River carping

River Carp Fishing

Most Carp in lakes are effectively locked in to their environment, a River Carp is often free to swim throughout miles and miles of waterways. Many rivers in the UK now hold carp. The River Thames for example holds very large carp and in large numbers. River carping opens up a whole new realm of possibilities. As carp lakes fill and pressure on the fish increases, more and more anglers are turning to river carping to escape the pressure and find a peaceful place to fish.

Close Season

The traditional close season, 15th March to the 16th June is still in place on rivers and canals in the UK. The debate for change is currently in progress and it may not be long before it is reviewed.

Locating River Carp


Terry Hearn with a nice river common

Finding a river carp at first seems bit of a daunting prospect but, there are clues and pointers which will make the whole process a little easier. Although carp in rivers will often be able to travel large distances, by their very nature they will have preferred areas. Many river carp are territorial preferring a particular area and not moving far at all. There will also be some which will travel. While this gives us the opportunity to catch resident fish, there's always the possibility of catching a traveller.

Find the features

As with the carp in lakes river carp will be attracted to various features. Carp are naturally curious creatures and will be attracted to anything out of the ordinary. Features and areas to look for include:

In fact anything unusual will attract a carp, they are curious creatures by nature.

The Margins

I love to fish the margins, getting the carp feeding up close has many advantages. Presentation is better, free bait placement is much easier and accurate, you can often observe fishing feeding over your bait and adjust things accordingly if bites don't happen. I love to fish this way and the same methods can be used in river margins as well as lakes. Taking a soft rod with a heavy (3 ounce) lead attached and plunking it along the marginal shelf can help you to find promising spots. You will soon learn to identify the bottom structure by the feel of the lead hitting. Silt, gravel patches, hard clay can all be felt, you will also find different depths by counting the time it takes for the lead to hit bottom. The bottom of the marginal shelf is a great spot to place a bait and if its clear from debris with a gravel bottom, so much the better.

Weir pools


Weir pools are a favourite haunt of most river species, they provide food, safety and the extra oxygen created by the turbulent waters is a major attraction. Don't be intimidated by the swirling, twirling rough white water. What you see from above doesn't always portray what's going on under the water. What seems like rough water with fast currents is often the opposite, Beneath the waves things are much calmer. As well as carp, Barbel, Bream, Chub and many others frequent weir pools and while fishing for carp you can expect to catch these too.


The longer you can prebait the more effective it will be, as the fish become accustomed to finding and eating your chosen bait. The objective is to convince the fish that your bait is safe to eat. This in turn will make them easier to catch. Once you have found a couple of spots your happy with then you could start baiting them. The effectiveness of pre baiting cannot be underestimated. Taking the time to visit the river with a couple of kilo's of bait a few times a week will have the fish soon feeding on your bait. The longer you can do this the more confident the carp will become until, eventually your feel the time is right to place a baited carp rig in the water and reap the benefits of all that hard work. Pre baiting is one of the best methods in your carp fishing armoury. The longer you can pre bait without actually fishing the more chance you will have catching. Normally look to pre-bait a couple of spots for at least 3 weeks, although a couple of days is better than none. Try to pick an area where you know other anglers aren't likely to visit. The last thing you want is for some-one else to reap the benefits of your hard work, never mind the expense!

Prebaiting Baits

While they are the more expensive option, Boilies are the best long term bait. The nutritional benefits of the high protein boilies are now widely excepted. Carp are clever creatures and they will recognise these benefits and you know that most of the bait will be eaten by carp, smaller species find it hard to eat boilies because of their hard skin. Other options - Hemp, Maize, Sweetcorn, Partiblend, Luncheon Meat, Suasage Meat, Bread, Tigernuts. While tigernuts are a very effective carp bait it is advisable to only use them in small quantities, used in combination with another particle, hemp being ideal. Tigernuts can harm fish if used in large amounts. If you can afford the cost then pre baiting with either partiblend/hemp and boilies is perhaps the best option. If cash is a little tighter then maize is a great bait, cheap and readily availble from most farm shops.

Carp rigs for rivers

Rig wise, a simple bottom bait rig will be more than adequate for most situations. When the bottom is a bit messy then a pop up rig may be better. Don't over complicate things rig wise. River carp are seldom riggy. Use your favourite rig in which you have confidence. Lead weight and shape is important, it will need to hold the set-up in one spot. On fast flowing rivers a heavy flat pear shaped lead will often hold were a torpedo shaped one will not.

Travel light and stay mobile

Travel light

River carp can be a little tricky to tempt to your hook bait, especially big old carp. A major key to success for me has been to travel light and move after a short period of time (2 to 3 hours). With each new swim comes new options and chances, don't just sit and think the fish are going to come to you.

Remain stealthy at all times, a heavy foot fall can ruin any chance you had in a new swim. Tilt the odds in your favour by pre-baiting several spots along your chosen stretch, ideally choose spots where you can see the bottom and any evidence of carp having visited the area. Climbing trees give a huge visual advantage, reeds will give security, overhanging branches provide cover, these features and more will aid you in your quest to put a big old carp on the bank.

Best conditions

The best time to catch fish from a river is after flood conditions as the water levels are once again settling back to normal. Roach, Rudd, Bream and most other species feed well at this time. Maybe its because, as the rivers flow with all the extra water, opportunities for fish to feed are few. As the water levels stabilise the fish are hungry, and so are easier to catch, this will also apply to carp. River carp are hard fighters, more so than their lake dwelling cousins. This is because of the nature of the environment in which they live. The current and flowing water of UK rivers mean that the carp are generally stronger and leaner. As carp lakes become more and more crowded, Carp fishing on rivers will become more popular. There are many foreign rivers which hold vast numbers of carp.

The River Ebro in Spain for instance has become renowned for its large carp. In France there are many un-tapped rivers just waiting to be explored. Your normal lake fishing carp tackle will be all you need, the only recommendation I can make is that of rod and reel size. Because you will rarely need to cast far when river carping you wont need long distance rods or reels. Baitrunner style reels are good for river carping. A 2lb to 2.5lb test curve12 foot rod is ideal. River carp are not different to those that swim in lakes in relation to their food preferences. For pre baiting chose a low cost feed like partiblend (pigeon feed) or maize. With the amount of other species often present in rivers, fishing a small or soft bait for carp is not really feasible. The hookbait will be taken by smaller silverfish which can be very frustrating. Boilies are the number one choice due to their hard skin which will repel all but the most stubborn small fish.

Notable Rivers for Carp Fishing

This is not a definitive list and there are many other canals and rivers holding carp.

Thames River carp records

River carp records

New River Thames carp record

Captured by Katch Bullet at 43.00lb

Thames record carp

This immaculate 43lb mirror is the biggest carp caught from the River Thames.The fantastic Thames lump was caught in 2014 by the prolific carper whose previous river best was 33lb. The 36-year-old from Maidenhead, Berkshire, refused to name the location of the historic capture. This understandable as there are shore to be hundreds of keen carp anglers who would want to catch the fish, this would mean intense pressure for the stretch.