Carp fishing is kind of like surprise feeding your hungry girlfriend… it doesn’t always work out but when it does, you will reap the rewards.
It’s a common reaction to be asked, “why would an angler fish for carp”? I think at one point in time, most have pondered that very same question. I would say it’s a pretty safe bet that most carp anglers’ response on their first take was, why haven’t I done this sooner. Carp fly fishing brings a whole new gallery, or genre, to the meaning of, “the art of fly fishing”. Here, my goal is to give the interested carp angler a foundation of how to fly fish for them and a deeper appreciation for the fish.
I’m sure by now you’ve gathered my perspective on the fish. I like my daughter's words the best. Carp are the water bears (tardigrades) of fish. Those are the fluffy microscopic animals that kids learn about in school. She thinks they are cute and helpless looking. On a deeper level, they kind of share an aspect of life that has kept them alive for all these years, resiliency. The water bears can survive harsh conditions (even in outer space) when they look like they can barely get going for breakfast. Carp kind of have that same look, but can survive in “non-fishable” waters. It’s crazy how nature works sometimes. And, it’s always fun chasing down helpless looking creatures that are willing to put up a fight, right?!
Having the ability to survive in waters that are not suited for other sport species is not a carp’s only super power, its curiosity, cautiousness, and ability to adapt have placed them at the top of the list. Besides casting and fishing technique, these attributes are a good starting point of focus when getting into carp on the fly.
There’s an old saying, “ you can’t catch the fish if your line’s not in the water” (this is popular when your buddy is untangling their line for the 10th time or making 20 false casts before finally presenting the fly). While that’s 100% true for traditional fishing and standing in a river blindly fishing for trout, it’s not true for carp. The saying implies that the longer/more your line is in the water the greater your chances are of catching fish. That is not very true for carp. There is no standing in one spot and dredging and adjusting water columns or swapping out flies as the fish stays in place. Simply not the name of the game in the carp world. If you make a mistake by creating a wave of unnatural vibrations, make noise or give them an unnatural presentation, their survival instincts will kick in and they will spook out. With carp you increase your chances tenfold by casting less and only casting to feeding carp or when the opportunity rises. Less time in the water = a greater chance of a fish. To add to that, you’re only casting to feeding and/or visual carp, you’re not casting to the bank and stripping the “fishy” spots. The best strategy is walking or boating (being stealthy of course) and presenting the fly only when necessary. You need to get the fly within inches of the carp’s face. Usually, you’re only offered 1-3 casts before, again, they get spooked and swim away. That being said, your fly is mostly out of water and the majority of your time is spent being stealthy and looking for feeding carp. Kinda takes the waiting game and beer holding out of the sport.
If you’ve done the latter and stalked out the fish and find a feeding carp, most of the work is done. It boils down to your technique (casting, presentation, & hook set) and the mood or curiosity of the carp… oh yeah, some luck too. This aspect of the game is kind of like trying to surprise your blindfolded hungry girlfriend/wife with dinner by driving them to a restaurant with hopes that you’ve done everything right...and taking off the blind fold. “Surprise!” Trust me, in both scenarios, you’ll know if you've made the right choice. If something’s not right she will blow up and then proceed to tell others about it (yes if you spook one fish, all of its friends around hear about it too). If this happens and you want to get lucky, you have to pack your things, completely separate yourself, and walk across town (I mean lake) to seek out another fish. (FYI this is not good relationship advice, but is definitely a must in carp fly fishing).
Like your hungry significant other, carp are somewhat picky/moody eaters, even though their diets range from the soup and salad bar to the meat trays (eggs, worms, snails, fish, plants, etc…). You will have to gauge what will work best. Typically, if your date doesn’t know what they want to eat, it’s always a good idea to up the experience by choosing a place that has a good atmosphere with a higher taste in class (she will somewhat be more forgiving if they don’t have exactly what she’s looking for). Without getting too far into depth of what meal you should choose, getting that right environment or vibe is key and a safe bet is always busting out the ol’ confidence platter. For me, it’s steak and eggs, small earthy colored or black leeches/small streamers and some small eggs (or puff balls/Medina’s EOD). Then it’s an epic game of airplane (yes, the airplane game that you play with your child). You cast in front of their face and wait.
There are a few different ways to play, but the most effective two methods are the drag & drop and the double streamer setup, which again are just methods to present the fly to the carp. In a nutshell, the drag and drop is exactly what it sounds like, you cast and let the fly drop in front of the carp’s face and wait for it to take. FYI, use the tippet and the fly (if you can), leave the indicator off because if you don’t, you increase the chances of spooking the fish with casts and it’s a good idea not to get into bad habits. This is similar to euro-nymphing and watching for the line twitch, but for big spooky fish. Usually, if you feel the take or wait for the indicator to drop, you may be too late.
The dual streamer setup is a great method because it gives you more control at a close distance. I first heard of this method a few years back from watching @johnmontana, and fell in love with it. What’s been good to me is placing a heavier weighted fly on the bottom of my fly line and then placing another fly about 1.5-2’ above that. Casting it over the fish, dragging and dropping it. While using the bottom fly as an anchor it allows you to position the top fly pretty much wherever you want it. Both are awesome setups and I highly encourage starting off getting used to these.
If you’ve done everything above, it’s up to luck. It’s just you, the fish and the fly. If they don’t take it, try it again…. still nothing… change out the color or sink rate. If they run away, start packing your bags and go after its friend across town. Usually, they’ll take a jab if they’re pretty hungry and feeding hard … and if it works… BAM you’re in baby! Set the hook and… fish on! One of the most rewarding experiences!
As you can tell there is a lot to carp fly fishing and it’s not for everyone. But if you like the “hunting” aspect and like getting rewarded after hard work and strategy, it will definitely pay off. I would highly recommend trying out the sport before investing into any special gear. I’ve always said, carp fly fishing is to the sport of fly fishing as archery is to the sport of hunting. There are way more efficient and effective ways to get the job done, but putting in work, fine tuning the details, and fully immersing yourself in the sport, can be much more rewarding.
P.S. Check us out for all your carp fly fishing needs! Oklahoma fly fishing is great for these guys and when you're on, you're on and carp never disappoint.