Carp Fishing Tips: How to Catch Carp (Fast)

The poor old carp. It cops a fair amount of verbal abuse from many an angler. Does it deserve it? That’s a matter of perspective.

For some US anglers, the spring is the most wonderful time of the year. Carp go on the chew, ravenously devouring anything remotely edible. Carp season.

For other anglers, they’re a scourge. Particularly for those that favor a pristine fishing environment, unsullied by an invasive introduced fish species.

Love them or hate them, they’re here to stay. Like our early settlers, they’ve found a place to call home and they’re multiplying.

I’ve caught carp everywhere from the US, Australia, Thailand, Romania, and the United Kingdom, and I’ve enjoyed it.

Today we’re taking a very simple, grassroots approach to catching carp. In many ways, it’s kind contrary to the catalogs of dedicated carp products currently flooding the shelves.

Today we’ll look at the basics; steering clear of a lot of the tech that’s bursting into the sport.

Let’s go carp fishing

All About Carp

It’s fair to state that regardless of their sketchy introduction to the States, and their bad-fish status, recent decades have witnessed significant growth in carp fishing popularity.

Many anglers are chomping at the bit to get amongst them all year round. And they’ve been doing it since their introduction over 100 years ago

Picture of bait being used to fish for carp

Just look in your tackle shops. They’re loaded with carp specific kit, from carp rods and reels to rod stands, carp baits, and carp chum.

Castable sounders and digital bite detectors are taking carp hunting into the tech era.

In many ways, this sort of tech seems over the top for this species. We’re catching them for fun, not national security.

Best Way to Catch Carp

The best carp fishing tip I ever got was to do local research. This means getting out there and sussing out the local waterway.

In my experience, this one tip was the big difference between catching heaps of fish and nothing.

If possible, go the day before you intend to cast a bait in anger. Take an early morning walk and a late afternoon stroll. Tread gently, remain quiet, and look for signs.

Look around the banks and vegetation for stirred mud. It’s a classic sign. Look for displacement on the water surface, and the wake of swimming fish.

A picture of carp being released with catch and release

If you spot activity or have a gut feeling about a particular location, throw in some chum. We’ll discuss chum a little later.

If you have the time, hang around for a bit and see if your chum generates any immediate activity.

I prefer not to take my rod on these recon trips. It may sound counterintuitive, yes.

But I find I’m more observant of subtle signs if I’m focussed on looking and not fishing. 

Carp Baits

I’ve never seen so many bait variants or options for a fish that would eat just about any carbon-based life form derivative.

There’s no need to feed your dog rib eye or caviar, they got about 3 taste buds. Nor is there any need to feed carp anything special.

Part of the species success is that they will eat anything. Be cautious of any hype that says you should buy a particular carp bait.

I’m going to look at 3 baits here. The cheapest, easiest, and most effective. Carp purists are going to go crazy because I’m about to leave out boilies.

Ok. I get it. Boilies work. However, I’m yet to be convinced they work better than the three I’m focusing on here.

Moreover, tying hair rigs is a pain. And hair rigs are definitely the best presentation for boilies. Yep, I’m a bit lazy with carp rigs.

They’ll be fine on a hook, but I certainly admire the presentation of a hair rig. Whatever the case, it’s against my carp simplicity policy.

My focus is on baits that don’t require online shopping or a tackle shop. I know in places you can get them from your gas station, but why pay more.

It’s worth noting, garden worms and maggots are great, but I’ve not noticed any superiority. The point is, go with what you can get easily and cheaply. The carp simply don’t care. 

And don’t forget that you can make some delicious cuisine from carp (see below)

Corn for Carp Fishing

You can relax a little and stop overthinking this. Corn. Yep, you already knew it, but it is so highly effective and ridiculously cheap, why would you bother with anything else.

I love the way it stays on the hook and I love the way it covers the hook. It’s no mess and no fuss, and in my opinion, an awesome bait for teaching kids to fish.

It’s an excellent carp bait on every level. Just buy a tin of sweet corn kernels. The salty-sweet smell and taste is a magnet for carp right across the States, whatever pond you’re fishing.

Bread for Carp Fishing

Secondly, plain old bread delivers excellent results. I like this when I’m fishing ultra-light on the surface. Stale bread will float for some time. Again, the salt and sugar are classic carp attractors.

The problem with bread is that it can be difficult to keep on the hook, and easy for carp to steel.

It takes a little practice to master baiting, as well as understand the appropriate time to strike when a bread bait has been taken.

Pudding Bait for Carp

There are as many recipes as there are anglers. Here’s mine.

I like to mix frankfurt, cheese, and flour. You can add some corn if you like, but it’s not necessary.

Simply remove the skin from the hot dog and crush the meat. Melt some cheese till it’s runny then mix the cheese and hot dog with flour.

You can experiment with portions of each ingredient, but you should have a consistency that resembles a solid-like paste that you can roll into a ball. It should be quite dense.

The cheese and hot dog provide an irresistible scent. It hangs in the water because of the oils present. Carp love the smell.

It’s easy to wrap or fold a pudding bait onto your hook. Just make sure the point remains exposed.

Like bread, it takes a little while to work out when to strike. We’ll give you some hints shortly.

However, it holds the hook extremely well, provided you got the mix correct.

The beauty of this bait is that it also attracts other fish. You may be lucky enough to head home with a mixed bag.


Like carp baits, I’ve never seen so many versions of chum bait, homemade and commercial.

Again, don’t overthink it or spend money. Use the bait you intend to use as chum.

Simply throw a handful of corn or some bread or the pudding you have made. Just throw pieces into the water. Simple.

I witness people throwing ample scoops of their favorite chum mix into the water. OK, do that if you like. 

However, the carp have a brilliant sense of smell. They’ll easily find a small handful of corn, pieces of pudding, or some scattered bread.


We could wax on forever about reels, there are countless options you can take. I’ll make one assumption, however.

You want to hook a big one and you want to be able to land it, without necessarily having the angling skills of a paid professional.

This narrows the field somewhat.

The Best Reel For Carp Fishing

Importantly, there’s a spin reel design, or feature, to be more accurate, that’s an absolute legend for carp fishing.

Shimano calls them Baitrunner reels. Baitrunner is actually a Shimano trademark. Other manufacturers have the same technology but with different names. 

For example, Okuma calls it Baitfeeder, as does Rovex. Penn calls a reel with this feature a Live Liner 3

If you want to find one in a particular brand, simply do a brand search with “Baitrunner” in the search and you’ll find your preferred brand and their “Baitrunner” models.

Essentially, a Baitrunner spin reel allows you to set your reel to, more or less, free-spool.

With a turn of the handle, the free-spool disengages, and your pre-set drag takes over.

The reason this is so good is that carp are notoriously gentle, timid, and cautious on the bite.

A Baitrunner encourages you to let them do their thing, take the bait, and run without resistance. A baitcaster spin reel is a perfect reel for carp. No exception.

Best Reel Size for Carp

Carp can grow big. Like really big. It’s possible to hook a monster above 75 pounds – Woohoo. However, the average weight is more like 8 to 10 pounds.

Hedge your bets and go with a 5000 size reel. The good ones have phenomenal crank power and drag capacities. It’s also a common size for the Baitrunner feature.

It gives you plenty of stick for a 10 pounder, it’s by no means overkill for smaller fish, but importantly, you will have a chance should you hook a monster exceeding 20 pounds.

Fishing Line and Leaders for Carp

I’m a big fan of mono and always have been. Feel free to spool with mono it will serve you well. However, there are benefits to using braided lines here.

Firstly, I like the sensitivity of braided lines for catching carp. You really can see and feel every touch. And remember, these guys have a subtle bite.

Secondly, I like the way braid cuts through vegetation. This is handy with carp because more often than not, you’re fighting them out of the green stuff.

And thirdly, you can up the line class as insurance for hooking a big one, and still, fit plenty of line on your spool. More insurance for a big fish.

The only drawback with braid is that an aggressive strike will cost you fish. The carp mouth is pretty soft. It can be pretty easy to pull the hook if you strike too hard when spooled with braid.

Line class will depend on balancing your rig and your level of bravery. 15 to 25-pound braid has you covered while offering a sporting challenge.

In terms of leader, I have no preference for carp. Use mono, or use fluoro, it’s up to you, and from what I can see, it makes no difference at all. I see no reason not to match your leader class with your line class.

Rods for Catching Carp

Given we have chosen a 5000 size spin reel, we’ve eliminated a huge amount of deliberation.

A 5000 size reel is an all-rounder size. It would make sense to balance it up to an allrounder size rod.

Rod selection depends on where you’ll fish, of course. Are you on a bank, a boat? Are there overhanging trees? Will you have to cast a considerable distance, and are you expecting to hook a monster.

Picture of a carp next to a fishing rod

Again, we’re hedging our bets and going general purpose. I’d go 6 to 7 foot for the boat, 7 to 9 foot for fishing the banks. A rod rated to about 20 pounds is ideal.

That’s just a rule of thumb, however. Geography will play a role in your rod selection. For example, a 9 foot plus rod is a pain in the butt if there’s a lot of overhanging trees.

Tip: Carp are heavy. You’ll definitely want a landing net. Trying to lift a larger class of carp out of the water will result in disappointment.

My Favorite Carp Rig Setup

Of course, there are many. But a simple fish deserve a simple rig.

I like to run the smallest sinker possible straight to my hook. Enough sinker to cast and sink your bait. 

I like the sinker on the hook because it doesn’t spook the fish. They feel no wait as they take your bait.

If I require more lead for casting, I’ll change to a Carolina rig without the beads. Again, it’s all about simplicity. I’ll use a leader up to 3 feet.

Carp are a bottom feeder, however, they will come to the surface for dinner, and it can be a heap of fun to take them from the topwater.

This can be tough from the bank, as casting becomes an issue with an unweighted bait on a heavier line class. 

Fishing the surface from the bank can be assisted using a float. The weight of the float can give you just enough weight to cast into the zone.

For boaties and kayaks, no problem. Put a hook on your leader, bait it up and throw it, or float it out into the zone.

I’ll give you no argument; the hair rig is fantastic. However, I like fishing, not making fishing rigs.


Hook color does seem to be an issue. I’ve not really experienced it, but I have it on good authority that shine is no good.

I prefer a J hook, size 8 to 10.

I followed this advice, and use mat black hooks where I could. I can’t actually report as to whether it makes a difference. I certainly know that I’ve caught carp with beautiful shiny chrome hooks before.

I stuck to the advice, however.

Best Time to Catch Carp

You should target carp all year round. When the water is cooler, the fish really slow down, however, they’re still hungry and will take a bait. Just don’t expect thrill a minute.

Come the spring, and warming water, carp hit the zone and go crazy. They’re hungry and active. They’ll maintain this through the summer.

Picture of a fishing lake in spring

Just like any fish, I love dawn and dusk for the best results. Fishing throughout the day is always productive, however.

Tip. Different locations tend to elicit local behavior. Pond depth, river current, sun, and light, can all play a part in carp feeding preferences. 

This is why the very first tip I gave about recon is so important.

Understand the local conditions. If you understand the local conditions, it doesn’t matter, your rig, your bait, your rod stand, or how much you’ve spent on technology or fancy kit. 

A handline will get results.

If I was given the choice of a $1000 carp fishing kit or intimate local knowledge of the local carp environment, I’d choose the latter one hundred times over.


As I’ve said, carp will eat anything. No doubt there’s a whole bunch of you that would love to cast plastics at these guys. Well, you can. I know, because I’ve done it…unwittingly.

I’m not prepared to go out on a limb here and list a bunch of likely lures. My lure experience with carp is minimal. 

I’ve only caught carp on lures in Australia, and It’s while I was chasing another species.

I was fishing for Australian bass using a 3-inch soft plastic in a worm profile. It was purple with silver flecks and a red head.

To my surprise, I caught 3 carp. Interestingly, I changed to a hard body diver and didn’t get a carp at all. Unfortunately, that’s the limit of my experience catching carp with lures.

Do they take lures? The answer is a resounding yes. Can I tell you which lures? Well…try a purple worm profile, about three inches, with a red head. 

The Carp Wrap-Up

I certainly appreciate that many anglers have come to love carp fishing. The bigger carp have plenty of pull and are prone to exciting, strong runs. What more could you want?

What’s more, they have their own little idiosyncrasies and habits that invite you to hone your fishing skills and think. 

They present a challenge, and this is what we enjoy most about fishing, regardless of the species.

I’m also aware of the significant damage they do to native fish and waterways. These species are introduced, and their impact can only be seen as highly negative.

With that in mind, let that be a call to get out and fish your heart out for as many carp as you can catch.

Don’t put them back, there’s plenty more where that one came from. It’s nice to know they’re there to target. However, it would be devastating to find that carp were the only fish left to catch.

Keep it simple, and do your research. I bet you’ll catch just as many carp as the angler next to you, equipped like a game boat.

References: History of Common Carp in North America

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Sean Ward

Hey there, my name is Sean – OnTrack Fishing is my site. I’m based in the UK yet I’ve been fortunate enough to catch bass in the States, barramundi in Australia, trout here at home and carp on the Danube delta. If I’m not fishing, or talking about fishing, then….I’m probably asleep.


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