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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Carp Behavior Explanation

This post is in response to a question from Brian who asked me to explain the difference between clooping, bubbling, and tailing/rooting Carp in his comment in this blog post.  Brian, the answer was way too long for the comment character limit so I put it here in a new post.  

Very simply stated a tailing Carp is looking down.  A clooping Carp is looking up. 

A tailing Carp is feeding on the bottom.   The behavior of rooting is more specific than simply tailing.  When I say rooting I am picturing a Carp that is tailing in the mud.  That fish can literally have all of its body concealed by the cloud of silt that comes up from the mudding or rooting behavior.  A rooting Carp is tailing but I distinguish the behavior largely because of strategy for catching a rooting Carp versus one that is tailing on a hard dirt bottom, on rocks, or in weeds.

When I use the word “bubbling” I mean a Carp that is tailing or shopping very slowly and stopping regularly.  He definitely has his nose down.  I distinguish bubbling from tailing because I cannot actually see a “bubbler”.  I just see the bubbles that his activity creates but not the fish.  Not being able to see the fish is a huge difference to me.   Through the years I have had some very good success catching tailing fish but I have had little to no success catching bubblers.   I had some days on the Snake River where I was able to catch a few bubblers but again my success has been very limited.  Honestly, I largely ignore these fish.  As a result of the exchange in this post I am going to take bubbling fish a good deal more seriously in 2012 and attempt to catch them using an indicator.  That said, I would sure laugh at myself if I don’t see another bubbler for two years.   I may owe bubbling fish an apology for ignoring them.  I sure hope I do. 

I’m not sure when or where I first heard the term clooping.  I believe it was from John Jennings, a lifetime UK Carp angler.  When he and I started communicating about 6 years ago he sent me some VHS videos and DVD’s that showed Euro-Carping methods.  (Not fly fishing)  I know that there was at least passing reference to clooping Carp in the videos and I know John talked to me about the behavior.  From whatever that first introduction was for me, at the time I understood a clooping Carp to be feeding on the surface. 

For the first year that I Carp fished I believe I saw one fish, possibly two, take a bug off the surface. By the time I switched to a dry fly and cast it out, that Carp had aged so much he was no longer able to see the darn bug. 

In those early years I tried casting dry flies to sunbathing Carp.  It was education by trial and error for me.  By the way casting dry flies to sunbathers is a total joke. 

Through the years I have observed three surface behaviors from Carp.  I am not counting sunbathing on the surface as one of those behaviors.  I mean three behaviors where the Carp is looking up.  I don’t know if the Carp are always feeding when I see these behaviors.  At this point I don’t think they are but I could be wrong.  I also don’t know if anglers from the UK would call all of these behaviors clooping. 

The first behavior is when I see Carp rising and taking bugs off the surface of the water.  I understand that to be the classic example of clooping.  I went to Montana to fish the Missouri River in 2010 specifically to catch some Carp on dry flies.  I made a blog post about it and posted a YouTube video.

The second behavior I see where Carp are on the surface is when they have their mouths and eyes out of the water and are just sitting there.  I am honestly not sure what the heck these fish are doing.  Another Carp angler said to me once that he thought they might actually be getting a small amount of oxygen out of the air.  I have no idea if that is possible.  I don’t see these fish feeding.  They may be gathering very small insects that I don’t see but at least a few times I have observed this behavior I am virtually sure they were not.  It appeared to me that they had come to the surface just to look.  It is like they are “explorers” seeing what there is beyond the edge of the world.  They look out, see a loud, dry, scary place, and head for home.  They tell their friends that that the place outside the world is a interesting place to visit but no fish would want to live there.  Maybe these fish are sunbathing but they are looking up so I distinguish the behavior.  Also, I have caught a few of these fish on a cast but find it very difficult to catch a sunbather on a cast.  I do much better with sunbathers dropping or pitching the fly.  Because of this, again, I distinguish the behavior. 

I was in my second year of Carp fishing before I actually heard the noise that is said to be what clooping Carp do.  Humor me here please.  If you have never heard the noise that Carp make when they are on the surface, and you would like to hear it now, follow these directions.

1.  Say the letter “L” and when you are finished keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
2.  With your tongue on the roof of your mouth the entire time say the word “cloop”.
3.  Tongue still in place, say the word “cloop” slowly but inhale while you do it instead of exhaling. 

If you followed these directions you just heard the sound clooping Carp are said to make.  I have to say though that I have seen Carp feeding on the surface and not making this sound at all.  That first time I actually heard and saw Carp making the sound there were so many of them doing it I thought it was some small birds I had never seen.  It took me awhile to realize that all the noise was being made by Carp.  There were easily 40 or 50 of them doing this at the same time.  It was eerie.  I could not see any bugs on the surface of the water but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there.  I assume these fish were feeding but I was never really sure.  I cast unweighted Hares Ears to them and got a few to take.

There are two lakes that I have fished where I have observed most of the sucking sound and the “explorer” behavior.  One day there were four explorers all pointing in towards each other like some sort of synchronized swimming.   I made a very lucky cast right in the middle of the formation.  One of them picked up the fly.  I don’t know if he ate it intentionally or if it sort of fell in his mouth.  Either way, I would say both the Carp and I were surprised.  He was nice enough to pose for a picture when it was finished. 

So what is a clooping Carp?  I have to say I’m still learning.  I would say a Carp that is feeding on the surface would fit most people’s definition of clooping.  I would say that sometimes Carp feeding on the surface make the sucking sound and sometimes they don’t.  I would say that sometimes the fish making the sound are feeding and sometimes they aren’t.  I also think that some fish are explorers and they are just looking out at the edge of the world. 

Today, I worked some, I tied a few flies, I wrote this response, and I dreamed of warm days where I was casting to fat Carp...


  1. Thanks for your extremely informative response Mr. P. I have seen carp both clooping and bubbling but did not know how to present to these fish. I have tried an assortment of dry flies for cloopers, but no interest. It was hard to tell if it was common or asian carp (do asian carp cloop?) that were clooping and if it was asian I would probably have no luck regardless of presentation.

    So many new strategies for me to apply as soon as it gets warmer here in the St. Louis area. Thanks again for the great behavior summary.

    1. Hi Brian,

      Thanks for the positive feedback.

      If the fish you see are Commons or Mirrors and they are eating bugs, seeds, or berries, then they can be caught. I would put them in the green group if they are eating. If they are just sucking air and not eating then I don't know what to say about them.

      There are no Asian here in the Pacific Northwest. From what I have read about them they are filter feeders and as such are almost impossible to catch on a fly or on bait. I don't know if they cloop but I don't think it would matter even if they did. I have also read that there has been some research done in regards to developing a commercial fishery for them.

      There is snow here at my home right now and a lot more predicted for the next few days. Time to tie flies, work on episode #3, and daydream of fat Carp taking my fly.

  2. Brian,

    If I may. Grass carp, Asian?, absolutely feed on top, in my mind more than commons, at least here. The "Clooping" sound with grass guys, never heard it, but sure have seen them do some strange stuff with vegetation. I think a well presented fly of the item they are on would take them. Here they really get into elm seeds as they fall off green with a wind. Among other things.


  3. Gregg, of course you may. I so much appreciate your responses and contributions; thank you for this response.

    I think we might be talking about two different fish here. When Brian said Asian Carp I understood him to mean (Asian) Silver Carp, the kind threatening the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes. When you see a picture or video of them the placement of their mouth and eyes make them look like they are swimming upside down. These are the Carp that jump like crazy when a motorized boat comes in their area. They are in the news a lot. These Carp are filter feeders and as near as I can tell no one is catching them with any kind of fishing tackle. This species of Carp has not been reported anywhere in the Western United States.

    Grass Carp are also sometimes called Asian Carp. Additionally sometimes they are called White Amurs. These Carp are herbivores (big time salad eaters). In the United States all Grass Carp are supposed to be sterilized triploids. They devour aquatic vegetation. They are used to manage weed growth in golf course water hazards, and in certain lakes. These Carp are not reproducing since they have all been sterilized. Well, at least they are not supposed to be reproducing. Hmmm… John Montana has told me that he has seen Grass Carp of different sizes in the Columbia. As John is a very reliable reporter of things I believe these fish are in the Columbia though I have yet to see one.

    Grass Carp can definitely be caught with a fly. I have done it a few times and made a couple blog posts about it. Grass Carp and Silver Carp look like each other but don’t eat the same food. I have watched Grass Carp literally reach up out of the water to get a weed stem that was bent over but not touching the water. I have seen them swimming on the surface with a weed in their mouths and watch the stem get shorter as they eat a little at a time kind of like me with a long french fry in my mouth.

    Brian, do you know if you are seeing Grass Carp or the much more environmentally threatening (Asian) Silver Carp? Or are you possibly seeing both?

  4. Hello MR.P.,

    Yes sir, I am aware of the the carps, but colloquial names can lead to confusion. I am also wary of grass carp becoming wild in our Snake River, if not elsewhere first, as at least one pond with them has repeatedly flooded over to lose them to the river and also gain additional common carp. But your synopsis is spot on. I have read your blogs on grass carp, even tied a fly, as yet unused, with green span flex to imitate your grass "fly." It looks much like them.

    Best, Gregg

  5. Sorry for the confusion, perhaps asian carp is a bad classifier. I was referring to silver carp when I said it, but apparently, grass carp, bighead carp and silver carp technically all fall into this category. In eastern Missouri, we generally find commons, grass and silver carp cohabitating water systems such as the Missouri and Missisippi rivers and their adjoining waters. I have caught both common and grass carp on the fly but as far as I know silver carp cannot be taken on a fly, although I have yet to try the #64 phytoplankton pattern on 20x tippet.