chum will draw in the carp and get them aggressively biting, but if you chum too much it will have the opposite effect.
You have to be very patient when it comes to fishing for carp. Like we covered earlier, if you use too much movement, you will spook them, but you also have to be patient when it comes to hook sets.
Carp are known for having soft mouths, and they are known to mouth baits. So if you set your hook too quickly, or if you set it too aggressively, you either won’t get a good hook set, or you’ll end up ripping the bait out of their mouths altogether.
So the best tactic for hook setting is when you feel the light bites of the carp, wait a little bit, and then set your hook a little more gently. Don’t get over eager and miss your catch.