A Beginner's Guide To Carp Fishing – Part 1

For a while now, the editor has been asking me to do an article to help newcomers into carp fishing. I’ve thought about it a great deal over recent months but, to be honest, it’s such a minefield and there so much to cover that there’s no way you could cover it all in one piece. As such, I have decided to break it down into the following five parts; What makes a successful carp angler? Watercraft, Bait, Approaches & Techniques, and Application examples.

In this first piece I’m going to give a brief overview of what the series will cover and hopefully dispel a few myths surrounding this great sport of ours, and with a bit of luck, this and future parts in the series will help you put a few more fish on the bank.

What makes a successful carp angler?

The first thing to make clear from the start is that there is no wonder bait that will entice every fish in the lake, no individual method that works every time out, and no individual set-up that will catch every time you cast it in. All this despite what many companies will have you believe from their advertising blurb! There is no one thing that will make you catch every time you go fishing. The key to successful carp angling is about getting lots of little things right; do *that* on a regular basis and you are well on your way to becoming a decent carp angler.

It’s about getting lots of little things right!

We receive an endless stream of emails at Anglers’ Net from people new to carp fishing who have gone out and bought some nice rods, buzzers and a big bag of boilies but can’t understand why they still don’t catch when they turn up at a water and chuck out a bait. In simple terms, a nice pair of rods and some expensive bait does not make a carp angler, it takes a long time to learn all the important skills and even when you get all that right, you can still blank. I’ve been carp fishing for more years than I care to remember, but I still don’t catch every time out!

So where do you start? Well for me the most important aspect of carp fishing is watercraft; you can have the best bait and tackle in the world but if you are fishing in the wrong place, well, you may as well be in the pub! The real problem is that watercraft is the hardest part to get right. Most successful carp anglers have served their apprenticeship fishing for many different species over a number of years. I myself have fished for most species since I was a kid and the knowledge gained is invaluable. To me, watercraft is now second nature, something I take for granted, but it’s something you never stop learning. Each session I fish I add to it a little bit more, you’re basically storing experiences, and then drawing on the information in the future when faced with known or like for like situations.

It sounds daft, but when you are out on the bank fishing, your main focus should be to ‘think like the fish’ you are trying to catch. By building up a picture of its underwater habitat you are able to make certain assumptions (based on experience) which will help you to narrow down likely spots where they will be hanging out at certain times and the routes they are likely to use to get to these spots.

‘Think like a fish!’ If you were a carp, where would you be?

To those assumptions you then need to add the effects of current conditions; sun, rain, wind and temperature all play their part. Then you need to consider the effects of current and recent angling pressure, time of year, time of day, predicted conditions, and anything else that could have an effect on how the fish behave during your time on the bank. All in all then, not an easy task, but when broken down into lots of little pieces the job becomes much easier and the more you do it the easier it becomes. I’ll cover all these areas in the next article.

Once you’re at one with your surroundings and you’ve worked out where you think they’ll be, what’s next - how do you go after these wily creatures that seem to spend most of their time rejecting the bait you place in front of them? Well, you need to work out what the right bait is for that particular session or that particular moment. Now, this may come as something of a shock to some, but do trust me on this; a bag of boilies is not the be all and end all when it comes to catching carp! Of course a ‘good’ boilie is an effective bait, but only when the situation suits. There are a whole range of other baits out there, just as effective, and in many cases more effective. There is immense tunnel vision when it comes to bait and many refuse to use anything other than the current ‘boilie of the moment’. Their choice I suppose but believe me, they are missing out!

There’s more to successful carp fishing than boilies alone!

Meats, nuts, maize, corn, beans, bread, maggots, worms… the list is endless. When used at the right time any of the above will score just as well as a boilie. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ‘anti’ boilie, far from it, but it’s very important to understand that a boilie is just part of the successful carp anglers’ armoury when it comes to bait. Grasp that fact, and you’ll be half way to catching more fish than most of those around you.

Of course hookbaits are only half the story, do you fish over a bed of boilies, hemp, particles, pellets, or just chuck it out on its own? Again there’s no one simple answer, but through experience, when faced with the same situations you begin to slot the pieces of the jigsaw into place and the correct strategy begins to show itself. Bait and baiting up will be covered in the third part of the series.

So, the swim has been picked, the bait has been placed and you’re waiting for action, but how long are you supposed to wait? Do you sit it out for an hour, two hours or even a day? How long do you wait before checking your bait and recasting? Should you pile in some more for good measure or perhaps refrain until something develops?

The correct approach is key, not just in terms of how you set out your stall when you arrive at a water, but how you develop the plan as the session unfolds. Do you stick with the plan or change and adapt it as you go on? What’s important to remember here is that a successful carp angler should always have a strategy - a plan of action that dictates how you are going to attempt the session ahead. That way you can see if you were successful or unsuccessful. If you were successful, how so? Try and pull out the salient points that made the session a success so that when you are faced with similar situations in the future you can repeat the strategy and hopefully bag a few fish. In exactly the same way, when failure presents itself, which it will, think about how it came about. Were there any key times during the session when you could have changed your methods or approach? That way, on future sessions when things aren’t going to plan and you are in a like for like situation, you can try and effect a change and hopefully pull one out of the bag. However, the key is not to see a blank as a failure; it’s just more experience gained in the pursuit of your quarry - As long as you are able to learn from it, that is!

Plan your approach and remember to refine and adapt as the session unfolds.

Strategy in place, what approach do you go for? Do you bivvy up and sit it out behind buzzers, go stalking, fish off the top? Again it’s important to be open minded about what constitutes an effective method. There is so much blinkeredness when it comes to carp fishing that at times I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. The point I’m trying to make is that you need to decide what kind of carp angler you want to be? A thinking angler that rules out nothing and considers everything, or the average muppet who follows the crowd, believes all the hype, catches very little and blames everything for the blanks bar their own angling inability!

An easy decision you’d think, but alas, no. There are so many out there that truly believe the only way to catch carp is to sit it out in a bivvy behind idle buzzers for days on end. I’m not saying that you should be changing swims every two minutes and trying every possible method each session, however, if you want the rewards, then you sometimes have to get off your backside and make it happen!

That does not mean you have to think about carp and nothing else. There are those who like to pleasure fish for other coarse species as their main style of angling but who also like to chuck out a second rod for carp on the side. That’s fine, and by reading the articles to come I’m sure there will be much that can improve your results whilst trying for carp on the side. The point I’m making is that if you want to catch decent carp and you want to catch them consistently, then it takes a lot of hard work and effort. There are always times when luck plays a part but more often than not you make your own luck and it’s no different in carp angling. So, in the fourth part of the series I’ll cover all the essentials to enable you to plan your strategy and put in into effect.

To catch big carp consistently takes a lot of effort, but stick at it and the results will come.

It’s quite easy to talk about it all; the right approach, the right bait and tactics, but you also need to be able to apply the lessons learnt in the real world. The best laid plans don’t always work instantly; it can sometimes take a whole session before things start to come around, sometimes several sessions, even a whole season! However, if you keep working away methodically the results will come. The problem for most new carp anglers I speak to on the bank is that they expect action immediately, they follow the exact same method as explained in a book or magazine and when the results don’t come quickly they assume they are doing it wrong. In many cases fishing for carp is a waiting game, they key is in being able to determine at which point further action is required on your part. It’s all too easy to keep chucking bait in and re-casting rods but what you need to remember is that every water is different, what works well on one water may have the opposite effect on another. As such, in the final part I will look at some examples of how the above skills and techniques were actually implemented on various different types of waters to bring about a result, highlighting the key points and decisions that were made during each session and the results these decisions brought about.

Hopefully, once you have read the full series you will then be able to take something from it, apply it to your own fishing and bring about a change in results. If before the next piece is published you would like some advice on a particular problem, just drop me an email and I’ll see if I can help.

Until the next piece, tight lines…

Julian Grattidge