On the fly: Cracking the carp code

Published: June 20, 2013, 9:00 am


Jon Kleis holds up his carp

By Jon Kleis Special to The Gazette -

The common carp widely is considered to be a “junk fish” in the U.S. even though they were brought here initially for their food value.

The carp is pound-for-pound one of the larger and harder fish to catch on a fly rod in Colorado. This is one of many reasons why they have become so popular in fly-fishing circles.

Catching one of these intelligent behemoths starts with taking the time to observe their behavior before making a cast. You will notice several types of carp behavior.

The first is what I like to call sunbathing – when you can see huge carp hovering 2-6 inches beneath the surface and not moving. This is by far the most frustrating experience for anglers because carp are next to impossible to catch in this mode, but they are quite visible to anyone wearing a good pair of polarized glasses. Basically, the carp are napping and any attempt to cast near them will result in spooking fish and nothing more.

Note: Your options are to go home and live to fish another day, or stick it out and hope they decide to go into one of their feeding modes.

There are three feeding modes that I have observed. The first is similar to sun-bathing, only the fish are cruising around in pods of three or more and visibly eating whatever is hatching – usually either chironomid pupae or callibaetis emergers. When you see “cruising” carp, a good way to fish is with a hopper/dropper rig. Try using a black beetle and hanging a large black Zebra Midge or Tungsten Rojo Grande 6-10 inches under it.

The next feeding behavior is called mudding. This is when those same pods of three or more carp swim on the bottom and kick up as much mud as possible while looking for insects and crustaceans. Use weighted patterns that imitate leeches and crawfish such as Wooly Buggers or Barry’s Carp Fly.

The last mode of feeding is called tailing. Often tailing carp will perform acrobatic jumps followed by diving to the bottom with their nose down and tail up toward the surface. The jumps are the result of the fish using their massive tail to fan the bottom in an attempt to expose whatever edible thing is hiding in the moss or mud. This behavior is similar to mudding with the exception of the acrobatic display and the fact that this is when they’re the most aggressive and easiest to catch. Again, your best flies will be ones that imitate leeches, damsel nymphs and crawfish.

When carp are mudding or tailing, try casting in the direction they are swimming and lead them 4-6 feet. Use slow stripping retrieves while staying close to the bottom, and anticipate quick and subtle takes. More often than not, you will be able to see the fish and the take, which makes this kind of fishing insanely exciting.

Anybody motivated and patient enough to attempt carp fishing can try their hand at three popular local lakes (Quail Lake, Prospect Lake, Pikeview Reservoir) or Pueblo and Eleven Mile reservoirs. I promise that, even with this information, catching a carp on the fly will be one of the more challenging and rewarding experiences you can have.


Kleis is a Colorado Springs native and professional fly-fishing guide for Angler’s Covey Fly Shop. Read his columns on the third Thursday of each month in Out There. To schedule your fly-fishing adventure, email