Carp: The Intracontinental North American Bonefish

via Flickr

Why we favor, or eschew certain species as anglers can be confusing, even nonsensical. Most would say that the voraciousness of the fight is paramount in choosing species. Maybe. But I think we like pretty things too. Carp, they ain’t pretty. But the fight? Well, there they definitely qualify.

A guide at a shop I worked for a few years ago convinced me to give it a try. I was skeptical. I wasn’t buying stories of carp being the intracontinental North American bonefish. Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.


In Europe and Asia, carp have been considered a prized game species since well before people brought their powdered wigs to the eastern shore North America. But here in the U.S., the progression of targeting carp with anything other than a bow or dynamite has been slow. So, should you be fishing for them?

Depends. Do you like sight fishing for really heavy things on the end of your line that will strip you into your backing after you rip a piece of metal into their lip? I’ll assume that since you’re here, you do.

Do you live somewhere where carp exist in the water near you? Hint, the answer is yes. They thrive virtually everywhere—from rivers in the Rocky Mountains, to the Great Lakes, to the brackish waters in coastal regions. So, how do you get at them?


Carp like warm water. You might accidentally stick one nymphing in 37 degree Fahrenheit water, but they normally start feeding much more actively once the water reaches the mid-fifties, and don’t shut down when the water reaches the eighties like trout do. And they’re prolific feeders, which is why they grow so large, and also why they’re considered a nuisance species in much of the water where they have been introduced.

What you target them with depends on where you are, obviously, and what species of carp you are targeting. But generally, they eat anything. You can convince them to eat streamers, nymphs, or dry flies. WD-40 and white corn? Not here, my friend.


The fact that they eat anything doesn’t mean they are easy to catch, however. On rivers, they are often psychotically skittish, with hypersensitivity to movement or vibration. Take the longest successful cast you’ve had for a trout this year and double it. A standing platform really helps, giving you extra distance on the cast and the ability to see them before they see you. Get that bug in front of them before they know you’re there and they’ll probably eat it. Strip set, feel the burn, press repeat. Easier said than done.

On lakes, especially where people are commonly present, you’re in for a different challenge. Here, they’ll likely be much less sensitive to the presence of a possible angler, but more selective about your offerings. Simply cycle through till you find something they’re into. Sound familiar? You’re an angler, right?


Either way you do it, carp can provide a welcome respite from targeting the same species, day in, day out, and simply hoping that this is the day you get something a bit larger. If you want something pretty on the end of your line, they ain’t for you. But if you don’t mind some slimy son of a gun that will rip out 100 feet of line in a few seconds, well, stop reading fishing blogs and get out there!

Featured Image Source: Flickr