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How to catch carp: top tips on fishing for this freshwater favourite

How to catch carp - a big carp about to be returned
A carp caught in a fishing net (Image credit: Image Library - Royalty Free)

It's not surprising that anglers countrywide want to know how to catch carp – they’re among the biggest freshwater fish out there and can sometimes be a challenge for even the most experienced of fishermen. 

Heck, even a single-figure carp, under 10lb (4.5kg), is powerful enough to pull your rod in whilst your back is turned. 

Whilst match anglers in the UK compete to put 100lb-plus (45kg) hauls of single-figure fish on the scales, week in week out, others target ‘doubles’ and 20-pounders (9kg), whilst big fish specialists might be chasing a particular 30lb (14kg), 40lb (18kg),  50lb (23kg), even 60lb-plus (27kg) heavyweight. 

Ever wondered what the record for the biggest carp ever caught in the UK is? Well, it currently stands at a whopping 69lb 1oz (31.3kg)!    

The question is, are they simple to catch? Well, they can be. Sometimes, it can be as easy as freelining a piece of bread crust in the right place at the right time, whilst at the other end of the scale you might feel the need to set a carefully laid 'trap' and spend a whole week on the bank. 

In this feature we hope to highlight some of the different tactics you can use to target those 10lb-plus (4.5kg) fish. 

How to catch carp: what equipment do I need?

If you want to learn how to catch carp, the equipment you pack depends very much on the size of the carp you’re trying to catch. 

Carp waggler rods, carp feeder rods and carp poles are all designed to be used for tackling single-figure carp in conjunction with 6-10lb (2.7-4.5kg) lines and size 10 to 20 carp match hooks. With care they’ll handle 10lb-plus (4.5kg) fish too should some biggies ‘gate crash’ your swim. 

For those larger specimens – fish closer to 20lb (9kg), even 30lb (13.6kg), or 40lb-plus (18.1kg) – you’ll need more powerful gear. 2.75lb-3.5lb test curve rods, coupled with freespool or big pit reels loaded with 10-15lb (4.5-6.8kg) lines are more the norm. 

That's providing you’re not casting particularly heavy payloads or fishing snaggy terrain, in which case you're likely to need heavier tackle.  

Bigger carp require stronger hooks, too, which won’t bend or straighten out during the fight, with the most popular sizes being 4 to 10. There are plenty of good carp hook patterns out there. 

Anglers often buy two or even three matching rods and reels to fish with at the same time, as it can often be a ‘sit and wait’ game for those larger catches.

For those bigger fish of 10lb (4.5kg)-upwards, a 42in specimen carp net is the best choice, it'll handle 20lb (9kg), 30lb (13.6kg) catches if you get lucky. 

You also want to kit yourself out with a specimen carp unhooking mat, to unhook your fish on, or a cradle – some of the better cradles support a fish safely off the ground. This means unhooking and photographing is a lot easier and the fish can be returned in tip-top condition. 

A floating sling is also recommended to retain carp in, safely in the water, whilst you get your unhooking kit or camera ready.

A man holding carp while kneeling by container at Lakeshore

How to catch carp - always try and locate the carp before fishing for them (Image credit: Image Library - Royalty Free)

How to catch carp: waters to look for

A quick Google search will tell you which lakes you can travel to to catch carp. Normally, you’ll only be paying for a day ticket, which can be anything between £5 to £25 (generally speaking, the bigger the lake's carp are, the higher the ticket price).

Other waters might be controlled by an angling club or angling society, which may offer a season or annual ticket, that allows you to go as many times as you want. 

These can offer better value if they have some good carp waters under their control. You'll need to do your research, though. Again, online is a good starting point, as are are local tackle shops.  

You may also come across carp syndicates which offer more exclusive fishing for what tends to be bigger carp – 20-30lb-plus (9-18kg). We warned, though, prices can run into four figures and there's often a waiting list for the best ones. 

Check out: The best fishing spots: how to find the perfect place to go fishing

How to catch carp: find them first

On any water, the best tool for working out how to catch carp is your eyes. 

Glasses with Polarized lenses will cut through the surface glare on a lake and allow you to see subsurface, and a cap with a good peak will help keep stray light from distorting your vision. 

Be as stealthy as you can, as you might come across a group of carp right in the edge, and you don't want to spook them. 

Bush and tree cover, weed beds and island margins are all places that carp are attracted to, so they're worth a close look with your lenses on.  

If you don't see anything, you can only go on where you think the carp might be, until you catch a more positive sighting.  

If you're lucky you might see carp jump or 'crash' out in a particular area of open water – this area is definitely worth exploring. You also might be lucky enough to spot carp 'head and shouldering' too. 

Sometimes cloudy water and a line of moving bubbles can be a sign that a carp has its head buried in the lake bed and is feeding on natural food like bloodworm or some bait left by another angler. The coloured water is caused by the fish tearing up the bottom as it feeds. 

On hot days you might spot carp cruising around just under the surface or bow waving – look out for all these signs. 

A man holding a young carp fish, his fishing catch, in his hands

How to catch carp - carp fishing is one of the most challenging fishing activities (Image credit: Image Library - Royalty Free)

How to catch carp: methods

There are a multitude of ways to catch carp, the trick is to try and keep things simple and not overcomplicate matters. 

If you see fish cruising around just under the surface on a hot day they might be a sucker for a floating bait like a pellet or piece of crust.

Try feeding some bait to gauge their response and if they respond by slurping the occasional piece from the surface, try and build their confidence by feeding them some more 'freebies'. If they start taking them more readily, it's worth setting up some floater fishing tackle.

You could then try and freeline or use a controller float set-up to try and catch them. 

If other anglers on the water you’re fishing on have been catching fish on the bottom, there's a good chance they could be using boilie or pop-up baits – baits that were designed specially for carp fishing. 

You may be lucky enough to witness a fish being landed, in which case try and work out what the anglers might have been using. You may see a boilie or pop-up hook bait hanging from the rig when the fish was landed, or a pack of them amongst the angler's tackle. 

If the anglers are friendly enough – don’t worry, most are – they'll tell you if they're using boilies or pop-ups, but don't expect them to tell you the exact type or flavour. There are some things a carp angler likes to keep a secret! 

In the colder water temperatures of winter, maggots – one of the most popular fish baits – can come into their own for carp. Regular helpings of maggots in a holding spot for winter carp can trigger even the laziest fish to feed. 

Try the same tactics in the summer and you'll be catching every species under the sun, however, from micro roach and perch to tench and bream. But in winter, when these nuisance species aren’t so active, using maggots can be a deadly method for carp. 

Check out: 9 top tips for how to catch carp in winter

The trick with carp fishing is not to follow the crowd. Carp learn by association and if everyone on a particular water is fishing the same way or with the same bait, the fish can learn very quickly to associate it with danger, especially if they’ve been caught a few times. 

And carp will change their habits accordingly, perhaps not eating a particular bait so readily, if they’ve been caught on it a lot. Use your eyes, try and watch how fish respond to particular baits, and adjust your tactics accordingly. 

If you can find some feeding fish, introduce some of your bait and gauge their response. There's nothing better than seeing carp respond positively to what you're using. At least you'll know they're eating your bait.

How to catch carp: winter night fishing

You can night fish all year for carp in the UK and plenty do. Sometimes the fish prefer to feed under the cover of darkness when bank activity might be quieter.

The carp might choose to come closer in after dark, even patrolling the margins of a lake, mopping up the feed that might have been left by day anglers. And the night angler can take advantage of this. 

In the summer, it might not actually be dark for very long, the period after last light to first light can go surprisingly quickly. And apart from a bed chair and a sleeping bag, some form of shelter and a torch or two and a means of making a hot drink, you don't need much extra gear.