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Ramblings of an Old Angler

Catching Carp on a Fly Rod

April 1, 2013
By DR 'Doc' Roberts - OVO Pro Staff , Ohio Valley Outdoors

The difference between a bass fisherman and a trout fisherman is; the bass fisherman loves football, has Bassmaster Fat Heads on his bedroom wall, a tackle box so big that he has to pay lot rent on it, watches the Outdoor Channel, drinks beer, drives a pickup truck with a gun or a bow in the back window, owns big bass boat, and loves noisy and big busted women. They also yell, "Git-R-Done" rather than "Nicely Done".

The trout fisherman on the other hand watches CNN, drinks expensive wine, drives a Mazda, attends fondue parties, eats sushi, expounds lofty phrases of praise and adulation when his fishing partner hooks up on a fish and hardly thinks about women. The latter is possibly due to the ice cold water running between his thighs for extended periods of time.

I consider myself a hybrid, I use a fly rod to fish for both trout and bass, plus other warm and cold water species of fish, I tie my own creations experimenting with all types of fur and feather, I prefer to wade in a pair of cutoffs and tennis shoes, I like JD and Coke, rather than beer or wine, I rarely attend parties, not fond of sushi, I watch the History Channel, and I still think about women. At my age and being married, that's about all I can do, fish and think.

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Carp are not dumb and it’s not like fishing in a barrel. They are as skittish and sensitive as any trout so approach and presentation of your offering has to be just right.

I have a moderate collection of fly rods that I have used over the years and each time I hold one of them it brings back many pleasant memories of the places I have been, the streams I have waded in, the fish I have caught, and the friends I have made. My wife, on the other hand, considers anything over one, is one too many. I try to convince her that each of those rods is like a chapter in my life of fishing and the book is not finished. She has threatened to write the final chapter if I buy another rod, so if you read about my untimely demise in the daily rag, you'll know what happened.

One rod in particular, brings back memories that would make the "purist" fly fisherman lose his groceries in disgust. Only a scoundrel and a charlatan would sully the works of the great Izaak Walton by angling for such a fish. Even entertaining the thought might possibly bring shame and dishonor to the sacred fraternity of the fur and feather. I'm talking about fishing for carp, yes, I said C-A-R-P, carp on a fly.

I'm talking about that large scaled toothless torpedoes with whiskers and Raggedy Ann eyes that will sometimes scare the 'be Jesus' out of you by swimming between your legs when your wading or creating a wake like a Great White shark. Granted they are not a pretty fish and their feeding habits would put a pig to shame and I have yet to find one hanging on someone's wall. What they lack in good looks and manners they more than make up with lighting fast and powerful runs. Picture this, hooking onto Jerome "The Bus" Bettis with a fly rod when he was making his run through the line.

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What they lack in good looks and manners they more than make up with lighting fast and powerful runs.

In earlier years I fished in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia for trout and steelhead with a fly rod, all of which were memorable and enjoyable experiences. I now resign myself to fishing Beaver Creek and its branches located in the northeast section of Ohio for smallmouth bass, and what I call the "The Poor Mans Tarpon" or the "Blue Collar Bonefish" - otherwise known as the common carp.

I have caught coho salmon in the tributaries off Lake Erie and have hooked into a chinook in Michigan, which is still going down the Muskegon River heading for Lake Michigan with my fly line in tow, but nothing can compare to hooking up with a 10-15 lb. carp that will make a steelhead run seem like he took a dose of Nyquil.

The common carp are originally from Europe and Asia and was brought to the United States in 1870. They are now found in most warm water lakes, streams, and rivers through out the U.S. Most fishermen consider them a trash fish and leave them to die on the bank when caught. In Asia, they are considered a delicacy and when properly prepared by their method of cooking, their flesh is somewhat pleasant to the taste. They feed primarily on insect larvae, crawfish, and small fish and grow to an average weight of 10 lbs with a few weighing in at 50-60 lbs and over 40 inches long.

Carp are not dumb and it's not like fishing in a barrel. They are as skittish and sensitive as any trout so approach and presentation of your offering has to be just right. When feeding, they will either take you're offering or if spooked they will skedaddle out of the hole you are fishing. Stealth wading and staying low to the water is the best way to approach them and presenting your fly without making a splash will keep them calm and content.

When you see their tail up they are feeding off the bottom and their line of vision is only about six inches to a foot, depending on the depth and turbidity of the water. When they are horizontal and part of their backs are showing above the water line, their line of sight good up to 3-5 feet depending on water conditions. Remember, you're not fishing with dough ball or chicken gizzards so smell is not how they will find your offering.

I recommend a 9 ft. medium action fly rod, 5-7 weight and a fly reel with a disk drag spooled with either level or weight forward casting line and 100 yards of backing. Once they feel the bite of the hook they will take off, screaming through the water like a wild bull coming out of a bucking chute. Battles can range from a few minutes to more than a half an hour and in some cases longer, depending on the size of the carp.

Be prepared to run up or down stream to maintain control and to recover your fly line. A rod that is too light and a reel without a drag will feel like a strand of limp spaghetti in your hand and you will definitely lose control of the fish. All you can do at that point is look around and hope no one can see the look on your face as your fish takes off for parts unknown.

I don't think carp are as picky as trout about what they eat since carp uses both sight and smell; they also use their barbules or whiskers to locate food in muddy water. A variety of well-known nymph and terrestrial patterns like Hares Ear, Clouser, Wooly Worm and Wooly Bugger will work if the presentation is correct. I prefer to tie my own flies so I can name them Bug Eyes, Ham & Eggs, Sloppy Joe, Pork & Beans, and The Dough Boy. These names seem to be more fitting to carp fishing. Again, it's all about presentation, not so much the offering.

The biggest challenge will be locating the fish. Look for areas of disturbed or muddy water and carp actively feeding. Once they are located, be patient and work every fish you see by casting multiple times making your presentation without spooking the fish. Slowly swim your fly by stripping the line gently four to eight inches at a time. Taking your fly will be subtle; watch your line or indicator to move erratically or stop momentarily on the drift. A carp will turn on the fly and inhale it with a quick sucking motion. If it's not to his liking he will spit it out very quickly, so be ready to set the hook.

A hook set is made by a quick upward motion of the wrist while stripping the fly line to take up slack. Carp have a leathery and a very tough mouth so keeping your hooks super sharp is a must to make complete penetration and prevent pull outs.

Once you hook up with one of these super suckers on a fly rod you will see why I call them the "poor mans tarpon" or "blue collar bonefish". You will have almost as much action and excitement as if you hooked into a tarpon, bone or red fish in Florida or a steelhead or king salmon in Alaska. It's like having a champagne taste on a beer income. The only thing missing will be the beautiful scenery and lavish surroundings.

Hell, we can dream, can't we?

If you'd like more information about fishing with a fly rod, e-mail me at or at Ohio Valley Outdoors.



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