Fly Fishing for Carp: Life History
Carp Life and Facts:
Carp are huge omnivorous minnows with an average life span of ten to twenty years and weights ranging from five to forty or more pounds. There are reports of fish living more than forty years and the world record is just over eighty pounds. The New York State record carp weighed in at a hefty 50 lbs 6 oz.
Finger Lakes carp range from the teens all the way into the low thirties and beyond. The winning weights of the Finger Lakes Carp Derby have routinely been in the thirty pound range. In 2007 it was an astounding 38.75 pounds! There just may be a new state record waiting somewhere in the Finger Lakes.
Carp binge in the early spring. As the water begins to warm, the carp begin to feed. There is a notable pre-spawn carp feeding frenzy! This is my favorite time to target them. Fish are concentrated and hungry, with a lack of food sources. More so than any other fish in the area, carp actively seek out the warmest water available in the spring months. In this water the carp's metabolism speeds up and the need to feed a thirty pound body takes over, providing us with a great fly fishing opportunity.
There are "mirror" and "leather" carp. Mirror carp have just a few scales, generally near the head, while a true leather carp is completely scaleless. There are mirror carp in Cayuga Lake, possibly leather carp as well. Pictured is a 34 lb mirror carp caught by an English "pro" in lower Fall Creek, 2005. Cayuga Lake is also home to several color morphs of goldfish. Goldfish spawn in the same waters as carp, tend to start a week or so earlier, and reach a size of about 18" and 2-3 lbs.
Carp as food? Give it a try! I haven't yet, I'm thinking about it. Reports I've heard have been mixed, though the pattern that emerges is "you are what you eat" and carp caught from clean water and properly cleaned taste fine, while carp from dirty water tend to taste muddy. Smaller fish are recommended as well. If you do eat one, I'd like to hear about it!
Carp eat anything but are selective. Various articles describe carp as eating mulberries, cottonwood seeds (I've seen this), minnows, insects, plant matter, and even human food such as corn and bread. This variety in diet can make it difficult to key in on feeding patterns, so pay attention to local habitat and anything that may be a food source. When in doubt, use an impressionistic nymph or woolly bugger.
Carp are spooky! Surprisingly fast and quick to react, they are a tough match. One of their greatest strengths is a highly developed sense of smell. Taste and smell are very important- not only for feeding but carp also communicate via odor. They "hear" and "talk" to each other through smell. When startled by you or your fly, a carp will release pheromones into the water that shout "danger!", and the whole school will take heed and bolt. It's quite impressive how quickly a pod of ten to fifteen fish will disappear when you drop a fly with a heavy splash over one of them. Being stealthy is very important.
Spring is by far the best time to fly fish for carp. People can and do target carp into the summer, but in my opinion, the best fishing is before, during, and just after the spawn. Spawning takes place as water climbs above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. In upstate New York, this is usually the month of May into June, when the fish start to disperse throughout the lakes. This means fishing is peak in April and May.