Surface Fishing For Carp

by | Advanced, Carp |

In my opinion, surface fishing is one of the most exciting methods of carp angling. Not just for the fact that it allows you to travel light and stay mobile, but it grants you the ability to get up close and personal with the fish.

Before discussing what surface fishing is, it’s worth clarifying what it is not. Surface fishing is not a case of throwing out a bunch of floaters, sitting back and waiting for bites. It’s an astute method of fishing, it’s about being two steps ahead of the fish at all times, understanding the conditions and using your watercraft.

The first step is to check the weather using a smartphone app or the internet. These websites and apps will show you plenty of information such as humidity, UV index and pressure. Pressure is the one you are looking for and will typically be displayed as either mBar or hPa (both units are the same). On the day that you want to go float fishing, you will want the pressure to be around 1010 mBar/hPa, or above. This is because when the air pressure is high, the fish are put under increased pressure and will be drawn up into the upper layers of the water. Perfect for placing baits on the water. The weather itself does not need to be a hot, as long as the air pressure is high, the fish will be closer to the surface.

The pressure forecast listed on a weather app

Once you’ve checked the weather and are confident that the pressure is high enough for surface fishing to be successful. The next step is to locate the fish, this can be as simple as approaching the lake and seeing carp cruising across the surface, but it is often not so easy. The carp could be anywhere from the middle of the lake, to two feed away from the bank.

The best approach is to walk around the lake, with your eyes and ears peeled. Our guide to locating the carp can be found here and is worth checking out. As soon as you have located the fish or have identified potential areas where they could be lurking, start by throwing a handful of bait out. If the area that you need to bait up is far away, use a catapult or spod rod. Keep in mind that each catapult/spod will be best suited to a certain range, so make sure you are using one which is suitable for the intended area. Repeat this process until you are happy with the number of baited areas you have selected. Next, throw out the floaters and leave the area, this will allow the fish to feed without becoming spooked.

Avoid big set ups, surface fishing is all about suppleness.

Once you’ve got the fish feeding with confidence and enjoying the freebies, it is now your priority to keep this situation going. Every now and again go back to the baited areas and throw out another handful of floaters. Now it’s time to get going, get the rod out and set up. I personally use a NASH DWARF 10ft 2.75tc rod and NASH BP8 reel, and find that it works perfectly in these situations.

Smaller rods and light reels are the way to go, as they are easy to use in those tight areas that you may find yourself in. Avoid big set ups, surface fishing is all about suppleness. As you will only be casting out light end tackle, you want the rest of your set up to be the same. When it comes to the line on the reel, I usually use normal 15 lb fox mono, but lots of people prefer to use float line. The choice is yours. As a beginner, the line that you go for won’t have an enormous impact, as long as you are using a 6lb mainline for smaller carp, and 10-12lb for larger specimens, you will be fine.

The next thing to consider is your end tackle. This could be as simple as a size 7 hook and a piece of bread on the end of your mainline, a technique known as freelining which can provide some fantastic sport. It is limited however by the fact that you cannot cast out further than the length of the rod. Freelining is ideal for dropping the bait in front of fish that are cruising around a snag, two feet or so away from the bank. However, if the fish are 10 yards out from the bank or more, this is probably not an appropriate technique and instead, it’s time to use a bubble/controller float. These floats come in a range of different shapes and sizes as well as different weights to assist with casting. As a beginner, I would recommend a float around 15g. It’s not hard on the cast but will allow you to get some decent distance, making it perfect for carp that are out in the open, away from the bank.

Controller Floats

Controller floats are large, self-cocking floats designed to be cast at least 10 yards, with some being able to be cast beyond 50 yards without too much trouble. Other similar floats also exist, but they all serve same purpose – to provide weight and control over your rig.

Controller floats are locked onto the mainline, typically between 2-6 feet (60-182 cm) away from the hook. There are three different ways that you can attach the float to the mainline. Thread the line through the top eye of the float and follow it with a bead. From this point you can either use a swivel to link the mainline and the hooklength, a powergum stopknot, or tie the hooklength directly to the mainline by using a four-turn water knot. If you opt for this final option, ensure to leave the tag ends long in order to prevent the float from sliding down the line towards the hook.

A controller float

Bubble Floats

Bubble floats are transparent, hollow plastic floats which are around the size of a golf ball. They have two removable plugs, which allow water to enter the float, giving the float some weight to assist with casting. Take out the plugs, fill the float to the desired level and put the plugs back. Obviously, you can’t fill the float completely with water otherwise it won’t float.

There are two ways you can attach the float to the line. Bubble floats which have two eyes simply thread straight onto the mainline and are locked in place with either split shot or a swivel. Semi-fixed styles are more complex and hold their position on the line by slipping a silicone sleeve over the mainline/hooklength swivel.

Two bubble floats

You can use your mainline to attach to controller floats, but make sure to use floating line between your bait and bubble float. If you use mainline between your controller float and your bait, after a few minutes the line will sink a few inches below the surface, pulling the bait towards your controller float which can spook the fish and make it harder when you strike. Using floating line will prevent this and maintain distance between your bait and your float.

A top tip is to take a little pot of Vaseline with you on your fishing trips. Before you cast out, run a small piece of Vaseline on the float line between your bait and controller float, this will keep the section of line straight and floating on the surface of the water.

Which Baits to Use When float fishing?

When it comes to baits for surface fishing, you need to consider baits which you can use for feed and those which you can use as hookbait. Chum mixer dog biscuits, bread and pop-up boilies are the three most popular baits for surface fishing, as they can be used as both feed and hookbait.

Less common baits which work well as feed include cat biscuits, pellets (dry expander pellets make a particularly good option), popcorn and corn flakes. On the right day, all of these baits can be used successfully, so it’s worth mixing it up if the fish aren’t feeding.

Pop-up Boilies

Hooking Surface Baits

Most of the surface baits which work well to get the carp feeding are quite physically hard and often spherical in shape, making hooking them a bit of an issue. This is not the case for bread crust. The hook can be pushed through the crust and worked back through with ease, one of the reasons why it’s the first choice for many surface anglers.

Harder baits can be mounted differently to get around this problem, hair-rigging is the most effective way to do so. When hair-rigging pop-up boilies, you will need a high-quality baiting needle to get through these particularly dense baits. Make sure that the bait is as close to the hook as possible. Dog biscuits can also be hair-rigged, but will require drilling before your baiting needle will pass through them.

When hooking chum mixers or anything similar, use a bait band. These small bands attach onto the shank or bend of your hook, with the bait positioned inside the band itself. Quite often, these bands are strong enough to stay in place for many casts, and even after you’ve had a bite.

A bait band

Always take plenty of bait with you, and a variety of shapes and sizes is also recommended. Birdlife will take some of your bait, up to 5 kg of floaters in some cases, so make sure you’ve got enough to cater for them and the fish. Different shapes and sizes will also give you more options when out on the water.

A baiting needle in action

It is also possible to boost the effectiveness of your baits when surface fishing by coating your freebies in an oil or liquid which is attractive to the fish. These fluids are typically flavoured, meaning that the fish will be able to smell and somewhat taste your bait, enticing them into biting.

Using oils as a coating for your baits also has the added benefit of flattening the water around the bait, these liquids eliminate ripples which makes it much easier to closely watch your hookbait when it’s amongst the freebies.

A Note on Using Bread as a bait

Breadcrust is the king of surface baits, but you need to make sure you use the right bread. Avoid pre-sliced bread and instead opt for a loaf that has been freshly baked. Don’t be shy when using it as a hookbait, particularly if you’re after specimen fish. A bigger piece of bread will mean you can use a bigger hook, which in turn can be used to land a bigger fish.

Once you’ve baited up the desired areas, have got the carp feeding with confidence and your rod is all set and ready to go, it’s time to catch yourself a carp.

Cast out past the showing carp, at least two feet in front of them so they do not become spooked. Ensure that the carp are still feeding with confidence before slowly reeling the controller towards the carp, or simply leave it around that area. Don’t forget that carp which are feeding at the surface are very easily spooked. Stay down low, preferably tucked down behind any reeds in the area. If you do spook the fish, reel everything back in, throw out another handful of floaters and move onto your next baited area. Fish will always return to the area as long as there is still food present.


The key to surface fishing is successfully timing your strikes, particularly when using smaller floats. Pretty much every angler has at some point mistimed a strike, it’s a horrible feeling. When it comes to surface fishing, the challenge is not striking too early. I use a two second rule.

As soon as the fish become interested in the bait they will come up to investigate it. Sometimes they will give it a knock and then move off, novice anglers will often strike when they feel these knocks and completely miss the fish. Remain patient, the fish will come back around. Once they are confident and ready to take the bait, you will know about it. You’ll see their lips at the surface of the water. This is where the two second rule begins. Once you’ve seen their lips taking the bait, wait two seconds and then strike. Obviously this is just a rough guide and the conditions you are fishing in may require a quicker or slower strike. The more you go surface fishing for carp, the more you will understand how the fish move and act on bait at the surface.

In order to do this well you need to remain focused on your hookbait. Lazy anglers will often miss their time to strike, so stay focused at all times, if fishing at range watch the float instead of the hookbait itself. A pair of polarised glasses are a worthwhile investment too. These take the glare off the surface of the water, allowing you to see into the upper layers of the water much more clearly.