If I told you, that there was a fish that the vast majority of people can find within a 15-minute drive, grow to sizes that will make that 20” Brown look like a minnow, and will present you with a fun, and sometimes frustrating challenge? Would you believe me? Well, these fish exist, their name, carp. Now, most of you have probably heard of targeting these fish, and another good chunk has gone after these beasts. This article mainly focuses on those of you who haven’t tried going these fish. There have been more than a few people who I’ve talked to that have heard of fly fishing for carp, but for one reason or another, they have never fished for them. My question for them is, why not? After this article, you’ll understand that you have no excuses.
Your average trout rod should work fine for the casual carper. The smallest I would try fishing for carp with is a 5 wt.; this the size I’ve used for most of my carping, and it has worked well. I’ve heard of and seen people using rods down to a 3 wt. Personally, I wouldn't do it, but if you are up for it, and can use such a rod without harming the fish, go for it. For more aggressive carping, I’d get a 7 or 8 wt. Some people get up to 10-12 wt. rods for carp too. In most cases, that's overkill, but for some, it's what they need. If you are looking for a dedicated carp rig, most people (depending on the size of the carp they’re going after) choose either a 7, 8 or 9 wt.
Once again, your usual no frills weighted forward floating fly line will work just fine in most situations. In some cases where you need to get your flies down fast, especially without split shot weight, a sinking tip, or even a full sinking line is best. Carp are very easy to spook, so if possible, use a line that disturbs the water as little as possible. While we are talking about it, it should be noted that most big disturbances can be avoided with good casting technique.
Leaders and tippet:
For the bulk of the carp fishing I do, I use a 9’ leader that tapers quickly down to 3x tippet. If you have a floating line, use a 9’ leader for swiftly moving water or a 9-14’ for slower moving water, and about 12’ for still water should suit you well. If you use a sinking line, about 3’ shorter should work well. As I have said, I use 3x tippet for most of my carping but have caught them on 4x and 5x. I fish mostly swift rivers for carp, and it works well for those areas. When I fish for carp on different waters, I carry 20lbs, 15 lbs, and 0x-5x, but use mostly 1x-3x. Many people think that picking a tippet a form of magic. I however, decide which tippet to use based on the following factors; The size of the carp, water clarity, the size of fly I’ll likely be using, how much structure they have to break my line off on, what rod weight I’m using, and if the fish really care about what size of tippet I’m using. There is not any exact way to calculate this, but as a general rule, I try to use as big of tippet as I can get away with. For example, I usually fish a clear, swiftly flowing river about 30-40’ across for carp averaging 6-12 lbs with a select few getting up to 15-20, I usually use small nymphs, my 5 wt, and the carp are a little tippet shy. Using the factors I mentioned before, I came up with 3x, and for me, it worked well. The right tippet selection comes with experience, and if one size isn’t working for you, switch it up.
When looking for some good starter carp flies, look no further than your trout box. Wooly Buggers, Zebra Midges, Higa's SOS, Simi Seal Leeches, San Juan Worms, Glo Bugs, Eggy Juan Kenobi, Squirmy Wormies, Pats Rubberlegs, Stoneflies Patterns, and many other staples of trout boxes all are super effective carp flies. If you want some more specific carp patterns, there is no lack of choices. Most flies incorporate a little movement, many have soft hackle collars, and are tied on jig or scud hooks. Some of my favorites are the Hybrid and the Swimming Nymph. Some other great flies that consistently catch carp are bonefish flies like the Gotcha and Crazy Charlie. Feel free to tie up some imaginative flies, as picky as carp are; they’ll eat a huge variety of flies. As I have said, there is no lack of specialty flies to choose from. I’d do some research, and also ask local carpers if there are any patterns that they’d suggest.
Where to fish:
As I said before, just about everyone can find these fish close to where they live. Tons of lakes, even ones with trout and other coldwater species have carp as well, If there is a warm water lake, it's almost a sure bet there are carp in there. Ponds are also a great bet (at least in most of my local ponds), the city has stocked carp to keep the algae levels down. Many rivers have carp too, if there is a slow flowing river going to, or away from a warm water lake, there is likely going to be some carp in it. If you have any trouble finding places with carp, consult google, your local fly shop, or a local carper.
With tactics, there is nothing that I know of that will work every time. Carp are extremely picky, and you’ll find that often, two carp in the same pond will often want different presentations, and maybe even different flies. When casting to these fish, try to target those fish that you can see are feeding. To identify feeding carp, look for tailing carp, or carp that you can see that open their mouths opening occasionally. When casting to carp you can see, imagine that they are wearing a baseball cap and try and cast just off the brim of the hat (this visual is not mine, but I have found to be very useful). In other words, try and lead the carp by about 6¨. The best way to tell if a carp has eaten your fly, is to watch it's mouth as it gets close to it. If you see a flash or yellow at the mouth suddenly, set the hook. When you're fishing streamers, in general, a slow, slightly twitchy strip is the way to go. With nymphs, a super slow strip is usually the best method. If a carp has been eying your fly for a long time, but not committing, something you can do, is a small twitch. Often this will make or break your presentation, so do it at your own discretion. When fighting carp, maintain tension, and try to control where they can take line. Carp are nicknamed golden bonefish for a reason, they will peel line off your reel like it's nothing, and if you can let them pull line away from a logjam rather than to it, your chances of landing the fish increase drastically. After letting the carp fight for a while, and you feel it's ready to net, try to net it head first. Don't swipe at the fish, instead have the net in the water, and bring the carp to it. Sometimes when you're fishing in heavy current, the carp will take a mad dash downstream towards the end of the fight, to net fish in this instance, wear the fish down, and then place the net a bit ahead of them and let them swim headfirst into it. Once landed, remove the fly. Once the fly has been removed, if you want a picture, your standard trout grips will work fine for carp. A word of warning, carp have spines at the end of their fins that can do some real damage on your hands if you’re not careful, so watch out! After a picture (if desired), you can release the fish. Nothing special here, just place the fish in the water and let go.
Stalking carp can be some of most fun fishing you ever do and is well worth the effort. There is nothing in freshwater quite like it. So get out there with what you have, and prepare yourself for a singing drag, not testing runs, and likely the biggest fish on the fly of your life!