Specimen Carp Angling 1

What is Specimen Carp Fishing?

This is a term I started to hear when I discovered how big carp fishing is over in Europe and South Africa. I guess we are kind of spoiled here in North America with the size and number of wild carp we have access to. In Europe and South Africa, there are two different methods of carp angling. Conventional carp fishing and the quickly growing specimen carp fishing.

Conventional carp anglers use smaller/lighter tackle, and their goal is to catch the most carp possible, no matter what the size. I’ve read that this seems to be the most popular type of carp angling overseas.

Specimen Carp

What is Specimen Carp Fishing?

Specimen carp fishing is a term used to describe anglers that specifically target large or specimen fish. Their goal is to catch big or specific fish rather than many fish. Specimen anglers use heavier gear, larger baits and fish for longer periods of time in hopes of catching a record size fish.

I suppose I would classify myself as a specimen angler. I mostly targeted larger species such as Northern Pike and Salmon when I lived in remote areas of Canada that didn’t have access to Carp. Even at a young age, I always dreamed and planned to catch the biggest fish I could. This is how I became hooked on carp angling. I would always spot massive carp in our Canadian waters and think to myself, why is no one else fishing for these huge specimens?

Below I will delve into further details of specimen angling to help others understand what it is all about.

What is Considered a Specimen Carp?

This question can be answered in two different ways depending on an angler’s point of view.

Size of Fish

I think most specimen anglers target large fish, so size is the main determining factor of what they consider a specimen.

  • Specimen carp are more specifically classified by their size in comparison to the location they are caught. For instance, if you’re fishing a lake that only has carp weighing up to 20 lbs, a 15 lb. to 20 lb. carp would be considered a specimen.
  • Here in Canada, we have many cold months out of the year when carp become dormant and slow their metabolism. This affects their growth rate and eventual size. In my personal experience, I would classify any carp in Canada over 30 lbs. as a specimen.
  • In other parts of the world that have extended times of prime water temperatures, carp can grow much larger, thus making the specimens in those bodies of water much bigger. Interestingly in some lakes around the world, a carp wouldn’t be considered a specimen unless it was 50 lbs. or more.

Specific Fish

I have noticed that certain specimen anglers go even further than just the size of fish. This intrigued me, and I have heard some great stories of anglers targeting one specific fish and dedicating their time to hunting and catching it. If you search for Terry Hearn or E-S-P on YouTube, you can hear some of the great tales of famous carp in Europe.

  • Carp have many different physical characteristics; some can be quite identifiable, thus making certain fish famous.
  • In Europe, in many of the stocked lakes, distinguishable fish that have been caught over and over are oftentimes given names and sought after by specimen anglers.

Unique Carp Characteristics

Some characteristics make carp more recognizable, thus making them a target for specimen anglers.

Type of Carp

Breeding between Common Carp, Mirror Carp, Leather Carp or Koi often results in unique and identifiable fish. Although many common carp look the same as other species, each fish can have unique attributes.


Depending on water conditions, some carp can vary in colour. Some variations can be darker (almost black), lighter, green, yellow, orange, tinges of red underneath, etc. Each specimen angler will have their own preference in their favourite fish colour to target.

Scale Patterns

When cross-breeding between the subspecies occurs, distinct scale patterns often form. These fish become very easy to single out and identify, so they become easy targets for specimen anglers on specific bodies of water.


Bigger fish are certainly more recognizable than smaller fish. The biggest fish in the lake are often named and the most sought-after. Some specimen anglers will spend years targeting certain water bodies and venues if a large known fish is on their radar.

There is one fish, in particular, I have been after for many years in the waters close to where I live. I regularly fish with an underwater camera and have spotted this one fish over and over. I have watched and caught other fish around the 20 lb. mark when this certain fish is on the video screen, and he DWARFS them in comparison. I have nicknamed it “The Admiral” and hope to write a story about it in greater detail once I’ve caught it.

How is Specimen Carp Fishing Different than Other Forms of Carp Fishing?

As I stated above, specimen carp angling differs mainly due to the size of the fish that are targeted. Most anglers start with conventional methods trying to catch any or as many carp as they can. After they’re successful, it is a growing trend for anglers to switch from quantity to quality of fish, thus becoming specimen anglers.

Length of Time Spent Fishing

Specimen anglers often target certain bodies of water for days or weeks at a time. They fish day and night, planning tactics and strategies that give them the best chance to land a fish of a lifetime. The length of time spent on the bank also requires additional camping gear that conventional anglers don’t use.

Carp Care Gear

Due to the size of fish being caught and handled, much thought and innovation have been put into carp care, another differing quality of the specimen angler. This post covers our Recommended Carp Care Gear for more information.

What is Carp Care?

The large “specimen” fish are usually the prime breeding stock of the water in which they’re located. Great care should be taken, and fish health should be the top priority for any specimen angler. The more big fish there are in a fishery, the greater the chances are for them to breed and pass their genes to the next generation in hopes of even bigger fish.

Type of Carp Fishing Gear

Another point that differentiates specimen angler’s from others is the gear they use to target larger fish. You can view our Recommended Specimen Carp Fishing Gear Page for additional information.

How is Specimen Fishing Gear Different?

Specimen anglers require specialized gear such as stronger rods, reels and line along with larger baits.

Larger and Stronger Rods

3 lb. or greater test curve rod preferably 12 ft. to 13 ft. long to reach longer distances and deeper water. More information on rods can be found in our article on Why Carp Fishing Rods are So Long.

Camping or Overnight Gear

Longer Session on the Bank – Bivvys, beds, kettles, stoves, etc. Many additional pieces of camping kit are required by specimen anglers. No wonder this type of carp angling is gaining so much popularity among anglers. What better way to spend free time than targeting massive fish for long periods in the solitude and beauty of nature.

Larger and Stronger Reels

Bit Pit Reels for increased spool size to cast further and heavier gearing to handle the weight of bigger carp.

Bite Alarms and Rod Pods

Specialized bite indication is a must for overnight sessions. Electronic bite alarms coupled with rod pods or banksticks are used to wake and notify anglers of any movement in their setup.

Heavier Line and End Tackle

Heavier Braided or Monofilament Line of 25 lb. Test or Greater plus bigger hooks and stronger end tackle are recommended to land these big fish.

Larger Hook Baits

Bigger Boilies – I usually use 20mm or bigger when targeting large carp. I noticed on my underwater camera that the 20mm size deters smaller carp, allowing more time for the bigger fish to move in and pick it up. This doesn’t mean smaller baits won’t land specimen-sized carp, it just reduces the amount of smaller nuisance fish.

Carp Tournaments – Specimen Anglers vs Match Anglers

There are two main types of carp fishing tournaments. One type is tailored towards conventional or match anglers, and the other is more suited to specimen anglers.

Total Weight Competitions

This type of tournament caters more to conventional carp angler’s as the winner is determined by the total weight of all the fish caught for the duration of the event. Match angling is one of the most popular types of carp fishing in Europe and South Africa.

Weight of Top # of Fish Competitions

This tournament style appeals to my tastes as I’m more of a specimen angler. The winner is decided by the weight of a predetermined amount of fish, such as the total weight of your biggest four fish for the duration of the event. These events are more competitive right down to the last minutes.

I wasn’t interested in attending the Canada Carp Cup in 2017 due to the rule of the winners being decided by the total weight of all fish caught during the event. In 2018 when it was announced the winners would be determined by the total weight of their top 4 fish, it became a lot more appealing to me.

With the 4 fish rule, things are much more exciting. The standings were very close for the duration of the event, and no one knew for sure who won until it was announced at the award ceremony. Although my team didn’t win, I was still extremely happy taking home the largest fish overall prize with a beautiful specimen that weighed in at 32.7 lbs.

An intriguing aspect of carp angling is that it’s not always about the size of the fish but sometimes specific characteristics or scale patterns that make certain fish stand out. In the video below, I caught a carp that I’d been targeting for over five years—a very rewarding experience.

Ultimately, it all comes down to an angler’s preference as to what type of angling style or methods they choose. I prefer targeting large specimen carp, but if I don’t catch any, there is still no place I’d rather be than on the bank. The main thing is to just get out there and enjoy yourself!