A Basic Guide to River Fishing for Carp

by | Carp, Advanced |

As we move into the warmer months, it’s a sure fire bet that commercial fisheries and specimen carp venues will start to become especially busy. I’m writing this at the time of the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK, so I imagine it will be even worse this year once the restrictions are lifted. If you want a break from the commotion that we can be sure to expect, your local river could provide the escape that you’re looking for.

One of my favourite things about fishing on the continent is the feeling you get driving through those open, empty areas and investigating lakes and rivers as you go, many of which are almost completely untouched. Here in the UK, the circumstances are not the same, although I find that I get a similar feeling upon discovering a new stretch of idle river, here in blighty.

I’d known for a long time that this particular river provided a watery home to carp. Though due to the long walks associated and challenges with parking, large portions of the river were untouched by carp anglers. Rivers are required to exhibit a close season; it was during this time that I first started scoping out the one mile stretch that I was particularly interested in.

This one-mile stretch had a number of features that screamed carp spots to me, bridges, jetties and in particular a fork in the river which formed a river island. Naturally, I was drawn in and the next step was to try it out as a venue.

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Look out for those spots which are likely to hold carp such as bridges, slacker waters & deeper areas

River baits for carp

Over on the continent I’d kept my bait choice simple when fishing, rivers opting for a bait with high food value and good visual appeal. The key to being successful on rivers is having the draw to stop a patrolling carp in its tracks, so your bait much be highly visually stimulating. To me that means bright boilies/wafters or maggots that provide additional movement, depending on the season.

As with regular still-waters, prebaiting is an extremely useful tool that works very well on rivers. I got into a nice habit of pre-baiting when was starting out on my local river and would introduce a custom mix made up of four kilos of boilies, two kilos of pellets and a handful of tiger nuts or sweetcorn upon every visit. I mentioned that this stretch was a bit of a walk, so I’d venture out there every time I was walking the dog, about three or four times a week.

Summer. Perfect for exploring new carpy venues.

Regular pre-baiting is the answer

As we know, summer marks the height of carp activity. You hear that all the time on the bank, but what does it actually mean? River carping in the summer really brings it home. The distances that carp will travel when searching for food is astounding, and river carping makes this fact even easier to notice. Quite often the fish will pause briefly to feed in an area before moving swiftly on, in their campaign towards the next meal. This makes holding the fish in your targeted area a challenge, for which regular pre-baiting can be the answer.

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Groundbait mixtures are also very useful in these situations, through the combination of whole and chopped boilies, pellets, hemp and other attractive baits, you can create an effective fish-holding combination. I also like to include additional liquid attractors for that extra edge.

Dealing with nuisance species

The majority of British rivers which host carp, sadly, will also be home to crayfish. Crayfish are one of the worst offenders when it comes to pinching your hookbait. They’re the masters of it, and do it in such a way that you won’t even know until you reel your line back in, which is highly fustrating!

If you know that crayfish or other nuisance species are present in the river you are targeting, I recommend spreading the bait around and not focusing on an individual spot. This will keep the bait accessible to the carp.

For avoiding the attention of crayfish specifically, which as I said is likely to be your biggest enemy, there are more drastic tactics that you can implement. The most effective of which that I’ve used is to position a few pierced cans of dog meat in the swim. Attach your cans to banksticks to make them easy to recover at the end of the session.

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The scent that is released from the cans will keep the crays busy for hours, giving the boilies an opportunity to do what they do best.

Feel free to try putting together your own killer combination for stopping those river carp in their tracks

The right tools get results

In general, riverbeds pose more of a challenge than still-water lakebeds do. The very nature of running water leads to the formation of jetties, moorings, snags and plenty of other obstacles, all of which pose issues when battling a hard-fighting a river carp. Ultimately this means our tackle needs to be up to scratch.

When river fishing you should expect that you’re going to you’re going to encounter snags, so you need a mainline that is tough as nails. I opt for 20lb braid, which is plenty strong enough and has the added benefit of sinking straight to the bottom. I don’t think you need to go out and purchase specific a specific rod just for river carping, I’ve found my 13ft 3½lb rods (which I also use on many lakes) do a great job here.

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Dog food makes for the perfect crayfish distraction

As discussed, I like to use pretty large hookbaits on rivers, so the super-sharp and ultra-strong fang X hooks make the most sense. To sure it up even more I use a short piece of shrink tubing to boost the turning effect. Rounding things off, when the conditions permit, I use a combination of 18mm krill bottom bait and 14mm squid pop-up, fished as a snowman.

It’s worth mentioned that if you want to stand any chance of landing a raging river carp, your hooklinks and all end tackle components also need to be extremely durable. For me this means 10 feet of abrasion resistant leadcore and a tough combi-link hooklength attached to a stiff, ultra-strong mono.

Getting out there

My first summer on this river was one of the best summers I’ve ever had angling. I remember it dawning on me that all the hard work was paying off, when I saw a shoal of carp slowly approaching me and one of my pre-baited areas. I was sure they were heading to a spot a few hundred yards up stream, so I needed to stop them where they were. I acted swiftly to get my groundbait mix out and got the hookbaits in place, ready to ambush the carp on their way past.

Pure speed and power

The clutch was set rather tight, but the carp didn’t care and the first take absolutely ripped off. I doubt that this fish had ever been on a hook before and so fought as if its life depended on it. Fortunately for me, it rushed down-stream into an area clear of snags. By the time I lifted the rod to make real contact, the fish was at least 100 yards down-stream from me. The pure speed and power it displayed was incredible. After a swash-buckling battle, the fish inevitably started to tire and a few minutes later the fish was mine and a powerful 30lb 2oz beast lay in the net.

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Those areas with overhanging vegetation are always worth investigating, but be quiet

In seasons that have followed, I’ve been able to hone my river carping skills and can say, here at least, that the carp are not too hard to find. Once you have identified where they are, through regular pre-baiting, the principles described here and with a bit of luck, results will follow.

With that said, as with anything in carp fishing, success is never permanent and identified carpy locations won’t last forever. This is especially true on untouched rivers, where the fish are more easily spooked and will quickly react to angling pressure. I’d advise you stay mobile and try your best to stay one step ahead of the fish, to pre-empt and adjust accordingly, for when that productive spot does dry up.

I couldn’t recommend river carping more, especially if you’re looking for a new challenge and to avoid the crowds this summer. Tight lines!

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