Mix seven parts intuition with 3 parts skill, and that gives you what fly fishing for carp is all about.
I think by now it’s clear that fly fishing for carp has become mainstream. More and more social media feeds are giving these big old ugly swamp donkeys some love. However, for those that may be thinking about getting in on the trash train for the first time, carp are not your typical fish. If you expect to be successful right away, you might have another thing coming. Fly fishing for carp has its own learning curve, just like everything else. For some though, it can be longer than others.
When I first tried fly fishing for carp, it was awful. I had multiple opportunities, but no hook ups. I figured it was bad water or the carp were just too pressured. So I searched for other rivers and ponds. The results were still the same. Opportunities presented themselves but missed or spooked fish were abundant. It wasn’t until I fished with a guy that really knew how to catch carp that my mind was blown and the flood doors opened. What I learned? Carp are their own unique fish and must be treated as such. Anything less will result in failure.
Carp fishing is hunting, plain and simple. You don’t see a deer hunter shoot random arrows into a woods where they know there is a deer, hoping they connect. They wait until the perfect moment to take the shot. In a lot of ways, fly fishing for carp is exactly the same. As I’ve grown as a carp fisherman, my casts have become less and less. As I’ve found, my main focus to catch a carp is to get my body into the position to make a cast to a carp that is ready to eat. Unless that is the case, I’ve found failure is all that awaits.
So what is that position? Well, it takes some stalking skills. Carp are hyper sensitive. They notice shadows moving on the bank as well as your vibrations as you walk. If you just stroll down the bank hoping to roll into a fish, odds are good you won’t. It’s a slow step by step creep. Eventually, if you fish the same area enough, you will know where carp hang. They tend to go back to the same areas again and again. During a drought they’ll hang in one area, during a flood, they’ll be in another. Find their patterns, you’ll find the fish.
The best chance you have to catch a carp is to find one when it is feeding. If you find a mud cloud, you have found a feeding carp. Sometimes though, carp are more subtle than that. They will simply just suck stuff off the surface, a rock, or a log. In these cases, you can notice stressed water movement. To put the odds in your favor, creep slow down the bank and see everything. If that sounds hard, then creep slower. A small fin barely moving down a bank is sometimes all you can see. A small swirl from a nose down mudding carp can sometimes be the only indication. It’s sort of like mushroom hunting in the spring. Once you find them, you begin to see more. You have to train your eyes to what you are looking for.
Once a carp is in view, look up, left, right, and behind you. If you can’t cast, you are in a bad spot. Back up, move away from the fish, and plan your attack. This is where you have time to predict the direction the carp is moving. You can also watch it to see how aggressive it is. You may need to walk 100 feet out of your way to line yourself up for a perfect, clear shot. Anything less, you loose. At best, you might have two shots. Put the odds in your favor. Get in front of it, plan your cast, and execute when the fish is in range. A happy carp will stay on its path allowing you time to get in front of it.
Almost all of the carp I have caught have been less than 25 feet away when they hit, if not closer. In some rare cases, the water has been so clear, longer casts were needed, but hooks up in those situations tend to be lower. I’ve watched the eat on almost every fish. It’s taken lots of practice to be able to get into the needed position to make the cast to see the eat. Don’t let me make that sound easy. The timing needs to be precise. The cast needs to be in a hula hoop size zone in front of the carp subtle enough that it won’t spook. In most cases, the fly needs to still be falling as the carp is cruising by it to get the eat. Again, anything less will likely result in frustration.
Notice, I’ve yet to say anything about the fly. To be honest, carp are lazy. They’ll eat anything. If you can present anything with rubber legs, a crawfish pattern, or a worm, they are going to eat it if it is presented like the above. Form my experience, anything less than that, the odds are just not in your favor. My preferred carp flies are a Pat’s Rubber Leg, or a small San Juan style worm on a bead head with rubber legs.
If you can get good at catching a carp, your overall fly game will grow in ways you won’t expect. And…you’ll be rolling in the trash bin just like the rest of us carp degenerates for the rest of the life.