Yes, the accompanying photos do show yours truly holding a carp and sporting a wide grin. I realize that to many, targeting carp with a fly rod is only slightly more refined than sitting on a bank with a cane pole, a can of kernel corn and a pack of treble hooks; unfortunately, the majority of the carp nay sayers have never had the pleasure of seeing a freshwater fish put them into their backing. Some of the nay sayers have even targeted carp, though some might not admit this fact to their friends, only to have this so called trash fish refuse their fly with the gravitas of an old brown trout.
The carp in the first photo was feeding in about 3 feet of water and took a chartreuse and white cats whisker, fished behind wooly bugger that was presented directly in front of the fish. The other carp near this fish were suspended and not feeding and any attempt to put a fly near them resulted in the entire school being spooked in a manner similar to red fish being spooked by an errant cast. This fish, however, was actively feeding and took the fly on the first drift. [Before you start your comments, yes, he was feeding on the bottom of the river, and yes there is muck and sometimes trash on the bottom of a river and, once again proving that the laws of gravity do hold true, even in a river.] The key was to get the fly in front of the fish without spooking it and on an angle that will bring the fly directly in front of the fish’s mouth. If you can make the cast so not to spook the fish and if the fly can get down along the bottom as it comes in front of the fish, the end result is quite often a good ride.
My preferred flies for carp are simple and include smaller sized (#8-12) wooly buggers in olive, brown or black, crayfish patterns and buggy looking nymphs in sizes #10-14. Damsel fly nymphs, hellgrammites, dragon fly nymphs, and most any other of the larger macro invertebrates common to a river or lake are good patterns for feeding carp. I keep a selection of larger nymphs in one of the streamer boxes I carry so that if I happen upon a feeding carp I can quickly add the nymph or small bugger to my line. Tippet size can sometimes be a concern in areas where the carp have seen angling pressure in the past, but I tend to fish in the 2x-4x range for carp, with 3x being what I use most often.
One of the draws to carp fishing is that you can often sight cast to a feeding fish. Sometimes described as poor man’s bone fishing, carp fishing requires both accuracy and delicacy in fly placement. A missed shot often results in the fish being startled and blowing up the area as the fish move quickly away from you and your fly. For those who want to sharpen their casting skills prior to a saltwater trip, carp fishing provides some very nice game day opportunities. And, given the size of the fish you are dealing with, it is a good opportunity to break out that 8wt that seldom gets used.
The state record common carp was taken on Lady Bird Lake in Austin in 2007 and weighed in at 43.25 pounds. The state record for common carp on a fly stands at 33 pounds, caught on Lady Bird Lake in 1999. There are many nice carp still in Lady Bird Lake and many more in the Colorado River below Austin as well.
Common carp are the most numerous of the carp species on the Colorado River below Austin seem to range in the 8-15 pound range, but on occasion it is possible to spot a fish that would easily weigh in excess of 30 pounds. Carp run in short, strong bursts and will then hold in place, often spinning in a slow circle, regaining strength for another run. Fishing from a raised platform, such as a boat or raft will make it easier to spot feeding fish and make it easier to chase down any fish that decides to run. It is still possible to get into your backing when float fishing for carp and if you are wade fishing, you are very likely to see your backing.
Carp can be fished year round, and do thrive in the colder waters of our Hill Country winters when the bass are slower to feed. While I do not typically set out on any given day to go carp fishing, I do keep an eye out and if I happen to see a feeding carp will back off, make a quick fly change, tighten my drag, and get ready to hold on.