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Carp Fly Fishing Tools and Tactics

By, Benjamin Hoyer

Common carp caught in a landing net.

Intro to Carp Fishing on the Fly

Carp fishing is one of the most challenging fly angling pursuits. Carp are accessible all across North America and live in various climates and water temperatures. Carp are commonly fished with spinning gear, but can also be caught on the fly.

Sight fishing in shallow water is the most common method used to pursue Carp on a fly rod. Some of the places carp live may be a little rough around the edges, but casting to feeding or cruising carp feels remarkably like casting to bonefish in the tropics.

Let’s discuss the tools and tactics best suited when fishing for carp.

Carefully Choose Your Carp Gear

Picking Out a Fly Rod for Carp Fishing

When selecting a fly rod for carp fishing, I prefer 6 through 8 weight rods. A stiff back bone and a soft tip are necessary characteristics of carp rods that require both power and delicate presentations. Lighter rods may not have as much backbone, but they do provide superior tippet protection and subtle presentations. 

The Correct Reel to Corral Carp

Choosing a fly reel with a good drag system is important as carp are known for their fighting prowess. A reel with stopping power and high capacity for backing and line is paramount. I have neither heard of nor have I personally seen a carp spool an entire reel, but on a big river or lake it is not out of the realm of possibility.

Think Your Favorite Dry Fly Line, but Bigger

Lines are a very important part of the carp fishing equation. Floating lines are a must when targeting Carp.  Lines that are too heavy could make too much noise when hitting the water and could spook feeding carp. Find a floating line with a gradual taper. I recommend finding your favorite dry fly line in bigger sizes (if the manufacturer makes them). Lines can be your most important tool on your favorite carp flat. 

The Right Combo of Leader & Tippet Can Be the Ticket

Leaders and tippets can be the most crucial part of your set up. Carp have great eyesight and can often spook at any sight of anything abnormal. Spooky carp often require 12 or even 14 foot leaders. You can lengthen your leader with your tippet and small tippet ring. Fluorocarbon tippet is best for carp fishing as it is translucent under water. If carp are being spooky or if the water is low and clear, then I will size down in tippet diameter. 

Certain Shades Can Save the Day

Polarized sunglasses may be the most important tool other than rod, reel and line. If you can not see the carp it will be extremely hard to target them. It will also be very difficult to see where they move throughout the seasons. Contact your local fly shop to see what lens color may be best for the light conditions in your area.

Recap: Your Checklist for Your Next Carp Outing

As a quick recap, here are the items you won't want to forget the next time you head out to pursue carp on the fly:

  • A 9’-10’ fly rod between 6wt and 8wt
  • A reel with a solid drag system
  • A versatile fly line - WF6F, WF7F, WF8F
  • 9ft 3X leader and/or 9ft 4x leader
  • 3X-5X fluorocarbon tippet
  • Polarized sunglasses

Chasing Carp Throughout the Year

As I mentioned in the intro, carp are a tough fish that can survive in many different climates and water systems.

They have incredible eyesight and are extremely aware of their surroundings. Remaining stealthy and patiently observing are requirements for proper carp fishing. Carp are very skittish by nature. They are often the victims of herons, musky, bow fishermen, and a variety of other predators.

Using your observation skills is critical to learning how and where the carp feed throughout the various seasons. Here are some quick tips you'll want to take into account when approaching the stream.


The winter months are generally the slowest time of year. The metabolism of a carp slows down and they do not feed as often. In Central Pennsylvania, many of my go-to carp holes freeze over, or carp retreat to deeper water. Warmer days can provide some sight fishing opportunities, but I am often fishing small midges with light tippet. I should just be inside, tying my favorite carp flies.


Spring is the beginning of carp Season. In the earlier months, carp can still be found in deep water, but as the water warms up, carp will move to the shallows to feed. This is also when a lot of the aquatic insects in your local waterways start to become more active and hatch. Like trout, carp can often be found in riffles and eddys feeding on the same things as trout.

Fishing mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis nymphs can be very effective. Spring generally boasts high water, which can be a great time to fish squirmy worms and mop flies. In the later months of spring, crayfish become more active and can be a great snack for a carp.


Summer is the prime season. Carp spawn in late May and early June here in Central PA. It is best to leave the fish alone at this time of year, but if you do decide to fish you are looking for the singular fish that is not a part of the “activity”. 

Crayfish patterns, small baitfish patterns, swimming nymphs, and terrestrials are my go-to flies throughout the summer. This is also a great time to find a berry bush that hangs over the creek. Carp can be seen feeding on berries and seeds from various plants.

Depending where you fish, carp can even be found eating on the surface during your favorite dry fly event. I prefer the early mornings and evenings for carp. While the visibility can be poor during this part of the day, carp tend to feed during these times of the day. In addition, there are less shadows that may spook carp in the mornings and evenings.


The fall offers comparable fishing to the spring. Most of the tactics used in the summer also apply for the early months of the fall. As the foliage starts to dwindle and leaves come off of trees is a great time to fish terrestrials like beetles, ants, and inch worm patterns.

As the weather and water start to cool down, a carp's metabolism slows down and they will start to move to deeper water and will start to act more sluggish. This is a great time to match the hatch and target them with nymphs.

As water temps cool down it becomes increasingly difficult to catch these fish. Indicator fishing slower moving pools can often be the most effective way to fish during the colder months of the fall.

Go Forth and Catch Some Carp!

To conclude, I would like to reiterate that stealth and being observant are keys to success in carp fishing  throughout each seasons. Finding and reading water where fish may hold is crucial for success.

Just remember that there will be many days where landing one fish will be a great day. There will also be plenty of days where you may not land a fish, but the experience you gain is essential to future success. Thanks for reading and good luck!