Carp Safety – going beyond the mat!

Carp Safety – going beyond the mat!

CarpDirtYou only have to see a photo like this posted on Facebook with a carp lying on bare ground or being held up by its gills to see the passion that is generated toward better handling and fish care. The problem, as I’ve discovered recently, is that too many carp anglers don’t look beyond the fish care basics of a good sized net or an unhooking mat.

So what else do we need to think about to improve carp safety?




Rigs & Tackle

Every angler needs to think about the consequences of breaking their mainline while playing a fish or if it runs into a snag. If the fish is left trailing a hook link, leader and a long length of line then it can get tangled in structure. If it is lucky it might pull free of the hook and survive – possibly with a nasty mouth injury and disfigurement. However this situation is complicated further if the lead still remains attached creating a so called ‘Death Rig’. This is especially the case with in-line leads or running leads if they cannot slide up the leader and over any mainline connection.

Unfortunately I’ve witnessed some anglers connecting their leader to the main line with a regular or link clip swivel. As a result there is simply no way that a lead can pass over the swivel and come free should the main line break. So the likely result is that the carp is condemned to dragging everything around while it suffers a lingering death. Even a loop to loop or knot connection should be carefully checked to make sure the lead (and any anti tangle sleeve or tubing) can pass easily over the connection in the event of a break off. And always keep an eye on leadcore leaders as after a while they can become worn and the frayed ends have the potential to ‘bunch up’ preventing a lead coming off easily.


Death rig 002
The tragic outcome of a ‘death rig’…


Leads should be on a lead clip or able to slide up and down the leader / mainline. NEVER, EVER tie or knot your lead to the mainline or hooklink. And never, ever glue or bind the tail rubber to a lead clip to prevent an accidental release or to simply save losing a lead… If you want to stop a lead coming off the clip when it hits the water then simply feather the line coming off the spool toward the end of the cast and then stop the line just before it hits the water. That way the lead will stay well forward on the clip and you’ll also minimize the chances of the hook link getting tangled. Alternatively wrap some PVA string or tape around the tail rubber but never, ever ram it on tight. If you loop to loop your mainline to the leader as I like to do then make sure the loop knots allow a lead or lead clip to pass over them easily in the event of the mainline breaking. A ‘Perfection’ loop is a relatively easy loop to tie and is ideal as it creates a small knot and you can trim the tag end once the knot is seated properly.

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A ‘Death Rig’ – The swivel and split shot stopped the lead coming free…
Simply horrible... No Excuse!
Simply horrible… No Excuse!

Do’s & Don’ts

  • Always make sure your lead can slide off the leader if the mainline breaks.
  • Do not place a swivel, split shot, bead etc between your lead and your main line.
  • Lead Clips are designed to ‘drop’ the lead – do not glue, tie or ram the tail rubber in place.
  • Learn to tie the correct knots for attaching mainline and leader.
  • Test it out before you cast it out – Simple really!


Snag Fishing

When fishing near snags it is vital to stay close to your rods at all times and tighten up your bait runner. Allowing a carp to simply run into snags because you were 50yds down the bank chatting or sleeping in your bivvy is unforgivable. When you get a take grab the rod immediately, keep your finger firmly on the spool to stop the fish taking line against the drag and start walking backwards to ease the fish away from the snag. In most cases the fish will begin to ‘kite’ away from the snag and you can ease the pressure off the spool drag and play the fish as usual. It is amazing how much pressure you can apply in those first 20-30 seconds and it is all about being confident in your tackle and your technique!

I prefer through action rods with test curves of 2.50 – 3.00 rather than heavier, fast taper distance casting rods. You can actually put a lot more pressure on a carp headed for a snag with these lighter action rods without risking a hook pull. Always check your main line and leader for any cuts or abrasion before each cast or after landing a fish. Top brand name hooks rarely break or straighten while playing a carp but I still like to test one from each batch just to be certain.

And remember that it is vital to make sure your rigs, leader and mainline connections are always tied so they will ensure the carp can rid itself of the lead and cannot be tethered by long lengths of line etc.

Hint – If you are new to snag fishing or not confident in applying pressure in those vital early seconds then avoid fishing too close to snags until you’ve gained some practice & experience. A few Spombs / Spods of bait close to the snag will get the fish interested but then start extending your baited area further out (say 15-20yds). This should entice the fish further away from the snag making it easier and safer to fish for them.

Safe Tackle Options:

I really like the new PB Products ‘Hit & Run’ leaders that use the novel X-Safe lead clip. Instead of the leader being ‘knotted’ to the hook link swivel it passes through it and actually connects to the X-Safe Lead clip. In the event of the main line breaking the leader will simply pull through the swivel leaving the fish with just a hook-link to rid itself and no trialing lead, leader or mainline. The ‘in-line’ lead shown is coming out soon while the lead clip version is available in pre-made leaders or as components to make up your you own rigs. Brilliant!

I particularly like running rigs over ‘bolt rigs’ when fishing snags. The indication, especially with drop backs, is far more sensitive and you can often set the hook before the fish has ‘bolted’ giving you precious moments to avoid them reaching a snag.  The Enterprise ‘Snag Safe’ rings work a treat for a running rig lead attachment. I’ve found they do not ‘accidentally’ drop the lead like many lead clip arrangements but ensure that the lead will pull free if it becomes ‘snagged’. The large ‘ring’ also ensures that it will pass over any normal leader to mainline connections in the event of a line break.

Enteprise Snag Safe Ring

Next month I will put together a more detailed article on tying up shock leaders and rigs – stay tuned!

Quick release

Carp are remarkably hardy beasts and usually seem none the worse for their brief encounter with the non-aquatic world. However I’ve witnessed some pretty thoughtless behavior when it comes to weighing and photographing fish. A little forward thinking and planning makes all the difference.

  1. Firstly – Do you really need a photo or weight? Sure go ahead if it is a PB or particularly big or good looking fish. Otherwise why not simply unhook it in the net and then release it? Oh and never, ever hold a carp (or any big fish) by its gills or suspended from a ‘Boga Grip’.
  2. Are you ready? There is no point hauling the fish on to a mat if you are simply not set up and ready to take photos or weigh it. The latest Retainer slings are ideal for keeping a fish in while you are getting  everything together. Unlike sacks they help support a tired fish in an upright position. However don’t take too long getting ready otherwise your tired fish can become a very lively handful on the mat. Always make sure the fish is kept out of direct sunlight and in sufficient water depth. While we are talking of mats some are simply inadequate for the job. If they do not have sides or a cover then a fish can easily slide off even on the shallowest slope. Ideally they should also have carry handles that makes it easier to move the fish to and from the waters edge.
  3. Wet & Cool. Have a bucket of water ready to pour over the fish to keep it cool and help wash off any debris. Avoid letting the fish lay uncovered in direct sunlight.
  4. Weight a minute! When weighing big fish I would recommend a tripod, weigh bar or at the minimum a T-bar for the scales. Simply trying to hold the scale body (which will give a false reading) or hold onto the small hook on top will likely end in tragedy. And before you lift it up make sure the fish is safely ‘zipped’ into the weigh sling to make sure it cannot ‘fall out’
  5. How low can you go… Avoid lifting the fish above knee height when moving it or taking photos. Better still stay on your knees. This minimizes the risk that should the fish suddenly flap around then it can be quickly lowered back on to the mat without the risk of it falling and suffering a potential fatal injury. Holding the fish at chest level for a photo while standing up or trying to carry to or from the waters edge is liable to end in disaster (for the fish) and have your behavior rightly ridiculed when it’s posted on Facebook!


Carp Fishing TV – Mark Pitchers shows how to handle carp and return them safely:


In summary – make sure you are properly prepared for photographing and weighing that prize capture. That way you can minimize the time the fish is out of the water and return it with the least amount of stress to it and yourself.

Grass carp

The fact that grass carp (Amur) can easily out grow common carp here in North America reaching fifty or more pounds makes them a desirable target. Unfortunately their sheer length and size plus a tendency to fight more in the net or on the bank can lead to all sorts of problems. As a result I’ve seen too many photos of grass carp (like the one below) with bloody gills, missing scales and torn fins.

Grass carp are very susceptible to poor handling!
Grass carp are very susceptible to poor handling!

If you are going to target grass carp and especially big ones please go properly prepared! A large, small mesh net together with an appropriately sized (i.e. B-I-G) landing mat are essential. I now chose to keep my fish in the water and carefully ‘float’ the fish out of the net on to a giant Chubb mat. I also rarely fish alone for these monsters as an extra pair of hands to assist with handling and weighing ensures they can be released with the minimum of stress or possible damage.

Finally… Keep it Clean!

Carp Herpes

One area that is rarely considered is the proper washing of mats, nets, sacks and weigh slings. This is critically important especially if you fish more than one water. There are numerous fish diseases (Carp/Koi Herpes, Spring Viremia of Carp (SVC) and so on) as well as other organisms that can easily be transferred on wet or contaminated nets etc. These diseases can have devastating impacts on not just carp but other fish populations while invasive plant and other organisms can be equally damaging.  Always wash and dry your nets etc before going to fish another water. If you cannot thoroughly dry nets etc for a minimum of 24 hours then simply soak everything in a dilute cholorox solution before rinsing with clean water. Not only will you be protecting your fishing but will also help to avoid unpleasant smells in your car or truck!

Don’t Leave it Trashed!

While I’m on the subject of carp carp care please also think about your surroundings and other wildlife.

  • Take home all your trash (it’s easy to carry a couple of trash bags).
  • While waiting for a run why not remove any trash you find left by others?
  • Dispose of fishing line carefully. Birds and other animals can easily become tangled in it and die – often slowly and painfully.
  • Pick up any spilled bait. This will prevent insects, rats, skunks, ducks etc hanging around the swim.
  • Do not cut down bank side trees or vegetation unnecessarily.

If you take the time to keep the bank side clean and free of trash it will help to encourage others to do the same. It will also help improve the image & reputation of carp anglers if we are seen to be cleaning and protecting the environment.

Six Pack Duck
This might look comical but these rings are deadly…
Heron Fish Line
An outcome of discarded fishing line…









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Nicely bagged up… But why did it get left behind?










Trash Timeline


Copyright: Iain Sorrell & Angling Solutions LLC

Disclosure: I’m not a sponsored angler but I am involved in selling fishing tackle. Any recommendations I make are the result of personal experience and preferences gained over many years of trial and error. If I like a product (even if I don’t sell it…) you’ll hear about it and if I don’t you won’t. Simple!

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