A Basic Guide to Freelining for Carp

by | Carp, Advanced |

Like many, my fishing is frequently governed by a limited amount of time. Plenty of us have busy lives and simply slot in fishing where we can. For me, this means travelling light, staying mobile and moving around lakes and rivers trying to find fish and only then executing a plan to catch them.

Finding fish is not always easy. Quite often, a large percentage of my already short session is spent trying to find them, searching every little nook and cranny. Once we’ve located some obliging fish, the last thing we want to do is spook them out of the area. A stealthy approach is required, treading very gently underfoot and trying to get a bait into position with finesse and accuracy is crucial. It’s in this particular scenario that freelining for carp comes into its own.

What is freelining?

The good news is that freelining is extremely simple. So simple in fact, that it’s about fishing with just your hook tied to the mainline (or leader). There are no weights, swivels, clips or floats; only the line and a hook.

In my opinion, many aspects of carp fishing have become over-complicated and none more so than rigs. Believe me, there is something very satisfying about simplifying everything that you are doing and it paying off (especially if you’re fishing next to a friend with a particularly complex set up!). This is the case for many elements of carp fishing, from the amount of gear you’re taking, right through to the rig you’re using and the bait you’ve chosen. Freelining explores this feeling, it’s really about stripping everything back to basics. It’s just you, the fish and a huge helping of cunning and stealth.

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Fishing with the minimum amount of gear

I feel that freelining and stalking go hand in hand. With that in mind, consider the kind of fishing equipment you would take on a stalking session. I recommend a short rod (10ft max), a 3000 or 4000 sized reel, a small bag, tiny amount of tackle, net and unhooking mat.

The Korum Opportunist Rod in either 8ft or 10ft is ideal for this style of angling

Freelining on the surface

This is a fantastic method of freelining and very well suited to warm conditions. Quite often, with a decent pair of polaroids, you can find fish right on the surface. If you’re lucky with some reasonably careful bait application, you may even be able to coax a few fish into taking some free offerings. Quite often in this scenario, I will use just a few pouchfuls of dog mixers to get the fish feeding.

Of course, the tackle used in this scenario is very simple, but there are still a few things to consider. Your mainline or leader should be made of fluorocarbon as this is far less visible to feeding fish. It should also be of a reasonably low diameter without risking lost fish in snags, pads or weed. I would generally recommend 10lb breaking strain in most situations (approx. 0.30mm diameter).

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Korda Kruiser Control. I have spare spools made up of 8lb, 10lb and 12lb breaking strain.

This only leaves the hook to consider. The size of hook should balance with the size of the hook bait that you intend to use. Quite often I will use a trimmed down boilie to imitate a mixer. For this I would recommend a size 10 hook, however, if I am using a larger bait such as bread, then I might step this up to a size 8 or 6.

A size 10 hook and a trimmed down pop up

Bread bombing and Mega Bands

Adopting bread as a hookbait is an incredibly effective way of freelining on the surface, and it’s a lot of fun in the summer months. I like to get the fish feeding on mixers where I can, and then then present a banded piece of bread. Alternatively, you could get lucky and simply place the bread hookbait in the right place at the right time.

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A Mega Band is simply a rubber loop, threaded onto the hook which allows you to attach some bread, as shown in the image below. Bread sometimes has an advantage over a trimmed down boilie or mounted mixer in that it will give you more casting weight, especially if you give it a little dunk in the water before casting. You’ll be surprised how far they will go.

Bread can still be a devasting bait and gives you additional casting weight

Mega Bands make fishing with bread easy

I often look at the gear that I’m going to take fishing with me and continually as the question ‘what do I really need?’. This allows me to scale back as much as possible, which is of particular benefit when trying to catch fish with limited time available, as it allows for a more mobile approach. Part of this can even involve stripping right back in terms of tackle. Freelining allows you to leave nearly all your end tackle in the car.

Slow sinking freelining

Another excellent method is to use the same tackle as described above, but utilising a bait that you know is going to sink very slowly through the water. There aren’t many carp out there that can resist a piece of slow sinking bread or a bunch of maggots. If you choose to use maggots, I would go for a size 8 or 10 hook and load it with as many maggots that can fit on the hook comfortably.

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Whether you are surface fishing or slow sinking, I feel it’s crucial to observe the fish before introducing your hook bait. Look at how the fish are behaving, check out their patrol routes. Predict the path the fish will take and then very gently and accurately place your bait in its path. Placing a hook bait right on its head will simply spook the fish and probably any other fish that are in the immediate area. I really cannot emphasise enough just how important it is to study the fish’s behaviour and predict the path it’s going to take in order to most effectively encounter your hookbait.

Another fish caught recently on Mega Bands loaded with bread

Freelining on the deck

Imagine you have baited several swims and you are now going to fish those swims in rotation. As you walk into a swim, some fish have moved onto your prebait and are now tails up scoffing your free offerings. Freelining is an excellent option for getting a bait into position without spooking the fish with a heavy lead.

I’m always impressed by how effective dropping a bait right amongst feeding fish is, yet it is something you certainly wouldn’t be able to do with heavy end tackle. In this scenario, you might choose a trimmed down wafter or use bread that has been pinched to sink slowly and settle on the bottom, or whatever bait you have the most confidence in. I have found that worms are particularly effective in this scenario; however, consider any small species that you might have in the lake, such as small Perch. 

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Strip everything right back and go find them!

Strip everything back and go hunt for big carp!

As we move into summer, pick a hot day and go stalk some carp! Free yourself of all the gear that you don’t need and tune into this stealthy approach. Reconnect with the skill and finesse involved when creeping up on fish, tuning back into what it really means to hunt our quarry. Freelining in this way is also the most fun you’ll have with a fishing rod in your hand. Beats sitting blindly behind 3 rods. Give it a go and be lucky! Thanks for reading and tight lines!