Updated 2000-04-05
Swedish version

by Gary Romanic

Cyprinus Carpio

Potomac peeler, Susquehanna snook and elephant chub are some of the common names that belong to Cyprinus Carpio known to most as a carp. Although this noble fish is not desired table fair, except in the Far East, it is a terrific adversary and sport fish. Introduced from Europe in the 1870’s, it is found throughout the Northeast and other places where warm, sluggish water exists. It lives in brackish and clear water but prefers the warm waters of lakes and rivers alike. Successful carp angling with a fly rod requires persistence, stealth and stamina for locating and the fighting the fish. The carp can be located in the back eddies and slower water where little or no current exists. It likes structure for safety and hiding from predators. The carp will choose deeper pools with vegetation, logs and large rocks. The vegetation serves two purposes, one as a place to blend in for camouflage and the other as a source of food. Carp are omnivores, which means they eat plants and animals. They like aquatic vegetation, plankton, insect larvae and crayfish.

If you’re a fly fisherman, especially a nymph fisherman you will enjoy the pursuit of carp. Look for a suspecting pool that may contain carp, a pool with depth and structure. The angler must approach with caution. I prefer to approach directly from the rear of the pool. If that is not possible because of the depth of the pool, then approach at a 45-degree angle. Fishing in the blind is not desired but sometimes the water depth dictates no choice. If no wakes are detected after the cast, the fish are not there or where they normally stay. Then you can proceed to a perpendicular angle choosing either side of the water. Once on the bank carefully look for a large silhouette or shadows. Carp can be solitary or school together. When together they can be either spawning or can school as most chubs do for protection. There is always safety in numbers. Smaller carp are favorite prey of pike, muskellunge, smallmouth and large trout. From the air, they can be picked off by eagles, osprey, herons and gulls. Once they are too large for the traditional predators, the land predators such as otters, mink and man pursue the animal.

Nymph fisherman should pick the last fish in the pack or an isolated fish that is sulking or feeding at the bottom. The traditional dry fly technique will not work because there is no flow to the water. The fish feed subsurface and I have never seen a carp rise to a dry fly. That would be a wonderful project for our fisheries biologist and hatcheries to create a carp that rises to a dry fly. Carp do rise but I believe it is to impress a mate or to rid itself of organisms that causes it discomfort. After a fish is located, move slowly into casting position. Stream structure, bank obstacles, backcast and fly selection are the criteria for success. I prefer a floating level line on a 6-8 weight fast action rod with a reel possessing a good drag. The reel should contain no more than 100 yards of 20 pound test dacron backing because more is not sporting and a skilled angler does not need more to land a fish of this caliber. I use a tapered ten foot leader with 6-8x tippet because the carp’s eyesight is keen in clear water. The fish probably sees well because its senses are heightened if spawning and its environs are cleaner than usual. The finer the tippet, the better your chances for a hookup and of course more sport and skill are required for landing the fish. There are many patterns used for carp. Traditional trout nymphs like the gold ribbed hares ear, Zug Bug, Montana stone and Pheasant tail are consistent. I tie a nymph called "ENANILLO ROMANIQUE". It consists of a nymph hook size 16-18 wound with black 9/0 silk thread and 2-3 wraps of peacock herl.

The trick is to find a tailing carp, that is a carp with its tail higher than its body indicating that the fish is actively feeding. It buries its mouth into the silt and rocks trying to loosen the bottom in search of tender plant roots and insect larvae. If you locate a fish in this posture gently cast upstream with your floating line making sure you don’t line the fish. Let the nymph sink and drift in front of the carp’s mouth. Be patient, wait to see the opercula (gill covering) flare and the mouth open. Gently lift the rod tip. If the fish does not turn and run violently there is no hookup and repeat the upstream process. I prefer to do an upstream air mend because mending the line on the water creates too much water disturbance and puts down the fish.

Please don’t try to foul hook or snag the fish for three reasons. First, it is not a sporting way to fish and unethical in practice. Next, I have never landed an accidentally foul hooked carp, its too strong for light tackle. The fish can be controlled better from the mouth than its body. In addition to its strength its scales have a hard exterior and undo readily. Lastly if the tippet breaks you will have a high velocity fly line headed in your direction. Always fish barbless hooks because they will penetrate the softer tissue nearer the orifice of the mouth. Carp caught on fly rod
The inner mouth is raspy and tough and evolved this way because of the carp’s omnivorous diet. If the tippet does not break and the becomes undone - duck! This is another reason to fish barbless.

Stream structure has to be considered because the carp will make an incredibly strong run after the hookup. The fish will take you into the backing and look for rocks, logs and vegetation. Your rod tip must be held high during the initial run. After the run hold your rod parallel to the water and opposite the direction of the fish. This will increase the pressure on the animal and fatigue it for landing. The point to consider is bank structure. Consider the softness of the bank, trees along the bank, large boulders and the depth of the pool in front of you. All of these can cause the loss of landing the fish. Finally, when you are ready to land the carp use a net. Trying to tail this fish (that is landing it with your hand) is difficult the Carp has a large caudal peduncle, the area just before the tail fin. This area along with the carp’s weight is why it is not a strong long distance swimmer in current. Unlike a salmon that can generate a great deal of power and swim great distances. Carp prefer the slower water and requires less oxygen. Once you have landed the carp you will find it is not slippery and does not have an odor. The fish can live for a long time outside of its environs but should be released immediately.

This is a fish that should be promoted more by sport fisheries and states promotional departments. Its not classic dry fly fishing but it takes some of the pressure from our traditional sport fish like smallmouth and trout. Carp provide sport in the dog days of summer. The fish is a tough customer that deserves more respect than its past reputation as a junk fish. If you like to catch 5-10 pound fish on a fly rod, then try carp on a fly.

Text: © Gary Romanic 2000
Photo by Bill Henderson


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