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How To Fish for Carp

Wednesday, 2 October 2019 10:43:01 Europe/London News , By Jack Grandorge

How to Catch Carp for Beginners 

Introduction to Carp Fishing 

Carp fishing can seem very confusing and complicated for first-timers. Although, carp fishing is a very popular sport, with anglers putting in a total of 7 million days on the bank in the UK alone

Carp Fishing: The Beginners Guide

So you want to know how to fish for carp? You’ve been out and bought yourself a brand new set of rods and reels, but now it’s time to put your first carp in the landing net.

Carp fishing rods and reels set up on rod pod over a lake with a beautiful sunset.

This article will provide you with all you need to know to put a bend in your rod tip and your first carp on the bank. We will also discuss more advanced tactics for the experienced carp anglers, as well as the secrets to success when fishing in cold water over the winter. 

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How to Fish for Carp

Carp Fishing Secrets

Unfortunately, catching big carp can prove very challenging for even the most experienced anglers. So what’s the secret?

There are many secrets to carp fishing, but let’s start with the basics first. It’s pretty obvious when you think about it, yet many anglers still overlook the golden rule. FIND THE FISH.

This simple tip could save you hours of disheartening sessions. You could have the most perfect rig topped with a sweet hook bait but for what if the fish aren’t in the area? I can guarantee that if you find the fish and present a neat rig, you will see results!

Find the Fish 

Common carp surfacing and swirling on lake surface.


So now you ask, “but how do I find fish?”. There are many signs to look out for. Lake carp are most active during dusk or dawn, so we recommend checking out the lake before fishing.

If the lake is local, it would be wise to call in on a few different occasions. Perhaps on the way to or from work. Visiting and observing the lake on multiple occasions will give you a good idea of where the fish commonly frequent. 

It’s all very well and good knowing this, but I bet you’re still asking “but how do I find the fish?”. carp give themselves away in all sorts of manners. 

The most obvious observable carp behaviour would be what’s known as a “bosh” or a “rolling fish”. This is where the carp leaps out of the water and lands with a big splash. Pretty clear sign, huh?

The reason why is a controversial topic amongst carp anglers, with some claiming that this is an act to clear their gills from silt whilst others claim that this allows the fish to charge air into their swim bladder, subsequently allowing them to change depths in the water. The reason why is irrelevant, anyway. 

Other ways to locate carp are a bit more subtle. These discrete actions are often tricky to spot and require a constant keen eye over the lake. On sunny days a pair of polarised glasses make fish spotting a breeze. 

Polarised sunglasses reduce the glare on the water and will often allow you to spot big fish sitting on the top of the water column soaking up the rays on warmer days. Polarised glasses will also help you see further into the margins. Many anglers completely dismiss the margins which allow the carp to use them as a haven away from angling pressure. 

Bubbling on the surface of the lake is considered an angler's delight. Wondering why? This slight fizzle of bubbles often indicates that there are feeding fish below.

This is a perfect spot to subtly sling a bait to. We would recommend a small lead with a single boilie hook bait combined with a tiny PVA stick. If you can put it under their noses without spooking them, you’re guaranteed a bite!

Meet the Locals 

Another vital tip would be to socialise with the lakes regulars and the Ballif. These people are likely to have put in many hours on the bank and will be more than likely to share extremely valuable information with you. 

It is paramount to ask other anglers who are familiar with the lake for advice on what has been successful in the past. Most regulars will have an understanding of the lake and will point out to you the features of the lake bed, baits that are proven to work, rigs that have done well as well as the hot pegs.

Finding the fish is the golden rule. However, it is also important to remain stealthy as to not spook the fish and encourage them to feed confidently. 

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How to Set Up for Carp Fishing 

Essential Carp Fishing Tackle

Of course, you've got your brand new fishing rods and reels, but what else do you need? A simple yet effective rig can be set up using just a few components. 

Don't waste your hard-earned cash, here is a list of the most vital carp fishing components;

  • 15lb braid

  • Size 8 hooks

  • Size 10 swivels

  • 2.5oz or 3oz leads 

  • Rig tubing 

  • Leadcore leaders

  • Lead clips

  • Rubber beads 

  • Bait stops

  • Bait needle

Carp Fishing Lead Systems

Most fishing rigs entail a lead system that is connected to the main fishing line.

The lead system usually involves a stronger, abrasion-resistant leader which allows a lead to be safely clipped on. There several lead systems available, commonly including inline, running and a lead clip. 

For fishing in clear lake beds, we would recommend a fixed lead system, i.e. the inline system or a lead clip. 

The weight of the fixed lead helps to pull the hook firmly into the fishes mouth, ensuring that strong hook holds are achieved. 

But what about the hook? We’ll get to that. 

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How to set up a Hair Rig for Beginners 

What is a Hair Rig?

The hair rig is a fundamental fishing rig, the basics which many more complex rigs can be adapted from. The hair rig is a hook length which allows the bait to be thread onto the line beneath the hook.

Carp fishing hair rig with a bright red boilie as bait.

This is beneficial as it allows larger, hard baits to be used as well as the fact that softer baits are less likely to fall off the hook. Double winner! It also reduces the chances of your bait covering the point of the hook, which could result in missed bites. 

How to Tie a Hair Rig

To tie your first hair rig, start by taking a 20-inch strip of 15lb braid. Tie a small figure of eight loop knot at the bottom, just big enough to fit a bait stop in. Using a baiting needle thread on your desired bait to ensure you leave enough space underneath the hook.

Next comes the tricky part, the knotless knot...

Thread the braid through the backside of the eye on the hook. Pull the hook down to just above the fixed bait. Wrap the braid around the hook shank downwards at least four times. Then, going upwards, wrap the braid over the other wraps, ensuring everything is tight.

For the final step, thread the braid through the back of the eye of the hook once again and pull tight. 

There you have it. Your first knotless knot and hair rig, well done!

Now all that’s left to do is attach the completed rig to your lead system. We recommend using another figure-eight loop knot and looping the rig through on itself onto a swivel. This allows you to easily remove the rig without cutting it. Perfect for PVA sticks.

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How to use PVA Mesh Bags for Carp Fishing 

What is a PVA Bag?

First of all, let's start by explaining what a PVA bag is. There are two types of PVA used in carp fishing; PVA mesh and solid PVA bags. PVA bags are designed to be filled with small bait particles, such as pellets, boilie crumbs, and ground bait. 

Once under the water, these bags dissolve, leaving a perfect spread of bait on the lake bed. Needless to say, trying to fill these bags with wet particles will end in a sticky mess. 

But why would I use a PVA bag in my carp fishing? 

Carp fishing tackle including PVA bags as part of a Fox display in a fishing tackle shop.

When to Use a PVA Bag

Firstly, PVA bags offer unrivalled versatility. You can sling them anywhere and fish with confidence.

PVA bags offer a pristine presentation on the lake bed. A small, compact explosion of irresistible bait is more than likely to get the fish feeding. Solid PVA bags allow you to present your hook bait with a pile of attractive bait beneath it, meaning that you no longer have to worry about your catapulting accuracy. 

Many anglers put their rigs inside the solid PVA bags, ensuring that their rig is perfectly presented. Placing your rig in the PVA bag allows you to be confident that your rig is fishing effectively wherever you have cast to. 

The slow sinking bag will settle over the top of the silt or even weed, allowing your hook to sit above it all once the bag has dissolved. This makes fishing in unclear lake beds much easier as there is much less chance of your hook being covered, sinking in silt or snagging in weed. 

How to Fill a PVA Bag 

Struggling to fill your solid PVA bags?

The trick to a good PVA bag is all in the build. We recommend using Medium or even Large PVA bags, as small ones can get a bit fiddly to work with. 

We start by making a nice “bag mix” using high attract pellets up to 4mm in size, combined with ground bait and some crushed boilies. We usually prepare a small bait tub at the start of each session, and sometimes add some PVA friendly liquids too.  

To build the bag, start by filling around ¼ of the bag with the mix. Thoroughly tap it down into all the corners, compacting as you go. 

We then add the lead and leader. Experience tells us that an inline lead system works best for this tactic. 

Continue to fill the bag until it’s just over half full, remembering to tap it down and compress as you go. At this point, we place the baited hair rig into the bag also. It is very important to check that the hook is not tangled or caught on anything inside the bag. 

Fill the remainder of the bag and compact it. 

At this stage, you will need some PVA tape. Cut a length and stick the end to your bag using your tongue (some PVA tastes better than others!). Next, you will need to tightly wrap the tape around the top of the bag, firmly sealing it all. Lick and stick the tag end. 

Stop! You’re not ready to cast yet!

Before you cast release any air from the bag. To do this, simply stab the bag with your baiting needle a few times and cut off the corners. This will stop your PVA bag from floating on the lake surface and spreading bait all over. 

Solid Bag Baits

We recommend using a buoyant hook bait with solid PVA bags, such as a pop-up boilie, artificial corn or a boilie topped with artificial corn. 

For the ultimate hook hold, combine your buoyant bait with a simple KD rig. The KD rig is a simple variant of the hair rig, designed to provide an aggressive hooking process when combined with buoyant baits. 

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How to Make A Zig Rig for Carp Fishing 

What is a Zig Rig?

There are a lot of factors that determine whereabouts in the water the carp are likely to be. When carp feed, they are usually on the bottom of the lake. But they're not always feeding. 

Carp often cruise around various depths of the lake, swimming straight above your bait and rigs. This suggests that we need to find a way of presenting a bait higher in the water where it is more likely to be swallowed up by a passing carp. 

This is where the Zig Rig comes in a treat!

How to Tie a Zig Rig 

Zig rigs offer a way of fishing higher up in the water where float fishing would not be a viable option.

A zig rig is nothing more than a standard hair rig with a highly buoyant bait. Zig rigs can vary in length, usually sitting from 2ft to 12ft high in the water. 

Measuring the depth of the lake with a marker float is a good place to start when preparing a zig rig. 

If you don't have a marker set up, however, start by tying a hair rig of around 4ft. This will allow the highly buoyant bait to sit 4ft above the lake bed, with the hopes of intercepting cruising fish which may not have any intentions of feeding. 

The key to zig rigs is trial and error. If a zig rig 4ft above the lake bed brings no success, then try altering it to 6ft. Keep playing with the length until you find one that works!

A carp caught in a green fishing net

Zig Rigs in Winter and Baits

Zig rigs are especially effective during the winter months, during which the carp are feeding less. Zig rigs often rely upon the inquisitive nature of the wandering carp who may suck up your bait through curiosity. 

There are contrasting opinions regarding the most effective zig rig baits. Some anglers swear by vibrant pop-ups soaked in liquid attractant, whilst other anglers favour black zig rig foam. 

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How to Fish for Carp in Winter 

Winter Carp Fishing 

The lake temperature has a huge effect on the behavior of the carp. As the lake cools down, the carp get less active, their metabolisms slow down and their visibility drastically decreases.

At the beginning of the winter period, the lakes will still be cooling down. This suggests that the deeper areas of the lake are favourable spots amongst the carp. This is because the deeper water is likely to stay warmer for longer, offering more activity and natural food for the fish. 

During the later stage of winter, however, the shallower areas are more likely to be successful spots. This is because the shallower waters will be warmed up faster by the sun. Consequently, this means that this will be the hub of activity and natural food supplies in the early months of the year. 

A half-frozen, snow-covered Carp fishing lake in winter.

Carp Fishing in Weed

A top tip for carp fishing in winter would be to target the weedy areas of the lake. 

Yeah, you heard me right. 

I’m not crazy. This is where the remainders of the natural food will be, as well as the fact that the fish will know this area as a haven away from angling pressure. Fishing in heavy weed requires specialist rigs, such as the ever-popular Chod rig or even the Ronnie rig

As previously mentioned, the carp experience reduced visibility during the winter months. Many anglers have found vibrant, brightly coloured baits such as fluoro pop-ups to be the most effective over winter. 

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How to Fish for Carp with Bread

Surface Fishing for Carp

A carp seen with its mouth open on the surface of the water.

Using bread when targeting bigger fish can prove very challenging, yet remains an irresistible bait for carp of all sizes.

Using bread as bait is considered to be one of the cheapest and most effective methods of floater fishing. 

This tactic is best used on warm, sunny days when the fish can be seen cruising close to the surface of the lake. 

Many anglers avoid using bread, however. This is because they struggle to keep the bread on their hook whilst casting. 

To cast at any distance, a large surface float is required. As well as aiding casting, these floats also enable you to see your bait as well as acting as a bolt effect when the fish takes your bait. 

This means that the weight of the float will sink the hook into the mouth of the fish. 

So how do you get the bread to stay on the hook?

An annoyance for many anglers. Trial and error have taught us that the key is soft bread. Not the stale old stuff your wife gave you. 

The softer the bread, the better. Fold the fluffy, soft bread over your hook and squash it down so that the hook is completely covered by the bread. The bread is soft enough as to not get in the way of the hook point setting in the mouth of the fish. 

How to use Dog Biscuits for Carp Fishing

A great floater fishing alternative to bread would be the use of dog biscuits. Carp can get extremely competitive when feeding on dog biscuits. Placing your hook bait amongst a feeding frenzy is bound to achieve results!

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How to use a Marker Float for Carp Fishing 

Why use a Marker Float?

The marker float is a carp angler's (not so) secret weapon. Marker floats allow anglers to explore the lake bed from the bank, providing information about the surface of the lake as well as the depth. 

Many lakes, particularly old pits, have lots of underwater features. These features can include gravel bars, deeper spots, shallow shelves, drop-offs and all manner of underwater obstacles.

How to use a Marker Float 

A marker float set up consists of a large, hi-viz float and rough weight. The marker float is cast to the desired spot, and the lead should be felt down. 

When the lead lands on the lake bed, there will either be a solid feeling thud or a softer, reduced feeling. 

A solid thud indicates that the lead has landed on a solid surface, such as gravel. A softer landing, on the other hand, suggests that the lead has landed on a softer surface, such as silt or weed. 

A pair of anglers landing a carp on a pontoon.

Slowly drag the lead across the lake bed, winding in slack as you go. 

A bumpy sensation indicates that the lake bed is clear and again gravelly. 

If the lake bed is not clear, the lead will either sink into the silt or get trapped amongst the weed. This will put extra weight on the line, causing the rod tip to bend round more. 

Once you have found a nice clear spot in the lake, release line one foot at a time until the marker float reaches the surface. The number of foot-long lengths of line released indicates the depth of the lake.

The marker float is now in position and can be used for baiting and casting rigs towards. 

We recommend clipping the marker road and finding a visual reference point in the distance so that you can recast it accurately when it is time to add more bait. 

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