Category: Tutorials

Learning the Hard Way: Tournament Carp Fishing in Colorado


Dusk, Chatfield Reservoir, Carp Tournament

These past few years, the latest challenge I embarked upon, was the local tournament carp fishing scene. With thousands of hours fishing under my belt, dozens and dozens of of trophy carp banked, I was confident my success would translate into a tournament setting. How wrong this turned out to be!

In 2015 a local outfitter and tournament organizer, Tightline Outdoors, stepped up and added catch and release carp fishing events to their schedule. For Colorado this was a huge step forwards, for the promotion of carp fishing as a sport and for the fish as a positive species and resource in our waters. Having a long history in bass, walleye and ice events, the TLO tournaments differed from a typical carp tournament, being decided by the total length of common carp landed by each angler, rather than a big-4 or total weight approach. Anglers were able to fish in teams, helping to net fish, though the winner was still decided on an individual basis. The event would typically last for 6-8 hours fishing on a single day.

Their first event was held at a venue I was familiar with, Lake Arbor near Denver. I partnered up with my good friend and fishing partner, Ron Altman. We had fished the lake a few weeks before and I caught a couple of fish. Things were looking positive. However, as the tournament ended, I had blanked, my teammate Ron had caught a couple and lost a couple. He did not place high enough to finish in the $$$; those lost fish costing him dearly. My style of fishing had totally failed; the big fish waiting game.

The winners had banked 7+ fish, though only a few fish caught overall in the tournament pushed a specimen size. On the plus side, the teenage son of my good friend Daris, had won the event and the $1000 prize that went with it. Fishing with his dad, they got the job done!

This run of “luck” for me continued into future events, no matter where they were, whom I partnered with, I blanked. My partner blanked. The winners, more often than not, were using simple rigs and bait, usually sweetcorn on the hook or hair. The events were fast becoming a curse for me. I could catch fish at the venue, the days before and after the tournament, but during the actual event, my approach was not simply not working.

I learned over the next few years and after many more blanks, this style of tournament fishing was a numbers game. It was about how many fish you could catch and how fast. Size did matter but numbers mattered more. It was not my usual style specimen fishing. It seems obvious now, yet my mind was programmed to a different mode of fishing; long day sessions of 10-14 hrs, at known or well researched locations. There was also an element of randomness and luck involved. If you selected a tournament swim that held no fish, you were basically done, unless you were able to move. With the short duration of the event, the inability to chum due to Colorado fishing ordinances, you would have a hard time attracting any fish into the area especially if they weren’t already there or swimming through.

By the end of the 2016 tournament scene here in Colorado, I had fished 5 events and blanked in them all. A couple of my angling friends, some of whom I had even helped and offered advice too, had won a few of the tournaments; which did bring a big smile to my face. Though it may have been a little disappointing to always blank, the tournaments were still great to attend, an opportunity to meet and chat with all the other local and passionate carp anglers, share stories or tales.

The final event of that season was to be at Chatfield Reservoir, a location I know very well. This was to be a night tournament, starting in the early evening and finishing around midnight. My fishing partner James and I decided to get in some practice beforehand, fishing a few sessions just into the darkness. This was going to be the first tournament ever for James and I could sense he was excited to take part. We wanted to be prepared and do our best.

When the event started we were fortunate to get to one of the swims I was familiar with, very close to the event HQ. I setup to the left of the swim, James to the right. We knew the fish liked to hang out in the weeds about 40 yards out. As the evening progressed into darkness, James had a couple of runs and two fish landed. I had not even had a single beep off my alarms, even though we were using the same baits and were casting out about 15 yards apart. Around 9pm James had another monster run and the fish tore into the weeds. After a 20 minute battle we were certain the fish was never coming in, stuck fast. James did not give up or relent and 15 minutes later, after giving the fish a bit of line, he had a great fish landed and added to his score. Around 11pm, he had his 4th landed and in the cradle. Right before midnight, I finally had a blistering fast run, my first carp run in a tournament. My curse continued, the fish came off, i had blanked again.

The event was over. However, it was success for us, James had WON the event with his four fish tally. He was beyond happy and multiple cups of victory coffee were consumed. For many of the other anglers they had a rough night, loosing a lot of fish, to the weeds, snap-offs or landing them at the net.

The following season, 2017, there were only two tournaments. The first was to be another night event at Chatfield Reservoir. The second a morning and afternoon session at Lake Arbor. To prepare for the Chatfield tournament James and I fished several full overnight night sessions. We wanted to ensure our tackle and tactics were in place beforehand. We wanted more practice at landing carp during the hours of darkness. We knew we needed to improve our casting accuracy using landmarks against a back lit night sky.

The day of the event, we arrived early at the reservoir. A large storm had just finishing blowing through from the west, the skies ominous with dark clouds, the wind gusting. As the tournament started we were unable to secure one of the better swims near a point, instead we chose to make a long walk and drag our gear way down to the south end of the eastern shoreline. This was later to prove a wise decision as the point certainly produced the #s of fish, yet the anglers there split the many fish between them.

For this tournament I chose to change my approach, rather than my usual boilies, I fished with flavored maize and corn on the hair, soaked heavily in pineapple or tutti frutti flavoring; i also went with a size #8 hook, rather than the #6s I would typically be using. I had an early run, just after darkness. It was a tough battle and netting the fish proved a challenge for James in the waves, but he got her in safely. My first fish landed in a tournament. I was happy beyond belief and celebrated with a victory coffee.

My first carp in the Tournament

As the hours moved on I could see just up the bank some friends of mine catch their first fish apiece. As the night continued they had a couple more runs but unfortunately some of those fish came off or were lost right at the net. Finally, with an hour or so remaining, I had a second run, another single tone screamer. As with the first fish, it put up a great battle and this time James waded out into the water, shoes, trousers soaked to the waist, getting the fish in the net regardless of the waves crashing in. James knew how important that fish was to me and wasn’t about to let getting soaked allow the fish to come off at the net.

My 2nd carp in the Tournament

Hearing reports of the other catches around the lake, I knew I was close to first place by length, my two fish being just over and under the 30” mark. These were above average fish for Chatfield, the average being around 25-28″. As the final horn blew and the event came to an end, we made our way back to the event HQ. I was aware several anglers had also landed 2 carp each, it was going to come down to the inches, literally.

The final tally was in, I had WON my first tournament. VICTORY!


The margin, just 3 inches! The anglers in 2nd and 3rd place, each had lost a fish, towards the end of the event. If they had landed that 3rd fish, they would have won. Ultimately it came down to landing the fish, through the waves, around the snags and into the net. There is always be an element of luck involved in tournament fishing. However, over the years, the same familiar angler names were placing more than once in the prizes. Their approach, skill and tactics, overall leading to consistent success. This event was no different.

The final event of the year, at Lake Arbor, I blanked again. My friend Bleu won, catching the winning couple of fish with but an hour remaining in the tournament.

For me, those years of effort, learning, blanking, figuring out the tactics, making adjustments, getting in the practice on the bankside, especially in the darkness, had finally paid off. I still do not consider myself a tournament angler. I am a recreational fisherman. I enjoy the time on the bank with my friends as much as catching a specimen fish. However, pushing myself to take part in the events has opened my eyes to a whole new style of fishing and approach.

Tournament fishing has given me the opportunity to meet dozens of passionate carp anglers, to participate personally with the community of those who consider carp truly a great sports fish species and are prepared to do battle over them with rod and reel. It also brought me much laughter and playful jests and jibes, especially when I fished each event and returned at the end with a dry net and empty coffee mug.

So what have I leaned over the past 3 tournament seasons?

  • It’s a tournament. It is about catching fish and getting them in the net every time.
  • Ensure your tackle is in top condition, mainline not frayed, hooks sharp. A dull hook or line break could really cost you. Every fish is important.
  • Keep it simple, rigs, baits, your overall approach. Tournaments are not the time to experiment with something new.
  • Prepare everything in advance, rigs tied up, baits prepared. You want to be able to switch out that rig quickly, getting that hook rebaited and cast back out with the minimum time of your rod out the water. I have seen people with 3 rods setup, 2 fishing. When they catch a fish, or need to recast, they use that 3rd rod prepared and ready to go to eliminate any downtime.
  • Keep everything you need close to hand and know where it is. Organization.
  • Get plenty of rest/sleep before the event. I once worked a night shift right before a tournament, made the drive up to the event, got setup, promptly fell asleep in my chair for at least a few hours right as it started. I don’t think I had even cast out my lines. Oops!
  • Research the venue, get a map, get a topo map if you can, scour the internet for information on the venue, where the fish are being caught, what baits they are being caught on.
  • Fish to the last minute. As I mentioned above, during one 8 hour tournament, the winner actually caught all his winning fish, in the last 60 minutes of the event.
  • Make sure you have enough bait prepared for the duration and have alternatives if your primary bait simply isn’t working.
  • Plan to get to the event early, at least 30 mins to an hour before the rules meeting. If you plan to arrive on time, get stuck in traffic, something comes up at the last minute, you will be late, missing valuable fishing time at best, be unable to fish the event at all at worst. If you are way early, and have the time, spend this walking around the venue, look for signs of showing fish, bubbling, clouding in the water. This may help you in making a swim choice should you have the opportunity.
  • Travel and pack as light as possible. This has been a huge issue for me and my downfall on more than one occasion. Being able to pack-up and move quickly can be critical to success. I have taken everything but the kitchen sink with me more than once and when I should have moved spots, could have moved spots, it would have taken way too long to pack and unpack.
  • Focus on the fishing. During the actual tournament fishing is your objective, paying attention to the water, your rods, your alarms. Your eyes can be your best tool. If you are looking at your phone, chatting away on FB, posting that twitter post, snap chatting with your friends, you aren’t fishing at your best.
  • Have spare gear if possible with you, rod, spooled up reel, hooks, rig materials. I fished one tournament and had a reel break early into the event. I was basically down to one rod for the duration, reducing my effectiveness by 50%. Lesson learned. Ironically, I had 3 rods but only the 2 reels.
  • Most of all, try to have FUN !

As I write this article I am already preparing for the next TLO Tournament here in Colorado this weekend. I am looking forwards to seeing a lot of familiar faces, catching up with old friends and perhaps making some new ones.

The victory coffee mug will be with me as always!

So, when you see the details of your next local carp tournament posted, and you think to yourself, “tournaments, it’s not for me”, perhaps reconsider,

I am glad I did.



Pictures: Courtesy of Tightline Outdoors.

Koi with Kids

Learning the Hard Way: Tournament Carp Fishing in Colorado

July 25, 2018

  These past few years, the latest challenge I embarked upon, was the local tournament carp fishing scene. With thousands of hours fishing under my belt, dozens and dozens of of trophy carp banked, I was confident my success would translate into a tournament setting. How wrong this turned out… Read more

Rigwise Foam

April 18, 2018

Rig tangles are always a concern while casting. There are a number of ways you can make your rig less likely to tangle, such as PVA sticks. But what if you just want to wack out a single bait? Rig foam is the answer, and the Rigwise Foam from Gardner… Read more

The Small Lake – Session 1 2018 (bass and crappie angler invasion)

April 2, 2018

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Carp Tackle Unboxing #2 (WARNING: Covered in children) – Gardner Tackle, Rod Hutchinson baits

February 12, 2018

More unboxing fun! Read more

Tying a rig for a PVA bag

February 8, 2018

  For most of my koi fishing I have found that a hiviz pop-up is really effective. This Rod Hutchinson Force pop-up in 12mm fits the bill nicely. Some children love pictures…And some children don’t like them at all. He was very happy right before and after and I just… Read more

Koi with Kids

January 22, 2018

When taking kids fishing, where you decide to fish is the biggest thing that will make it successful – the same applies to catching koi.  Finding the right place to fish is the hardest part of any kid-koi adventure, unlike a “normal” fishing trip, the ability to play in the… Read more

Guide to entry level “Euro” carp fishing gear

We receive a lot of calls and emails about what gear is needed to start “Euro” carp fishing. There are quite a few terms that can become confusing if you are not familiar with them. The amount of knowledge available on the internet can be overwhelming so I will try to explain the basic carp fishing setup for those interested.

Carp Rods

Carp specific rods range from 9ft– 13ft with the 12ft rods as the “standard” length. They are rated in Test Curve. A test curve is a measurement, in pounds and ounces, of the weight needed to pull a rod tip through a 90-degree angle. The test curve measurement is subjective and different brands 3.0tc rods will perform differently due to the action of the rod.  This normally ranges from 2.5tc – 4. 0tc.With advances in carbon and design most 3.0tc rods are considered all-rounders. Moving to a higher test curve will allow you to cast heavier weights more effectively. Lighter test curves will offer more enjoyment in playing the fish at the sacrifice of casting weights and distance. Cheaper rods will have a blend of carbon and fiberglass.

Carp rods under $100

Carp rods $100 – $200


Carp reels fall into two categories; bait runner/free spool and quick drag (QD). Bait Runner/free spool reels have a separate adjustable drag that is activated by a lever or switch. This drag is used after setting the rod down on its holder and allows the fish to take line under light tension. When you turn the handle, it will disengage which switches the reel to it conventional fighting drag. Quick drag reels have one drag system that is controlled by the front drag knob. These reels normally require one or two full turns of the drag knob to go from locked up to “free spool”. Choosing the style of reel is more of a personal preference and one style is not better than the other. The standard size of a carp reel is the 5000 or 6000 series spinning reels.

Bait runner/free spool reels

Quick Drag (QD) reels


The choice of mainline is another personal preference. Braid, monofilament, or fluorocarbon line are the normal choices. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, braid has zero stretch, thin diameter for high strength, and a high price tag. Having no stretch can lead to hook pulls if the drag is not used correctly. Monofilament varies in stretch depending on the brand and their specific design. Most anglers use monofilament as it is the cheapest, most readily available option, and high abrasion resistance. Fluorocarbon offers excellent abrasion resistance, almost disappears underwater, and is supposed to sink faster than the other two. The downside is the price tag and some handling issues when fishing at longer ranges. I recommend using monofilament when starting out for the ease of use and cost. For breaking strains I suggest using the heaviest you can get away with. If you are not fishing long range (100+ yards) Using 18-20lb mono line will give you the greatest chance. If you are fishing around snags/rocks/rivers heavier line will also land you more fish.


Braided Mainline

End Tackle and Rigs

This refers to rigs, hooks, swivels, weights (leads), and those type items. There are a huge number of variables, brands, and styles when it comes to choosing which end tackle is your favorite and works for you. I have included a link that covers the basic hair rig and the components you need for them.

End Tackle / Rig Tutorial


One of the best baits to start with is regular sweet corn or other particle baits. Most people have maize available at feed stores for a few dollars for 50lb. You need to prepare the maize to release sugars and make it more attractive to the fish. This is done by soaking and boiling or using a pressure cooker. Here is a link to an article by Iain Sorrell about particle baits

Iain’s article

If you have done any research into carp fishing you will have come across boilies. These are basically boiled dough balls. While boilies can be and are very effective they are not something I suggest to people just starting out. The cost and amount normally needed to make them work at their peak is normally not something people just looking to get the rush of catching fish will want to pay. My advice is to find a bait you are confident in and use that until you are ready to expand your knowledge of baits.

Boilies for sale

Bite Alarms

As carp angling has progressed the use of bite alarms has become the standard. They offer you the opportunity to do other things while fishing by not having to focus on the rod tip or trying to hear your drag when you get a run. They are great when taking your family or kids fishing as you can do other things while having the rods in the water. There are many different brands, price points, and features. Some of them have a wireless transmitter that sets off the remote/receiver when you have a run which gives you greater flexibility when fishing.

Bite Alarms for sale

Rod Pods and Bank sticks

These are used to hold your rods off the ground. A rod pod can be used on any surface such as dirt, gravel, mud, or concrete. They normally hold 2 to 4 rods and have adjustable legs and buzz bars giving you different ways of setting up your rods. Most pods do not include front rod rests or butt rest. The front of your rod will rest on your bite alarm or front rod rest. The butt section of the rod is held by a rear rod rest or butt rest. Bank sticks are another option if you are not fishing on rock hard ground or concrete because you push them into the ground. You can also get away with using 1 bank stick for the alarm and leave the butt section resting on the ground. Bank sticks are made with many different lengths and materials.

Rod Pods for sale

Bank sticks for sale

Rod / Butt rests for sale

Fish Care Gear

One of the most important and underused gear in the all of the fishing world. Landing nets, mats/cradles, and weigh slings are not only used to keep the fish safe while out of the water they also allow the fish to be free of dirt and debris for great trophy photos. These items, while made for carp anglers, can be used for any species of fish big and small. They work great for Catfish, Pike, and Muskie. We have covered the basics of fish care and handling in the following article.

The Basics of Fish Handling

Hopefully you have learned about the entry level gear for starting your journey into “euro” carp fishing. While you don’t have to have 100% of the items I have mentioned most people that become interested in carp fishing collect them over time.

Spod vs Marker Clip Distance

So if you find a great spot with your marker, and get clipped up, how far should you clip for the spod? As it turns out it’s not the same as your marker, but shorter. Take a look at this chart, and say the water is 20 feet deep, follow this line and you will see that you need to take off approximately 5 feet from you casting distance. This is of course not set in stone as many factors such as wind, line type, and other factors can impact this. This chart is based off of 1 foot of line for every 4 feet of water and seems to be a fairly close approximation of what you might expect.

Find the depth on the Y axis and then subtract the number of feet indicated on the X axis from the point where your marker was clipped.

Keep in mind that if it’s windy you will need to give more line as you will get a large bow in you line as you cast. Stay tuned for my next article on accurate baiting and bait placement where I will discuss how I try and maximise my baiting accuracy.

Making The German Rig

The German Rig is a super simple rig to tie and a super effective rig for fishing bottom baits. The stiff boom of the hook link keeps tangling to a minimum and turns the rig well in the carp’s mouth. So, let’s take a look at making one.

My hook of choice for this (and many other rigs) is the Special Edition Continental Mugga from Gardner. Of course, other Mugga hooks will work, as will other patterns, but I’d stick to patterns that are similar to this one.


The Items you need are simple: Trick Link hooklink or other monofilament hook link like Amnesia, hook of choice as we have already discussed, size 12 rig swivel, and a hook stop.


To start the rig slide the swivel onto the hook followed by the stop. The stop has a small pilot hole in it. This is used to align the point of the hook while threading the stop onto the shank. This is likely the hardest part of making this rig!


After you have the stop on, slide it up over the barb and onto the bend.  At this point it should look something like this.


Next cut about 12in of the hooklink and attach it to the hook with a knotless knot or any other snell knot you like.


I like to add a bit of shrink tube to get the angle I like. This is optional and many anglers don’t do this. I personally like the angle with the tube better as it catches on your palm better this way. It’s up to you and I’d recommend trying it both ways and finding out what you like better.


The tube has been shrunk. Again this it optional and is up to personal preference.


Next attach your bait. You can use any method you prefer but I am going to demo the “heavy mono” method. To do this use 5in of 30lb monofilament line. Put it through the swivel and double it over. Then start pulling the bait onto both ends until its about this far onto the swivel. Note: bottom bait is 20mm Rod Hutchinson Strawberry Cream Boilie .


In this example I am using a snowman arrangement. Notice the tag ends of the mono above the popup – these will be turned into the “hair stop”. I am a fan of the snowman arrangement of baits as I feel it gives the fish a bit more of a target. Note: popup is a 15mm Rod Hutchinson Fruit Frenzy.


Once you have the baits on the hair, simply blob the end with a lighter to keep the bait from sliding off. This method works well with boilies, tiger nuts, and plastic baits. Don’t overlook baits such as tiger nuts on this rig – it’s well suited to them!


After you have “blobbed” the mono with the lighter smash it down flat with your finger and it will form a stop that looks like this. As you can see it’s not very obvious and is also fairly large and really holds the bait on very well.


Since the bait is free to travel the length of the hook, I like to trap it down during the cast so it can’t get stuck on the point of the hook. I do this with a small PVA stick with a longer tag end which I wrap around the hook to lock everything down.


The final rig. If using boilies I like to use a small sick or bag of broken or crushed boilies of the same flavor that I am fishing with. Spraying the whole thing with a top quality attractor is never a bad idea either, but I have found it’s best to not go overboard with the flavor if you are looking for a quick bite.


And here is proof of concept! Not the biggest fish but it’s well hooked which shows the rig to be working well.

New to Hair Rigs? Info, setup, and the basic tackle you will need.

There is a ton of information available to the new carper it can be overwhelming and almost off putting. While there are probably hundreds of rigs you will come across they almost all got their start from the basic hair rig and evolved over the years. We receive questions almost daily about what tackle is needed to start using a hair rig. The purpose of this article is to give a basic list of the items needed (at end of article) , a little advice, and setup of the bolt rig.

Let’s start with a photo of a basic hair rig which is tied with the “Knotless Knot”. This creates the Hair in which the bait is placed. There are thousands of “how to” videos on tying the hair rig such as this one from our fellow contributor Brian Wingard.0f4fc2bf6cb39487477f7c188bbd86ef

That is the basic hair rig and over time you will learn to adapt hair length, rig length, material, and the other factors that can make you more confident on using it.

Next we move onto the lead setup. The weight of the lead can be up to you based on how you like to fish as well as the distance you are casting.  The basic setup can be achieved in two different styles. The first is called a running rig. This is the same as a Carolina rig that you would use for bass. Instead of the lure you would tie the hair rig onto the free end of the swivel and the inline lead would slide up and down your mainline. carolina-rig

The second setup is called a Bolt Rig. This is done the same way you do the running with with the only difference is the lead is semi fixed so the lead does not easily slide on the line. Using this method with a 2 ounce or heavier weight will accomplish setting the hook when the carp takes the bait resulting in very hard runs.  This can be achieved by using leads that have a plastic or rubber insert through them that allows the swivel to be held inside the lead (by friction) until force is applied then the swivel will pop out of the lead.

Example of an Inline lead bolt rig. Before casting out the swivel is pushed into the bottom of the lead.

There are a few other setups such as lead clips and helicopter setups which you can look into however the two methods shown are the basic setups. Make sure when using either rig that fish can take line from the drag of your reel. If the drag is to tight the fish will pull your rod into the water!

Now to put bait onto the hair rig. This is demonstrated in Brian’s video and I’ve added the following photo to reference. It’s true that you can use a straightened out hook as a baiting needle however a made for purpose baiting needle makes the process a little easier as the hook has a larger barb that can tear the bait apart when sliding against it.Baitingupthehairrig


The last item you need is a bait stop. This is placed at the loop in the hair and the bait it pushed against it to hold it onto the hair. This can be a piece of grass or heavy mono. The ones you can buy make it very convenient as you wont have to find something random to use.

Each card has plenty of bait stops.
Each card has plenty of bait stops.


Now that you have a understanding of the basic hair rig  and its setup I’ve added links to where you can purchase these items. I’ve linked to pre-tied hair rigs as well. Buying a few different ones can help you get a grasp of how they work.





The Basics of Fish Handling

I wanted to touch on a subject that comes up almost daily, carp care or fish care for that matter.  The fact that we carefully handle carp in America is something that is not seen outside of our community as carp anglers. According to the US Fish and Wildlife services, in 2015 there were 28,463,499 licensed fishermen in the US. The niche that we have as carp specific anglers is only a few percent of that total. An overwhelming majority of the anglers in the US have never heard of or seen a unhooking mat/cradle or fish friendly mesh nets. It’s true that many species of fish could benefit from the carp care gear that we use. I would much rather see a large catfish resting in a cradle than a dirt or gravel bank as I am sure everyone would. I’ll approach the subject in the most basic terms as I can. Carp care also falls into rig safety which Iain has covered in this article. Let’s move onto the first item, Nets.


A fish friendly net is key to not only keeping the protective coating of slime but is the start to taking great looking photos. The slime coat acts as a lubricant while the fish is swimming however it’s more vital role is to protect the fish from any bacteria/virus/infection from attacking the fish. The loss of this slime coat can lead it a whole multitude of injuries and infections which you may not see on the bank however the fish may become ill and die within a few weeks which is the opposite objective of catch and release fishing. The “knotless” mesh nets do not scrape or damage the slime coat unlike the knotted nylon nets that you can readily purchased at any tackle shop. The chances are that if you have a net with the damaging nylon net you can retrofit a fish friendly mesh onto your existing frame and go on fishing. The euro style nets with the large arms can take practice to use and it’s inevitable that it will break if lifted incorrectly which many new users do. Rubberized nets can also be used however I personally prefer the softer, fish friendly mesh. The focus is to get the fish safely into a fish friendly net to move onto the next item,an unhooking mat.

Fish friendly net


Unhooking mats are something that almost no one outside carp fishing have seen or used. There are folks in the US that think everyone should know and have one when they are first starting. That is a very big demand for them to know of something that they have probably never knew existed. Beginners can become very discouraged when attacked for not having a mat or holding a fish safely however it is something that must be taught and learned as there is no standardize test when you purchase a license that covers fish care. I have personally spent an unknown amount of time politely informing people of better fish care and not just for carp. I’d bet that unless you started carp fishing with someone that had one, there’s a photo or memory (you may not admit it) of you handling a carp with poor technique, I know I have and I’ve been specifically carp angling over 20 years.

I’ve gotten a bit off topic so I’ll come back to the unhooking mats. The unhooking mat is a padded mat that is laid on the ground (see the first photo of the butterfly koi) to protect fish from dirt, gravel, sand, pavement, etc.. from damaging the fish while it flops or removing the slime coat. You will want to put some water on the outside of the mat to aid in the slime coat not getting damaged. If you have a fish friendly net and then lay the fish onto the sidewalk you’ve lost the fish care battle.  A mat can be made from a yoga mat or even a pillow that is put inside a garbage bag for a quick fix. There are plenty of cheap mats available for around $10-$15 that will take care of the basic needs. No need to buy into an expensive mat when you are just getting started.

Basic unhooking mat


Another version is the cradle. These are designed to keep the fish elevated off the ground to reduce and damage from flopping around as well as protect the slime coat. Cradles come at a high cost (size and weight also) but when dealing with larger 25+ pound fish they excel and give you peace of mind that the fish isn’t going to slip or jump off the mat and get injured.

36+ filling the cradle


Depending on your situation and how you fish one may be better than the other. If you carry all your gear, then a regular unhooking mat is the way to go. If you don’t mind hauling a larger and heavier one, then cradles cannot be beat. I personally would opt of a cradle all the time but times like stalking do not make carrying one very easy so I take a mat.

One of the final pieces are weigh slings. These come in many different forms and prices. Some are no more than a fish friendly sack while others have bars with floats to retain the fish in the water while getting the camera setup. It depends on your situation and how you like to do things on which one will be the best fit for you. They are used to hold the fish safely without damaging the slime coat (there’s a trend here!) and aids in getting the most accurate weight possible. I like to get it wet and let it drain the extra water off. Next I put it on the scale to zero out the weight of it. Then I transfer the fish into the weigh sling as seen above. Then zip up the sides so the fish won’t slip out and you can accurately weigh your catch.sanctuary_retention_sling1


I’ll mention the fish care antiseptics quickly. These are available through several companies and are used to protect and help heal wounds. Not only the area where the hook was but also any damage such as missing scales or injuries that you may see on a fish. They work like Neosporin that you would put on yourself after an injury. While you may see this as slightly extreme when it comes to the life of an old, large fish it may keep them healthy or may save a young one that has an infection from a run in with a boat for example.



Now that we have transferred the fish safely from the net and onto your mat/cradle with its slime coat intact we can get ready for a good-looking photo. It’s always good to have a small bucket or water container on hand to pour some over the fish before you lift it to wash off any leaves, grass, or debris that has gotten onto the fish. This gives the fish a clean shine for the camera as well. I’ve used this photo (credit to Carpology) to show you the best way to hold the carp however it’s the basics for holding any fish safely and in a great photo pose.



Following some basic ideas of fish care you’ll not only have better looking photos to show and remember but you’ll also be keeping the fish healthy for years to come. After all the photos and memories will be seen for years to come so why have the photo of the fish of a lifetime to have dirt and grim ground into the fish and it looking unsightly when you could take a few extra steps and have a beautiful photo.

A few things not to do with carp:

  1. Carp have soft mouths without a jaw structure. Lipping or using a Bogo grip type device will damage the mouth.
  2. Holding a fish vertically, especially large specimen, can damage their organs. Their bodies are not made to counter the effect of gravity and not designed to support their weight outside of water. Holding them vertically pushes all their internals down and can injure them.
  3. Do not hold any fish by the gill plates that you are releasing. This will cause damage to their gills and cause mass bleeding.

A quick note to those that practice good fish care already. There are many ways to approach the topic with someone without coming off as confrontational. I’ve seen it many times over the past 20+ years. When you attack someone that does not know how to handle a fish correctly they shut down and do not want to listen to anyone after that about fish care. They are excited about their catch and want to share it. No need to crush them because they don’t have the knowledge. It’s our jobs as ambassadors to the sport to inform and influence them to change their ways. You’ll find a much better response if you don’t start a fight because they are uninformed (like I would bet you were at one time) about the proper techniques.

Blowback Rig How to Tie for Big Carp Fishing (Video)

It is that time again! Time for another rig tutorial and this one is very easy to learn and only requires a few key components to make the rig. We are going to tie the blowback rig this time around. I have tried a lot of various rigs and I even tried this one in the past but on my second go around with this I noticed adding the shrink tube really increased my hook up rate. Also a few subtle changes ensure me that the rig would reset itself all the time. Other than its hooking abilities if a fish would eject the rig it also resets itself that way you know your rig is tangle free on the bottom in case a fish should eject it back out.


Step one starts out like a majority of all rigs do. We get our supplies in order and you can see in the picture below we really do not need a whole lot to make this rig. We need the following supplies.

  1. Korda N-trap semi stiff and I like the 20lb breaking strain
  2. We need some shrink tubing to match the hook size
  3. Long Shank Hooks
  4. Rig Rings
  5. Scissors
  6. Baiting needle
  7. Kettle to shrink the tubing down with steam



Now that we have our list of supplies we need the first step is like all other rigs out there. We tie an overhand loop so we can loop on our bait later.


Step two is slide a rig ring down the line and position it where the bend in the hook would start. Usually placing a boilie on the end and measure back will give you the right spot to slide it back to.


With the ring in place form an overhand loop so the ring is in the middle of the loop. Tease it down so the ring is in the perfect place. If you find you positioned it wrong you can always undo the knot and move it to the correct position.


Once the ring is in place and cinched down take the point of the hook and slide it down the ring. Make sure the bend is going towards the boilie like a normal rig would look.




Make sure everything is lined up and simply tie the rest like you would a hair rig. Slide the line down through the eye and then come back with wraps around the shank. I prefer around 5-6 wraps but you can do as many or as little as you like. Wet the line and pull tight and we are ready for the next step.


Take a piece of shrink tube and cut it in half. Slide it up the line and over the knot around the eye of the hook. We want to barely go over the end of the loops so once we shrink it the line will hold tight in place.


Next step if fire up the burner and bring some water to a boil. Once it begins to steam take the rig and steam down the tubing. Keep in mind while it is still hot you want to bend it downwards to create an aggressive turn in the tubing. This will allow for a quicker flip of the hook and some insane holds in the mouth of the carp. Also while you have the kettle steaming take your line and run it over the steam. This will take away any memory in the line from being wound around the spool. Go back and forth a few times and your line will be perfectly straight now and ready for action.




The final step is tie and overhand loop or figure of eight knot and attach it to your main line. You are now ready to go land some monsters! This rig is very easy to tie and only requires a few materials to make it happen. Your catch rate improvement will be very noticeable to say the least. I know I was quite surprised when I started to land more fish on this rig.


Hope you enjoyed this rig article. I will be having plenty more in the near future so you can face any situation that comes up while carp fishing.


If you would like to follow along with my social media the links are below.






Targeting Grass Carp

Some love them and others…well, they love them a lot less. Whatever your thoughts of grass carp are, there is no denying that they achieve some very impressive proportions and can be found over much of the United States. They have been stocked in many waters for weed control and even small ponds can have 50+ lb fish, making them by far the largest fish available in many areas.

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While this 40+lb fish is of course large it is nothing to how big this species can get!

Grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) is a native of the Amur River system in Asia, which also gives rise to one of it’s other common names, the white amur. It has been introduced nearly worldwide for control of aquatic vegetation, but this has not always worked as planned many different plant species are consumed and habitat for other fish species can be lost. Stocking of grass carp today is done with triploid fish that are not able to reproduce and are supposed to allow better control of vegetation. They are easy to distinguish from Common carp as they lack barbels and their mouth is terminal (at the end of the body).


Grass carp and common carp are easy to tell apart.


In the spring grass carp often try and make a spawning run up tributaries…even if they are triploid and will not be able to spawn. This is a good time to look for them below dams or other obstructions to upstream movement. During the rest of the year they can be found anywhere there is food, which in lakes is often in the backs of coves and in rivers is around back waters. Also I have done well with them even in the winter so long as it is not too cold – the fish pictured above was captured in January.

Normal grass carp (and humans) are Diploid whereas sterile grass carp are Triploid.


Locating a place to catch grass carp is normally fairly simple. As they are stocked in many waters, management agencies can normally direct you to waters that have them. If in doubt grass carp tend to be easy to spot while fishing as they will suspend just below the surface as they look for food. Even waters that don’t have a regular stocking program tend to have a few if it is part of a larger drainage because grass carp stocked in private ponds tend to escape and look for new homes. If you need a starting place to look for them check out this USGS page that has a map of the waters that are known to contain grass carp. This is certainly not complete, however, and the small pond down the road might have some 40+lb fish in it.

Looking for grass carp? Chances are you won’t have to go far! (Click the map to see full version)

Catching grass carp offers anglers a great deal of chance for personal expression as they can be caught in just about every way a common can. Grass carp are fond of feeding on the surface and will take floating baits under the right conditions. Bread is most often one of the best baits for this but chunks of bagel are tougher and will stay on the hook better. Another option is to feed them on pieces of bread and then use bagel or fake bread on the hook or hair. While this is the most exciting way to catch them I have found that it is more reliable to target them on the bottom using normal common carp rigs and often bait. Grass carp are known to enjoy eating fruity baits, and I have done well with pineapple, plum, and strawberry flavors. Often overlooked bait for grass carp are fishy ones. My PB grass carp was taken on a homemade boilie in strawberry and shrimp flavor and I have caught lots on cranberry squid and straight up squid boilies as well so it pays to keep your options open. If you are fishing in smaller ponds or at close range you can free line chunks of fresh fruit as well. My first grass carp fell to a chunk of canned pineapple!

Pineapple is a good bait for grass carp. Why is unknown as it is not a normal part of the diet of grass carp in the wild!

Rigs for grass carp can be any that you like for common carp but you may want to use a larger size as these fish have larger mouths than their common cousins. I have found a size 4 or larger to be just fine for all but the smallest fish. Grass carp don’t seem to be all that adept at ridding themselves of a hook so rigs don’t have to be as super refined – that being said, a good rig will always catch you more fish, so just make sure your rig turns over and is of course safe! I have found a snowman bait arrangement to work well with a blowback rig for these fish.

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A combination of fruity baits often works well

A word of caution when using free-lined bait is in order as I have had grass carp swallow the hook…deep. Unlike their common cousins they don’t seem to necessarily get hooked when trying to rid themselves of the hook, so save yourself and the fish and pay close attention when using no weight. If the hook is really deep it is best to cut the line as close as you can to the fish and unless the hook is stainless or in a bad spot it will likely rust out and the fish will be fine.

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Want to catch a fish bigger than your kid? Grass carp are often a good way!

And lastly here is a location tip from my own experience: if you are looking for a destination to catch big (and plentiful) grass carp (and some good commons too), check out the Congaree River and Santee-Cooper Lakes in South Carolina. This system is full of 40+lb fish and there are 60+lb fish to be had.




Making the most of limited bank time

Two years ago two major changes happened which have had a huge impact on my ability to find time to fish. I decided to start my doctoral degree, and my wife and I had our first child. All of a sudden those 16 hour weekend round trips to chase big mirrors were unfortunately no longer an option, at least not if I wanted to pass my classes and spend time with my son. In two years’ time when I graduate (fingers crossed) I know I will be able to go back to chasing specimen carp on a more frequent basis. However, I have had to adapt elements of my fishing to even manage get out and catch for a few hours. I am aware that I am not alone in being a busy professional and parent, and I hope that these few tips will help you to maintain a balanced life that still includes getting a bend in the rod.

  1. Pre-baiting

If a water is close enough that you can get down even once a week to drop some bait in then do it. By pre-baiting you are conditioning those carp into revisiting those spots as a place where food is available. Not only does that build up the confidence of the fish by allowing them to feed without lines in the water, but it also means that when you do turn up to fish the fish are normally close by, and a the bites often comes quicker than normal.


Pre baiting a local creek led to this snow carp. One of only half a dozen fish I saw there.
Pre baiting a local creek led to this snow carp. One of only half a dozen fish I saw there.


  1. Fish easy waters with a good stock of fish

I am not a runs water kind of angler. I like to sit it out for one big fish a season rather than catch 10 doubles in a day. However, I no longer have that luxury. I have spent most of the last two years fishing a small 2 acre pond, with a good head of fish, where a bite an hour is pretty much the norm. This way I can get a few fish in a short afternoon or late evening, and still keep myself on the bank without the risk of blanking.


  1. Stalk, and be mobile

If you do not have time for the fish to come to you, then you go to the fish. The warmer months provide lots of opportunities for stalking, both off the top and on the deck in shallow bays. My most recent capture was caught two feet from the bank within a couple of minutes of casting out by finding a couple of fish and flicking some sinking bread a few feet in front of them.  Be sure to travel light, and keep mobile and quiet. I take the bare minimum needed, and leave anything else I may need in the car. It is not uncommon for me to turn up with just a rod, net, small mat, and a loaf of bread for an afternoons fishing. What my local ponds carp lack in size, is replaced by excitement in this style of fishing. With stalking you also get a better understanding of how fish feed, and avoid the hook by watching them come in and pick up the bait.


  1. Take your work with you

When I was an undergraduate student with a full time job I decided to join a very exclusive and expensive syndicate called Weston Park knowing I was going to be busy. However, I would spend most of my time in or around my bivvy in one swim. I decided that I would use my bivvy like an office, and would take my laptop, spare batteries, and my books to the lake with me. 48 hours gives you a lot of time to get work done, and the peace and tranquility I got on the bank is a much better studying environment to the house I study in with kids and dogs running around in. I have also fished overnighters where I am fishing out of my car, which is once again a good place to study and keep your work nice and dry.

A winter stunner caught while studying in my car on a 48 hour session
A winter stunner caught while studying in my car on a 48 hour session


  1. Take the little guy with you

On days when you have got to be a dad but want to be an angler travel light, get a stroller/push car, and head out for a bit. My son loves to be outside, and so I will try to take him with me for a couple of hours (any longer and he starts to get cranky) if I can keep him safe around the water. As long as he is being pushed he is happy, as long as I can hear my alarms and keep him strapped in I am happy. Not only that but you get some pretty incredible pictures in the meantime.


Trying to get out and inspire the next generation of carper.
Trying to get out and inspire the next generation of carper.