These days fly anglers chase just about everything that swims and has fins. So what is considered a “game fish”? Something that fights well? Or something that is caught for sport not food? Or something that bites your fly? In my opinion any fish that is targeted with a fly rod should be considered a game fish. One species that I think in the past decade has become a very sought after “game fish” by fly anglers is the carp. The carp species to many people is considered a “trash fish” or “rough fish.” But, on the other hand many fishermen are dreaming about catching carp. There are a variety of different carp sub species that intrigue anglers. They inhibit just about all types of water. So why exactly should anyone think chasing a fish that doesn’t necessarily smell the greatest and dwell in the most sanitary/scenic areas?
Reason 1: There everywhere.
Often considered an invasive species carp can be found all over the world from urban sloughs and holding ponds to scenic rivers and warm water bass ponds. Once they are introduced to an area they will most likely remain there. The “hardy” fish can go months without any oxygen intake. Most anglers who live in urban areas should be on the lookout for bodies of water that hold carp. It can be a great after work activity and not involve driving an hour or two to get to your favorite trout stream.
Reason 2: The fight.
Carp are strong and stubborn fish, that will fight until the very end. Many consider the fight to be similar to that of a bonefish or red fish. Where the fish will pull line screaming off your reel and put you into the backing in a matter of no time. Make sure your drag is set to the right setting or you can find yourself losing a carp to the bottom of the lake. Carp also get very big. It is common for many fly anglers to catch carp anywhere from 5 to 20 pounds. Some carp grow to be in the 40 to 50 pound range. I’m happy with a 10 pound fish, a 40 pound fish would be quite the fight on a 6 weight fly rod.
Reason 3: The simplicity.
Being an experienced angler I prefer when the gear is minimal when targeting a specific species. I don’t have to haul around (or buy) a ton of different fly boxes, tippet sizes, and different rods when I go fishing for carp. I prefer to use one fly rod (9 foot 6-8 weight) with a basic trout reel with a floating line, a 7 foot tapered leader, a spool of 8-15 pound test fluorocarbon tippet and a cup of flies. It is easy to rig, change flies and cast. Some anglers can get more technical but I prefer to keep it simple and still seem to have good success.
Reason 4: The challenge.
Fly fishing for carp can be challenging, it can be hard to find them, hard to get them to eat, and hard to land them. All of these challenges remind me of saltwater fly fishing and the countless hours spent chasing fish to catch absolutely nothing. But when you do finally catch that fish it is so much more rewarding. With carp you are on the hunt for these fish, typically sight fishing on the flats, making a delicate presentation, and setting the hook. It requires a good amount of patience, a good pair of polarized glasses, and some tip off of a location or recon missions. In the end, the technical challenge of catching a carp on a fly makes you a better angler. It can prepare you when you travel to those exotic destinations to chase permit or tarpon. And who doesn’t like sight fishing?
Reason 5: They taste great.
Just kidding, I don’t think carp would taste good even if I was stranded in the wilderness. But, because these fish aren’t good eating many people don’t fish for them, kill them, or care about them. This can mean no pressure from other anglers, which means more fish and happy fish (fish that like to eat flies). The fly angler community in recent years have been out in force fishing for carp in certain urban areas where fly fishing is popular. But more often than not in most areas fishermen are not looking for carp and focusing their efforts on bass, trout, walleye or other common game fish.
Hopefully, these reasons will motivate the “trash fish” angler in you to chase the “Golden Bonefish” of the flats. Swing by the shop or give us a call if you need some guidance on where to start. Anglers can catch carp year round. I have had a lot more success during the warmer months of year May-September being the most productive months. A few of our professional guides at Vail Valley Anglers are carp experts and would be happy to take you out on a guided carp fishing trip. We are fortunate enough to have a phenomenal carp fishery about an hour from the shop. For more information on these trips check out the link here.
Patrick Perry, Content Contributor @patperry
Photos Courtesy of Jason Paez @finsandtwins