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I’ve finally managed to bag myself a proper river carp but it’s been a long road!

tips for catching carp on the river

I’ve been trying to catch a river carp on and off for 18 months now. My local river is the Mayenne which is a good size river similar to the Thames, and it hasn’t been an easy journey.

Want to know the best part?

It’s been like learning carp fishing all over again!

I did about 8 half-hearted fishing trips last year (two nights and a few days) without any success. However, I did learn a lot… Mainly that the river throws up all sorts of new challenges compared to fishing for carp on lakes.

Here are some tips and ideas to help you along the way.

My tips for catching carp in rivers

1. Review your access options carefully

Just finding a fishable swim isn’t easy, popular night fishing sectors with good access are heavily pressured. The lower pressured swims are further away from access roads and parking. So think carefully about what to pack and how far you’re going to have to walk with your gear.

2. Stay away from steep banks

Many swims are simply not fishable due to the height of the bank above the water. Swims with steps or stones which enable safe access for landing fish are rare and well known! So you need to do your research!

3. Make sure your rig can handle the current

Current has a significant impact on how rigs behave and supply rigs tangle easily. My standard Beausoleil carp rig is useless on the river! I’ve had to go back to the drawing board.

You’ll also need a fair amount of lead just to hold bottom and swivel leads are definitely the best option. If the lead moves in the current there’s a good chance that my ultra sharp hooks point will be damaged which would make the rig useless. Click here to see my river carp rig in detail or check out this video:

4. Get the right line to deal with snags under water

You’ll find snags anywhere and they can slice through mainline like a knife through butter. They also attract freshwater mussels for that extra swift cut!

This year I’ve spooled up with 50lb power pro. It casts well and can take a real beating and comes recommended by The Globetrotter himself, Tony Davis-Patrick, thanks for the tip mate!

5. Watch out for over hanging trees

You need to fish close (<1.5m) but at 70 yards with variable wind conditions it’s tricky and lost tackle is unavoidable. I’ve found that the Avid lead clips are strong enough but also flexible enough to drop a lead that’s hanging in the branches and enables you to retrieve the rest of the rig most of the time.

6. Use captive back leads in case of boat traffic

There are plenty of big boats and barges on rivers and heavy captive back leads are a must. I use 4.5oz back leads which seem to cope well enough! On this river, the sides are very steep. It takes 4m of retaining line to get them out and down far enough. You also need the weight so that on the take you strike the line out of the clip. Any lighter and the back lead can lift and then hang on the line which can be disastrous when playing a carp. I thought it was totally OTT at first but actually it’s a waste of time using anything else!

7. You have to pre-bait

This is a big one!

I’ve learnt the hard way that pre-baiting is absolutely essential. It’s not that it’s a new concept for me, far from it in fact, but thus far before applying any bait to any swim I’ve ever fished, I’ve wanted to catch one first just so that I know they are there. On the river, that’s just not possible and you have to take a leap of faith and bait properly for at least 1-2 days prior to fishing.

8. Apply the right bait

Even baiting up isn’t simple…

It’s risky to use a bait boat but possible with two people and a safety line. 20mm baits are essential to avoid the attentions of massive shoals of bream. Pellets and particle are cheap but need to be used in moderation. Mastering a throwing stick is essential and sticking out 2kg of 20mm baits is hard graft!

baiting up on the river for carp fishing

 9. Watch out for the cyclists!

If you’re fishing a private carp lake, the people you’ll meet during the day will either be the bailiff or fellow anglers. If you’re fishing a river, there may well be lots of dog walkers and cyclists. I was interrupted by one fellow while trying to get my rig back in place, causing me to lose yet another lead!

10. Make friends!

Apart from the technical challenges, confidence, or lack of it, is a massive factor when carp fishing on a river. Fortunately I’ve managed to befriend a local river carping expert: Alexandre has caught over 100 carp from the Mayenne and he has been directly instrumental in enabling me to finally bank my first river carp! So, if you can, find someone who can share some of his wisdom for the river you’re targeting.


Here’s how I caught my first river carp.

A chance meeting

I happened to be happily blanking away during yet another day session on a 50 hectare boating lake when Alexandre popped over to go for an 8km run. Watching carp show at 300 – 800m range was quite depressing so Alexandre suggested I have a go on the river.

I seemed to be having a good run of blanks recently so I thought, why not, at least it’ll change the scene. He recommended a spot that held the possibility of catching without pre-baiting and that was good enough for me. I set off the following day and found the swim.

A lucky find

The swim was fishable and access was good but by 4pm and with no signs of life I headed off to another lake that I’d heard of just to check it out. The trip wasn’t entirely wasted though as further along I found two adjacent swims that would be perfect for a session with Alexandre. After a few texts we’d hatched a plan for later on the same week.

The plan

The plan was to pre bait two swims for two days before our day-session. We used 8kg of pigeon corn, 3kg of pellets and 5kg of boilies to cover spots for six rods. I used my home rolled Blue Oyster and the high protein 10mm house pellet that we use at Beausoleil. Alexandre used some D-liver boilies and his favourite pineapple baits.

The session

I arrived just after 6am and within 5 minutes had managed to fall in (we’re not just talking wet feet here either, I was properly wet through to my pants!) Still the show must go on so I got to work getting the lines clipped up and after an hour I was happy with my three rods. Within minutes I started receiving flurries of bleeps (I was sure it was bream) and decided to apply more bait just in case they’d cleared the lot. Alexandre arrived soon after and got himself sorted.

Much to my surprise I had the first take! (Normally Alexandre beats me to it!) I arrived at the rod and the tip was angled down and the bobbin was gently dancing in the face of the Neville.  Delighted with this, I picked up the rod, tightened the clutch, wound down and struck firmly (not a style of strike I normally use!). The rod hooped over as I lifted into the fish and felt the wonderful pulsing sensation through the blank that confirms you’ve actually hooked a carp! Initially the fish kited on the current for a few minutes before making a terrifying run back towards a snag which was 2m behind where it was originally hooked. The noise braid makes when it’s viciously ripped from the spool is incredible, and has to be experienced to be believed. Alexandre urged me to clamp down on the spool and get the fish under control pronto. Fortunately the fish complied before making too much ground and after the surging run I was able to turn him. Apparently one of their favourite tricks is to head straight into the margin that you are on and plunge themselves into the tangled mess of roots and brambles (I was to witness this later on that morning). Luckily for me the carp made allowances for my inexperience and after 5 minutes of plodding around under the rod tip (much less terrifying) she was mine.

That was it for me for the day but I was ecstatic to have finally experienced catching my first river carp and at 24lbs 12oz, it’s a pretty good result for a first one. The best Alexandre has had from this sector is 32lbs but there are lots of smaller carp. Alexandre had a good day too and took two mid doubles. He lost one that took him into the near margin, which was a shame as it could have been a better fish.

If there’s a river near you with carp in it, my advice is to go for it. You can’t mess around on the river hoping to get lucky. Pre-bait properly, make sure you’re tooled up for the job and enjoy.

It’s an awesome experience and one that I certainly plan to repeat!

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