Fly 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.

Finding Carp
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.

The Norewgian Carp Hound
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 Ontario.

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" them.

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.

In other words
"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 pattern."

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.

Dark coloured carp
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.

The thinking angler
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 to catch?
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.

Don't 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.

Spot the difference
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 and chub.

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 from carp.
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.

In summary
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.

Something 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

Flies for Carp
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 do.

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.

E-mail: I wanna hire The Carpfather.

Blackwells Baitfish
Here is a link to a wee bit of carp fly fishing history.
"The Baitfish."