Carpin 101 : Gear and Flies

I have been getting questions lately about the carp fishing I have been doing from people wanting some tips, fly selections, etc. My fishing tempo has been in high gear the last month so I have not had time to do any informational posts so this will be the first in a series of posts I will force myself to sit down and write. This first post will focus on the fish themselves as well as gear and fly selection. Ill go into more detail about feeding flies to them in future posts.
Carp fishing gets a bad wrap because of a lot of things, whether its the places they live, the food they eat, or just the fish themselves a lot of people have a hard time getting past the rough exterior (pun intend) to get out and chase these fish.

Carp often live in less than desirable fishing locations which add to their bad reputation
I can lay some of this to rest right now by assuring you that in the opinion of someone who has caught almost all of north america's freshwater gamefish, carp pull pretty damn hard. In fact, given room to fight this is one of the strongest fish pound for pound you can catch in the lower 48. Add that to the fact that these fish are incredibly intelligent, or well adapted depending on how you look at it, and you have a fish that will challenge you and reward you at every turn.
Often when I mention how selective carp can be when I'm fly fishing people scoff at the idea. Most people have memories catching them on doughballs or bread crust at the local pond. I can attest to this, carp are suckers for any type of bait. You have to take into account the fact that carp rely heavily on their sense of smell (that's right I said smell) while feeding. It is widely believed that when selecting food items they turn to their sense of smell. vibration, and sight in that order when deciding whether to eat something or not. As fly fisherman, we cannot satisfy their scent requirement without cheating so we can only entice them through vibration or movement and sight.
Carp see extremely well so your fly patterns need to be very suggestive and their lateral line is very strong so they can detect movement with precision so its also important to make sure you don't over do it with your retrieve as well as making sure your cast is close enough to the fish to be effective yet far enough not to spook them. With these facts in mind you can start to see how the combination of factors would make carp very difficult to fly fish for and I didn't even mention sound and taste yet.

I want to talk about what to bring with you on a carp fishing trip because I have found that most guys go out with all the wrong gear. Big carp, like big fish of any other species didn't get that way by being dumb so good leaders of proper length and material are key. I always fish a 12ft fluorocarbon leader when fishing in clear water to keep the line as far from the fish as possible. I build my own from straight Seaguar flouro and I vary the recipe based on the size of flies I am wanting to turn over.  I use the Borger system so I will generally make my leaders with 5 feet 15lb,  2 feet 12lb, 5 feet 8lb. For heavier flies or murky water I use 5 feet 40lb, 2 feet 30lb, 5 feet 20lb. It seems like that leader system is heavy and that's because it is, I don't find the fish to be shy of fluorocarbon systems and if you do manage to get into a bigger fish you'll be glad you have a heavy line to reign the fish in if necessary.
Fishing for carp in clear water calls for appropriate leaders
One of the mistakes I see guys make on a regular basis is going out for carp seriously under-gunned. If you are in a location with even the possibility of a bigger fish you shouldn't be out with anything less than a seven weight, preferably an eight or a nine weight. A large carp will seriously test your gear and you simply wont be able to land a big fish on a 6 weight or less without stressing the fish to the max and you definitely wont be able to do it alone. You also want to make sure you have  good drag system. If your'e fishing a large enough piece of water carp have the potential to tear you into your backing every time.
The other mistake I see people make is in their clothing. These fish see well and you just can't get away with bright colors as well as you might think. I always wear dark colors or shades of blue. You can catch fish wearing anything you want but try it both ways and you will notice a significant increase in your success rates.

Carp flies are somewhat specialized but chances are you already have some effective flies in your boxes. Carp are omnivorous in that they eat both plant and animals but I have found that the most effective flies are what I call bottom crawling flies. Carp flies for your everyday fishing need to do two things, they need to sink fast and they need to ride hook up to avoid fouling and increase hook ups. I have found that crayfish flies work very well and a good portion of my flies all resemble a crayfish on some level. Worms are another big food source so you cannot go wrong with the San Juan or any variation of one. Another group of flies I like to use are damsel flies and dragon flies. Remember, the main key is that your fly gets to the bottom quickly so you can get it accurately in front of feeding fish. Here are a few photos of some carp flies that I carry.
Carp Crack
Egan's Headstand

Ritt's Fighting Craw

McTage's Foam Trouser Worm

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