Targeting Carp with a fly rod has become increasingly popular in recent fly fishing history. These fish are spooky, tough to fool and are worthy opponents on a fly rod. Part of the allure to Carp fishing is that they can often be seen in shallow water ‘tailing’ or feeding, similar to Bonefish. Sight fishing is thrilling in any setting, but spotting Carp feeding on a mud flat and watching them react to a fly has converted many non-believers. If you haven’t pursued Carp with a fly rod, you should give it a try.
As thrilling as sight fishing for Carp can be, fooling them with a fly is only half the fun. Carp can get quite large (up to 30 lbs in some cases). And, when they realize they’re hooked, it’s not uncommon to see your backing multiple times while fighting one fish. Which, in urban settings where they’re often found, can be one heck of a battle.
So you’ve decided to wrap your head around fly fishing for Carp. Let’s try something new. Which fly rod is the best for these bizarre 'bottom feeders'? Typical thinking points the angler toward a fast action 7wt that can deliver flies accurately and efficiently while maintaining power and strength for ample fighting abilities after the Carp is hooked. But does the 7wt appropriately cover Carp fishing in all scenarios? Not quite. Read on to find out which considerations are important when choosing a fly rod for Carp.
Carp can be found from the canals of city parks to the mud flats of the Great Lakes and many places in between. Because they’re a warm water species, Carp are usually happiest in a place where water is low and warm and food is plentiful.
Setting greatly impacts fly rod choice for Carp. If you’re fishing for Carp in an urban setting, you’ll rarely need to make 50+ foot casts (either you won’t have the backcasting room or the piece of water you’re fishing won’t be large enough). It’s also likely that wind and weather won’t affect you as much. Choose a medium-fast action 6wt that allows you to delicately present flies to spooky fish but maintains the ability to steer larger fish away from metropolitan obstacles.
If you’re fishing for larger Carp on the Great Lakes or from a boat, a fast action 8wt is the best option. An 8wt allows the angler to cast farther and fight fish more efficiently. A fast action rod helps present Carp flies through driving wind/rain and should be used in lake situations to help cut down the weather.
Like ‘how to’ fly rod posts in the past, a fish’s diet matters when choosing the right setup. For Carp, however, diet is particularly relevant because Carp eat off of a particularly diverse menu. Have you ever heard of a fish that’s vegetarian? Well, Carp are omnivores. Carp are known for eating berries that fall into the water, algae, and other plant life. That being said, they also eat bugs and small baitfish, crayfish, sculpin, etc. like trout do.
So if you plan on fishing dry ‘flies’ (or floating berries, algae, etc.), a lighter rod is best for presenting flies to these spooky fish. Many western rivers have healthy populations of Carp in their lower sections that willingly feed on the surface during hot, sunny days. In this case, a 9’ 7wt allows the angler to delicately present a dry fly and make accurate casts at longer distances. Winston rods are phenomenal for delicate dry fly presentations to surface-feeding Carp.
If you’re more likely to fish a Sculpin or Crayfish pattern, upgrading to a larger rod like a 9’ 8wt affords the angler the ability to cast these larger flies in windy conditions. Sink tips can also be used for Carp in deeper water or Carp feeding on the bottom and, again, a larger rod casts these sink tips/sinking lines more efficiently.
It’s worth talking a bit about the best fly reel for Carp, too, even though this is a post about how to choose a fly rod for Carp. When targeting many freshwater species (Smallmouth Bass, Trout, etc.) a fly reel basically holds line and balances a rod. Backing and heavy drag systems aren’t needed. For Carp, however, the story changes. If you’re going to take the time to plan a Carp trip and buy a fly rod solely for targeting Carp, make sure your reel fits the target species, too.
A Carp reel should have a heavy drag system and solid line capacity. It’s not uncommon for a Carp to take 3 or even 4 reel screaming runs into the backing. A strong backing and durable backing knot are crucial when Carp fishing (if you haven’t read our Backing Shootout, find it here). A reel with high retrieval rates and a strong drag is also important.
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