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Carpe diem - Use crayfish to sieze the carp

July 25, 2004|by Bill Anderson

Many fishermen probably underestimate the importance of crayfish as a food source in our local waters.

I have been using them for bait for more than 30 years and have caught every major species of fish with them. I consider crayfish a staple and a bait that will sometimes catch more and bigger fish than minnows or lures that imitate minnows.

One of the latest fads is to use fly tackle and crayfish flies while sight-fishing for carp in the shallows. The general approach is to fish like you were after bonefish in Florida. You wet wade or pole a boat slowly across the shallows and spot carp as they grub the bottom for crayfish. The carp actually will move rocks and grab the mini-lobsters that are trying to escape.

Once the carp are located, a presentation is made and the fly is stripped slowly near the bottom. Carp take the flies well, but a good presentation usually is required. The fish are very spooky in the shallow water, so it's pretty demanding fishing.


A number of fairly standard fly patterns are used for this style of fishing. Two of the better-known patterns are the Clouser Crayfish and Dave Whitlock's NearNuff Crayfish pattern. The simple Clouser style fly has worked well for me when tied using red fox tail hair instead of bucktail. An accurate cast and good retrieve probably is more important than the actual pattern.

This fishing is available in just about every river and stream and is hugely popular in several of the Great Lakes. The one big requirement is that you must have fairly clear water so you can see the fish. In most rivers, the best fishing is from late summer to autumn.

This style is exactly like fishing for redfish or bonefish in Florida but the local carp are bigger on average than anything you catch down there. If you never have experienced the raw power of a big carp hooked on fly tackle, you are in for a treat. You will want good tackle and plenty of backing on the fly reel. Initial runs of over 100 yards are not uncommon. We usually use 8-weight rods and saltwater quality fly reels.

It is interesting how things change in the fishing over time.

The idea of fly-fishing for carp would have been considered crass 20 years ago. Now there are books, videos and DVDs by some of the biggest names in the sport telling you how to find and catch carp as they enter the shallows to search for crayfish.

Good stuff!

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail.

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