Carp Overload – Lessons Learned in Carping

At the beginning of the year, I made a goal to improve my overall level of skill at fly fishing for carp.  With fall beginning to set in and cooler nights becoming the norm, the carping season is slowly slipping away.  I already know that I am going to be going through some major carp withdrawals when the dead of winter sets in.  By focusing more of my time on carp, there are many important things that I have learned about carp and their behavior.  I’m no expert by any means, but there are many things I’ve learned this year that have helped me catch significantly more carp than ever before.  Here are a few of the things that have helped me increase my catch rates when it comes to carp on the fly.


First and foremost, be stealthy.  If you don’t know how to wade quietly through a flat or a gravel bar, learn how or you’ll spook every single carp before you ever get a cast off.  Carp are extremely sensitive to motion in the water, and it doesn’t take much for them to know you are there.


Chris with a Blackfoot Reservoir Mirror


Second, short casts are better than long casts.  Trevor from the blog Fly-Carpin made mention of this in a recent post and I couldn’t agree more.  Early in the season, I was having a blast bombing 60-70 foot casts out to tailing carp.  While I was catching plenty of carp, the fact of the matter is you’ll catch far more carp by shortening your presentation.  Takes are easier to detect and you are less likely to spook the fish with a splashy cast.  I learned this lesson the hard way while fishing the Carp Classic at Blackfoot Reservoir this Spring.  Conditions were miserable to say the least.  Fish were very few and far between.  When I finally located a feeding carp, I tried to bust out a long cast rather than sneak up on the fish.  I ended up getting snagged on a rock and spooked him before he ever saw my fly.  The entire situation could have been avoided if I had chosen to shorten up my presentation.  Of course, there will always be situations that require longer casts, but generally speaking shorter is better.


More Mirrors


Third, as John from Carp on the Fly says, “know your forage”.  This is key.  What might be the money fly at one location will do nothing but spook fish at another location.  My “Go To” fly is a black Simi-seal leach.  As much as I love fishing this pattern and the aggressive takes that usually come with it, there are situations where it simply does not work.  One such situation is when fishing for carp around springs.  They do not like the leech at all.  It is too heavy and is not something that they are used to seeing.  It is also too flashy to use in the crystal clear water and the flash scares them away.  In those situations, something very light, like a san juan worm, usually works great.  Be willing to change flies and adapt to different situations, rather than get stuck thinking only one fly will work.


Doubled Up at Blackfoot


Fourth, Presentation is key.  If there is one area that I’ve learned more about than anything else, this would be it.  Successfully catching carp on the fly is all about the presentation.  I have made an effort to get away from blind casting and have started seeking out fish that I can see.  Sight fishing is so much more enjoyable than blind casting.  There are two techniques that I have found to be very helpful.  First, dapping.  Dapping is simply placing the fly right in the carps feeding zone without casting much at all and letting it drop.  You softly lob the fly where you want it to be.  When done correctly, the fish will usually eat your fly quite readily.  Dapping requires a lot of stealthiness but it is very rewarding and your stealthiness will usually pay off.  The second technique is the “drag and drop”.  This technique is particularly useful when fishing for carp that are cruising near the surface.  It is exactly what it sounds like.  You cast slightly past the carp (be careful not to line them), drag the fly over their head, and lastly let it drop down into their feeding zone.  I can’t even count how many times I’ve have a carp that was slowly cruising along, not really feeding, immediately charge and engulf the fly.  This technique is deadly when done correctly.


Inhaled The Leech


Fifth, don’t hesitate on the hook set.  Many carp are missed because the take is never seen or felt.  Carp are able to inhale and spit out your fly very quickly.  If you hesitate, you will miss them.  More than anything, this takes time and practice.  There are a couple things to look for when trying to detect the take.  First, try to keep an eye on their head.  Sometimes water clarity does not make this possible.  On of my favorite places to fish for carp is the Bear River.  It also happens to be notoriously dirty.  Often times you can see nothing more than a shadowy figure.  Look for small movements, or a change in the way they are swimming.  Second, watch the tail.  Because a carp’s mouth is located facing down (unlike a trout) they will often “dive” on your fly.  By watching the way they move their tail, you can often tell if they have taken the fly.  Third, if you think the fish took your fly then set the hook.  This will significantly increase the number of fish you catch.  Confidence is key.


Bear River Mirror Carp


Sixth, don’t pass up a fish just because they don’t look like they’re feeding.  In Eastern Idaho we are lucky to have some very aggressive carp.  Even a sunning fish will fall victim to the “Drag and Drop” from time to time.  I have also found that carp are very opportunistic feeders.  Just because they aren’t actively feeding doesn’t mean they won’t eat a well-presented fly.


More Carp from The Bear


Seventh, don’t be too hard on yourself.  It is nearly impossible to get a perfect presentation and detect the hookset every time.  Successfully catching carp requires you to be on your A-Game, and that’s not always possible.  In the end, fishing is about having a good time, and fishing for carp is always a good time, even when conditions are tough.


Fully Scaled Blackfoot Mirror

As I mentioned before, I am no expert on fly fishing for carp, but I enjoy it a lot.  These are just a few things that I’ve learned this year and that have helped me up my game.  If you haven’t fished for carp on the fly yet, I highly recommend you give it a try.  It will put your fly fishing knowledge to the test and ultimately make you a better angler.

9 thoughts on “Carp Overload – Lessons Learned in Carping

  1. Gregg Martin

    How have I missed this? Wonderful solutions to a variety of situations, I learned somethings, great stuff! (And I envy your waters and fish)


    1. Thanks Gregg! This has definitely been a breakthrough season for me. I’ve learned so many different things about catching and targeting carp on the fly. Glad to hear you learned some things too. Let me know if you ever make to Eastern Idaho!

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