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Fish: Common Carp

Question for the carp fly anglers

Post By: eholm      Posted: 5/26/2023 11:30:36 AM     Points: 6175    
I've never targeted carp, other than when I was a young kid with a can of corn, or that time 15 years ago at the palace of Versailles in France when I used my finger as bait to catch a carp out of a canal (pictures below for proof. The look on other tourists faces was priceless).

I've fished a small local lake a few times lately. It is relatively shallow, murky water full of algae, plenty of structure around the perimeter, mostly fished for bass.

I've observed carp around the edges exhibiting a couple of behaviors:

1) slurping the surface in small groups. I don't see anything visible, so whatever they're eating (if they're eating) must be tiny.

2) Hanging out individually in a few inches of water, dorsal fin sometimes breaching the surface. Usually in areas with grass or roots, and can be spotted by the grass waving around. Looks to me like they're eating something off the bottom, but I don't know.

In both of those cases, they are easily spooked if they see me, and they aren't interested in my bass lures.

I want to try catching them on my tenkara fly rod, as I could sneak up and dangle something on top of them without them seeing me.

So my question is twofold...

What are they actually doing in these situations, and more importantly, what fly pattern would they take?
 Reply by: Trailerman      Posted: May. 26, 1:02:59 PM     Points: 242
Sounds to me like some spawning activity. If this is the case they likely won’t eat a thing. In that position I would shy away from those fish in groups and target other fish on a different part of the lake that are either pre or post spawn. In terms of flies leeches and large buggy looking patterns have had the most success for me.
 Reply by: illpilgrim      Posted: May. 26, 2:19:36 PM     Points: 1831
Despite being elusive at times, golden ghosts are just a fish. Once you figure them out, you'll find they are easier to catch than bass. They will eat anything available to them. The lake you're fishing will deliver several clues as to what's going on and what you should throw. While fly choice does matter, presentation is more important. To be successful the carp must remain unaware of your presence and your fly should land softly. The drag and drop technique is a good one for local waters. Never cast directly at the fish. Target just beyond the fish and bring your fly into its perspective. It always helps if the fly comes into view, then begins to move away from the fish. Work the fly slowly. They are often frightened if the fly is worked too quickly. Their body language gives huge insight as to whether the fish is interested and if it has consumed your offering.

Blackback stabbers, swimming nymphs, worms, soft hackles, CDC cottonwood and many other options will catch fish in every lake around. No need to overcomplicate things. Change it up till you find what they want. Every lake behaves differently. Even ponds that are a few feet from one another. Check out Barry Reynolds book Carp on the Fly for a concise breakdown of fly carpin. You can get it at Trouts Fly Fishing along with some carp flies chosen by a local carping master, Rick Mikesell.

As to the behavior of the fish. Pods of surface feeding fish are referred to as cloopers. They range from easy to catch to nearly impossible. Midges may be a good option if you tried larger offerings and were met with rejection. Cottonwood will become more important as the season progresses.

If you see fishing tailing and mudding in the shallows these are the prime targets. Their body language will indicate that they are actively feeding. They usually slowly work the bottom sometimes making a move on scurrying prey. Sunbathing and quickly moving fish are not worth casting to most of the time.

Carpin is a blast. I'm not sure who's more hooked, the carp or me. My goal is to catch the state record this year. If anybody has any tips on where Colorado's biggest carp are I'm all ears.

Also, you may want to leave the tenkara at home. Ive seen it done. But no reel and a 20-pound fish sounds like a recipe for disaster. Good luck!
 Reply by: RogBow      Posted: May. 26, 3:01:59 PM     Points: 2700
I'm not a carp angler, but I would use a small blob fly in white, or olive if I did try for one. Also, I recommend something with a drag for carp, it's quite a battle on any gear.
 Reply by: Troutbisquits      Posted: May. 27, 12:22:51 AM     Points: 2142
I think illpilgrim and others have already covered most of what I would say. My question is how large are the carp in this lake? Last year one of the strongest carp I caught took me almost immediately into my backing and was only an average size for my local carp at 8 pounds. Can your Tenkara handle that? Honestly I think Tenkara could be an advantage for the light delicate presentation, but can it handle the fish once hooked?

Send me an email on my skipper link for some specific local water tips if you want. There may be some delay in response because I am in Germany on vacation right now, but before I left the carp behavior in the shallows was likely spawning fish as water temps have been ideal for that in my local lakes. You will most likely not catch actively spawning carp. They have better things to do. However there sometimes are a few fish who are near spawning groups of carp, but are not actively spawning. Almost like they are taking a break from the activity to eat. They can be caught.

A while back I made a video on how to fly fish for carp. It is a compilation of the tips that helped me the most, and a few I learned through experience. Check it out if you want! [log in for link]
 Reply by: illpilgrim      Posted: May. 28, 2:42:53 PM     Points: 1831
Today was a prime example of letting the fish tell me what they want. Started the day hoping to find some tailers. Had a 12 weight and a backstabber. No mudding carp but they were clooping pretty good. Went back to the car, got a 5wt and tied on a dry dropper. This guy took a small midge.

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