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How to Catch Carp at Night
Carp fishing at night can be one of the best scenarios for big tackle-busting carp, but it can also be downright boring if your approach is off. In this article, I will discuss factors I’ve found to work very well for catching more and larger common & mirror carp in the darkness.
You don’t need expensive rod combos or specialty carp baits flown in from England. to catch carp at night, or in general. In fact, you can use off-the-rack rods from your local bait shop and pack baits the ingredients of which can be bought for around $6.
Late Spring and Summer are the Best
The best seasons for nighttime carp fishing is late spring after the spawn throughout the entirety of summer.
During these months, carp will be feeding within reasonable casting range of the shoreline along emergent weedlines and shallower flats. During these warmer months, carp will be active all night long because the water is cooler and insects are out in droves.
Unlike bass and trout, which are more sight-oriented, carp don’t need to see their food to find it. My experience has been that I catch more carp around the full moon and around the new moon than I do on the nights in between. This may vary for other anglers based upon their location, but it is a trend I’ve noticed over many years fishing different waters across the country.
Conversely, winter time is likely to be the worst time for night fishing because carp will be most active during the day and they will be tightly packed up into deep wintering holes often too far from shore to reach.
My Favorite Carp Setup for Fishing in the Dark
You don’t need to spend a ton of money on rods and reels for carp. I actually purchased all of my carp rods at the local bait shop. The rule I tend to follow is that if the rod works for catfish, it works for carp.
Typically, I use 7’4″ medium action rods spooled with 10-pound monofilament.
I don’t recommend using braid unless you are using high-end spinning reels, which I am not. The problem with braid is that the diameter is so thin, the line has a tendency to find its way into nooks and crannies on your cheap spinning reel that will lead to huge issues when a fish is hooked.
Cheap spinning reels are notorious for subpar made components and your braided line will be drawn like a magnet to those imperfections.
When it comes to rigging, pack baits are the way to go. I don’t think you can beat a method lead and hair rig setup for carp at night. Use a 30, 40, 50, or 60-ounce method lead with a hair rig. On the hair rig, I like to use a floating fake sweet corn kernel because it is more durable than real corn.
On the method lead, my go-to pack bait is Jell-O powder (I prefer strawberry, cherry, or pineapple), Panko bread crumbs, and a full can of sweet corn mixed together until it balls up nicely. It’s essentially chumming for carp. The carp will gobble up all the bait, grab your fake corn on the hair rig, and hook itself as it swims off.
I like to use a small bell as it warns me of a bite, but many carp anglers prefer bite alarms.
Another effective pack bait I use for rivers (because it dissolves slower) is Mexican masa balls mixed with Kool-aid powder, sweet corn, and water.
If you have a fly rod, try putting a small piece of white Styrofoam on a size 2 hook. You will need the fly line to carry your bait far enough from shore. This is the perfect way to catch those carp slurping moths off the water’s surface. The Styrofoam piece also mimics a piece of bread if your local carp get fed on occasion.
Observe and Listen
Carp become very active as the sun goes down. Visually seeing carp break the surface is hard after dark, but you can still hear them. Listen for the splashes of full body breaches and the slurping noise of carp grabbing insects off the surface. A 10-pound carp landing in the water will definitely make noise.
The increased insect and moth activity at night will bring carp up to the surface to feed. Even though you won’t be able to see much, if you listen closely, you can hear the carp. Oftentimes, this can be a great way to locate feeding carp when choosing your location.
How Long Should You Wait?
Don’t waste your time fishing in a bad spot. How long you sit on a spot without getting a bite should depend on your time of day and season. For the sake of fishing carp at night, hopefully you are fishing during late spring, summer, and early fall when the water temperatures are warmer.
That is when you’ll generally have the most success. I recommend waiting 90 minutes for a bite at night.
Once that 90-minute timer goes off without a bite, move somewhere else.
Carp are constantly moving and feeding during the warmer seasons, so it could take them a while to find your bait. During the daytime, I give them a full hour, but at night I give them 90 minutes since it will take a little longer in the darkness to find your food.
But if you don’t get a bite at one spot in 90 minutes, move!
I recommend moving to a completely different zone. Carp will be more evenly dispersed in the lake in warmer seasons and at least one should find your bait within 90 minutes. If they don’t, that should tell you that the section of river or lake you’re at doesn’t hold many carp.
Bonus Tip: If you are fishing for carp during the daytime in winter, wait no longer than 20 minutes. Carp will congregate in huge numbers in deep wintering holes. A single wintering hole could hold every carp in an entire section of lake.
Even though the individual carp may be less willing to bite, when you have possibly hundreds of carp tightly packed into one hole, you will get a bite if your bait is on point. Because all the fish will be in just a handful of spots on the lake, move until you get bites. Once you find the fish, the fishing can be amazing.
Artificial Lights vs. Blackout Lights
There is a strong divide in the carp fishing community over whether artificial light spooks carp or not.
I have found very little evidence that artificial lights negatively affect fishing. If anything, lights could help success by drawing in moths and insects closer and give carp a good reason to forage along your side of the lake.
Make sure you wear some good insect repellent and long-sleeves so you don’t get chewed up by mosquitoes. If you can’t tolerate bugs, go “black out” and only turn on your lantern or headlamp when you need to re-bait or you get a bite. One thing I have been experimenting with recently is using a green LED underwater fishing light. You can pair this with a solid 12V battery, which will cost about $50.
When you lower it into the water, it creates a gorgeous green glow that draws in plankton and small fish. Bigger fish will arrive after to feed on the schooling shad and minnows. I have found that even when I’m not targeting carp, some of the biggest carp I’ve seen will come in to check out the novelty of the light.
I think it is worth your time to test out a light for yourself. For less than $75, you can get a quality fishing light and battery that will last a long time and improve your night fishing success for a variety of species beyond just carp.
Chaos is Your Enemy
In my opinion, your biggest adversary when night carp fishing is chaos.
Lights get tangled, fishing bells and rods get stepped on, drag gets ripped off the reel, and fishing partnerships end. All that can happen when you get a big carp on the line at night and you aren’t prepared.
What is the enemy of chaos? Order.
Keep your fishing space as tidy and organized as you can. You should know where your net is. Know where shoreline hazards are. Know where you dropped your fishing bells after setting the hook. Make sure you know where your friend’s cell phone is.
Once the bite indicator goes off, just calmly grab your rod and start fighting.
The calmer and more deliberate you and your fishing buddies are, the smoother everything will go.
Also, make sure your drag is set tight enough so the carp has to really pull to take line, but not so tight that she takes the rod out of your rod holder.
If a 20-pound carp decides to strip line, let her. Your line will break before a freshly hooked carp’s resolve will.