Starting Carp Fishing
To catch carp in most waters you'll need some purpose-made tackle and bait. The good news is that it's readily available and a serviceable outfit need not be terribly expensive. The larger tackle shops in the central belt all stock a good range and will be able to kit you out from scratch or fill any gaps in your current equipment. Fishing with two (or sometimes three) rods is the norm for carp, and it's better to have a matched outfit so you should budget for buying things in pairs if possible.
The power of a carp rod is described in terms of its 'test curve', and for carp in Scotland rods of eleven or better still twelve feet long and around two-and-a-half pound test curve are ideal. If you already have purpose-made pike rods they'll probably be a little heavier than that, but they will serve the purpose.
Reels should preferably have a 'baitrunner' facility where you can disengage the drag to let the spool pay out line when you get a take, but at a pinch ordinary rear drag fixed spool reels will suffice. They should have a capacity of at least 150 yards of 15lb (0.35mm diameter) line. If your reels have only one spool each, load them with line of about 12lb breaking strain. If you have two spools, put 10lb line on one for open water fishing and 15lb line on the other for fishing near snags.
It's important to have good bite detection, and electronic alarms are a must for this. They will indicate the slightest movement of the line if you support your rods solidly and tension the line by hanging a bobbin or 'swinger' indicator next to the butt ring of each rod. You could use individual rod rests to support your rods, but these can be difficult to get into hard or stony banks so it's probably better to invest in a 'rod pod' - a free-standing rest for two or three rods that you can set up anywhere and adjust to cater for the slope of the bank etc.
Carp fishing is often a waiting game, and you'll want to stay comparatively dry and comfortable. A fishing umbrella is a must, preferably at least 50' rib size and ideally one where the centre pole can be removed or relocated to give more room underneath. This will serve both for day fishing and the occasional night session in mild weather. For seating, you can get by with an ordinary camping chair, but proper fishing chairs are more robust and have adjustable legs to give more comfort on sloping or uneven banks. If you're going to do a lot of night fishing invest in a purpose-made bivvy (or an overwrap for your umbrella) to give better protection from wind and rain, and a bed-chair so you can stretch out and relax.
Most important, you must have proper gear for landing and unhooking your carp safely. Buy a big enough landing net - minimum 30 inch size, and 36 or 42 inch is better still - with soft knotless mesh. You'll need a pair of forceps, preferably two. The small or medium sizes are adequate, and you can get either straight or curved patterns. Above all, get yourself an unhooking mat. A perfectly serviceable one only costs about ten pounds, and it will last for many years. You'll also want to weigh your carp, so buy scales that go up to at least twenty pounds, and a weigh-sling made of soft, fish-friendly material. Don't go carp fishing without these items.
Add a small tackle box for your bits and pieces, a catapult for putting out some samples of bait, a rucksack to carry your tackle, bait, food and clothing, and a holdall for your rods, rests and brolly; and you're just about ready to go!
End tackle and bait
Now to the business end. Weights should be between two and three ounces. Although they come in many shapes there are just two basic types: bombs, which clip onto the line via a swivel; and 'in-line' leads where the line is passed through the body of the weight. Bomb leads are more versatile and you can change rigs a little quicker, so it's probably best to start with them. A simple running ledger is perfectly effective for fishing at ranges up to about thirty or forty yards. For this you need some 'run rings' or 'ledger beads', both of which have a wire clip to attach the lead. Pass the end of the line through the ring or bead, then put a soft rubber bead on to protect the knot, and finally tie the swivel on the hooklength to the end of your line. Job done!
Many carp anglers prefer to use 'semi-fixed' leads, especially for fishing at longer range. Semi-fixed leads are held in position next to the hooklength with plastic or silicone tubing. This means that when a carp moves off with the bait it quickly encounters the resistance of the lead and is pricked by the hook, enabling you to strike before it ejects the bait. Under no circumstances tie or clip the lead direct to the hooklength swivel - it is essential that the lead can pull free of the hooklength and run up the line if you get snagged or have a break-off. There are plenty of good products on the market that do this effectively, but to work properly the tubing which holds the lead and hooklength together should not be jammed too tight. Always test your rig before you cast it out - the tubing should separate with fairly gentle pressure.
Another popular approach is to use a 'method feeder' - a lead surrounded by plastic fins or a wire cage. This can be very effective as it allows you to mould groundbait around the weight, giving an attractive concentration of feed right next to your hookbait. Most method feeders are set up like inline leads - you pass the line through the middle and once you've tied on the hooklength you pull it back gently so that the swivel lodges in a silicone tube at the nose of the weight. Others are attached the same way as bomb leads. Avoid method feeders that have elastic already tied through the centre. They are unsafe for carp fishing as they can leave a fish tethered to the feeder if you get broken off.
Hooklengths come in various shapes and sizes. They can be anything from three inches to a couple of feet long, and made from various materials or combinations of materials. Nine times out of ten, however, you'll do perfectly well with a simple hooklength of six to eight inches long made from braid or monofil of about twelve to fifteen pound breaking strain. If you use monofil, the fluorocarbon type is probably better as it is less visible in the water. Hooks in sizes 4 and 6 will serve for most situations. There is no common view among carp anglers on whether barbed or barbless hooks are safer for the fish, but you'll find that some fisheries require you to use barbless, or to crush down the barbs with pliers. Several manufacturers sell ready-made hooklengths that are ideal when you are starting out. Once you have seen and used these, you'll probably find it easy to make up some of your own, which is a lot cheaper.
The most striking difference between rigs for carp and for most other fish is that carp baits are rarely put directly onto the hook itself. Instead, carp anglers almost always use a 'hair rig' in which the bait is threaded onto a short length of line (the 'hair') attached to the shank of the hook and hangs within a couple of millimetres of the bend. This has a number of advantages, not least that most carp baits are very hard, so a hook passed through the bait wouldn't pull out easily on the strike. Many ready-made hooklengths will come with the hair-rig already mounted, and you should stick with those at the start. You'll also need a baiting needle for threading the hair through your bait, and some 'boilie stops' (little plastic devices to hold the bait on the hair). These essential items will only cost a couple of pounds.
Carp will eat virtually anything, and the number of possible baits is almost endless. At the start, it's probably best to stick with three - sweetcorn, meat and boilies. Tinned or frozen sweetcorn costs next to nothing and will catch a lot of carp, especially in the summer. Just thread three or four grains carefully on the hair and catapult a few free offerings around the bait. Meat is no more expensive and just as effective. Most people use pork luncheon meat, chopped or torn into chunks about 20mm in diameter. However, it can be fragile and doesn't always survive longer casts. You can substitute almost any kind of cooked meat, the spicier and smellier the better. Carp are suckers for things like garlic sausage or pepperoni, and these make firm baits that will cast further than ordinary luncheon meat.
The most popular carp bait of all these days is boilies - coloured and flavoured balls of paste made out of anything from fishmeal to milk protein, which are boiled until they have a hard outer skin then either dried or frozen before packing. The range of sizes, colours and flavours available is absolutely bewildering, but there's no need to get confused. For most purposes, 15mm or 18mm baits are ideal. It's debatable whether the colour makes a great deal of difference, and in most cases you'll find particular flavours only come in a certain colour anyway. There are three basic flavour types: fruity, creamy and fishy. Fruit flavours, especially Tutti-frutti, are probably the most popular and consistently reliable. There are not so many creamy varieties on the market, but they include the very popular Scopex flavour which many anglers swear by. Most of the fishy flavours involve crab, mussel, lobster or squid, and these can all be equally effective. In time you'll develop your own preferences, but at the start you can be confident that any of the flavours mentioned above will catch you a few carp.
Catch your first carp
Don't be in too much of a hurry to start fishing when you get to the water. First, look for signs of where the fish are. Unlike many species, carp often show their presence quite boldly - sometimes gliding slowly through the shallows or hanging motionless just under the surface on a hot day, sometimes stirring up great clouds of mud and bubbles, and sometimes even crashing half out of the water. If you can see them and can get your bait to where they are feeding, you're halfway there already.
If you can't see signs of fish, look for features where they might be expected to feed. Carp are most likely to be found where there is both food and safe cover, so the edges of weedbeds or islands are always worth trying. Don't neglect the margins on your own bank either, especially where there are overhanging trees or rushes and the water is at least a foot or two deep. Obviously you have to keep very quiet when fishing near your own margin, but it can be very productive.
Once you've chosen your swim, set your tackle up quietly well back from the water and position your pod or rests at the edge. Cast out and put some free samples out as close to your bait as possible. You'll probably want a catapult for this. Don't overfeed - a couple of handfuls of corn or a dozen boilies or chunks of meat are sufficient.
Be optimistic. You're going to catch a carp so plan out where you're going to bring it to the bank, make up your landing net, peg down your unhooking mat nearby, and have all your landing, unhooking, weighing and photography gear ready. Keep your weigh sling damp - soak it, wring it out, and put it in a plastic bag - and zero your scales. Everything should be as close to hand as possible, especially if you'll be fishing in the dark, although on public waters some of it will have to stay in your bag for security.
Your electronic alarms will mean you don't need to stare at the line all the time, but try to keep watching the water while you're fishing. If you see fish moving in an area of your swim away from your baits, be prepared to reel in and cast to where they are - this will often result in a take within a few minutes. If you consistently see fish moving in a part of the water you can't cast to, consider shifting to where you can reach them. It's a pain to have to move, but there's no point fishing if the fish are somewhere else.
In time, you'll get a take. Usually the carp will run off fast, and there's no need for a violent strike. All you need to do is pick up the rod, switch off the free spool, and tighten firmly. Once you have hooked a fish try to bring it to the net fairly quickly so it's not exhausted, particularly in warm conditions. If the margins are suitable, it need never come out. You can just unhook it in the water, sink the net, and slip it carefully over the rim to swim away. Mostly, however, you'll either need to get it out to unhook it safely, or you'll want to weigh and photo it. This is easier with a helper, but with practice you can handle it alone.
Gather the net mesh together, and lift - never drag - the fish smoothly to the unhooking mat. This is when you'll be glad everything is near to hand. Get the fish on its side on the mat and kneel down next to its head. Grip the hook firmly in the forceps and ease it out as gently as you can. Slide the fish into the weigh sling, taking care not to catch the fins (especially the jagged first ray on the dorsal fin) and make sure it can't fall out. Most slings have drawstrings or zips to secure the fish. Lift it only as far off the ground as you need to get a true weight, then lower the weighsling carefully back down on the mat.
You should aim to have the fish on the bank for the minimum of time. If you're going to take a photo, get the camera set up before you take the fish out of the sling, which should be folded over so as to cover the carp's eyes. Carp tend to be more docile when their eyes are covered, and as they have no eyelids bright light gives them a lot of discomfort. In hot weather also keep the fish damp by regularly splashing water over the weighsling. When the photographer is ready, kneel or squat down next to the mat and ease the sling off the fish, removing as little slime as you can. Lift the fish carefully, supporting it under the head and at the pelvic fins. Be prepared for sudden twists or even jumps, and put it down again if it's too lively. Don't try to stand up for photos.
With the photo taken, you may want to check for any mouth or scale damage and apply some antiseptic. There are proprietary products sold for this purpose, but to be honest babies' teething gel is a lot cheaper and works much the same. When that has been done, slip the fish back into the weigh sling and take it to the margins for returning. You may have to support the carp upright in the water for a minute or two, and perhaps even gently move it back and forward to get its gills moving. You'll know when it's ready to swim off!
Then just sit back for a minute and let it sink in. You're a carp angler now!