Margin fishing is often called stalking because of the stealth approach anglers will sometimes have to approach when fishing the margins.
In this article we will take a look at the different approaches you can take when margin fishing, aswell as tips to help you master stalking for big carp.
What is margin fishing?
Fishing the margins means that you will be fishing very close to bank, to either side of you or straight out in front, usually at no more than two rod lenghts out.
Lots of anglers think that you have to cast out into the middle of the lake to catch big carp, however lots of big carp like to patrol the margins close to the bank.
There is no set rule over where the margins end, however a rough guide would be where the lake bed drops away.
Most lakes start fairly shallow and will either slowly slope away or drop away with a ledge, or steps.
You will see from the illustration, the approximate margins of a lake. How far out or how close in you fish is entirely upto you based on the conditions and circumstances you find yourself in.
Fishing the margin does not necesserily mean you will be fishing shallow, it depends on the lake and the circumstances. However in most scenarios, lakes start fairly shallow and drop away to deeper water.
Remember! You do not need to fish the margin in your swim. You can cast to the opposite bank or to swims to the left and right of you. Fishing close up to islands is often a very good way to catch carp. Of course be mindful of other anglers, don’t cross their swims or get in the way of other anglers.
Throughout this article we will consider the various techniques and methods you can use.
Why do carp like the margins?
There are a number of reasons why carp like the margins so much. Natural food drops into the water, favourable water temperatures, wind direction, shelter, and of course anglers will often throw their left over bait into the margins after a days fishing.
1. Free natural food
Carp know that natural food will find it’s way into the lake. This is usually insects and worms finding their way into the water.
Food drops into the water from overhanging trees and bushes. Natural foods such as berries and insects will drop into the water.
You can often hear carp sucking slugs, snails and other insects off reeds.
2. Favourable Water Temperatures
The water shallow in the margins will usually warm up the quickest on a morning, and cool off quicker on an evening.
As a result of the changing water temperatures, dawn and dusk are often the best times to catch carp in the evening.
3. Wind direction
The wind direction can play a big role in whether or not you will have a successful session or not. The wind will push any food; so any floating bait, flies and anything else in the water towards one side of the lake.
If you can, try and fish with the wind in your face, that way any food will be pushed towards your swim and this will attract fish to you.
4. Shelter and Security
Carp, and fish in general will always look for shelter and security. An underwater feature or overhanging tree is perfect for this. This gives fish security from predators such as pike. They also know that if you you hook them, they can snag you in the underwater features.
Earlier we looked at the temperature on a morning and evening being a big attraction to the margins for carp. There are other factors why dawn and dusk are great times to catch carp in the margins.
Early morning and late evening, there is likely to be less anglers fishing than they were in the day, so few disturbances that spook or scare the fish away.
The softer or fading light on a morning and an evening makes it harder for fish to see anglers, their rod and their tackle in the water.
Of course, with dusk and dawn being great times for margin fishing, this does not mean you cannot be successful during the day. Read on, we will cover the different methods and approaches you can take.
5. Anglers throwing bait away at the end of the day
Often, anglers will throw their left over bait before they pack up at the end of the day. Whether this is the last bits or ground bait, a few handfuls of maggots, pellets or sweetcorn – the carp know this and come looking for the bait once the angler has gone.
It’s a misconception that fish have poor memory. Fish, and carp in particular are very clever. They know when anglers have packed up and they can move in for a free feast. This is why you need to make sure you stay as quiet as possible and out of sight – hence the term stalking.
When is the best time to fish the margins?
Dawn and dusk are usually the best times to catch carp in the margins, especially in spring and summer. This is when the carp are usually most active and patrol the margins looking for food.
Margin fishing on a morning
Target the edges on a morning as fish are usually patrolling the margins looking for food.
Morning margin sessions can sometimes be a bit up and down and a unpredictable, whereby you catch first chuck and then it goes quiet. This is where you need to adapt and consider your approach.
Give yourself options and bait up two or three swims. As a personal preference, I like to bait up a swim directly infront of me and also a swim to the left or right – or all three if i’m planning on fishing a full day.
Don’t just jump straight in and start fishing as soon as you arrive. Give your swim time to build. Throw in regular, small amounts of bait into your swim to build the fish’s confidence. This will pay off throughout the day.
Fish are easily spooked, especially close in and in shallow water. By giving yourself options it allows you to rest the swim and builds the fish’s confidence.
Margin fishing on an evening
Margin fishing for carp late afternoon and at dusk is usually the best time to catch big carp in the margin, especially in the warmer summer months.
As the sun goes down, the water starts to cool off in the margins and the carp are patrolling the margins looking for food.
If you are fishing throughout the day, it is wise to pre bait the margins to draw the fish into and hold them in your swim. Regular, small amounts of bait is usually the best way to hold them in your swim.
Bites can come thick and fast on an evening so be ready for them and have another swim ready should you need to give it a short rest.
Anglers will often throw in their left over bait when they have finished for the day. If you are struggling to get them feeding, use this to your advantage. Throw in a more bait than you have been reguarly feeding (but not too much as this risks overfeeding). Stay silent for 5-10 minutes and begin fishing again – this trick works!
Margin fishing during the day
Margin fishing during the day can sometimes be difficult. Carp will often swim the margins on a morning and move to deeper water from mid morning onwards, usually returning late afternoon.
This does not mean that you should disregard the margins in the middle of the day, but it is always good to have some alternates ready should you need to switch up.
The method feeder is usually a good option for fishing the margins during the daytime.
Margin fishing for carp in winter
Winter fishing can be difficult, and carp are often in the deeper, warmer water in the middle of the lake. However, they still need to eat. Food it harder to come by in the winter. For a start there is often less anglers fishing so that means less bait.
In addition to less anglers throwing bait in, there is also less natural food such as flies and insects. Carp will still be foraging for food in the margins and by fishing the margins you can intercept them.
You can use lots of different baits in the summer and most will work. In the winter however, we recommend going with smaller, natural baits such as chopped worms and maggots. Carp are looking for natural food, put natural food in their way and make it impossible for them to resist.
The complete opposite of fishing with natural baits can also be successful and is a great alternative option. A bright coloured, smelly bait will stand out in the murky winter water. Give yourself options, if the natural food doesn’t work then you can try bright baits.
How do you catch carp in the margins?
There are many different methods you can use to catch carp in the margins.
Most carp tactics will work in the margins, whether that be float fishing, the method feeder, pole fishing, freelining. Try to keep your set up and rigs as simple as possible. You are taking a stealth approach, so the less tackle in the water the better.
The most important thing you need to do is to plumb the depth and work out what is going on under the water. How deep is the water? Does the lake bed slope away? Is there a ledge? Is the bottom weedy or flat? How deep do you plan on fishing? All of this can be worked out by plumbing the depth.
Plumbing the depth will give you greater accuracy on how and where you will be fishing. Over time you will work out what works best for you in different conditions
Having a good reference as a starting point allows you to tweak your set up to find what works best.
You can see from the illustration which shows the different approaches you can take.
- Fishing very close in, above the first drop off
- Fishing just below the first drop off
- Fishing just below the second drop off
- Fishing shallow
- Fishing just above the ledge
- Fishing the bottom of the ledge
- Fishing shallow above the ledge
Please note: It is important to remember that every lake and every swim is different, so you will need to plumb the depth and work out what works best for you based on the lake, swim and conditions.
The benefits of fishing the margins
There are lots of benefits of fishing the margins over fishing anywhere else in the lake.
- There are lots of fish, including big carp that will patrol up and down the margins. Fishing the margins allow you to intercept them.
- Draw the fish to you rather than going to find the fish in a large open water.
- If you can get the fish feeding, it is easier to keep them in your swim. Instead of casting far into the middle of the lake where lots of other anglers are fishing and creating disturbance, draw them towards you. Regular feeding will keep them in your swim and biting confidently.
- There are often features like overhanging trees or lilly pads in the margins that you do not find in the middle of the lake. Take advantage of these. Fish will be using them for security.
- You can fish more accuratly. Once you have plumbed your swim, you know the depths and you know the features. Fishing closer in allows you to accuratly cast and feed the exact area you want to fish in. The further you cast, the harder it is to be accurate – the same goes for your loose feed.
- Fishing the margins can be simple. Basic fishing techniques are all you need – this is perfect for beginners.
- You do not need big rods and reels where you need to cast out far distances.
- The margins of islands are very good areas to fish as carp use the islands for shelter, security and food.
Float fishing for carp in the margins
Float fishing is a fantastic way to catch carp in the margins.
Float choice is important when fishing close in as you are usually fishing shallow and it does not take much to spook the fish. Fish can see your tackle so you want to keep things as small and as stealthy as possible.
Remember, you are stalking carp, so you do not want to alert them to your presence.
Small floats are your best bet when float fishing the margins. You do not need to cast far, if at all so you do not need the additional weight to assist your cast.
The rest of your tackle, you should aim to keep as small and as light as possible.
Unless you are fishing with light bait such as maggot and caster, try and stay away from a drop shot. If you do need a dropper, keep it as small as you can get away with. Fishing in the margins can be similar to the pellet waggler where there is lots of competition for food that carp will take your bait on the drop – allow it to sink naturally.
Freelining for carp in the margins
Freelining for carp in the margins is a traditional method for catching carp, however not many people do it these days.
Unlike float fishing, unless you have very clear water you have no visible bite indication – other than seeing your line tighten on the surface.
The best bite indication when freelining is holding the line in your hand and feeling for the bite.
Freelining is a very effective way of stalking carp in the margins because you are using very limited and basic tackle. Simply a rod, reel, line and a hook – and of course your bait of choice. Depending on your bait of choice you may need a small sinking shot.
Limiting your tackle as basic as possible puts the odds more in your favour as there is less tackle in the water to spook the fish.
When freelining, you will be fishing on the bottom so it does limit your tactics slightly.
In my experience, freelining is usually the most successful late afternoon and at dusk. This is because the swim has been built up and the fish are feeding confidently – meaning they give solid bites and a clear indication.
If you are struggling identifying bites, then consider using a well balanced float to help you understand the bites and then switch back to freelining.
Margin fishing on the feeder
Fishing the method feeder in the margins is an excellent option when casting to the far bank, to a island or further down your bank. The method feeder is also an excellent option for the margins when it is very windy and unsuitable for float fishing.
The method feeder is an excellent way of getting bait accuratly to your swim.
The noise and commotion created by the feeder when it hits the water will actually alert fish that food has entered the water. Get them feeding confidently and they will react positively to the noise rather than being spooked.
Don’t overdo the bait in the feeder. A small amount of groundbait and some small pellets or particles each cast will do just fine. Remember to reguarly re-cast and re-bait to hold the fish in your swim.
Surface fishing for carp in the margins
In the summer when carp are high up in the water, floater fishing is a wonderful way to catch them.
Surface fishing can be just as successful in the margins as it is further out – just not many people bother doing it. This is where you can beat the other people on the lake and do something slightly different.
Even when the lake is flat calm, there will still be a slight flow on the water. Work out which way the current is flowing. Fish in the swim or general area where the water is flowing to.
Perhaps other anglers are surface fishing on the lake – their loose bait will flow to you. Flies and insects on the surface will follow the current. Carp will follow the bait right into your swim.
The key to surface fishing carp is to get them feeding confidently. Reguarly feed them a few dog biscuits or pieces of bread and they they will fight over the bait. Make some commotion with your loose feed hitting the water, but keep yourself out of sight.
You can freeline break or dog biscuits no problem. You do not need a float or any other weight on the line. Even though you are margin fishing, if you are struggling to get any distance on your cast, quickly dip your bait into the water before smoothly casting out – you will be surprised at the distance you can get!
It’s important to remember stealth tactics here more than any of the other methods for margin fishing as you are fishing on the surface. Fish that are high up in the water or on the surface will easily spook if they see you,
Margin fishing for carp on the pole
Lots of anglers prefer using a pole over a rod when float fishing. This is because it gives them greater accuracy over where they place their bait and also better bait presentation.
An experienced pole angler will rarely miss a bite because they don’t need to strike, simply lifting up the pole is enough and the pole elastic does the work for them.
Margin poles are a great option for catching carp in the margins. They offer both power and precision.
A big benefit to pole fishing is you can easily make minute adjustments to your rig, or quickly change your rig all together in a matter of seconds.
What is the best bait for carp fishing in the margins?
Most carp baits work well for fishing in the margins. However, you should consider the reason why carp will often be in the margins – they are looking for the natural food sources that are on, or have fallen off trees.
Natural bails such as maggots and worms work very well in the margins, as do slugs and snails.
Usual carp baits such as pellets, corn, meat, paste and boilies will also work very well.
Particle baits and groundbaits are great options for laying a bed of bait to hold the fish in your swim.
Check out our comprehensive guide to the best carp baits, and also the the cheap baits you can find in your local supermarket.
Tips for margin fishing for carp
It can be very easy to get excited and throw in too much bait. This can completly ruin your swim as the carp will fill up quickly and move away. The key is to keep reguarly feeding small amounts.
Mix up your loose feed with small particles baits and groundbaits. Micro pellets and hemp are great for this.
Don’t over complicate it
Fishing is simple if you allow it to be. Margin fishing, or stalking requires simple fishing techniques because too much tackle in the water will spook the fish.
If you are float fishing, use a small well balanced float that will not create much disturbance as it lands. A dropper shot if required and your hook bait. It’s as simple as that,
Remember before you start, get a good idea of the layout of the lake bed by plumbing the depth.
Rotate your swim
As fish can easily be spooked when stalking or margin fishing, it’s always good to rotate you swim.
Bait up two or three spots in your swim and as the day progresses and alternate them.
Keep these spots fairly close together, otherwise you will create a wide spread of fish and the idea is to keep them grouped together as much as possible.
In the attached image, I have three spots within the same swim that I am reguarly feeding. I am mainly fishing number 1 and number 3, but I am reguarly feeding number 2 aswell.
This keeps the fish confidently moving between 1, 2 and 3 and allows me to rest number one and fish number 3 without having to re-bait a brand new swim.
Be quiet and out of sight
In the image above, notice I am sat far back from the edge so the fish cannot see me. I am also not sat on the wooden peg – any slight movement creates a lot of noise and vibrations through the water which will spook the fish.
When fishing the margins you should be as quiet as possible and try to stay away as far away from the edge as possible.
You are fishing very close in – try not to leave your rod tip over the spot you are fishing.
Keep it simple
Fishing can be very basic and simple when you let it. As a beginner you should keep things as basic as possible and not over complicate things.
Margin fishing is a perfect example of this. A basic float fishing set up is all that you need. The more you complicate it, the harder you make it.
Keep it small
When fishing in the edges, try to keep your tackle as small as possible. There is a trade off of course as when fishing close up to a tree you need the strength in your tackle to steer the fish away from any snags.
The line you fish with be dictated by the size of the carp you are targetting, and also by the size of the carp in the lake.
As a rough guide, on most commercial fisheries a mainline of 6lb or 8lb should be fine, with a 4lb hook length. Of course set this up or down depending on the size of the fish, but it’s a good balanced set up to start with.
Hooksize should of course be dictated by the size of the bait you are using, rather than to the size of the fish.
Aim to use as small a bait as possible, over a particle bait. If you keep catching ‘nuisance’ fish, then move to a larger bait.
Be prepared to move
Regardless of what you do, sometimes the fish just don’t come to your swim. If you have done everything right and set up correctly and remained out of sight and quiet – this can be tough.
Be prepared to move swims. Look around the lake and see if you can see any fish activity anywhere else on the lake. Are other anglers catching?
Investing in a pair of polaroid sunglasses are good option as this takes the glare off the water allowing you to see fish activity easier.
When fishing down the edge, usually in shallow water the fish can feel exposed. If they feel your hook, carp can scream off in the middle of the lake, or under the nearest tree or underwater feature. They will do everything they can to shake the hook.
You need to be alert and prepared as the bites can be explosive and you need to control the fish as soon as you strike.
If you are not alert you will end up snagged before you know it, or even worse – lose your rod!
The margins are an excellent area to catch carp. This article is designed to help and guide you, but the real experience comes when you are fishing. Experiement, try different things. What works for one angler may not work for another – particuarly when you factor in the different lakes and conditions.
If you are unsure what is the best rod to use when fishing the margins, check out our stalking rod reviews.