Youíve arrived at the carp fishery, noting there arenít any carp visible. However, youíre fairly sure good numbers of fish are present at spot XYZ. Now the question is, ďHow do I go about catching them?Ē When carp are not actively feeding off the surface, assume theyíre feeding on the bottom. There are exceptions, such as when carp are chasing baitfish, but theyíre rare and easily adapted to when you encounter them.
Bottom feeding fish means the fly should be on the bottom in order to attract the carpís attention. Not only that, but it needs to stay there during retrieves. Using a weighted fly with a floating line is one way to get to the bottom. However, unless youíre fishing very shallow water, under three or four feet, and a long leader (nine feet plus), itís difficult to keep contact with the bottom. As you retrieve your fly, the floating line tends to lift the fly off the bottom. A heavily weighted fly is one solution, but it is prone to snagging and is difficult to cast.
Except in the shallowest of waters, under three feet, my approach is to use lightly weighted flies and full sinking lines. Some anglers opt to use sink-tips, but in my experience theyíre only slightly better than a floating line. Typically you get one foot of depth for every three feet of sinking line/leader. So a ten foot sink-tip will only add an extra three feet of depth, allowing you to fish six feet down effectively rather than the three feet with a long leader that a floating line affords. Whereas, with a full sink line and a willingness to wait long enough, you can fish upwards of thirty to forty feet down provided you can make a 90 to 120 feet cast.
When fishing waters less than five feet, my preference is a floating or intermediate line. For depths from three to fifteen feet I opt for type III full sink, and a type VI for depths consistently over ten feet. Often I like to ďstay backĒ, as shallow fish tend to be wary. For long casts I opt for shooting heads and running lines, allowing me to make casts in excess of a hundred feet and cover a lot of water.
When using a full sinking line, I opt for short leaders three to six feet for a single fly. For multiple flies I use 18 to 36 inch sections between flies. Thus, a three fly rig could be anywhere from six to nine feet or longer in length. With sinking lines the leaders are straight monofilament (or fluorocarbon) from 3X to 0X. When fishing floating lines I prefer 9 feet tapered leaders. Carp are rarely leader shy, especially with the larger flies. Even with size 12 or 14 nymphs I rarely find it necessary to fish anything lighter than 3X.
As to rods, Iím brand indifferent. However, when blind casting I like to use larger flies, heavy tippet, and make long casts to cover lots of water. Thus, I opt for fast action 9 feet, 7 weight rods as my primary carp rods. Anything from a 6 to 8 weight makes for a good carp rod. While lighter rods and tippers will work, I, personally find that casting heavily weight flies and fighting 5 to 15 pound fish all day becomes a chore on lighter tackle.
Given carp are generic feeders my fly selection tends toward impressionist patterns. I always have a few dry flies, a cottonseed pattern, midges, and trout nymphs on hand should sight fishing opportunities arise. For probing the depths I use large nymphs, such as pheasant tails, APs, stones, Stillwater nymphs and hareís ears, woolly buggers, carp sliders, foxee clousers, small clousers one to two inches, and other carp patterns. Furthermore, I carry unweighted, lightly and heavily weighted flies. As I often fish stained waters, I tie up a few high contrast patterns, such as foxee clousers and clousers in black/chartreuse or black/white.
Presentation depends on the situation, but at its core itís very simple. Cast into the area holding carp. Allow time for the fly to reach the bottom, drop the rod tip so itís on the water pointing at the fly, and then make slow short strips, each followed by a pause. Iíll vary the cadence throughout the day, often within a cast. For example, every now and then Iíll make a long slow strip, or a quick strip with a longer pause, or several quick short strips and a pause. Point is, itís good to mix things up. In my experience carp typically prefer the less aggressive retrieves, so I start there. Once I find what the fish want Iíll tend to be more consistent. Point is, keep mixing up your retrieves until you find one that stimulates strikes.
Changing retrieves, followed by changing location are more important than changing flies. Itís rare for carp to be highly selective. On those days I find myself changing flies frequently, catching is generally slow. My first choice is usually a big, high contrast streamer, such as a black/chartreuse foxee clouser. So when I change flies, I usually downsize first, then try color changes, followed by pattern swaps. When making my initial fly selection I use these guidelines. Dark flies for dark water, light for light water. Bigger flies for dark water, smaller for clear water. High contrast flies for dark water, ďnaturalĒ for light water.
I often fish multiple flies, two or three at a time. There are two basic rigs I use. One is to tie on a fly, then a section of leader to the bend of the hook to which I tie a second fly. The other is to tie sections of tippet together using a triple surgeons knot. The downward tag of the knot is retained and a fly tied on it. Method one is stronger and more or less snag free. Method two makes it easier to swap out flies. Multiple flies have the advantage of multiple presentations on a single cast along choices for the fish. The downside is you lose more flies and multiple fish hookups are possible. Not a good situation with carp.
Hook sets are best made with a strip set. Simply, when you feel resistance as youíre stripping line, set the hook by stripping hard. Once you feel the fish, then lift the rod to protect your leader. While you can strip line to fight carp, fighting big fish is best done from the reel. After the fish is on the reel, take the fight to the carp by reeling in line while dropping the rod tip to the fish, then lift the rod without reeling. Itís a good idea to check your drag before tangling with carp. Whenever youíre unable to make gains pumping in the fish, change the angle of attack so as to keep the fish off balance and moving. The last thing you want to do with a big carp is to allow it to settle into a tug of war with you.
Follow these tactics and youíll soon find yourself catching unseen carp on a regular basis and in good numbers. Regular, being fish on most outings. Good numbers, being a dozen or better. Iíve had days where Iíve manages a half dozen fish an hour or more, with total head counts in excess of six dozen fish in a dayís fishing.
Be advised that fighting big fish all day will put a strain on your hands, wrists, and arms. Whatever you do, donít complain about the pain, as all youíll get is laughter. No sympathy will be forthcoming. Enjoy.