Spring is showing it's face across the country. People are putting their vises away and are dusting off their gear. The trees and flowers are blossoming, water’s warming up and the fish are on the move.
One of my favorite pastimes is carp fishing.
Look we’ve heard all the comments... They are trash fish, yet you go overseas, and carp are treated like queens. Spending time overseas, living in California and now the south, I’ve spent a lot of time fishing for these quite misunderstood creatures.
Over the last few years I have seen a rise in their popularity here in the United States. More people are showing interest in the species.
By no means am I a professional when it comes to carp, but my hope is that some of these tips will help someone interested in trying something new. Or someone that’s been doing it a while and wants to try some different tricks.
Finding the hot spot #1
First, I look for a large, warm, slow-moving body of water with soft muddy bottoms. Once I’ve chosen my battlefield, I will look for five different signs for carp. These signs will let you know if they have been in the area, or different areas to look out for.
First, look for the transitional drop points on a lake or river, that line where shallow water drops off to deeper pools. You can recognize these places where carp have been eating by seeing depressions in the mud at the bottom of shallow water.
Second, and this one relates more to river fishing than lakes. Look for your friend Eddy. Don’t overlook the whirlpool. Carp eat a wide array of invertebrates, seeds, fish remains, caddis flies, snails, worms, and mollusks. That whirlpool is the best food dispenser you will ever see.
Third. If you live in an area that has a high population of mulberry trees, then you’re in luck. Mulberry trees are full of berries and when you see them dropping, the carp come hopping. Always have a few Mulberry flies in your carp box. You know, the one you keep hidden in the back of the closet. The one you can’t let your buddies know about because you like to Carp fish.
Fourth… grass lines, grass lines, grass lines, I can’t repeat myself more, young carp spend most of their time eating grass and smaller invertebrates. The grass beds act like a nursery for these young carp so if you find one you’re likely to find more.
Fifth. Don’t judge a book by its cover. That dirty canal behind your buddy’s house could be the holy grail. Lakes and pristine rivers are great but don’t overlook the obvious. Warm muddy nutrient rich spill ways have been the home to Carp for decades.
Getting set up for the dangle #2
So, by no means are these set ups the right way for all situations. These are the ways that have worked for me so I’m going by my own experiences.
Let’s start with lakes. For this I’m going to make my leader out of 10 to 4lb maxima ultra green. I want 12ft of leader material. I’m going to taper down to either 8 or 4lb depending on weather conditions and water clarity. For more overcast and off colored water I can get away with an 8lb over a 4lb. If I find myself in blue-bird skies and ultra-clear water I will normally use 4lb. You’re sacrificing that higher lb. strength for more finesse, and when it comes to a spooky carp that finesse is key. If you feel so inclined, you can use a section of fluorocarbon as well if you see them shying away from your flies. If you feel more comfortable stopping by your local fly shop and picking up some leaders, I would tend to lean on the longer side. Anything you can find in the 10ft to 12ft range and anything in the 4lb to 8lb range in either fluorocarbon or monofilament will work.
Let’s talk about rivers for a bit. If you’re in an area of the country where you have carp in your rivers, then this is for you. If you have larger rivers, then you might want to use the same method that I talked about for lakes but if you have smaller creeks and rivers with carp, try this method. Like before I’m going to build my own leader. We’re going to start with 12lb maxima then stop the taper at 8lb. From hear I’m going to add a barrel swivel; I know, just hear me out. I tend to use them in the river due to the likelihood that the carp is going to get hung in stuff. Carp tend to roll and flip when hooked so this minimizes tangling and allows the line to spin freely with the fish. From the end of the swivel I will tie 6lb. I want my total leader length to be around 9 to 10ft.
From here, you have a few options.
One, you could do a double nymph rig from 6lb to 4lb.
Two, you can run a small leech off a mulberry like a dry dropper and kill two birds with one stone.
Three, you can go old school and run a long leader to a single fly.
You’re probably saying “hey Aaron, what about the flies?”, well we are coming to that. Also, we can’t overlook split shot. Look, I’m like other people, I don’t like to use split shot if I don’t have to, but there are times that you can only make a fly but so heavy. If you find yourself having trouble getting into “the zone” don’t be afraid to add a little slip shot. Play it by ear depending on flow rates in your rivers. You might need to add more or less play around with it.
Last but not least, rods. We all have more than one, but is the one you’re using right for carp? There’s a few things you can do.
For a lake, I would use a 9ft 7wt or 8wt rod as you’re going to need to make long accurate casts. The heavier rods along with a good shooting head line will allow you to sit back at a distance and make precise long casts.
If you’re in a river with not a lot of room for back-casts, a non-traditional way would be a euro nymph rod. 10ft in a 5wt or 6wt. You can use the length of the rod to your advantage, and along with that extra reach you can downsize your leader lb. and use the rods length to spread the load across the rod.
The meat and potato’s…Flies #3
I wish I could promise you the fly of all flies… the Wayne Gretzky of Carp flies, the one that works for everything. I wish it could be that easy. Carp are quite picky eaters when they want to be, but in some cases it’s not always true.
Sometimes simple is better…go back to the oldies - eggs, san juan worms, Y2Ks. We’ve all caught a sucker in the river when fishing for trout or salmon…well their brothers like the same egg and worm patterns just as much. Earlier, I mentioned leeches and crustaceans. These are a big part of a carp’s diet. So, small freshwater shrimp and leeches are great flies to throw for carp. Don’t be afraid to fish small.
We’ve covered a few wet flies but let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Dries…. We love a surface take, who doesn’t. Mulberry flies are the more well-known one, but don’t forget about the early morning and late afternoon hatches. BWOs, Drakes, Caddis, we’ve all seen them and so do the carp. These can be a deadly pawn in the game of chess we’re playing here.
My favorite of all these flies would be a size 14 freshwater shrimp. You throw it into the flats or the grass or as a search fly. It’s definitely one I have with me on any carp trip.
Low and Slow…The approach #4
We all can’t afford that drift boat, or skiff to get you out on the Water, but don’t let that stop you. Still, you do need to consider your options on how you’re going to get to those hot spots.
If you don’t have a lot of access along the banks where you can walk the lake or pond, then you may want to consider a fishing kayak. With a kayak, it will allow you a way into the back cuts and areas on lakes and rivers that a boat just can’t go. You have the advantage of stealth and you’re able to stand and look around as you and sight fish for the carp.
If you don’t have a kayak or access to one, but you have access to a river or lake by foot then take full advantage of that. Think stealthy - you’re going to be more exposed walking in the river or lake. Stay low, be aware of your surroundings. Keep to the shadows, the last thing you want is your own shadow spooking a fish after you stalked up to them.
If you’re in the river, use small rapids and ripple runs to mask the sound of your footsteps. Use mother nature’s tools to your own advantage. Let’s say you do have a boat. You’re ahead of the curve, but the battle is far from over. On the positive side, you’re higher up so you have a better vantage point. You can spot these fish from further away. You have time to make a game plan.
On the negative side, you might be limited to lakes and rivers that have adequate depth for your boat. Also, you have a motor you’re going to be putting out some vibrations in the water from that motor. Keep that in mind. If you have access to a push pole use one, if you have a trolling motor keep her on low and go in slow. Be aware of what is around you and know your water. I’m not going to say don’t risk it for the biscuit, but be safe.
At the end of the day it’s just a fish. No matter what you have or don’t have, use what you do, along with your skills to take advantage and get a leg up on the situation, use it to your benefit.
Grip it and rip it…. The Eat #5
Ok you’ve found your spot, you’re all rigged up and ready to go. You’ve got a carp in sight. Regardless if you’re on a boat, kayak or on foot - you’re going to need to anticipate where that fish is going and cast your fly close enough to him along that path.
You might only get one or two back-casts so make it count. If you are a little off just play the fly, let it fish; pulling it out of the water near the fish would be a mistake. You’ll spook that fish, so either let him swim to the path of your fly, or let him swim off. Never yank it out.
So, you’ve made your cast it’s in his path. He’s nosing your leech as you’re slowly stripping it in, and you see him mouth down on it. This is an important moment, you need to let him suck it in his mouth. Carp will quite often mash it in the dirt first with their mouth, and then suck it in. Give yourself a second on your strip set.
If you are in a river this might be different, as you’re most likely either using an indicator or a dry-dropper, or even a sighter line. So say you have made your cast and are following your sighter with your rod, and you get a hit. You would assume to set the hook quickly with a delicate upward or to the side of the shoulder motion. You’re going to want to wait a split-second before setting the hook, because you need to make sure it’s in his mouth. It’s something that you’re going to have to work out your own rhythm for. The same goes when you’re throwing a dry dropper.
Fast forward. You’ve done everything right and hooked the carp and the fight is on. Hopefully you’ve made sure that your drag is properly set before you hooked the carp. The last thing you want is to have no drag and have that fish free spool you. I’ve had it done to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. I want some pressure but be aware of how much pressure you are applying. Carp tend to go on long runs and the last thing you want is to have your line pop because you put too much pressure on that fish and tippet. If he’s going to run, let him run, when you feel him slowing down that’s when you need to be stripping or reeling.
If you can make up ground on him, the easier it is for you to get him close and net him. Be careful about hook pressure, carp have soft mouths and that will allow for the hook to pull out easier. I like to think of them as freshwater Redfish, they like to pull like a bulldog.
It’s hard to describe to you the fascination that I have with carp, until you’re holding one in your hands and you see the golden scales shining in the light. Like a nugget of gold just plucked out of the water. Guys and gals the gold rush is here it’s time to go pan the rivers and lakes for some gold.