5 reasons why carp are hard to catch and how to overcome them

When i was younger, I could go out to a local pond and catch crappie, bass, bluegill, and catfish almost every time I went out. But it took me months to learn how to start catching carp.

For some reason, carp are just one of those fish that can be extremely difficult to catch. So in this article we will discuss 5 reasons why they are so hard to catch for many anglers and what you can do to make sure your next fishing trip to the lake is more productive. 

Some species of carp are impossible to catch

One reason that you might be having trouble catching carp is that you’re actually targeting the wrong species. While many people just know your local fish as “carp” in actuality there are many different species across the world.

Common carp is the species which you should be trying to catch. While not actually natural to American waters, the common carp was introduced from Europe centuries ago and has become a mainstay in our water ecosystems. They are not considered dangerous or a threat to the environment and should be fished for recreationally.

However there are many other species that are commonly identified as “Asian carp” which are not native and are invasive. They can easily overtake other species and should not be introduced into waters like the common carp. Most notable of these is the “grass carp”.

grass carp why carp hard to catch

Like the name suggests, “Grass carp” are vegetative species. Meaning they don’t feed on anything but aquatic vegetation. Many people introduce these fish into areas with tons of vegetation to help minimize its negative impact. But they can overtake a water system easily as they have few natural predators.

So this is why it’s really important to make sure the fish you see in your body of water is in fact a common carp and not a grass carp. Because unless you’re fishing with hydrilla, you’re not going to catch a grass carp.

How to tell the difference between common and grass carp

If you are unsure of which carp is in your body of water, you can look at the image below to see how to tell the difference. Most noticeably there is a color difference in their scales. The common carp has more of a yellow tinge, whereas the grass carp (and most Asian carp species) have a silver tinge.

You can also look for the fin differences noted below as well as the barbels in a common carps lips that the Asian carp does not have.

Should you not be able to get a close look at the fish, you can also try and find the information from the lake owner or department responsible for it’s management. Most likely, if it is an Asian carp, they will have introduced it to control the vegetation and be able to tell you.

Again, if they confirm that they have introduced grass carp into the lake, you can forget about catching them with normal methods. It’s impossible. And most any other method (like bowfishing) for them is likely illegal.

A carp you see is usually not catchable

So lets say you have determined the carp in your lake are in fact common carp – that means they are then catchable. But likely not at the times that you are actually seeing them.

Unlike most fish species, you will often see carp “sunning” in the water or flapping their tails in shallow water. They do this very often early in the morning or even sometimes when spawning. And they are sure to get the attention of every angler at the lake.

The problem is, you are not going to be able to catch them when they are doing this. Carp naturally feed on snails and other crustaceans and worms on the bottom of your lake or river. So when they’re in the shallows they aren’t feeding, they’re just there sunbathing to warm up their internal body temperature. 

So as a rule of thumb if you actually see the carp – you cannot catch it. The ones that are actually feeding will be on the bottom of the lake out far enough that you won’t be able to see it from shore. So if you’re trying to catch the carp that you see, you’re just wasting your time.

Carp forage in large areas and don’t school up

Another reason you might be having difficulty catching carp is that they don’t school up similarly to other fish or hold to certain locations.

Most prey fish like bluegill, shad, and even crappie group up in large schools for protection. And they usually do this in certain locations based on the time of year and other factors. Predator species that feed on them like pike or bass will similarly set up on ambush spots near the bait schools, looking for their chance at a meal. So they are all likely to be in certain areas.

Carp on the other hand roam a lot more and don’t always school up. If they do, it’s likely in smaller groups of 5 instead of hundreds. 

They also don’t have many natural predators but also don’t feed on other fish. Instead they feed on bottom dwelling species like crustaceans which they have to just search wide areas of lake bottoms to find.

So they are much less likely to group up when hungry and just roam. This makes catching one much more luck than actually knowing where it will be.

The best way to get around this is to chum an area before fishing it. Chumming is just the act of throwing your bait (or anything that attracts fish) into an area to try and bring them into where you will be fishing. It increases your chance of getting many carp around your bait instead of just the random carp that happens to swim by.

Carp are very timid fish

Chumming also helps because carp are generally more timid fish than other species. Because they aren’t as predatory they don’t feed aggressively, but also aren’t like bluegill who have to fight with schools of hundreds of fish for each meal. They can be a little more choosy with what they eat off the bottom of a lake.

Because of this, if your bait seems unnatural in any way they are very likely to spit it out quickly or not touch it. This seems counterintuitive since carp do eat so many things like bread, canned corn, and other unnatural baits. But if you try and put on large weight with your fishing rig a carp will spit your bait out as soon as it feels a tug.

So chumming gets carp into the area and also gets them used to feeding on whatever bait you are using. This makes them a little less timid of eating the one bait that happens to be tied onto your hook.

But you also need to use low visibility line when possible and use extremely light weights. If a carp feels any tug on a bait as it tries to swim away with it or eat it, it will immediately spit it out before you can get a good hookset. So stay as finesse with your gear as possible to hook into more carp.

Carp have very small mouths compared to their bodies

Finally, most anglers have a hard time catching carp because they have very small mouths compared to other freshwater species.

You can use a pretty good size hook and catch most larger freshwater species like bass or catfish. But if you look at the carp’s mouth you will see that it is actually much smaller than all other similarly sized species, mostly because of the way it feeds.

Sucking little crustaceans from the bottom of a lake doesn’t take a large mouth, whereas trying to eat groups of bait fish swimming away from you does. So when a bass swipes at a crankbait you’re likely to get one hook into it’s big mouth. But if a carp eats your bait you have to let it really get everything in it’s mouth and set the hook to get him in.

carp small mouth hard to catch

Because of this, it’s also easy for a carp to eat bait without ever actually getting the hook in its mouth. Dough balls are great baits but carp can also suck them off a hook without every getting the hook in it’s mouth. So it can be a real headache to get bites, pull, and never hook into a fish.

The best way to fix this is use smaller hooks. A #8 or #10 hook work great for carp’s small mouths and you don’t need much bigger. These hooks by Gamakatsu are specifically made for carp and a great option.

You can also downsize your bait presentations to ensure when they feed they are getting the whole thing in their mouth when you set the hook instead of feeding off parts that don’t have hook exposed. Personally, this is why I find corn to be the best carp bait. It can mold onto a smaller hook much more easily than a dough ball and not come off as easily either.


So there are five reasons why carp are so frustratingly difficult to catch and what you can do to enhance your chances of hooking up you next fishing trip. While just now starting to grow in America, Europeans have been sportfishing carp for years. So they are absolutely a possible fish to catch. Just keep going out to the lake, put the tips above into practice, and you’ll be good to go!

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