Corn Flies & Carp on The Conestoga River

A couple weeks back when I was fly fishing the Conestoga River for smallmouth I ran into some schools of large carp. I got it in my head that I was going to go back and try to catch one of these brutes. I have caught carp on a fly rod before, but I never went out fishing to specifically target them. I did a bunch of research online and learned more about carp than I ever wanted to know. For example, I had no idea how big carp fishing is in Europe. They have all kind of rigs they use for putting these things called boilies (a gumball sized boiled carp bait made up of all kind of stuff you’d never want to eat) on the bottom of lakes and catching giant carp. I wasn’t about to tie up a boilies fly, but as I have known since I was a kid, carp like to eat corn. I decided I was going to tie up a fly that looked like kernel of corn and see if they’d go for it. I went over to TCO and bought some yellow McFlyfoam, yellow thread, and black hooks. I got the black hook tip off one of these English carp fishing sites. The thought is that carp are spooky fish and a black hook doesn’t have the shine of a normal bronze hook. I got home and played around on the vice and made a simple pattern that is almost identical to an egg pattern you’d tie for steelhead. Wrap some yellow thread on the hook and take a strand of McFlyfoam, fold it once, tie the fold behind the hook eye, pull the McFlyfoam tight and trim with scissors, then whip finish.

 The simple corn fly I tied up to catch carp on the Conestoga River.

The simple corn fly I tied up to catch carp on the Conestoga River.

For my leader and tippet I decided to use the exact same set-up I use for bass. I used a 9-foot polyleader and attached 3 feet of 3X tippet with a perfection loop. On Saturday morning I headed down to the Conestoga River early and got on the water around 6:30am. I used my Winston Nexus 9’-7wt fly rod with my Sage 3850 reel. The water on all the streams has been low all summer so the river was once again very wadeable at 1.5 feet. I walked downstream to one of the areas where I’d seen carp on my prior trip. This area had a fallen tree surrounded by lots of vegetation and algae that surround it, providing a shaded hiding spot on the side of the river. As I got close I could see five good-sized carp swimming in and out of their cover and feeding on the surrounding streambed. I stayed out in the main current of the river to try and hide my form underwater. I stood in place for several minutes to ensure they weren’t spooked. Eventually all five carp were out feeding six to eight feet in front of me. I placed a small split shot about six inches above my corn fly and cast ahead of where the carp were feeding to try to get my fly to drift down just ahead of them. The fly rested on the bottom and was easy to see with the bright yellow foam. The largest carp in the group swam in circles and inched over towards my fly and sucked it up. I set the hook and it immediately tore into the current and headed directly downriver. The line was ripping off my reel and as I put pressure on the line it felt good. I went to reel in my line and I felt my line pull out. The hook had been pulled straight. I was immediately regretting buying size 16 nymph hooks that weren’t 2X heavy. I tied on another one of my flies and cast the fly back into the same general area. Another good size carp swam up, fed in the area for a couple minutes and then found my fly and sucked it up. He headed downriver too and I held on and the hook-up felt better this time. He headed off to the right towards a downed log in the water and I pulled to try and direct him away and again, the hook pulled straight and my line tanged on a tree branch. So lesson number one, never use hooks for carp that aren’t heavy gauge. I looked in my fly box and found a micro nuke egg that was tied to a heavier hook. It wasn’t yellow, but it was close. I cast to the fish again, but at this point, two hook-ups in the area had spooked the other fish and I was busted.

I headed downriver and found a beautiful spot with deeper water under a large overhanging tree. Again, I found a good school of carp feeding. I cast my egg ahead of the fish and after a minute of waiting, one of the carp sucked up my egg and I set the hook. This time I was confident I had the fish. It is amazing how good of a fight a big carp puts up. When they run it’s as good as a steelhead or small salmon fight. They test the limits of a fly rod and line and are a thrill. I fought this fish for a few minutes until he tired and I was able to land him. I caught my carp action on the GoPro and you can watch in the video above. I wasn’t able to hook up with any more carp that day. The carp seem to feed in short windows and if you miss them, good luck getting them to take anything. It was fun and filled my need to catch a big fish during the slow summer month of July. Now it’s on to August and the September salmon run is just around the corner.