Stalking For Carp: A Basic Guide
Stalking is a style of fishing that is pretty different to the static approach that you may already be familiar with. It’s a little bit special and a method that I find particularly exciting. Instead of sitting around waiting for carp to bump into your hook, stalking involves getting up close and personal with the carp as you move around the water, attempting to get the fish feeding in the nooks and crannies along the water’s edge. Adding stalking to your carp fishing repertoire will give you an extra edge, as well as further insight into how these wily beasts think.
Why go stalking for carp?
Implementing a stalking approach, or at the very least having it available to you, is worthwhile for a number of different reasons. For starters, few anglers actually do it. This means that if you’re the only one out there finding and feeding the fish in the margins, the rewards are yours and yours only. The untapped spots that you discover will have virtually no angling pressure, making catches more likely. In addition, simply being close enough to the fish to observe them and their reactions to different baits and rigs is a very effective way of increasing your understanding of carp in that particular water and how they feed in different conditions. Information which will help you no matter what approach you use at a later date.
If the water is clear enough, stalking gives you the chance to identify individual fish. Be that the biggest fish in the lake, or just a desirable 20 lb specimen. This can be a huge advantage, as knowing exactly what is feeding in your swim will allow you to tailor your offering correctly.
Carp in the margins, visible to a stalking angler
For me personally, stalking is a great technique as I am limited for time nowadays. If I only have a single day out by the water, stalking gives me the option to not spend it sat behind a static rod. Instead, I can be out fishing 10-15 different swims and maybe even a couple of different lakes, impressive for one day, and I normally get a few chances to net a fish too.
In addition, a stalking session requires a minimal amount of tackle. Depending on the water that you are fishing, you may only need as much as a rod sleeve and a small bag. I usually take a single rod with me and a few other bits (net, mat, etc.). Stalking is all about stealth, so you really don’t want to be clattering about with unnecessary rods and other bits near the swim and spook any fish which are feeding.
The key to stalking for carp is choosing the right areas to do so in. The very first thing I do when I get to the water is look for the obvious signs that carp are present in certain areas and are active. The best signs for carp activity include crashing, carp rolling on the surface and fizzing (check out our guide to locating carp here). The margins are a great area for carp and a lot of anglers neglect this fact, a massive mistake in itself. Reed beds, overhanging trees, snags and lily pads are massive fish holding areas and perfect for stalking due to the number of natural food sources that exist there.
Carp gravitate towards the end of warm winds, here they wait for food to blow their way, so always check such areas too. When stalking, you are not limited to fishing only recognised swims, this opens up a whole world of possibilities. In a typical lake, there will be a countless number of nooks, gaps and crannies which are inaccessible to the static angler. These areas are perfect and should be explored when stalking, as they are typically free from angling pressure, meaning that the fish will feed with confidence and you can target where the fish actually are, instead of where you hope they will move to. With that said, don’t neglect the standard swims, as anglers have success here for a reason.
A carp in the margins
Despite this, there are still some restrictions. Carp love snags and heavily weeded areas and when stalking you can feel somewhat like a free spirit, making fishing for them in these areas rather tempting. You need to stop and ask yourself, can I really land a fish here? If the answer is no, move on. Being close to snags is fine, but actually fishing in them is always a no-no. Also, keep your fellow anglers in mind. Fishing in gaps between swims is fine and will work well most of the time, but if there is another angler fishing on one side, find another spot.
Surface fishing is great when stalking carp, our dedicated surface fishing guide goes into more detail, but if you can find the fish on the top then you’re on the money already.
I typically use one of two bait mixes when stalking for carp, the first is simple and rather cheap. It is essentially pellet baits of various sizes, 2mm up to about 6-8mm, mixed with a few handfuls of corn. You do not need to use such a range of sizes as it’s all personal preference. I like this approach as the different sized pellets break down at different rates, meaning that even once most of the pellets have been eaten, those which break down in the water slowly will keep the fish rooting around the spot. When it comes to using pellets, I strongly advise that you do some research on the venue first to see if the water holds any bream. Bream love pellets, so using them as a bait will attract them into the area, lowering the likelihood of you hooking a carp.
If the water does hold bream, I use a second bait mix. This is slightly more expensive as it uses more ingredients but does work very well. The base of this mix is hemp groundbait combined with sweetcorn, with extra-large sweetcorn grains being preferred as they will take care of small roach, rudd and perch which may also be feeding in the area. You can throw in some other, oily groundbaits too, such as green lipped mussel groundbait, these will cloud up the area and hide your rig and hook better.
Finally, what completes this mix is the use of crushed and crumb boilies. Again, I like to use a range of differently sized crumb, for the same reason as in the pellet mix. I avoid using whole boilies, as I will generally be fishing in the margin and I don’t want the boilies to roll away down the shelf, they are also a lot quieter when baiting up, which is perfect when stalking.
Hemp groundbait – up close
Upon arrival, grab a bucket with some bait mix in, a pair of polaroid glasses and get walking around the lake or river. Once you have located the fish you can go ahead and start introducing some bait, there are a few ways you can do this, the most obvious being with your hands. I usually throw two or three handfuls of bait into the swim and then leave it to settle whilst I go off in search of other spots. This approach will work well most of the time, but if you’re fishing a venue that stocks particularly large specimens, a poorly stocked venue or a venue with a high angling pressure, then so much as a foot out of place can blow your chances. Fish in these kinds of waters are far more likely to be spooked. In such waters, I avoid throwing bait in by hand and instead use a spod (stay away from spombs, as they need to hit the water with force to release the bait).
You can tie your spod directly to your mainline, casting won’t be necessary in this situations so there is no need for braid or a spod rod. The next step is to fill the spod and gently lay it in the water, ensure that you don’t splash or create a disturbance as you do so. I usually put 8-10 of these small spods in each spot, but on easier waters far less will do the job.
After spending maybe an hour or so walking around checking swims, watching the water and baiting a handful of spots, start to check back on all the previously baited spots, from first to last until you come across fish feeding.
Now it’s time to get a rig in the water, there are four different methods that I like to use when out stalking in order to actually get the rig into the swim without scaring the fish off. The first is to utilise a small PVA bag filled with small pellets and groundbait (or crushed boilie if bream are present in the water), along with my lead and hooklink inside of it.
Alternatively, and my personal favourite, is to us an inline flat pear, 3-4oz, with a short braided hooklink (around 4-6 inches) paired with either a small 10-12mm pop up or a couple of pieces of fake corn. This ensures that once the bag brakes open, your hookbait will be sat just popped up above the contents of the bag.
Or you can opt for something a little less complicated and use the same lead and rig arrangement as the previous method, but without the PVA bag, leaving you with just your lead set up and your rig of choice. This will also allow you to use a bottom bait, if you suspect that the fish are being spooked by the pop up.
The final method that I like to use to get the rig into the water effectively, actually comes from a match fishing tactic for bagging up on numbers of smaller fish. Don’t let that put you off though, as it can be used when stalking to catch some really big fish. It’s like both of the above set ups rolled into one. It consists of a medium sized, flat inline method feeder (around 25-30g), with either groundbait or dampened pellet moulded around it and with your hooklink hanging from the bottom of the feeder.
To mould your feeder, simply take a handful of either groundbait or pellet and squeeze it around the outside of feeder. You can then lightly push your hooklink into the outer layer of the feeder, enabling your hookbait to sit nice and proud on top of the feeder once on the lake bed. For hookbait, I normally go for small brightly coloured pop-ups (pink or yellow works really well) around 10 cm. The idea behind this is that your hookbait will be the first thing to get sucked up into the carp’s mouth.
The spot you’re fishing should dictate the set up you use, for example if fishing a swim full of lilys (as shown below), a PVA bag lowered in just on the edge of the pads will work well. Once you have chosen a spot or have seen fish feeding in a particular area, creep in quietly and gently lower your rig down into the spot, then sit back and hold tight! Give yourself around 30 minutes on each spot depending on how many others you have baited. If the next 30 minutes pass uneventfully, get on the move and check the other spots.
When it comes to the actual rigs to use, if you’re using any of these methods to get the rig into the water, you need to use a relatively short rig, between 4-6 inches. This is because it is going inside either a PVA bag or on the outside of a method feeder, if it’s long it will end up tangled and will not present correctly. I like to use a 25lb braid, a size 6 curve shank or wide gape hook with a size 8 swivel. If fishing a pop up, add either a shot or some rig putty just below the hook.
A suggested rig
When watching the spot and the fish, you must keep your movements slow and stay as quiet as possible, in some waters a single twig breaking underfoot will be enough to scare the fish off.
Don’t forget to have a plan for when a fish has taken your hook bait. You will often be close to snags or in a tight spot when stalking, so having a plan of action is vital. Take into account your surroundings, is there an overhanging branch that could get in your way? Where should the landing net be? Are you able to let the fish run into open water? These questions and many more need to be answered in advance if you want to actually land a fish once it’s on your line.
Stalking for carp is a fantastic approach to fishing and is definitely worth trying. It gives you a much better understanding of the fish and allows you to see what is actually happening under the surface. The thrill of having a carp on your line after you’ve watched it patiently, begging it to bite, is second to none and can only really be experienced.
It can be a real challenge getting the rig down there once they are feeding without spooking them. A good way to do so is to flick in a couple of grains of corn or a very light scattering of hemp onto the area, just to send the fish running for a few seconds. This should give you enough time to get your rig in.