No longer considered a “trash fish” by fly anglers, carp present a challenging fresh water game fish that provide anglers a saltwater vibe. To those who have previously targeted carp on the fly there is no doubt they have earned your respect. If you have not chased carp with a fly, we encourage you to give it a try and see why they have earned the nickname “freshwater bonefish.” Carp are a resilient, warm water fish that can live just about anywhere. From drainage ditches to farm ponds and warm water rivers, carp will thrive and grow to large proportions. Depending on where you live, odds are there are some carp fishing opportunities nearby!
I prefer to target carp with an 9 ft 8 wt rod and floating line. You can get by with lighter or heavier, it really just varies based on the waterbody you are fishing and the size of fish that live there. When you look at a carp, you can tell by how the mouth is oriented on the fish’s body that it is built to eat off the bottom. I try and tie all my flies with either dumbbell or bead chain eyes and tie them in so that the fly rides hook point up. I have most of my success on various crayfish or other hybrid worm and nymph patterns. Carp will feed on whatever food items are available to them. I find it more important to have the flies tied in various weights to coordinate with the depth you are fishing. If you live in an environment that has colder winters, carp usually head to deeper waters and are harder to target with a fly. Once spring comes around their metabolism picks up and they actively feed throughout the summer and fall months.
The most important aspect to catching carp on the fly is to first find a fish that is actively feeding. Blind fishing to carp on the fly is a waste of time. You want to fish with your eyes and look for a target before you cast. You can often find fish actively cruising in shallow water, even tailing at times as they dig for food. Another good indicator that I look for is a mud cloud in the water showing a fish is feeding nearby. Once you see a fish, try and figure out if it is moving in a certain direction or if it has a feeding pattern. Carp are very spooky so you do not want to land your fly right on its head. Treat it like a slow cruising bonefish, lead it slightly and give your fly time to sink. Things like water clarity, current speed, or if you are fishing a lake, the wave size will all play in a role in how close you can cast to the fish. Once the fish is in the area of your fly, I may do some small movements but I don’t actively strip it in. I just want to get the fish’s attention.
More often than not, you will won’t feel the carp eat. There are a few different visual cues that you should look for before you set the hook. If you see its tail tilt up in the air or just in an upwards direction, that is a good sign that it ate something. If the water is clear you could see the fish itself eat the fly or it almost turn on its side in the water. If I see anything like that or an abnormal head movement, I set the hook. For setting, I prefer a soft strip set versus a trout set. This is not because it has a hard mouth, but because if I set too early, it looks like the fly just moved away often triggering the fish to chase it down. If I trout set and it is too early, that usually spooks the fish. Once you are hooked up, you will see how powerful these fish are and why they have become such a prized target on the fly.
Other Target Species: