Six golden rules for targeting a big carp

Experienced big fish angler Scott Sweetman bases most of his fishing around targeting those special carp we all dream about. Here are his six golden rules for targeting the kings and queens of your chosen water.


When selecting a target fish there are usually a few key factors that I try to look for when choosing where to fish and what for, the first being the carp itself. I try to find something that stands out about the fish; its age, its looks, its size or sometimes the lake it lives in, for example a low fished, low stocked lake, an old park lake or a big windswept pit. I’m after something that makes that particular fish or group of fish a bit different.

For me it's not all about chasing the biggest carp I can, I am just as happy to fish for a stunning mid-30lb carp as I am chasing a colossal 40-pounder. As long as the lake and the carp keeps me motivated, I’m happy.


Swim choice really can be so vital when targeting specific carp. Old carp can be creatures of habit, by looking back at their previous captures in some situations you are able to pin down a certain area to target at a certain time of year, which will massively swing the odds of you catching that particular carp in you favour.

A prime example of this was when I was fishing a small, weedy, snaggy lake where the carp in the venue where heavily pressured and very difficult to catch, you were able to regularly see most of the lake’s stock and your target fish in the snags around the lake. These old fish definitely had their favoured corners to be in, that didn’t go for all the fish but there where a certain few, especially the bigger ones, that rarely ever seemed to vacate their chosen corner.

It was quite a different lake in the sense that you could almost choose which one of the A team you were trying to target by fishing certain areas of the lake. One carp in particular I wanted to catch called Shoulders could always be found in a particular corner, although it wasn’t caught often when it did get caught it was the swim that fished to its home in the corner that did most of its captures, I was lucky enough to catch it from there fishing just a few feet from the bank at 40lb 10oz and a whole year to the same weekend to its last capture from the same swim.


The right tackle is paramount when it comes to targeting big carp - I use and stick to strong, reliable components as you never want to be in the situation where you have lost the carp of your dreams. For mainline I would use as strong a line as you can get away with to fish the range you need, I am currently using 20lb Touchdown as the venue I am fishing is very small and very testing with lots of large snags and weed beds.

I would drop down to the 15lb or 12lb line if I had to fish at larger distances, if I drop right down to the 12lb line when fishing at range I use the tapered leaders to take the force of the cast and to give the added strength to the area of line that is likely to get damaged.

If the venue allows I will always use Kable leadcore as to have the strength and reliability of the leadcore close to the rig is a massive advantage when playing strong, powerful carp in difficult conditions, I use this with the chod safety system fishing rotary-style and one of the best new products, the Heli-Safe system.

Being able to fish rotary-style and drop the lead is such a huge advantage - getting rid of the lead sometimes can be the difference between losing or landing a fish and when you are targeting fish, you want to land everything you hook. One good thing that’s worth adding with the Heli-Safe is that there is a simple sleeve that you can add that means you do not need to lose the lead, if it is not necessary.

4 – BAIT

Bait is a huge factor when targeting carp, it can play a major part in your angling and be one of the main reasons that you manage to finally make your target fish slip up. At certain times of the year, pre-baiting or consistently keeping bait going in the lake can really turn things in your favour, if you can manage to get a spot going. As long as you keep the bait going and in it can produce the goods consistently and you seem to find that the bigger carp tend to slip up to this tactic.

I was fishing a lake in Berkshire when I managed to get an opportunity to get a bit of bait into the lake on a lesser fished area, the lake was always busy and consistently fished by good anglers all looking for the same opportunities. I had managed to use some of my annual leave at work, booking a couple of days off one week and a couple the next, allowing me to have a good spell at the lake at a good time of year. On the first session I moved about a bit, but on my last night of the trip I managed to catch a fish called Pearly at 37lb 12oz - a fish that was rarely caught.

It was from a swim that was quite often fished - as I was packing up on the Sunday the lake had gone quiet from the weekend anglers and I noticed a swim opposite to where I was fishing that fished a similar area of water to where I had caught from the previous night. The swim was quite small and a lot less pressured, which was ideal as I wanted to bait an area with a view to get back the following week and I knew the likelihood of getting back In the swim I was in after catching was very slim as the lake was very difficult and very busy.

After packing my kit in the van I then went round to the new swim armed with a bucket of hemp and 3-4kg of Sticky Baits Krill boilies, the lake was quite weedy but I managed to find a lovely area of hard silt surrounded by weed probably only 20 yards out. I proceeded to spod the hemp and boilies out to the area luckily without getting seen…

Finishing work the following Thursday, 5pm could not come quick enough. When I got to the lake I ran straight round the swim I previously baited and went about setting up and flicking two rods to the baited area - you were allowed to use three rods on the lake but as the swim was small and I had my baited area big enough for two rods, I choose not to put a third rod out thinking it would be more of a hindrance than a help, potentially spooking the carp with a line that may go through their root to the baited spot.

Not long after getting the rods out, the liners started and some of them were really savage, telling me that they were on the bait. Just into dark that evening I hooked into a carp and to my surprise it was Pearly again - a recapture from the previous week, this time at 38lb telling me that it had clearly been on the bait. Knowing this was a rarely caught carp, I was pleased that the tactics where working.

The following morning and day passed quietly so I went about getting my rods re-done and put a bit more bait in for the next night - the early hours of the next morning a few bleeps on the Delks had me out in my waders into another carp, luckily for me there was not much of a battle as it got weeded up instantly and I was able to net the whole lot.

Looking into the net I see it was a carp I dearly wanted to catch, it was the fish I joined for but after starting the venue and talking about and seeing pictures of this particular carp I was over the moon to see the ancient Crop Tail Linear sat in my net, it weighed in at 37lb 12oz and was passing the hemp and boilies out on the mat while doing the pictures.

A few hours later the session got even better when I managed to land a stunning old carp called The Leney at 28lb, really proving to me the baiting prior to the session really was worth the extra effort - to have three carp like that in one session from a really difficult lake was a major result for me.


When targeting big carp there are a couple approaches that I use; one being to sit it out in known big fish swims or areas that have produced the big fish in the past, even though this may mean you have to have accept you will not catch as many as you could but you feel in the best position to catch your target fish.

The other tactic I tend to use more often than not is to play the numbers game - by this I mean catch as many carp as I can. I personally feel that when you are catching you will always feel that bit closer to catching the ones you want, you know everything like your rig and bait is working, your confidence is high and also you are putting the percentages in your favour.

There will always be a time where you feel like you could most of the lakes stock twice over before catching the one you want, so in situations like that I would be inclined to use the sitting out tactic in an unfavoured area or an area that has produced the big ‘un in the past.
But if I am starting out on most lakes I will always try and catch as many as I can. By getting on the fish, moving swims and getting bites on lakes where 4-5 carp a year is a good season, if you can then catch that amount or much more your odds of catching the ones you want will increase drastically.


Mentality is a huge part of targeting big hard to catch carp, as you are generally fishing lower stocked lakes the bites can be few and far between. The important thing to remember is to stick to what you know that works, the worst thing to do when going through spells of inactivity is to start changing things as it is part and parcel of fishing the lower stocked venues.

It's is not always going to happen every time you go and that just drives you to try harder the next time, having rigs and bait you are confident and sticking to them is very important - it's all about putting them in the right place at the right time.