Finding Carp in America
The United States is home to all different types of freshwater ecosystems. Cool mountain streams, sprawling arid reservoirs, enormous river systems, muddy farm ponds, and gigantic natural lakes are some examples of American waters. There are many others too. Couple the diversity of our waters with the adaptable nature of the carp, and it is little wonder that carp flourish in nearly all the lower 48 states.
America’s amazingly diverse water bodies present endless carp angling possibilities. With rivers and stillwaters of all different shapes, sizes, compositions, and carp stocks to choose from, there is something out there for every carp angler. Finding these magnificent fish is the first step toward catching them.
Aptly named, stillwaters are freshwater water bodies with little or no flow or currents. Lakes, reservoirs, ponds, and pools make up this category. I generally approach lakes and reservoirs in the same manner because reservoirs are essentially just manmade lakes. For the sake of discussion, I define lakes and reservoirs as stillwaters exceeding one hundred acres in size. I define ponds as any stillwater smaller than one hundred acres but greater than 10 acres. Finally, pools are smaller stillwaters less than ten acres in size.
Lakes and Reservoirs – Lakes in the US can be absolutely enormous. Pertaining to surface area, Lake Superior, is not only the largest lake in North America (Superior is shared by the US and Canada), but also in the world. It covers an astonishing 20,288,000 acres. That’s about 2/3 the area of the United Kingdom! Obviously this is an extreme example. The point is that there is no shortage of big stillwaters in America.
While the composition of lakes can vary greatly, most have at least a couple coves or bays. These areas are usually shallower and calmer than the main lake. Therefore, coves and bays are the first areas to warm in the spring. These areas are also often the most rich and fertile areas of the lakes. Aquatic plants and all sorts of invertebrates abound. The carp feed and spawn in these areas during the spring and early summer months. On most lakes, at least some carp linger in bays and coves throughout the rest of the year as well. Especially in larger lakes, try to explore coves in the northeastern end of the lake during the early spring as these are the usually the warmest.
Main lake points can be productive at times. Carp often feed on the tops of these bars. Additionally, carp will often swim along the edges of these features when traveling, giving anglers opportunities to intercept them.
While wind can impact carp location on any type of stillwater, its influences are magnified on large lakes. Windward facing banks are great places to fish, especially during the warmer months. The wind pushes food towards the bank and oxygenates the water. Both factors invite carp to linger. Conversely, carp often seek out the back of colder winds. Cold winds mix cold air into the water causing it to cool. That colder water is consequently pushed into the windward bank. When this happens, carp often seek out the calmer and warmer areas at the back of the wind.
Weed beds are great places to find carp. Weeds oxygenate the water, contain food, and provide shelter. At times, carp will travel and feed along weed edges. These are great places to try placing a baited hook. Most weedy lakes contain several types of weeds so pay attention to which weed the carp are relating to more while you’re fishing.
Lake inlets and outlets can often be hotbeds for carp. Behind reservoir dams, there is often a deeper area that may provide some good summer action. Inlets often introduce oxygen and food into the lake, both of which will attract carp.
For any stillwater, not just large lakes, islands can be carp magnets. Carp can sometimes be found circling island margins or cruising the first drop. Well placed baits can produce in such a situation. Be alert to drop back takes when fishing from the bank to an island as carp will often pick up the bait and run toward you into deeper water.
Another factor to consider when locating carp is the thermocline. The thermocline is a thin layer of water where the temperature changes much more rapidly than it does above and below it. Shallower windswept lakes may not have a thermocline, but many lakes are deep enough to contain a thermocline for at least part of the year. In the summer months, there is little dissolved oxygen below the thermocline so not much life exists below it. Fishing below the thermocline at this time of year is not a good idea. If the water above the thermocline becomes cooler than the water below the thermocline (such can be the case during the fall or winter in much of the US), than the lake will turn over. It is important to note that the depth of the thermocline varies from lake to lake and season to season, but knowing its whereabouts on the water you’re fishing can be helpful.
These are just some of the areas where carp might be found on lake. The most important thing to remember about fishing large stillwaters is to eliminate as much water as possible. Focus your search in areas where carp are likely to be, spot some fish or signs of fish, and then put your rods out.
A nice reward for fishing a winward facing cove
Ponds – In general, anglers can find carp in same areas of ponds as they do in lakes. Everything is just on a smaller scale. While there are lots of similarities between lakes and ponds, there are some differences.
Since ponds are smaller than lakes, ponds warm and cool more quickly. This is especially true for shallower ponds. Also, the differences in temperatures found from one area of the pond to the next will be far less than that of a lake. For example, I’ve often been on large lakes where the main body of the lake is 15° to 20°F cooler than the backs of the coves. While the shallower margin areas of a pond are likely to be a different temperature than the middle, it is unlikely that the difference will be all that dramatic.
Ponds are also less open to the wind than their larger counterparts. Windswept lakes can commonly have waves of a couple feet or more due to their large flat expanses of water. Chances are that if there are waves of a couple feet or more occurring on a fifty acre pond, than there is a hurricane and it’s not safe to be out fishing! Don’t think that the wind’s diminished influence over pond means that it has any less impact on the carp. Carp will still relate to the wind in a similar fashion as they do on lakes. Look to windward facing banks during warming winds, and fish the back of cooling winds.
Many ponds do not contain water deep enough to create a thermocline. These shallower lakes are often very fertile and weedy. While there are some great deeper carp ponds, carp seem to thrive in shallow ponds. If the pond you are intending to fish does contain a thermocline, try placing baits on bottoms just shallower than that thermocline during warmer months.
Margin areas are some of the best places to find carp on ponds. Reeds, fallen trees, lily pads, and over hanging bushes are just some of the features that line many ponds. These features provide carp with food and cover; therefore margins should not be overlooked.
Ponds are one of America’s best carp fishing resources. No matter where you are in this country, chances are good that you’re within a few miles of a stillwater of this size. With tremendous diversity in their composition, the angling possibilities are endless.
A brick of gold from a pond's margin
Pools – Pools are intimate settings that can often provide anglers with some different challenges than they’d be likely to face on larger waters. Park ponds, natural kettle holes, mined pits, mill ponds and farm ponds vary in composition and can all contain carp.
Because pools are smaller, carp can be easier to find. Simply, pools contain fewer features and less water to search. Climbing a tree can give you a better vantage point for spotting and observing carp. By quietly creeping around the edges, observant anglers are likely to find a few carp sunning themselves or rooting around the margins. The point is to keep your eyes peeled.
If you know there are carp in a particular pool but can’t spot any signs of them, then resort to fishing to whatever features are present. Often snags, isolated patches of lily pads, or a deeper corner of the pool can yield a hidden carp or two. Pools are generally small enough that if you can spot them, then they are likely to be deeper or in cover.
Since pools are so small, carp are likely to use the entire water. Anglers who visit a particular pool frequently may be identifying predictable patterns of carp behaviors. For example, a particular fish or group of fish might be observed over a period of time feeding in the same area of the pool during a certain time of day. Common sense should lead an angler to place bait in that area at that time of day when targeting those fish. The same methods can be employed on larger stillwaters, but it is more difficult to gain such an intimate knowledge.
Float and floater fishing are generally more effective on pools than large stillwaters. Due to pools being of a smaller size, the wind has a diminished influence. This fact aids float and floater presentation.
Fishing in pools can be frustrating at times. Watching wary carp munch away on free offering and consistently shying away from the hookbait can be infuriating. Carp get away with it on all different types of waters, but it is nowhere more apparent than in an intimate pool. Only the persistent angler knows how rewarding it can be when that one carp finally slurps a painstakingly presented floater.
Rivers are flowing water. Generally, rivers flow toward other rivers, a lake, or the ocean. Smaller rivers are often called brooks, creeks, runs, or streams. From enormous Mississippi River (the largest river in North America) to trickling no-name mountain brooks, the US is home to more than 250,000 rivers. While not all of these contain carp, a great many do. In this article, rivers are divided into two categories: Large rivers and small rivers.
Large Rivers – I define large rivers as rivers that are usually more than one hundred and fifty yards wide. Rivers of this size and larger have considerable currents, depths, features, and usually flow for many miles before joining another body of water. Large rivers are some of the best carp fisheries America has to offer. While finding carp on these powerful and expansive bodies of water may seem a daunting task initially, focusing on a few key areas is the first step locating river carp.
Current breaks and eddies are carp magnets. Carp use them to rest out of the main current and feed. Carp, like many other species of fish, get behind current breaks and wait for the river’s current to wash food to them. Eddies swirl the water around trapping and depositing food. Such areas are very attractive for carp to visit.
Most, if not all, large rivers have bridges across them. The abutments act as current breaks. Additionally, debris will often collect on the abutments creating inviting snags and increase the areas attractiveness. Not always, but often, bank access can be found at the base of bridges because they are rarely privately owned.
Areas where the river’s channel cuts in close to the bank can be productive. River channels are like fish highways. Fish will use them to travel up and down the river. On large rivers, powerful currents prevent anglers from fishing in the channel, but fishing to the edge of the channel is still a good idea. Traveling carp are likely to move along channel edges in search of food.
If the large river you are targeting has dams than that is an area worth checking out. The dam holds the river back and usually creates a slower, almost lake like environment. Carp make themselves at home in these types of areas. Also, the area below the dam is usually turbulent and very well oxygenated. Eddies below the dam are prime carp holding areas. Always exercise great caution when near dams. Water can rise and fall very rapidly. Generally, warning sirens will sound before water is released. Take these warnings seriously as your life may depend on them.
The mouths of tributaries are another place to look for carp. The introduction of new water into the river can be attractive to carp. Often these tributaries are warmer than the main river. Being cold-blooded, carp and other fishes will linger in such areas. Additionally, tributaries wash sediment and food into the river. Outflows from sewage treatment plants, factories, and storm drains can all act in a similar fashion to tributaries and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Many large rivers flow into the ocean, and are thus subject to tidal influences. The extent and reach inland of the tidal influence depends on many factors such as the strength of the tide, the river’s elevation, and the strength of the rivers flow. Carp can not only withstand a relatively high level of salinity, but can also thrive in this type of environment. In influenced areas, incoming tides swell and slow the river. Sometimes the current reverses and the water becomes very brackish. Outgoing tides pull water from the river into the ocean and creates powerful currents. Obviously ebbing and flowing will have a tremendous impact on the carps’ location. Areas that produce on an incoming tide may be devoid of fish on the outgoing tide.
There are many other places where river dwelling carp may hold, travel through, or feed in, but the areas discussed are a good starting point. When fishing large rivers, it is important to remember that the most important influence on the carp is the current. The better a river angler understands how carp use the current, the better his or her results are likely to be.
A typical strong and lean big river carp
Small Rivers – For the sake of this article, a small river is any river that is less than one hundred and fifty yards across. Small rivers make up a very diverse category. Some are raging boulder strewn torrents. Others crawl like a muddy slug through the countryside. Most rivers are somewhere in between these examples. Generally, the same principle features that attract carp in larger rivers also attract them in smaller rivers, but there are some differences worth noting.
Slower moving small rivers allows anglers to fish in the river channel effectively. This is significant because, as stated earlier, carp frequently use the channel when moving between different areas. Fishing to the channel increases the number of fish that encounter your bait.
Inside the mouths of small rivers is a great place to find carp. Carp may move up smaller tributaries from the larger main river to avoid strong currents in rising water conditions or when the tributary is warmer. Carp will also hang out where small rivers empty into or out of lakes.
In swifter moving rivers, carp can still be found. The key is to find the current breaks and eddies. Additionally, swift rivers usually contain pools or stretches of slower moving water. Fishing the pools should not be overlooked.
Fishing to the far margin is possible on some rivers. If a carp are on the opposite bank, provided you have the proper tackle, it can be fished effectively.
A nice one from a small lazy river
Like with any type of fish, carp seek out certain types of areas in lakes and rivers. These areas can vary depending on any number of factors such as the season, the weather, available food sources, currents, and features within a given area. The better an angler is at identifying these factors and understanding how they influence the carp, the better suited that angler will become at finding and catching the fish.