Fly Fishing for Carp: Learn from a Guide

Last Updated: January 3, 2022

Despite being considered a garbage fish in the United States due to being an invasive species that are very detrimental to native fish and their environments, and rightly so, the common carp has become a very popular target for fly anglers.

There are several reasons that carp have been rapidly growing in popularity among fly anglers. Let’s dive into the topic and tak

e a deeper look as to why targeting this invasive species on the fly has become so popular and what gear and tackle you will need to wrangle them on a fly rod.

Surge in Popularity

giant carp caught on the fly

Why has fly fishing for these ugly fish become so popular? Well, there are a few reasons. Carp can be found all over the United States and Canada, not to mention their native waters in Europe.

In the United States, they have proliferated, and even if the presence of these fish is detrimental, they offer awesome fishing opportunities for fly anglers.

Fly anglers key in on carp because they grow big, and it’s not uncommon to see 30-40 pound specimens lumbering across a shallow flat. Hooking into a fish of that size is a wild time on a fly rod.

Author Note: Carp will eat just about anything and can be thought of as an aquatic pig. If it’s even remotely edible, carp will eat it and they typically aren’t picky, though you may find that they will be finicky towards one specific food item at certain times.

The proliferation of carp means that if there’s a lake, canal, or pond near you, chances are it has some carp in it!

This is because they are very adaptive and hardy fish and can survive in a wide range of environments, this makes them easy to target, as not every fly angler has access to quality trout rivers or streams.

The widespread populations of carp are comparable in the United States to that of the largemouth bass, which is one of the top sport fishes in the country for many of the same reasons.

Equipment

If you are fly fishing for carp, you have to ensure that you have the proper equipment, and if you are already a fly angler, you might already have everything you need, but let’s look at everything from rods, reels, line, and flies.

Fly Rod

Since you are dealing with a fish that is commonly found to be in excess of 20 pounds and can put up a heck of a fight, you will need a rod capable of wrangling in these water hogs.

A great rod will be at least 9 feet in length and be at least a 7-8 weight rod, but a 10 weight might suit anglers better in terms of leverage when fighting big carp, and in my personal experience, I have chosen to stick with the 10 weight. 

Reels

Choosing reels in fly fishing mostly comes down to personal preference and how much anglers are willing to spend.

The important consideration for the reel when it comes to carp fishing is the drag system. Handling big fish means your drag has to work and be reliable.

The vast majority of fly reels and a one-way bearing system that work in conjunction with the clutch on the spool, and some drag systems use cork for the brake material, and others will use some other type of synthetic material like carbon brakes.

All of these drag systems will work, but some fly anglers are pursuing carp like to use more complex drag systems or reels in which the drag system is sealed to prevent debris from entering and mitigate the drag system’s power.

Line

A light taper fly line is your best bet over a line with an aggressive front taper. The reason for using a light taper fly line is simple; we want stealth.

The flies used for carp fishing can be quite large, and when presenting a fly to a carp, we want it to land as subtle as possible on the surface of the water and not “slap” the surface. Carp can be very skittish, and in very shallow water that is flat calm, the fly itself can and will be enough to spook a giant carp.

Brightly colored fly lines can also be detrimental to your fly fishing cause, and even in stained water, a brightly colored fly line can be enough to spook a carp.

Unless you have a ridiculously long leader, you should use neutral or naturally colored fly lines that will be less likely to spook a wary carp.

Carp Flies

carp flies in tacklebox

Since carp have such a diverse diet, many different types of flies will work, but like any fish, they can be preferential on what they eat, and this boils down to the most commonly available food available to them at any given time.

This is similar to trout fishing and hatches, but on a broader scale, encompassing other food items like crayfish, wild berries, and insects and can vary by region.

Carp rely on smell and taste to locate food in most cases. To overcome this, you will need to use flies that look as close to possible visually to fool the carp into eating the fly, regardless of what it smells like.

Top Tip: Flies that imitate baby crayfish, nymphs, sculpins, and cottonwood seeds will all work at the right time in the right place.

Some standard and very effective common flies that most fly anglers are familiar with for a variety of species will work well for carp. Popular flies like San Jose worms will work wonders.

In regions that host populations of Mullberry trees, mulberry fly imitations can be absolutely devastating to carp. As the berries ripen and fall into the water from the shoreline, carp will sit and slurp them up seconds after they hit the water.

If you live in an area with Mullberry trees, pay attention to the berry growth and prepare for it, as it will be some of the best carp fly fishing you can experience.

Where to Find Carp

carp and fly rod

As mentioned earlier, carp are hardy fish that can inhabit a wide variety of areas with varying temperatures and depths.

The adaptability of carp means that they are widespread and unless you live in the deep desert with zero bodies of water nearby, chances are you have a body of water with carp nearby.

While carp will suspend in deep water, they typically will be shallow and will typically feed in shallow flats that are within casting distance of the shoreline and can be seen breaking the surface while feeding in as little as a foot of water.

Shallow bays with vegetation, flats, and sandbars on rivers are great places to search, and the majority of your fishing will be sight fishing, which is a blast no matter the species.

Top Tip: Stalk shorelines and river banks slowing and keep your eyes open for any disruption to the surface of the water, silt clouds, or to visually see the carp and position yourself to cast a fly.

Presenting Flies to Carp

When casting a fly to a spotted carp, you need to do so in a subtle manner, and you will want to lead the fish if it’s moving so the fly lands far enough in front of the carp for it to see the fly.

Carp can spook easily, so you have to find that fine line between getting close enough but not too close to the fish, and you have to do your best to ensure that the fly lands in a natural way without too much disturbance on the surface of the water.

Interesting Carp Facts

smaller caught carp

This little tidbit of knowledge may come as a shock to many proud and avid bass anglers, but carp are actually more intelligent than any freshwater bass.

Studies were done in laboratory settings that measure the time it takes for fish to learn and solve tasks have shown that carp can learn and perform simple tasks twice as fast as a bass.

In the United States, the carp is the largest fish that many anglers will encounter, and if you do not live in areas with fish like muskies, or alligator gar, the carp is most likely the largest common fish that an angler will catch in most regions.

Carp belong to the cyprinid family of fish which include a wide variety of species, including minnows. This family also includes other fish like the golden mahseer, which is one of the hardest fighting freshwater fish in the world and a renowned sportfish in the Himalayan regions of Nepal and India.

Final Thoughts

Despite being an invasive species in the United States, the common carp present an excellent angling opportunity for fly anglers, and it’s one way of looking on the bright side in regards to the invasive nature in the waterways.

It’s a great way to take advantage of nearby waters that are overlooked by other fly anglers, and in many cases, you will find that you have an entire body of water to yourself while catching giant fish on the fly.

We hope you enjoyed this guide on fly fishing for carp! Best of luck.

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