By Eric Johnson
If you’ve decided you’re up for the challenge of carp on the fly, then it’s time to get serious about the tools of the trade. To truly succeed against the mighty “golden bonefish” you’ll be playing a finesse game between a sturdy setup and a gentle presentation. I’ve seen people advocate an 8wt for taking carp and I’ve seen people actually take them on a 3wt, but my personal preference is a 6wt. It seems to me that a 6wt provides sufficient line size to throw some of the larger heavier sinking patterns necessary to catch a tailing carp while still allowing me to make reasonably gentle dry fly presentations to rising carp. In general I would suggest going on the heavier side rather than the lighter side if you are new to chasing carp.
In my opinion the most important piece of gear in a carpin’ arsenal is the reel. You want a finely tuned drag system that does not require a lot of start up torque. As soon as a carp is hooked it’s an underwater explosion and if your drag takes a lot of start up torque then you are looking at a broken tippet. Of course the alternative to this is to keep a low drag setting and adjust it as needed during the fight. Since in many cases the hook set is performed as a strip set when carp fishing, it’s also important to have fast hands and let the line go immediately after the hookset or at least lighten the manual tension applied to the line. In my experience carp seem to really only have about 2-3 solid runs in them before they are ready to be landed.
A nice long leader will go a long way in helping your carp game. I typically use 3x monofilament leaders with a section of 3x or 4x fluorocarbon tippet. In most cases carp tend to be very spooky creatures because of their ability to be intensely aware of movement in and on the water. This means you have to be very conscious of your movement, your cast, and even your fly dropping into the water. When fishing for grass carp, a fly placed right near their head will often result in a reaction bite, but with common and mirror carp anything placed too close will spook them and ruin the spot. Carp release a pheromone in the water to alert other carp to danger so if you happen to accidentally line a fish or plop a fly down heavily near an unsuspecting carp, it’s game over.
One of the great things about carp fishing is that they don’t key in on specific flies in particular. They are more opportunistic feeders as a rule and when presented with something that smells tasty they are happy to suck it down. This is of course a problem to the flyfisher because they do not smell your fly and if they do it probably smells like you and that’s a bad thing. I try to keep my fly handling to a minimum when chasing carp, you will see many fish take interest in your fly and at the last moment turn away. While this can be infuriating, ultimately it’s part of the fun of carpin’. Carp will generally eat egg patterns, worms, and crayfish imitations. In the hot summer months I catch them on grasshoppers and it’s a blast. If you have a fly that might mimic terrestrial food sources that is also a good option.
If you give it a try you will find that chasing carp is a lot of fun and that it challenges your fly fishing skills. If you manage to land one I’m certain you’ll want to land another. Oh, and you’re going to want a big net… a really big net.
Connect with Eric here on Instagram.