Summer is here and the water temperatures are in the 70s! At this point, many anglers will resort to traveling or perhaps just enjoying tying.
With the current COVID-19 situation and travel being an elevated risk, I chose to learn how to catch carp on the fly rod in Central PA this Summer!
Carp came to the United States from Asia and were first stocked in the late 1870s as a “food” fish that would alleviate fishing pressure on the native species. After falling to the wayside as a "rough fish", they have resurged as a popular target for many anglers on the fly rod.
As a trout guide in the Cumberland Valley, I quickly found myself wading through warm, slow backwater currents and even in the cattail ridden muddy marshes on a few local lakes, (quite a different landscape from what I am accustomed to.)
In this article, I hope to fast-forward you through some of the painful learning curves, and make your pursuit of these fish more enjoyable!
There are two types of water to focus on when looking for Carp- slow, moving water and lakes or ponds.
I’d recommend the slow waters of your favorite smallmouth bass stream or river to start. The primary way we fish for carp in moving water is by nymphing. You can try nymphing without an indicator and letting the fly swing at the end of the drift, or ” tight line style” just like we would when we break out the 10 foot Czech Nymphing rods on a trout stream. Another deadly way to fish is with an indicator. This will allow you a dead drift, and with enough adjustments, you can really get your fly in a carp’s field of vision. (Something that is Vital to success with fly rod carpin')
Leader setups for moving water would be:
15’ of 20-pound Maxima Chameleon
5’ of 12-pound Maxima Chameleon
2’ of indicator style, two-tone tippet (1x or 2x)
Approx 3-5 feet of 10-pound Fluorocarbon Tippet
** If using an indicator, attach it along the 2-foot section of bicolor tippet.
This is my basic moving water setup. I have not found a need to go lighter than a 10-pound test on my tippet, and it just gives you an advantage when you finally connect to one of these freight trains!
The next areas to target these fish are lakes, ponds, and still water. Sunny days with little cloud cover are the best days for still water carpin’. A tiny amount of wind helps to disguise you and allows you to still see the fish while getting a little closer.
You can usually spot carp laid up in the shallows either resting or slowing “waking”’ while they are cruising looking for small crustaceans or insects.
Once you locate a slow cruising carp, the decision on how far to lead the fish becomes vital to success. Only a few shots or casts will tell you if you are too close or far from the fish. I've had days where leading the fish by 12 feet caused them to spook and swim the other way. If you can land a cast within 4-6 feet of a slow cruising carp, you know you've found the right fish.
I’ve had the best results from a slowly stripped retrieve, with steady strips of about 6 inches, with the rod tip lowered toward the water's edge. Rarely will they chase something “rising” in the water column. A tip for all the trout fisherman reading- please learn a strip set! This will increase your odds of a good hook up, and hopefully giving you a chance!
My leader setup for still water fishing is simple, a 9-foot nylon “bass taper” leader down to 12-pound test. Cut a foot off, and triple surgeon knot 18 inches of 10-pound fluorocarbon.
Let’s talk rods and reels quickly. I personally use a 9 foot 7 weight, and I’m certain anything from 6 to 8 weight would work. I’ve become a little cautious about line weights heavier than a 7 weight, as I think they make too much noise for wary carp. Reels need to have a drag that can experience a surging run of this elusive game fish! I personally use an Orvis Mirage LT (Size IV to get the job done).
Fly Lines for either moving or still water are simple. A floating weight-forward line will cover all situations almost all the time! Scientific Anglers Amplitude or Mastery Series or RIO’s Gold are great lines for carp.
And finally flies… I try to keep it fun and simple. Usually, I use a Tiemco 2457 size 8 as the start for most of my flies. I avoid flash, and wrap bead chain eyes on my flies to have them ride “hook up”. This reduces snags and weeds along the bottom and also improves the chance of hooking the fish in the solid roof of the mouth instead of in its softer, rubbery lower mouth. Most are tied with rabbit or squirrel dubbing in hare’s ear, olive, natural fox, and brown colors. Rubber legs can be incorporated for some wiggle, but don’t overdo it. The following pics are a few of my go-to flies.
I think this covers the basic roadmap for successful fly rod carpin'. I try not to complicate this Sport anymore than it already can be. If you have any luck, please email me your success story! I don't foresee any books being written on this prized fish, but it sure is a fun way to pass the dog days of Summer.
Have fun chasing the Pennsylvania Bonefish!
Relentless Fly Fishing Head Trout Guide
TCO Fly Shop Employee