Hunting Gold – Fly Fishing for Carp


Last updated on September 30th, 2022.

My love for catching carp on the fly began with a trip to the Trinity River one Sunday afternoon.

I had been fly fishing for about six or so years at this point, and my primary targets were bass, striper, gar, and the occasional stocker that was thrown in the Trinity. I had never thought about carp being something that would be “fun” to catch. I had read a few posts about pursuing these fish, and I knew that they could be found in some of my local waters, so I set out to try my hand at it.

I remember seeing my first feeding fish and presenting an unweighted olive bugger in front of the fish and letting it settle down right outside its nose. The fish turned, flared its gills, and I was addicted. I remember the fight – I was fishing a 4wt so all I could do was hold on. I also remember hearing my drag scream on my Gloomis Venture reel, and seeing that golden fish in the net after I landed it. All I could think was, “when could I go catch another one?”

Mitchell Kempe Carp Fly Fishing
Release of a carp on the fly back into its element

Favorite Species on a Fly Rod

Fast-forward almost a decade of getting my ass nicked by these fish, and fly fishing for carp is still my way to go. In this time, I have also learned a ton about this awesome fish, but I will never be able to say that I have completely figured them out. 

What makes carp on the fly so appealing to me would have to be how the fish feeds, and how careful you have to be approaching the fish and laying out the cast. A lot of the water I fish is stained and muddy, so getting close enough to get an efficient shot without spooking the fish can be a challenge. You have to walk slowly and have a good pair of polarized sunglasses. I know that fish behavior and diet will change depending on location, and I would say our carp that we have here in North Texas seem to prefer a smaller fly (sz 6-12). My go to flies are usually some kind of hybrid, damsel, carp worm, or crawfish pattern. 

Mitchell Kempe - Fly Fishing for Carp
Fly fishing for carp: the golden fish

Carp Fly Fishing: Applying the Right Tactics

Understanding the “Drag and Drop” technique was one of the biggest pivotal points when it came to having steady success on carp trips. Being able to drop the fly on the far side of the carp’s feeding lane, and then being able to slowly lift my rod and present that fly exactly where I need to in order for that fish to see it brings more fish to hand for me than just plopping down a cast and letting it sit. 

Making a cast at a fish in close range can be tricky; I prefer a 6wt or 7wt with a half or full-size heavy line. This allows me to have a good bend in the rod when I start my forward cast, even with minimal line out. This way I can have a presentation up close, but still be able to set the fly where I want it, even at a further distance. 

Fly Fishing for Carp from a Boat

I will say my favorite way to get on carp is with a raft. Being able to drift instead of walking and causing vibrations allows me to get even closer to these fish. Not only does it take longer casts out of the equation, it also allows me to get close and figure out how fish are behaving and what food source they are focused on. A few weeks back a couple guys and I went for a float down the Brazos and we had ridiculous numbers of fish feeding on Elm seeds. It was awesome to be able to pull up on the far side of a seam, drop anchor, and just watch these fish come up and feed softly on the surface. Of course, we watched just as long as it took us to tie on some foam bugs and start making some casts, but it was just cool to witness something we do not get to see all the time down here. 

Mitchell Kempe - Carp Fly Fishing
Carp fly fishing from a raft can be advantageous

I think we can all agree that a carp’s fight is one of the best opportunities to hear your drag scream in freshwater. The way these beautiful fish fight after such a subtle eat is, in my opinion, the full package as far as what I want in a fish. Most times the fish does not fall in the net after the first run, and this is where having a little backbone in your fly rod comes into play. Turning that fish and getting the head into the net can usually take a couple shots. I think we start to appreciate the full beauty of these fish once they are landed.

The battle is over, and now it is time to appreciate and admire. Their scales glow gold; some have perfect scale patterns while others have deformations in patterns that make them unique. Their tails are like giant rudders and take on hues of orange and gold that wave like a flag while feeding. While many people in Texas, unfortunately, view these fish as targets for arrows, it is refreshing to see a growing community of anglers who respect these fish and live to chase them. I am lucky to have a small group of friends that are as crazy about these fish as I am, and we spend countless hours in the 100+ degree summer heat, knee deep in a river hunting gold. 

Mitchell Kempe - Carp on the Fly
The author with a new carp caught on a fly rod

You can reach out to Mitchell Kempe here.