How To Catch A Carp – A Complete Guide to Catching Common Carp With a Rod and Reel

How to catch a carp. A complete guide to catching Common Carp with a rod and reel.

Whenever the average person thinks of a carp, the image that usually comes to mind first is the Common variety. These are species of fish that are not commonly fished for or targeted by anglers in much of the United States. They also have an abundant population in areas such as New Zealand, Australia, and other parts of the United Kingdom as well as Eurasia.

In most other parts of the world, they are a major gamefish and highly sought-after as food. Populations have been declining over the years due to overfishing and harvesting in much of the western world. Even so, you can still learn how to catch a carp, ten, or even more by using some very simple methods if the body of water you fish has a thriving population of them available.

What Are They? Why Are They Misunderstood?

Carp are a native family of fish comprised of different individual species similarly related to minnows. Among fish such as the Koi and Goldfish which are primarily bred and kept for their beauty as pets, there are other variations on the traditional Common variety such as the Leather and the Mirror subspecies.

All of the fish started their lives as natives to Europe and Asia where the Roman population would deliberately raise and harvest them for food around holidays such as Thanksgiving.Around the 1800s, they started to inhabit North American water bodies via the deliberate introduction into 25 of the 50 United States. It was initiated by the United States Department of Fish.

The original intent of such introduction was to provide a sustainable food source to the general population. Well, they did. For a time, the desired result was achieved. Unfortunately, they were also very good at reproducing at alarming and staggering rates.

Common Carp minnow resting in hand on black background.

A Mirror Carp minnow resting in hand on black background.

As a result, the population spread to all 50 states in the nation. Since this time, many recognized them as invasive. Harvesting went unchecked for quite a few years. They are now listed as threatened. They have become naturalized in most waters and have reached a balance in their environment.

Still, they continue to have a poor reputation in today’s society. As fishing for food became less and less common, and as professional catch and release tournament fishing continues to become more mainstream, the poor fish’s reputation as a tasty dish has since faded from the tasty view of public opinion.

Not only that, but many individuals have even failed to mention just how great of a fighter that the fish of this particular family is. The fight in these particular animals is nothing short of incredible. When you catch your first one, it will likely be one of the most aggressive fights you have come across.

Pound for pound, they just do not like to buckle under pressure and they will likely test your abilities as an angler if you manage to hook up.

Learn and Observe How They Behave In Nature

Before you make the effort to start catching the fish, it is helpful to know what you were going after first. You need to understand many things about them so you can successfully hook into some later. The first thing is that they are omnivorous foragers. When an animal is omnivorous, it means that they eat plants and other animals. Humans are omnivorous.

A forager is an animal that prefers to roam around a large area in search of food. They naturally eat things such as plants (obviously), but they are also notorious for being scavengers of the bottom for creatures such as aquatic worms, insects, crustaceans, algae, zooplankton, crawfish, shellfish, and smaller fish.

This tendency means that they love to consume berries and nuts that fall into the water. Naturally, particle baits like corn, boilies, and millet work well because of this. They can also live in most water qualities and are tolerant of many conditions including scenarios of lower dissolved oxygen which are often lethal to other fish.

They are extremely prolific breeders as one female can lay upwards of a million eggs in a single calendar year. Even with all those eggs, most of them never make it because other fish are eating them. Many predators find a juvenile Common or Koi very tasty. They can be more readily found in water that has a decent amount of submerged vegetation.

Not only does it help them better feed, but structure provides shelter so juvenile fish can stay away from predators like catfish and Largemouth Bass.

Are They REALLY Dirty Bottom Feeders?

Are They Really Dirty?

If you ever asked anyone who fishes for these fish regularly, they would most likely tell you that they are dirty creatures that prefer dirty water. While not necessarily true, the most prevalent populations of fish exist in water that has a high coefficient of organic matter submerged. Contrary to popular belief, they actually do not prefer mud or particularly dirty water.

You have likely heard before that the presence of Goldfish, Koi, or a Common is the primary indication of poorer water quality. This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. They are also found in clean water too. Other than making it murky or cloudy, their presence and tendency to uproot vegetation in a body of water does not drastically affect it in any particular way.




Believe it or not, that is actually more than half of the time. Its reputation was attributed to it because they can survive and even thrive in water with low dissolved oxygen levels. While it is true that the species has adapted to tolerate the same poor water qualities that would prove lethal to other fish, many believe that the presence of the species is why water quality ultimately suffers.

While this may be true in some cases for some water bodies, they usually generalize to say that a thriving population of these fish indicates a lack of oxygen. The reverse is actually true. The quality of the water is not a result of their presence but rather it is the primary reason for it.

Commons, Mirrors, Goldfish, Koi and similar species are the only ones that can tolerate water like this, so, therefore, they end up being the only ones that you end up catching. In other words, the water quality causes the fish and not the other way around.

Are They Really Bottom Feeders?

Actually, the definition of the term, “bottom feeder”  is dependant on who you ask. The dictionary definition is an aquatic animal that feeds on or near the bottom of the water. This definition is slightly confusing to some because pretty much all fish do this to some degree.

The definition does not describe a bottom feeder as a fish that feeds on the bottom primarily. Every fish that consumes other bottom feeders is considered one by definition such as Largemouth Bass eating Crayfish. That would make the Largemouth Bass a bottom feeder as well as the Crayfish.

The issue with this definition is that it is not clear and concise as to what makes one more than another. For instance, Catfish are much better examples of bottom feeders because they hang out on the bottom very often and do much more feeding on it.

With species of fish like the Common, Mirror, and Leathers, however, there is not a clear indication to whether they are actually feeders of the bottom. The truth is that like most fish, they do feed on the bottom from time to time, more often than other fish and they tend to be considered as such.

They love scouring the bottom for plants and other animals to eat. Does this make them a bottom feeder? Technically yes, but they also love hunting in the middle and near the surface too. They tend to attack what is available instead of what is on the bottom.

Remember that your bait does not need to be on or near the bottom to work. Can you still eat them? Certainly. Will they taste good? The answer is, “it depends on where you caught it”.

Finding Your Fish For Success

The most important part of catching any species of fish is the location. There are actually three different things that you should master before fishing. Those are location, location, location. I know what you are going to say. Very funny David.

You are a hoot and a half. In all reality though, it is the most important aspect of catching any fish. A full livewell never happens unless fish are present, to begin with. With that in mind, there are some key features that will help you identify optimum waters that are likely to house these awesome fighters.

If all of the prerequisites are met, chances are much higher that you’re targeted species are inhabiting the area. To have the best potential the water needs to be warm, cloudy. muddy, or silty, and full of structure. They tend to favor water that is higher in temperature. They normally try to avoid most cold water scenarios.

Man with canoe and paddle paddling forward in dirty water.

In those cases where they are forced into it, they will often inhabit shallower water. Also, make sure that the water you choose to wet a line in is full of mud, silt, or generally low visibility. As mentioned earlier since they are foragers, they like to go around picking debris off the bottom.

This creates a lot of bottom disturbance and a whole lot of dirty water. Lastly, make sure that you are fishing by a structure. While they are not particularly fond of anything, in particular, large amounts of submerged structure often cherry the highest concentration of food for the fish such as insects. Expect them to hunt in such places regularly.

Needed Gear Specifically For Efficient Fishing

When you consider how this type of fishing is done, it uses a few different items that are all essential in helping you be the most efficient you can be on the water. Utilizing certain items will help you make the most out of your time on your fishing trip.

In addition to your rod, reel, and line (which we will go over in a little while), there are some key components that will really help you out. These specific items are the same ones that are used by most people in Europe for one reason and one reason only. They work.

The basic items you will need to get started are bite alarms or bells, rod holders, a landing net, an unhooking mat, a set of needle nosed pliers, and a way to chum. Those are the most basic of items you will need. Using these will help you hook into even the biggest of fish as well as any smaller sizes you may come across along the way.


  • Bite Alarms or Fishing Bells

A bite alarm is an audible device that is designed to make a sound when a fish takes your bait in its mouth. It basically tells you and lets you know when you got a fish by emitting a high-frequency sound wave. Bite alarms are specialty equipment that can get quite expensive especially for the weekend angler.

If this happens to be the case, you might steer more towards using bells instead. If you really cannot afford bells either, (or if they are not available), you can use absolutely anything that will make some noise. Feel free to experiment with what works best for you.

Exactly how they sound, fishing bells are very simple pieces of engineering. They clip on the end of your rod. They will start to ring whenever a fish bites. The reason you would want to use an audio device is that you will almost always be leaving your fishing rods in rod holders.


  • Rod Holders

The next required piece of gear is a rod holder or five. Okay, you don’t really need five. They let you fish more rods at a time though. Rod holders allow you to fish without constantly having to hold the rod in your hands. They keep your rods stationary and they allow you to operate them hands-free.

This is especially helpful when you are fishing more than one or two rods and you cannot set the hook on more than one at a time. You can be fighting one fish and still be fishing with bait and chum in the water at the same time. It is just a better way of doing it.

A good, durable, rod holder will provide you the insurance you need. One of the most common ways is to take a fallen branch and break it into a rough shape of a capital, “Y”. The bottom is pushed into the ground and the middle provides a nice platform to set your rods in.

The issue with this is the fish’s uncanny ability to pull your rod into the water. To prevent this, use a thicker stick and stick it in front of the rod seat behind the reel. You can also purchase plastic Y shaped rod holders for cheaply specifically for this purpose if you so choose.


  • Landing Nets

There is not an angler today that cannot benefit from having a good landing net that is perfectly made to suit bigger fish when you need to land them. Having a good net by your side will greatly increase your chances of landing that lunker when it comes near to the bank or boat.

You will always want to invest in a good net that has silicone or rubber netting instead of thread or other abrasive fibers. Silicone is a rubber that is durable yet stretchy so it will not damage any scales. It is also much easier on the fish because it doesn’t dry out near as quickly.

Finally, the netting itself is much thicker so it rips much less easily. A good net with a decently long or telescopic handle will make it easier to land fish from a distance regardless if you are on a boat or on the shoreline.


  • Unhooking Mats

An unhooking mat is a crucial part of good fish handling and care. As the name of the device implies, it makes it much easier to unhook the fish. The mat itself is often a soft cushion for the fish to flop around on if it wants to.

Having the fish on one of these opposed to the ground prevents it from beating itself up or causing injuries to itself as you painstakingly try to shake that hook loose. It also does a much better job of preserving the natural coat of slime on the scales of the animal that are used in fighting infections, diseases, and complications from parasites.

Always obtain some of the water and completely soak the top of the mat for the best results. They dry easily and the fish will thank you for your care and concern about its safety and well being.


  • Needle Nosed Pliers

A great set of pliers with a needle nose is worth its weight in gold. They help you easily handle and unhook the fish. Also, good sets double as a line cutter. Really good sets can even serve as a hook cutter. You want a good pair of pliers because these particular fish love to flop around.

I cannot count the number of times I have gotten the hook in me when a fish gave a good thrash. Trying to remove the hook with your fingers is just not a good idea anymore. Too many injuries can happen to your hands as well as the fish. Always pack a good set of needle-nose pliers or forceps in your emergency fishing kit contents.

Also, the pliers give you a much longer and precise reach. That means you can reach further down in the fish’s throat to unhook it if you need to. If you are careful, you can save an otherwise mortally wounded fish if you have a good pair of pliers by your side.


  • A Way To Chum

Make no mistake. Chum is the epitome of Carp fishing. Chum is what interest the fish enough to come and take a gulp at your bait. In saying this, an essential part of fishing for them consists of a way to chum up an area. There are quite a few ways you can do this. One option is to just throw the chum out with your bare hands.

That can work but there are some other ways. Another popular way is to use a slingshot. You make balls of bait or Chum, pull it back on the slingshot, and let go of it before casting into the pile. Another way that is quite popular is to use spods or spombs.

These are basically devices that the chum goes in. You cast it out the device flips over and puts the chum in the water. You cast your rod into the middle of the chum pile after. Still, there are other ways that involve certain devices. They all attempt to do the exact same thing. They all work.

The most popular way, however, (and arguably the most effective), is to use a method lead. We will cover that in a little while.

Recommended Tackle Setup

man fishing on water with spinning rod with blue sky and mountains in the background.

Is Baitcasting Or Spinning Tackle Better?

The debate about spinning tackle vs baitcasting is a controversial one. All of us as anglers (whether we like it or not) tend to have this preconceived notion that our way is better than the ways of others. Especially true in the world of fishing rods, we as people tend to lean more towards what works best for us as individuals.

Instead of asking the question about weather spinning tackle or baitcasting gear is better, we should be asking about which rod and reel combo works the best for us as individuals for the species we intend to catch. There are people out there that just will not pick up a spinning rod.

There are others that will just not pick up a baitcasting rod. Many Anglers will lean more towards a spinning rod for their versatility and ease-of-use. Other people will lean towards baitcasting gear because it offers more backbone. Those are fine reasons. The issue now becomes this.

Is it recommended to use spinning gear or baitcasting gear for the species? Again, it comes down to personal preference. The baitcasting rod was designed to haul in big fish. It can be an excellent option to consider if you are trophy hunting as well as smaller fish catches.

If you are just starting out we recommend using a spinning rod and reel combo. They are easy to use and you will catch a lot more fish. Once you get experienced enough you can always use a baitcasting rod if you choose.


Rod Length

The length of a certain fishing rod does not matter as much when after fish of this species. Rod lengths vary drastically, but the size you should get is 100% dependent on how far you want to cast as well as how much lead.

If you want to cast halfway across a lake or completely lose sight of your rig in the distance, you want to use a very long rod. Anywhere from 10 to 14 feet in length is a good choice for those Anglers who want more distance with their casts.

Longer rods also make fighting fish more fun because you have to haul a Mia in from further away. If longer rods aren’t your thing or would just prefer to make shorter, more accurate casts, you can settle for 6 or 7-foot rod which will still adequately land any fish you can hook into.

If you’re between a rock and a hard place trying to decide which one to pick, we recommend settling for a 12-foot rod length. It is a versatile choice I can do almost everything.


Rod Action

The action of the rod goes hand-in-hand with your personal preference. Fast action rods tend to have much softer tips and stiffer blanks. Medium action rods tend to bend more towards the middle of the rod. They will give you a little more leeway when you hook into a bigger monster.

Slow action rods bend all the way to the handle. This is called a full parabolic bend. You can have a lot of fun wrestling a fish on one of these. If you are confused and don’t know which one to pick, we recommend that you start with a fast action rod.

It’ll give you a lot more sensitivity to detect bites and will let you set the hook a little bit harder. They also come with a ton of backbone. More than enough to haul in the biggest commons. At the end of the day, you will catch much more fish and you can always switch the action of the rod later.


Rod Power

It is well worth mentioning that the rods power class in America is the exact same as saying test curve in the United Kingdom. In the United States of America, power classes vary from ultralight (used for Crappie and panfish)and they go all the way up to extra heavy used for saltwater behemoths like Marlin and Great White Sharks.

The power of the rod is exactly how it sounds. How much power is in the rod? Many would generally consider that huge saltwater fish are not caught on ultra-light tackle. In the same way, many would agree that the tackle used to Target crappie is not extra-heavy.

What does this mean? It means that anglers who want to go after Commons should select a rod with a medium to medium heavy power class. If you are from the United Kingdom your test curve should be around 2.75 pounds.


Reel

The type of reel you decide to use is entirely based on which rod style you decide to go with. As mentioned earlier, only the angler can decide if a spinning setup or baitcasting one works for better for them. The spinning is recommended for beginning anglers but a baitcasting rod to some can be more efficient.

If you do choose a baitcasting rod, make sure you get a quality baitcasting reel to go with it. Make sure you do not get a lower-quality spinning reel for your spinning rod either. Make sure they can handle the strain of the game. Ensure that you have a very fast reel that is also very tough.

Make sure it balances well with a rod you decide to put it on. You want the fastest one you can get away with too. You want to be able to land the fish quickly. They have soft lips and mouths, they are beasts at fighting, you will not be using circle hooks, and they just love to jump.

The more line you can bring you in with one turn of the handle the better. Never give the fish a chance to wiggle that hook loose. Hook it and bring it in as quickly as possible. Make sure it is at least a 5:1 gear ratio.


Line

Fishing line choices are many in number. So many strands exist to help you catch more fish. It is arguably the most important factor for fishing and catching Commons, Mirrors, or Leathers. The line you will want to use is a superline or braid.

Braided line has no stretch at all and it is unmatched in sensitivity since they are such light biters. For the most efficient and versatile line choice that will provide great strength and the most casting distance, choose at least 25-pound test braided line.

You can go heavier if you would like but always remember that line differences in the heavier ones are more apparent and easier to see. Be wary of that. 25-pound braid provides enough casting distance, superior landing, and load strength, and absolutely no stretch.

Everything you need in one strand. As for the color of the line, it can vary depending on the water you are in. Moss green is always the old standby as it works pretty much everywhere but others can produce well too.


How To Properly Hair Rig A Bait

A hair rig is the most classic and versatile of fishing rigs. Instead of being pierced with a hook, the bait rests on a piece of line on the side of the hook. (the hair). The hair rig has a number of different perks that make it the best all-around choice.

First, it is great at holding baits. Even for many baits that you cannot pierce or put on a hook which is the case with some of the best baits for Carp, a hair rig will often allow you to fish with them. Also, the hair on the hair rig makes it almost impossible for smaller fish to steal your bait. The rig also provides a great deal of stealthiness.

When fish come, they will pick up the bait and start to mouth it with their lips. They never get any indication that it may contain a hook nearby. When the fish sees that it is safe to eat, they ingest the hook too so you can catch it. It almost always results in a clean hookset too. It almost always tags the fish right in the bottom lip. It is worth learning how to tie and use it. This is how you put it together.

What You’ll Need:

  • A Strong, Durable, Braided fishing lineA good braided line is recommended for hauling in the smallest as well as the biggest fish. The diameter is extremely tough yet extremely thin so it works well for its purpose.

  • Baiting Needle: A basic baiting needle is required to make sure that baits fit onto the hair correctly. You can buy these as is or you can make them yourself. They are a pretty simple concept. All you need is a long, thin piece of wire with a notch in the end. Just enough so you can grab the loop on the hair and slide your bait on. You can always make one by using an Eagle Claw jighead bent straight. The barb will catch the loop so you can pull the line hair through your bait.

  • Sharp Hooks (NO Offset): If you take away anything from this post about your hook selection, make sure that it is concerning the offset angles of them. Whatever you do, do not ever use an offset hook for a hair rig. An offset will only work for you about half of the time. If it is placed correctly in the mouth of the fish, it digs in better. If not, it pulls out. Half of the time results in a lost fish. Don’t take that chance. Use a normal straight shank. Use a number 4, 6, or 8 size hook for the best results. Also, make sure that your hook has an angle to the eye. Which angle doesn’t matter too much. As long as you feed the rig in properly, any eye angle should work fine.

  • Swivels: Swivels serve a dual purpose. First, they serve as a way to connect the entirety of the rig to the main line. This makes it easy to change your rig if you choose to do so. Second, it acts as a shock absorber. The swivel will spin with the rig if the fish ever starts to flip or twist on the fight so it never gets enough leverage. When considered, a ball bearing option is always a better one to consider over the traditional barrel swivel as they turn much more easily when the load is huge. That is something you are likely to come across.

To tie a basic hair rig that can be used to target all sizes of fish, follow the steps below:

  1. Cut a length of braid 24 – 36 inches long. This is what you will use to make your leader.
  2. Next, you want to tie a very small Surgeon’s Loop to the end of the braid. The smallest you can get away with. To tie a Surgeon’s Loop, tie a simple overhand knot but make it very, very, small. Tighten the knot and clip off the tag end. What you are left with is a length of the braid with a very tiny loop on the end.
  3. Next, pass the tiny looped in through the side of the eye that contains the hooks point. You want the loop to rest beside the bend of the shank. Not the barb or hook point.
  4. Adjust the length of the hair to be however long you want it and wrap the line around the hook shank starting near the eye and wrapping about 7,8 or 9 times.
  5. After you have done that, pass the end of this line back through the eye of the hook where the bend is. This is the reverse way you started.
  6. Pull it tight.
  7. Tie a Surgeon’s Loop to the end of the rig. It can be any size you would like.
  8. Slide your bait onto the hair by piercing it with the baiting needle, sliding the looped hair into the notch and pulling the braid through the bait.
  9. Insert a bait stop inside of the tiny loop before pulling it firmly.


How To Make A Method Lead Feeder Rig

Now that we have learned how to hair rig a bait, we can now finish the rest of the setup before we start fishing. The method lead feeder rig is the go-to set up. It requires what’s called a method lead. All the method lead trans to be is a lead sinker with ribs in it.

They also make other weights with a slightly different design. They were designed with chumming in mind. Theoretically, you place chum inside of the method lead. The unique design of the sinker really holds on to the bait. You then put the hook of your rig into the side of the chum.

When you cast it out, the chum on the lead dissolves in the water. It makes a nice chum cloud right beside your hook bait. As a fish eats the chum, it will eventually pick up the one with a hook in it. In Bass fishing, this rig is called the Carolina rig or bottom rig.

  1. Thread a method lead onto the main line.
  2. Next, thread on a plastic bead. It will protect the knot at the swivel.
  3. Tie on a barrel or ball bearing swivel. It will keep the lead from traveling down the line onto the leader.
  4. Run the surgeon’s Loop of your hair rig through the end of the swivel and pass the rig back through the loop until its tight.

How To Fish It Correctly

If you feel the need to fish the rig correctly, do not be alarmed. It isn’t very hard to do it all. All you have to do is insert chum into the method lead, stick the hook of your hair rig into that chum, cast it out and leave your rod in the rod holder. Listen for the distinct sound of your fishing bells or bite alarms to alert you when you have a fish.

All it takes is a gentle Hookset. Set the hook and hold on for a very aggressive fighter. After you have played the thing for a while and gotten it close to the shore or your boat, you can decide to land it in a landing net or not depending on its size or your preference.

With the fish now in the net, place it down You’re unhooking mat, get some water on it, and set the fish down on it. Cover the fishes eyes to prevent it from flopping around. Now is your chance to remove the hook. Here’s a good pair of needle-nose pliers to remove the hook.

After you have taken your picture release the fish back into the water gently. If the action seems to be slowing down, you can always real backup and add more chum to the method lead. You can catch all three species of fish on this exact rig.

  1. Add chum to the method lead (sweet corn, bread crumbs, chopped boilies, etc.)
  2. Insert the hook of the hair rig into the chum.
  3. Cast it out to your fishing location
  4. Put your fishing rod in a rod holder
  5. Wait for the sound of the bell or bite alarm to alert you
  6. Set the Hook
  7. Hold on for the fight of your life
  8. Net the fish if possible
  9. Cover its eyes with your hands and place it on the unhooking mat
  10. Unhook the fish with a good set of needle nose pliers
  11. Release the fish gently.

What We Think About The Common Lifestyle

In conclusion, we have gone over everything one would need to know to get started. If you have the patience and commitment, you can specifically target them as a species and even reel in some huge Mirrors and Leathers along the way by doing it very efficiently.

All in all, I believe one could keep learning their entire lives about a fish and never figure out the perfect approach. Even so, we touched on those things that have produced for a very long time. We have gone over the gear you will need, some miscellaneous items that are exclusive to this sport, where to find fish, and even how to catch them once you have found them.

If you are confident in your abilities, you can always get some beautiful fish for many years to come. You just have to stay motivated, use the right tackle, and not wear out along the way! The drag on your reels will be screaming if you manage to hook up with one of these feisty creatures. You just have to get out on the water and start experimenting. Catching them is an experience worth remembering.

 

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