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How To Catch Carp Like a Pro: 13 Tips for Beginners

Carp fish is held in hands
Dale Shetler
By Dale Shetler
Updated May 21, 2021

Struggling to get those carp to bite? Carp fishing is known to test the skills of seasoned anglers but with these 13 simple yet effective steps, you'll be on your way to catch carp as the pros do it!

For decades catching carp was treated with contempt, unless you happened to live in the U.K. or Central Europe. In the U.S., anglers saw carp as a "trash fish," a bottom-feeder that added very little value to fishing as a sport. 

But times have changed. 

Carp fishing today is a treasured hobby for many; some might even equate it to a cult. Anglers dream of landing a big catch, a carp that weighs 40, 50, or even 60 lbs! River monster-size fish are rare and ever-decreasing, but that's what makes them so alluring. 

So, if you're wondering how to catch carp, you're not alone. More and more U.S. fishers are joining in on the fun. They love the competition and the challenge of catching giant carp. They also love spending a day in the great outdoors. 

Learning how to fish for carp isn't difficult. Many budding anglers start catching smaller carp when they're under ten years old. 

So, if you're new to fishing, this is a great place to start. Below we'll share a little background and then dive into a few tips from anglers in the know. By the time we finish, you'll know how to catch carp like a pro. 

A Little Background On Carp

Common carp - cyprinus carpio illustration

Carp, or Cyprinus Carpio, as the scientists call them, are freshwater fish that live in most U.S. rivers and lakes. Settlers brought them to the U.S. as a food source, but few Americans eat them today. 

Perhaps that's why carp angling is a fast-growing sport! Young and spry anglers end up addicted to the challenge of catching carp, of which there are many. 

Common carp that you find in lakes and streams aren't the invasive Asian carp you might hear about on the news. However, all carp are native to Europe and Asia, not North America. 

That said, the U.S. government made sure America had plenty of these fish. They ran a massive restocking program in the late 1800s. The government meant to fill the gaps in depleted native fish populations by adding common carp. The program was a huge success in some ways. The native fish population might never return, but carp are here to stay. 

Though many chefs and culinary professionals refuse to place carp on a dinner plate, it remains a staple in certain U.S. communities. And in other parts of the world, carp is revered. 

The Japanese word for carp is koi, and the fish there are symbolically linked to the nation's identity. In Germany, they serve carp regularly as Karpfen Blau. That's carp braised in wine and vinegar until its skin turns blue. And in Eastern Europe, they serve carp for their Christmas meal

Whether you decide to eat it or not, though, carp fishing is a treat. These fish are strong, swift, and skittish, which makes them a challenge to catch. They typically weigh 10-15 lbs and reach 30-inches in length, making them perfect for novice anglers. 

Though they'll put up a fight, a child or adolescent can usually reel a smaller one in. So, for many, catching carp is the first taste of fishing as a sport, but rarely is it the last. 

Of course, there are some river monsters out there. A British angler living in Thailand caught a 232 lb. carp in 2019. It took eighty minutes to reel in the massive beast! 

worlds biggest carp caught by john
John Harvey getting assistance holding his record-breaking catch.

You probably won't find a carp that big in the U.S., but North America has its share of freshwater behemoths. There are carp in American rivers that anglers estimate to be near 60 lbs! Catching one of those would undoubtedly be an accomplishment! 

Gear Basics

Man fishing on a sunny morning

As a beginner carp angler, you don't need much. You can catch a smaller carp with very little on hand. Larger specimens need more substantial equipment, but even then, the gear is easy to gather. 

For smaller carp, in the 10-pound range, you'll need a fairly stiff rod, 6-10lb line, and size 10-20 carp match hooks. 

For carp larger than twenty pounds, you'll need more robust gear. You can try a 3lb - 3.5lb test-curve carp rod and 10-15 lb lines. A 3 lb test-curve rod simply means that the rod is very stiff; it would take three pounds of weight to pull the rod tip to a 90-degree angle. 

You'll also need a stronger hook if you're going for a more significant catch. Aim for carp hooks somewhere between sizes 4 and 10. 

If you're in an area that's designated for catch and release, you'll need a specimen net as well. A 42-inch carp net will accommodate a 10-lb carp without question. It can handle a 20-lb carp if it happens, but anything larger needs a bigger net. 

On top of that, you'll want an unhooking mat or a cradle. A cradle can support your catch off the ground, making it easier to unhook and photograph while causing the least amount of harm to the fish. 

Finally, a floating sling isn't a bad idea. It will allow you to safely hold the carp in the water while you get your camera and unhooking kit ready. 

Of course, as mentioned, if you're truly just starting out, there's no need to go crazy with equipment. Grab a stiff rod, 10lb line, a few carp hooks, and some bait; that's enough to get started. 

13 Beginner Tips to Catch Carp

man catching fish at a carp fishing spot

Now that you understand the essential gear, it's time to focus on catching carp. Carp can be elusive, and they tend to put up a fight. With just a little practice and these carp fishing tips, though, you'll be reeling in 10-20 lb. fish without a problem.  

With a little more experience and better equipment, you could easily catch a 30-pound carp or bigger! And, if that ever becomes too easy, there are always more challenging locations and techniques to consider. This is a sport that grows with your skills. 

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, though, let's cover the beginner tips. We'll start with how to find the carp, and then we'll cover how to catch them. 

1. It's All About Location, Location, Location

Just like in real estate, location counts when you want to catch a carp. Carp like warm, murky water. They avoid clear areas as much as possible and like to swim in both shallow and deeper depths, from 1 - 30 feet deep. 

Look for them near inlets where warmer water is entering a lake from a feeder river or stream. Shorelines, muddy channels, and backwaters are great areas to search as well. 

Carp like to hide, and they eat insects that live in river weeds. So, any place with mud and vegetation is a good carp fishing location. 

You might find larger carp on shelves or drop-offs. Those are areas near warmer, shallow water where there's a sudden and steep change in depth. Carp, especially larger ones, like to lurk in those areas. It keeps them near the warm water they prefer but provides more shelter from predators. 

2. Watch For Clear Spots

Once you find a muddy, vegetated area that seems carp-ideal, look for clear patches amongst the river weeds and gravel. Clear spots in otherwise vegetated areas could be signs that carp are feeding there. 

3. Timing is Important

The best way to catch carp is to head out at either first or last light. Carp feed in the early mornings, evenings, and throughout the night. 

As the sun rises and sets, you may even see carp jump. As carp feed, sediment from the river bottom enters their gills. They have to jump to clear it. So, it's common to see carp jumping in the early morning and evening. 

4. Season Counts Too 

It's easier to catch carp in the summer, though you can catch them any time of year. During the winter, their metabolism slows because of the cooler temperatures. That means they don't have to eat as much and are less likely to be tempted by your bait. 

In the summer, their metabolism increases with the heat. They become hungry and much easier to catch.

5. Use Your Ears

carp jumping out of the water in a no-fishing zone

If you can't find carp any other way, you can always use your ears. Carp are known for "crashing out," which means they often make a giant leap and subsequently loud splash as the sun's setting. 

You may miss the carp actually jumping; they're fast. But you're almost guaranteed to hear the splash. It’s likely carp are feeding in the area the sound came from, making that a good place to catch a carp. 

6. Follow The Ducks 

Carps are opportunists; they know who to follow for a free meal. If you see ducks feeding along a river or lake, it's possible that carp are nearby. Carp eat the same things ducks do, including the stale bread humans tend to toss at them. 

7. Try Sweet Corn Or Bread For Bait 

Once you find them, you might wonder what bait to use for carp. Carp are omnivores that eat everything from river reeds to plankton. Some of the larger varieties even eat crayfish! 

To catch a carp, though, you'll need something they can't resist. Carp are skittish feeders, after all. Sweet corn seems to work well, and it's relatively cheap. The canned variety works perfectly. 

Stale bread can work, too; just ball it up so that it sinks. Bread floating on the surface won't do much for you, except maybe attract other wildlife. 

8. Think Twice About Boilies

Fishing boilies for big carp fishing

Boilies are paste fishing baits that usually include some type of fishmeal. Fishmeal is to carp as catnip is to kittens. Carp can't get enough of it, or so some claim. 

Here's the thing. If other fishers have been using boilies in the area, the local carp may have learned to avoid them altogether. So, you can certainly try boilies, but don't be too surprised if they don't work. Sweet corn or bread might be the better option. 

9. Use the Right Rod and Reel

Carp fishing isn't complicated; you can freeline it. With a size eight hook, a 10lb line, and a reasonably stiff rod, you can catch a carp right from the river bank. 

Just add a few corn kernels or a balled-up hunk of bread to the hook and cast. Keep the clutch slightly loose, so the fish has some give when they bite. Once you hook one, though, be ready! Carp can put up a mean fight! 

If you're a little more experienced or looking to level up as an angler, you might look into purchasing a bait runner reel. Bait runner reels have dual drag systems, perfect for catching carp. 

A dual drag system means that there are two drag settings. The angler can keep the first setting loose, allowing the line to free spool once the fish hooks on. They can set the second setting tighter, for when they pick up the rod and begin to reel in their catch.

A bait runner reel with a dual drag system isn't necessary to catch a carp, but it certainly makes it simpler.  

10. Avoid Shiny Objects

There are a few religious tellings involving carp and coins, but in general, these fish avoid shiny objects. They have impeccable eyesight for underwater creatures and see silver objects as a potential danger. 

That means a shiny fish hook could prevent you from catching a carp. Use a camouflaged or dark-colored hook; they make several especially for carp fishing. 

11. Consider a Rod Pod

Carp are exceptionally skittish feeders; they scare easily. The slightest tremor in your line could cause them to flee. 

A rod pod or rod holder holds your rod steady, so you don't have to. It also keeps your rod at the right angle so that it unspools smoothly if something bites. You could even set up multiple rods, increasing your chances of catching a fish on any given trip. 

12. Try a Hair Rig

According to the American Carp Society, the hair rig is one of the best ways to catch a carp. It increases hook-up rates and decreases the number of foul-hooked fish. Plus, it's easy to tie.

A hair rig allows your bait to move independently of your hook, which keeps the carp from spooking. Add a few kernels of sweet corn to it, and you have a surefire carp-catching mechanism. 

13. Chum It Up

If local laws allow, chumming is a great way to catch carp. Chumming means throwing a few handfuls of food onto the surface of the water. It should attract fish to your area. After a brief wait, you can cast your line, and with any luck, you'll get a bite. 

If you're going to chum, it's important to remember that full fish won't bite at your bait. In other words, don't overdo it with the chum; it's meant as an appetizer. Leave the fish wanting more so that your sweet corn or bread is still attractive to them.  

Catching Carp: Next Steps

Once you master catching carp from a riverbank or lake shallows, you might want something more challenging. Many anglers choose to try new techniques that increase the level of difficulty. 

You could attempt fly-fishing, which has its own learning curve. It may seem strange to fly-fish for carp, but it's becoming more common. You'll need to master the drag and drop method, however, which can be a bit tricky. Essentially, you'll drag your fly away from the carp, then let it sink to mimic a fleeing crayfish or minnow.  

It's a challenging method that few anglers claim to have mastered. That said, getting it down brings bragging rights, and you'll likely catch your share of river monsters! 

You could also try bow fishing, as in hunting fish with a bow and arrow. It takes a while to master a technique like this, but it makes for a satisfying hobby, and you don't need any experience as a traditional angler to pick it up. It's not the most effective way to catch carp, but it may be one of the most fun. 

Final Thoughts

angler with a large carp he caught fishing

With these carp fishing tips in hand, you're sure to reel in a sizable specimen. And whether it be ten pounds or fifty, you should be proud. Fishing for carp is straightforward, but that doesn't mean it's easy to do. 

Carp are quick and relatively intelligent. They learn what to avoid, be it a shiny hook or boilie. They're skittish feeders, and they hide in murky areas where you can't see. 

Of course, that only makes it more exciting when you reel one in. They may not be the best eating, but they provide challenging entertainment, the kind that keeps you strategizing late into the night. 

That's why learning how to catch carp is so satisfying. It opens the door to the world of angling as a sport-- a sport you can play well into your golden years. Whether you're seventeen or seventy-three, carp fishing is a hobby you'll cherish.