Playing, Cleaning, or Feeding: What Does a Crashing Carp Mean?

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If you’ve been carp angling for any length of time, you’ll know that location is the most important aspect of watercraft. This is drummed into you everywhere you go for information, with this website being no exception. Simply put, finding the carp makes catching them a whole lot easier. Having experience on your venue is an invaluable tool, but if you are new to a lake then it’s likely you’ll need to resort to using your eyes.

A sight adored by many anglers is that of a carp clearing the water and re-entering with an enormous splash. But why exactly does this happen and what does it mean? I too share this adoration of a jumping carp and here I’m going to cover the reasons that carp display this behaviour. Obviously, we cannot be 100% sure why carp behave the way they do, but these are the best explanations that I’ve come across.

A sight to behold: a leaping carp

Cleaning Themselves

The most widely believed explanation behind this behaviour is that the carp are cleaning themselves of leeches. Lice and other infestations are common issues on many lakes and it is well documented that carp leap from the water in an attempt to dislodge them. With that said, in my experience, carp with a parasitic infection of some kind stage much more frantic behaviour and don’t simply jump out of the water once or twice.

I’ve fished waters in the past that have had problems with parasitic infections in the winter, especially if the season has been particularly severe. The cold water causes the carp to go semi-torpid for long periods of time, during which they can fall prey to a range of infections and infestations.

Once the water warms up, the fish become more active and display in an exaggerated manner, most likely to try to clean themselves of any infection. The same fish will crash out six or seven times in quick succession, covering large distances in the process. This performance is often repeated several times in just a few minutes – it is tiring for the carp though, causing the fish to rest between displays.

The same fish crashing out six or seven times in quick succession could signify something more serious

Carp also crash out to clear their gill membranes of silt and other debris, a common side effect of heavy feeding on natural foods such as bloodworm. Next time you land a carp after they’ve been feeding heavily on natural foods, take a look at their gills, it’s surprising how much muck gets in there.

There is alternative theory of why carp lead out of the water when feeding heavily, and it’s not to do with washing their gills. Some anglers believe that they leap out of the water to gain as much speed as possible for their way back down to the lakebed, so they can bury themselves as effectively as possible in the silt.

This could very well be true and I certainly wouldn’t dismiss it, I’ve seen carp dig into the lake-bed so much that they’ve developed sores on their bodies, close to their gills. Let’s not forget ‘carp holes’ either, which can only be seen once a lake has been drained, surely these demonstrate the intensity of feeding that carp pull off.

An example of some amazing carp holes – holes were over a foot deep and two feet across (via Simon Scott)

Showing less

When carp are exposed to more and more angling pressure, they show themselves in this way less and less. It cannot be a coincidence that fish on high-pressure waters are less inclined to jump clear of the water. Have the fish figured out that if they show on the surface, they’ll soon receive an onslaught of heavy leads around their heads?

This may sound unlikely, but I’ve seen it first-hand on a lake in France. I started fishing the lake back in 1997, back then the carp were rather unpressured and showed all across it. I remember we used to joke that the carp here spent more time in the air than in the water! As the reputation of the lake grew, so did the angling pressure that the carp endured and so the tendency for carp to jump clear of the water started to diminish. I still fish the lake to this day, and now they don’t show at all in front of the swims.

Now I’m not saying that they don’t show at all, but for the most part – there are some exceptions which I’ll cover – they do so where they know they are safe, usually this means in areas that are out of bounds or out of range.

We know it doesn’t take much to spook a carp

Personally, I think that the flavours and attractants that we as anglers put into the water through our baits may also cause carp to crash out. It seems possible, to me at least, that in some circumstances we could actually be driving them away rather than attracting them.

We’re always certain when we introduce a bait into the aquatic environment, that carp will respond, but if the carp are crashing out over the baits with no takes, perhaps something else is going on. Perhaps, the fish are in fact responding to the stimulus of the excessive flavour, by showing in areas where the attraction seems the most natural to them – not at the bait itself, but much further away, on the surface!

Feeding activity

There is a significant difference between a carp that crashes out over the baits and one that head-and-shoulders over them. Most anglers agree that a carp crashing out doesn’t equal a feeding fish; as we’ve discussed, this behaviour could result from a number of different factors. On the other hand, quiet surface activity over the baits certainly does. Again, I’ve got the first-hand experience to back this up.

One of the most popular swims at my local lake is also the most remote. Nobody can cast within 700 metres of it. In addition, the fish are known to venture close to the bank where they can be observed, stalked and caught.

Here the water is about five feet deep and there is around a foot of silt on the lakebed, simply put, carp love it! Introduce a carpet of mass bait and you can be certain that the carp will pay a visit, provided of course you keep quiet and don’t start to fish until they are feeding really hard on the bait. It’s clear when this is happens, the water clouds up and all kinds of debris get pushed up to the surface due to the feeding activity.

A showing carp

It’s possible to stand here and watch them feed, I’ve done it, and have seen a fish swirl across the bait, the flicker of its flank clearly visible as it side-swipes the lakebed with a whip of its tail. Such a display is immediately followed by the same fish decisively rising to the surface to head-and-shoulder with barely a ripple.

We’ve discussed the reasons that carp jump clear of the water and crash back in and it’s fair to say that they could be doing, well, anything! Conversely, if you’re able to see the carp in their natural environment, you’ll know that there is plenty of evidence to show that carp which are head-and-shouldering are feeding.