In the following article, I am going to give some advice on the handling of carp, from the moment they enter the landing net, to their safe return to the water. It is very important that the novice carp angler, and even some more experienced angler, learn the basic rules to follow, in order to preserve the well being of the fish. After all, if the fish suffer, then so does our angling.
There are a few basic pieces of equipment that you will need, and in fact they are compulsory on many of our waters. They are a landing net of a reasonable size, an unhooking mat, a weigh sling and scales if you intend to weigh your quarry, which most of us do. I will talk about each piece of equipment in turn:
Landing NetsNets are largely a matter of personal preference and budget. Size will be governed by the size of your quarry. It should be large enough to safely net a carp of whatever size you may catch in your water. A minimum 36" net is required on most waters, and some fisheries insist on this or even larger. The mesh used in its construction does tend to vary a lot and the finer meshes are better for carp, especially mirror carp, as they are less likely to catch on their scales and damage them. Some nets have a larger mesh near the frame and a finer mesh in the base of the net. Try to aim for a fairly small soft mesh. Net frames vary in construction and the better nets will collapse fairly quickly if needed when landing a carp. This enables the fish to be lifted by the net frame, using both hands. This is a much safer method than trying to lift a net full of carp by a long handle, which is bending and looking like it might snap at any moment. If the frame doesn't easily dismantle, then support it with one hand to take the weight. Handles again come in many shapes, sizes and materials, from aluminium one and two-piece telescopic varieties to carbon fibre models of one two and even three sections. Whilst the latter are much lighter to transport and use, some cheaper models will not stand the weight of a good carp and may snap just at the wrong moment with disastrous consequences. If in doubt, seek the advice of a good dealer and try to get a good balance between weight and strength to suit the net you are using.
Unhooking MatsThis is an essential piece of kit whatever size of carp you are fishing for. I have seen so many anglers laying their carp on the grass while they unhook them, which may in some instances not do any harm. Suppose however there is a sharp stick or discarded bivvy peg under that grass, or even a piece of glass, what then. Suppose the carp flaps about and moves off of the grass onto gravel. An unhooking mat need not be an expensive item of kit, and can save a carp from untold damage to its fins and scales.
Some better models have raised edges to stop the carp from being able to flip themselves off, and some have flaps and covers, some even have Velcro covers to enable them to double as weigh slings, but be careful, as a heavy carp will slide about and pull Velcro apart easily. Whatever type you choose, it will better than laying a carp on the ground.
Weigh slingsMost weigh slings on the market will serve their purpose reasonably well, from the lower cost soft net varieties to the more advanced Velcro and zip up material versions, and again budget will largely determine your choice. Do make sure that whatever type you choose, it is kept in good condition and is not likely to rip as you lift a carp above the ground. Give them a rinse after fishing and hang them up at home to dry. I left a wet smelly net I my bag once only to find it being used as a mouse nest the next time I needed it. As mentioned above, some unhooking mats double as weigh slings, and this saves having to move a fish from mat to sling before it can be weighed. If you decide on this type, make sure that the fastening method used will support the weight of the carp and it can't slide out during weighing and fall to the ground. Do not be tempted as I have seen some do to use a carrier bag. They split, usually at the most inopportune moment and are not safe. It will also not hold a large carp and you may not be able to weigh the fish of your dreams
ScalesFrom the small spring balances to the top of the range models, weighing scales come in all types. Basically you get what you pay for, and if you want to measure a possible record fish you need the accuracy of a good set. If you just want a rough idea of the weight, then a spring balance will give you that, but they do tend to rust after a while and give inaccurate readings. Buy as good as you can. A good set will last you for many years.
PreperationSo that gives a brief rundown on the equipment you will need, now a bit on how to use it. There is no point having all of the best equipment and then misusing it. First I am going to mention preparation. This is important as the best equipment in no use at all if it is not ready when you get that run you have waited hours for. Many fisheries today insist on dipping nets and weigh slings before you start to fish. If yours does, then do it. I know how annoying it is when you have just unpacked the car, walked all of your gear to the swim and realise you haven't dipped your nets, but this ruling is for your own good. If you help to spread an infection from one water to another, then it is your own fishing you are risking. Try to get in the habit of dipping them as you arrive at the water. I carry an old nylon tent carry bag and as soon as I have dipped the nets I place them in that to carry them to my swim.
When you first arrive at your swim and start setting up, make sure that you lay out your unhooking mat and set up your landing net before you cast a rod. I have often seen a rod cast out and a run occur straight away while the angler is still trying to screw his landing net handle on. Scales and weight sling should be put nearby so that everything is in reach as soon as a fish is landed. You don't want to be rummaging through tackle bags while a fish is gasping in the net. I always keep my unhooking mat damp as well, so that it is less likely to damage a fish.
Ok, so you have your run. The carp is on and with any luck is approaching the landing net. If you are fishing with a friend the next few minutes is made a lot easier, but if not, you will need your landing net to hand. As the fish comes nearer to the net, sink the net in the front of the swim and then guide the carp over it. Thrusting a net at a carp as it approaches will spook it and send it shooting off for cover just as you about to land it, which often results in a lost fish. As the carp draws over the net, gently lift the net until it is above the water's surface.
WeighingNow comes the bit where you need three hands. If possible, put your rod down where it cannot be trodden on, and release the bail arm on the reel or the baitrunner so that line can be pulled from it. Then, supporting the net's frame lift the carp carefully from the water, trying to ensure that no fins or scales are caught in the net, and that the carp cannot be damaged by leads, floats, loops of line or other rig items. Walk the carp back to your unhooking mat and place it down carefully on it still in the net. Now remove the hook watching for any line that is wrapped around the fish to ensure that no scale or fin damage can occur. Move the rig away from the mat preferably near to your rods.
Next the fun bit. The carp needs to be transferred from the unhooking mat to the weigh sling. This is easiest achieved with two people if possible, at least until you are used to it. First make sure that the sling is wet and that your scales have been correctly set to zero with just the weight of the wet sling attached. I find it easiest to slide the weigh sling under the fish rather than lift the fish from one place to another. If you are wearing a watch or other jewellery, remove it first again to avoid damaging the fish.
Once in the sling, attach the scales to the links provided and then lift the carp clear of the ground holding the scales by the support ring above them. Try to keep the carp above the mat in case of disaster and not too high from the ground.
Once weighed, you can photograph your catch. This is the most dangerous moment for the carp, as they do tend to move about a bit. You need to offer as much support to the fish as possible whilst keeping your arms clear of the front to get the best picture. Always kneel down whilst holding it and keep it over the unhooking mat. When the picture has been taken, place the fish back on the mat or sling and return it quickly to the water. This is best done in the sling or on the mat if it doubles up as both. Never pick up a fish and walk it to the water. This is asking for trouble. Place the carp back in the water carefully, supporting it in an upright position until it is ready to swim away. If you have followed all of my advice, then this is one of the most pleasing moments, seeing the fish swim off to fight another day.
Just one last thing. Do return the carp straight to the water. Do not be tempted to place it in a keep net. These are designed for match anglers catching small fish. They are not designed for carp and will almost certainly cause them damage or worse.
And that's about it. It may seem like an awful lot to remember to the novice angler, but it is mostly common sense and all designed to protect our fish. Without them there is no fishing. And one damaged fish can spread disease to others very easily. Most of the rules at any good fishery are there for good reasons. If you stick to them then you can go on enjoying your fishing for years to come, and those small carp you start off catching may become your fish of a lifetime in the future.