Carp on the Fly


A great sport fishing target but a pest fish that must not be returned to the water – the carp.

They are considered a pest fish. Vermin, the scourge of the waterways, in fact such a problem it is illegal to return them to the water. So why do people enjoy fishing for carp? The answer is simple, the skills required to catch them.

Carp come in many different sizes and colours and are known by a variety of names but are all strong fighters. They are quick learners and can be an incredibly fussy fish. These attributes make the species an ideal target for fly fisherman looking for a new challenge.

The carp’s (Cyprinus carpio) original range is from Eastern China across to Eastern Europe. Introduced into Australia in the late 1850’s, the population was initially contained but with further stockings and translocations over many years, carp were well established in the Murray-Darling river system by the 1960’s.

At present there are three varieties of carp in Australian waters – the common or European carp, koi carp and the mirror carp. Due to a rapid rate of reproduction, carp are thriving in many of mainland Australia’s southeastern waterways. Tasmania and Western Australia are also home to isolated populations. It is important to note that all varieties of carp are classified a noxious fish within Australia.

A taste for anything

Carp are perfect suckers for a well presented artificial offering, particularly a surface fly.

Carp are perfect suckers for a well presented artificial offering, particularly a surface fly.

Carp have an omnivorous diet meaning they eat everything from fruit and insects off the water’s surface to filter-feeding along river beds. They can often be seen stirring up sediment as they go about their business of finding food such as nymphs, worms and crustaceans. The varied diet of a carp can make them incredibly fussy at times and they always seem to be ‘on edge’.

When waving the wand in small, clear creeks fly choice varies depending on the food present. After a hatch carp can be focused on eating a particular coloured nymph. By simply turning over a few river rocks you can generally work out exactly what they are eating. Likewise if there’s a fruiting tree nearby, carp will generally be eating eat something that resembles the freshly fallen fruit.

When it is not obvious what they are are feeding on experimenting with a variety of flies is a sensible approach. A fly pattern such as a worm, wooly bugger, glow bug or bead head nymph will generally get the bite.

Presentation is the key for carp

Choosing the right fly and presenting it as naturally as possible is one of the keys to carp fishing.

Choosing the right fly and presenting it as naturally as possible is one of the keys to carp fishing.

When targeted the species in small, clear creeks, stealth and presentation is the key to fooling a fish without spooking it first. A good pair of polarized sunglasses are essential for spotting carp – a species that at times can be very difficult to see. Carp will spend time on the surface, in midwater and on the bottom depending on their mood.

Fish on the bottom are generally feeding and quite often can be easily approached when they have their head in the mud, foraging for food. A cruising fish in midwater is a lot more difficult to approach and particularly tough to present a fly too. They are often hyper-aware of their surroundings and easily spooked. A surface-cruising fish is often on the hunt for food and a stationary fish on the surface, facing the current, will often feed on insects and fruit that has fallen from overhanging trees.

Stalk, plan and cast

Once you have spotted a fish it is a good idea to assess its mood and carefully plan your tactics. Quite often false casting is an issue due to bank side structure so planning your approach to get the best presentation is a good idea. Roll casts are essential with this style of fishing.

On your approach keep low and avoid making any noise. Casting a shadow, the sound of a stick breaking under foot or a falling rock can spook carp, sending the fish racing up the pool.

Aim to present the fly within 6 inches of a feeding fish, always in the direction it is moving. The best retrieve is to fish the fly with a series of small, short strips to get the fish’s attention. Alternatively keep the fly stationary and let the fish find it. Watch the lips of the fish if possible – this is a great way to detect the bite.

Carp will often suck in and spit out the fly quickly without you feeling anything. As soon as you see the white flash from the lips where your fly is or feel tension you should strike. Get ready for a strong and sustained tussle

Once hooked a carp will put up a strong sustained fight consisting of powerful runs making them an excellent sports fish. Occasionally you will hook a fish that will fight dirty, even trying to get in amongst snags to break you off!

The use of a #5 to #8 weight fly rod is perfect for fishing small creeks and rivers for carp. A shorter rod of around 8 feet in length is very useful if casting along bank side structure.

Rods such as the Sage Bass II and Ross Fly Stick are an excellent choice and should be paired with a weight forward floating line when sight fishing in the shallows. A 10 foot tapered leader will present flies well and a tippet of 8 to 14lb fluorocarbon will get plenty of bites. Carp are generally not so leader shy.

Doing your bit for the environment


Typical hook set on a carp – these fish can be fussy feeders and occasionally have a good look at your offering prior to biting.

When fly fishing for carp you are fishing sustainably and are doing your part to help improve our waterways. The destructive feeding habits of the species is widely believed to be detrimental to many of the nation’s waterways. Reduction of water quality, erosion and competing with native fish species for habitat and food are some of the problems the presence of carp poses to the environment.

Carp are classified a noxious species meaning they cannot be released back to the water dead or alive once captured. All carp should be disposed of humanely and discarded above the high water line.

If you are looking for a challenge targeting carp with a fly rod is no easy task but it is well worth the effort. Sometimes the sessions when you can’t seem to figure the fish out are more rewarding than the ones where you manage to fool a few into eating.

Every specimen seems to have its own personality and this will force you to improve your stealth, casting ability and patience.

Carp may be considered a pest but the species known as a scourge on our waterways is rapidly becoming one of my favourite freshwater targets.


A sizeable carp and worthy sportsfish – these fish hit provide great action for fly anglers and can be a lot of fun to catch.





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