Carp + Tenkara Rods
Article by Jon Hart
In the past several years, fly fishing for carp has seen a rise in popularity and a wealth of knowledge is available on the subject. Carp on a tenkara rod, however, is a bit less common and information is harder to come by.
My first encounter with a carp was a when I saw one seemingly sleeping while hunting panfish on the Los Angeles River with a soft tenkara rod. A surprise gulp of a black kebari followed by a burst of speed and the fish was gone, my 5x tippet not standing a chance.
That initial encounter spiked my adrenaline and I was intrigued, so I started bringing bigger, longer tenkara rods with shorter lines and heavier tippets to my local carp waters in the hopes of bringing one to net. Over time I lost lots of flies and splintered plenty of tenkara rods, but with practice I eventually learned what it would take to catch carp with a fixed-line.
Use the biggest, beefiest tenkara rod or other fixed-line device that you can get your hands on. The base of the rod should be comparable to your thumb and extend to be 12-17’ long. This length and heft will be necessary to control and eventually land the carp. Carp are wicked fighters and you do not want to be outgunned.
For line, I prefer using a short, furled leader that when combined with 2-4’ of tippet will make the entire line and tippet no longer than the rod itself, ideally a foot or two shorter. So, for a 13’ rod, I might use 8-9’ of line and 2-3’ of tippet. Level line will work too. The short overall length makes the inevitable landing experience possible despite the weight and strength of carp. For tippet, use the strongest available that doesn’t exceed the capacity of your rod, dropping down in diameter if the water is too clear and the fish spook upon seeing the tippet. I use a minimum of 2X but prefer nylon bass tippet in the 8 pound range because of the added abrasion protection; carp can get rowdy and the water can be full of sharp pokey things.
To the tippet attach any number of different flies.
For bottom feeding or tailing carp, flies of the hybrid variety like the loco-moco, the mop fly or any number of heavy flies that ride hook up and seem foody enough for a carp to try — worms, nymphs, crayfish and clam patterns. With these flies, lob or roll cast to the general vicinity of your target and then drag-and-drop the fly to within the 90-degree feeding zone of the carp.
For carp feeding on top water, generally referred to as “clooping,” carp will swim with their mouths gulping near, at and above the surface of the water, sucking in anything resembling food. Stimulators, parachute patterns, hoppers, beetles, ants, and all sorts of dry flies are all god options, as are carefully placed and managed wet flies.
Keep the tippet appropriately tight and the line off the water as much as possible, giving a natural presentation to your fly, raising and lowering the rod, changing the angle and extension of your arm, or moving your body. Recast as necessary, carefully to avoid spooking.
If you don’t feel or see the strike shortly after the fly entering the carp’s feeding zone, look for a change in behavior, a sudden surge one way, a gulp, a flutter of the tail or other signs to indicate the carp has taken your fly. Set the hook upward and hold on!
Brace with your casting forearm, using two hands, your body weight or moving as necessary. The fight will be tremendous. The short line and stout rod will keep the carp and the fight very up close and personal, challenging your strength, endurance, fish fighting skills and tip management. With larger fish, the vibration of the line in the water can cause the tenkara rod to ring aloud with vibrations that change as the battles progresses. Combined with the up-close and personal splashing and carp antics, carp on a fixed-line rod can be a very immersive experience.
The trick, I find, is to keep constant tension on the carp, forcing its head up in the water, oftentimes gulping air as it takes a break from fighting and gets pulled skyward by the long, stiff rod. If it wants to go left, use side pressure to turn the fish to the right. Address straight-line power runs as quickly as possible, using side pressure with the rod to coax the fish off its path. You must control the fish. Use the features of the water to tire or control the fish, for example fighting it into shallow water where it has more difficulty swimming. Your quarry can make several very powerful, head-snapping runs that will test and break your gear and your patience. Carp will often make 3-4 strong runs, so be prepared to battle until they tire. Stay calm and focused.
Landing the Fish
Use a large rubber net to land the fish. Gently dislodge the hook if it didn’t fall out already from being barbless. Let the carp rest and recuperate as you would any other fish, minimizing time out of the water. Release it safely.
The widespread availability of carp combined with their intelligence and fury make for an exhilarating experience with tenkara rods. While some folks may continue to see carp as trash, enemy fish caught as byproduct of targeting other species, for many anglers, perhaps even you, carp are worthy target that will refine your skills as a fixed-line angler.
Jon Hart was a lifelong fisherman and outdoorsman. Originally from the East coast of the US, Jon resided in California near Sequoia National forest, pursuing tenkara through Southern Sierra Fly Fishers Club in addition to various conservation efforts. Jon’s carp adventures resulted in first place for the wade division at both Carpfest and the Carp Throwdown, fly fishing tournaments in California dedicated to carp. Jonathan James Hart passed away unexpectedly in July of 2019. Tenkara Angler is honored to have had Jon as one of our contributing authors and re-publishes this article in his memory.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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