fishing for Carp:
Fly fishing for carp is one of the great Ontario challenges. This
page has advice on fly fishing for carp, and my "guides carp
flies" listed work! The Grand River has excellent carp fishing,
while fly fishing for carp in other Ontario rivers is superb.
For the record: One of the highlights
in my career was not penning Fumbling with a Flyrod or fly fishing
for Canada at the World Championships. It was giving a seminar on
fly fishing for carp at the 1996 Izaak Walton Forum, the biggest
gathering of 'trouty-fly-fishermen' in Canada. Slowly but surely,
more anglers are chasing carp with a flyrod, and frankly I believe
that's a good thing.
Carp are without question one of
the hardest fresh water species to get on a fly. I was the first
guide in North America to specifically target carp, and over the
years, I have been thumped by them more than any other species.
Unlike those cute and often suicidal brown trout, carp are tough
to hook, and when you hook one, they will test out your gear in
ways you never thought possible. Plus, if you take the time to LOOK
at the colours on these fish, it won't take long to see their beauty.
The nice thing about carp, is that they are not covered in those
nasty blemishes - I mean spots - found on trout and salmon. When
you are looking for a new and exciting fly fishing opportunity,
and you are bored to tears catching alternative species like brown
trout, Atlantic salmon or smallmouth bass ... have a go at carp.
You will probably end up going home with your tail stuck firmly
between your legs.
One big advantage to going carping
is that quite often you don't have to drive far too find them. For
example, just about every city, town and village in Ontario, which
has a river running through it or a pond, will have carp in it.
No matter how to slice it, there are a whack of carp around, so
don't be shy and have a go at them. The young women below landed
their first carp on a fly from a river that flows through the middle
of one of the largest cities in Canada.
Although you can find them in many watersheds, quite often you will
find carp in clear and semi-shallow water which makes them tough
to get. Although you can get them in fast riffles, they prefer slow
sections of rivers and far too often anglers will spook fish which
have been sitting within inches of the bank. Carp also like muddy
areas where it's easy for them to suck up insects and crayfish from
the riverbed. If you can find what looks like small golf ball sized
craters in a mud flat, in all likelihood you will have found a carp
feeding ground. Under the cover of darkness, carp will swim into
these areas to feed where the water will barely cover their backs.
Fly fishing at night for carp can be very, very productive, but
as they are easily spooked most anglers fail to catch them when
they head out night fishing for them. For example if you turn on
a flashlight to change flies, the carp will bolt and go off the
feed for over and hour or more. At night, like other species of
fish, carp can see black better than any other colour so black coloured
crayfish, black coloured mayfly nymphs or black Zonkers are always
a safe bet.
Luckily many urban areas are now building bike paths along riverbanks,
so by taking your dog for a walk, or by going for a bike ride, you
can scout out carping locations without having to bust your way
through the undergrowth. If you are still having a tough time locating
carp, your best bet is to borrow a Norwegian Carp hound, a rare
species of dog used in many Scandinavian countries for tracking
carp. The Norwegian Carp hound has the uncanny ability to pick up
the scent from carp which makes it a handy breed of dog for the
serious carp angler. Sadly due to the small litter sizes of two
or three pups, Norwegian Carp hounds are few and far between, so
you may need to contact your local kennel club, or pet food store,
and with a bit of luck they may be able to put you in touch with
someone who owns one.
A rant by The Carpfather
On a personal note, I have been fly fishing for carp since I was
a kid in Scotland - beginning in the late 1960s. I started out using
bread, dough and worms on my spinning rod. I got hooked on going
after carp with a flyrod when they would, 'take my fly by mistake,'
as I was learning to flyfish for yellow perch. When I came over
to Canada in 1979, I thought I had hit the Motherload when I saw
the huge, unfished carp populations in the watersheds of southern
In the mid 1980s, when I gave my first lectures
on taking carp on a fly, most anglers thought I was mad. Some say
I still am. Back then, I confidently predicted, "Carp would
be the fish of the 1990s." I was wrong. It took a few more
years for them to become the latest 'sexy species' to catch on a
fly. Although having said that, the K/W Fly Fishers, the Izaak Walton
Club in Toronto and the Winters Hatches club also in Toronto, were
among the first to ask me to speak about catching carp on a fly.
Remember, this was a time when groups stocking the Grand River with
trout, encouraged their members to, "Throw trash fish like
carp and pike on the bank." Luckily this attitude is slowly
changing, however there are still catch-and-release fly fishing
guides on the Grand River who will throw live carp onto the banks
and then leave them to bake in the sun, just because they are not
trout. Or, they will deliberately blind both carp and pike before
they throw them as far as they can out into the river to "release"
Here's the thing
Far too many fly fishermen or even worse, far too many folk who
write about catching carp on a fly, are being sucked into an angling
practice which could be described as dubious at best. What I am
talking about is chumming the water with dog biscuits or other chunky
tidbits, to get the carp on the feed then casting out your fly.
These folk believe that as carp are hard to catch on a fly, you
should try and stack the odds in your favor by throwing handfuls
of food at them before you start fishing them. What these folk fail
to see is that unless you, or someone else, is chucking out food
for the carp, they spend the rest of the time feeding on what's
in the water, much like say a brown trout or a smallmouth bass would.
"If the resident rainbow trout in the creek you are fishing
are feeding selectively, you should chuck in a few handfuls of corn,
trout pellets, chopped up worms and maggots to get them on the feed.
If it's the summer and the hoppers are about, collect about 200
hundred of them, and throw them out to create the perfect hopper
hatch. Once the rainbow trout have started feeding on the chum you
are throwing at them, you can now cast out a fly and begin fishing
for them. Yes Sir, those fish are smart, and by God, the only way
you can get them is to chum for them and then they will have a go
at your fly. Don't forget to use a bobber with a beadhead below
it and you should use some form of fish attracting scent on the
fly like 'A Hint O Dewie,' to help draw the rainbow trout to the
It is hard to imagine that after reading the above,
busloads of fly fishermen would hit their local trout waters gleefully
clutching a 5-gallon bucket of chum, a box of dog biscuits, their
4-weight bamboo rod and a box of barbless dry flies. But that's
the kicker, when it's written about fly fishing for carp, most folk
think it's okay. My suggestion: Take the training wheels off your
10-speed bike. You're a big boy now.
Quite often you will find darker coloured carp mixed in with regular
coloured carp. The darker carp are not a different species of carp,
nor have they been working on their tan. Like most other fish, carp
can modify their colouring to help them blend in with their surroundings.
They do this by monitoring the light levels passing through their
eyes. Sometimes if this mechanism is not working properly the carp
may believe it's swimming around in water which is a bit darker
than the water it's actually swimming around in. The carp will then
change it's colouring to blend in with what it thinks are the darker
coloured surroundings, which as it turns out makes it more visible
in the clearer water.
Carp are not as many uneducated anglers think, "A garbage fish."
Actually a thinking angler would recognize them as being one of
the hardest freshwater fish to take on a fly. Sure they root around
in the mud, vacuuming up nymphs, and in their quest for a tasty
tidbit they do uproot water plants, but ya gotta like their ability
to succeed. Let's face it folks, if you think about it, the way
carp have adapted to living in North America is nothing short of
phenomenal. In Canada they accomplished it from an inital stocking
of about 400 carp which were put into the lower Grand River in Ontario,
sometime around the mid to late 1890s.
Carp were first introduced into the USA in 1872
when a Mr. Poppe from Sonoma, California brought over 5 fish from
Germany which he reared as a food source. Much touted as a fast
growing food, by 1877 the U.S. Fish Commission were actively importing
carp from Germany, rearing them in brood ponds and then distributing
them across much of the US. One of the most common methods of distribution
was to park a railroad tanker full of carp on a bridge and release
the carp directly into the river or stream below the bridge.
The U.S. Fish Commission's carp stocking program
went off the rails so to speak, as early as 1894 when there was
a marked decline in the Sacramento perch populations due to habitat
destruction by carp. By a quirk of fate, Sacramento sucker populations
are one of the few fish species where there is documented evidence
showing that their decline is at least partly due to goldfish being
introduced into their habitat.
So why are carp so hard
If you stop for a moment to think about it, back in the late 1800s
and early 1900s there was rapid industrialization and manufacturing
growth, plus the human population was expanding. With factory waste
products being flushed directly into watersheds, fish were disappearing
at a rather alarming rate, so carp were looked upon as the greatest
thing since sliced bread. Not only because they are a robust and
highly reproductive species, but like gar pike and bowfin they can
live in water which has a low oxygen content. Carp are edible but
bowfin and gar pike are not. In fact, gar pike are the only freshwater
fish which has poisonous eggs.
By their very nature carp are a
wary, apprehensive and suspicious species, plus they are equipped
with what can only be described as almost extra sensory perception.
Far too many anglers ignore how highly developed carp are at picking
up noise and vibrations in the water. Why is that important? Carp
can easily detect the vibrations in the water produced by anglers
thumping about on the bank and screaming at each other, "Are
you getting any fish?" The lateral line which helps carp pick
up these vibrations, also helps the fish to figure out where the
currents are in the water as the lateral line can pick up any subtle
movements and minute changes in the flow of water moving past the
fish. If you are sloshing around in the river producing a mini tsunami
with each step, the carp are going to know that something is definitely
up, and no self respecting carp is going to hang about to see what
that "up" happens to be. Any carp who is on his game will
know you have pulled into in the parking lot long before you've
switched off the car engine and the AC/DC, or the Kenny G, CD playing
in the dash.
forget the dangly bits
Those little dangly bits at the side of a carps mouth, called barbules,
are packed with taste buds. I mean packed. Carp have a very highly
developed system of taste buds found not only in the barbules but
also on their pectoral and other fins. When you are fly fishing
the fly lacks scent, so the carp can't taste it, right? True, however
what they can taste is the scent from your saliva which touched
the fly when you were biting off the tag end of the monofilament
you tied the fly onto.
When you are out carp fishing, occasionally you may hook into a
hard fighting fish which although it looks like a carp, your instincts
are telling you, "Hold on. That's not right." What you
may have landed is a goldfish. Goldfish and carp are both members
of the minnow family, Cyprinidae, the largest freshwater fish family
which has close to 210 genera and over 2000 species. This minnow
family also includes other "cousins" like dace, shiners
Although scientists are not 100% sure, goldfish
are recognised as the first nonnative or foreign fish species introduced
into North America, which they think was somewhere around the early
1840s. Goldfish will breed in the wild and they will cross breed
and hybridize with carp, but it's generally believed that goldfish
populations are maintained by aquarium releases. Once and a while
you may find a large colourful goldfish in the wild, but most of
them get wiped out by predators and any surviving off spring tend
to have the darker olive colours. Funny how that works.
There are two easy ways to distinguish goldfish
1. Goldfish have a row of "spots" along their lateral
line but carp do not have these "spots." The spots are
clearly visible in the photo below.
2. Goldfish do not have barbules, while carp have two sets of barbules.
To be biologically correct, carp have one pair of barbules at the
top of their mouth with the second pair at the corner of their mouth.
The location of the barbules is an easy way to distinguish carp
from other barbelled fish, but let's not open up that can of worms
at the moment.
If the fish you are holding has a row of spots and its free of barbules,
it's a goldfish. If the fish is spot free and it has two sets of
barbules at its mouth, you are in possession of a carp. If you find
that your head can rotate through a full 360 degrees, if you are
not too fond of religious images and if sunlight makes your skin
smoke, you are more than likely just simply possessed and the information
contained on this page won't be of much help to you.
to think about
Take a look at how often we restock whussie, wimpy species like
trout and salmon because they cannot adapt to a new watershed. Not
so the carp. One shot and they were in. You can imagine when they
were first let out of the net saying, "Ya Hoooo! Food! Clean
water! No natural predators! No competition! Who wants to breed?"
Actually if you think about it, it ain't a bad lifestyle. Is it
Crayfish, Caddis Nymphs, Muncher Nymphs, Pheasant tail nymphs, Woolly
Buggers, Missionary, Jack Frost, Adams (parachute), Klinkhammer
Special, F-Fly, Black Gnat (parachute), Bombers, White Puke Fly,
Green Machine, Floating Ants and last but not least Crickets and
Grasshoppers. One last thing, they love mayfly nymphs, all kinds
of mayfly nymphs.
Carp will take flies from just after ice-out through
to when the water freezes over again at the end of the year. So,
when the trout season has closed and the steelhead rivers are packed
full of anglers take the time to give carp a try.
Carp are very spooky so you need to use very fine
leaders and present the fly very delicately. They are far more sophisticated
than those ruffian trout or the thug-like smallmouth bass they often
share the river with.
If you don't believe me, go out and fish for them,
not as an incidental catch, but pursue them as you would any other
sport fish. When you get your butt kicked, and you most probably
will, go back to a trout creek to restore your confidence. Most
other anglers do. Remember the catchy phrase popular in the ranks
of the skunked, "Carp don't take flies." Truth is, they
Carp: A fish for all seasons
Spring: is the time to catch big carp. By "big" I am talking
about fish ranging from 20 to 40 pounds. What are you going to do
if you hook a carp over 20 pounds? Get your buddies to go and get
you some dinner, as you will be in for the long haul. Backing is
a must. Lots of backing. Lake Ontario and Lake Huron carp can tear
out 200 yards of line in seconds.
Summer and Fall: are the best times of the year to go after river
carp. These are fish in the 4 to 10-pound range. You need to spend
a bit of time watching their feeding routine if you want to be successful.
They are very, very spooky so wear drab clothing and try not to
have any bright objects hanging from your vest. You know ... forceps,
clip-on reels, Elvis-style gold jewelry, a roll of aluminum foil,
fluorescent orange baseball caps etc. Wear any of these accessories
and you will scare the fish as soon as you step on the bank. In
fact, you might want to consider parking behind a tree and crawling
to the river on your hands and knees so they don't see you coming.
If all else fails you could try to pick up a cloaking device from
a Star Treck convention.
Winter: If the water is open and not covered in
a coating of ice, carp will take flies. A very, very slow retrieve
is essential and small muddlers, woolly buggers, caddis nymphs and
mayfly nymphs are always useful.
A Big Tip: Shadows. Casting your shadow on the
water is one sure way to scuttle your chances of hooking a carp.
If you fish with the sun behind you, and you cast a shadow onto
the water, the fish will know you are there and do little else other
than laugh at you.
Guiding for carp:
Yes, I guide for carp. I was the first guide in North America to
offer guiding for carp starting back in the 1980s. By far the best
time to catch carp is during the warmer months, May to September,
when you can stalk them in the shallows with dry flies or small
nymphs while wet wading.
During a day on the river stalking carp, one of
the highlights is that for much of the time the river will be 100%
angler free. This has two direct benefits:
1. You know the fish have not been spooked so you have a good chance
at catching them.
2. You get to see a whack of wildlife, because like the carp, they
are not spooked.
Rates: $350 per
person per day.
hire The Carpfather.
Here is a link to a wee bit of carp fly fishing history.