Carp Care – How to Handle and Weigh Big Fish

When I caught my first carp I knew little to nothing about proper carp care. I ended up releasing my first carp in the water. I did not have the proper equipment to move a large fish safely and efficiently. With this article, I hope to educate carp fishing beginners in the world of carp care. I even use the same specialized carp equipment for other large fish species such as northern pike, muskellunge and lake trout.

What is Carp Care?

Carp care is comprised mainly of two things:

  • Having access to the proper gear to safely land, transport and handle large fish.
  • Knowing some basic techniques to ensure the health of the fish is of top priority. I will delve deeper into these two points in the article below. 

How to Handle Big Fish

When large fish are caught and planned on being released it is very important to ensure the health of the fish is the top priority. Carp care can become even more important in tournament situations. Carp must be kept alive and healthy until weighed by tournament officials. If the carp is injured or dies due to angler negligence stiff penalties can be applied or even disqualification from the event.

How to Handle Big Fish
Carp Care When Handling Large Fish

Some pieces of gear are mandatory for such tournaments. Listed below are some mandatory items and others that just make life easier on the bank when handling large fish.

How Do You Hold a Carp?

This can be quite a tricky feat for anyone new to carp angling. Even experienced carp anglers get slapped around from time to time. To minimize the damage to an angler’s ego and more importantly the fish a few key fundamentals to holding technique will be outlined.

How to Handle and Weigh Big Fish
  1. Place the carp on its side (with its belly facing away from you) on your unhooking mat making sure all fins are flat against its body.
  2. Wet your hands, forearms and fish with cool water from a pail.
  3. Ensure all watches and jewelry are removed that could possibly injure the fish.
  4. Slide your hands under the fish supporting its weight with your forearms.
  5. Grip the fish with one hand near the pectoral fin and the other near the anal fin.
  6. As you lift the fish prop it upright and rest your elbows on your knees in a crouching position.
  7. Make sure your fingers do not slip inside the gill plates.
  8. If the fish starts to tense or flop, tilt it back towards your body and cradle it in your arms.
  9. If the fish continues to flail simply place it back on the unhooking mat and hold one hand on its tail and the other over its eyes to prevent it from injuring itself.
  10. Once the fish is calm be sure to wet it with a pail of water if you need any more photos or release it back into the water.

Carp Slings

Slings are one of the most important pieces of gear when considering carp care. Without a sling, it can be quite difficult to move a large fish safely.

Carp Fishing Sling
Carp Fishing Sling with Fish Inside

Slings come in a variety of materials and colours. They are made of mostly microfiber meshing to let water easily drain when lifted. Some slings have zippers on either end to hold the fish securely and allow for easier release once moved back into the water.

Another key feature of the sling is a handle for lifting and weighing. Some advanced features even include special rings on the handle to hook onto a scale. Being able to lift a fish in the slings prevents possible injury to the fish and even the angler. I use slings for other species such as pike and muskellunge, it is much easier not having to put one’s hands near these formidable predators’ sharp teeth and gills.

If moving a fish from a net to the sling, be sure to wet the sling beforehand. This will make it cooler for the fish to prevent stress from overheating and help protect the slime that covers the fish from coming off as easily.

Carp Unhooking Mats

Unhooking mats are used once the carp have been removed from the water. They are basically padded mats that prevent the large fish from injuring themselves on hard rocks or sharp objects on the ground when being handled.

Carp Mat
Nash Dwarf Mat

Some unhooking mats come with handles on either side and can also double as a sling for weighing. If you’re new to carp angling, buying one of these 2 in 1 combo mats can save some money.

The same goes for slings, the unhooking mats should be wet before the fish is placed on them. It also helps to have a fresh bucket of water nearby to douse the fish if they are to be out of the water for an extended period for pictures or weighing.

Carp Cradles

Cradles are an advanced piece of gear that isn’t necessary if you already have a decent carp mat. The cradle is basically a mat that is held up off the ground by feet or legs. This will make it easier to handle the fish when kneeling as it will be higher up. The cradles also hold more water in them which allows fish to regulate their temperature easier.

Carp Keep Sacks

Keep sacks are mesh bags with a zipper on one end. These help to keep fish alive in the water while waiting to be weighed. An anchor line is attached to one end and secured to the bank with a bank stick.

Carp Keep Nets

Keep nets are larger than keep sacks. While sacks are made for single fish, keep nets can hold multiple fish. Keep nets are usually made up of mesh material with a rigid interior frame to keep them open while in the water. Most models are collapsible for easier transport and storage.

Large Carp Landing Nets

Carp landing nets are larger than nets for most other species. They come with interchangeable handles and are made of a tangle-free mesh. Most handles come in a variety of lengths, you may purchase longer or shorter handles based on your situation.

Sonik VaderX Landing Net

One feature I really like about the majority of carp landing nets is that they have a detachable handle and folding net. This allows them to be used as a sling once the carp have been netted. Once in the net, it can be detached and moved quickly to the carp mat for easier unhooking.

Sonik VaderX Handle

With the Carp Net that I use the handle can be unscrewed from the net and attached to my baiting spoon. This allows me to bait at greater distances with greater accuracy. A nifty feature for those that have to walk long distances to their fishing locations. The less gear you have to haul the better!

For more information be sure to read the Beginner’s Guide to Carp Landing Nets.

Forceps and Pliers

As with any form of angling, a good set of forceps or needle-nose pliers are a must. If using circle hooks the majority of the time carp will be hooked in the side of the mouth and the hook can be easily removed by hand.

Under some circumstances, the carp may swallow the hook deeper and pliers will be required to reach in and retrieve the hook.

Carp Weigh Scales and Tripods

Scales come in a multitude of forms and price ranges. I tend to stick with the cheaper analog scales and leave the more expensive digital scales to tournament officials. I prefer analog scales due to the fact that they don’t require batteries and are much cheaper than digital scales.

One feature that is a must on any good carp scale is a tare (zero) adjustment. The scale must be zeroed when an empty sling is applied. Be sure to wet the sling as it would be when weighing an actual fish before zeroing the scale. This will provide the most accurate measurement.

Tripods are a great tool when weighing carp. They provide the most accurate measurement as the sling and fish will be steady when the weight is read.

Measuring Tapes

For ideal carp care, it is important to measure and release fish as quickly as possible.

Some anglers such as myself like to record length and girth as well as weight when measuring a fish. I tend to keep an angling journal with many details of each catch, this is probably due to the fact that I used to be a Fish and Wildlife Technician and enjoyed collecting and reviewing lots of data on a variety of species.

The easiest and quickest method for measuring fish would be a bump board. For those of you that don’t know, it is simply a plank of wood with bumper boards on the top and bottom. It is quite easy to build your own at home. You can either transfer measurement marks with a tape measure or simply attach a meter stick to the board. Fish can then easily be slid nose first up against the front board and the measurement can be quickly read where the tail lies.

Another easy method is with a simple seamstress measuring tape. This type of measuring tape is made out of soft plastic so it can easily be held against the length of the fish. They are waterproof and can easily be washed afterwards. It can also be easily rolled up for storage and is very reasonably priced.

A third type of measuring device is a simple ruler sticker. Many top angling manufacturers make these. You can simply stick them to a piece of gear (carp mat) or directly to your boat if you use one.

Cameras and Tripods

A good quality camera and tripod will definitely aid in the speed at which a fish is photographed and released back into the water.

Be sure to set up your camera and tripod in a location with a proper backdrop beforehand. Test a few pictures to ensure the lighting and location are ideal.

I use a Canon digital camera with a timer. Nowadays most anglers carry a cell phone with decent cameras built-in. Just be sure you know how to work your timer ahead of catching a fish.

A quick tip for carp care with cameras is to be sure to roll up your sleeves and wet your arms, this will help prevent the protective slime from coming off on clothes. Also, remove any watches or bracelets as they could potentially harm the fish.

If the fish flops around while being held simply roll it back towards yourself if it continues to struggle, place it back in the carp mat or cradle and hold one hand over its eyes and the other on its tail.

Other Carp Care Accessories

  • Collapsible Bowl or Bucket
    • Having a collapsible bow or bucket near your unhooking mat can aid greatly in keeping fish cool and wet. Be sure to use fresh water from the area you are fishing. Just imagine you’re a fish that is used to being immersed in 18 degrees Celsius water then suddenly being surrounded by 30 degrees Celsius air temperature and handled by hot sweaty hands. It is quite easy for large fish to get stressed by such a situation. To help keep the fish calm and prevent it from flopping around while being measured and taking pictures, be sure to douse it regularly with cool water.
  • Antibacterial and Antiseptic Spray
    • These are mostly used in Europe in privately stocked lakes. In these areas, it is common courtesy to take great care in handling large fish. When inspecting the fish use the antibacterial solution to spray and open sores or where the fish was hooked to aid in healing.
    • Antibacterial sprays can now be purchased in Canada at specialty carp shops.
  • Retainer Cords
    • Another specialized piece of carp care gear. Retainer cords are used in combination with keep sacks, keep nets and certain slings made for holding fish for longer periods of time.
  • Bank Sticks
    • Bank Sticks are mainly used for attaching rod holders and bite alarms. I use them to secure keep sacks to the bank with retainer cords as mentioned above.

When I fish for carp, I set up all my gear very close to where I will be netting the fish. The closer you can be to where the fish is landed the better. It will make everything much quicker and prevent possible injury to the fish during transportation. Carp are cold-blooded, so they are basically the same temperature as the water they are caught in. They can be easily stressed if taken out and handled in hot weather for long periods of time.

If you spend the time to research and buy all the proper carp care gear, it is best to take good care of it to prolong its lifespan. Most carp care gear is made of mesh material and is prone to easily absorbing mud, fish slime, silt, clay, sand and other natural materials. It would be wise to read this article on How to Maintain Your Carp Gear and Keep it Smelling Fresh.

I hope you have enjoyed this article on carp care and use the advice and techniques in all your angling adventures. I now use the knowledge and equipment I have gained from carp angling specifically and apply it to all the fish I catch. For specific information, visit our page on the Best Carp Fishing Carp Care Equipment.