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Carp on the Fly

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Carp on the Fly Carp on the Fly

By Paul Sharman

Fish & Fly editor Paul Sharman with a fin and scale perfect Californian carp - photo by Scott Donaghe

OK - down to business carp fans. So if you've never picked up a fly rod before, just what do you need to get you started? Well the good news is that contrary to popular belief, fly fishing does not need to cost an arm or a leg. It can but it doesn't have to!

You have the choice of either buying the components such as the rod, reel, fly-line and leader separately or you can get them bundled together as often very reasonably priced kits. Let's look at each part on their own with some general recommendations on what to look for.

Rod - Fly rods are given a numeric rating which corresponds to their relative power. 0 corresponds to a super-ultralight for tiny fish in tiny streams up to 12 and beyond for big bluewater gamefish like tuna and marlin. For carp fishing 6 to 8 weight rods will cover most of your carping needs with a 7 weight perhaps being the best all-rounder. This mid-weight rod will allow you to cast all-day with enough power in the blank to put the hurt on a running fish and turn the fight in your favor. The only caveat I would add is that if you expect to regularly be fishing for and catching teens and above then you might think about going up to the 8 or even a 9 weight for extra turning power.

Reel - In fly-fishing the reels are also given ratings which match the rod so for a 7 weight rod you would look for a 7 weight reel obviously. They are designed to hold a certain amount of backing and the fly line matched to the size of the outfit. You will typically want around 100-150 yards of backing, which although you may never catch a carp that runs that far (although you might in shallow-water situations particularly), it's always good to have and anyway this setup would also make a great bonefish outfit for that vacation to the tropics. Most fly reels are direct-drive, that is the spool revolves both ways which makes them a true knuckle-buster if you don't get your hand out of the way when a fish runs. There are a few anti-reverse reels on the market if you prefer though.

Fly line - There are several types of fly lines, all designed for different jobs. There are sinking lines to get your fly down deep, shooting head lines which allow extreme distance casting but the most useful for a carp angler who is typically sight fishing in the margins or shallows is a floating line. This does what it says and floats on the surface giving you a visual reference as to where your fly is located. It can also act as a bite indicator in that any unusual movement at the end of the line can signal a take from a wary carp.

Leader system - the monofilament or flurocarbon link from the fly line to the fly is called the leader. In the past this was made of several lengths of diminishing diameter line joined together to give it a taper. This is needed to help 'turn' the fly over, which is a fancy way of saying getting it to land in a straight line at the end of your cast rather than in a tangled heap. Now you can buy tapered leaders that are a single continuous length of mono or fluorocarbon with the taper already built in. These come in different sizes depending on the species you are fishing for and the conditions you are fishing in, but if you look for one that ends in a breaking strain of around 8-10lbs then that's a good place to start. You then buy small spools of line called 'tippet' which you can add to the end of the leader with a blood knot or something similar to fish the final breaking strain you require. I usually add perhaps 12-18 inches of 6-8lb tippet which does not sound very strong for carp but the built-in flexibility of the fly rod affords a lot more shock resistance than a conventional pole so you can get away with it. 

The authors carping gear

Flies - A selection of nymphs is the best starting point. These mimic the grubs, beetles, worms, leeches and other aquatic life that the carp are likely to encounter on a daily basis. Some weight in the fly is useful to get the fly down in front of a feeding carp quickly and bead-head patterns are very popular for this. Also those with rubber legs add some movement that often seem to stimulate a carp to eat your fly. Some of my favorite patterns are black woolly buggers, aggravator nymphs and san juan worms. These roughly mimic leeches, dragonfly nymphs and bloodworms and are a staple in my fly box. Some of the more forward thinking outfitters are starting to offer carp fly selections now and you will see them in most catalogues.

Other gear - as the majority of carp fishing is sight related a good pair of polarized glasses and a brimmed hat are always useful. Fly anglers are typically mobile and so a vest or a small pack that can move with you to hold your fly box, tippet and other small items such as sunscreen and some water are a bonus also.

More information
There is not enough room to list all the possible combinations of individual rods, reels and lines that would work so I would suggest if you would like to go the bespoke route that you look up your local fly shop and ask them to suggest an outfit in your price range. Unless you happen to hit sale time, you should probably expect to be paying anywhere from £300 upwards if you go this route. For the bundled kits most of the big-box stores carry selections that start from around the £150 mark but do include everything you need to get started.
For a good selection of flies look at suppliers that advertise ready made selections. Once you have an idea of what to look for check out the fly bins in your local fly-shop and talk to any fellow fly-fishers you meet on the water who are usually happy to share patterns that have worked for them. As always the internet provides a wealth of material and a simple search on carp flies will keep you busy for a while! 
Our Fly Forums also provide a wealth of experience. 

Next time….. You've got your gear - now what?

For more details on Carp Fishing in general please visit our friends across the pond at the American Carp Society.

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