Caring for your catch is a vitally important aspect in the sport of carp fishing. It is the responsibility of all anglers to ensure their catch is treated with the utmost respect, and returned to the water without harm i.e. in the same pristine condition as it left the water. Having studied at Sparsholt College, the UK’s premier aquaculture college, I have learned that good fish care practice is an essential requirement for all anglers and a lot can be learnt from watching experienced anglers deal with their catch.

By ensuring the fish are given this care damage is avoided we can be happy that we have cared for the fish whilst they are out their natural environment, but also means that the fish will in perfect condition for the next lucky angler that tempts the specimen. Another by-product of this care is also that good handling allows a fish to continue growing at its optimum growth rate as when ever there is damage some of the fish’s resources will naturally be used to repair wounds or sores.

Being organised whilst carping is paramount and will help any fish handling run smoothly, as things like unhooking mats, weigh slings, forceps and scales will all be to hand ready. This allows for a quick and swift unhooking, weighing and return of our prised capture.

The time of day of the catch can bare relevance on the safety of fish. On hot sunny days where temperatures are high fish can often dry out quickly once out of the water and it is important to ensure all unhooking and weighing materials are thoroughly wet before use. Placing a fish on dry warm material can be damaging to the mucus inducing stress. Fish should be handled as little as practical in these conditions and returned to the water as soon as quickly as possible. The whole procedure with a bit of practice, and once organised and carried out a few times, it will almost become second nature.

Lets go through a step by step approach of how and what I do when a carp is landed, to ensure it returns to its home in the best possible condition:

Once I have safely netted a fish I always whenever possible let the fish rest safely in the net whilst I get the weighing and unhooking equipment ready. If the margins are shallow then I will stake the fish out in deeper water using three storm poles in a triangular format. I place two at each front corner of the net and one near the spreader block. When carried out properly this will make a solid set up allowing the fish to be rested after capture and secure the landing net at the same time. It is important to have a deep landing net mesh for this to work properly.

Always check fins before lifting onto mat

If the fish is caught at night then some anglers may choose to retain it if rules allow. Sacking fish can be a safe way of retaining a fish but only if it is carried out safely. Fish should always be kept in large specifically designed sack, which allow water transfer in and out of the material. Fish should always be retained in the deepest water possible and the angler should always ensure the fish is sitting upright and not stressed before securing the sack. Extension cords allow for a longer length and are an aid if fishing in shallow water or just before a marginal shelf and allow a fish to be placed in the deeper water. If necessary you should carefully wade out to deeper water and use a long bank stick (for visibility) to give the fish as much depth as water as possible.

Retaining fish should be avoided in warm temperatures particularly in the early hours of the morning when oxygen levels are at the lowest, which can induce stress caused on the fish. The sacking of fish should always be kept to the absolute minimum and if in doubt ask if it is essential. I also recommend that a Mini H-Blok is tied to the top of sacks in case (heaven forbid) something happens to the main sack cord in the night. The safety of fish is obviously of high criteria for all us anglers.

Always have a suitable unhooking mat and sling wet before putting any fish on!

Once I have safely secured a fish it is appropriate to collect the unhooking mate and sling and ensure they all wet thoroughly with lake water. Always have a small bucket of water on hand throughout the procedure. The weighing sling should be zeroed on the scales at this point if a weight is to be taken and any camera gear should be organised at this point if photos are required. Always use the biggest and most padded mat available. I can highly recommend Gardner Poly X-Mats, which can handle the largest of carp. What I particularly like about the design is the fold out kneeling pad which is a nice touch and they are fully padded which is essential. The weigh slings I endorse are the specimen slings also from Gardner. They have a fish friendly non abrasive inner and zips at each end which ensure fish will not flip out of the sling.


Items required must have to handOnly when all the equipment is organised it is time to take the fish from the water. Before lifting the fish out of the water ensure all the fins are pointing in the right position. Fins can easily be damaged or in the worse case snapped at this point as most of the weight will be exerted on these areas. When carrying a fish in the net it is important to keep it low to the ground and place it carefully on the mat. Once the hook has carefully been removed a quick check in the fished mouth, flank and fins to look for any damage or sores should be made and treated with carp care products that are available.

Next transfer the fish into the sling for weighing. Not every fish has to be weighed and the angler should ask if this is this is necessary? If it looks like it might be a personal best or is a fish you have been targeting them by all means do so, but fish shouldn’t be weighed just for the sake of it or for a number. The fish should be quickly and safely transferred into the weigh sling. The safest way to do this is to place the sling onto the mat and roll the fish over into it, or cradle the fish in your arms low to the ground, with the sling on the mat and place the fish into the sling. Both sides of the sling should be zipped as this will prevent any mishaps and ensure the fish is safe. All weighing should be carried out over the mat in case the fish struggles in which case the fish can be placed onto the mat still in the sling. Weighing should take seconds and after a quick read off of the weight the fish is ready to be either returned or photographed.

If you would like a photo of your latest capture as many anglers do, then cradle the fish low to the ground and always ensure it is held over the central part of the unhooking mat. Hold it just above the sling so if the fish does struggle at any point then it can be rested in the sling until it has calmed down. Gently grip one hand around the fishes anal and pectoral fins and always kneel and never stand up when holding a fish. If a fish is dropped vital organs can be damaged and if it is going to kick you will often feel it tense, when this happens bring the fish close into your body whilst still holding the fish. When photographing a large fish it can be common to have an angler either side of the fish, these are known as ‘goalies’. Their job is to ensure the fish is safe if it kicks or struggles. By having one of either side of the angler ensures the fish is at it’s safest.

4 A small container for water should always be to hand to keep fish wet during photo'sPhoto sessions should always be kept to a minimum especially in high temperatures and as stated before it is important to have a bucket of water on hand to keep the fish wet. On returning the fish to the water it should be placed back into the sling ensuring all fins are pointing in the correct position and the zips are used. It should be carried low to the ground and never carry a fish back to the waters edge. When returning the fish to the water, the sling can be unzipped and the fish held to recover before letting it swim away strongly.

At the end of each session nets, slings and mats should be cleaned to prevent them harbouring any disease. The best way of ensuring they remain disease free is to let then dry in direct sunlight. UV light is the best way of killing any parasites or disease keeping your fishery disease free.

Carp care isn’t rocket science – it is more about common sense and caring for your catch. If in doubt always ask another angler, if they care for their quarry they will always be happy to help you with looking after your catch…Gardner X-Mat” src=” Photo’s being taken with full protection of large Gardner X-Mat.jpg” alt=”Photo’s being taken with full protection of large Gardner X-Mat” width=”548″ height=”500″ />