Monday, May 4, 2015

Gearing Up for Carp

A frequent question I get when talking to people about carp fishing or taking them on the hunt is "what gear do I need?" This is one of those "it depends" questions, but I can give you some general guidelines to get you started. Here's my personal gear list for Washington DC carp fishing:

Let's look at each piece and what's important for you.


This is I use a 7-weight Orvis Helios 2. The 7-weight is my go to rod size for most of my fishing in the area, but I think it's a great rod for carp specifically. In the end, you need to size your rod for the most common scenarios you'll find on the water. If you're mostly getting into small fish, then you will be fine with a 5-weight. But, it the majority of fish in your local water are 10-15 lbs or more, you'll need to throw a 7- or 8-weight. Consider water speed as well. Are you in still water or a river? A fish with access to fast current can quickly make a 5 lb fish fight like it's a 20 lb fish constrained to a pond.

Fishing the Potomac, you can run into some big fish (20 lbs plus) with quick access to fast water that will easily work out a 7-weight and could even leaving you wanting a little more. Some of those fish will make you wish you had a 9-weight, but the frequency of finding those are pretty limited and not worth overpowering the more common sized fish. 

In the C&O Canal, the majority of the fish are much smaller. You're typically finding 3-6 lb fish in that water, with a few bigger ones in some sections. With these, you can easily get away with a 5-weight, but I still like throwing the 7-weight because of the tree litter that's scattered throughout the canal. When one of these fish take a hard run towards a tree, you want a rod that has enough backbone to turn him around. You will find yourself having to be a little more delicate with a lower weight rod and might lose an extra fish or two.

I really like fishing my Helios. It casts great and has a great feel. It's a bit on the pricey side though, and frankly, the fish don't care how much you spent. For a lower cost alternative, try the Orvis Recon. I have fished this rod and it's incredible. It's probably even a step above the original Helios. The most important part of picking a rod for carp - or really any fish - is finding one that's comfortable in your hand that you can cast accurately and consistently.


Reels always blow my mind. They can get so expensive for something that simply holds line. For big, saltwater fish, I can see the need for the sealed drag and added expense. But I do have to laugh when people have $600 reels for brook trout. That being said, I go with an Orvis Mirage reel. Generally, carp will fight hard. You'll run into one on occasion that likes to think it's a roll of wet paper towels, but generally these guys pull know how to strip some line off. Getting something as high end as the Mirage isn't necessary if you're only carp fishing. If you're fishing in an area with bigger fish or faster current, you'll want something that has a good, stout drag, but still no need to go crazy. You aren't chasing Giant Trevally in Christmas Island with this rig. If the majority of your fish are smaller, you can scale down on the expense of the reel fairly safely since you'll be able to play those fish off the reel.


This is probably the least important item. I've seen special carp tapers. In my opinion, that's completely unnecessary. Any floating line that you can cast well and shoot a few feet will be more than sufficient.

Leaders and Tippet

I use a different leader and/or tippet material based on the situation. At it's most basic, fluorocarbon sinks and nylon tends to float - or at least sink much slower. So, in situations like the C&O Canal where I need to keep the fly higher in the water column, I typically use nylon. Elsewhere, I'll use fluoro. I usually go with 3x tippet, but really only because it was what I had tied on the first time I went carp fishing. On occasion I'll use bigger tippet material if I grab that spool first. I haven't noticed the carp in the DC area to be leader shy, so I'm sure you can get away with bigger if you need to. I know that's not the case everywhere, so play around with leader diameter if you're getting a lot of refusals.

Strike Indicators

I rarely use strike indicators. The majority of my fishing is pure sight, but there are situations, particularly in the C&O Canal where I have no choice but to use them. I still hate them though. They're annoying to attach, are splashy, and often spook the fish. My solution to that is Skips Turn On Indicators. You can attach them and remove them from the line in seconds without having to cut off your fly. They're highly visible, and actually are relatively delicate landing on the water with a soft cast. If you must use them, I'd recommend using those.


I could write an entire post about carp flies alone. But, you'll want to imitate what the carp are eating in your local waters. There's no "magic" carp fly, but there might be one for your body of water. The standard/traditional carp flies or a San Juan Worm work well in most bodies of water, but it doesn't substitute matching the harch. If the carp are near a mulberry tree and the berries are dropping, you guess it! You should throw a mulberry fly. If there in a muddy bottom area, they're probably rooting up nymphs. Muddy water? Try something bright for high visibility. Rocky bottom? They'll happily take a crayfish imitation. Just explore your local waters, and experiment a little bit. 

Disclosure: The links in this article are affiliate links. If you click them and buy the item, I get paid a commission. That being said, I've only linked to items I personally use because I think they are the best. I don't link to anything that I wouldn't buy myself.

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