Review: Orvis Guide to Carp

By Scott Richmond

At best, fly fishing for carp used to be treated as something an angler might try when real fish--trout or steelhead--weren't biting. At worst . . . well, I've had people laugh in my face when I told them I was going after carp. Really.

But in the last few years, carp have been getting the attention they deserve. Many fly anglers are interested in pursuing them, although most have yet to try. Or having tried, they reaped more frustration than success.

For the last five years, I spent dozens and dozens of days chasing carp on the Columbia River. Based on my experience, I can say without equivocation: carp are the most challenging fish I've ever experienced in over thirty years of serious fly fishing.

A major reason for this challenge is the lack of local expertise--no guides, very little on the internet, no one in the shops who knew anything. With the exception of John Bartlett (John Montana on the Westfly Board) there was no one I could turn to for advice because no one else was doing it. And I only fished with John once, and neither of us caught anything that afternoon.

So I was intrigued when Orvis, that bastion of traditional fly fishing, came out with The Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing for Carp: Tips and Tricks for the Determined Angler, by Kirk Deeter. Here's my review in four words: "Good Book Comma But."

I'll divide that summary down the middle and expound on each half.

Good Book

The Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing for Carp is well written, with excellent advice on finding carp, carp behavior, tackle, tactics, and 21 fly patterns. Excellent color photos adorn nearly every page. There are several drawings showing where to locate feeding carp; they are worth the price of the book.

Based on my experience, I could say a hearty "Amen!" to nearly everything in this book. If you're interested in carp, buy this book, then go fishing, then read it again.

Comma But

After finishing the book and agreeing with everything in it, I asked myself: If I'd had this book five years ago, would it have jumpstarted my carp success? The answer was: A little, but not much.

Here's the problem. With minor tweaks you can use the same tactics and flies for trout almost anywhere they live. That's because trout survive only within a narrow ecological range. Thus you can live in Montana and write a book about trout fishing that will be useful to Oregon fly anglers.

Carp, on the other and, can live anywhere and eat anything. So carp populations become adapted to local conditions. For example, I use very different tactics for carp in the mid-Columbia (above The Dalles) than I do in the lower Columbia (below Portland). It's like comparing New Zealand brown trout to Louisiana largemouth. Yet, we are talking about the same species in the same river--barely a hundred miles apart! None of my bread-and-butter tactics--learned through lots of trial-and-error (mostly error)--are described in The Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing for Carp.

The Bottom Line

The text, photos, and illustrations in The Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing for Carp are top notch. If you're even remotely thinking about carp on the fly, get this book. However, you have to realize that the tactics and flies you'll need and the situations you'll encounter may not be described in this book.

One of the most important points in The Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing for Carp is that a carp angler must be a good observer. You should spend far more time observing carp than casting to them. You have to be constantly watching, analyzing, theorizing, and experimenting. You only learn so much from a book. That's what makes fly fishing for carp so frustrating--and addictive.

The Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing for Carp: Tips and Tricks for the Determined Angler, by Kirk Deeter. 145 pages in a 7 by 10 inch format. Many color photographs and several color illustrations. $22.95. Available from Orvis or in many fly shops.

Scott Richmond is Westfly's creator and Executive Director. He is the author of eight books on Oregon fly fishing, including Fishing Oregon's Deschutes River (second edition).