|Fly Fishing ... How to Catch Carp on a Fly by Captain Mark Boname (Carp Unlimited)|
This last year, I've noticed and increasing amount of fly fishing forums with questions about fly fishing for Carp. While some of the threads have been informative, many have misconceptions and lack techniques that will help you. In this article I will attempt to take some of the mystery out of catching Carp on a fly.
Just to give you a little background on myself. I have a BS in Fisheries Biology from the University of Wyoming and have been fly fishing for carp for almost 20 years. Of course like most, it all started by accident while trying to catch trout in one of my favorite ponds. I would ignore the huge shadows that would cruise by while trying to catch what I thought was a prized game fish - trout. Either from boredom or need of a new challenge I finally gave in and started casting to, what I thought at the time a "trash fish". I don't know who was more stunned ... me or the carp when I hooked the first one ... as I watched my fly line disappear into backing. Since that first fight, the terms "trash fish" have long left my fly fishing vocabulary.
The most important thing you need to know about fly fishing for Carp or any fish for that matter, is to know and understand what you are chasing. There are two types of Carp that folks are chasing with a fly rod. One is a grass carp (white amur) and the other is the common carp (or subspecies mirror carp). It is important to know which carp inhabits the water you plan on fishing, as the grass carp is a herbivore (eats plankton - vegetation matter only) and the common carp is a an omnivore (will eat both plants and animals). Knowing will help you move forward with the tactics you will use.
Grass Carp are introduced in lakes and ponds for the purpose of vegetation control. To keep grass carp from natural reproduction and spreading, the grass carp eggs are manipulated in a lab with heat, cold and pressure to create a triploid (a sterile fish). This makes them a very expensive fish to buy and stock; therefore most pond and lake owners are very leery about letting folks fish for them. Since the grass carp is a vegetarian, it is very hard to match the hatch, making it the most challenging carp to catch on a fly. Try tying woolly buggers that match the color of the vegetation in the waters you plan to fish. Cast your fly in front of the fish and let it float or sink slowly. If you have the luck and the patience to fish for these guys, your reward will come after you hook up. The grass carp grow very large, is the hardest fighting carp and will give you the best fight you've had in a long time, so make sure you have a smooth reel and a lot of backing. These guys will even jump during the fight unlike their cousins the common carp.
Common / Mirror Carp
Since this is the carp that most folks including myself fish for, this is where I will spend a lot time explaining the conditions and techniques I use. Please understand that I fish in clear water lakes and everything is done by sight fishing in shallow water of one to three feet. I do not fish for them while they are spawning (end of May in my area) as it is futile. You will know when they are spawning by all the splashing and hell raising going on along the shoreline or back in the weeds and grass.
As water temperature increases so does a carp's metabolism, so the heat of summer is when they are on the feed. This is great timing, since it’s time to leave trout alone due to warm water temps. Depending on conditions (usually wind), I generally use five to eight weight rods with floating lines and 0x to 5x leaders with fluorocarbon tippet; but, for grins and giggles I’ve been known to push the limit and use a 2 wt rod from time to time. On my home waters, the Carp average 10 to 12 pounds, but can catch them up to 25 pounds.
Unlike grass carp, the common carp is an omnivore and will eat just about anything from vegetation to crayfish. I think they are very opportunistic and I've been known to call them freshwater goats. So your first assignment is to explore the first twenty feet of biomass from shore to identify the main critters in their diet. In the waters that I fish, crawdads and minnows are their favorite food source; however, they will feed on anything in the biomass that exists along the shoreline including vegetation, midges, dragon fly nymphs, damsel fly nymphs, snails, leeches and license plates ... you get the idea. Do not believe everything you read and hear, you can use large flies to catch carp ... my favorite fly is my #4 Vanilla Bugger. No need to try and pump or kill a carp to see what they have been eating. They have crushers in the back of their mouth so everything in the digestive tract is mush and is usually unidentifiable. I will tell you, that the fly pattern is not as important as the presentation.
Knowing that a carp’s sight orientation is pointed downward will help you understand more about dry fly fishing for carp. A carp must be tipped upwards (vertical) in order to see the dry fly on the surface. You can throw dry flies until your arm falls off to carp that are swimming horizontally below the surface believing they will come up for the fly ... it’s not going to happen. If you fish rivers, watch for carp that are coming up of the bottom from time to time to the surface. Drop the fly on the surface as they are coming up to ensure that they see it. I‘ve caught them on every dry fly I’ve thrown including royal wulffs, goddard caddis, parachute adams and hoppers. Because it is hard for them to see, carp take dry flies very slowly, so make sure the fly is all the way into the mouth before STRIP SETTING.