Unloved, unlovely, underestimated and under appreciated, Carp are the ugly ducklings of the fly fishing world. The aesthetic splendor of their salmonid brethren is offset by the general consensus that trout are less intelligent by comparison, and then there is the issue of scale—even a medium sized carp is larger than a career best trout for almost any angler. Factor in the element that most carp populations are seriously under pressured, and you have an angling option that the cognoscenti keep in their personal stash for when it’s time to change things up. Ask any overworked trout guides who live near decent carping water what they’d like to go fish for on a day off, and fly fishing for carp is often the answer.
The upcoming 10th annual Carp Slam, brought to you by Trout Unlimited, will be held September 9 – 10 in and around downtown Denver. The South Platte river, which runs through the heart of the city, is infested with large common carp, and that there is a derby being organized by an organization like TU speaks volumes about the validity of the specie as a sport fish.
One of the first and still the best books to broach the subject of fly fishing for carp is “Carp on the Fly” by Barry Reynolds, Brad Befus and John Berryman.
After absorbing all the information in this when it was first published, I began tying flies specifically for carp, as almost no effective patterns other than Wooly Buggers were available commercially at the time. I proceeded to start hooking up big fish in both still and moving water with variations on the soft hackled Red Squirrel nymph, especially in Chartreuse or Hot Orange.
Red Squirrel Nymph / Jim Misuira
This is not to say that I didn’t have my skunk days. You have to find carp when they are Happy, and this is generally when they are methodically searching out food, heads down and moving with purpose. Pods of motionless fish floating at odd angles to each other are generally in siesta mode, and will almost always ignore your fly — unless you line one of the fish, then the whole group will bolt instantly.
“Finding carp in a receptive mood can be much more difficult than just finding carp. Fishing to negative fish is a common rookie mistake. As carpers gain experience they learn to quickly judge the mood of a carp based on body posture, location and time of year. If the mood is negative the best thing to do is move on in search of more receptive carp.
Seeing carp is a subset of this skill that may deserve borderline master rating. It takes some people (me) a long time to get the hang of seeing carp. For others it comes relatively easy.”
I will also admit that carp fishing with a fly had one other secret satisfaction for me, that of watching how bent out of shape some guys got when I told them about it, and how close it felt to saltwater flats fishing. But, times have changed, and even the historically conservative voices of fly fishing are now speaking up.
“WHY WE LOVE CARP — They’re strong, they’re cagey, you can find them almost anywhere, and carp fishing with a fly rod is perhaps the most exciting sight-fishing you can do in fresh water. As one of our customers recently said “It’s about the only chance most fly fishers in the US have of catching a ten-pound fish in fresh water.” We agree, and if you really study your carp resources, you may catch fish much bigger than that magic ten-pound mark” — Orvis
Whatever your favorite fish is to cast for, don’t overlook carp. Play your cards right and you could make your largest catch by a long shot.