With the summer heat in full swing, fishing for some species, like trout, can be downright demented. The high water temps can make fish mortality rates, well… high. Even though I live in trout central, Missoula, Montana, I typically give cold water species a pass when temps hit broil. It is also when my favorite, forgotten fish are at their best. Carp, yes carp. I’m not going to try to sell you on this fish, because if you know, you know. If you don’t, well may be time to find out. They swim shallow, are hard to feed a fly, are hardy in warm water, and are beautiful in their own right. You don’t like them? Great. More flats for me! I have fished carp for three decades and have caught them from West Coast to East Coast and even a few in Europe where they have quite a different reputation.
Here are 4 tips I have picked up over the years to consider the next time you are chasing ol’ rubber lips.
Carp Fishing Tips You Can’t Live Without
1. Know what they are feeding on.Carp are omnivores and can be easting anything from berries to grass hoppers, crayfish or clams. Knowing what they are foraging for is not only helpful in fly selection but also in technique. You are not going to fish for a clam eater, who moves very slow across the flat, the same way you fish a crustacean eater who may actually follow a fly for 5 to 10 feet. Observe how they are moving and what food might be in the vicinity.
2. Pay attention to hooks and mouth feel when assessing your fly. When I select a fly, it is really about a few things. Is the hook gage heavy enough to hold up to this fish? Light wire hooks don’t 'cut the Mustad' here. You need a heavy gage or even saltwater hook. The hook may also be your primary form of weight so this comes into play as well. I like a short shank, wide-gaped hook with a straight eye in an ultra-heavy wire. Second, what is the mouth feel of the fly? Carp have extremely sensitive mouths and can analyze anything they get the magic o-ring around in an instant. I have watched them suck in a fly and spit it before I could even react on many, many…too many, occasions. A soft or multi-textured fly can sometimes give you an extra moment to set the hook while they roll it over in their mouths. Lastly, can I see it? I think this might be the most critical piece to all of carp fishing.
3. If you can’t see them, you can’t catch them. While not always the case, seeing the fish eat, or at least hover over your flies is crucial to success. This is because setting the hook at precisely the right instant is so important to hooking carp. A moment too soon and you spook a curious fish, a second too late and it has already eaten and spit and you missed it! I try to get the fly out in front of a moving fish. Far enough in front that I can get eyes on the fly and the fish can discover the fly on its own. For carp, this is important. I have had some luck dropping a fly right on a tailing carps head, but even then I look for a “shutter” as the fish sucks up the fly. Angler vision is imperative. Get good glasses, fish on bright days when you can, and don’t fish too deep. I have wasted days fishing for shapes in the murk only to be frustrated. Sometimes the best thing you can do is find a spot with a little hump in the bottom where they are circulating through and plan your shots accordingly. Think about sun angle over your shoulder and move with your vision in mind. If you can locate your fly, watch the fish hover over, and then see its gills flair as it sucks in the fly, you are going to be successful. It’s also the most fun to be had in August, if you ask me.
4. Focus on feeding fish. At one of my favorite carp spots, you might have shots at 100 fish a day. How could you not destroy! The reality is that many of the shots are dead before the line is even cast because the fish in question is not feeding. You can waste most of the day throwing at fish that are hard to catch or uncatchable. Look for slow moving fish and any tailing or glorping fish. Glorping is the term for rising carp, silly I know. Because of the position of their mouths, when they glorp it can be difficult for them to see so lining one up perfectly or even dragging the dry in front of the fish is the only way to be effective. If you have the accuracy, throwing one inside the rubber O of a carp’s mouth on the surface can be quite satisfying. Don’t be fooled by spawning fish. In the spring there might be a pile of carp congregated, but they are not feeding. They have other things on their mind. You often see them breech. Don’t be lured in. Find the feeding fish. Many times, a school of spawning fish will muddy up a bay or a slough and make it unfishable.
I hope these tips give you a leg up on these crafty fish. I think the best description for these fish that I have heard are they are just like redfish that really, really don’t want to eat. Sometimes it can feel that way, but stick with it and this can become one of your favorite species as it has become one of mine. Move slow, stay patient, and set the hook with a vengeance.
Meet the Author: Peter Vandergrift has been working at Cheeky Fishing for almost 2 years now, with a diverse and long history in the fishing industry. He began guiding at 19 in Alaska in the shadow of the proposed Pebble Mine, and went on to guide and outfit in Montana and Northern Wyoming for two decades prior to joining Simms, moving on to Costa, before joining Team Cheeky.