Carp Fishing is growing in popularity each year here in the United States, and for good reason – Carp are widely available to the majority of people. They grow to very large size – even in marginal Carp waters you still have a shot at a legitimate 20 pound fish many days. They’re smart, wary, and selective. Many people paint the picture that carp are dumb, scum-eating trash fish, which is everything but the truth. I’ve grown to be somewhat of a Carp junkie myself, and for those of you looking to chase Hillbilly Bonefish for the first time, we’ve decided to make a “crash course” for Carp fishing!
Step number one – you’ve got to find some Carp. Truth is, they’re very widely dispersed throughout the US. Most large reservoirs, especially on the plains, have large numbers of Carp in them. If you’re having any trouble finding waters with them, just call around to local fly shops and sporting goods stores – you’ll probably find someone who fishes for them, maybe hates them, or possibly shoots them with a bow, but you’ll at least have a starting point to accessing waters with good numbers in them. Most larger rivers have Golden Bones in them also, including many of the popular western trout rivers such as the Bighorn and North Platte. I’ve been sidetracked many days chasing carp around a side channel when everyone else was fishing dries for trout. Carp are definitely partial to warmer water, slower currents, and softer bottoms than your typical trout, but there really are no rules in Carp fishing. They’re about as opportunistic as fish come!
Step number two – you’ve found some Carp! Hooray. Now you’ve got to get geared up to go and tangle with some. Your big river trout rod will probably get the job done, but if you’re going to fish Carp very seriously, I would recommend a 7 weight at least, if not an 8. Nine foot rods are fine. These are big, powerful fish that can put some serious strain on your gear – I’ve been at stalemates with medium size Carp on a saltwater 8 weight. So, don’t go in under-gunned! Reel-wise, any of your modern, large arbor disc drag reels will get the job done. They generally make runs in short, powerful bursts, so you don’t need a Tarpon-grade drag system, but you need more than your average trout reel as well. As far as fly lines go, there’s a number of different options that vary depending on your situation. RIO’s Carp line is an awesome option for spookier fish, and reasonable sized flies, i.e. 4-10. If you’re battling the wind much or throwing larger bugs, I really like the RIO Power Fly line. It cuts like wind like a knife and will sail big flies out long distances easily. There’s no need for sink tips in Carp fishing as far as I’m concerned – I’ve never run into situations that I needed one. For leader and tippet, there’s several options as well. For muddier water with more snags and debris, I fish a short leader like a 7.5′ 0x, with 0x or 1x tippet off the end to make it about 9′ total. Fish in these situations aren’t going to be line shy, so there’s no need for a long leader or light tippet. For clearer water and spookier fish, I’ll start with a 9’2x leader, and put a couple feet of 2x-4x fluorocarbon tippet off the end, depending on how picky the fish are being that day. Carp fight hard, so I always try and push the limit of how heavy I can go with my tippet.
Choosing Carp Flies – There are a vast variety of Carp flies out there, and most all of them will work. The above picture is a small selection of different Carp-specific patterns we have here at the shop, with names like the Carp Carrot, Carpilicious, and Carp Daddy. I pick my flies based on the depth the fish are feeding at and how spooky they are. If the fish are extra spooky, or if they’re in really clear water, I’ll use smaller, lighter, more nondescript patterns. If the water is dirtier, I’ll fish heavier, more bulky flies, often with rattles to get some attention in the murky water. The key to Carp fishing is that you have to be able to see the fish, and to present your fly close enough to it that it will see it, but not so close that it’s going to spook. That distances changes depending on water depth, clarity, the fishes speed, and the Carp’s overall demeanor. If you can successfully get your fly in front of them without spooking them, you stand a pretty good chance of hooking it! Do small jerks, twitches, and movements with your fly, but keep them fairly subtle. If you can see your fly, you’re at a huge advantage because you can see if the Carp sucks it in or not. If you can’t see your fly but you know it’s in front of the fish, just do small strips and strip set on any resistance – you’ll be surprised how often a pissed-off Carp blows up with your fly in it’s face. Another fun scenario is when the Carp are up on top eating beetles, hoppers, cicadas, or cottonwood seeds. These fish are rising, or in Carp terms, “clooping”, and can be fairly easy to catch. Just throw a corresponding fly to what they’re eating in front of them, and maybe give it a small twitch or jerk to grab their attention. Wait for them to suck it in, and it’s game on.
This was a pretty basic crash course in Carp fishing, but it should get you going! If you have any other questions about what flies to use, how to fish them, or where to go, just swing by the shop or give us a call – we’re fully stocked on flies and information!