Hair Rig For Carp Fishing: The Complete Guide

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Editor’s Note: This is the second article in this series by Wayne Boon of the American Carp Society designed to introduce and instruct anglers on the new age of Carp Angling.

Previous articles by the American Carp Society can be found at the following links:

What is The American Carp Society? A Closer Look

Carp Fishing in America: A History and Introduction

Hair Rig for Carp Fishing: The Complete Guide

Carp Article#2 Photo 1

We’ll start this article with what is, without a doubt, one of the biggest advancements in Carp fishing in the last forty years!

As you may already know, with a few amendments to our approach and existing tackle, Carp can be caught by placing bait directly onto the hook and striking on the first signs of a line twitch.

This is good for catching young Carp who are inexperienced and, shall we say, “carelessly hungry.” As Carp grow up into the 20 and 30 lb. plus bracket, however, they become very much more learned and picky about both what they eat, and how they approach finding and eating their food.

So, what is the biggest advancement in Carp fishing in the last forty years that will help us actually hook and land more Carp? 

It is simply a method of baiting your hook that takes full advantage of how a Carp feeds and it is called a “hair rig”. 

We gave a sneak peek at the hair rig in last month’s article

The Hair Rig

The hair rig specifically targets and takes advantage of the way a Carp feeds. When the hair rig is tied correctly (as described below) so that the hook turns during pickup, it safely hooks 99.9% of the fish in the bottom lip. 

At first (in the mid-70’s in the UK), it was literally a human hair tied to the bend of the hook that had the bait mounted onto it. Later, a very thin filament link was used. 

When the super easy-to-tie, “knotless” knot was invented to make a hair rig, it again revolutionized Carp angling because it offered a way of both producing a hair and securely tying the hook to the hook length line with one very strong “knot” without any strangle points on the line being used to tie the hair. 

The hair rig is the foundation of most Carp rigs these days and uses various hook length materials, rig rings, shrink and silicone tubing to make them even more effective in many varying fishing conditions. Even in its simplest “naked” form shown below, it is a game changer for the angler who learns the mechanics and how to tie it effectively.

Hair-Rig construction #1
Hair-Rig construction #3
Hair-Rig construction #5

Check out this episode of our White Board Video Series that puts all this hair rig information together in an easy to follow instructional video

Note:  You can make your own baiting needle by carefully heating and straightening out the hook section of an old Crappie jig head (see photo below) and you can use a short section of grass stalk or a thin twig to replace the plastic bait stops. 

Mechanics of the Hair Rig


The mechanics of the hair rig are as follows: Carp feed by sucking any potential food item along with much of the sand, sticks, mud etc. that is laying or floating around the immediate area into its mouth to inspect, before blowing it all out, then often recapturing the food item quickly if it is a desired or needed by the Carp’s metabolism. Carp rarely swallow the food item on first inspection. This is particularly so if it’s not a recognized, naturally occurring and familiar food source in their lake or river, so this can happen several times before a decision is made to eat your bait.

Carp are so efficient and stealthy at this process that it very often happens without so much as a single bounce on your rod tip or movement of your line. Many blank or skunk sessions have been declared by anglers who have had their hook-baits stolen or just simply picked up and spat out several times. This is even more prevalent when bait is placed directly onto the hook.

Not having hands and fingers to inspect the potential food item, this is how Carp learn. They have many taste sensing cells/sensors in and around the mouth area and these sensors are how a Carp learns about the food item, even sensing its calorific makeup (carbs verses proteins and minerals etc.)  They are also instinctively inquisitive creatures, and we can often use this to our advantage too, so knowing these facts helps us to visualize how a Carp feeds and how better to tie an effective hair rig. 

Let’s now look at the actual mechanics of the hair rig.  As can be seen from the above photos, the bait hangs below the bare hook. When the Carp sucks in the bait, it will suck in the hook also, quickly followed by the Carp blowing out the bait. 

Next, because the weight and bulk of the bait offers much more resistance than the hook in the torrent of water exiting the Carp’s mouth during this “blowing out” phase of tasting process, the bait exits the mouth attached to the hair first dragging the hook behind it. The hook then pricks the bottom lip of the Carp. 

The Bolt Rig

Therefore, hooks need to be “sticky” sharp when Carp fishing because this light prick in the Carp’s lower lip will stop the hair rig from being fully ejected. The fish will then panic and what we call “bolt” (like a horse getting spooked and bolting off down the field), giving that precious few seconds for us to strike and set the hook properly. 

Evan_Carp Fishing

To take extra advantage of this “bolting” phenomenon, keep reading and we’ll explain what is known in the Carp angling trade as a bolt rig, which is another tactical advantage that can be incorporated in conjunction with the hair rig to great effect.

The bolt rig is designed to take full advantage of the hair rig’s self-hooking properties and vastly amplify it. It does this by effectively adding a “dead weight” to the point of the hook, thus sinking the hook deeper in to the bottom lip, achieving a good hook hold when the fish bolts upon initial contact with the point of the hook.

This “dead weight” is achieved by the attachment of a semi-fixed lead weight of anywhere between 2 and 5 ounces fixed via a specifically designed clip and swivel system threaded onto the line just above the hook-length as opposed to the sliding or running rig lead weight system we looked at last month. 

Note:  NEVER tie the sinker/weight directly to the mainline to create a bolt rig. This would almost certainly sign the death penalty for the fish in case of a line breakage. Use either the in-line weight or attach the weight via one of the safety clips shown below as these are specifically designed to jettison the lead weight in case of line breakage during the fight.

As the images below shows, the bolt rig can be tied and presented in two ways:

• As an ‘in-line’ lead weight but still carefully designed and constructed so that the lead weight can pull away in case of a break, ensuring the safety of the fish. (See the 1st photo shown below).

  • A lead weight with swivel connected to the line via a safety clip as shown in the 2nd, 3rd photos; the 4th photo shows some alternative, component parts.

By combining the mechanics of the hair rig above with that of the bolt rig, the fish sucks in the bait and attempts to spit it. The bare hook pricks its bottom lip and the Carp “bolts” off. Now with a heavy semi-fixed lead in place, as the fish bolts, the weight of the lead pulls the hook more firmly into its mouth and the fish is well and truly hooked before you have even seen the bite, so instead of having to practically sit on our rods to hit runs that typically stop quickly when you’re using the sliding/running rig, we can now take our time and gently lift the rod up to feel the strength of the Carp that is already well connected to the other end of the line.

The next phase of the capture begins; the skill needed to land and overcome the carp’s infamous, encyclopedic knowledge of its underwater surroundings, including all the local snags along with its shear, unadulterated pound for pound fighting power.  Good luck! 

Excellent Baits to Complement the Hair Rig

To complement the hair rig, and to get you out and catching some Carp, lets finish off this month’s segment with a brief talk about a couple of the baits – both hook baits and a good pack bait – that are typically used.

Hook Baits

To some of you reading this it may seem like we’re stating the obvious here but nevertheless, the following bares mentioning for those that are completely new to Carp angling. 

Probably the best universal hook bait out there for Carp is canned sweetcorn bought right off of the shelves of your local grocery store. The only negative is the fact that sweetcorn is soft and can sometimes come off the hook or hair when casting, or other smaller species of fish can nibble the sweetcorn, eventually leaving your hook with no bait.  Maize when prepared correctly can solve these problems.

Field corn/maize bought in 25 or 50 lb. bags from a feed store can also be extremely successful when used on the hair as long as a few extremely important rules are strictly followed.

Maize on Hair-Rig
  1. The dry maize MUST be soaked in a bucket of water for at least 36 hours to fully hydrate.
  2. Then it MUST be vigorously boiled for 35-45 mins to soften them up and to release all the natural sugars/amino acids contained within the maize kernel. This soaking and boiling process makes the maize not only safe for the fish to eat, but also turns it into a nutritionally useful food that contains some pretty serious feeding triggers and stimulators.   

*Please DO NOT skimp on the preparation processes mentioned here in this section.

Next, we’ll talk a little about boiled hook-baits, commonly referred to as boilies.


Boilies are hard-boiled baits that were originally introduced to Carp angling in the UK during the late seventies with the sole purpose of keeping ‘nuisance’ fish from eating away the bait being presented to the Carp.  There have been many theories over the years regarding boilies, their use, nutritional value and importance to the Carp angler’s toolbox. There’s no doubt about it though, the right boilies do seem to separate the bigger fish and have accounted for many PB (personal best) Carp for anglers. 

Very simple boilies can be made at home from eggs and whole-wheat flour, semolina and corn meal, with some flavoring thrown in for good measure. These baits are rolled into various size balls and then boiled for 2 to 3 minutes dependent on size to form a tough skin on the outside of the bait. A quick google search will offer up plenty of both homemade recipes and commercially available mixes and finished products.

Boilies come in a whole myriad of flavors, buoyancies, shapes, colors and sizes with nutritional values ranging from ‘Candy Bar’ to ‘Power Protein Shake.’  We mention this because over the years there has been great debate as to the importance of the ‘nutritional value’ of the boilie and the correlation between ‘how good’ the bait is for the fish and the ‘success’ of its catching abilities. 

Pictured below are some homemade and commercially produced Boilies ranging in size from 26 mm down to 8 mm that we’re currently fishing with.

Carp Fishing Boilies

Boilies are commercially manufactured by companies all over the world such as Solar, Dynamite, Nash, Mainline, Richworth, Nutrabaits, Rod Hutchinson and many, many more. There are some good bait and boilie making companies springing up here at home in the USA too, such as, Carp Bait USA, World Classic Bait and Carp Maxx baits to name a few.

Of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t do a little self-plugging here and mention our very successful ‘Barnaby’s Revenge’ range of boilies that are available on our website’s store.

Note: Boilies are also mounted onto the hair rig with the help of the baiting needle we mentioned earlier. 

Pack Baits

There are many recipes out there but one that stands out as both easy to mix and very productive in attracting Carp year-round, is Cream Corn Oats.

Pour the contents of a large tub of Quakers Old Fashioned breakfast oats (approximately 2 lb. 10 oz.) purchased from the grocery store into your bucket (don’t used the 1-minute quick mix version).  Then mix one can of Cream Style Corn into the oats and thoroughly stir.  Place lid on the bucket and let it set for 10 to 15 minutes while you tackle up at the lakeside.

This Cream Corn Oats pack-bait is molded tightly around your sinker or lead weight before casting out. Once the pack-bait has hit the bottom of the lake you’re fishing, it starts to break down into a very nice attractive pile of oats and cream corn around your baited hook.

Here are a few photos showing a couple of Oat pack-bait mixes molded around the sinker/lead weight and lastly, a nice Common Carp cleanly and safely hooked in the bottom lip when it all comes together.

Oat-Pack around weight finish#1
Common nailed bottom center lip1

One Final Carp Fishing Tip

All the baits mentioned above can be made even more effective by introducing them as chum before your planned fishing session (pre-baiting). This can be done the night before or the morning of, but you’ll notice an even bigger difference in your catch rate, the longer you have previously and regularly pre-baited that same spot.

Check with your state’s Fish & Game Department rules governing whether chumming is legal in your area. A few states or certain waters within specific states do ban the use of corn/maize completely, even as a hook bait, so please check your local regulations very carefully.

About the American Carp Society

That’s it for this month, we hope you’ve picked up some useful information here. We’re looking forward to peeling back even more carp angling “mysteries” next month for you.

About Our Organization:

The American Carp Society was formed in 2002, with the goal of promoting and educating the public on the sport of specimen Carp Fishing in the USA.

The Common Carp (Cyprinus Carpio) is one of the hardest fighting freshwater fish in the world and is now being pursued by anglers of all persuasions, from fly fisherman to dedicated Specialist Carp anglers as a sport fish.

The American Carp Society is a membership-based organization and is responsible for promoting the sport and ensuring careful stewardship of both the specimen fish and its environment for the future generation of American Carp Anglers.


Email:  [email protected]


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