A Beginners Guide to Starting Carp Fishing

A Lighthearted Look At Carp Life From The Other Side Of The Pond

By Oatmeal Jack

The first thing you must do to get started in carp fishing is to go out and buy a pickup truck, full size is best but a mini pickup will be ok too. The reason you need to buy a pickup is that unlike your bass rods that broke down to 3 foot sections your carp rods break down into 6 foot sections. Its very easy to make carp rods that break down into 3 foot sections if you get them caught in your cars door so its best to just start off with a truck. Another advantage of having a truck in carp fishing is that you can now carry all the chum you will need for an extended chumming session, if you tried to get all those buckets in the trunk of your car the fermenting chum could easily blow your car apart when you light a cigarette.

What about tackle? Actually the trucks main function isn’t for the safety of your rods but instead it's to haul all your new carp fishing tackle. Where do you get all this carp fishing tackle? First thing to do is to get a big carp fishing tackle catalogue from England and then just order everything in it. This saves you lots of time trying to figure out what tackle you will need to carp fish, you will eventually need it all even if you wont ever know what its for. Buying everything in one big order also allows you to save lots of money on shipping things from England to over here in America.

Maybe we should talk a little about some of the things you need to carp fish the modern way. First thing you need is a hair rig. Its a hook with some extra line coming off the shank of the hook with a little loop on it. I know it looks strange you will need some until you can learn to tie the no-knot knot. That’s right, you will eventually have to learn to tie the no-knot knot, more on that later, but for now just get some pre-made hair rigs. Second thing you will need are some sinkers, but first you have to decide if your carp are going to be close to the bank or far away. If you learn to chum you can bring them close to shore but sometimes they want the chum delivered out in the middle of the lake and so you might have to cast far anyway. Better go get a big box with 1-4 ounce sinkers. Since you are a beginner it doesn’t matter what shape they are, you wont be able to cast fast enough with your new rods to make aerodynamic features of the sinkers important. Get some fishing line, any kind will do to start with because until you learn how to handle big carp they will just take it all anyway so might as well start off with the store brand and then work up to Big Game or some similar quality line. You wont need swivels just yet as your pre-made rigs will already have some attached, but you will need to learn to tie a good clinch knot, we aren’t fishing for little bass and sunnies so your knots need to be good. Practice tying your knots.

There is only one kind of reel you need to get. Its called a baitrunner. It has a little lever that lets the carp take out line during a screaming run so he doesn’t pull your new reel into the water. The little baitrunner lever is guaranteed to work every time you remember to engage it. If you forget just once you get to buy a new reel. It also holds a lot of line so you can fish all day and only have to refill it once since its almost impossible for even a big carp to take all of the line off of a baitrunner on just one run.

Now we need some long rods to cast with. Those long rods just look so cool, actually they are a pain in the arse to deal with, but you need them anyway. You can get some nice 12 foot long rods from the big American tackle dealers like Cabellas for under $100 to get you started. You can also buy higher level rods from several small Eurotackle dealers in the USA or if you really want to impress people shoot the works and order them direct from the UK. The more expensive rods are prettier and can cast further. If you learn to chum you can catch most of your carp less than 50 yards from shore. I must confess though, long range casting is fun, just make sure nobody is standing in your line of fire if you crack off your sinker. Actually the long rods are worth the pain it is to deal with them. If you fish a snaggy place they can really lift the line up in the air, they also conduct electricity so you wont fish near high power lines more than once. Since you are probably going to want to go long sometimes you might as well start out with at least one rod for short range casting and one for long range casting. You will also need a spod rod.

A spod is a neat little cup with string attached to it that you fill with chum and cast out. If you release the cast too soon the chum showers down upon your head, this is much worse than even a big flock of geese flying over, believe me. If you release late you will make the biggest splash you have ever made while you were trying to cast. Its very important to make sure you wear finger protection on your casting finger to keep your line from cutting it off while casting a spod. Its not a clean cut either, it will be infected with chum juice. You will need a separate rod devoted to your spod because you don’t want to be tying clinch knots all day when you could be fishing instead. No, you cant cheat and use a snap swivel because the spod is too heavy and will break it. Most spods are made with little forethought right on the bank from a plastic soda bottle and some spare fishing line. These are almost always considered temporary spods. Some spods cost upwards of 20 bucks, these are never referred to as temporary spods but more often referred to as a special spod. A carp angler should be comfortable swimming 100 yards out into the lake to retrieve his special spods before some kayaker finds it and paddles off with it. Temporary spods are never swam for unless they happen to be made from the last soda bottle left, then they become special spods only if the carp are really biting that day.

Now you have your rod, a hair rig fitted with a sinker and some nice new fishing line. What do you do with it now? You put it in your rod pod. The first rod pods were just forked sticks hacked off of nearby trees and poked into the ground. Then one day a carp fisherman found himself fishing on a beach with no trees in sight. Not wanting to hold all of his rods in his hands at one time he came up with an idea of making permanent forked sticks. The first ones he tried were made from a coat hanger and lasted for one carp run each. The next ones for his new rods were made from thicker metal rods and the first bank sticks were borne. At first they just had a little V formed in the end but that didn’t allow for expensive bite alarms to be attached later when they were developed so he tapped the end with threads and made different little rod holder attachments. Then one day our inventive carper got the idea to use two banksticks for each rod thereby doubling the amount of stuff he had to carry just to hold his rods and free his hands. Banks sticks grew in popularity and everyone had a few pairs. The tackle industry grew frustrated with simple banksticks, you just cant make many different attachments or improvements and good bank sticks last for years and years.

Then one day a fellow was out carp fishing and forgot to pick up all of his banksticks and so lost them. Wouldn’t it be keen, he thought, if you could attach all the banksticks together so you wouldn’t loose them all the time? He first joined three banksticks together and made a tripod. But it kept falling over so he then joined the tripod together with a little piece in the middle and soon the rod pod was born. Now you can fish anywhere, you didn’t even need hard dirt to pound your banksticks into to hold your rods. Tackle dealers loved the rod pod, there were so many attachments and extras that could be added. You can get an attachment to anchor it to the ground so it doesn’t blow away. You can get buzz bars that can hold three rods each. You can get little attachments for an umbrella to keep all your other attachments dry when it rains. The first models screwed together, the newest ones snap together like a magicians trick wand. They are made from the finest hand crafted space age materials that make them so light that you have to put a rock on them to keep them from floating away. You can even get a special bag to carry everything you need to attach to your rod pod, and a separate bag just for your rod pod.

Now our rods are being held up off of the ground and the tip isn’t pointing straight up at the sky so how are we going to know when we get a bite? That’s now the job of bite detectors. The first bite detectors were simply pieces of dough squeezed onto the line. These were watched very carefully, if the dough jumped up so did the carp angler because he knew he had a fish on. The little wads of dough worked well during the day but it was hard to put batteries in them to make them glow at night plus after every bite the dough would fly off and be lost forever. The next invention in bite detection was called a swinger, basically a weighted piece of plastic that clips onto the fishing line and the rod pod. These had an advantage over dough indicators in that they were anchored to the rod pod with a long piece of string and didn’t get lost after each bite, though the early models on a long string could loop around and smack you in the face when you were striking a fish. The weighted indicator showed not only screaming runs but now also drop back bites that carp anglers had never heard of before. That’s about all you can do with a swinger so once again the tackle companies looked for an opportunity to improve on a perfect bit of tackle. This was accomplished by putting the indicator on a stiff wire and even by adding different weights to the wire so the swingers could be used when it was windy and when it wasn’t. Now you could set up your swinger tension based on what you thought the next carp to nibble on your bait would do, you could set it light if you thought he was going to just lip your bait or set it heavy if you thought a careless carp was going to suck it in and take off running. The tackle companies even proclaimed them to be safer than the string models, you don’t get smacked in the face if you strike to hard. They even came up with the cool idea of adding batteries. Now we can have a light inside our swingers and watch it go up and down in the dark. Definitely can't be improved upon now.

Of course, if you can't improve something you just invent another way to do the same thing, only better. Thus the one drawback of the swinger was answered, the little lighted piece of plastic just couldn’t wake you up no matter how many times it went up and down or how fast it was blurring on a screaming run in the middle of the night. The bite alarm solved this problem. Screw it into your buzz bars, crank up the volume to full blast and it would wake even the deepest sleeper from his fondest dreams and it could even be heard over the most awful snoring ever to be encountered among your fishing friends. A problem with the early models is you couldn’t tell which of your alarms was screaming in the dark so they put little lights in them. One green light goes on when the run starts and stays one for 20 seconds, giving you just enough time to wake up and almost make it to your rods before the little green light goes off. There is also a red light that tells you how fast the fish is taking what little line there is left on your baitrunner. If the little red light stops but the green one stays on then you didn’t have enough line and you need to put some more on. Did I remind you yet to go ahead and buy the 10 thousand yard bulk spool of line?

One good effect of a loud bite alarm is that it tells your fishing partners you have a fish on and to get off their fat butts and get ready to net it for you. One bad effect is that every time your fishing partners get a screaming run it also wakes you up and you might have to help net a thrashing carp in the middle of the night in the rain. Always check your batteries, remember to carry extra ones, don’t steal the batteries out of the smoke detector unless its an emergency. Some polite carp anglers turn their alarms off when setting up after each cast so they don’t wake everyone up just recasting which is very considerate of them. They sometimes forget to turn the bite alarm back on, in which case you get a laugh when a carp take all their line off their baitrunner in the middle of the night and you didn’t have to wake up to net a fish at 2 am in the snow. Also remember, don’t let a polite alarm user recast for you, they might forget and it will be your alarm not turned on so always get up and cast back our for yourself.

I keep mentioning chum so I should tell you that you need to get several chum buckets, one is not nearly enough, ten is better. What you do is fill the buckets with feed corn, beans, rice, bird feed, trout pellets and any thing else you think might even remotely stimulate a carps appetite and top the bucket off with water. Let set in the sun covered loosely, tight lids will blow off an you will then loose some precious chum, until the chum starts to ferment and becomes smelly. Caution, if your chum mysteriously keeps disappearing then you are letting it ripen too much for either your wife or neighbors to stand. You will then need to store your fermenting chum buckets in a locked shed. Its also nice to have big 50 gallon bear proof barrels to store your dry corn and bird feed in before fermenting. Another caution, do not attempt to ferment chum in 50 gallon barrels, they are too heavy to lift if the wife and homeowners association demands that you deodorize the neighborhood.

Now that you have some chum what do you do with it? You can get a big scoop from the hardware store, the kind used for either cleaning out rain gutters or for scooping feed. You toss the chum in the chum buckets in the back of your truck and drive as close to your fishing spot as you can. You take your scoop and start spreading out your chum in a nice neat organized pattern resembling a pyramid. Squeamish carp anglers almost always skip the pyramid and just dump the chum in a big ark. Wash your hand off so you don’t stink up your steering wheel. Your intimate association with chum diminishes your sense of smell but nobody else’s so its best to just go home and take a good long hot shower, dinner parties are out of the question, going to church after chumming is also not recommend unless you have a shower, going to McDonalds is ok before your shower, hugging the wife pre-shower is inadvisable but hugging the dog before you bathe will make his day.

We haven’t even talked about bait yet. There is only two kinds of bait, cheap bait and expensive bait. Cheap baits are like sweetcorn, just open the can, thread some on a hook, don’t even need the hair rig I told you about, and cast out. Another cheap bait is some of the bigger particles you used for chum like your feed corn or beans. Its best to boil them for about half an hour after you soaked them overnight. Boiling fermented chum in your wife’s kitchen will lead to big problems. If you flavor your corn with something that smells nice like strawberry then the wife might not get so mad, but nothing will cover up the smell from fermented corn so don’t even try it.

Flavors are important to carp fishing, more so than any other kind of fishing the bait companies tell us. Most carp like your ordinary everyday flavors like strawberry and grape. As you advance in your bait making you might want to give the specialty flavors like tutti frutti and even chocolate a try. When you are stalking the big ones though you need the power flavors like mulberry florentine and green lipped mussel, be careful with these, one whiff can cause amnesia and sterility.

The feed corn is what you need to hair rig for. You also will need a boilie needle. I know you don’t know what a boilie is yet but you need a boilie needle anyway. What you do is grab a handful of boiled feed corn you flavored with strawberry Koolaid and while holding it in your hand stab at it with your boilie needle until you get three or four pieces of corn on the needle. Be careful, the needle is sharp after all, plus it has this nasty little barb on the end of it. If you get this stuck in your hand this early in your carp fishing lesson you might give up so be careful with that boilie needle. You may be tempted to make your own, don’t be cheap, buy some because they only cost 2 bucks and you will want to spend your free time tying hair rigs that cost 2 bucks each. Now that you have your flavored feed corn on your boilie needle you take the little barb and hook it to the little loop on the hair rig, gently slide the corn off of the needle and onto the hair. Now you need to use a boilie stopper to keep the corn from flying off when you cast out with your 12 foot long rods. A boilie stopper is just something you stick in the little loop on the hair to keep the bait on. You can buy specially designed boilie stoppers sold by tackle companies, or you can just use a piece of grass if you forget your specially designed boilie stoppers. That’s about it for cheap baits, next we move to the expensive baits.

The expensive baits are called boilies. They are just little balls of flour, they are flavoured, they are colored, they have eggs in them to make them hard so other little fish don’t try to eat them. The bait manufacturers claim they have special attractants, some even claim they make the carp hungry. Some have fiber in them so the carp can poop easier, some have milk and protein in them like a body builders drink to make the carp grow big and strong. Some are big and some are small, some float and some sink, some smell good and some stink. They all have in common is that they are expensive but their advantage is that the carp can eat a lot of them at one time. Boilies are like a candy treat to a carp, little balls of red rich strawberry goodness that they can’t get anywhere else. Once you have them addicted to boilies they have to come to your fishing spot to get them, they know there might be a hook hiding in them somewhere but they just taste so good they have to risk it. One good way to teach the carp in your fishing hole that boilies are good to eat is to chum with them. Not five gallons worth, though if you could afford it you can go fishing with me anytime you want and I will show you where to chum with boilies. What most carp anglers do is to chum a lot with the cheap corn and toss in a handful or three of boilies.

How do you get the boilies out there? You can spod them out if you want to and that’s nice if you want to make a nice little pile of them for one carp to find and eat but its hard to get a spod out as far as you will eventually learn to cast with your new long rods. You can also get a sling shot made just for fishing that will shoot them way out into the lake. The hardest way to get a few boilies out very far is with what they call a boilie stick. No, you don’t hit them like a baseball, you put the boilie in the stick which is hollow and then whip it out towards the middle of the lake. This is great fun and a good way to build up your arm muscles. If you can remember where the last boilie went into the water then you can cast there with your boilie on a hair rig attached using your brand new boilie needle!

Another method of baiting up is to use a marker float. You might want to get another rod devoted to just your marker so you don’t have to tie any more knots during the day than you have to. The way a marker float works is you cast it out to where you think the carp are going to be eating. It gets anchored to the bottom with a sinker but the float comes to the top of the water and gives you a target to aim at. You then spod to the marker, scoop chum out to the marker or use your sling shot or boilie stick to put bait out by the marker. A good caster claims its best to put the bait in a tight pile near the float, a bad caster almost always claims its better to spread the bait around the float. If you don’t get an extra rod just for your marker you will have to take a bearing behind, to the left and right of the last place your marker was, reel it in, tie on a hair rig and cast out the last wave your marker was floating on. Not impossible to do but should not be attempted at this early stage, we don’t want you to pick up any bad habits yet.

So lets put this all together and go catch us a big carp, or as we Americans call them, BFCs. First you should load up your truck. Chum bucket in first, nice comfy chair on the opposite side of the truck bed from your chum bucket. Wedge your lunch cooler up tight against your chum buckets to keep them from sliding around. It’s ok to put the lids on your chum buckets now, if they blow off the chum will stay in the back of your truck and you can scoop it out and wont loose any. Make sure to put your rods on top, usually on top of or beside your rod pod. Stuff bags of boilies around your rods and reels to protect them during the trip. You will of course have duffel bags full of odds and ends like backleads to keep boats from ripping your line in half, a scale and weighing sling to weigh you carp, cameras and an assortment of all the things you bought when you first started out but haven’t figured out what they are for yet.

Once you get to the lake park as close to the bank as possible so you don’t have to carry all of your stuff too far. If you can’t get in close you can buy special wheelbarrows designed just to haul carp fishing gear, go ahead and get the big one so you don’t have to make two trips. When you have all of your junk on the bank spread it all out so you don’t have to keep looking through all of your tackle boxes to find everything. Next its important to set up your chair in case you get tired from pre-baiting. Most people start out the days fishing full of energy and excitement and whip out the spod and put half a chum bucket of little piles of bait scattered all over the lake. As they wear down they switch to the boilie stick to more accurately bait up at range, as the day progresses they usually switch to the slingshot and eventually to the scoop hoping the carp will come in close so they don’t have to cast too far and keep reeling in 100 yard of line after every cast.

Now you bait up with the bait you have the most confidence in, such as a strawberry boilie and cast out. You set your rod in your rod pod, you test your bite alarm to make sure its on, you hook up your swinger in case you get a drop back bite, you set the butt of your rod in its butt gripper holder, you adjust your baitrunner so it lets the carp run free with just a little tension, you double check your drag to make sure its not too tight and then double check again that your have your baitrunner lever flipped up or is it down? You have to read the little diagram on the reel for the hundredth time to make absolutely sure. That’s it for your first rod, repeat two more times until you have every rod rigged and cast out.

Now its time to set back, open a nice cool beverage and wait for the carp to come to you. That’s if you have the right bait, are in the right spot, have chummed exactly correctly and if after all the chum you put in the carp are still hungry. If you don’t have a bite in the first 10 minutes should you spod some more and rebait each rod? If your fishing partner starts to catch and you don’t should you switch to his bait? Did you really need to cast that far out or did you cast far enough? Did you forget you were afraid of snakes and are night fishing beside a snake filled lake? I can’t help you with all of your questions so I wish you good luck, and drive carefully, you don’t want to get a ticket for spilling chum on the street on the way to your fishin hole.

I almost forgot about the no-knot knot. First, hold the hook in your left hand if you are right handed. Push some line through the eye of the hook and keep going. Make a little loop in the part going toward the bend of the hook. Take the other part and make like 10 to 20 wraps around the shank towards the bend. Stick the end back through the eye and attach a swivel. That was easy, wasn’t it?

Oatmeal Jack
Jan 2000

Go Fishing with Jack on the Potomac River, MD, USA at: