Carp on the Fly — Poorman’s Bonefish

“Casting a fly for carp is like dragging a piece of fried chicken through the local seniors’ center. If it looks good and moves slowly enough, something will eventually try to gum it to death.”

Thus Field & Stream magazine introduced America to the idea of fly-fishing for carp 10 years ago.

The Golden Bonefish

Carp – long considered an invasive trash fish and the subject of mockery – still occupies the lower rung of U.S. fly-fishing. No one is planning a carp version of “A River Runs Through It”. Still, there’s no question that going after carp with flies has grown in acceptability, popularity and sophistication.

Indeed, you increasingly hear the nickname “Poor Man’s Bonefish” or “The Golden Bonefish” applied, a reference to similarities between sight-stalking feeding carp and flat fishing for saltwater bonefish.

“It’s always exciting to target a fish you can see, and the size and strength of carp magnify this. Combined with the lessons of patience, observation and big reward, this is a great fly-rod species!” says Dan Rhodes, a Northern California fly-fishermen who also specializes in selling waterfront fly-fishing real estate.

Not That Hard

Fishing for carp is not all that hard – if you find them under the right conditions. That means in the shallows, feeding, where you can spot their backs and dorsal fins. You have to go slow and quietly in three feet of water or less. Disturbances spook the fish.

Don’t underestimate carp. They are wary. One study found that in lab tests carp were twice as “smart” as bass, when it came to learning new things.

The trick, according to Rhodes, is simply putting your fly out ahead of feeding fish, let it sink, then twitching it gently. Set the hook when you feel the slightest tug.

Because this is sight fishing, bring polarized glasses and a good hat – preferably broad-brimmed.

Flyfish Carp

Carp are probably the largest freshwater fish fly anglers are likely to run into. The all tackle record is 75 pounds, and 20-30 pounders are ordinary. That’s a lot to handle on a fly rod, although it can be done – a 62-pound grass carp was caught in Alabama on a fly with a 12-lb tippet. You can’t go too heavy on tackle though, because catching them requires a small fly presented on a fairly light leader.

If there was any question about carp fly-fishing going mainstream, it was answered by the proliferation of magazines and websites focused on carp. For more information try (“Join the Revolution”), visit Orvis’ Carp Central, or pick up a copy of Jay Zimmerman’s book “The Best Carp Flies: How to Tie and Fish Them.”

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