Fly Fishing For Carp: Tackling ‘Urban Bonefish’ With the Long Wand

Fly Fishing for Carp Feature Image

Carp are by far one of the most underrated fish to target with a fly rod. There are plenty around in most cities, they get big, and they can really test fly anglers’ skills.

Best of all, you don’t need to travel far to fish for them, and they fight damn hard.

In this guide, we’ll explain how to find local carp spots and what flies you’ll need to fool them – plus the kind of rod and reel you’ll need to subdue these powerful fish.

Finding Good Carp Water

Fly Fishing For Carp
Carps are usually found in still or slowly flowing waters, where they spend most of their time hunting for insects among aquatic vegetation.

Carps are in the majority of freshwater lakes, ponds, and reservoirs across the world. They were introduced into many bodies of water in the 19th century, and populations have flourished ever since. They don’t need perfect conditions to exist and can essentially eat anything that lives underwater.

To find carp – also known as urban bonefish within the fly fishing community – you need to know a bit about their personality. While carp have no issue with being seen close to shore or in shallow water, they often put themselves in places that aren’t easy to reach by predators or fishing lures. They want to have easy access to a hiding place.

Carp absolutely love to sit near snags and laydowns. Large logs or trees that have fallen into the water make for the perfect location for these fish to spend time. You’ll especially have success if you’re able to find these snags or laydowns near shore. Carp will cruise along the shoreline in search of food, so they will make logs and snags their home base.

Feeding carp will also spend time in areas with heavy vegetation. Carps will eat aquatic plants as well as insects, so these areas of vegetation are perfect for carp. Grass carp, common carp, large carp, small carp, and every type of carp in between will sit deep in these weed beds in search of food. Plus, it provides some areas for them to hide in case they feel the need to escape a predator.

One of the final places you should look for carp is near the mouths of rivers or creeks that enter ponds or lakes. The flow of water into a lake or pond usually means that food is also entering the area. These mouths of rivers and streams allow carp to get some easy meals. If you want to catch carp, spend time near these.

When you locate one carp, it’s important to understand that they’re likely not alone. Even the big carp don’t travel by themselves. There are usually at least 3 or 4 in a group, so one carp is a good sign.

Find structures and areas with heavy vegetation near the shore. Odds are, carp are nearby feeding.

How to Fly Fish For Carp

Fly Fishing For Carp 1
When fly fishing for carp, sight fishing can take this experience to a whole new level. Learning to lead carp with your cast will improve your hookup rates as well.

Fly fishing for carp is not as easy as it may look. Sight fishing is by far the best method to land these fish on the fly.

Sight Fishing

Grab a pair of polarized sunglasses and find some clear water with carp in it, and you are good to go. Since carp spend so much of their time in shallow water, you’ll be able to see them swimming and feeding. Carp are constantly feeding, so they’re rarely sitting still in the water.

How to Sight Fish For Carp: Lead the Fish

Most fly fishermen make the same mistake when sight fishing for carp. They do not “lead” the fish. Since carp are almost constantly moving, you can treat them like you’re fishing for redfish. You want to cast the fly ahead of them so they run into it as they’re swimming. If you cast your fly directly on top of them, your fly and fly line will spook them. Fly fishing carp is similar to saltwater fly fishing because you have to anticipate the movements of fish and beat them to their desired spot.

Once your fly hits the water, you can begin to twitch it as it drops toward the bottom. The twitching of your fly will get the attention of the fish, and then they’ll follow it all of the way to the bottom.

When You Feel a Tug, Set the Hook

Carp aren’t known to absolutely smash your fly. Generally, they’ll pick up your fly and start to swim away with it. As soon as you feel a small tug, set the hook and get ready for a fight. Even if you find out that the carp didn’t strike, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Carp Fly Fishing Gear

Fly Fishing For Carp photo courtesy of Orvis for caption
Because carp can grow quite large and fishing for them with a fly rod can result in an amazing fight, it’s crucial to be aware of the techniques and tackle required to catch them.

Carp can grow upwards of 30 and 40 pounds, so you’re going to need some heavy gear that’s prepared to handle long runs and strong head shakes.

Fly Rod

Most anglers choose to use somewhere between an 8-weight and 10-weight 9′ fast action fly rod when they’re fishing for carp. These are heavy rods, but they are necessary for pursuing these fish.

The 9′ length is helpful when you need to make longer casts and have leverage against these fish as they’re fighting. The longer rod gives you more of a chance to put pressure on these fish as they’re resisting you.

A fast action rod has less bend near the butt of the rod, so most of it comes near the tip. Fast action rods allow you to make casts through the wind, and fish won’t be able to double over the rod and elongate the fight. It’s more of a rigid setup to ensure that you have all the power you need to land one of these fish.

Where many fly anglers run into trouble with a fast action rod is with the lack of sensitivity. You need to be able to lay down your flies softly, so make sure you’re comfortable with your rod before you hit the water. Plus, once the fly is in the water, you’re going to have to make small twitches to create some action.

Reel

Whatever reel you choose, make sure it matches the size of your rod. For example, if you’re using a 9-weight rod, you’re going to want to use a 9-weight reel. This will ensure you have a balanced setup.

Also, make sure your reel has a large arbor. You want as much room in your reel as possible to fight these fish. They are known to make runs into your backing.

Line

Most anglers choose to fish with floating fly line when they’re fly fishing for carp. These fish are easiest to target in shallow water; you won’t need a sink tip or sinking line to reach them. Let your leader and fly get to the bottom of the water column.

For your leader, you’ll want to use a 7′ 1x fluorocarbon leader. The fluorocarbon makes it more challenging for fish to see than monofilament.

Flies

Carp flies are some of the most unique-looking carp patterns on the market.

Clouser Swimming Nymph

The clouser swimming nymph is one of my favorite carp fly patterns. This is a smaller nymph that looks buggy and has the ability to fall quickly into the water column.

Backstabber

The backstabber is another fly with a beadhead that gets to the bottom quickly. It looks great with short twitches.

Carp Bitter

Carp Bitter Fly Fishing for Carp
With its unique and versatile pattern, Carp Bitter works in a variety of water and is just goofy-looking enough to work.

The carp bitter is a crayfish representation that works great in clear water. If you’re fishing on a sunny day, then you need to use this fly.

San Juan Worm

You may have one of these sitting in your trout fly box. These flies are always reliable when fishing for carp.

Woolly Bugger

You can use a woolly bugger with or without a bead head, depending on the depth of the water you’re fishing. These also look great when they’re twitched.

Top States and Cities for Carp Fishing on the Fly

Carp fishing is able to be done all over the United States. As mentioned earlier, many freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers have a nice population of carp, but there are a few hotspots you should target.

Lake Havasu in Lake Havasu City, Arizona

Lake Havasu in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, has a massive population of carp. Lake Havasu is primarily used for recreational activities, so the carp in the waters rarely see any pressure. Pressure with flies and fly rods is even smaller, so you have a great chance to land them.

Lake Fork Near Dallas, Texas

Lake Fork is a world-famous bass fishing lake near Dallas, Texas. Sadly, the carp populations within the lake are on the rise, so it makes for a great place to target them with the fly rod. There are 315 miles of shoreline on Lake Fork, so there are plenty of places to find these fish.

Canyon Lake Near San Antonio, Texas

Canyon Lake is another popular bass fishery in Texas, and the carp population is growing here. Targeting them on a fly rod is going to give you a great chance of landing them.

Crow River in St. Croix, Minnesota

The Crow River is a tributary of the Mississippi River and is filled with carp. Many lakes and rivers in Minnesota are filled with carp, so you don’t have to stop here in your pursuit of these fish.

White River in Arkansas

The White River in Arkansas is filled with some massive carp. Landing carp out of a river is an entirely different experience than landing them out of a lake. Patience is key.

Clear Lake in Lake County, California

Clear Lake is a hotbed for carp fishing in Northern California. The fish in these waters are huge and are rarely pressured by people with fly rods. Cruise around the shoreline and look for these fish sitting near fallen trees and large weed beds.

Monongahela River in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is a great place to fly fish for carp. Most bodies of water have populations of grass carp, but the Monongahela River may be your best bet.

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Danny Mooers is a passionate fly fishing and angling writer from Arizona. Danny loves sharing his passion for fly fishing for trout and other species through his work for Tackle Village.
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