Carp Fishing for Beginners - A simple step-by-step guide

Carp Fishing for Beginners – How to Start Fishing

Carp Fishing for Beginners Guide

Carp are highly-prized coarse fish and fishing for them is a roller coaster ride of emotions. Carp are wise, cunning and put up a heck of a fight, which is exactly what makes it such a thrill when you land one.

This is what brings around a million anglers in the UK to carp fishing every year.

If you are a carp fishing beginner, it is easy to become overwhelmed with all the information, equipment and tactics involved when you first start.

My aim for this article is to remove the confusion with a straight-to-point, easy-to-understand guide to starting carp fishing for beginners.

This guide will help to give you an idea of what you need to consider and what steps are to be taken before you head out for your first session on the bank.

In addition, You’ll find some suggestions on gear for a great carp fishing setup for beginners to use and slowly upgrade over time.

A Simple Step-by-Step Carp Fishing Guide for Beginners

Step 1

Purchase a Rod Licence

Who and Where do you Need a Rod Licence?

If you coarse fish anywhere in the England, Wales except for the River Tweed you need a rod licence. A licence is not needed in Scotland unless fishing the Border Esk Region. Fishing in Northern Ireland requires licences and permits but the rules differe slightly. Informaiton on rod licences for Northern Ireland can be found here.

For fishing in England and Wales, you can get your rod licence from the government website or from your local post office branch.

You can get the licence either for one day, eight days, or for a year. These will currently cost you £6, £12, or £30 respectively.

The licence allows you to fish with 2 rods if you’re carp fishing unless you purchase the 12-month licence, which allows you to use a 3rd rod.

However, there are some rod licence exemptions and discounts:

  • If you are under 13, you do not need a licence at all.
  • Children from 13 to 16 years of age can get a free junior licence.
  • Disabled persons can get a 12-month licence for £20 after presenting their Blue Badge.

The licence only takes into account rods that you actually fish with and have hooks attached. Spod rods and marker rods don’t count towards your limit.

Please be mindful of the fact that you can be fined up to £2500 for fishing without a rod licence so make sure you always purchase one and keep it with you on the bank.

Step 2

Decide Where to Fish

The possibilities are endless with carp fishing. You can fish anywhere from still water to rivers, lakes, and streams. In addition, there are numerous commercial fisheries that allow carp fishing.

However, as a beginner, not every fishing site is best suited for your level of skills.

Carp grow bigger and become wiser as they age so going straight to a specimen lake may not be the best idea. Fishing larger lakes, in general, also tend to be more difficult since you have to put more effort into finding and attracting the fish.

Therefore, beginners should begin with smaller 3-5 acre lakes and those with large stocks of smaller fish. Don’t be put off by this, many of these kind of lakes will still stock many carp in the 20 lbs region and some 30’s as well.

Before you fish, you need to take a look at the rules of the area or fishery to determine what permits you’ll need and if there are any equipment restrictions.

Most beginners will find themselves on day ticket lakes, which can be ideal for getting you started. View our ever-expanding list of UK coarse fishing lakes to find you local fishery.

Step 3

Choose the Right Carp Fishing Equipment

The next step is selecting the right carp fishing gear for a beginner angler. A number of factors can come into play when selecting your fishing equipment and it is difficult to know whether to go cheap or go all out and spend the big bucks. For most of a beginner’s setup, the truth actually lies somewhere in between.

Everybody’s budget and needs are different, which means it helps to know a bit about why you might choose one item over another.

So, instead of just telling you exactly what to buy (I have put together an example list later), I have written a little guide on some of the main points to considered when you’re shopping for your equipment.


A Beginner's Guide to Carp Fishing Gear


When it comes to selecting rods for carp fishing, there are two main deciding factors; rod test curve and rod length.

The test curve refers to the weight needed to compress the rod tip to a 90-degree angle to the butt when the butt is held horizontally.

Generally, a higher test curve rod, say 4.5 lb, generates more speed. In addition, it can send the bait a longer distance than a lower test curve of say 2.5 lb.

A higher test curve means stiffer rods but flexible rods also act as a cushion against hard-running carp. So, there is a bit of compromise between extra casting speed plus distance and cushion when playing a fish.

A recommended test curve for most beginners would be around that 2.5 to 3.0 lb mark.

When it comes to rod length, generally longer rods are considered better for casting distance. However, they do require more skill and control to handle properly. For beginners fishing in smaller lakes, I would suggest going for 10-12 ft rods.


There are a number of types of fishing reels. For carp fishing, there are 2 main types you’ll find: free spool reels/baitrunners and big pit reels.

For easy understanding, baitrunners tend to be smaller reels that are simpler to use and are more beginner-friendly when it comes to switching between drag settings. They also feature a clever and handy free-running spool mechanic.

Big pit reels, on the other hand, are bigger reels and offer greater casting distances. But, they require a little more skill to get the best out of them.

For beginners, baitrunners are a very popular and for good reason. This is because they provide better control, are usually lighter and feel more balanced on the suggested lower test curve rods.


You will come across three main types of fishing line: copolymer monofilament, fluorocarbon monifilament, and braid.

As a beginner, the main thing to be concerned with is your line’s breaking strain, which is the amount of force it takes to break the line.

Breaking strains are clearly shown on the packaging. It is essentially the minimum force a line can handle and it is measured in pounds (lb).

As a general suggestion, a monofilament line with a breaking strain of 10-15 pounds is a good place to start for carp fishing.

There is much more to carp fishing line than meets the eye and all the details are beyond the scope of this article. If you’d like to know more about each type of line, this article from Carp Feed covers the topic well.


A rig simply points to the arrangement of your hook and any other items at the end of a fishing line, know as “the business end”. Solid rigs go a long way in helping you catch carp.

The most commonly used rig for carp fishing and one I recommend for beginners to get familiar with is the hair rig.

In this rig, you have a small piece of line (the hair) tied to the shank of the hook. The bait is mounted to this hair instead of being directly attached to the hook.

The good news is that there are some decent pre-tied hair rigs available that are very beginner-friendly but it is also a good idea to tie learn how to tie your own carp rigs as well.

You’ll also need some kind of weight on your line. Commonly, carp anglers will use “leads”. The type of lead you choose and weight depends on a few different factors.

The most common leads used for carp fishing range from 1oz to 3oz and can be set up on a swivel/line-clip arrangement or as a straight lead option. The straight lead setup is extremely simple and great for using with solid PVA bags.

However, a lead-clip setup is preferable for weedy or snaggy lakes as it allows the lead to safely drop away from your line if it gets snagged up at all.

For more in-depth info on leads, this handy guide to leads will help you out.


Boilies are by far the most used bait in carp fishing. Boilies are essentially hard round balls and they can have different natural or synthetic ingredients.

The good news is that you can make them at home. However, it would be a good idea to have modern shelf-life boilies from a reputable brand.

Shelf-life boilies are especially good if you are planning on long days out and are perfect for hair rigs. Boilies can also be used as free-offerings in PVA bags or via a catapult to draw carp into your swim.

The Carp Hideout has a full article on the best carp baits if you’d like to expand your options but boilies are an ideal starting point.

Bite Alarms and Bobbins

Bite alarms indicate whether a fish has taken your bait or not. They are basically electronic devices that detect increased line tension/movement and produce an alarm.

However, alarms alone aren’t great for when a fish takes your bait but decides to move directly towards you instead of swimming away. In this case, your line becomes slack and can lose contact with the alarm.

This type of bite is called a drop back. For such situations, you’ll need a set of bobbins. Bobbins are a weighted device that is clipped on your line just before it passes through an alarm. The bobbin will set off the bite alarm by pulling down on a line as it loosens when a fish runs towards you.

If you plan on fishing overnight, wireless alarms with receivers will ensure you get signals in the bivvy while you sleep and you won’t miss a bite.

Rod Support

You’ll need to use some kind of rod support to rest your rods on while waiting for a bit. There are quite a few different kinds of rod support available. And frankly, every one of them has its pros and cons.

The final selection lies between a rod pod, a goal post setup, and bank sticks. I would suggest starting with a rod pod and this is because they are durable and simple to set up.

Landing Net

If you’re going to get a carp on to the bank, you’ll need a good landing net.

Landing nets are measured in inches and you will find them in the range of 36” to 50”. A 42” landing net will handle all of the carp in UK waters and is the most commonly used size.

Make sure that the net and the handle are made up of strong and durable materials.

Unhooking Mat

These mats are used as a surface to unhook carp and provide a safe environment for them while on the bank.

They can hold water and prevent carp from damaging itself when wriggling and flapping.

You can find unhooking mats, cots, and cradles. To be honest, each type has the ability do a great job of protecting a carp so it is really up to you which type you prefer.

The main thing is to make sure that they have solid construction and are well-padded in order to protect the fish.

Recommended Carp Fishing Setup for Beginners

Rod - Daiwa Black Widow G50

Daiwa is a big name in fishing equipment, so you can expect quality from them. I am picking the Daiwa Black Widow G50 rod for the excellent value of money it has to offer.

It has a solid construction with carbon blanks, stainless steel rings, and an aluminum butt cap. You can get these rods in a number of lengths and test curves. The 12-ft rod has a three-piece construction and that helps with portability.

On the whole, Daiwa Black Widow G50 is a good option for experienced and new anglers alike. It basically offers good distance and power and has good fish playing properties. Plus, it has cool aesthetics to boast about.

Reel - Shimano Baitrunner St 6000RB

Shimano created the baitrunner reel and have taken it to great heights. The ST series features entry-level reels with advanced features that you won’t find elsewhere in this price range.

The ST 6000Rb reel has solid XT-7 polymer graphite construction, smooth and easy to apply brake system, and a durable aluminum AR-C spool.

For fishing at shorter distances, you can use the 6000 model which has a good gear ratio of 4.6:1.

Honestly, I would need a separate article to put forward all the advantages of this modestly priced reel. It’s a great reel to start fishing with.

Line - Fox Exocet Mono Line

Fox Exocet is a monofilament line. Thanks to its thin diameter and camouflaged colour, it has low visibility.

You can get 4 sizes in 13 lb, 18 lb, 20 lb, and 23 lb and all in 1000 metres of length. 13 or 18 lb should suit most carp anglers just fine.

There are cheaper lines around but not by too much and you definitely need a quality line when carp fishing so this gets my vote.

Rigs - Korda DF Ready-Tied Rig

I mentioned that some very good pre-tied rigs were available and this is one example of it. Named after Korda’s head and a fishing pro, Danny Fairbrass, the DF rig is a pro itself.

The thing I like the most about this rig is its versatility. You can use it in a variety of conditions with different hookbaits and it is perfect for bottom baits and pop-ups alike.

They also come in both barbed and barbless versions and in sizes 10, 8 and 6, which are best suited for carp fishing.

Bait - Sticky Baits' The Krill Boilies

Sticky Baits make some of the best baits in the UK and their Krill Boilies are fantastic. They are available in a whole range of sub-types, from floaters to freezer and from shelf life to powder. I suggest going with with the shelf-life boilies.

The Krill boilies are soft and fresh and that makes them easy for carp to digest. They are also easily soluble and they release their attractants in the water quickly.

The boilies come in 12 and 15 mm sizes, in 1 kg and 5 kg bags that can last for up to six months. All in all, they are a popular hook bait among anglers and a great place to start.

Bite Alarms - Nash Siren S5

The Siren S5 alarm from Nash is a quality alarm at a budget-friendly price.

It is super sensitive and features high-range wireless performance. You can adjust the volume levels easily and have the option of purchasing a wireless receiver for times when you’re away from the alarm.

The Siren S5 is a neat little alarm, at a good price that will suit many beginners to a tee.

Rod Support - NGT Deluxe Rod Pod Set

This aluminum rod pod set can hold up to three rods and is fully adjustable. The pod can be adjusted to a max length of 116 cm and it has a fixed height of 39 cm.

The collapsible frame provides good storage and fast assembly. Its spike feet give a good grip even on muddy banks and wooden platforms.

What makes the NGT Deluxe rod pod an even better buy is the sturdy and padded carry case which holds it securely and safely.

Landing Net - Sonik Vader S1 Landing Net

The S1 net from Sonik is an ideal landing net for those starting out in carp fishing. It comes in my preferred 42” size, which allows you to handle some of the biggest carp out there.

The handle has a composite carbon construction and is 180 cm in length. The olive green mesh is made up of soft, synthetic fibres that help the net to dry quickly.

The S1 net is a well-priced net that’s great for beginners but also seasoned anglers as well.

Unhooking Mat - NGT Pop-Up Carp Cradle

Unhooking mats play a key role in keeping the carp safeon the bank so you need to choose a quality one.

I’m a big fan of the cradle style mats so I’ve chosent NGT’s Pop-Up carp cradle.

The cradle is a generous size, well-padded and waterproof.

Of course, the sidewalls keep carp safely inside if they decide to thrash around. Included pegs and pegging points provide further stability.

Finally, it is lightweight and can be folded into a carry case for easy storage and portability.  There isn’t much not to like about this cradle.

Step 4

set up Your Gear Correctly

Once you’ve got all of the main bits of equipment and tackle sorted, you need to know how to set it all up so you can get fishing. I’ve listed the key steps in preparing your setup before a session below.

In most cases, videos are better than written descriptions so I’ve gone and found some of the best videos I could for each step to make it easy for you to see how its done.

Spooling your Reels with Line

Check out the handy video from Fox to show you how to get your reels filled with you mainline properly.

Preparing your Rig

I already mentioned above that you can (and probably should to begin with) go with pre-tied rigs.

I do recommend learning how to tie your own as you go, though as it can give you more options and save some money as well.

Take a look at our rigs guide for more rig tips and ideas.

The video below shows how to set up a simple inline lead rig.

Learn to Cast Properly

Now its time for action. Getting your rig out into the water accurately is something that takes a bit of practice and feel.

First, it is important to know how to cast then you can go out and practice a bit. There is a bit of technique involved with proper casting stance and the right casting angles. Terry Edmonds explains it well in the short video below.

Tight Lines!

Ok, you’re now in the water and waiting for your alarms to sounds and reels to scream!

Of course, there are many other nuances involved in carp fishing that you will learn along the way but I hope this guide has given you some good basic pointers so you can get on the bank for the first time with some confidence in your setup.

Be sure to take a look at the other articles on The Carp Hideout for more tips, guides and gear reviews.

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Last update on 2023-12-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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