Carp on the fly

by Ryan Sparks | July 24, 2017

carp fly - fly

Most people scoff at carp. Then again, most people have never caught one. Big, strong, and abundant, they are perhaps the most under appreciated fish in Ontario. To catch them on a fly is one of fishing’s greatest challenges.

Gearing up

Hooking into a carp is like being tethered to a tow truck in low gear. They will consistently put a fly angler into their backing and landing them requires specialized gear. For smaller carp a 6 weight rod will suffice, but 8, 9, and even 10 weights are common.

carp fly - carp underwater

Almost all fly fishing for carp takes place in shallow water where a floating line will cover most situations. Having a reel with a heavy drag and plenty of backing is critical for slowing them down on long runs. When hooked, carp don’t build lactic acid in their muscles like other fish so be prepared for a longer fight.

I fish with a 9-ft., 16-pound test tapered leader that is typically used for saltwater flats species such as permit and bonefish. To alter it for carp, I trim a foot off the end and attach two feet of 10-pound-test fluorocarbon.

This setup is almost invisible, abrasion resistant, helps the fly sink, and allows me to cast any carp fly.

Fly selection

Carp have a reputation for eating anything, but that doesn’t make them easy to catch. They’re opportunistic feeders and rarely desperate for a meal.

From grasshoppers to baitfish to cheese rinds, carp have as varied a diet as people. With impressionistic patterns, anglers can imitate a wide range of food sources. Depending how they are fished, flies like the Backstabber, Reservoir Dog, or even a Woolly Bugger can imitate crayfish, aquatic insects, baitfish, or even clams.


carp fly - scalesCarp aren’t a fish you need to research and drive long distances to find. Chances are they can be found in your area. However, there are a few locations in Ontario that have world-class carp fishing.

Lake Ontario has a healthy population of giant carp within the Bay of Quinte, Kingston area, and nearshore fishing in Toronto offers phenomenal opportunities for carp on the fly. Find a shallow flat near deeper water and chances are you will encounter one.


Fly fishing for carp is a sight-fishing game, and it’s the visual aspect that makes it so exciting. Blind fishing for them is a poor strategy for two reasons.

carp fly - fly bait

First, the splashing made by frequent casts spooks fish.

Second, the way a carp takes a fly is so subtle you will never know it ate it unless you see it happen. Polarized sunglasses are key to cutting glare so you can see into the water.

Fly fishing for carp comes with a paradox — the fly presentation. Cast too close and the fish will spook. Cast too far away and the fish won’t see your fly. While every presentation is different, you generally want to predict the path of the fish and lead it by several feet.

Depending on the carp’s behaviour, you will want to slowly strip the fly as it approaches or give several twitches as it rests on the bottom. Watch for its gills to flare or its lips to extend. If they do, set the hook with a hard strip.

Persistence is key

Carp can get under your skin. At times, even with the perfect presentation, they will outright refuse your fly. This leaves many anglers shaking their heads and second-guessing themselves.

Don’t despair, they are arguably the toughest freshwater fish to catch on a fly rod. It’s the challenge that drives people to pursue them. Nothing worth having comes easy, and carp certainly prove this to be true.

carp fly - fishing

Click here for the seven sins of fishing.

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