Carp Fishing in Silt: Make the Most of Silty Bottoms

by | Last updated on: Jul 17, 2022 | Published on: Aug 18, 2019 | Advanced, Carp |

We all know by now that an essential part of fishing is location. I would say the next most important thing is being able to present a bait effectively and to do that you need the right rig, given what’s actually in front of you.

Ideally, you would understand a little about the lakebed beforehand. Is it gravel, clay, chod, weed or silt? This is the key to presenting a bait that not only attracts the attention of fish but allows the rig components to do their job effectively.

This article looks at silt and the challenges it poses when trying to present a bait and catch a few carp.

What is silt?

Silt is fine sand, clay, or other material carried by water and deposited as sediment on the lake bed. Over the years this sediment can build up to become a very soft layer that’s sometimes over a foot deep.

While this soft-sediment presents anglers with several challenges, it also holds plenty of natural food sources, meaning it can be a magnet for carp and other species of fish.

In my mind, there’s good and bad silt. The bad stuff smells horrible, due to the decomposed leaf matter that’s generally found in these areas. You can tell the difference by simply smelling your lead once you’ve been fishing in it. The good, clean silt doesn’t smell nearly as bad, and I feel much more comfortable fishing the clean stuff.

Use a lead that is specifically designed to explore the bottom. The prongs will bring back any debris. If it’s a smelly chod then ideally avoid that area until you find clean stuff.

How do I know if the swim is silty?

If there are already fish in the swim then you might want to use the Helicopter rig I describe later in this article – just fire it out there, it should present OK. If you’re scoping the area out for a future session or if you have a more extended session ahead of you, then using a lead to explore the lake bed can be very beneficial.

Cast the lead out to your spot on a tight line (use a braided mainline for this), if you can’t feel the lead hit bottom, then you know that you’re not on gravel. By drawing it back slowly across the lake bed, you should be able to get a feel for it. If it’s soft, smooth and doesn’t return any weed or chod, then you can be pretty sure that you’ve found some clean silt.

Common mistakes with silt – lead set up

The heaviest element on your rig will be your lead. If you’re fishing close in, you can freeline or float fish, both are fantastic methods to ensure that your bait comes to rest on top of the silt.

In most situations, however, you’ll be fishing out in the pond and so you’ll need to use a lead. Firstly, choose the lightest lead possible to get to the spot. The heavier the lead, the further it will bury into the silt. I personally like to use a pear-shaped leads over distance leads. The distance lead is very streamlined – like a bullet, which isn’t ideal in this situation.

A pear lead is flat and therefore slows down as it hits the water

The critical thing here is to accept that whatever lead you choose, it is going to bury into the silt. The softer the silt, the deeper it will bury into it. It’s important that we ensure our hook length and hook bait are not dragged down into the silt by the lead, something that will happen if you use short hook lengths on lead clips or inline leads.

The Helicopter rig is the perfect lead arrangement for this situation. The lead buries deep into the silt, while the hook length remains on top of the silt, ready to nail that next carp!

The Helicopter lead set up

The Helicopter lead set up places the lead on the end of the mainline, which is key. Your hook length comes off the mainline above the lead, and a top bead stops the hook length flying up the line, as well as letting you set the depth that you think the silt is. This means the rig can sit above the silt, while your lead plunges into it.

The helicopter rig

There are plenty of videos on YouTube that will show you how to tie a Helicopter rig, so I won’t cover that here.

Common mistakes with silt – using pop-ups

Many anglers will automatically switch to pop-ups in silty situations. They believe that they need to use pop-ups as they’ve not found a hard gravel patch. The bottom is soft, and therefore, the only option is to stand proud of the lake bed with a pop-up boilie.

I can see the logic behind this approach, but personally, I think it is a mistake. Fish love to feed in the silt. They are used to foraging in it, burying their heads in it, right up to the gills to feed on bloodworm and other goodies that live down there. This means your pop up would be sitting up over the fish’s shoulder. I’m much more of the mind that it’s better to get your bait on the deck and embrace the fact that it’s directly on or even in the silt slightly.

Would I use pop-ups on silt?

I’m not completely against pop ups in silt, in fact when it’s choddy, and I need to stand clear of debris, I do actually like to use them. In addition, if the silt isn’t clean and covered in dead leaves, then obviously I want to stand clear of this, so pop ups are very useful here too.


I truly believe that nine times out of ten, wafters are the perfect bottom bait for silt. Recently I fished a 72-hour session on a syndicate called The Sitch. I struggled for a while, fishing pop-ups and bottom baits, it wasn’t until I switched to wafters did I start getting results.

As soon as I switched to wafters on a helicopter rig I had two bites. The fact that they are critically balanced means they sit very nicely on the silt, most of the time.

Balanced wafters, perfect for carp fishing in silt

The importance of smell and pimped up bait

As discussed, fish are used to foraging in silt, so much so that they will often have their heads buried. Therefore, fishing a bright bait or fluoro is irrelevant – when a carp has its head right in the silt they are relying almost entirely on scent.

For this reason, I like to pimp up my hook baits, to add as much smell and attractiveness as possible. Glugged and soaked hook baits are perfect. While the silt maybe clean, it will still have a scent to it. You need to override that smell and create something that draws them in through flavours and liquids.

Add liquids to provide smell that overpowers the smell of silt

Chop your feed & keep it light

Bait application is an essential part of your angling. How much to introduce will depend on things like stock levels, how many fish are in the swim and the time of year. What I will say is that again, you need to make it even more attractive because of the silt.

Consider adding liquid attractors to your spod mix. Also, try using light particles, I chop my boilies in half. Halving the boilies makes them flutter down in the water, helping them come to rest gently on the deck.

A big mirror from The Sitch on a Wafter fished on a helicopter rig in silt

Why avoid it when fish love it!

Everyone is obsessed with finding the blatant gravel patches, to the extent that in some waters the fish can even be weary on these patches because there’s always traps on them! If you end up in a situation where your swim is covered in silt, and you’re struggling to find any hard patches, all is not lost. Silt is a perfect larder of natural food for the carp. Approach it in the right way, and you could have a red-letter session.