how to read the water when carp fishing - man sitting beside river with carp rods

Carp fishing can be a challenging sport for beginners. There is a lot to learn in many different areas before you can consistently put fish in the net.

One of the most overlooked areas by anglers is reading the water, also known as watercraft, to try to locate where the carp are feeding before casting a rig into the water.

A lot of people believe once they’ve found that perfect rig or bait, then the fish will come to them, and they’ll have no problem catching fish, but this just isn’t the case.

Experienced anglers commonly believe that watercraft is the single most important area of carp angling and can mean the difference of catching a lot of fish or absolutely none at all.

In this post, that is what I’m going to cover.

So, how to read the water when carp fishing?

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  • How to Read the Water When Carp Fishing?

    Reading the water in carp fishing is a skill that can take a lot of trial and error and a lot of practice to really get to grips with locating where the carp may be on new water.

    Watercraft can be split down into the following sub-topics, and these are what I’m going to cover today to give you the base understanding of how you can read the water when carp fishing to locate the fish and hopefully get more in the net:

    • Visual Signs of Fish
    • Ccommon places, carp can be found

    Visual Signs

    You’d be surprised at how many anglers will turn up for a session carp fishing, rig their rods and simply cast anywhere they please without even taking a minute to look for any visual signs of carp on the water.

    For the majority, it comes down to inexperience and a lack of knowledge, and they think that the carp will come to them.

    Unfortunately, it’s never this easy, but there are some tell-tale signs that you can use to read the water and spot visual signs of where the carp may be.


    Looking for certain types of bubbles is a great way to locate feeding carp and if you cast a rig in these areas you can nearly guarantee that there are feeding carp around.

    When carp rummage through the silt on the bottom, looking for natural food sources such as blood worms, they often release pockets of natural gas that is built up in the substrate by decaying organic matter.

    These bubbles may indicate feeding fish, or they may just show gasses releasing themselves naturally, but it’s a good idea to get a rig in there anyway and test to see if there are any feeding carp.

    Sometimes, carp will release bubbles from their gills as they feed and sort through substrate, looking for anything edible on the bottom.

    These kind of bubbles will definitely indicate feeding carp, but they may look similar to natural bubbles made by gasses it’s definitely a good starting point for reading the water.

    Murky Areas

    How to read the water when carp fishing  - Carp breathing on top of dirty water

    Another way you can read the water for visual signs is to look for areas of the water that are dirtier than the rest. This really only comes into play in relatively clear water bodies.

    These murky areas may be caused by a lot of carp feeding in the substrate and suspending a lot of it into the water.

    Paired with bubbles, this is almost a guaranteed sign that the carp are actively feeding in this area and you should get your rig involved as soon as possible.

    Jumping Fish

    How to read the water when carp fishing - carp jumping

    This one speaks for itself. If you see any carp head and shouldering, rolling or breaching the surface completely, this should be a key area to target with a rig.

    There are a few reasons why carp may leave the water, and not all indicate feeding fish, but it is always a good idea to look for fishing showing themselves so you’ll at least have an idea where they could be.


    One of the most important areas of reading the water in carp fishing is “feature finding”. This refers to being able to spot where the carp are most likely to be on the lake, and “features” are essentially just any specific area that the carp will commonly stay close to as they either feel safe and protected or they may hold natural food sources or other benefits for the fish.

    There can be many features on a lake, and just because you have spotted them, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be packed with carp.

    However, if you turn up to water where you have no prior knowledge and don’t see any visual signs of feeding fish, then they can be a great place to start.

    When you hear people talk about features, these areas are what they can be referring to:

    • Margins
    • Weeds
    • Lillies
    • Islands
    • Overhanding Trees
    • Snags
    • Shallows


    Margins can be one of the most overlooked features when reading the water, but they can often produce some of the largest carp swimming below you.

    The margins are the area of the water closest to all banks.

    These can be great areas to fish in commercial fisheries as the carp will be accustomed to swimming close to the banks looking for any bait that anglers may toss into the water after fishing sessions.

    The margins also provide areas of cover for the fish and can hold a lot of natural food sources.


    How to read the water when carp fishing - Carp swimming in dense weeds

    Areas of dense weed can be great area to look for and fish when reading water for carp fishing. Carp can spend a lot of time within weed as they feel safe and protected.

    Large patches of weeds also offer higher levels of oxygen in the water and also plenty of natural food sources.

    Fishing into dense weed can be a nightmare and there’s a very small chance you’ll be able to present a bait effectively so it is usually best to fish as close to the weed as possible.

    Chances are, any fish that are within the weed will still feel confident enough to feed on bait close to their hiding spots so it’s always a good place to fish if you’ve not seen any visual signs of feeding fish.


    Lillies offer the same benefit as weed beds and should always be kept in mind as a potential area that may hold carp


    A lot of commercial carp venues will have some sort of island within the water and fishing these is somewhat similar to fishing the margins.

    The carp will feel comfortable up close against islands, and it’s not uncommon to find the banks undercut with carp constantly swimming around the island, slowly eating into the ground.

    When fishing islands, it’s best to last as close as possible, which can be daunting for beginner anglers as any overshoot nearly guarantees lost rigs.

    If you manage to get one successful cast in the right spot, then the line clip on your reel can be an idea but be very careful.

    If a carp picks up your bait and tries to run, then it’s possible that you will break off if it strips the line past the line clip.

    Overhanging Trees

    This is another feature that you should look for on water that also provides carp with shelter and the feeling of security.

    It’s also not uncommon for trees to fruit some sort of berry or seeds that will drop into the water and provide the carp with a natural food source often overlooked by anglers.

    You should try to get your rig as close as possible to the overhanging trees or even underneath them if you can.

    This can also be a little challenging as the stakes are high; a foot or two too far with your cast will most likely end up with another lost rig.


    Snags are basically any submerged items, such as logs or trees, that also provide safety for the carp.

    When fishing snags, you should be ready to try to fight the carp away from the snags as soon as they’re hooked, as they will definitely swim further towards or into the snag to try and split the hook or break you off.


    How to Read the Water When Carp Fishing - Carp swimming in shallow water

    The shallows can be a great place to start if you turn up at a venue during a cold period when the sun is out. The sun will heat the shallow water quicker than deeper water, and even a fraction warmer water can draw the carp into it as they feel more comfortable due to them being cold-blooded.

    That’s All

    Too many beginner anglers play the game of luck, cast their rig out into any old swim and hope for the best.

    Knowing how to read the water is an essential part of carp angling and can increase your catch rate massively with a little bit of knowledge and plenty of practice.

    The information above should give you a starting point of how to read the water while carp fishing, so be sure to look out for these signs and areas the next time you take to the water.

    I hope you’ve found this useful, and if you’ve got any questions don’t hesitate to leave a comment below, and I’ll get back to your ASAP.

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