I think every angler that lives in the US can think of a handful of “secret” spots that have “tons of huge” carp in them. When I hear this it definitely sparks my interest but it’s at that moment I know this conversation is about to go one of two different ways. It’s either about to be a great conversation filled with stories about battling them on conventional or fly and followed by some epic pictures of the huge golden creatures. Or it goes goes the other direction as they begin to tell me about how Common Carp are “Trash Fish” and the evil villain of the freshwater angling world. They then proceed to show me pictures of dead carp with arrows through them. When I’m at work and this happens I just bury my feelings and try to remain calm but inside a whole other conversation is taking place and it’s not very nice. The term “trash fish” quite honestly just pisses me off. Over the last few years as a fly angler I’ve really grown to love these misunderstood creatures. Aside from the fact that they look cool and are built like bull dozers , they also fight like it . It’s pretty hard to go back to chasing bass when in reality NO black bass will ever rip me into my backing 10 seconds into a battle . A 5 pound Common Carp however will give me an 8-10 minute battle and if it has the room to swim will definitely show me that neon orange braided core at the heart of my reel.
Now I know what you’re thinking , “So they fight hard but they can’t be that hard to catch…right? I used to catch them on corn as a kid.” Actually carp are one of the hardest North American freshwater fish to catch on fly hands down. Aside from being omnivores and their food of choice changing day to day. They are also hyper aware of their surroundings when up in the shallows and feeding. This is where they are most vulnerable. Carp species have a huge lateral line that help them sense even the slightest vibration or electrical currents . That matched with decent vision , sensitive barbels and a huge tail fin make for a fish that with one hard push of the tail can be gone in an instant. Leaving you scratching your head and staring at a cloud of sediment or mud where it just was. This makes them so much fun to stalk from the bank or kayak.
Common carp have been the favorite target species of fish for friends in the U.K. for hundreds and hundreds of years. Most Americans can’t begin to understand the amount of money spent on carp specific gear and the ones who do know it all to well , as they are probably Euro -style carp anglers , but that is a different topic all together.
In the 1800s two fish were brought to America both for table-fare and sport. The Common Carp and the Brown Trout . According to Kirk Deeter, author of the Orvis Guide to Fly fishing for Carp, in 1872 Julius A Poppe brought 5 Common Carp to California and within 4 years the fish had proliferated into a successful fish farming operation. Then in 1877 the U.S. Fish Commission launched a major effort to cultivate these fish throughout the country. The first shipment of fish from Europe was deemed so valuable that it was guarded around the clock after they had been acclimated to the Druid Hill pond near Baltimore Maryland. The Brown trout was brought over and planted into the Balwin River in Michigan in 1884. Highly revered for its “sporting” characteristics and widespread commercial value. The problem was that this fish couldn’t just be dumped anywhere. It had to have specific requirements to thrive and reproduce. It required cool , clean water and tons of bugs and freshwater invertebrates to survive. It’s other European buddy ,the carp , could survive in the opposite . Dirty warm water with low oxygen levels were no problem at all. Now fast forward to present day. Seeing where these two species ended up in the “social status” of the angling community is insane to me . Carp thrived and took hold in literally every body of water they were introduced to . Clearing muddied silty flats , helping keep back certain plant and invertebrate species but by the turn of the 20th century we’re already being labeled a nuisance species . Brown trout however, which are considered to be one of the favorite trout species to fly anglers , were hard to keep alive and destroyed native trout populations in certain water bodies but remain at the top of prized fish species . The reputation that both species gained is a little crazy in terms of their effect on local waters and native species . I’m not arguing the fact that carp eat fish eggs and muddy up certain areas of rivers but in reality what kind of creature doesn’t eat fish eggs!? The answer is everything eats fish eggs! There there is a little history of where carp came from and how they got spread throughout the country . Let’s get into what the this article is about. Stalking and catching carp from the kayak!
I’ve already talked a little bit about how much fun and rewarding it is to stalk these fish from the bank but silently paddling up to your target fish , getting everything ready for the cast are the moments I live for . As I said earlier these fish are hyper aware of their surroundings and are ready to bolt at a moments notice . This makes them tough to target from the yak. The slightest bump on your deck can send even the heaviest feeder into the safety of the deeper water .
For me sight fishing is the way to do it. I’ve heard of anglers just blind casting into muddied flats and catching monsters but have yet to witness or experience it myself. I prefer to find them early in the mornings while their crawling around on their bellies in the shallows . 1-3′ deep water , sandy or muddy flats with little to no flow are the spots I tend to find them feeding in numbers . The clearer the water the more stealthy you have to be .
As far as gear goes it really just depends on the angler’s preference . I know guys that fight carp on 3 wts and love it but I also know guys who won’t cast anything less than an 8wt. Myself I prefer my trusty 6wt Orvis Helios ZG with Mirage lll reel loaded with a weight forward floating 6wt line. A 7 1/2 foot 10 fluorocarbon leader with a small buggy neutral colored fly. Some of my favorites include the FlyGeek RioGetter , Carp-it Bomb , Rainey’s Size 6 CarpTease , Egan’s Headstand , Loco Moco and the Hipster Dufus but like I said anything small , buggy and neutral colored will work. The only thing I’ve found that they absolutely can’t stand is anything with lots of flash in it. For whatever reason they simply can’t stand it.
When it comes to casting on carp I always find that it’s better to cast far in front of them and far back . For example : If I paddle up on a large fish feeding in 3′ of water I will land my fly in front of it about 5 or 6′ and then past it by the same amount . Try to figure out what direction the feeding fish is headed and intersect with slow steady strips of the line. Once the fly is within 1-2′ of the fish ,if it hasn’t been spotted already , kill the action. Then give it tiny little strips just to make it twitch. At this point , a feeding fish will usually have already inhaled your fly.
Setting the hook at the perfect moment is key to a successful carp session. Most carp will suck in their prey and immediately blow it back out then repeat so setting the hook on the take is when it needs to happen. Don’t be afraid to put some ooomf into it. It takes a bit of force and an extremely sharp hook to bury into those rubbery lips . Usually a good strip set and simultaneous rod tip forced into the air is good enough to drive it home. This is when the real battle begins so hold on tight . If given the room to run it’s guaranteed that you’re going to see the backing line on your reel. The large tail fins combined with the sheer weight and muscle of these fish make for an intense fight and ability to pick up speed at any given moment . Chances are you’ll have a great sleigh ride but every time you gain some line they will take it right back. In my experience it’s always better to get your feet planted on firm ground in order to end the battle. If not it just becomes an intricate back and forth of taking and losing line while spinning in circles. Firmly plant your rod combo between and paddle (forwards or backwards ) to the nearest accessible bank to finish the fight. Once your feet are planted it’s time to go to work . You want to steadily gain line but not bully the fish because they will break you off. You know when you can reel and when you can’t and if you don’t the fish will tell you by taking more line . Just be patient and tire the fish out. After 2-3 times of trying to land the fish with your rubberized net they usually lay on their side come right to the net out of pure exhaustion.
I hope this short article has sparked your interest in pursuing carp on the fly and you won’t fully understand the fun that comes along with it until you’ve hooked your first one. Just remember that this journey will begin with tons of frustration but will end with a battle that will definitely change how you view these scaly.