Fly-Fishing For Carp: more fun than you would have expected

By Richard Ulrych

Rocky & Bullwinkle was my favorite cartoon show when I was a kid, and the part I liked best was Fractured Fairy Tales.

And that is what I thought stories about fly-fishing for carp were --Fractured Fairy Tales -- until I got first-hand experience. Yes, I had always accepted the possibility that someone might catch carp on a fly by accident, but I thought it highly improbable that someone could purposefully and consistently catch carp on a fly. After all, I had fished a lot for carp with my grandfather; I knew carp and this fish was no candidate for fly-fishing, or so I thought.

Then, one summer day I wasn?t having a whole lot of luck on the Tulpehocken near Reading when I came upon a pool loaded with carp. Now, many of the stories about fly-fishing for carp I had heard had taken place on the Tulpehocken, and since things were not going especially well, I decided to take a shot at the carp. Without changing my leader (a big mistake), I tied on #10 weighted Hare?s Ear nymph on a 4x tippet and casted in the direction of a bunch of carp. Within seconds, the tip of my line twitched, and I set the hook, and a good size carp took off. I wasn?t ready. Loose line tangled on my leader, and the fish broke off.

I spent the rest of the day trying to get another carp. It wasn?t easy. I changed flies; changed techniques. I don?t how long it took before I hooked my second carp ? it was a seventeen incher (a small one). My confidence grew. I thought I finally knew what I was doing. I didn?t.

It took some more time for me to hook my third carp ? this one was over twenty inches. In the meantime I had hooked a fifteen inch smallmouth (which I cursed for getting in the way of catching a carp), and a whole bunch of sunfish, (which I cursed even louder).

I learned a lot that first day about how to get carp on a fly. I came back two week later, and this time I caught four carp in about four hours, and I hooked and lost two others. All of the carp were better than twenty inches. Successive trips brought even better results. By the time that summer ended, I had perfected some techniques for catching carp on a fly that I have employed not only to catch carp on the Tulpehocken, but also in the Delaware Canal and in several Bucks County ponds.


I use a nine foot five weight fly rod. If I had a longer rod, I would use it, but I wouldn?t move up in weight class. I use a weight forward line ? sometimes I have to cast pretty far. I use a ten foot leader with a 2X tippet, sometimes I move down to a 3X.

The Fly

The fly of choice is a #10 fluorescent chartreuse Green Weenie. The fly does not imitate anything that the carp eat; at least, I don?t think so. I like the Weenie because it is so easy to see, and seeing your fly is a big help.

I tie the Weenie with vermille or ultra chenille. There is no particular reason I don?t use medium chenille. I just have more confidence in the thinner chenille.

The Method

I tie a B size split shot about six to eight inches above the fly. I then either cast to a specific carp that I see feeding in the shallows, in which case being able to see the fly is essential, or I cast to a group of carp in somewhat deeper water, in which case I watch my fly line for any indication of a pick up (just a slight variation in how the line is drifting is all I see). I don?t use a strike indicator ? I have tried them, but then I don?t get any strikes.

The key is to cast down stream to the carp. Don?t let the leader to drift over them first. I have never gotten a strike doing so, and believe me, in the beginning I tried casting up stream and letting my leader drift over carp.

This principle also applies when fishing still water. In the Delaware Canal and in ponds, I try to cast to carp as they are moving in my direction or are absolutely parallel to me. I never cast over the carp.

Best results are obtained when you get your fly to settle on the bottom right as a feeding carp approaches. If I can do that, provided the fish is about thirty feet away, at least, I get a strike about 70% of the time.

To seriously fly-fish for carp, you need to find a place where there is a huge concentration of fish. I?m talking about at least twenty fish. This maximizes the possibility that a few of them will be feeding. Sometimes, even if the carp are not feeding, you can get one to take a fly, but then your chances are better if there are a lot of carp around..

People tell me that the carp gorge on Tricos in the Tulpehocken. Supposedly, this creates an opportunity to catch carp on surface flies. I haven?t experienced this, but it seems plausible. I say that because I once had a good day fishing for carp in the Delaware Canal using a lightly hackled green chenille wet fly that suspended in the surface film. Water was coming into the canal after a long dry spell. Carp were creeping up with the water as it engulfed the dry bottom of the canal, and they were feeding on any terrestrials that popped up. The bugs were floating near the surface, and I cast my fly just in front of feeding carp. It was incredibly easy to get strikes. So, I do believe carp can be caught on surface flies. I wonder what it?s like to hook a twenty-five inch carp on a #22 Trico on a 5X or 6X tippet?

Other Approaches

Books and articles about fly-fishing for carp discuss using big flies ? crayfish imitations and such. The sources I have consulted focus on fishing for carp in Lake Erie or the Susquehanna. Maybe that?s the way it is. My experience is limited to the waters in Southeastern PA. If you try using big flies and get good results, let me know. One other thing, if you want to use some other pattern than the Weenie try tying some chartreuse material or other visible material into the fly. It will make the fly more visible. Trust me, it will help.

Why Carp

They are big. They can be found near to home. They fight well, and it is challenging to get them to take a fly.

A carp caught on a fly in a Bucks County pond

This carp measured 28 inches -- the tape on the rod marks 15"

You can see the Green Weenie nugly attached

The author with a carp on the banks of the Tulpehocken

(c) Richard Ulrych 2007
Richard Ulrych