5 Tips: So You Want to Catch a Carp

Coming from trout, it's kind of like brushing your teeth with your opposite hand

5 Tips: So You Want to Catch a Carp

May 2023

To be honest, I only consider myself an intermediate carp'er with only a few serious seasons under my belt of hardcore, dedicated carping. Based on my experience, it isn't always an easy game, and if you're just getting started, it isn't a numbers game either. But that's why I figured I'd write this article. I think back on my past struggles and would wager a bet that following these guidelines could speed up your carp angling literacy. Just because I learned these lessons the hard way doesn't mean you have to...

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No matter your reason for chasing carp, you'll feel invigorated by how foreign it all seems at first, and it might even remind you of your very first fly fishing trip. Or you'll feel like you're brushing your teeth with the opposite hand. There are a few tricks that I had to research and master before I was able to really have confidence in carp angling. If you're just getting going, these tips should help you immeasurably.

1. Figure out the drag and drop cast

It's a game changing technique but requires feel. The mechanic is dependent on fly weight and leader length. This video made it click for me. TLDR, cast well past the fish to avoid spooking, drag your fly across the surface of the water before dropping the fly right in front of the fish's mouth into their strike zone.

2. Become a leader snob

Length, diameter, test; all are factors for success. Start with a 12' leader in 1x-fluorocarbon and go lighter as conditions gets clearer, down to 3x. Practice and implement blood knots for leader to tippet connections. (You might want a loop knot to connect your fly, but I've been fine with the standard clinch.) Above all, try to keep leader length consistent, it will greatly help with your feel of the drag and drop cast. When you execute the "drop" part of the drag and drop, knowing where that fly ends up is critical. Make sure you drop your flies within a foot of the fish's snout, possibly even slightly off to the side of a carp's snout, they have a blind spot right in front of their faces.

The go-to leader for our carp expeditions

3. Build a library of carp spots

Some spots are simply hit and miss. I might walk an entire pond and not make a single cast. If I can't find feeding carp, I'd rather move in than wait for somebody to show up. Be ready to move, walk, drive, whatever you need to do to find happily feeding fish. Therefore, the more places you know, the more water you can cover, the better the odds to find active fish. If you don't know where to start, find an area with several lakes and ponds close by and start walking the banks. In a river, find vantage points like bridges to inspect the water below.

4. Let situation determine flies

The carp box is a strange place, you could have all kinds of oddities inside. Crayfish, stimulators, eggs... If it's slightly murky water, you'll need dark flies that sink faster. If it's clear, lighter weight flies to avoid spooking fish. Don't get me wrong, match the hatch still applies... but outside of a huge hatch keep it simple with these recommendations when you're just getting started.

Murky Water Fly Recommendation: Black Backstabber, Chartreuse Headstand

Clear Water Fly Recommendation: Orange Headstands, Olive or Rust Backstabber

5. Learn the body language

Seeing fast cruising carp? Don't bother casting to them, they aren't interested in eating. But, slow cruising carp are worth a cast. Lazy sunning carp? Definitely worth a cast. Carp rooting around with tails up and head down? These fish a feeding, game on!

If you succeed in dragging and dropping your fly to the dinner plate of a feeding carp, watch for a tail pulse, angle change towards your fly, bubbling, surge, or even the slightest visual confirmation of a fish hovering over your fly before you set the hook. Not sure what to look for? If you're in a close range situation, trout set, if the fish is further away, strip set. Set on intuition, and don't be afraid to set the hook.

You can also do what I'm calling a pre-set, where if you think the fish may have taken the fly, slowly raise your rod tip slightly to check for a tight line, and then either set, if your line is tight, or drop the fly again if there's still slack. This way your fly is still in play if you miss-interpret a signal from the curious fish.

Keep in mind, a spooked carp from a missed hook set is better than missing your chance on that fish completely. This part of the game requires a learn by doing approach. Finally, remember it only counts if you hook it in the mouth.