Many anglers view Carp as a garbage fish. While carp might be on the list of “Trophies” to catch with a fly, I can attests that hooking into one of these brutes is like grabbing ahold of a southbound freight train and trying to stop it.
While not the prettiest, carp if the right fly is on your line, you could easily have a +10 minute fight and sore arms. Carp can grow well into the double digits, fight extremely hard and are quite easy to find.
No matter where you are in the world, you can almost guarantee that carp are living in a body of water near you. Plus, by catching and properly disposing of them, you’re helping eradicate the population.
Carp are elusive and you have to be on your game if you’re going to fool one into biting your fly. While you are able to use some more classic patterns to land carp, you’re going to have to go outside of the box to find some flies that are truly productive.
Guide Tip: If you’re seriously into chasing carp with a fly, YOU MUST get out to Beaver Island with my good buddies Kevin and Steve with Indigo Guide Service – Monster Carp on Beaver Island
1. Clouser’s Swimming Nymph
Many anglers are far more familiar with the Clouser Minnow. The Clouser Nymph, however, is a bit smaller version of the minnow that’s a killer fly for carp. The Clouser Minnow can be a bit large for certain carp, so the nymph version is a wonderful alternative.
You can purchase the fly in either a beadhead or non-beadhead version. Attach this to 3 or 4x tippet and throw it in an area where you see carp. If you aren’t able to see any, throw the fly near structure or anywhere you may see bait. Carp sit in most places where other fish would hang out, but they’re extremely easy to spook!
Guide Tip: The folks at Mad River have a great video you can watch HERE
Small twitches with the fly are plenty of movement. A small strip, let it sit and continue the process. You’ll feel the famous double-tap from the carp once it hits! From there, it’s game on.
2. Headstand Carp Fly
The Headstand Carp Fly is a small, but mighty fly. There is a fairly large niche of fly anglers who obsess over catching carp, so they’ve started tying carp specific flies. If you’re going after carp, it’s smart to purchase some of these flies! They really do work. This fly is meant to fall quickly to the bottom of the water column.
Since carp feed facing down, they often suck things right off the bottom. The bead head sits on the bottom and the rest of the material faces up. Small twitches to stir up any sediment and flash color is plenty of movement for the fly. It doesn’t look like an overly appetizing fly, but it does the trick. Keep it with some lighter tippet and you’ll be in good shape.
When carp grab your fly, give them a second to get it situated and then set the hook. At times, they’ll pick up and run! Once you feel that, you’re good to set the hook.
The Backstabber is another carp specific fly. At first glance, it looks like any old Deceiver pattern. However, with a closer look, you’ll notice that there’s a beadhead a little ways down the shank of the hook. This distributes the weight a bit differently so, the unnecessary parts of the fly sit on the bottom and the rest of the material can float and sway in the water.
Carp may see it as a minnow or another weed that may look appetizing. As they’re grazing along the bottom of the water column, you can assume they’ll pick it up.
Similar to the other flies on the list, a few little movements to stir up some sediment is all you’re going to need. Let the fly do the majority of the work. Get it in the proper position, and you’ll have a great chance at landing fish.
Guide Tip: Accurate casts are a must, when targeting carp. They seem to only see stuff dropped right on their nose. I learned this while chasing them on Beaver Island on Lake Michigan. Check out Indigo Guide Service Beaver Island
4. Carp Bitter
If you’re in muddy water, fish the Carp Bitter. This fly can take a bit to learn how to manage. There appears to be all sorts of moving parts, and that’s okay. The rubber legs, extra hackle, dumbbell eyes make the fly look like a small child tied it. This will stand out even in stained water.
Depending on the overall clarity, you may need to move this fly around until you get a strike. It’s a great crayfish imitation, so you can always do longer strips to at least create some movement in the water. This fly is a must for any angler to have in their box.
You can find it in size 6 and size 6 only! If you’re headed out to target carp, keep a couple of these in your box. You could also learn to tie it if you want. It doesn’t have to look clean and polished by any means. Keep it looking scraggly and it’ll still capture the attention of carp.
5. Ball Peen Craw
The Ball Peen Craw looks like another poorly done art project. You’ll notice three separate beads on this fly. All are around the eye of the hook and help you get to the bottom of the water column where the carp are feeding.
Off the back, you’ll see eight or nine rubber legs that will get plenty of movement as it sits on the water. It’s a great representation of a crayfish. It may not look like it when it’s dry, but as it gets wet, you’ll see the resemblance.
Fish this with small twitches or full strips. Depending on how and where the carp are feeding, you can switch up the retrieval process. Also, you’ll be able to purchase this pattern in either an olive or rust color. Do your best to fish the pattern that’s going to stick out a bit more depending on the clarity of the water.
The Ball Peen Craw is able to be purchased in size 6 to 8.
6. Cowbell Cray
If you want the ultimate crayfish pattern, you don’t have to look any further than the Cowbell Cray. Many crayfish patterns look like they have a bit too much happening, and they can be difficult to manage. However, the Cowbell Cray isn’t that way. With each part of the fly carefully designed, you’ll struggle to tell the difference when it’s the water.
It can be purchased in size six in rust, olive and tan colors. Again, like any other fly, do your best to match the color of your fly to the water you’re fishing. This is going to give you a better chance to land fish. Since crayfish aren’t overly active, you don’t have to do too much with this fly.
7. San Juan Worm
Now, many think that the San Juan worm is only meant to be fished for trout or bass. It can also be great for carp. If you think of carp anglers who fish with spinning rods, many of them tie on a big weight and let a hook covered with nightcrawlers float right where a carp can get to it.
You can think of the same method with a fly rod. You’re going to want to tie on a split shot to ensure this fly gets to the bottom of the water column. Once it does, it’s going to land you fish. You’re not going to have to do too much to attract the attention of the carp, but it’s not bad to move it around and strip it in a regular pattern. You may have to move some water to gain the attention of the fish.
Odds are, you already have plenty of these patterns in your box for your other freshwater escapades. Bring some along on your carp excursions. They’ll come in handy if you can’t find anything else that is working.
8. Caddis Nymph
The Caddis Nymph is another one of those patterns that’s more versatile than you think. Even though it’s only size 14 or 16, it can still land carp.
It’s not a bad idea to double nymph rig with this pattern. The more patterns in the water, the better chance you have at landing fish.
Guide Tip: This nymph should be inmost fly boxes. Easy to tie and effective. Here’s a FREE DOWNLOAD -> Caddis Nymph Recipe
Toss it near the carp and give it small strips along the bottom. It’ll drive the carp crazy!
9. Woolly Bugger
Yes, the Woolly Bugger can also land carp. If you’ve been fly fishing long enough, this shouldn’t surprise you. Make sure you use the buggers with a beadhead to ensure they get low enough to reach the bottom.
A size 6 Olive Woolly Bugger can be your best friend on those slower fishing days.
If anything, it’s a great searching pattern for all sorts of fish. Size 6 to 12 in black and olive are my favorites for carp.
10. Mop Fly
If you’re looking for a generic pattern that somehow always seems to catch fish, look no further than the Mop Fly.
It’s easy to use, easy to tie and always going to be productive. As long as you’re fishing a pattern with a beadhead, you’ll land fish. Pick some more neutral colors and slowly move them along the bottom. It won’t be long until a carp decides to pick one up.
11. Glo Bug
The Glo Bug may be the sneakiest pattern on this list. It’s no secret that carp love corn, but there aren’t many flies that look like corn. Thankfully, the Glo Bug can fill that void. Use a couple split shots to get this fly to the bottom and wait. A carp will sniff it out.
When chasing carp with a San Juan Worm, crimp a small piece of split shot on your leader 12 inches above the fly. This will pull the fly down to the feeding zone. Carp are sensitive to drag, so be ready. Any twitch in the line might be a take.
Get the FREE DOWNLOAD recipe for the San Juan Worm HERE -> San Juan Worm Fly Recipe
Rod setup for carp is vital for landing fish! Again, they’re spooky, so you have to be prepared to be as stealthy as possible when targeting them.
For your rod, you’re going to want to fish with something heavy. Carp can easily get up to 20 pounds and if you don’t have something that can handle them, you’re in trouble. Somewhere between an 8 and 10-weight should be enough to land the fish. Also, it’s 9’, that’s another plus.
Make sure your reel matches up with the weight of your rod and has a large arbor! You don’t want to get spooled by one of these fish. If you choose a 9-weight rod, a 9-weight reel is a good idea.
With carp, the goal is to be stealthy. Therefore, your heaviest tapered orange fly line isn’t going to be the best option. Choose a more earth-tone colored line with a slight taper. You won’t be able to turn over flies as easily, but the importance of stealth outweighs this challenge. Also, a sink tip line can help to get you to the bottom where these fish are almost always feeding.
A 1 or 2x tapered leader is your best bet for these flies. You don’t want a large line easily visible near your fly, but many tippets won’t be strong enough to handle these fish. If you do have 2 or 3x tippet that’s tested for 10 to 12 pounds, that’s okay. Otherwise, a tapered 1 or 2x leader tested for 10 to 15 pounds will be okay. You can throw streamers, but still have enough taper that it’s not going to be overly obvious.
Carp Fishing Questions and Answers
Do Carp Like Dry Flies?
The answer is yes, they will! However, it’s not as often that they’re looking to feed at the surface. Due to the nature of their physique, they’re focused more towards the bottom of the water column than the top. However, if you do see carp at the surface, you should always assume they’re feeding.
What is the Best Size Hook for Carp?
Somewhere between size 6 and 12 is going to be your best bet. They’re not overly large, but they can still have a presence in the water.
You may think fly fishing for carp is a waste of your time. However, once you go, you’ll likely have an entirely different opinion. They’re a challenging fish to target, but once you do land one, you’ll find that they fight extremely hard. Plus, you can dispose of the fish once you land it. You’re helping the environment and having some great fun at the same time.
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills – These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout – Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish – Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon – Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.
Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels