Why Fish for Carp?

Why Fish for Carp?
Photos leFt to riGht: Kris Kumlien, DAle sPArtAs
This is a question that one commonly gets when talking to other
trout aficionados about the act of pursuing what most of the angling
world refers to as a “trash” fish. But the first time you drive a piece of
steel through that rubbery Hoover vacuum attached to a carp’s face,
you’ll find out—these things can flat-out fight. When encountered
in a river scenario, carp can put a savvy angler to the test when
trying to land them on a conventional trout setup.
Really, the draw of carp fishing is the challenge of the fish and
the situational fishing that they provide. Despite their reputation
to feed on anything in front of them, carp can actually be quite
challenging to catch—especially in trout country where they often
dine on the same insects, crustaceans, leeches, and baitfish that you
find in the bellies of Salmo trutta (brown trout) and Oncorhynchus
mykiss (rainbow trout). Don’t believe me? Try crashing a giant woolly
bugger into a pod of feeding carp and see how they react—they’ll
ignore you. Studying the feeding behaviors of the Golden Beast is
a must to pull any carp out of the water with a fly rod. Sometimes
you’ll encounter them feeding on the surface, and other times they
simply seem to be cruising around in no particular pattern. Try to
find a group of them with their tails pointed high in the air and
mud plumes wafting up from the bottom of the sandy flats as they
search for food.
Diet and Flies
It’s better to understand what the local food base is where you’re
fishing before you go throwing flies at these guys. Have a selection
of patterns that mimic the food sources you’re likely to encounter.
Nailing down the most prolific of those food sources and observing
the carp’s feeding behaviors will give you an even better idea of what
flies to use in a given situation.
For most rivers, you’d do well to have a pattern or two that mimics
a decent-sized leech or sculpin, and in areas rich with crayfish,
crustacean patterns can be dead-drifted and slowly retrieved with a
fair amount of success as well. Popular trout patterns like Yuk Bugs
and Rubberlegs work well as general flies if you dead-drift them
under an indicator. Big black leech patterns are a staple in most
carp fishermen’s boxes, and on rivers with rich baitfish populations,
Zonkers and other minnow patterns are very effective. Play around
with the colors if you’d like, but more often than not, success is had
in going back to black.
Fly selection and dietary preferences on lakes and still bodies
of water can vary wildly from those in rivers, and oftentimes the
carp are pickier feeders—mostly due to the fact they get more time
to look at the patterns you’re presenting. Smaller leech patterns
generally are better than larger ones, and smaller nymph patterns
with Rubberlegs twitched along the bottom in front of feeding fish
can be very effective as well. Crayfish are a staple on many area lakes
and ponds, and worm patterns work quite well at times. Suggestive
patterns that don’t mimic any specific food source work the best
in a lot of situations—the Backstabber by Jay Zimmerman is one
of the best carp patterns out there. A variation on that pattern—
dubbed the Cheerio Plugger—is my personal favorite for weary carp
on lakes and ponds (see the recipe in this month’s fly-tying column
on page 33).
What You Need and What You Don’t
If you do head out carp fishing, you’re going to want to leave your 4and 5-weight trout rods at home. Invest in a fast and stiff 6-weight,
or even a 7-weight rod if you’re serious about it. (Or bring along a
6-weight that you don’t mind breaking—because it will happen.)
My personal favorite carp stick is the Sage TCX 690 (it’s really
more like a 7-weight). A reel with sufficient drag to slow the fish
down in rivers is ideal, but don’t be swayed into buying a saltwatercapable drag for carp—it’s overkill. You really only need something
to keep the line from free-spooling on you when the Golden Beast