Carp on the fly is completely and utterly underrated! If you haven’t ever chased carp with a fly rod, you are seriously missing out on some of the most fun that you could ever have with a fly rod. These massive fish will test your patience, presentation, gear, and knot-tying skills. Once you get out there and try it, I can guarantee that you will be hooked! It is relatively easy to get started because most of your local waters probably already have a thriving carp population. In this write-up, we will go over the rod, leader, and line set up that I personally use, along with the tactics, flies, and approach that have scored me some big ones!
Carp have an incredible sense of sight, and they also are highly sensitive to even the slightest vibrations on the water. The slightest misstep or slip up on your approach can send the carp jetting off leaving you with nothing but a big mud cloud. Stacking the odds in your favor can increase your chances of having a successful day on the water. Here are a few personal tips to up your stealth game/approach:
Be like a statue. Carp have a wide angle of vision and they are always on the lookout for danger. Thus, making the least amount of movement as possible is a must! The carp has a small blind spot that is directly behind them, I repeat this is a very small blind spot. Because of this I like to use an upstream approach, this way, I am less likely to spook the fish.
Clothing is highly important for your approach – make sure to wear natural colors. Colors such as black, brown, or green are the best. I’m not saying that you need to go out and buy a ghillie suit, just don’t expect to be very stealthy in fluorescent orange!
9 times out of 10 your first cast is going to be your only cast. So, your presentation better be on point because you won’t get another chance at the same fish. Practice casting while you are crouching or on your knees, because, most of the time this will be the position you will be casting in.
Spotting a feeding carp can be easy most of the time because of the mud cloud that they create while feeding. Once you spot a feeding carp you need approach slow, and as methodically as possible. Once you are in a casting position you need to target the area that is a few inches ahead of the carp’s feeding lane. Once you make the cast slowly bounce your pattern in front of the fish, the fly should then catch his attention. Sometimes you will not be able to see them eat your fly so keep on stripping until you feel resistance, once you do HOLD ON TIGHT!
Carp feed on a variety of prey items, such as, insects, crustaceans, and crayfish. Crayfish and Damsel Nymphs are my personal favorite patterns to use for carp. Try to make sure to pick fly patterns that can get down right in front of the fish, but, are not so heavy that they make a splash and spook every fish you cast for. Carp flies should be simple. Using materials like rabbit strips or marabou will provide movement with little effort on your part. Here are a few of my personal favorite carp patterns:
Whitlock’s Near Nuff Crayfish
Marlock’s Carp Breakfast
Reynold’s Carp Bitter
These fish have some serious torque that will test your gear and your fish fighting skills. A 7wt rod is the best overall fly rod to use, and will handle most of the situations that you will find yourself in. Sometimes, when I plan on fishing for smallmouth as well, I will use an 8wt. I use two different fly rods throughout the season, the first is the TFO Mangrove 7wt and the second is the TFO LK Legacy 7wt. Both rods give me the delicate presentation I need, but still have the backbone needed to handle the rod bending carp. With most fish, your reel is basically a line holder, I rarely, if ever, put a big trout or a bass on the reel, because, most of the time there is no need to. However, with carp, your reel is going to be one of the most important parts of your setup. You want a lightweight reel with a flawless sealed drag system. I use the TFO BVK SD III and it withstands the relentless abuse that I put it through season after season.
Fly Line/Leader Setup
A weight forward floating fly line will be the most versatile line to use. I personally find an intermediate or sink tip line to be too much. As far as leader goes a 9-foot fluorocarbon leader tapered down to a 12-pound test will do the job. I use a 12-pound test because it is strong enough to handle the big fish, but, not too thick that it spooks every fish.
I can promise you that once your hooked into a monster carp and you feel the fly line to backing knot slide through your fingers and it is still going, you will give carp an all new respect. You can blame me when carp becomes your new obsession!
Blog written by TFO Ambassador Ryan Rachiele (Instagram: @streamerjunkie17). When not fishing, you can also find him working at Wellsboro, Pennsylvania shop Wellsboro Tackle Shack. Find out more about Ryan here.
It’s late May in East Tennessee and talk of the highly anticipated seventeen-year Brood X Cicada hatch fills the air (and social media newsfeeds) as loud as the droning buzz created by the large black and orange bugs as they emerge. News stations and local outdoor outfitters have been hyping up the natural phenomenon since January, and fly shops in my area have even made Cicada Mania t-shirts and stickers to commemorate the event.
I remember my sister-in-law was even curious about the event, asking, “What’s the big deal with these cicadas and fishing anyway?” after my brother and I began to look for dates to book a guided trip to get in on the action. My brother responded, “You know how in that 90’s surfer movie, Point Break with Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reaves and they’re searching for that perfect wave — the kind that comes only every 100 years? It’s like that for fishing – but it only happens every seventeen years, instead of 100”
I was skeptical about the whole event a few months ago. Is it really happening? Would my area even get the bugs? Will fish really key in on them like people say they will? Is this just a scheme for shops to sell more gear, flies, and t-shirts? My questions were answered on my latest trip on the river.
I was lucky enough to have a good friend invite me out for a full day float trip on a local river in search of smallmouth and other warm water species. We were instructed from our guide to be prepared to throw a lot of topwater poppers, and to not be surprised if we saw some cicadas on the water. It was a good sign when we saw some right at the boat put in.
I was fortunate enough to get the LK Legacy 6wt with the fighting butt (06 91 4 LK) last summer and put it to the test on some smallmouth a few times before it got too cold. Paired up with the Scientific Anglers Titan Taper floating line, this rod is an absolute cannon for throwing topwater bugs, so I decided to use it again for the cicada patterns. I also brought along my Axiom ll 7wt. I usually use this rod (or the Axiom ll 8wt) paired up with a Rio Outbound Short line to use for crayfish patterns and small-medium sized baitfish patterns. This set up was perfect when we found deeper water, and the fish weren’t as keyed in on the surface. Both of these rods were paired up with my favorite reel – the large arbor BVK SD reel.
With partly cloudy conditions and low water, we started out the morning with cicada patterns, and it wasn’t long before we made contact with fish. Over the course of the morning, we boated several redeye bass, a largemouth, several smallies, and even a rainbow trout on cicada patterns.
The rest of the day had some slower stretches, but even when the cicada action wasn’t as hot, we still found some nice smallmouth on Boogle Bug poppers (black and white colors did best for us). We found a few shoals and deeper runs where the crawfish patterns produced well for us.
Towards the end of the day, we found a stretch of water near a bank with trees that was absolutely roaring with cicadas. Underneath the tree, carp were rising sporadically, along with the occasional smallmouth. Bugs were dropping and the fish were slurping them from the surface. It was a sight I’ll never forget and it wasn’t long before I made a few casts with the 6wt LK Legacy and was hooked up with a nice mirror carp that couldn’t resist a cicada pattern.
We ended up fishing that stretch for about 30 minutes and caught several carp and smallmouth all on the cicada patterns. As much as we didn’t want to leave, we had to call it a day and head home before dusk.
Advice & Takeaways
I haven’t gotten into tying foam patterns yet, so I bought all of mine from a local fly shop. There were a few times during this trip where my cicada pattern would land with the hook facing up. It wasn’t every time, but I definitely missed a few fish because of this. Make sure you know what side is riding up with your cicada pattern lands. There was a small orange piece of yarn to act as an indicator for this, but when making long casts under shaded banks, it can be difficult to see.
I’d recommend grabbing some thin bright colored foam to superglue on the topside of the fly if you are having trouble seeing the fly, or to act as a visual indicator to tell when your fly isn’t floating right. If you notice the pattern is riding upside down (hook up), just give your fly a few strips until you get it riding in the water correctly.
Also, make sure you have backup patterns ready to go. It wasn’t long after 4-5 catches with the first cicada pattern we used that we had to switch up and tie on a new one, as the fish usually hit it pretty hard. Pieces of material started to come loose, eyeballs fell off, and teeth marks in the foam started to make the pattern look like it had been thrown into a tree shredder. This is not a bad problem to have, but make sure you’ve got some reserves for when the bite really does pick up.
Cicadas will hit the water and make a pretty significant “splat” followed by a wave of ripples. While some fish might pick up on this noise, some may miss it and key in on the movement the bugs make after the cicada lands on the water. In other words, don’t be afraid to give the fly some additional movement. Once the cicadas hit the water, they will continue to move their legs in an effort to get back off the water, so replicating this survival twitching can be a great way to draw a fish’s attention. Small, one-inch strips will work. Don’t be afraid to pop the fly too, especially if a fish has decided to look away from your fly. This tactic was very helpful for me more than once when trying to get a carp to change directions when it was feasting on the surface.
Pro Tip – If fishing for carp, be sure to give a little extra time for the fly to get in the fishes mouth. There were definitely a few instances where I got too excited to catch a carp on topwater and pulled the fly right out of the fish’s mouth. I still have nightmares about losing these fish.
Keep Your Eyes & Ears Open.
In my area, the cicadas are definitely out, but they are by no means flying around everywhere like a plague. It’s still early for their cycle, and the fish aren’t 100% keyed in on them yet.
Keep your ears open and listen for the loud drone of the cicadas. Chances are, you’ll hear them in the tree lines near the bank. If this is the case, drift (or wade) over to that area, and be on the lookout on the water for any bugs. Even if you don’t see any bugs on the water, or fish slurping the surface, don’t be afraid to make a few casts near the bank or in these areas. If it looks fishy – fish it!
Be patient, keep your eyes and ears out for bugs, and have fun!
Not many people associate fly fishing with the LA River, however for TFO Ambassador Lino Jubilado, catching carp on the fly on the LA River is something he’s been spending almost every weekend doing since he was a teenager. Like many urban fishing locations, the setting may not be the most attractive, however it can give anglers (and inspiring anglers) a chance to catch fish right in their backyard without having to drive miles away to a river, lake, or ocean.
After being fairly active on social media and sharing his LA River carp on the fly adventures with the world, Lino has met many people, including late night show host, Jimmy Kimmel. This week we chat with Lino to find out how he got started fly fishing, how he got into catching carp on the fly specifically, his unique approach to targeting carp, the soon to be famous Green Eggs and Ham carp pattern, and his experiences fishing with Jimmy Kimmel.
How long have you been fly fishing, and what got you specifically interested in fishing for carp on the fly?
I have been fly fishing since the 1980’s. I got my first fly rod when I was 14. I caught my first carp in the late 80s when I was high school, and I remember catching it on a fly that I tied from a fly tying kit that I had. I believe it was on a royal coachman of all things (laughs). Back then, we had to sneak into the river, as it was illegal to access.
I’ve been fly fishing exclusively for about 15 years now. Prior to that, I used to fish bass tournaments professionally with conventional gear. I just got tired of the egos and pressures of fishing competitively and I wanted to try something different, so I got into fly fishing.
Did someone you know fly fish? What made you interested in fly fishing?
I was actually at a fishing show with my Dad when I was 14 and there was a guy on stage demonstrating it. The instructor asked if I wanted to learn and I said “Sure!”. He pulled me up on stage and taught me in front of everyone. After I left there, I was super interested and asked my Dad to get me a fly rod.
Targeting carp on the fly is pretty popular today, but I can’t see that being a common species (no pun intended) for a 14 year old in the 80s to want to go after. Was that on purpose or was it just a fun bycatch for you?
I was not intending to catch carp at all when I first started. I was actually going for bass, bluegill, and sunfish. I didn’t even know carp were in the LA River. I grew up fishing it catching sunfish and bass, but had no idea carp were in there. Over the years, as I met other anglers that fished the LA River, there became a community of carp anglers – specifically fly anglers.
I didn’t get really active on social media until the last 3 years, but I’ve noticed that lately, catching carp on the fly has become a really popular type of fishing everywhere and I’m seeing it all over Instagram. Our group/community has been fishing for carp well before social media, so it’s been fun to see people catching carp in all parts of the world. I’ve met a lot of other carp anglers through Instagram as well.
What types of locations or rivers are you going after carp?
Mostly the LA River, but I try to get out and fish lakes in the outside area. I send my flies to people all over to see how effective they are on other fisheries. The LA River holds a lot of common and mirror carp, so I stay pretty busy fishing it.
As you started focusing more towards carp on the fly, how did you learn to increase your chances of success on the water? Was it from advice from your local community of anglers, or just getting out there and figuring it out.
A little bit of both. Sitting at the vice and just tying bugs that mimic what I would see in the river. One time, I saw some workers cutting the grass near the river and watched these carp gorge on these blades of grass downstream of where the grass trimings were flowing/blown into the water. I went home and tied up a blade of grass imitation and it worked! Through the years, these fish been hard to figure out. They can totally change their diet day by day. That what makes them so challenging!
You fish for carp on the fly a little bit differently that other anglers. Tell us a little bit about that.
I actually utilize a strike indicator when I fish for carp, which isn’t a common method apparently. People will comment on my Instagram posts all the time saying “How do you fish for carp with an indicator?” I realized quickly that most people are sight fishing these fish rather than using an indicator in water that typically holds carp.
I like to use a pattern that I tie called the Green Eggs & Ham. I’ve lost track of how many carp I’ve caught on the LA River with that fly and I use it exclusively with the strike indicator. With that indicator I can detect the slightest vibration or movement.
What kind of indicator do you like to use?
My go-to is a ½ inch airlock – the smaller the better. Orange is my favorite color for visibility, but if I notice they’re getting spooked by the indicator, I will switch over to white to mimic the bubbles.
Carp can be very finicky. How much does stealth play when you’re fishing for carp in your fisheries? Do you have a specific technique or tips for how to approach carp?
The nice thing about a strike indicator is I can pretty much stay away, and like trout fishing, let the fly drift as naturally as possible. I’m not constantly on my feet trying to get into casting/drop & drag range. Carp are super spooky, so keeping my distance with the indicator really helps me increase my chances of not spooking a fish.
It is very important to approach the water very quietly. Carp have a lateral line that make them super sensitive to vibrations in the water. You put your foot in the water, and they know you’re there already. It takes a lot of patience because when you do walk in the water they’ll know you’re there and spook off, but if you’re patient and stand your ground, they’ll come back and you can get another shot at them.
Also be sure to work areas that you know are holding fish thoroughly. Especially as we transition into cooler weather. With colder water, the fish will get super lethargic. They’ll still eat, but you really have to get the fly right in their face.
I see where you’re using the Axiom ll-X a lot. What size/weight do you like to use?
I love using the 5wt Axiom ll-X. Even in the more open water, the back bone is what’s important, and the Axiom ll-X has backbone for days! Just put that side pressure on that fish and you’ll tame that thing very quickly.
The Axiom ll-X is probably the first 5wt weight I’ve ever had that has a fighting butt and I love it, especially when fighting carp.
Any specific lines, leaders, tippet you like to use?
I like to use a floating line. From the fly line, I’ll do a 5’ leader of a colored mono (bright green) to a tippet ring. From there I’ll put on a 4 to 5 foot piece of 10lb fluorocarbon. My indicator usually goes right above the tippet ring so it doesn’t slide down.
Recently you fished with Jimmy Kimmel. Can you talk about that experience?
Definitely – So I mentioned earlier that I only really got into Instagram about three years ago. A few years back Jimmy Kimmel started following my account. I figured it was a spam account or something random, but I had also heard through the grapevine that he was a big time fly fisherman. I started looking at his site and sure enough I came across some hints that he fly fished!
Earlier this summer, he actually reached out to me on Instagram! He had a buddy, Chef Adam Perry Lang, that had a birthday coming up and he wanted to help him catch a carp on the fly. He asked if I’d be willing to help make that happen. I was like “Absolutely!”
We met up and I took them down to the river and within the first ten minutes his buddy Adam caught one!
Very cool! How did Jimmy do?
Jimmy hooked up six times, but unfortunately, he lost all six! He was doing great, and doing nothing wrong, but sometimes you have those days where fish break off before you have a chance to net or land them. He was so upset he said he wanted to come back. We haven’t had a chance to meet up again for that but as a thank you, he invited me and my family out to his lodge in Idaho to do some fishing.
I had the best trip of my life there. I’ve never caught so many trout in my life. I took one morning to go fish the Blackfoot Reservoir because I heard they had monster mirror carp there. I went out and caught my biggest carp ever on a 6wt!
That’s awesome! Do you and him still keep up?
We do! He’s a lot busier now, but he emailed me and asked me how the fishing was at his lodge. He still comments and likes my posts all the time. Hopefully we’ll get back on the water again soon!
Sounds and looks like you take a lot of people fishing with you. That’s great that you are able to introduce new people to your fishery and the experience of catching carp on the fly.
That’s the beauty of Instagram. I’m taking people all over the world down to the river now. It’s like a hobby of mine to get people on carp. Every weekend I’m taking someone new, sometimes people who don’t even fish because they’re fascinated by catching carp on the fly.
Any tips or suggestions for people looking to try fishing for carp on the fly. Where they might be looking for carp opportunities in there area?
That’s what’s great about carp is that they aren’t exclusive to certain areas of the world. No matter where you live, you can probably find carp in a body of water near you. Take your time and remember to be patient. These fish can spook very easily so remember that patience goes a long way! Don’t be afraid to throw an indicator on when fishing bodies of water with moving water.