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Carp fly fishing is growing. In the past century, carp have begun to overrun many of our lakes and rivers across the United States.
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These fish are extremely hearty, eat almost anything, and also happen to be one of the most fun fish to catch on the fly.
Many people don’t even bother fishing for carp with traditional gear let alone attempting fly fishing for carp. If you have an interest in unique types of fly fishing, targeting carp is the way to go.
These fish are extremely spooky and many claim they’re one of the toughest fish to catch on the fly. I wanted to test this theory and have been fly fishing for carp for several years. The theory is true.
These fish are extremely difficult to land, but a blast to target.
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What is Carp Fly Fishing?
Carp are a non-native fish that live in a wide variety of waters. You can find them in spillways, lakes, rivers, and ponds. Almost anywhere you find catfish or bass you’ll find carp. They aren’t picky with where they live.
It’s a new movement in the world of fly fishing. People are slowly coming around to the idea of it. But don’t take my word for it. Once you land one, you’ll understand why they’re a blast to catch.
The Best Carp Flies
Some days, nothing you throw at carp will work. They’re smart and need quite a bit of coaxing to eat. However, there are a few carp flies that have proven to be more successful than others.
The more you fish for carp, the more you’ll understand what they eat and the specific quirks they have. Each body of water is different and it’s up to you to learn it and what carp fly patterns work!
Clouser’s Swimming Nymph
The Clouser Minnow is an extremely common streamer that many anglers love to use for large trout and bass. The nymph version is a bit smaller, heavier and is a great fly to use when targeting carp.
It has quite a bit of material, and will fall quickly in the water column.
Headstand Carp Fly
The Headstand Carp Fly is a quirky, colorful, small, and heavy fly. It sinks quickly and will have no problem reaching the bottom of the water column. It’s one of those flies you look at and wonder how it would catch any sort of fish.
The variety of material and color patterns are fun to look at and this fly happens to land some massive fish.
The Backstabber is a legendary fly when it comes to carp fishing. It’s quite colorful with an interesting weight distribution. It almost looks like a Deceiver fly, but is extremely successful when trying to land these fish.
Barry Reynolds, a founding father of carp fishing on the fly, considers his Carp Bitter to be one of the best carp flies on the market. It works in a variety of water and is just goofy looking enough to work.
How To Fly Fish For Carp With a Headstand Carp Fly
The Headstand is perfect for those days where you find carp tailing in shallow and clear water. It’s heavier weight and smaller appearance is exactly what you need. If you see the fish are wary and not very active, use the Backstabber.
Cast near a school of these fish, and let the fly find the bottom. Once it is on the bottom, slightly twitch it back towards yourself. These fish are patient when they feed. They deem the food to be worthy of eating and suck it up into their mouths.
Small strips are the name of the game with the Backstabber.
How To Fly Fish For Carp With Clousers Swimming Nymph
If you can’t land carp on this fly, you’re likely not fishing with the proper technique. This fly was listed in Barry Reynolds’ book Carp on the Fly as one of the best carp flies to use.
This is a great fly to use when targeting carp in muddier and shallow water. You’ll see them tailing and you’ll know it’s time to throw on the Swimming Nymph. The orange and green pattern is great to use.
Cast the fly near the schooling carp, and strip it at a decent pace back towards yourself. Make sure it’s hovering near the bottom.
How To Fly Fish For Carp With a Backstabber
The Backstabber is extremely versatile. Depending on the water conditions, you can use this fly in a variety of ways. It’s best to use if the carp are sitting in heavy foliage.
If the carp are in foliage, they’re likely chasing after shad or other baitfish and the Backstabber is a great baitfish imitator. The olive color is smart to use when the water is clear.
If the water is darker, use the darker patterns. Let it move across the bottom portion of the water column and wait for a carp to pick it up. Again, patience is extremely important for carp fishing.
How To Fly Fish For Carp With a Carp Bitter
The Bitter is great to use in the classic muddy water that you usually find carp inhabiting. It’s unruly, heavy, and is everything that a carp fly needs to be. Let this find those tailing fish and wait for one of them to strike.
Slightly longer strips will emphasize the longer material and properly imitate a baitfish. These flies are impressive and you can even tie them yourself. When it comes to carp, the more disheveled, the better.
Gear To Use When Fly Fishing For Carp
Carp are going to fight with every ounce of their being. When a 20 or 30-pound fish truly begins fighting, you’ll be thankful for every bit of power that you have.
However, you still need to softly present these flies, so it can be a difficult to balance to find. At the end of the day, you need to be able to present the flies in a natural way.
Carp aren’t going to require any sort of special rod like a Steelhead or salmon might. If possible, you want to use your 7 or 8-weight. This should give you enough power and still allow you to use some finesse when presenting these flies.
If you only have a 6-weight it’s possible to use it for carp. The upside is that you’ll be able to lay flies down extremely softly. The downside is that the fight with the carp is going to quite lengthy.
You don’t want to fight these fish with too much power on a 6-weight because they have quite a bit of power and could break your rod.
When choosing a reel, make sure that it matches your fly rod. It needs to be a large arbor regardless of whatever size you choose! These fish will pull you into your backing. When setting up your fly reel, be sure you have 20 or 30-pound backing because they’ll do their best to snap it!
Weight forward line is likely the best option when targeting carp on the fly. It’s versatile enough and can help you cover all levels of the water column. Only the first 15 feet of the line is going to sink.
You can lay your flies down softly and let them reach the proper depths in the water column.
You also have the choice of using floating line. This will allow your flies and leader to be the only things below the surface. This isn’t a bad idea because these fish do spook easily. If they see your fly line, they will likely refuse to hit your fly.
By keeping it on the surface, the fish would likely be less wary and will strike your fly. This does, however, prevent you from reaching the bottom of the water column every time.
Carp are bottom feeders so if you’re sitting too high in the water column, you won’t catch a single fish!
You want to be sure you use long and strong leaders. If possible, use fluorocarbon because this will stand out less in the water. Use nine to 12-foot leader in 1 or 2x. If you see the fish spooking easily, use 12 foot 3 or 4x leader.
At the end of the day, you’ll want the stronger leader to help you fight these fish. They’re heavy and will stretch your leader and truly test how durable it is.
How To Fly Fish For Carp
Carp are going to make a home out of just about any body of water. They have the potential to overrun lakes and killing fish populations so it’s necessary to understand how to catch these fish in order to control the population.
Fly Fishing For Carp in a Lake
Focus on the shallow portions of the lake when targeting carp. In the late spring, these fish are going to move to the warmer waters up near the shore. As a result, it’s a great time to target these fish since you can see them!
You’ll likely mistake these fish for bass especially if you’re coming at them from a distance. They are scientifically proven to learn twice as fast as bass so remember that carp are not dumb fish!
If you can find actively feeding carp, you’ll catch fish. The extremely difficult ones to catch are those that are not feeding. If their tails aren’t breaking the surface, you’ll likely not land them.
You’ll want to be sure to find the clear water and the tailing fish. These are often found in the back of cuts (bays). They’re going to be located by creek mouths or near vegetation that helps clean the water.
As you approach, be quiet. They’ll spook and swim a long distance away if you aren’t careful. You need to be prepared to make 30 or 40 foot casts when targeting these fish.
Fly Fishing For Carp in a River
Similar to a lake, you want to find the clear and shallow portions of the river. This will make for an easier time when trying to catch carp. Traditional anglers will throw a weight on their line and tie on corn or live bait to target these fish.
As it sits on the bottom, a cruising carp will pick it up and the fight begins. Fly anglers don’t have this luxury. We have a strong desire to strip and create some movement on our fly.
As a result, you don’t want to focus on the higher current areas within the river. You want to find the water along the banks or shallower pools off of the main current. This is where the carp are going to chase baitfish and feast on the bottom.
As you walk the bank, be sure to stay above the water a ways. Since carp will feed close to shore you may need to enter the river a ways down and wade up towards them and cast towards shore.
It’s a bit of a backward type of fly fishing, but you have to adapt to the fish you’re targeting. Remember that the most important thing is going to be your ability to stay quiet and present the fly quietly.
Best Time To Fly Fish For Carp
Carp are going to be the most catchable in the spring. When the bass are spawning, the carp are going to spawn.
As far as time of day is concerned, you can catch carp all parts of the day. They essentially never stop eating. However, the mornings and evenings are going to be the most productive. Any time you see a carp tailing, you know it’s game on!
Do your best to fish for carp on a cloudy day. Any sort of cover you can have, the better chance you have of catching these fish.
Fly Fishing For Carp Tips & Tricks
Carp are going to be picky and you will get frustrated. There’s no getting around it. However, with these tips, you’ll have success at landing a carp on the fly. Stick with it and I promise it will eventually happen!
Know When and How to Not Waste Your Time
Sadly, there are more times to not fish for carp than there are right times to target these fish.
The first instance to not target carp is when they’re moving at a high rate of speed. These fish are likely moving to a different feeding area and timing the fly to land in front of them is nearly impossible.
Let these fish pass and focus your time on another group. You’ll likely be tempted to spend more time on fish that are resting in the shallows in the sun, and this isn’t a bad idea.
The sun tanners aren’t always willing to eat, but a smaller nymph near their faces may coax one of them to fish. Remember to let the fly sink and slightly twitch it back towards yourself.
Best Instances to Target Carp
As mentioned above, the tailing carp are the ones you can catch. As long as you have a fly that reaches the bottom, you have the chance to catch one of these monsters.
Another time to target carp is when they’re moving slowly through the water. As long as you can cast your fly ahead of these fish, you’ll convince a few to strike. It’s necessary to time things well.
If you land your fly too hard in the water, it will force the carp to veer off in another direction. Put your fly softly in front of these fish and twitch it lower in the water column. It should work.
Let Your Fly Sink
As tempting as it may be to start stripping as soon as your fly hits the water, you need to let it sink. As it is sinking, you can twitch things slightly. This doesn’t mean you strip, but a few jerks of the rod tip will do the trick.
These twitches will help the carp notice your fly. Once you’ve twitched a few times, let it fully sink and if the carp is interested, it will follow it to the bottom of the water column.
When to Set the Hook
This is the most important and difficult part of fly fishing for carp. They don’t strike your fly hard. All you’ll likely feel is a slight tug or two taps on the fly. To best feel these strikes, point your rod tip on the water and keep the slack out of your fly.
This will help you feel everything that touches the fly. Once they feel the tug, give the fish a tug of your own. Once the fish is hooked, it likely won’t move. It may not even realize that it is hooked.
Once it does realize that it is hooked, however, you’re in for a treat. These fish will run for deep water and structure. Be sure you have enough room to fight these fish and be prepared with the net.
It’s a tricky little interchange, but the more you hook up on carp, the better you get.
Don’t Waste Your Mends
A sloppy mend means no fish. What you’ll want to do is make your mends in the air. Use a reach cast to do this. By pointing your rod upstream or upwind as soon as your fly is going to hit the water will help you mend the line in the air.
You may think you properly executed a mend and you likely did, but this doesn’t work. This is enough surface movement to spook these fish. As soon as the fly hits the water, it has to be in the proper position.
Practice, Practice, Practice
If you think you’re talented with your fly rod, carp will make you second guess everything you think about your abilities. You need to practice your casting and be as perfect as possible when targeting carp.
For many, the practice comes when you’re targeting these fish. You may spook your first 100 fish, but you’ll be getting better in the process. The beauty of carp is that you’re never going to not find them. They’re in almost every single body of water in the world.
Be willing to make mistakes and try a variety of casting techniques. As soon as your flies are landing softly in the water, you have a chance at catching one of these fish.
Stay on Shore
If possible, fish for carp from shore. As soon as you enter the water, they’ll know. While it may not be possible to cast from shore, it’s best if you can. Cast upstream from the carp and let the fly drift into the area where they are feeding.
Long leader is extremely important when targeting carp. Sadly, the longer the leader, the more challenging it is to cast. The longer leader is going to give you a bit more leeway with carp.
If you have to cast in front of them or near them, you don’t want your fly line to be slapping the water near these fish. Plus, the more work you get with longer leader, the better caster you become.
Best Destinations For Carp Fly Fishing
There truly is no bad place to fish for carp. They’re all over the world in almost every single body of water you can find. As a result, you shouldn’t be far from any sort of carp filled water.
The record carp in Pennsylvania is over 50 pounds. Many carp in this state are over 15 pounds and can make for an extremely entertaining day on the water. Be sure to visit the Susquehanna River, Monogahela River and the Allegheny River.
Texas is beginning to gain attention for its quality carp fishing. The fish are massive and can be found all over the place. You can find giants in Lady Bird Lake and the Colorado River.
Minnesota is one of the best fly fishing destinations in the United States and is also well known for its carp fishing. These fish grow to be massive in the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Visit these in the early spring and you’ll have your hands full.
Why Start Carp Fly Fishing?
If it’s a challenge you’re after, carp are going to become your best friends. These fish rarely fall for anything. If you’re in need of a humility check spend a few days chasing these fish and you’ll remember who truly is in control.
That’s How To Fly Fish For Carp
Fly fishing for carp isn’t something that is going to be learned overnight. As soon as you think you have the method down, the fish will start acting different. Take your time with these fish. Study their movements, what they eat, and how they eat.
Fishing for carp will take you to new areas that you’d likely never otherwise visit with a fly rod. Don’t consider yourself to be too good for carp fishing! They rarely let you win.
Some images in this post are courtesy of Shutterstock.
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