There is nothing like catching a carp off the surface. In fact, it is probably the most exciting way to fish. Unlike sitting behind a set of motionless bite alarms, catching a carp off the top involves seeing the carp actually take your bait!
Many people have an idea of what they think surface fishing for carp looks like. They picture a guy sitting with a rod and reel, eyes peeled on the float, and who is patiently waiting to strike at the perfect moment.
Truth is, there’s more to surface carp fishing than just sitting and waiting. In this article, we learn about what you’ll need in order to be successful at catching carp off the surface.
FIND THEM WITH POLARISED SUNGLASSES
Finding a carp swimming in the upper layers of the water is the first to achieve success. Thing is, finding them isn’t so easy, especially with the amount of reflective glare on a typical summer’s day.
This is exactly why I carry polarised sunglasses with me every time I go fishing. I’ve even gone home when I’ve realised that I’ve forgotten them – that’s how important they are to me!
They work by using a chemical laminate pattern to filter out the horizontal light waves, allowing you to see beneath the water’s surface layer.
As we just mentioned, you need to find the carp before you can catch them. You may need to cover a lot of water before you find them, which could possibly mean walking for hours in the hot sun.
It’s recommended to only take what’s absolutely necessary. I bring my rod, net, and small rucksack. Inside my rucksack are the essentials, like a small bucket of bait, small tackle box, and weighing scales – along with my sandwiches.
GET A FRENZY GOING
One of the easiest ways to catch any fish, whether on the bottom or on the surface, is to get a feeding frenzy going.
The great thing about surface fishing is that you actually know when the fish are feeding on your spot.
As such, I like to patrol the lake and bait a few areas. Once I have the fish taking bait, I will start trickling in more and more until the carp are fighting each other for every last one.
Doing this saves a lot of time. It means you don’t have to sit there watching your hook bait for hours and hours. Instead, you can chuck your hook bait beyond the feeding fish, reel back into the feeding area, and then get ready to lift into a fighting carp.
CREATE A SLICK OF OIL
Here’s a tip to really get the carp going crazy for your baits – soak the freebies in salmon oil. This will create a slick of oil on the surface, with a delicious salmon flavour floating around the upper layers.
In fact, the oil alone can pull carp from the bottom and into the surface layers. Here, the carp will be actively searching for food items to eat. It causes a feeding frenzy, but you don’t have to give them a lot of food and risk feeding them too much.
You can buy floating carp pellets with high oil content, but I prefer to give my freebies a covering of salmon oil a few hours before going fishing.
Watch your shadow
If you can see the carp, there’s a chance they can also see you. As such, stay back from the water’s edge and be mindful of how your shadow is hitting the water.
The last thing you want to do is scare the shoal of feeding carp because you weren’t careful when setting up your gear.
AM OR PM
Just because you see a lot of carp basking in the midday sun, it doesn’t mean that’s also the best time to catch a carp off the surface.
Truth is, both dawn and dusk are both great for surface fishing. The carp feel safe and do most of their feeding during these hours.
This is great news as it means you can pop down to the lake before or after work. It’s all about using time to your advantage, and one of the best ways to do that is with a rod, polarised sunglasses, and loaf of bread.
Be patient when fishing
One of the great things about surface fishing is that it’s not too hard to spot a carp when they’re on the hunt. They’ll often show up at the top of water or near weeds looking for food.
That’s why you don’t have to be impatient by chucking your hook bait in straight away. The best tactic is to stay patient and mobile, and then finally cast in when you’re confident in catching one.
Use surface-specific gear
Using a stiff rod and 20lb fluorocarbon line won’t put the odds in the favour. If you really want to catch carp off the top, you need to use gear that’s built for surface fishing. This includes using thinner line, a rod with soft tip, and smaller hooks. We will jump into the best surface fishing gear very shortly.
Go for your target fish
Some of you may have a certain fish you want to catch. If so, surface fishing is one of the best ways to target that carp of your dreams. For example, I once fished a lake that contained a big ghostie-common that everyone wanted to catch. And as you can imagine, this carp stuck out like a sore thumb!
Fishing on the bottom for that ghostie-common was purely an odds game, but surface fishing meant you could stalk the carp and drop a piece of bread directly onto its head.
Consider the birdlife
Does your water contain birdlife? Then you may need to take a different approach to your surface fishing. I’ve made many master plans, only for the birds to ruin my fishing.
On some waters, just removing a catapult from your bag can bring 132 seagulls and 42 coots to your swim. One method is to not use any freebies at all. Essentially, you will patrol the lake with a single hookbait, ready to drop it onto the head of a sunbathing carp – a chuck of bread works wonders!
You can also try feeding or distracting the birds, which works well if your lake has a small amount of birdlife. Simply chuck a loaf of bread in an area away from where you are fishing.
Don't strike too early!
Carp fishing is mega exciting! But it’s important to keep your calm and not strike too early. This is a mistake I see people making every summer on my local lake. Simply wait for the line to tighten, and then lift into the carp to set the hook.
There’s really no need to instantly pull the rod as hard as you can. In fact, this can pull the hook from the carp’s mouth or cause damage to the carp.
Striking too early may also ruin your chances for good! It can spook the carp into not feeding, or even result in them moving to another area of the lake.
Best Rod and Reel for Surface Carp Fishing
There are numerous different types of fishing rods and reels that you can use for surface carp fishing. There’s really not a “best” choice, as it depends on what type of terrain you’re throwing your line out over, how deep the water is, and other factors like your personal preference. In general though, many people find it easier to use a soft rod and reel, which makes it easier to absorb every lunge under the rod tip, without pulling the hook out.
I like to use a 12ft rod with a test curve of 2lb to 2.5lb – the Daiwa PowerMesh Floater being my top choice.
Best Hooks for Surface Carp Fishing
The size of hook you choose depends on your hookbait of choice. Generally, you would use a small dog biscuit, so a small hook is preferred. Using a big hook may mean your hook bait sinks – oops!
Small hooks are also harder for the carp to detect. While carp don’t know what a hook is, some carp will shy away from a freebie that looks suspiciously-different from the others.
You will also need to think about the size of carp and whether any snags or weed beds are present. Bigger carp and the presence of weed will require a thicker/stronger hook. Generally, a size 8 or 10 is ideal for catching carp off the top.
If you really need to use a bigger hook, you can try disguising it by using a big chunk of bread. This is actually my go-to tactic on a local park lake with lots of big carp up to 48lb.
My recommendation is the Korda Mixa hooks, which are designed for surface fishing
Best Hookbaits for Surface Carp Fishing
Your choice of hookbait may be the deciding factor in whether you catch a carp or not. There are many options, so don’t be afraid to experiment with each one.
If using freebies, try to get your hookbait to match them, which is known as “match the hatch”. This is especially important on lakes that see a lot of surface fishing, as the carp will naturally be more suspicious.
Personally, I like to cut a brown pop-up into the shape of my free offerings. I soak both the offerings and my hook bait in salmon oil, so they will seem identical to a feeding carp. This pop-up is easy to attach to a hair. Alternatively, you can make a small groove on one side, and then glue your hook to the pop-up.
Using bread flake is one of the oldest baits for carp fishing, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work today. In fact, bread is still one of the best ways to catch surface carp, especially if you want to freeline (mainline tied directly to the hook with no float or other end tackle).
Do people feed bread to the ducks on your lake? If so, the carp are likely used to feeding on the scraps. Bread is used to devastating effect on my local park lake.
Best Line for Surface Fishing
Mainline plays an important role in catching carp from the surface. You want a line that is hard to see, floats on top, and strong enough for the lake / size of carp.
Now, some like to use their mainline straight through to the hook, whereas others prefer to use a thinner hooklink on the other side of the float. In my opinion, it depends on whether you have an appropriate surface fishing line on your reel.
The line doesn’t need to be extra special – just make sure that it’s strong and floats. As a lover of the fluorocarbon line when fishing on the bottom, I had to begrudgingly swap over to a different line of my surface reel (fluorocarbon sinks like a brick).
Kruiser Control is a great mainline for surface fishing.
Best Floats for Carp Surface Fishing
You’ll need a controller float if you want to fish further than a few yards out into the lake. The exact controller you choose will depend on exactly how far you need to cast out, along with the type you prefer.
You shouldn’t have to worry too much about the weight disturbing the fish, as you can simply cast beyond them, and then reel in until you’re amongst the feeding carp.
My favorite controller float is the Korda Interceptor. It comes in a range of sizes, which means you can find the perfect size for your exact requirements. I also love this style of float as it sets the hook when the carp takes the hookbait.
Get Ziggy With It!
There is another method when it comes to catching carp from the upper layers of the water, which is known as zig rig fishing.
A zig rig involves using a long hooklength and buoyant hookbait, which suspends your hookbait at a predetermined depth. Although most people suspend their hookbait a foot below the surface, you can also use an “over-depth” zig rig, which involves making your hooklength longer than the depth of the water.
It’s a known fact that carp don’t spend 100% of their time on the top or bottom of the lake. In fact, they spend most of their time mid-water, which is why using a zig rig is such a big edge.
Most anglers unfortunately don’t have much confidence in the zig rig set-up, so tend to reel it in after just thirty minutes or so. This is why I suggest starting out on a runs water (easy lake) to test your set-up and build your confidence. Make sure to give it a fair chance!
Getting your hookbait at the exact depth is critical in succeeding with the zig rig, which may mean you sometimes have to change the length of the rig a few times. The good news is that it should be easy-fishing once you’ve found what depth the carp are comfortable at.
In a way, there are two different types of zig rig fishing. One involves the carp taking your hookbait as a food item, whereas the other one takes advantage of the carp’s curiosity.
It is a good idea to go with the food approach on well stocked lakes, which is done by spodding a cloudy mixture over your spot. This creates a feeding competition as the carp get into a mid-water feeding frenzy (most fishing championships are usually won using this carp fishing tactic).
On a low stocked lake, it may prove pointless to spod over your spot as there may not be any fish in the area and the spod mix will just sink to the bottom. This is when the factor of curiosity comes into play. In fact, unflavoured hookbaits regularly out fish their flavoured counterparts in this situation.
A piece of cork or black foam is a great hookbait option that may seem unattractive at first, but catches a shed load of carp – due to them mouthing the hookbait out of curiosity and getting hooked as a result.
The zig rig is a year-round tactic and not just for summer carp fishing. Of course it’s very effective in summer as carp spend most of their time in the surface layers soaking up the sun. However it is also very effective in winter, albeit much harder to work out the exact depth and areas to fish.
When winter carp fishing you will find that the carp rarely want to feed, this is where the advantage of the curiosity factor comes into play again. The zig rig can be a fantastic tactic to use on warm winter days and especially as it starts coming into spring with the surface layers being warmer.
This concludes my post on surface carp fishing! I hope you have found it helpful.
I will finish by saying that I personally used to neglect the surface layers – always opting to use bottom baits in the shallow margins. However, the more I experimented with surface fishing, the more I caught and the more my confidence grew. So get the surface gear out and start catching!