Apr 23, 2016

I love Ole' Rubber Lips, and I’m not afraid to say it!

Ole' Rubber Lips

I spent much of my childhood in the Midwest, where carp, largemouth and panfish were easily accessible and really the only thing going. After dialing in how to catch bass (there was one identifiably scarred fish I caught 5 times in one summer) I needed a bigger challenge. Ole' Rubber Lips, Cyprinus carpio, the maligned common carp was my new target.  I was drawn to this beast that often crept silently in shallows of the creeks and ponds of my youth, grew to mythical sizes and spooked at the snap of a blade of grass from 40 paces.

There are blogs and articles a-plenty out there on carp, in which they are often referred to as "golden bonefish", a name so overused and misleading I won’t bore you with regurgitation.  They really aren’t like bonefish at all,, they just have similar mouths, and are typically bottom feeders, but I digress… If you are looking for a true challenge on a fly rod and you live near any body of water, you owe it to yourself to give these rubber lipped beasts a go.

A couple things you need to know before you dive into carpin’:

  1. They eat the same things trout do, they don’t eat trash or dead things
  2. They are not easy to catch 
  3. Most importantly, carp are moody as hell

In trying explain what I mean when I say they are moody,  I coined this term; tripolar. Bipolar isn’t adequate to explain carp behavior and as I see it, carp have 3 major states of being and with % of time they seem to spend in each phase as I have witnessed:

     A. Totally uninterested in eating at all/sun bathing- 50%
     B. Eating, but extremely spooky. Like grandma in a haunted house spooky- 40%
     C. Feeding aggressively and relatively less spooky-10%

Ok, now you may start to see why these are tough fish to catch. If you are lucky enough to find some fish that are fired up, good on you. It is a lot like hitting an evening hatch perfectly on your favorite trout stream; rare and special. When carp are aggressive you will know it. The will often be tailing and mudding hard with little regard for anything around them. The will usually not spook with a poorly placed cast, unless you line them (a cast where your line lands over the top of the fish), and they will actively chase a fly.

The B. fish are where the real challenge lies. Can you approach a fish, lead them with a perfect cast and if all of that goes right, know when to set the hook? Trust me when I say none of this is easy, but that’s what makes it fun. A one fish day is a good day. And when it all goes right, you will be rewarding with some freight train runs. The A. fish are usually the easiest to find as they are usually an inch below the surface and perfectly still or lazily swimming. They are not uncatchable, so give them a go, but don’t be bummed when they spook at any sight of you, your line, boat, or that errant whisker on your beard.

A trout fishing bycatch on a chironomid larva

Carp can be caught year round, but are most accessible to the fly angler when they come shallow, which is typically spring to fall. Sight fishing is the name of the game, though that does not always mean seeing the fish. Often times, and in particular in turbid water you will only see mud boils, bubbles, or a disturbance in the force. Wading, walking the bank or working a boat through shallow weedy/muddy flats is a great way to find fish and the key is to stay very vigilant of your surroundings. Schooling carp will spook if one fish in the school spooks, so stalk quietly and if you spot fish try to work the angles so they don’t see your fly line shadow or you. Sometimes a belly crawl or fishing from your knees is a great way to lower you profile and avoid the spook.

There are times where you can blind cast for carp, but I will tell you it isn’t a pattern you can depend on. If carp move into rocky banks or riprap they are often feeding aggressively on crayfish, insects and baitfish and working these areas with a bugger, craw pattern or Clouser minnow can be effective, or at least yield some bass. And yes I said carp feed on baitfish, I have witnessed on more than a few occasions, carp actively chasing schools of bait.

A few of Ryan's Carp Nuggets
Speaking more on flies, keep it simple and natural. Simple craw patterns and nymphs are my goto’s . Larger craws in #2 and #4 and nymphs in #4- #8s with good strong sharp hooks are the weapons of choice. Think earth tones, browns, olives, rusty orange etc. If the water is dingy or downright muddy black and chartreuse are excellent. Pretend you are trout fishing and match the hatch and the habitat. Rubber legs are always a good idea too. My favorite carp fly is a short rabbit strip on dumbbell eyes with a dubbing body and some nice rubber or silicone legs. My next favorite is the Clouser swimming nymph, which I was turned on to by the guy that wrote the book on carp fly fishing, Brad Befus. A sparse olive wooly bugger is hard to beat too, and produced my largest carp, a 47# grassy!

The White Amur, AKA Grassy

You can catch carp on dries, and if you spend enough time on the water you will inevitably see carp
feeding in the surface. Keep some midges in your box in all stages: larvae, pupae/emergers, adults. Hoppers fished near the banks in late summer will also work. I have had some killer fun at night catching caddis slurping carp too. If you have a body of water with cottonwood trees or mulberry bushes on the banks you owe it to yourself to have some flies that represent both. A few white CDC feathers on a hook worked for me when they are eating cottonwood seeds and a burgundy/purple spun deer hair bug will represent mulberries effectively. Mulberry flies not goofy enough for you?
Say what?  Bread fly, *patent pending*
Chum up some fish with bread and try to get them to eat an elk hair bread fly, serious fun and a total challenge.

So what about the gear you ask? It really depends on the average fish you are fishing for. If most of the fish in your water are 1-5lbs, your 5wt trout rod like a Winston BIIIx, NRX LP or Sage One will do the job perfectly. If you are stalking bigger fish I recommend at least a 6wt and I prefer a softer 7wt like the Winston BIIIx. You need to have a rod with some delicacy to present a fly to these fish and both the Sage and the Winston fit the bill. Your reel should have a great drag. My favorite is the Tibor BackCountry wide, but a Lamson Litespeed, Galvan Torque, or Ross Evolution in the appropriate size are all great choices.
Limited edition 1 of 2 Carp Engraved Tibors 
Fly line choice is equally as important. You can do most carpin’ with a floating line, but carp addiction will lead you to add an intermediate sink tip (Rio InTouch Streamer Tip) and intermediate full sink (Rio InTouch Camolux) to your arsenal. The floating line should be delicate, but also be able to handle bigger bugs and wind. The InTouch Rio Gold is a great choice, and if you have a softer rod the InTouch Trout LT is even better. These new InTouch lines from Rio will really help you detect subtle takes with their low stretch braided core. Bonefish or heavy trout leaders in 8-12# are ideal and if you are fishing subsurface I highly recommend fluorocarbon especially in clear water.

Inner City Carpin'!

There is no hard and fast method to catch carp on the fly, and that’s half the fun.  The beauty of these fish is that they live almost everywhere in the US and most of the world and rarely have the pressure of more glorified species. Take some of my advice or try your own ideas, but my message to you is by all means go try some carpin’.

The Bearded Pescador

Ryan Van Duzor
Gorge Fly Shop | Product Specialist

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