Why do carp jump out of the water

Carp are well-known bottom feeders, they spend their lives hoovering up bait from the lake-bed which is why many novice anglers are surprised when they see a carp break the surface.

Most carp fishermen use the break in the surface as a rough indication of where the carp are located, this is an excellent technique during the summer months where carp tend to vary in the levels at where the swim. In the winter, however, carp become very inactive and you’re unlikely to spot any splashes on the surface because they generally stay at the bottom of the lake-bed.

But why do they break the surface, there are many reasons why are carp would jump out the water but here are a few of the most common reasons:

Changing levels/swim bladders

One of the main reasons that carp jump out the water is to adjust the level at which they can swim. Like all fish carp have a swim bladder which allows them to balance in the water, in order to change the level at which they can swim, they carp need to increase or decrease the level of air inside their swim bladder which can be achieved by breaking the surface and forcing air through their oesophagus and into their swim bladder.

A general rule you can use is that the deeper a lake is the more breaks in the surface you’re likely to see by carp as there are more levels at which they can swim, however, this isn’t always the case as there are a many reasons aside from changing swim levels for carp to break the surface.

Carp rarely have to breach to change swim levels, most the time they can do this through natural processes but when they do break the surface, this could be a very good reason. If they did have to break the surface every-time they wanted to change levels, they would be flying out the water all the time.

Stuck food and debris

Another reason that carp may break the surface is to clean themselves. Carp are bottom feeders and when they suck up bait from the lake-bed a filter is used to push the debris out the gills. However, on especially gritty or silty lakes, it might not sufficient and debris can get stuck in the gills which can annoy the carp.

In this scenario, the carp will simply jump to the surface, using the pressure of the water and air to force the debris out of the gills.

Clearing parasites

Leaches and other pests are another reason behind carp jumping out the water. When the carp jumps out of the lake, the pressure of leaving the water clears any parasites that may be clinging to the fish as does the impact of when the carp hits the water again.

Types of jumping/breaking

The type of jump that a carp does can be used to determine the behavior and the intentions of the carp. These are the 4 most common types of jump/surface break you’re likely to see during a fishing session:

  • Head and shouldering
  • Rolling
  • Surfacing
  • Crashing

Head and shouldering

As the name suggests, head and shouldering is when the carp does a sort of half jump. Its body doesn’t completely leave the water but its head and shoulders are above the surface creating a reasonable splash but not as much as an actual crash.

In the summer we often use this as an indicator of feeding in the area. This is because when carp perform this particular jump, its due to silt and debris being stuck in their gills which they are trying to free which implies that the fish must also be feeding in that particular area which is why it’s ideal to cast to.


When carp roll on the surface its usually fairly discrete and you have to keep a sharp eye if you want to spot any. Of course, you can use it as an indication of carp in the area but its not actually that valuable.

Since carp rolling on the surface isn’t a reliable indicator of feeding, we tend to ignore carp rolling because its a lot of hard work to spot them and unless a lake is completely free of all other species of fish then it could be anything.


If you spot carp poking their heads out the water and constantly swimming higher in the lake, there’s a good chance its looking to feed on the surface. Although carp are technically bottom feeders, they do feed on the surface as well and we’ve caught many carp with this method.

When you spot a fish hovering under the surface and dipping up and down, you have to be careful not to spook it, try to gently cast near the fish, not on it. The ideal bait for this situation is a fluffy piece of white bread, there’s not a carp swimming that can resist it and often because of people feeding ducks bread, carp get very accustomed and attracted to it which is part of the reason it works so effectively.


Crashing is thought to have the same purpose as head and shouldering which is to clean themselves. But where head and shouldering only causes a small splash on the surface, crashing is when the carp propels itself into the air and out the water.

Crashing like this will more than likely remove any tough parasites and silt from their gills and since the purpose is thought to be essentially the same as head and shouldering we’d also recommend scouring the area where the carp crashed for a good spot to drop a rig in. This is because clearing the silt from the gills implies that some feeding activity was going on in the area.


Carp jumping and breaking the surface is incredibly important for anglers and sometimes they can be a goldmine of catches but they aren’t the only tell-tale sign of fish. There are lots of other things you can look for then fishing, like bubbles and lily pads and other covered areas where fish could potentially be lurking. If you want to find out more about watercraft and finding fish, check out our article on how to find carp in a lake.

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