Fly Fishing for Carp: Technique
Carp Technique: Tips and Tricks
It's not easy to sneak up on a carp. Being large fish found in shallow water, they have adapted to the conditions and will be ready for you. "Spooky" is one of the words used most often to describe carp and their reputation is well deserved. Spend a few frustrating hours watching tails disappear and you'll fully appreciate why they are known as golden ghosts! To be successful at this endeavor, you must get close enough to cast and hook one. There are two basic approaches to the problem, blind casting and sight fishing.
Best in the early spring feeding period. Often overlooked as an option, blind casting can be very productive. Carp are often stacked in the shallowest, warmest areas of the lake and are feeding heavily. Usually this mass feeding activity results in dirty water so sight fishing isn't even an option. Hundreds of carp rooting around on the bottom stir up quite a mud slick! Look for inexplicably muddy areas in the shallows on a sunny spring day, and fish there.
The advantage to blind casting obvious- the carp aren't as spooky in the muddy water. They can't see you very well, they can't see your fly line, and it's difficult to closely inspect your fly. This does not, however, give you license to make noise. A carp is always on high alert and any unnatural noise will sound the alarm. Use an electric motor or drift into your area and anchor. Do not shout or clang on your boat. Successfully avoid detection and the fishing should be excellent- these carp are hoovering everything off the bottom and spitting out stuff that isn't food. Get any buggy fly in front of them and you'll be in business!
A stillwater nymph presentation works well. When fishing nymphs, watch carefully for strikes: carp are one of the lightest hitters out there. Thread small brightly colored pieces of fly line onto your leader for strike indicators. One technique that works well is a very slow retrieve of the nymph. Strip 2". Pause ten to twenty seconds while watching for movement. Strip 2", pause 10-20, repeat until you feel a dull weight on the line. Gently but firmly strip set, and hold on!
A slightly faster, but still slow, retrieve is good for streamers. Keep the pauses between five and ten seconds and slowly strip a foot or two at once. Keep changing it up until you find the speed and pattern they want for that fly. Keep the fly near or on the bottom, and think natural and realistic movement at all times.
In clear water it becomes another ball game and stealth is paramount. In the Finger Lakes this occurs once the carp spawn and disperse, late May into June. The lakes are warming all over and the fish are not confined to the shallows. Do everything you can to avoid startling the carp, and sneak up on them. Don't false cast if you can help it, wear drab colors, use smaller flies and lighter tippets.
Lead the carp as it travels and try not to cast over it- or other carp in the same school. If you goof and scare the fish, or worse, the pod- move and try again. The pheromones they release upon being spooked linger in the water. If fishing a river, work your way upstream.
Watch the sun- a high sun on a calm day makes fishing tough. The carp can see everything and are hard to fool. It's best to fish in the late morning or afternoon, with the sun at an angle and at your back. My best times have all been before 11 AM on warm sunny mornings and after 3 PM. If the night is too cold in the spring, the water cools off and carp activity lessens the following morning.
Ninety percent of the time a carp is looking down. While they'll occasionally look up for food, much of their diet comes off the bottom of the lake or river. As a practical consequence, you should fish most of your flies on the bottom as well. Bead headed nymphs are great. Tie crayfish flies (that ride hook point up) in varying weights to account for different depths of water. Tie bead-chain or lead eyed woolly buggers and streamers to keep that hook point out of the mud.