When you first start carp fishing, of course, you don’t need everything – you can get away with the bare essentials and start catching fish without spending a lot. But once you get into it – remember a lot of people who fish a lot, think about fishing a lot, and they’ve had a lot of good ideas that make fishing more enjoyable.
There’s no need to go crazy and start buying all the most expensive gear – as a beginner, you don’t have the skills to get the benefits from them anyway. On the other hand – the cheapest equipment might not be up to the job of landing big fish, and you’ll be looking to upgrade soon if you get into it. So it’s best to choose a decent quality, mid-priced tackle – particularly gear that’s aimed at carp fishing for beginners.
Use this handy checklist to kit yourself out with the essentials, then read on to see how you can make bankside life more enjoyable (and comfortable) as you start catching more fish.
The Essentials – what you REALLY need
If you’re 12 years old or over, don’t even think about casting a hook without one. This is your permission from the Government to fish in the UK (and is not to be confused with your fishing ticket for the lake). Without a licence, you’re breaking the law, and if the Environment Agency catch you, you can be fined up to £2500 per rod!
Where to get a licence -Fortunately, they’re not expensive. A one day licence is just £3.75 and it’s only £27 for a full year. You can buy them over the counter at the Post Office, or online/by telephone at https://www.gov.uk/fishing-licences
BEWARE of commercial sites that sell fishing licences, but aren’t affiliated to the Environment Agency! You could end up paying a lot more for your licence!
If you start with two rods, it’ll double your chances of catching. Some advanced carpers fish with three or even four rods, but a) not all lakes allow more than two, and b) you need to think about whether you can cope with bringing in three or four fish swimming in different directions at once!
Look for a rod about 12ft long, with a “test curve” of 2.5lb – which will give you enough power to cast about 100 metres, but not so much that you pull the hook out when the fish is fighting under your rod tip. The larger the number on the test curve, the stiffer and more powerful the rod – but you won’t need to cast long distances for carp fishing on beginners’ waters.
You need to match the size of the reel to your rod, and also the type of reel to how you’re going to fish. They usually come in sizes from 6000 to 10,000 – but 10,000 should cover you for pretty much any water.
There are two basic types of carp reel:
- Free Spool
These have the drag (tension) control at the rear and what’s known as a “baitrunner” mechanism, which lets the fish swim away when it takes the bait, but lets you take back control with one turn of the handle. This is generally the best sort for a beginner to carp fishing.
- Big Pit
Big Pit reels are much larger (to hold more line) for fishing big lakes. They have the drag control at the front so you can adjust it manually while playing a fish. This is far too fiddly when you’re starting out.
Rod Pod/Bank Sticks
Now you need something to rest your rods on. It’s a personal choice which you choose. A rod pod is a freestanding frame that can be set up anywhere, including on concrete, so it’s the most versatile choice. However, on soft ground, some carpers prefer the freedom of being able to push their bank sticks into the grass anywhere.
You could simply sit and listen for the drag clicking as a fish makes off with your bait, but you might miss a lot of fish, as many takes are quite subtle. Bite detectors work by detecting the slightest movement or vibration in your line, then alerting you with lights and sound.
This means you can relax, have a cup of tea and a chat – and it’s especially useful if you sleep while you’re fishing, or on overnight sessions. It can also alert you to dropbacks, which is when a fish grabs the bait and moves towards you without pulling line off the reel.
You’ll need one for each rod, of course – which is also useful, because you’ll know instantly which one to grab when a fish takes.
There are loads of bags to choose from but bear in mind that if you get bitten by the bug, you’ll start collecting gear at quite a rate, so choose a big bag or box with lots of compartments and drawers to help keep your gear organised. You can also buy smaller boxes to fit inside your main carrier and keep all your weights and terminal tackle in some sort of order. A decent-sized, sturdy box can also double as a stool, saving you the need to buy a…
There’s a huge choice of light, folding seats out there, but bear in mind you’ll be sitting on it for a long time, so do buy the best you can afford to avoid getting a numb bum. Ideally don’t buy online, but sit a few it before you buy and try to imagine how comfy they’ll be long term. It’s also important to ensure it’s strong enough to hold your weight for hours on end, and stable enough not to tip you over on uneven ground.
Throwing stick or catapult
To attract the fish to the area around your hook, you’ll need to saturate your ‘swim’ with plenty of groundbait – free food that gets the fish feeding so they’re more likely to take your bait. A throwing stick is the simplest method, but for range and accuracy, you’ll find a catapult has the edge.
Unhooking tool or long-nosed pliers
Both of these are a quick, humane way to get a hook out, although the pliers double as a useful all-round tool.
As with any day in the Great British Outdoors, it’s sensible to go with plenty of layers - as well as a waterproof coat and trousers - so that you’re ready for whatever the weather throws at you. Bear in mind that carp are nervous creatures with good eyesight, so most fishermen tend to wear natural colours – greens or even camouflage – to blend in with the background.
You’ll also need a peaked hat (to keep the sun out of your eyes) some gloves and a pair of strong waterproof boots with a good grip – walking boots or wellies are fine.
It needs to be big – because you’re aiming to catch some BIG fish. Carp nets come in sizes from 36” to 50”, but 42” should be fine as a first net. The handle will be in one or two pieces, but make sure it’s sturdy and at least 6ft long (imagine lifting a 50lb fish in it) and make sure it floats – we’ve all dropped them in the heat of the moment. Finally – and most important – it needs to have a tangle-free, fish-friendly mesh with small holes (about 8mm), so you don’t damage the carp’s delicate scales.
Carp care accessories
These rightly come under essentials, as the care of the fish is the main concern of most carp anglers. Carp can live for many years, can be caught several times and many even have names. So for the sake of the creature itself, and your fellow anglers who may catch it again someday, some items of equipment are imperative to ensure the fish is returned healthy and undamaged.
Unhooking mats and cradles
Often the fish can be unhooked in the net – which is always the best option. But for those that can’t, it’s important to carry a good-sized mat with plenty of padding and tall sides, where you can safely unhook fish without damaging them. Even better, invest in a cradle, which will support the carp’s weight off the ground.
This is to be applied if you see any damaged or loose scales.
Now we’re getting to the clever stuff – how you actually fool these smart, shy and discerning animals. Don’t believe what you read about fish having 3-second memories. The carp you encounter in lakes can be 10, 20, even 60 years old – so they’ve been doing this a lot longer than you – and they can have the memory of an elephant.
Your terminal tackle is all the stuff between the rod/reel and the fish itself, so as you can imagine, it’s important to get this right – because the only thing worse than not catching anything, is hooking a fish and losing it.
This is the line you wind on to your reel. As you get more advanced, you may want to try fluorocarbon or braided mainlines, which don’t stretch – meaning you’re more likely to detect the more subtle takes. But the type you’re looking for as a beginner to carp fishing is called ‘monofilament’. A breaking strain of 12lb is usually ideal – not too thick (which could put fish off), but strong enough to withstand the fight from a decent-sized carp. However, always ask for advice at the lake where you’re going to fish, because if it has a weedy or snaggy bottom, you may need to beef up to a 15lb line.
Your ‘rig’ is the means of attaching the hook/bait to the mainline. As you gain experience, you can make your own, but it’s fiddly, and the quality of ready-made rigs is so high, that you’re best sticking with shop-bought set-ups.
What type of rig?
Well, it can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it, but carp fishing, for beginners, is more enjoyable when it’s kept simple.
You’ll see hundreds of different rigs mentioned, but they’re all pretty much variations on the three basic rig types. Make sure you have a few of each in your tackle box, as you’ll lose one or two in the average session.
For fishing on hard-bottomed lakes. The lead sits on the bottom with a line coming off it leading to the hook. As the fish takes the bait, it feels no resistance at first, and then as it feels the weight, it “bolts” in panic and hooks itself.
For softer, ‘choddy’-bottomed lakes where the lead sinks into the silt. Choddy means covered in weed or leaf debris.
Otherwise known as a ‘hinged’ rig, this comprises a ‘bomb’ lead with a swivel attached to a length of nylon which spins around the lead, allowing the baited hook to move more naturally with the current.
Baiting needles and drills
Essential for putting your bait on the rig. It’s best to carry a variety of sizes (for threading a single boilie up to multiple baits), and a Baiting Drill for hard baits. And take our word for it – if you break one (even stainless steel ones can snap in cold weather) you can’t fish, so always carry a spare.
To hold your bait securely in place. Carry a few different colours to match your bait.
‘Bomb’ shapes are the most popular. The bigger they are, the further you can cast them. Carry a few different sizes.
In case you snap or bend the hook at the end of your rig. Go for wide gape hooks (carp have big lips), and match the size with those on your rigs.
Essential to stop your line spinning and tangling up. Carry some of the quick release type and some of the closed type.
Split shot/lead beads
You may need a little extra weight at different parts of your line, but not enough to justify another ‘bomb’ – so these little lead balls can be clipped onto the line wherever needed.
You can try all kinds of weird and wonderful baits, but to start with, you can’t go wrong with the tried and tested bait that catches fish of all sizes, on all kinds of lakes, all over the world - boilies.
What are boilies?
Boilies are special carp baits made with fishmeals, fruit, bird foods, proteins and attractive flavourings, usually mixed with eggs and formed into balls. You can buy them fresh or frozen in sizes from 10mm to 24mm. As a beginner, we’d suggest starting with 15mm boilies, in a variety of flavours, so you can try different ones to see what works on the day.
Make sure you take plenty. For a day trip, about 3lb of boilies should be more than enough.
The Nice-To-Haves – gear that makes carp fishing even more enjoyable
A special, stiff rod that helps you find out what kind of bottom is under your swim. This is going to save you lots of time in finding the best fishing spots to present your bait. A marker rod – together with a marker float and a 4oz lead – will help you “feel” around the bottom and build up a picture. It’s best to choose one of 11-13ft with a 4.5lb test curve.
For groundbaiting at a distance. Sometimes you’ll want to fish further out than you can reach with a catapult. Sometimes you’ll want to keep the groundbait in a tighter area around your hook, instead of spreading it all over the swim. ‘Spodding’ is your method of choice here. A spod is a flying torpedo full of bait. When it hits the water, the tip floats and dumps your bait out of the back. Your marker rod can double as a spod rod, but if you want a dedicated spod rod, choose a ‘fast action’ one of 12ft with a 5lb test curve.
To protect your fingers when casting braided line over long distances.
The fish don’t stop biting just because it’s raining – they’re wet already – so if you want to fish in all weathers, a good fishing brolly will keep you comfortable. Not to be confused with a golf brolly, a carp brolly is halfway towards being a shelter – so it gives you plenty of space undercover for a lie-down and a brew. Choose one that’s quick to erect and light enough to carry easily.
Don’t call it a tent! At least, not in the company of other carpers. A bivvy is your home while you’re fishing, and you could be living in it for days on end. There are lots of options – one or two man bivvies (so you can fish with a mate), lightweight ones for single-night sessions and heavy-duty ones for longer trips. Buy a good one and it’ll last you for many years, so invest in the best you can afford. Key things to look out for are lightness (for easy transportation) and speed of erection – you don’t want to be spending half an hour setting it up when the fish are biting.
Once you’ve done a few day trips, you’ll probably want to spend more time at the lake, enjoying the social scene and the benefits of fishing at night. For this you’ll need a comfortable bed chair – which as the name suggests, is a chair that folds down into a bed. These are available across a wide price range but – word of advice – don’t skimp on your own comfort. Invest in the best you can afford; you’ll thank yourself in the long nights to come.
As you’ve probably guessed, any old sleeping bag won’t do. A sleeping bag for carp fishing needs to be made from rip-resistant, water-resistant material, with fasteners to hold it to the bedchair and easy opening so you can leap out when you get a bite.
Sandwiches and a flask are fine – but when you’re by the water for a while, just think how much you’ll welcome being able to make a cuppa or rustle up some bacon and beans.
As mentioned before, there’s nothing worse than losing a fish (and you never forget the big ones that got away), so investing in one of these clever little devices will save you a lot of heartaches.
So you can see whether those bubbles are waterbirds or feeding fish.
When you catch those big fish – you want to know exactly how big they are.
A carp barrow/trolley
Now you’re going to need something to carry all this equipment around…
Choose one that’s light, strong, stable and with wheels that can cope with rough terrain.