How to Fish for Carp

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Where to Find Carp and How to Catch Them

how to catch carp

Carp are the true unsung heroes of the sport fishing world. They’re often considered a nuisance species for the harm they can do to local ecosystems. But this is exactly what makes them so fun to fish!

Carp are widespread, sporty, and can be caught using a wide variety of different techniques. In this article, I’ll outline what carp are, what they do, and where to find them. Then, I’ll give you some tips on how to get started fishing for Carp. 

Carp Basics

Why Fish For Carp?

Aren’t carp basically giant goldfish? What’s so interesting about that?

Well, carp are actually fantastically sporty fish. They hang out in areas we’re not used to fishing in. Their reliance on sight and feel requires you to pay attention to things you might not usually while fishing. But best of all, they’re a public nuisance throughout the US. 

Unique Fishing Methods

Don’t take that the wrong way. What we mean is that you can catch carp any of a million ways. They’re one of the top species to catch via bowfishing and spearfishing. These two methods are unique experiences, and carp provide excellent targets for anglers looking to take on a new method (and use some fun new gear). 

Some folks even eat carp. Though, in one humble writer’s opinion, carp are not exactly top shelf fare. But between their widespread availability, the different settings and techniques you can explore to catch them, and their potential as a food source, there is a lot to love about catching carp. 

Identifying Carp

Cousin of the Goldfish

how to catch carp

Carp are the largest members of the minnow family, and close cousins of the goldfish. This is very obvious by the way they look. Their bodies are large and very tough-looking, with large, thick scales and bony heads. 

Wacky Appearance

how to fish for carp

Carps’ heads resemble suckerfish somewhat, with a small, forward-pointing mouth. Their mouths have barbels on either side, much like catfish. The difference is that carp rely less on their barbels and more on their keen sight to feed. 

The carp’s body is torpedo-shaped, with the widest point being behind the head. They have large, greenish fins and shiny, “golden” scales. But they have several color morphs and will sometimes be silvery, bluish, or even dark gray-black. 

Size

Carp can grow to be huge. The world record carp weighed 100 pounds, and was caught in France. They’re usually closer to 10 or 15 pounds. Those kept domestically will usually double this size. 

picture of large carp

Carp Range

Eurasian carp are native to Europe and Asia (as the name implies). But they have been introduced to almost every continent. Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, the US, and Mexico all have introduced populations of carp. 

Eurasian Carp Life History

Habitats

Carp are fond of warm, muddy, cloudy water. They gravitate to the warmest parts of the water, so think shallows and near the shore. They tend to do better in lakes, but can also survive in slow-moving rivers. 

Soft sediment and dense vegetation are a carp’s favorite things. Carp spend a lot of their time rooting through soft soil, looking for bugs and eating plant shoots. So as a rule, if it looks murky and overgrown, that’s where the carp like to be. 

But carp can also do well in cold water. In bodies of water that freeze over completely, they will chase warm water to the bottom. As long as a lake doesn’t freeze completely, carp will survive through the winter. 

Behavior and Diet

Carp are omnivores. Their broad diets allow them to succeed in almost any ecosystem. They will eat plants, insects, crustaceans, and aquatic worms, depending on what’s available. 

The carp’s foraging strategy involves digging through mud. They stir up sediment, looking for tasty morsels. They will also uproot and eat plants as they go along, turning water even muddier and murkier. 

Interestingly, carp rely heavily on eyesight to find food. This is something we’ll come back to later when we talk about how to target them while fishing. 

Because carp like warm water, they’re most active during the day. But, it’s usually easiest to spot them first thing in the morning, when the water is still somewhat clear. The more they stir up the dirt into the water, the harder they are to spot. 

Life Cycle

Carp reproduce like rabbits, but on an even more impressive scale. They can lay up to 300,000 eggs in a single spawn. This makes them a shining example of an “r-selected” species [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R/K_selection_theory ].

In many cases, carp will spawn multiple times in a year. As omnivores that rarely run out of food, they commonly spread like wildfire once they enter a new place.

Introduction to The US, Ecology, and Management

Carp are widely considered to be one of the most invasive species on Earth. Because they’re so hardy and adaptable, they have been introduced all over the planet. In fact, they are the third most introduced fish species. 

It is thought that Carp first made it to the United States around 1831. Within fifty years or so, they had spread across the entire country. They are now very widely distributed in the US and Mexico, making a home of any murky lake or lazy stream they end up in. 

Carp interact with the ecosystems they inhabit (or invade, as the case may be) by uprooting and eating riparian [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riparian_zone ] plants. 

These plants are an important food source for native ducks and fish, so carp commonly displace native species. They also make water too murky for many fish species to live in, which can be trouble. 

Solution to this Invasive Species - Open Season on Carp

This all sounds very negative. So what do we do about it? Basically, it’s open season on carp everywhere. Few places have any kind of restrictions on carp fishing - both how you can fish for them and how many you can take. 

In some places, such as Utah Lake, Utah, wildlife managers net them by the tens of thousands and turn them into fertilizer to reduce their populations. For anglers, this is great news. The more carp you catch, the more you help fight the impacts they have on our ecosystems. 

Strategies For Catching Carp

Now it’s time to take everything we know about carp and build a strategy for catching them. As carp are widely unregulated in terms of what you can and can’t do, there aren’t a lot of wrong answers here. But there are a few methods that will give you more success. 

General Strategy and Bait

First, we know roughly where to look for carp. They hang out near the shore or in shallows in most cases. You’re after vegetated areas with soft soil and more likely than not, murky water. 

Rod

So we don’t need a very long rod. Most carp anglers use a rod that’s four to 10 feet long. Usually a three to three and a half pound test curve will give you enough action to fight a carp. 

Bait

Next, we know that carp feed by rooting around in the soil and stirring up bugs. They’re not very picky eaters, so throwing out stuff that looks and tastes good is the way to go. Live bait is not the way to go for carp fishing. Most anglers stick with one of two kinds of bait: either corn, or boilies. 

If you don’t know already, boilies are a kind of pre-made dough ball bait that can be made from almost anything. People make boilies out of egg, fishmeal, protein powder, whatever. They’re called “boilies” because the material is balled up and boiled to give it a hard shell. 

Boilies work very well for carp fishing, but they’re a lot more expensive than corn, which is arguably just as good. Either way, when you start setting up to fish for carp, you want to use some of your bait to chum the water. 

If you’ve never chummed before, you’re basically going to throw some extra bait onto the water’s surface and let it sink. Don’t use too much. You want them to stay hungry, so they don’t think twice about biting the bait that’s on your hook. 

Tying A Hair Rig

Which brings us to our next topic: how to rig your line for carp fishing. Most carp fishermen go for what’s called a “hair rig.” The idea here is to suspend the hook on a leader, just a few inches past a length of line with your bait strung on it. 

The way to do this involves a few knots that can be kind of tricky to get down. You’ll need to put your leader on a barrel swivel with a palomar knot. Then, you’ll attach your hook using a “knotless knot,” leaving a loop. You want to use a heavyweight hook that’s not too flashy. Carp have great vision and you don’t want to risk scaring them off. 

Last, using a beading needle, slide the bait onto the “hair” loop you tied. If that’s as clear as mud, here’s a visual aid. You can weight this rig with a heavy sliding weight. One to four ounces is a good size range for carp fishing. 

How to cast your hair rig

So we have the water chummed with corn or boilies. We have our hair line rigged with more bait. Now we just need to cast our hair rig into the pile of chum and wait. Be patient. Carp are more sensitive than most people give them credit for and will spook. 

Many anglers use a rod holder to keep their line in place. You can even tie a bell to your rod so you know when you’ve got a hit. Carp eat by sucking food in greedily, so when they move over your rig, they’ll gobble the hook and bait all together. 

Bowfishing

If you’re up for a totally different experience to traditional fishing, try bowfishing. Carp are the most popular species to bowfish, and make great sport. All you need to get started is your compound bow and a bowfishing reel

Most bowfishermen use specialized arrows with fiberglass shafts and flared heads. Bowfishing is fun because of how much stealth it takes. It turns fishing into a game of hide and seek. Best of all, you don’t need to think about bait. Bowfishing crams way more action into the day, whereas angling for carp involves a lot of waiting. 

Spearfishing

Likewise, you can also spearfish for carp. There are a lot of ways to spearfish, the most common being a speargun. But this is hardly the only approach. Many spear fishermen prefer the old-school method of using a hand spear or “Amish spear". 

But you can also make fishing spears that launch from your hand [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XL-H5YpnZWM ], similar to a speargun. This method is cheap and a ton of fun. Similar to bowfishing, this method makes fishing feel a lot more like hunting. 

Rod

In general, a shorter rod will work well for carp fishing. Carp anglers typically use rods between four and 10 feet long. You want a rod with a test curve of three to three and a half pounds. 

Reel

No major specifications here. A reel with smooth drag will help. Carp jerk and fight in an erratic pattern, so something smooth will help you reel them in without fighting your own line. 

Line

Heavy braided line works well for carp fishing. 50 lb braid is what we recommend. There are several brands that also make carp-specific leaders that help to conceal the bait. These leaders are stiff and make tying hair rigs very easy. 

Tackle

Strong high gauge hooks. Size two or thereabouts. Strong, small swivels are a good idea for hair rigging. Barrel swivels work well. Most anglers also use sliding weights on the heavier side (one to four ounces). 

Bait/Lures

Corn and boilies are the most common types of bait used for carp fishing. You can also chum the water with whatever bait you’re using. 

Others

For bowfishing, you’ll need a bow, reel, and bowfishing arrows. For spearfishing, a speargun, hand spear, or homemade spears are essential. A snorkel and goggles are also highly useful. 

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