Beginner’s Guide to Carp Fishing by Justin Solak
We all love the thrill of a big fish on the end of the line. The rod doubled over, the drag screamin’, adrenaline pumpin. But if you’re in my situation, heading to the ocean or out of state to find this fix is not an option as frequently as I’d like. This is why I turned to carp fishing. Fish that can easily top 20 pounds almost in my back yard. We’ve all seen em sunnin themselves, crashing out of the water, bumping into your kayak, or leaving a giant wake when spooked. Those of you who have tried to catch them know how elusive they can be, and anyone willing to help always has some bait that will catch em all, right? It’s much more complicated than that. Sure, you can hit em here and there using any number of baits, but those sessions where you hit 3, 4, 5 or more fish can be a little hard to come by. So I’m gonna break it all down for you to get started
Choosing a Swim
Carp will generally hang around anything that isn’t just flat open water. Weed beds, underwater trees, rocks and gravel, log jams, eddies, coves, you name it. No swim is going to catch you more fish than an area where the carp already want to be. And where they want to be is usually where the food is. There’s exceptions at certain times of year where they’re looking for warmer or colder temps, but that’s for another day. I’m speaking mainly of the spring pre spawn season and the fall pre-hibernation season. Both times of year when the carp really have the feed bag on and most definitely the best time to get that fish of a lifetime. If you can find areas where food can congregate on its own, you’ll find a good spot to start. And you can up your odds by prebaiting.
One of my favorite tactics to create a productive swim is to prebait. Meaning introducing food into th
e area you plan to fish beforehand. Carp are very intelligent fish and can almost be trained to show up looking for food. So getting feed into the water a few days in a row before you plan to fish will give you the best odds of hitting fish. One of the more popular techniques is the “Pyramid Baiting System”. Starting out with a good amount and getting less as the days go on, so by the time you get to fish it, there’s lots of hungry fish in the area looking for food. Oats, sweet corn, creamed corn, cracked corn, field corn, chick peas, bird seeds, even bread balls and boilies. All great feeds to throw in. My personal favorites are particles, which can be flavored. My thought behind it is it keeps fish in the area longer looking for food. Rather than a couple hundred large baits out there, there’s thousands of tiny baits which keep em rootin around lookin for food. And its known that larger fish push out smaller fish. So if there’s no bait left when the big girls move in, well, you get the rest. Remember, particles need to be soaked and boiled before being used to avoid harming fish.
There’s loads and loads of baits that can be used as hookbaits. Most of the larger particles can be soaked, boiled, and flavored. Countless sizes and flavors of boilies (egg based dough balls boiled to harden) paste balls, even artificial baits such as pop up (floating) corn. Any combination of these or any used alone can be very effective. For spring time, fruity flavors can be some of the best producers.
The most commonly used rig we use is called a hair rig (look it up) It’s essentially a snelled hook with a loop hanging off that the bait sits on. So the bait isn’t on the hook, leaving it complete exposed to do its job. You will need a baiting needle to get the bait on the “hair” (loop) and a bait stop to keep it on there. Slide the bait onto the needle, latch it onto the hair, then slide the bait from the needle to the hair. Once the bait is on, slide the bait stop onto place and slide the bait down to keep the stop snug. You can buy bait stops, but in a pinch, I’ve used a small piece of a leaf stem. As far as leader length, shorter is usually better with a few exceptions. 8in is a good all around length, longer if there’s lots of small fish or a really muddy soft bottom. A sliding weight above that and its good to launch out. NEVER use a fixed lead. If your mainline breaks and that lead is fixed to your leader, its a “death rig”. Meaning if that weight gets caught between some rocks of logs down below and the fish can’t get free, that’s the end of the fish. So please, don’t take this lightly. To take the carp safety a step further, when using braided line, splice in a 3ft length of fluorocarbon to attach your leader to. Not only does it avoid ripping scales off during battle, but keeps your line free of nicks and freys from behind the carp’s fins.
Method Mix / PVA Mix
Method mix is a term given to the mix you launch out with your hook bait. Throwing out a piece of corn is like putting a needle in a haystack for the fish to find. Putting that same piece of corn on top of a pile of food makes it that much easier for them to find. Making a method mix can take some practice. Since you want to mold it around your lead and cast it out, it needs to be sticky. But you want it to break down, so it can’t be too sticky. Start out with some quick oats and some creamed corn and take it from there. Mix the two well and make a ball to drop in the water. It should start to break down within a couple minutes. If its too dry to make balls, add some more creamed corn, sweet corn, or even a splash of water. If its too sticky, add some more oats. Practice makes perfect, and remember, you can’t cast these a mile. To avoid having to do this or to allow you to have a nice bait presentation at range, you can use PVA. A dissolvable bag you can fill with oats, corn, etc and attach to your hook. Just make sure your PVA mix isn’t so wet that is starts to dissolve the bag before you cast.
Rod and Reel
You can get by with almost any decent setup. I’ve pulled large carp out on light action setups. But there’s a few things you’ll want. A longer rod (9-12 ft) will help you get more distance as well as help you play fish easier, and a reel with a bait runner will allow you to keep your rods during a violent strike. Carp are know to hit like freight trains, so without a bait runner, make sure your rod is secure.
When you do finally land that monster, take my advice and be ready. Your net you want small holes, not giant openings, or a rubberized net. This helps to avoid harming the fish and ripping scales off. Once netted, you’ll need a landing mat. If you’re not willing to go buy one, a folded up tarp will work. These big fish are extremely fragile and their massive size flopping around on the bank can easily bring injury to themselves. Not to mention rocks, sand, anything else that will pull off their protective slime. Always wet your hands before handling them, as dry hands can also pull off their slime. If you plan on weighing your catch, a scale hook in the gill simply will not do. This can actually rip the gill plate, which can be devastating to a healthy carp. Weigh slings are fairly inexpensive and are great for the fish’s safety if you’re looking for an accurate weight. When it’s time for a photo, kneel at the fish with its dorsal fins toward you, slide your hands underneath, lift up and flip her forward. One hand under the chin, the other just behind the anal fin. Never stand, always squat or kneel. The reason being is these fish tend to flop, and when they do, the risk of dropping one is pretty good. So holding the fish just above the landing mat ensures little to no injury if one happens to slip your grip. Always keep a bucket of water on hand in case the fish needs to be out or water for an extended period of time. Those big girls can be hard to handle, and once you tame her, you’re gonna want numerous pictures, so always have whoever you’re with keep them wet.
This should cover most of the basics, and any more in depth topics can be asked, but until then, hope you enjoyed the read. Good luck, and tight lines.