When is the best time to use either pop ups or bottom baits to catch carp?
I don't think there are any real definite answers to when we should be using either types of bait. However, there are a few obvious situations we could mention for starters, such as steer away from using pop ups on a gravel bottom, or pop ups tend to be best when fishing for carp in weed. These are general ideas that many carp anglers are already familiar with.
For more depth to this question, it may be a good idea for me to discuss some of my own views on how and why I would use either a pop up or a bottom bait when fishing for carp.
I generally prefer to use pop ups over smaller quantities of free baits, or maybe as singles where I cast frequently to roam for located fish. If I know there are fish in a certain area, but they are not responding to bottom or pop ups, then I will try popping them up even higher, maybe even in a zig rig. Sometimes I pop up baits as high as 8 inches. The thinking is that some carp anglers will usually only pop up bait to about 3 inches maximum. This way I am trying to do something different, especially if the carp in the lake have been caught a lot on pop ups presented in the most common form.
In the summer, and especially if on short stay sessions, I tend to use bait popped up and very bright in colour. I may even pop them up even higher if there’s not much bait in the swim. When it’s warm, carp move about much more and tend to be much higher up in the water. I want to give them as much chance as possible to see my hook bait when passing through the area. Carp can miss some pop ups in this situation if they are not up high enough. Also, slowly changing the height of a pop up bait gives me a chance to gauge how high the fish may be in the water.
In the winter, the fish are generally lower down and less active. This is the best time to keep pop up baits lower down as a carp will still easily see bright bait from a distance. I usually go one to two inches in this fishing situation. A single bright bottom bait can work well here to, but I think it’ s best using pop ups here because the buoyancy of the bait stops it coming out of the mouth easily if the fish attempts to eject the bait. They move less in cold water so they will probably attempt to get rid of bait by blowing it back out, but the buoyancy will cause the carp trouble in ejecting it out.
Again, if I haven’t seen much carp movement, and I’m on short sessions, I will use big, bright, smelling pop up baits. Any carp will have all the chance to see the hook bait. Obviously, if there’s carp in the swim, but they’re not taking pop ups, then I will change it by lowering the height of pop ups, or maybe even changing to an over-weighted pop up bait. I won’t use critically balanced bait if there’s lots of carp movement as the wafting from the fins can cause the hook bait to act unnaturally, or maybe cause it to hook onto some debris. An over-weighted pop-up here holds firm enough when carp fins are wafting currents all over the place, but still gives the rig that slight buoyancy for effective hooking of carp.
I tend to use bottom baits more in PVA bags. This is where I prefer to use chopped or half boilies in the bag. They tend to be lighter and grouped, so when carp suck at the area the hook bait can enter the mouth along with other chops and the carp won’t be aware of which one is danger - a single bait gobble gives them the chance to “test” for anything unusual.
I also prefer to use bottom bait when fishing over a large bed of bait. I think that when carp are feeding hard over big beds of bait that it doesn’t really matter too much about having a super advanced bottom bait carp rig. Just best to keep them simple on big beds as eventually the competition will result in a take at some point.
I feel it’s usually best to match the hook bait with free offerings in a way so they act similar under water. For instance, in heavy baited areas I want my hook bait on the same level, that means NOT popping up so it looks completely different to the free offerings surrounding it. If you’re piling in tons of bait in an attempt to get carp feeding on them, then it makes sense to have a hook bait which acts in the same way. I often use normal bottom baits if using hook bait cast out with a few stringers attached.
In the summer when the water is warm, there are fish moving about more. This is when I prefer to have heavy bottom bait on the hook, so it remains in place much easier. A drifting, and wafting bait tethered to a hook link will act unnatural compared to the free offerings. This may spook carp off the area and away from the swim. If I want any buoyancy on the rig I will generally use an over-weighted pop-up carp rig in the summer. Again it will hold firm much better than a critically balanced carp rig will if there is a strong underwater current. A lightly balanced rig may also be forced to move onto any surrounding debris and render the rig useless!
In the winter I would use a critically balanced carp rig more when fish are inactive. Carp tend to suck at the bait from further away, due to lack of movement in cold, a balanced rig will allow the hook bait to shoot into the back of its mouth, especially if a length of the link is coiled up so it extends further. I have used this tactic in a small PVA bag with a tiny amount of small pellets to fill it but keep a small amount of bait.
As a general guide I prefer to remember this:
Summertime, or in choppy conditions = bottom bait or over-weighted pop-ups
Winter with less movements = slow sinking or critically balanced baits