Carp Fishing On The Fly: Best Tactics, Flies, & Tips

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Carp fishing on the fly has taken off in popularity over the last few years and for good reason.

Carp are a highly accessible species all over the world, they are big, pull line, and can be very tricky to catch, all things that we fly fishermen love in an intended target. 

But how do you be successful at carp fishing on the fly? What are the tactics? What flies work? That is what we are here to find out.

Join me, as I run through everything you need to know about Carp Fishing On The Fly so that you can go out and be successful. 

What Carp Can You Catch With A Fly Rod? 

A nice condition Common carp caught on the fly

There are quite a few different species of carp that you can convince to eat and fly and these include Grass Carp, Common Carp, and even Mirror Carp. Basically, all carp can be caught on a fly.

Grass Carp feed mainly on vegetation, hence the name, and grow up to 60 inches in length and reach up to 100 lbs. Common carp can also reach the 100 lb mark but they stay short and grow in width instead only reaching about 40 inches. 

Mirror carp will also hit the 100lb mark and the largest mirror you’re likely to find on a fly will be about 20-30 lbs but larger ones are out there. 

Can you imagine being hooked up to a 100 lb freshwater submarine on a fly rod? This is why carp fly fishing has become so popular in recent years. 

You can read more on fly fishing basics in my detailed article on how to start fly fishing, gear, tips, and setup here!

Targeting Carp On The Fly? 

You will find carp in lakes, rivers, or ponds where the water is warm enough for them to be comfortable. This means the lower reaches of US rivers like the South Platte in Colorado or in lakes such as Lake Michigan or the many carp rivers and lakes of the UK, France, and Spain. 

The key to finding good carp fly water is to pick a place where you can see the carp as they have to be sight-fished in most cases in order for you to be successful. This means finding places with shallow flats and clear waters where you can see the carp easily. 

What Time Of Year Is Best For Fly Carp Fishing? 

The best time of year for catching carp with a fly rod is when the fish can be seen and sight fished. The best time for catching carp with a fly is in the late spring, summer, and early autumn.  

However, when the water temperature gets too cold or too hot, the carp will head to the deep in order to find a more comfortable temperature for them to feed in. 

Therefore you want to avoid the times of the year with extreme temperatures and stick mainly to between spring and fall, depending on what climate you’re in. This is when you’ll see them on the shallow flats and feeding closer to the surface. 

Carp fly fishing in the winter is not as easy and can result in disappointing results, In winter you keep the fly much further away from the carp and keep it still. If you are lucky the carp just may get curious and take the fly. The movement of the fly in the water is likely to spook it and swim away.

Understanding Carp Behavior 

A jumping carp like this one is not feeding. It is forcing air into their swim bladder to adjust its level in the water

Carp are intelligent fish and once you have found a good spot to sight fish for them with a fly rod, it’s time to understand their behaviors. 

Not all carp will be willing to eat a fly, it depends on how they are acting and there are some behaviors that almost guarantee an eat and some that guarantee failure. Let’s run through them now. 

Splashing Carp 

If you see carp splashing on the surface they are not eating dry flies, the carp are actually spawning and thus have no interest in feeding. If you see carp doing this, do not bother casting a fly at them. 

Fast Moving Carp

If you see a group of carp or a single carp moving quickly across a shallow flat or close to the surface they are trying to get somewhere fast and therefore are not in the mood to eat. Don’t bother casting a fly to carp behaving this either. 

Sunbathing Carp 

Sometimes carp will bask in the sun near the surface and these carp are worth casting a fly to. Eight times out of ten, a basking carp will just spook and swim away but if your presentation is immaculate and subtle, they might eat the fly as it’s falling past them. 

Slow Moving Carp  

A single carp of a group of carp slowly swimming across a shallow-water flat deserves an excellent cast. These carp are patrolling, looking carefully for a good place to feed, and therefore might take a well-presented fly but it’s no better than a 50/50 chance they will eat it. 

Tailing Carp

When carp are tailing their head will be in the mud and their tails sticking out of the water. These carp are actively feeding and this is when you must make a cast towards them and your chances of a hook up are excellent. 

Try fly patterns such as those resembling leeches, crayfish, or small fish.  

Rising Carp 

Occasionally carp will sip insects or even berries off the surface in the same way a trout would. This is a great time to catch a carp on a dry fly but you will need to match the hatch exactly right. 

Tactics For Carp Fishing On The Fly 

Carp are smart fish and rather spooky too so you’re going to need to land your casts and flies incredibly delicately so as not to scare them off. It’s just like casting to a school of bonefish, presentation, accuracy, and delicate drops are key to success. 

Cast Close To The Fish 

While carp are clever they don’t have particularly good eyesight so they are not going to see your fly 10 feet away and come and eat it. You need to land your fly within 3 feet of the fish for them to see it, but also without spooking them. 

A good idea, if the carp are moving, is to cast 6 feet ahead of them and wait for the fish to swim close to the fly. This way you can avoid the spook and get the fly where it needs to be. Make sure that you mend correctly and slowly without too much disturbance to the surface of the water.

Drag & Drop Method 

The drag and drop method is a great way to target carp as it allows you to cast ahead of the fish so they don’t spook. Once your fly has landed, simply strip it slowly until it’s close to the fish and let the fly sink. Usually, as the fly sinks is when the carp will eat. 

Static Dry Flies 

If you see rising carp then matching the hatch and throwing a dry fly onto the surface is a great way to hook up. Be sure to cast your fly near to a feeding fish and then strip incredibly slowly so the fly seems static but you are keeping in contact with it at all times. 

Mulberry Plopping 

When you see a mulberry tree over a lake, try the mulberry fly pattern

If you can find some good carp water with mulberry trees around it then you could have some of the best carp fly fishing out there. When the mulberries drop into the lake, the carp hear this and sip them off the surface. 

The best tactic here is to use a mulberry fly pattern and create the exact same plop to attract a carp to sip your fly off the surface. 

The Dog Biscuit Cheat 

Any purist fly fisherman reading this will be disappointed with this tactic, but it’s a ton of fun if you want to catch 10 carp in an hour or two at your local lake. 

You’ll need a bag of dog biscuits and some dog biscuit flies made from spun deer hair. The idea is to go to carp lake, throw out some dog biscuits, and wait for the carp to start eating them off the surface. 

After which, throw your dog biscuit fly in there and wait for a carp to sip it off the surface. It’s a fun way to catch some fish without having to go into full carp mode.

Floating dog biscuits are also an extremely popular bait for carp anglers to use when freelining.

Bread Flies

Bread flies for carp are similar to the dog biscuit fly imitation. You can use thick deer hair for the best floating fly. A white or brown hair will represent the bread color best.

Fly Fishing For Carp In Rivers 

If you are river fishing for carp on the fly then you can approach it just like you would trout. Carp also eat nymphs and dry flies so find some water with good current and drift your flies just like you would for trout. 

You’ll probably end up catching a range of species outside of carp too as everything in the river pretty much eats nymphs. 

Setting The Hook 

A tricky part of hooking carp with a fly is getting the hook set right and timing is key. If a carp takes your fly off the surface, a quick rod lift is best to hook up with but strike too early or too late, and you will miss the fish. Practice is the only way to get the timing right. 

If you are fishing subsurface for carp, the eat can be very subtle especially if they inhale your fly on the drop. You have to keep in contact with your fly as much as possible and when you feel any tension, a short strip set is best. 

If you feel contact but don’t hook up, let the fly drop again as they often come back to have another go at it. 

What Flies Are Best For Carp? 

As with every form of fly fishing, it is best to match the hatch with carp too. Since carp feed mainly off the bottom you are going to want a range of flies that imitate: 

  • Nymphs
  • Crayfish
  • Worms 

It’s also very important to have these imitations in a range of different weights so you can get them to the depth the carp are feeding at. 

For dry fly carp fishing, it’s again about matching the hatch and some great flies to use for fly carp fishing are:

  • Mayflies 
  • Ants
  • Hoppers
  • Beetles
  • Mulberries
  • Dog Biscuit 

I would recommend starting off with the following three best carp flies and building your collection up from there. 

There are a lot of carp flies to choose from. Carp fly patterns typically resemble crayfish (a favorite food for carp), leeches, aquatic nymph stages of dragonflies or damselflies, and other small fish.

These flies should act as if they are alive, a carp will forage for the current food source around during that time of the year, however just like trout fly fishing, anglers still have to make decisions on what may or may not work.

Mop Fly Pattern

The Mop Fly is one of my favorite fly patterns for carp for many years. The mop flies when dragging near to the bottom always seem to catch when other flies don’t work.  I usually start with a size 8 in various colors but the orange or light brown seem to entice the carp to eat the fly.

Using a mop fly pattern will also result in a good chance of catching trout if the carp seem not too interested, 

Carping Out 

Thanks very much for reading my article. I hope you enjoyed it and it has inspired you to go carp fishing using flies. It really is a great form of fly fishing especially when you end up stalking carp in the shallows and sight casting.

You can read more on carp fishing in the United States here!