How to Catch Carp in a River? Best Beginner Tips!

How to Catch Carp in a River

Carp is one of the most popular fish for freshwater fishing around the world.

They can be found everywhere, from small ponds to large rivers. Beginners often learn about fishing by fishing for carp.

If you are looking for a more demanding adventure, try to test your skills on a river.

Wild carp is not as easy to catch as his pond relatives. They are smart and have numerous hiding places.

If you ever wondered how to catch carp in a river, here we are going to answer some of the frequently asked questions about this subject, and those are:



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What is the difference between river and lake/pond carp?

Some new anglers may say “carp is a carp” but that is not completely true. Yes, it is the same fish species but their behaviour and routine are quite different.

Carp living in ponds and lakes move less. Those waters are calm and usually much smaller. They have certain hiding places and places where they have a source of food.

If those waters are popular, carp are used to anglers and baits. You may think they are more careful because they see hooks frequently, but actually they are not. They are used to common baits and are not afraid to bite them. Those fish usually eat less as they do not use a lot of energy for swimming.

In numerous ponds, carp are regularly fed by people and their way of life is much different.

In rivers, carp have to fight river currents. That can be hard and they require more food to have the energy to do so.

In some very wild places, carp can be very suspicious towards your bait, as they have never seen one. There is one more problem, and that is locating carp in such a large area. Wild, river, carp can swim up to a few kilometres per day. If you have seen him once in a certain place, he may not be even near that the day after.

Except for that, you will have to be more skilful while fishing in those currents, especially in unfamiliar places. Accurate casting in those places can be a real challenge. And casting may scare them off, as they are not used to it. Choosing a bait that will attract such fish is hard, even for the more experienced anglers.

The main difference between lake and river fishing is that the latter is much harder, especially for new anglers.

Where can I find carp in rivers?

Rivers are large areas. And they are heavily influenced by water level changes. However, there are some basic locations that you should search for in every river.

So, first step is to explore the area, maybe even a few days before fishing, if possible.

River carp, unlike its lake cousins, likes to spend time in shoals, and they are not solitary creatures. It is because rivers may have only a few good places for carp to be in a large area, so they all feed in the same locations.

So, when you find one, you will find the others too. That is probably the only advantage you will have while fishing for carp in rivers.

When exploring, you will have to find places along the river where natural food sources are available.

Food is carried by the river flow, and carp will wait for in in the river shoulders, where the food quantity is larger and the flow is steady enough for carp to stay there. If possible, locate a deeper place, at least 2 meters (about 7 ft) or more. In those places underwater vegetation will not present too much trouble.

Rocky bottom, and by rocky, I mean large boulders, are another good place to start. Carp can hide and feed there, as a lot of natural food is located at those places.

If there are bridges, or any similar structures above water, try to look there. Explore as much as you can. All the natural obstacles, like sunken trees and similar, especially in shade, are good locations.

This may seem as a complicated procedure and you may think “well, it can be anywhere”, but that is the case with wild fish. All of the places mentioned are likely to be carp populated, but it is not completely certain.

Exploring the area is crucial for success. And one more thing to mention is that carp is intelligent. They will recognize sounds and patterns that are out of order. Keep quiet while fishing and cast gently. Try not to spook the fish. Wear appropriate clothes that blends in the environment.

Which are the best baits for river carp fishing?

When thinking about how to catch carp in a river, baits are the most important, after finding an appropriate location.

Before you present the bait, it is advisable to prebait the fish, if possible. And that can be done days before you start fishing.

By prebaiting you are giving a wild carp the opportunity to stay in a certain place, and not move away too soon. If you are using the same food for prebaiting as you will use for baits, you are giving confidence to wild carp to bite your future bait without too much hesitation.

It will also give you the opportunity to see which baits you should use. They may not like the same ones as you use on lakes. Same as their lake cousins, they will bite better on certain baits, in certain times of the year.

According to many anglers, boilies are the best baits. They are easy to use, available in all kinds of flavours (like garlic, tuna, etx.) and scents. You may use different sizes and colours according to the water colour and season.

Some use corn or pellets, but using only those is much harder. You can even combine corn with boilies, especially for prebaiting purposes.

For murky waters choose brighter colours. Use smaller boilies for winter, as carp is less active and aggressive. Larger boilies are the best for warmer months. When it comes to taste, carp react to sweetness a lot. Combining sweet boilies and sweet corn is excellent for winter. In summer, choose the ones with strong smell. You may even prepare those yourself.

Rivers usually have underwater vegetation and all kinds of obstacles, so pop-up boilies can be useful. They will be positioned above bottom and carp will be able to see it clearly. As they are not used to boilies, you may expect certain hesitation, but with the right taste and smell, carp will eventually bite.

Additionally, boilies are larger than other bait options, so small fish will not eat them. You may even protect them with a mesh.

How to Catch Carp in a River - Boilies, Pop-Up and Baits

Which rigs and gear are the best for river carp fishing?

The next step, after location and bait, is to set-up your equipment and choose the right rig.

In this case, picking the equipment is even more important than in lakes because of the currents. Longer rods enable precise casting but they are harder to manoeuvre in thick vegetation and usual conditions that occur on the river.

If you are a complete beginner, you can expect that your hook will get tangled underwater and you may lose it, together with some line length. Make sure you have enough.


- If you are targeting larger carp, invest in appropriate rods. Test curve should be about 3,5 lb. Having 20 lb mainline should be enough. Rod length should be about 12 ft.


- When choosing lead, do not use as heavy as you would in lakes. It has to be just enough to do the purpose. Larger leads will make a splash when casting and they may spook the fish. Weight up to 2 ounces will be enough in most waters. In slower waters you may use even lighter ones.


- Hook can be 6 or 8 size. When choosing the mainline, think about the bottom. You may choose between buoyant or sinking. The latter one is better for gravel. Some anglers choose braided, and some choose monofilament, it is up to you. Test both and see what suits you and the location.


- Use appropriate reels. Larger reels, about 8000 size will do the job. Try bait-feeder reels, it may surprise you how much better your carp fishing experience can be.


- When it comes to rigs, hair rigs are the one to use. They are easy to assemble and the most efficient for carp angling. Position a boilie, or even 2 boilies (so called “snowman”) on a hair behind the hook. Pop-up should be the top boilie and the bottom one should be larger, sinking one. If you like, you can combine boilie and corn on the hair rig. Free hook enables easier hooking of a carp mouth when he sucks in the bait. Using this rig is easy, suitable for beginners and works well in most occasions.

Which season (and weather) is the best for river carp fishing?

Now when you know what gear to use, it would be good to know when to go carp fishing in order to be successful.

Carp can be caught in all seasons, but some are better than others. First of all, keep in mind that rivers, especially faster flowing and/or deeper warm up slower than small ponds or lakes. Winter for carp lasts longer there. They react to water temperature changes. As the water warms up, carp will be more active. Beginner anglers should gain some experience in warmer months, when carp is more active, before testing their skills in winter, when carp is slow and eats much less.

Slower warming of the river means that they will feed aggressively later in a year than those in lakes, but the good thing about faster waters is that they are less likely to freeze in winter. That is why fishing for carp in rivers can be productive trough the whole year.

Avoid calm and ideal days. Windy days with increasing air pressure are good. Winds will stir up the surface as insects and similar things will fall into the river.

Rain is also good as the water will have more oxygen. But heavy rains and increasing water level have the opposite effect. Rain, similar to wind, will wash food from the riverbanks into the water. Light rain is good for casting. All that commotion caused by rain will disguise the splash an it is less likely to scare the carp.

Can I fish for river carp during night?

The answer to this question is YES! You can definitely catch them during night. Some anglers say that moon phase has a role in it, and that you should fish during full moon. Others say it does not matter that much. Try it in your location, you have nothing to lose.

Night fishing is more productive in warmer months. Carp will be active during night. Make sure you have a flashlight with you, some beginners tend to forget that.

If possible, use the ones not too bright as they will spook the fish. Having a headlamp is advisable. You will have both hands free to do whatever needs to be done.

If you are using boilies, use larger ones than you normally use during the day. Also, use very bright colours. As mentioned, carp can notice uncommon things out of the water too. He may not see you during night, but as everything is quieter, make sure you are not making too much noise.

In night hours, carp will come closer to the riverbanks and in shallower water. Use this as an advantage, as distant casting will not be necessary. You may fish for them directly in front of you.

If you are going night fishing for the first time, make sure you have the right equipment for your own safety.

Are there some additional tips and tricks for river carp fishing?

In the previous chapters we covered up the basics about how to catch carp in a river. By following those rules, you will gain precious experience on which you will build up all the extra knowledge. Experienced anglers have hundreds of tips and tricks they use on a daily basis, but for beginners it is important to keep it simple. So, in the end, here is a few more thing you should consider and pay attention to, when carp fishing in rivers:


avoid catching carp during spawn. That is important for two reasons. First of all, you will not have a lot of success. Their behaviour tends to be unpredictable. Secondly, by allowing them to spawn, you are giving them a chance to reproduce and create a healthy population. Overfishing is a problem that will directly influence your own fishing experience in the future. Even if there is no closed season stated by the authorities, if you notice that spawn is in progress, avoid fishing.


– In most places, all over the world, fishing licence is necessary for river fishing. Check the local rules and regulations and follow them. Same as previous, this is to conserve fish and keep their numbers in order.


– When going fishing, bring different boilie sizes and/or flavours and colours. There are no two fishing days that are completely the same. What worked the previous time may not work this time.


– No book or video will teach you how to be an expert. Everything you read is a foundation and it will significantly improve with experience. Practice makes perfection.


– Beginners tend to have large expectations. Sometimes scaling down the equipment will bring more results. Everyone likes huge specimens but you have to know when to give up and be realistic. If you are not catching any carp, use smaller hooks, try size 10. Maybe the fish in your area are smaller and your equipment is over-the-top.


– Make sure they are sharp and in good condition. Visit a local fishing store and give a few cents for new hooks. Older and used hooks will not attach on a carp lip as well as the new ones.


– Think about this. Carp is tasty and everyone likes a good lunch, but never take more than you need. By releasing big, healthy specimens, you are enabling their genes to spread and to create a healthy population. Bring a camera, take a picture to show-off to your friends and fellow anglers, and release the carp. Make sure you handle it gently.

How to Catch Carp in a River - Rods, reels and gear


“How to catch carp in a river” is a science itself, and to mention every single small detail, you could write a book.

For beginners and less experienced anglers the most important thing is to understand the carp behaviour and learn how to recognize the right fishing place. Have fun exploring and prebaiting the fish. Even if you do not have any success for the first time, learn from your mistakes.

Carefully choose your equipment. Do not spend a fortune on things that you don’t need. Overcomplicating will lead to disappointment.

And don’t forget to take baiting needles with you if you are using carp boilies as bait. Organize your tackle box, check the weather and enjoy the experience!

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