Fishing For Carp - The Freshwater Redfish

Tom Malone/Adventure Tribune
Many fly fishermen have found a new quarry to fill the times when trout are not nearby and easily available - the lowly common carp and its relatives.

Almost any body of slower moving water holds carp, and with skill and patience, the fly fisherman can hook up with a freshwater version of the redfish.

Carp will range from five to one hundred pounds, depending on the species. The usual carp caught in urban settings will range from five to ten pounds, while the larger monster carp (twenty pounds plus) are found in large rivers and big lakes.

Species include: the Common Carp, Mirror Carp, Grass Carp, Big Head Carp, Black Carp, Silver Carp, and Leather Carp.

Carp live in a wide variety of water across the United States. They’re found in slow or slack water, eddies in creeks, streams, and rivers, on flats, along the edges in huge lakes (like the Great Lakes), and in shallow backwaters of most any smaller pond or lake.

The carp’s diet varies widely, from clams and other crustaceans on the bottom, to nymphs and subsurface insects in the water column, to cottonseed and mulberries on the surface, to leftovers from humans nearby, like bread, corn, and even hot dogs, usually floating. Carp will even slurp in baitfish in the shallows when they get the chance.

The food sources available will dictate the carp’s eating habits. They will rise to slurp in cottonseeds or mulberries or even an occasional dead insect floating in the surface film, patrol the shallows chasing baitfish, or swim along, tail up, looking for food on the bottom. Flexibility is the key to finding and catching carp on the fly, due to the variety of feeding methods. This is one of the reasons to take your time and be stealthy in your search for a target. Carp are also easily spooked, so keep the sun to your front to prevent shadows on the water, and be careful not to cast line over a pod of fish to help when looking to hook up with one of these wary monsters.

The fly angler wanting to catch a carp will find the fly selection easier than one would guess, because many of the same flies that are used to catch trout can work very well: GR Hare’s Ear, Dragonfly Nymphs, Scuds, Leeches, Stoneflies, Woolly Buggers, Crawfish and San Juan Worms all work well. Some well-known specialty flies are: Hybrid Worm, Carp Booby, Backstabber, Bristle Leech, Mulberry, and Cottonseed. There are even flies made to replicate bread, corn, and other human leavings. So, as with trout, it is about matching the hatch, or simulating what they are eating.

Gear Selection - What To Fish With

1. A 6-9 weight rod in a 9 foot length works well. Carp are strong, so the rod needs backbone, and sometimes casting into the wind is necessary.

2. A good reel with a good drag and capacity are necessary because carp can accelerate like a bonefish, and can burn up a cheap drag and easily take you into your backing.

3. The fly line used is not a big issue, just match the line to the rod, and make sure you have at least 100 yards of backing. A weight-forward line is best for casting.

4. Leaders can either be just monofilament, in 10 to 20 pound strengths, or a tapered leader. Use a leader made for bass or saltwater fish, 3X or stronger. The length of the leader should be 7.5 to 9 feet, so the carp is not spooked by the fly. You might also consider sinking lines or sink-tips to get the flies down quicker.

Other Tips That Can Help Catch Carp

1. Don’t waste your time on carp that are not feeding. Watch for ‘tailing’ or a side-to-side motion.

2. Sight fishing to carp is most productive. Fishing with an indicator in murky water can work, just not often.

3. Carp usually travel in pods of five or more - spook one, spook them all.

4. Take the time to watch how the carp are moving and feeding before you take your shot.

5. Fishing during weather swings won’t likely be productive - carp prefer stable weather patterns.

6. If you miss a take, be patient. A carp might try again.

7. Sometimes carp are opportunistic - try a brightly colored fly.

8. Cast in front of the target carp, not over. It’s best to cast from in front of the fish to avoid lining the pod.

9. Try different methods: Cast one to two feet in front of the fish. Then, let the fly drop to the bottom and let it sit to see if the carp takes it. Cast past the carp, pull the fly into position, and then let it drop in the fish, slightly to one side so you can see when the fish turns to take the fly.

10. A strip-set works best. Fly rods are not strong enough to set the hook well, and you could pull the fly out of the carp’s mouth by raising the rod tip.

Tired of waiting for opening day? Working too hard to get away to a trout stream? Can’t afford to go to Belize to get bonefish? Gear up for carp – try something new. Hooking up with a 7 to 10 pound (or larger!) carp will make your day. If you’d like to learn more about fly fishing for carp check out this podcast: Cruising for Carp.


Rich Stuber is the founder of Big Sky Inflatables, home of Water Master rafts. Water Master has been used by anglers and hunters all over the world for over fifteen years, including Dave Whitlock, one of fly fishing’s greatest innovators.
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