Your Guide to US Based Carp & Buffalo Fishing

Updated: Oct 28

By David Graham - October 24, 2022


fishing for common carp

"How big do they get, how hard to they fight?" - For the boundless angler, the research process seems to build around these essential 'must knows' when entertaining a trip for the next bite.

Say what you will about carp... but the narrative always comes back to these fundamental truths - they grow really big, and they fight damned hard. On a global scale, the common carp is among the most widely spread freshwater fish on planet earth and arguably the most pursued by rod and reel. Still to this day though, the American angler resists the idea of accepting the undeniable sporting qualities of the common carp.

In the last decade or two social media has exploded. More so than ever before information can be shared at the click of a button - with limitless opportunity to network and meet people from all over the world. The quick access to information and ability to interact with like-minded anglers has opened the proverbial 'floodgates' to what had been a pretty small niche group of carp anglers across the US.


With information on how to really get started fishing for carp - and even more recently our native buffalo species - I started browsing the internet for information. To this day its hard to search for tips and techniques on US based carp and buffalo fishing without coming across images of Austin Anderson. He's been my first stop for tips and techniques on this growing interest for the last decade+.


Where To Look?

 


Many anglers are finding themselves at the first step stage - finding interest in these broad shouldered doppelgangers... but they don't know where to begin in their pursuit. I recently had the opportunity to pick Austin Anderson's brain on the matter.

"If I’m trying to find a lot of carp or buffalo, the first place I look is flowing water. Rivers and creeks will tend to have more numbers of carp. Also, ponds and lakes that are near a river or creek are good bets as well." - Anderson

Austin explained that buffalo, and especially carp are commonly spread to other water bodies by birds and natural flooding. Waterfowl like mallard ducks can actually consume and fully digest carp and buffalo eggs that are completely viable into other waters! Hence the reason that ponds and isolated bodies of water adjacent to main river systems often hold concentrated numbers of carp and buffalo. Anderson keys in on buffalo and carp by utilizing attractants, 'chum', or baits. Something like corn is a great attractant.

Anderson with an array of 'bait takers' - a smallmouth buffalo, common carp, and channel catfish

"The best way to find out if a water body has carp in it is to start baiting an area each day or every other day. Try fishing it after a couple days and you should have success. Corn is a great starter bait to attract carp and buffalo" - Anderson

It should be noted that while common carp are extremely widespread, our native buffalo species are primarily found in the Mississippi River basin from Michigan and Pennsylvania down to Gulf coastal drainages of Mobile Bay to Southern Texas.

  • Rivers - Anderson looks for current breaks with slack water where baits cannot be washed away. Calmer water closer to the shore or on the outside of bends where currents slow are preferred locations to set bait.

  • Creeks - The deeper pools are the ideal holding locations for big carp and buffalo. Anderson advises seeking out overhanging trees where carp may lurk below waiting on miscellaneous insects or terrestrial plant matter to fall.

  • Lakes and ponds - Anderson says finding carp becomes more difficult. With the absence of moving water or currents - Anderson keys in on wind direction. Fishing into the wind is ideal in this situation - as winds will blow sediments and food items around the open body of water.

"In lakes and ponds I look for a good defined drop-off that the fish can travel along. Depth is important as well, I fish shallow when the fish come shallow to spawn but most of the year I fish in 15-25ft of water." - Anderson
Anderson holds a unique 'mirror carp' variant.

In larger lake systems, major creek channels serve as travel routes for large buffalo and carp. Being able to find these channels could be the ticket to finding a monster fish. Finding sources of natural food for the fish like standing timber, weed beds, shade, or anything else, will only improve your chances of catching.


smallmouth buffalo fishing
A big smallmouth buffalo

Mirror carp
Anderson with a great looking mirror carp

us carp fishing
A great comparison shot of a smallmouth buffalo (left) - and a common carp (right)

What Is On The Menu?

 

Understanding the feeding habits of carp and buffalo will be paramount to their successful capture. Common carp and buffalo will both feed on aquatic and terrestrial animals such as: mussels, clams, insect larvae, worms, and other small invertebrates. Common carp will also consume aquatic and terrestrial plants. Austin Anderson stated that while our native buffalo eat many of the same things - they will frequently feed on substantially smaller food items.

"I have observed buffalo sucking algae off dock floats in marinas" - Anderson

The US has 3 species of buffalo suckers, namely the Bigmouth, Black, and Smallmouth Buffalo. While the latter two species look and feed more similar to the common carp utilizing a subterminal (bottom facing) sucker-like mouth - the Bigmouth buffalo has a forward-facing 'terminal' mouth and filter feeds almost exclusively on tiny zooplankton and microorganisms.

bigmouth buffalo record
An enormous bigmouth buffalo I captured - the only I have ever caught... and one of the biggest i've ever heard of!

Black buffalo

giant smallmouth buffalo
My personal best smallmouth buffalo (51 pounds) caught with the guidance of Austin Anderson

Anderson, who first started pursuing carp and buffalo as a kid, has identified a stark difference in the way a carp will pick up a bait compared to a buffalo. This could be due to the mechanics by which they feed.

"Buffalo feed by sucking in food items and sediment and ejecting the non-food items out their gills. Carp feed similarly, but they eject non-food items through the mouth. Because of this difference in feeding, buffalo can be difficult to hook since they have a tendency to sit there and mouth the bait without moving". -Anderson

Because of these habits, the bite of a buffalo is often more investigative and difficult to recognize. Even a 50lb class buffalo will scarcely disturb a rod tip while investigating a bait. This is perhaps what has set anglers like Austin Anderson apart from those who fail to graduate beyond more rudimentary approaches. Anderson has leveled up his tackle and rigs in such a way that will encourage the fish to hook itself.


Advancing Your Gear

 

While carp can be caught on something as simple as floating bread or corn strung on a J-hook, the rabbit hole of specialized tackle for carp can be every bit as deep and specialized as bass gear. The European market for carp tackle and baits has been hyperdriven by extreme competitiveness down to a finite science. To enhance the capability of early bite detection and monitoring numerous lines - many dedicated carp (and buffalo) anglers will utilize specialized rod pods with electronic bite alarms and indicators that signal the bite of a fish with audible tones and color coded visible ques.

Carp fishing rod pod and bite alarms

Typical 7-8 foot rods we see most often in the US are upgraded to 12-13 foot long rods specially designed for distance casting. a 4000 sized spinning reel is upgraded to somethin akin to surf casting in the ocean. While the gear may be unnecessarily powerful, it gives the advantage of reaching those fish holding to waters otherwise beyond reach.

Carp fishing rig

The soft fleshy lips of carp and buffalo are highly sensitive and often result in dropped or spit baits. Anderson suggests anglers to learn how to tie a hair rig. This allows the bait to sit below the hook and unimpeded. Carp or buffalo softly mouthing a bait are less likely to detect a hook before committing to swallowing the bait. When they do, the hook then follows unobstructed into their mouth. Using what is called a "blowback rig", a small sliding ring on the hook shank serves as a hooklink running up the back of the hook. A curved piece of tubing on the hook shank gives the hook a similar effect as a traditional 'circle hook' which allows the hook to turn and hook the corner of the fish's mouth under the pressure of its own bodyweight and propulsion.


In many cases - specially designed weights are fixed above the rig. The weights are designed such that bait can literally be tightly packed around it into a ball. These 'pack baits' typically consist of oats, cream style corn, and calf manna. Anderson sometimes adds additional flavoring like cinnamon, salt, and chili powder to the mix. The packbait serves two functions - one as an additional concentrated pile of attractant, but also additional weight to send baits even further out.

A very basic pack bait example. Panko bread crumbs and cream style corn

Carp fishing hair rig

Even the bait used as attractants can be a complex (and pricey!) mixture of ingredients. During my early 2022 trip to Texas fishing with Anderson we used a concoction of deer corn (soaked 12 hours and boiled 1 hour), tiger nuts, maple peas, black beans, peanuts, and garbanzo beans. He deployed a kayak to haul the bait out and dump into specific zones. His kayak was outfitted with sonar technology so he could see the contour of the bottom, the depth, and mark fish that were below. Austin also baited up the area with range cubes (150lbs) and calf manna (50lbs). He added red cell and molasses to the corn and range cubes. On top of this he added a ton of salt and sugar to the corn and other bait and put it through a fermenting process. Having a solid and scintillating mix of bait consistently available can concentrate local fish to a specific area. The most dedicated carp and buffalo anglers will groom prospective areas for days - weeks - or months throughout the year before ever actually putting lines in the water.


Carp fishing bait

The Artificial Approach

 

Austin Anderson is also a competitive bass angler

While Austin Anderson has a special knowledge for the baiting of carp and buffalo, his fishing 'roots' run deep as a competitive bass angler. In fact, Austin first encountered carp as a fly angler. Dubbed the 'poor man's bonefish' carp have become especially popular among fly anglers. If pursuing carp and buffalo with artificial lures and flies peaks your interest - you should be interested in knowing they will both readily take a well presented pattern.



For pursuing carp and buffalo on artificial lures or flies - sight fishing can be most effective. Find places where carp and buffalo can be approached visibly. Both species are equipped with highly refined senses for vibration and scent. This will require a stealthy approach.

"Most of your casting at carp and buffalo should be basically “dapping” the fly right in front of the fish at a rod length distance or less. Occasionally you can cast at them, but for the most part they are skittish fish and will spook off of the splash of your fly entering the water or the shadow of your fly line" - Anderson

Common carp will aggressively propel themselves forward in the pursuit of small forage items - but are also very easily spooked and difficult to sneak up on. Anderson has observed buffalo to be a little less 'spooky' but much more difficult to catch on the fly since their feeding radius is smaller. "You basically need to put the fly right on their nose for them to eat it".



'Buggy' looking weighted flies are effective. A fly or lure pattern often needs to sink to get in the field of view and in front of carp and buffalo, which are most often times feeding at the bottom of the water column.

"For buffalo and carp, I like to use patterns like woolly buggers, san juan worms, and saltwater flats flies made for bonefish. Anything that looks like a little bug. I like to use size 6 or 8, but I’ll go up to a 4 or down to a 12 based on what size food the fish are eating. Carp will eat a greater variety of flies, even taking surface flies sometimes. My best carp fly is a fly I call the carprunner, which is basically just a woolly bugger with lead dumbbell eyes which helps the fly get down quickly. In current, you will need heavier flies and maybe even additional split shot to get the fly into the strike zone as quickly as possible." - Anderson

On more conventional gear - carp can be finessed with plastic baits more commonly used for panfish and bass. Lead head jigs, grubs, and insect patterns will work for carp so long as you can just get the lure in front of them. A 'dinner plate' presentation is key - putting the lures in roughly a dinner plate sized circumference from a carp's face should consistently trigger a bite from a hungry fish.


For the best online sources of information - you just have to know who to trust and where to look! Check out some of the credible information source links below for more Carp and Buffalo fishing tips and techniques.


  • Carp Anglers Group- facebook group: The Carp Anglers Group may be the largest online source of carp information sharing available today. With online forums, video tutorials, and a wide range of technique instructionals - Carp Anglers Group is a top tier source of information for all things carp and buffalo

  • American Carp Society American Carp Society is an online source of information and products for American based carp fishing. The site has informational articles and blogs, a store with all kinds of carp gear, interactive member maps and membership benefits.

  • Texas Fishing Forum carp & rough fish section- I used this forum a lot even as a teenager. The Texas Fishing Forum is a long standing source of information from real anglers who are quick to chime in and give their experienced input. Also check the good pinned FAQ post at top where the answers to most questions you may have are probably already addressed.

  • Youtube- Brian Wingard Brian Wingard maintains one of the more informative technique pages on youtube for carp. His baiting methods are broken down step by step and catered to anglers of all skill levels.

  • Roughfish.com - Roughfish facebook page: I have trusted this group of anglers longer than any other I have ever been a part of. I joined roughfish.com over 20 years ago. A great deal of information on carp, buffalo etc. and a lot of very knowledgeable anglers.


For those looking to really delve into gear options and online stores - follow some of these links for carp bait and tackle across the country and beyond.

 

Austin Anderson owns and operates CarpPro Texas Guide Service. Anderson has held IGFA world records/ Junior world records for buffalo. Additionally, Anderson has guided clients to multiple records as well. He has fished competitively, recreationally, and professionally for carp, buffalo, and largemouth bass for years. A special thanks to Austin Anderson for his contributions to this article.