Good Morning All,
I've been seeing numerous North Texas people asking about getting into Carp this summer and I've also recieved numerous PM's on this anytime I post phots. With the rains, many reliable spots were not worth bothering with. However, water levels are starting to drop and the heat picking up, we are getting into some prime conditions. 3 years ago I swore I would give up this madness time and time again, I would go out dozens of times in a row with nothing to show for it. However, partly through dumb luck, partly through crazed determination and in large part to excellent advice from others on this forum (Thank you TXFlyCaster and LoneStarCarper) I’ve finally started to figure this out and am now getting fish on an almost regular basis. Sometimes even getting several to hand in a single outing. Something almost unimaginable 2 years ago. Having reached this point and seeing several posts that mirrored my curiosity and frustration when I first started, I thought I’d share a few of my personal rules I try to stick with to maximize my chances. I still consider myself very much a novice and this is just my two cents, but hopefully some of you new guys get something out of it.
1. Look for perfect or near perfect Conditions
a. Carp Fishing is hard enough. If conditions aren't pretty close to perfect, I try to go target something else or save up the brownie points for when they do occur.
b. Temps should be 80 plus, calm or slight wind, cloudless or nearly cloudless sky, stable water level and good to excellent clarity. If any of those conditions are not present, ideally fish between 10AM and 2PM. The Sun and good polarized glasses are your friend allowing you to spot far more fish and probably most importantly allow you to see what is happening. Just watch that shadow.
c. Wind, Clouds, Silty or Stained Water, etc. all make hooking up exponentially harder and in my experience most of these have been accidental foul hooking. You really do need to have a clear view of the entire fish and your fly at all times. I think there probably are a few expert Czech nymphing types with the Jedi skills to know when the Carp picks up their fly out of 2 foot wide cloud of silt, but I am not one of them.
2. Drag and Drop
a. Many of the Carp guide I have read mention a “dinner plate” or “baseball cap” on the Carps head and insists you “put the fly on the bill”. I think most of us interpret this to mean cast to drop the fly on their head and then…………usually not much on what’s supposed to happen next. In practice, you will realize that casting the fly “onto the bill” presents all manner of issues. Weighted flies will splash, high likelihood of dragging line across their back, and worst of all having to reposition by bringing the line back moving the fly very unnaturally in their immediate vision. All of these will usually cause the fish to spook along with all their buddies and then they are done.
b. DRAG: The technique I use is very easy and I believe spooks far fewer fish. I try and cast 6-8 ft. past the fish and 2- 3 feet in front of their direction of travel. Then watch that fly and don’t lose sight of it. (If you lose sight start over). Then ever so slowly, point your rod tip at that “dinner plate” or “baseball cap” on the front of the fish and strip in line. Slowly enough to let your fly descend below the surface tension, but still well above the fish. Then time your stripping to draw your fly closer and closer to the fish, using your rod tip to make sure it stays on course to intercept “dinner plate” or “baseball cap”. If you have done everything right your fly should arrive directly in front of, but still well above the “dinner plate” or “baseball cap” just outside of the fish’s upper peripheral vision.
c. DROP: Once the fly is ideally positioned below the surface, easily visible to you, above the “dinner plate” or “baseball cap”, rod tip pointed right at the “dinner plate” or “baseball cap” and all slack having been stripped in, you are ready. Drop! Let the fly float down right into the Carp’s domain, aka the bottom. Whatever you do, don’t lose sight of the fly, but watch the fish too for a reaction. Whenever you think it’s dropped past the fish, keep waiting, the refraction effect of water makes the fly appear about twice as deep as it really is. If the fly is really dropping right in front of them they rarely don’t react. Some will bolt, some will stop, some will just back away. However, if they see something they like, look for them to start rising up off the bottom to meet it coming down. On rare occasions, they will even follow a fly, if they turn their head towards the fly, this is about the best possible sign. Even still, they often will reject at the last second. However, if they don’t you are likely in for a take. Be ready, again rod tip pointed right at them, no slack and eyes locked on that fly. The take is surprisingly fast. They feed by sucking in vast quantity of water like a large mouth, but it’s very discreet and very easy to miss. One half heartbeat the fly is right of their nose, in the next beat the fish puffs up and the fly is gone. Now for the hookset, again be ready! The Carp has a very soft mouth, don’t strip set, this has failed me every time. With your slack held tight against your grip in your strong hand and the rest of your slack in your weak hand (ready to strip in) give your rod tip good swift set, but no harder than for a small trout or bluegill. The hookset needs to be relatively fast. I have seen plenty of flies sucked in and blown right back out in the same second. Again, keep your eyes locked on that fly and be ready to set the hook. Be ready to strip in, the fish will as often as not charge right at you on the hookset. Big fish in shallow water are impressive enough to startle many their first time, so again, just be ready for the hookset, be ready to strip in and be ready to turn the fish away from brush.
3. Find someplace close
a. Everyone asks where to find Carp, myself included. However, it would probably be easier to list water that doesn’t contain them. They are literally everywhere once you start looking for them. Everyone knows about Ray Roberts and that really is a great fishery. A muddy, nutrient rich bottom combined, with acre after acre of flats and gentle shorelines combined and the zebra mussels filtering the water to near tropical clarity. However, don’t get too hung up on trying to make trip after trip far afield to a location you read about or where told about. Odds are very high that 5-10 miles from your house similar conditions are present. Google Earth is your friend. Draw a radius from your home and then just start a process of elimination investigating each body of water. This is an excellent wintertime activity. I spent several Saturday’s this winter armed just with a few printouts of Google Earth investigating a few dozen local creeks and ponds and found several very productive spots. Some were in places that in hindsight should have been incredibly obvious. Having a place nearby where you can take 20 minutes and get 3 or 4 shots every few days will really accelerate your casting skill and powers of observation to better understand your local fish.
4. Patience makes Perfect
a. Carp fishing is perhaps the slowest paced form of fly-fishing, I’ve encountered yet. Beyond the hookset, most other decisions take minutes to develop. I’ll often spend 5+ minutes observing a group of fish before forming a game plan on how to stealthily approach closer and who my “player” is. Carp are usually in groups and you will notice all sorts of unique behaviors. Of course you are looking for actively feeding fish. Fish that are spawning or just sunning will often ignore everything, these are not players. The fish that is half buried in the mud mining for crawfish and has been for the last 5 minutes is not your player either. The ideal fish is casually working over an area of flat or back, sampling items of the bottom as he goes. Actively feeding, but not overtly concentrated one spot in particular. If you can actually see his mouth working over the
bottom as he goes, but not stirring up enough silt to conceal the mouth, that is more than likely your player. A stealthy approach is key. However I think more emphasis should be placed on sound over movement. They can see very well, but I believe they are adapted to be particularly near sighted as they specialize on feeding on the bottom. After spooking several thousand fish at this point, I think grinding a boot into the gravel has been my number one culprit for spooking fish, far above an extra false cast, yellow shirt, etc. Again, be patient, Carp often will stay in one general area for hours and often will reappear under similar conditions. Practice your powers of observation to “find the player”
5. Be Ready
a. These are big fish, have the appropriate tackle for them and everything else you will need. I prefer a 6-8 wt 9 ft. rod and line combo set up for quick short 15-25 ft. casts.
Have a good strong leader, I prefer straight 12 lb. flouro. Be ready for a fight, again, any slack in your weak hand ready to strip, strong hand holding line tight against the grip and pointing rod tip at the fish ready to strike. Have a net, you will be hard pressed to bring one of the larger fish in by yourself without one. Dress appropriately, you will be fighting the sun, mosquitos, mud, burs, nettle and everything else the Texas Summer wants to throw at you. I personally prefer real wading boots, cotton socks, nylon pants, long sleeve shirt, buff and wide brim hat, all in neutral colors. I prefer to abstain from bug spray and sun screen as much as possible. Nothing is as sure to cause a rejection as a hint of sunscreen or bug spray on the fly. Lastly, bring adequate water. Spending several hours without shade in 90+ weather will cause anyone dehydration without adequate water. Headaches, dizziness, tiredness are all signs you need water ASAP.
Take it from a guy who earned an ambulance ride from two-a-days, drink all you can, then drink some more.
Lastly, try and stay positive. These are arguably the toughest fish you will ever go after in Texas. Someday you will do everything right and all you did was get refusal after refusal. I have heard these fish compared to Permit in difficulty. However, in the right conditions you can get dozens or more shots at Carp in a few hours. My understanding of Permit is that you are lucky to get a few a day. Finally, fly choice is almost not worth discussing beyond three small conclusions have made. 1. The fly must be one you can easily see down to the depth of the take. If you can’t see the take, you are more likely to end up foul hooking the fish if anything. 2. All the “Carp” flies I have seen in stores are far too heavily weighted. I believe there are certain location where large tungsten dumbbell eyes or a cone head are merited (strong current, very deep very clear water). However I have had literally zero success on locally store bought “Carp” flies here in Texas. They make a huge splash and sink unnaturally fast. 3. There is no one fly, I have had takes on everything from a size 4 deceiver to a dunked size 12 elk hair caddis and dozens of patterns in between. Have a good selection on you and experiment till you find one that garner’s a good response.
Wow, this got long. Anyhow stay positive and good luck. You will need it, but in the end, well worth it!
My First "Carp" Ever- I-30 and University Bridge
First Ray Robert's "Real Carp"
Carp from this season