(hunting hogs in local South SK waters with Randy)
Common Carp - Cyprinus carpio
A large freshwater fish which arguably puts up the hardest fight in our waters. I have chased them throughout the Qu’Appelle River Water Shed east of Lake Diefenbaker into the Assiniboine River Basin to the Parklands of Manitoba.
Stealth and Presentation
Carp spook easily. I don’t find they often get spooked by a fly, leader, or fly line. It is frustrating when they nose the end of my fly line rather than pay attention to the fly! BUT, I find they are sensitive to vibrations (footfalls on the bank) or visible movement. It’s not unusual for me to army crawl to the water’s edge.
It’s debatable whether camouflage is effective. But I’ve seen those googly carp eyes look up at me before they book it taking every other carp with them. I wear camouflage with browns and yellows. I stay away from dark colours since I’m chasing carp during the day. Dark colours create silhouettes on the horizon, and there is no black foliage on the bank.
If I am chasing them on a stand-up paddle board, float tube, or from my kaboat I will consider grey camouflage on cloudy days (not great for sight fishing) and blue camouflage on sunny days to match the sky since that is likely what will be behind me.
Better chance of winning the lottery than catching a carp by prospecting for them. Sure, if you want to stick some corn on a hair rig, prop up your rod, and put a wee bell on it, then carp can be caught. But we're fly fishing! On a fly rod, I only sight fish. Ideally, I target a slow-moving carp that is nose down & tail up, or I’m looking for plumes of mud in murky water & trying to determine what direction the carp is moving.
Carp are the ultimate species to test a fly angler’s skills. To feel that tug consistently requires accuracy and a gentle presentation. Slapping the water with aggressive casts will spook them. If they get spooked, move on to another spot.
There are three main presentations I use:
1. Sink & Strip | 2. Drag & Drop | 3. Dabbing
Sink & Strip - Cast a few feet at a 45-degree angle past & in front of the nose of the carp in the direction the carp is travelling. Let the weighted fly sink, then slowly pull the fly toward the carp. If you notice the carp change direction toward your fly, stop stripping, and wait for the subtle pull. Strip set** to set the hook.
Drag & Drop - Cast in the same manner as Sink & Strip. Instead of letting the fly sink before stripping, I will strip the fly closer to the carp’s nose and direction of travel; then I let the fly sink. Again, if the carp moves towards the fly, wait. Strip set when there is a pull on the line.
Dabbing - I have caught many carp this way. I see a carp feeding against the bank; using stealth, I get only as close as an outstretched arm, and my 9-foot fly rod will let me, and I lower the fly in front of the carp’s face. Not uncommon for a carp to look up and sip the fly in its mouth. Strip set.
**Strip set - pulling back on the fly line rather than raising the rod tip to set the hook. The carp has a mouth that points down. A strip set is more likely to pull the sharpened hook into the flesh of its mouth. Raising the rod tip is more likely to have the line pull the fly down and out of its mouth.
Flies, Leaders, and Knots
Carp are predominantly bottom feeders. I have caught carp on or just under the surface. But mostly, I use weighted flies, catching them on the bottom.
I find in Southern Sask, an olive-coloured fly with a tungsten bead-head and a bit of flash is my most productive fly. Woolie buggers, nymphs, and scud patterns. I am still amazed at how small of a fly I usually catch carp on. In my experience, smaller is better.
I cannot stress this enough: sharpen your hooks each and every time you tie one on! Carp have hardy mouths, and using small flies for big fish means making sure the strip set counts to land that monster hog ripping line to your backing over 15 to 20 mins battles!
I prefer using fluorocarbon lines. They are advertised to sink faster, more abrasion resistant, and are less visible. Fishing predominantly on the bottom substrate to a spooky fish makes all of these qualities deciding factors.
If one does not like building their own leader, purchase a 9-foot, 1X tapered leader. If one wants to build a leader, then these are my suggestions. It’s not exhaustive. Leader theory is extensive!
Using 1X tippet - X system in fly fishing lines can be confusing to understand initially, although its purpose is to simplify line selection. If I’m fishing carp 1X, large trout 4X, tiny pan fish 6X, and so on. Generally, if I’m tapering leaders, I skip a size. For example: tippet - 1X, transition length - 01X, and butt section - 03X.
However, finding fly line in South Sask is not that easy & I find purchasing conventional line is less expensive. I select fly lines based on the tippet diameter I want, then transition based on lbs test.
Typically 1X line is 0.010” in diameter. It does not always equate depending on the company or the material of the line (mono, fluoro). My tippet is usually 15lbs test, the transition section = 20 lbs test, and the butt section = 25lbs test. Sometimes might depend on how large the fly hook eye is. If using a small nymph or scud pattern, a large diameter line might not fit.
I use a 60-40 rule for tapering most of the time. 60% of the leader is the butt section. More of a guarantee the fly will turn over when casting, especially in the wind. In no wind conditions, I might switch to a 50-50 or 40-60 build to get a more gentle presentation.
On a 9’ leader, my butt section = 5’, the transition section = 1‘, and the tippet = 3’. Transition and tippet sections will move around as I change flies. Depending on the behaviour of different flies, one might vary those proportions, same with the 50-50 or 40-60.
I’ve seen leader formulas with 6 to 8 sections. Yeah, no. I’m not doing that. I want to fish, not tie knots.
I’m a big fan of the nail knot. I’ve been using a nail knot tool from the beginning. I cannot remember having a knot failure. I use a nail knot to connect sections and the fly. I don’t use a loop knot attached to the fly for carp. Things that move too much make them hesitate. Loop knots are used to create movement. I like loop knots for pike and pickerel. Predators.
I use a perfection loop to attach the butt section to the fly line.
Rod, Line, and Reel
My go-to fly rod is a 9-foot, 7-weight, medium-to-fast action. Most carp fishing is close quarters, so I choose gentle presentation and accuracy over distance. A future purchase may be a glass fly rod. But I really like my Greys GR60.
Wind: When it’s windy, I will switch to an 8-wt, fast-action rod.
This is Saskatchewan. I don’t tend to go fishing if the wind is over 20km/hr. Carp, I want low wind or a sheltered spot since I’m sight fishing. But sometimes, one must adapt to the wind if one wants to get out on the water regularly.
A floating weight forward fly line that matches the weight of one’s rod. I have considered a double-tapered fly line for more subtle presentations, but with the wind being a consistent variable, I have not tried other fly lines yet. Also, I catch carp on my weight forward, so necessity has not presented itself. On my 7wt setup, I have a RIO Premier Perception WF7F fly line.
Large arbour. It's not often the reel is given the same importance to one’s setup in fly fishing other than holding the 100 or so feet of line. But with carp, the reel matters. They run like a Mack truck, and just when we think they are tired and we’re reaching our net forward, they run again!
Often I’m catching carp in 2 feet of water. They can’t go down, and they can’t go up, so they run straight and as far as they can. When we’re trying to land a 20, 30lbs + fish with muscle and power, we need a good drag system and the ability to pick up line fast when they turn around and come back at us to run in the other direction.
On my 7 wt, I have a Hardy Ultradisk UDLA 6000, and on my 8wt an Okuma Helios H78a Fly Reel. I have a few Reddington Behemoth reels. Large arbour, great drag system, durable, and affordable.