Catawba Carp On The Fly

Featured photo courtesy of Capt. Paul Rose

On The Fly Freshwater

By Polly Dean

August 2021

I was first acquainted with the idea of fly-casting for carp by watching author, artist and fly-designer Dave Whitlock on television. Whitlock was featured on an episode of Walker’s Cay Chronicles, introducing Flip Pallot to the art of fishing for these “freshwater bonefish” on Lake Michigan.

I had also just recently been introduced to fly-fishing myself and catching a bonefish was my ultimate goal. I remember thinking that hooking a carp would be just as good! Though this was many years ago, the idea of trying it one day, didn’t escape me. Eventually I did enjoy it when having the chance to fly-fish for carp  through guide Henry Cowen’s Guide Service on Georgia’s Chattahoochee River.

When the opportunity arose again, I jumped at it. This time it was with Captain Paul Rose. The captain’s signature trip targets carp on the fly. He was one of the earliest carp guides in the Southeast and has built his reputation on these freshwater “bones.” He guides anglers on the lakes in the Catawba River drainage west of Charlotte in the south-central portion of North Carolina.

Carp are not thought of by most fly casters as a species that one targets. The carp – specifically the common carp, which was the variety we sought – is a relative of goldfish. Carp have a “less than attractive.” Commonly found in many freshwater ponds and lakes, hanging around docks and structure, carp don’t get much respect. In fact, they are more likely to be considered a nuisance that muddies up the water. But, after chasing the species with a fly, I was quick to change my mind about them. The supposed lowly species earned my respect.

A face only a mother could love! Photo courtesy of Capt. Paul Rose.

Armed with a 7-weight fly rod and a brown Mop Fly, we rode the shoreline looking for the fish. Since we were sight-fishing them, we scanned the narrow shallow ledges along the banks where they cruise looking for terrestrials and large nymphs to feed on. Capt. Paul opts for the tan or brown Mop Fly we are using, but also uses black Wooly Buggers for this fishing.

We looked for the reddish or gold colors of the carp, as we scanned the shoreline. Meanwhile, Capt. Rose explained that we needed to cast quickly if we spot one,  But, what usually was the case, the captain spotted the fish first and directed us toward it.

Often the carp are tough to spot until you get used to looking for them. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

We also watched for “muds.” Those are evidence that carp are rooting around on the bottom for nymphs, aquatic worms or crayfish. Carp are also unique in that they emit air bubbles that can be spotted on the water’s surface. This is a telltale sign that one is underneath. 

We also targeted shaded water beneath overhanging trees. The carp key in on falling objects, such as berries falling from the branches, so we paid extra attention to those areas.

Rose also let us know, that these fish will rarely chase a fly, so we needed to drop it directly in front of them and let it sink. The carp spook easily, so we also were instructed to limit our false casts to just what was necessary. Additionally. when making a cast, it is better to err on the side of dropping the fly a little short, rather than too long and past them. These fish (like most) are less apt to eat any prey that swims toward them.

Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

 If a carp is going to strike, it happens quickly, so be ready to strip-set the hook. Capt. Paul also told us that you rarely feel the take, but should watch the fish to see it instead. This to me, was a little more difficult, but thankfully the captain had a keen eye and let us know when to set the hook!

My fishing partner also learned the hard way, you allow these fish to run and keep the drag set loose. He kept the line tight, not letting the carp run on his first hook up. As a result, the leader popped.

As is the case with any sight-fishing, sunshine is a big plus. The captain prefers to be on the water at first light. By noon or early afternoon, recreational boat traffic is on the water. The resulting wave action muddies the shallows making seeing the fish very difficult. When that condition occurs. Rose generally heads to the dock

The captain usually targets the carp from April when they are spawning through September. This seasonal choice has more to do with the longer days and more daylight than anything else.

Fly rods in the 7- to 8-weight range are preferred. Capt. Paul suggested a 9-foot leader of 10- to 12-pound fluorocarbon. These fish can run large, often reaching from 10- to 12-pounds upwards to 20 and more.

Photos courtesy of Capt. Paul Rose.

So why did these fish earn my respect? Mainly, because as “common” as they are, they aren’t the easiest to catch. These prehistoric-looking armor-scaled creatures haven’t survived eons of evolution being stupid. Since carp won’t chase a fly, casts must be accurate, close to their nose, and quickly made. These fish will test your skills, in stalking and sighting them, casting to them, strip striking, and hopefully fighting a large and strong adversary.

Captain Paul Rose

Capt. Paul Rose grew up in Central Pennsylvania where he was mentored by Mike O’Brien, a fly-tyer and Orvis Fly Fishing School instructor. He then spent 10 years in Austin, Texas, before relocating to the Charlotte area where he began his 18-year guiding career.

When first seeing a carp in water, the captain was reminded of the redfish he saw on the Texas coast.

Capt. Paul Rose and the author heading out to look for carp. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Capt. Paul uses a Hell’s Bay flats boat to stalk the “Carolina bonefish.” He is a certified casting instructor, so he can offer tips to make your casting more successful during and outing. He also can provide all fishing gear and flies.

Capt. Rose also guides for other species, including trout. He offers wade trips on 12 miles of private water on five streams for larger trout. Other trips are on to public waters that involve hiking to remote areas and chasing fish in pristine settings, which is a classic Southern Appalachian favorite involving stealth and accurate presentations in tight canopies of rhododendron to feisty and colorful trout.

Captain Paul Rose can reached through his Carolina Bonefishing guide service.