Good evening everyone, thanks for having me. Great to be here to talk you guys about my favorite fish to pursue on the fly, the carp. Somehow, in the course of putting this thing together, I became the local carp fishing "legend" according to Al "Don King" Kittredge. Well, let me explain how you become the local expert. You do it by opening your big mouth during our TU chapter planning meeting we have every January at Al's cabin. I was dumb enough to suggest a guest speaker and Al said sounds great you take Sept and if it falls through you can do a talk on carp fishing. And thus... a legend is born.
Long overlooked and disrespected here in the US, this lowly bottom feeder is finally receiving the attention it deserves.
So, is a carp a gamefish, you better believe it!
If you want to truly test your skill as a fly angler then carp fishing is for you. However, if you are easily frustrated, lack patience and persistence, and have a difficult time with rejection, then perhaps you should stick with trout fishing.
Carp don't get as large as they do by chasing their prey. I like to compare them to cows grazing in a pasture. Most of the time they're slow, methodical, and efficient head down munching along.
Because of their feeding habits, to catch a carp, you've got about a dinner plate sized window of opportunity right in front of their face. Drop your fly short of the mark, off to one side or slightly behind. Forget it. They will not chase down your offering.
The common belief is that carp reside in less than desirable locals. While it is true, carp can survive and even thrive in less than ideal habitats, they actually prefer cool, clean water.
We always say trout live in beautiful places. Well guess what, so do carp!
Near Martinsville (2-3 hour radius), I like to target river carp. The Shenandoah, the New, and James Rivers are all home to healthy populations of large carp. Don't think however, you're just going to pull off the side of the road at a nice looking spot and find fish.
Carp are in the Cyprinidae family just like minnows and like minnows they tend to stay in groups or schools.
Because of this you will spend much more time carp "hunting" than "fishing".
On rivers I look for them at the head of large pools with some good riffles and below dams.
All our large lakes around here also contain carp. Smith Mountain Lake is full of them and fish can often be found tailing in the backs of shallow coves and on mud flats.
The best areas are usually near deep water. When scouting out a new lake I like to take a look at satellite imagery searching for a change in color that clearly shows a shallow flat near deep water. Carp will come out of the protective depths to feed and will just as quickly disappear back down into the deep at the first sign of trouble.
So what rods do I prefer. I have both a medium/fast action 6 weight and a fiberglass 8 weight rod in my arsenal. If I'm fishing in an area that holds mostly 2-4 lb carp I'll even pull out my 3 weight rod.
I prefer a large arbor reel in order to make better headway on landing a fish after long, reel screaming runs.
A reliable, smooth drag system to protect tippet and hook is a must. They will straighten a hook!
You'll need a general purpose floating line that is versatile enough to cast both weighted and unweighted small to medium sized flies accurately both up close and personal to out about 40 feet. I recently picked up the Scientific Anglers Amplitude MPX line and I've been pretty happy with it so far.
For leaders, I like something in the 10 to 15 lb range. Sometimes I'll use the 7.5' or 9' tapered bass leaders and sometimes I'll just use a straight piece of 15lb fluorocarbon. Either seems to work fine. Honestly, I just use what I have. Carp don't seem to be all that leader shy.
Once your hooked up it helps, especially fishing from a kayak, to have a large sturdy net to help land the fish.
Dan Frasier, one of the biggest advocates of fly fishing for carp and author of The Orvis Beginner's Guide to Carp Flies, breaks down fly selection into four different categories. (see slide)
So with that in mind, other than targeting the correct fish, fly selection is the most important aspect of carp fishing. You must determine what the fish are eating. Not unlike trout, what they are feeding on changes based on the available forage at the time.
One place I fish is a tailwater in which large numbers of threadfin shad wash through the dam in April and May. The carp stack up below this dam and gorge on baitfish. Come back in July and the fish are mostly gone and the ones that are left totally ignore the same pattern they destroyed back in the spring.
Most of the other river carp I target have an affinity for crawfish. However, if they show no interest in a well placed crawfish fly on a particular day then they are most likely feeding on whichever nymph is most abundant that day.
If you're fortunate to come across a periodic cicada hatch near a body of water that has carp, then you may experience some of the most exciting dry fly fishing of your life.
So, you've got to spend some time figuring out what is on the menu for the body of water you are fishing on that particular day. Do this, and you will begin to find more success.
Worm flies are a good searching pattern while you are trying to really dial the fish in. The seem to take a carp or two no matter where I'm fishing on a given day.
Crawfish. I prefer smaller sizes, usually #6-#12. If the water is clear then a light tan or peach colored fly will often work well as it looks much like a molting crawfish. In dingy, stained water a black bodied, blue clawed pattern seems to produce well.
In swift current, riffles a heavier fly will work better to get down to feeding fish. Otherwise it will just drift right over them.
I prefer slow sinking lightly weighted baitfish patterns. I want a fly that will just hang there in front of the fish's face.
Montana's Hybrid, the fly pictured here in the lower right corner, is a good clam/mussel representation. The "tag" or worm looking portion of the fly represents the siphon which is the only visible portion of a clam or mussel when it is buried in the mud.
Nymphs are often my go to pattern. The first carp I ever caught that wasn't on a cicada was stuck on the Allieworm. (hate to admit that....)
Nymphs land with a soft entry allowing for multiple casts at a feeding fish.
Often times the water I'm fishing is cloudy and if I can track my fly as it falls my hookups go way up. Chartruese ,orange, and black nymphs with a slow sink rate are some of my favorites.
Soft hackles, slow sink on cruising carp can be deadly.
Find out when and where a periodic cicada hatch is taking place near you. Locate water with carp, then go. You will not regret it.
Best dry fly fishing of your life!
In addition to mulberries, carp will also eat seeds that fall on the water. Doesn't apply to us but in areas where cottonwood trees line shorelines carp gorge on their white, puffy seeds.
Egg patterns are deadly and with slow sink rate and bright color are easy to track.
Hybrid flies can be mistaken for any number of carp favorites and are good searching patterns.
Wear camo and earth tones
Tread lightly if bank fishing
Paddle softly if kayak fishing. No wakes, no noise
Keep moving, keep looking, be stealthy and methodical. I always think of carp fishing as more like carp hunting. No amount of prospecting or half hazard casts are going to produce results. You've got to first find feeding fish, then stalk within casting distance before accurately delivering your fly on the dinner plate.
Select the right fly based on your observations and conditions
If fish are tailing in the mud they're most likely eating nymphs, worms, or mussels.
If they are hitting and moving in rocks and riffles probably feeding on crawfish or again nymphs.
If, like on the one river I mentioned before, they are constantly cruising with purpose, they may be on the hunt for baitfish.
Because there is so little room for error when targeting a feeding fish, carp fishing is almost exclusively a sight fishing endeavor. One of the real keys to success is pin pointing the right fish. What is the right fish? A feeding fish. Carp lying in the shade of a brush pile during the heat of the day are mostly just a waste of a cast. No matter how good your presentation is or what fly you've selected, these fish are not going to eat.
The drag-n-drop is probably the most effective technique/cast. Cast well beyond the feeding fish, then lift your rod, dragging your fly softly across the water's surface. Then "drop" it in the feed trough by simply lowering your rod once the fly is positioned just in front of your target.
The dap. No fly line, just leader. In close, ninja stealth fishing.
Watch for flared gills or an open mouth. A change in body language. If the fish seems to suddenly "root" a little more aggressively in the mud, set the hook!
So, set the hook early and often; hooksets are free
Once hooked up, hold on and let them run... It's going to be a while.
Big lakes: obviously a large gas powered boat is going to maximize your time on the water. My dream boat would be a skiff with a poling platform.
I prefer to pursue river carp from my kayak. It allows me to cover many miles of water on each outing. Often, I do much more paddling than fishing before I find feeding carp. Again, carp fishing is actually carp hunting.
Rig your kayak for stealth, quiet. Padded deck. Paddle holders that cradle and don't require "snapping" the paddle into place. Have items secure so they are not shifting around making noise. Rig the anchor so anchor line doesn't drag the side of the boat as it is deployed.
Paddle one hand, rod in the other. Allows slow, easy approach to tailing fish in muddy water. Make cast without ever setting paddle down.
Wade fishing: move like a blue heron. Throw a wake and say goodbye. Position yourself in casting range of feeding fish and don't move! Allow the area to "settle" for several minutes before moving on.
Bank fishing: walk softly, stealthy approach, keep moving, looking if you have access to shoreline.
Just fancy common carp. Same flies, techniques will work.
Grass carp... well....
Bugs! Cicadas, hoppers, crickets, beetles all will work. Cast well ahead of a feeding fish so as not to spook your target. Let them work up to the fly.
So to summarize, fly carpin' is a challenge but fooling one of these wary fish is well worth your time and effort. Once your hooked up you'll quickly realize, as your reel screams, what all the fuss is about!