Surface Fishing for Carp: The Basics You Need to Know

by | Carp, Essentials |

Floater fishing… It’s a very different way to experience a day’s fishing. If you’ve never tried it out, it may seem foreign and a bit unusual at first, but if you’re considering giving it a go, this article may act as a useful starting point. I love surface fishing, it provides another outlet to enjoy angling, and as I take my angling seriously, I take my surface fishing seriously too.

Let’s tackle the big-ticket items first. The conventional wisdom within the fishing community states that a very light rod is needed for surface fishing. I disagree with this and generally opt for a more powerful rod than most other surface anglers would consider using. A light carp rod is a good choice for close range and open water, but it won’t cut it when trying to set the hook if you’re fishing at distance. Not all fishing situations are the same and not all floater fishing will occur within 40 yards of the bank. I’ve fished lakes where you need to be out at ranges of 75 yards plus, just to keep in touch with the fish.

The rod I’m currently using for my surface fishing escapades has a progressive 2 ½ test curve and is a happy medium between power and finesse. Some additional power is afforded in the butt section, which is perfect for summoning that extra push to remove a carp from a particularly weedy swim, yet the sensitive tip allows me to whip out a small controller float with accuracy.

When it comes to the reel, any reasonably sized fixed spool will work. A free spool is not required in order to be effective, but you do need a reel with a nice smooth drag system. I use a 12lb mainline to finish off my setup.

What you want to see…

​Terminal Tackle

When it comes to terminal tackle, it really does become an issue of personal preference very quickly. This is especially true for me in the context of surface fishing. In the broader sense of my fishing game I like to experiment with new pieces of tackle, but when I’m surface angling, I am a self-confessed creature of habit.

Like beacons to birdlife

The first hurdle (regardless of approach), it to get the hookbait out to feeding fish. When surface fishing, I find that the best way to do so is to use a controller. Specifically I like subtle controllers, those that have clear plastic bodies are more effective I have found, as they are much harder for the carp to detect. For a similar reason, controllers with red tops are a no-go from me, these act like beacons to birdlife and are just not worth the hassle.

If you were to ask three float anglers what hooklink material they recommend, you would likely get three different answers. Generally speaking, you want to use a low diameter line (so you’ll need to take care when tying knots) but don’t take any risks when it comes to the breaking strain. I like to use a 12lb line in most situations, dropping to 10lb when fishing open water.

The transparent bodied controller float producing results

Moving on to hooks now. For me it has to be a wipe gape hook, a size 8-10 will usually do a good job. As you’re fishing on the surface, I think it’s always worth using a hook that has a matte effect of some kind, e.g. a teflon coating. This ensures that there is no risk of sunlight beaming off it and spooking any potential bites. The impact of this is debatable, but I think it’s worth being mindful of, particularly as the majority of surface rigs are detected by carp as they move within inches of the hookbait, so there is evidence to suggest that something puts them off at the last minute.

A set of wide gape hooks with a matte effect

​Bait choice

Just as with the other forms of fishing, there are plenty of choices out there for surface fishing. Stocking up on floater baits during a trip to the supermarket is no longer the norm – although chum mixers are still effective in the right conditions and do serve as a good starting point on plenty of waters. For me though, there are better baits out there. I like to use a combination of 8mm floaters and 11mm floating trouties. The combination of the two works wonders in my fishing, as it ensures the carp don’t get used to consuming only one size of bait.

This represents a big advantage

For the hookbait, I opt for a small pop-up, trimmed to match the size of my free offerings. Use a simple file to shave down the boilie and fasten it to the back of the hookshank. Why do I use a boilie here rather than a pellet? The main reason is because of longevity and buoyancy. A boilie used in this scenario will last far longer and maintain more buoyancy than a pellet will. This represents a big advantage on venues where you need to keep your rig out fishing for long periods of time.

Exceptionally wily carp will be spooked by a controller that is cast out even 30 yards away from them. Here, the only solution you have is to keep the hookbait out at range whilst feeding closer in. After some time building up confidence in the fish, you can begin to creep the hookbait into an area where it is more likely to be found. Even leaving a single bait out on the surface can land you a bite, it works on the bottom after all…

Sometimes just a single hookbait will work wonders, even when surface fishing

Beating the birds

An element of surface fishing which causes a huge amount of frustrating for many anglers, is trying to deal with the birdlife. When I say birdlife, I’m not referring to the odd duck now and again, these are manageable and lose their appetite rather quickly. If you’re relatively close to the coast however, seagulls, pose a very different problem and they can make your life as a surface angler very challenging. Once they’ve recognised you’re putting out surface baits, seagulls will feed persistently and unless you spod out ridiculous quantities of bait, are almost impossible to get rid of.

There are gulls on many of the waters I fish and whilst you cannot remove them entirely, there are some tips which can make dealing with them easier.

Carnage will follow

First, try not to feed too heavily. On a regular water of mine, I’ve been able to reduce the attention of the birds by trickling the bait in, as opposed to filling in. This is works because if a gull does decide to come over, it will only find a few baits. Many surface anglers will testify to the fact that if a gull finds its way to your swim and there is a load of food on offer, one gull will miraculously morph into a flock and carnage will follow.

Birds are fairly intelligent animals, and if they’re around the lake for a decent length of time, will begin to associate the snap of a catapult with their dinner. If you suspect that this is the case on your water, simply using a quiet catapult can pay dividends. Plus, if you’re only sending out floaters, you can get away by using a matchman style maggot catapult, which have softer elastic and are almost inaudible when baiting up.

Matchman style catapults can be a good way to avoid the attention of birdlife