June 23rd, 2003

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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The Most Overlooked Gamefish of All
or Is Carp A Four-Letter Word?

By Xavier "carp" Molina, Puebla, Mexico

I don't know when or how this passion for flyfishing for carp started, but maybe it was born long ago.

I was fishing a Ntional Trout Tournament on a beautiful lake, surrounded by farmlands; fishing hadn't been exactly cooperative, so I started walking along the shore towards a place where no people were fishing. The water had flooded the corn fields so the otherwise gin clear water was a little stained because of the soft soil. By the roots of a corn plant I could see some activity. I couldn't see the fish, however I knew something was going on there. I tied on a large black nymph. The cast was not a long one, it must have gone 40 feet and the fly hit the stem of the plant and fell into the water. What happened next was really amazing. As the fly hit the bottom I felt a little tug on the line. I set the hook and there was an explosion of water and the fish took off for deep water. There I was, a 15 year old boy staring at his reel melting and his flyrod bent like I have never had seen before; the fight was long, maybe twenty minutes. Finally I landed the fish. By this time lots of people had gathered around to see what was going on. When the other fishermen saw the carp they all started to laugh! But it didn't matter, I took my fish to the scale where it weighted 16.5 pounds! It was a really big fish, everybody had told me how ugly and slugish carp were. Later that day I managed to hook and land a 10 pound rainbow which give me my first National Championship. But let me tell you, it wasn't half as strong as the carp I had caught earlier. Since that day I have been chasing carp with my flies and I haven't found anything like a slugish carp, they are always strong, vigorous and big.

Author Xavier and 
10# Common Carp

Let's face it, what do anglers seek on a gamefish? First of all they should grow big, second they should take artificials and third they must provide a good fight. In carp you find all those atributes. I think the main reason for a fly fisher not to seek carp, is most of us think of carp as bottom feeding, mud eating fish that live in very polluted water. That isn't completely right. Yes carp feed sometimes on the bottom and yes they live in water where no other fish could, but they also live in pristine lakes and rivers and feed on the surface and anywhere in between! Carp can be as selective as any trout I have met. Spooky? Well have you ever been to a bonefish flat? Then you might have an idea how spooky carp can be.

Another myth is that carp are slow fish. That is not true, in fact carp can be faster than sockeye salmon. Moreover, carp don't know when to stop fighting, they keep fighting up to the end when they are in the net and even then they keep fighting.

I think something else that keeps anglers from trying to catch carp on flies is that most flyfishers are not really convinced that carp take flies and that is a major issue. To solve this problem let's analyze the carps diet. It's true that carp can eat plants, but they do what we can call bycatch when they hunt their food. The main food source for carp are nymphs, damsels, dragons, mayflies, stones, caddis, crustaceans such as amphipods and crayfish. When fruits and seeds are falling to the water they take them from the surface as they do aquatic insects. Carp also take advantage of the terrestrial insects that find their way into the water, so you can see a carps diet is much like trouts. Taking this into account, why should a carp couldn't be taken on flies? There is no reason except that some fly fishers have preconceptions that limit angling opportunities.

a small 3 pound mirror carp

I hope you are convinced that carp can be taken on flies and that they are a worthy opponent; let's analyze the techniques to catch this magnificent fish.

The most excitng thing about flyfishing for carp is that its almost always sight fishing. In order to do this you should be able to locate carp first. You might be thinking if carp eat almost everything, they could be anywhere! And the answer is yes, they can be anywhere, but as with other fish species, they need two things, food and protection. We will start to look for them in places where shallow water meets deep water, second we will look for them in places where food items are abundant, where there is aquatic vegetation, soft bottoms or gravel bottoms. It wouldn't hurt to take a sample of the aquatic life and do some observation before we start casting and walking along the shores. Carp feed much like bonefish, you can find them tailing in really shallow water or rooting in the shoreline vegetation, or mudding in a shallow bay, and you can find carp clooping on the surface taking insects or seeds or fruits.

In order to succeed at catching carp you must be a very acurate caster; if you are not now, you will be after fishing for carp. Sometimes long casts to a target of one square foot are needed, because the window of a clooping carp is very narrow. At other times you should perfectly time your presentation with the movement of carp to intercept it.

Speaking of equipment, you should already have what is needed. Most trout flies will catch carp, as well as some saltwater patterns. For most of the cases, a 7 weight with a floating line and a reel holding 150 yards of backing will be enough. Just make sure that your knots are really good because carp will take you to your backing. I strongly suggest you use braided leaders because they are more sensitive than monofilament. The tippet should be fluorocarbon and not smaller than 3X because carp have great vision and can get very leader shy. Another useful item is a stripping basket since carp fishing is done better walking the shores and flylines have a special fondness for every brush, branch and rock they can tangle with. Another important thing that you shouldn't leave behind is a landing net, a large one because carp are usually bigger than other gamefish and since they don't know when to quit; controlling a big carp by hand is a hard job.

32 inch 19# grass carp from a mountain lake

As you see, carp are gamefish, and one of the best things is, you can find them almost everywhere. I'm pretty sure that there is a pond or lake close to where you live that holds carp, don't underestimate the waters potential. I have caught fish exceeding 20 pounds in small city park ponds. So take your fly rod and your flies to the limit, accept the challenge FLYFISH for carp!

A 13# carp caught in Spain

~ Xavier "carp" Molina

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