Written by: Rick Mikesell

Catching carp in running water is a different game than stalking in lakes.

25 years ago, fishing pioneers Barry Reynolds, Brad Befus and John Berryman published carp in flight, laying the foundation for a major shift in fly fishing culture, elevating the humble carp from trash fish to revered tomboy. I was fortunate enough to get into fly fishing in Denver in the same fateful era, traversing the South Platte daily and quickly becoming obsessed with their version of the sport.

Thanks to the blueprints created by these anglers, I was able to smoothly master the nuances and unique demands of carp fishing in flowing water. It wasn’t until many years later – after the carp community became better established and more widespread – that I realized that both the setup and techniques I had learned on the South Platte were markedly different from those my peers were using elsewhere in the country. Below is a detailed description of how my setup for carp in flowing water differs in terms of fly design and hooklength construction. In Part II I will describe two specific presentation techniques.

1687184112 266 Pro Tips Carp Fishing in Running Water Part I | AdayAwayFishingAdventures.com
Anglers on Denver’s South Platte developed effective tactics for catching carp on a fly.

fly design

When I took over purchasing for a fly shop in Denver, I was determined to have the most comprehensive line of carp flies in the country. However, as I trawled through patterns from different manufacturers, a common problem soon emerged: most carp specific patterns were too light for the river. They are designed for still water to achieve minimal splash and a slower sink rate, both of which help avoid spooking these notoriously sensitive fish. In the river, however, these lightweight structures often drifted directly over fish sitting in the current and never even reached the impact zone.

Luckily there are plenty of heavy carp flies these days, along with effective crossover patterns from both the saltwater world and the new frontier of euro nymph fishing. The Euro-style patterns are fast becoming favorites because they address another important factor in sink rate: resistance. In the Euro world, the goal is to get the fly down as fast as possible to maximize your drift through the hitting zone. Therefore, these flies are tied with slim profiles and smooth materials to avoid excessive drag in the water. They cut through the current and hit the bottom quickly, allowing them to be placed in the feed window with minimal lateral movement.

When it comes to certain patterns, it’s hard to go wrong Barry’s carp fly, a classic designed by Mr. Reynolds himself. It’s heavy, cuts through the water fast and has loads of action. My favorite pattern over the last few years has been this Tungsten Jigged son of a bitch. This simple yet deadly fly features a heavy bead, a slim body to reduce drag and a profile that mimics almost anything a carp would want to eat. When it comes to Euro style bow ties, I like that Tactical Prince Jig. This new take on a time-honored pattern in size 8 or 10 is great when the fish are choosy and afraid of bigger offers.

head of construction

In most introductory carp fishing articles, the authors suggest starting with a 9ft hooklink and then extending it to 11-12ft with hooklinks, with some extremes going in excess of 15ft. When carp fishing in still water, this design helps avoid startling fish on miscasts and after fly line release. But in moving water, particularly on the Denver South Platte, a 15 foot hooklink would be an absolute nightmare for two reasons:

First, long casts on the river are actually a hindrance due to the clarity of the water, small feeding zones, and complex currents. Carp are excellent at detecting motion in their surroundings, and multiple misses will almost always scare the fish off, or worse, startle them outright. The most productive approach is to carefully sneak up on the fish and get as close as possible, often just a rod length away, to give your presentation. But a 15 foot hooklink would still get stuck in the guides and given how explosive a carp’s initial run can be, the standard loop to loop connection between hooklink and fly line can easily get caught in the guides stay and rip off the tip section of your rod during the fight.

1687184112 276 Pro Tips Carp Fishing in Running Water Part I | AdayAwayFishingAdventures.com
It is often crucial to get as close to the fish as possible before a presentation.

A second disadvantage of long hooklengths is that the banks of most rivers are lined with dense vegetation, making every castback a snagging opportunity. Because longer leaders are harder to control, they’re even more likely to hang up at awkward moments.

To alleviate these problems, you can either shorten your leader or improve the connection between leader and fly line. If you want to keep the hooklink short, make sure it is shorter than the overall length of your rod. Not only does this ensure that the entire hooklink is outside the rings when the fish feeds, but it also makes casting heavier flies that much easier. The other option, which I’ve adopted more recently, is to cut the welded loop and tie the leader end with a very small sling or nail knot, allowing you to pull the leader in and out of the rings without fear that the knot catches . I like to coat the knot with UV epoxy to make it even smoother and also seal the exposed fly line core to keep water from getting in and ruining it.

Now that you are familiar with the proper setup stay tuned for the next part where I will cover two specific presentation techniques for carp in running water.

Rick Mikesell is a longtime fly fishing guide from Colorado based in Denver.