Put Your Stalking Skills to the Test;
Try Fly Fishing for Wild Carp!
From Dave Felce
Do a quick google search on “carp flies UK” or “carp fly fishing UK” and you’ll see that the majority of British articles on the matter present you with a range of dog biscuit or fish-pellet imitations, designed to be used with handfuls of free offerings introduced to attract the fish. Although this is undoubtedly a method that can be successful on commercial, stocked waters, many fly-fishers view the use of bait as, to say the least, questionable. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
Wild carp have been around considerably longer than dog biscuits (or indeed fishermen) and are actually quite happy to munch away on natural food items. More than happy, in fact. Most wild carp have never seen a ‘boilie’ or a pellet. One of the reasons that natural baits have fallen out of favour with the bait-folks (but not with the carp!) is that it’s very difficult to attach them and present them effectively using standard coarse equipment. Even free-lining something relatively large like a grasshopper, for instance, requires incredible skill and patience. Not to mention a complete absence of wind. But not for us! Presenting a single nymph or bloodworm imitation to a potentially feeding fish is what we do all the time. It’s what our equipment is designed to do. We’re actually rather good at it.
Similarly, any keen observer of carp will note that they don’t always sit in the same place and they don’t always feed in the same places. They will cruise around in search of food and exhibit a variety of feeding behaviours depending on a number of factors including, but not limited to: temperature, light levels, availability of food items etc. Sound familiar? Of course! It’s exactly the same behaviour exhibited by trout and indeed almost every living organism.
So why not actively embrace the carp as a suitable target for your fly rod; adopt the same principles of observation, imitation and presentation of food items that underpin your normal fly-fishing approach? Why not go and look to see where the carp are and what they are doing? Why not target visible fish and work out how to catch them? At least you’ll know the fish are present, which has got to be a good start. And if you can’t see them, move on….. In short, go stalking for carp! In a modern world where fly-fishing in particular is often seen as rather archaic and out-moded, you’ll find that it’s quite the opposite; a progressive, logical and effective method for capturing a wary, intelligent and powerful fish. And it’s fun, too!
The broad, and relatively shallow reservoirs of central Spain and Eastern Portugal are arguably amongst the better areas to stalk carp, although many other places in Europe are equally suitable; the Dutch polders, Rhone and Danube deltas, the Italian canals…. Further afield the Great Lakes of Canada and the waterways of Australia provide a wealth of opportunities for the adventurous angler. Closer to home in the UK there are numerous gravel pits and canals that bear investigation, often very neglected, along with an abundance of stocked fisheries; although sadly not many of these lend themselves to a stalking approach with a fly rod. Excitingly, there are also a number of ‘secret’ locations, with wild carp rumoured to be descended from original mediaeval stock….
Having decided on your venue, one of the biggest problems with stalking wild fish is locating them in the first place. There are few shortcuts to this; You just have to put in the time and be prepared for a lot of walking and possibly fish-less days…. It can be very hard work. But as you can see, the potential rewards are well worth the effort!
Generally speaking, I start by scouting for fish on the surface or in relatively shallow water, within easy casting distance from the shore. Sometimes it’s made obvious by visibly feeding fish, but more often you’ll have to adopt a strategy to improve your chances of location. So, look for broad, shallow bays where carp like to cruise earlier in the day as the water warms up. Check the direction of the wind; an onshore breeze (wind blowing towards the shore) is ideal. Carp love mopping up beetles, grasshoppers and other terrestrials trapped on the surface at the water’s edge, as well as feasting on invertebrates exposed by the action of water lapping against the shore.
Having found your carp, you now need to make an educated guess as to what they’re feeding on and choose an appropriate fly (see side panel).
But first, and vitally important, you have to work out how to make your approach and present your fly without spooking them. Suitable clothing helps, but arguably far more important is stealth. Keep your movements slow, tread gently and be prepared to make your cast some distance from the water’s edge. Also, especially if your chosen target is a large fish, think about an ‘exit strategy’ for if you do hook it. Be aware of the location of any snags and try to ensure the carp has an open area of water to run to. Carp are surprisingly powerful and if you try to stop them hard on the ‘take’ you’ll more than likely end up broken…. You have been warned!
Carp aren’t noticeably leader shy, so my advice would be to use a minimum 12lb tippet. I regularly use 18lb or even higher for hunting the biggest specimens. They’re highly sensitive to ‘feel’ though, so consider using a soft fluorocarbon. Reliable and well tied knots are essential. Take your time and check them! I use a Trilene knot, or a Rapala loop if I want to allow a more natural action with a streamer pattern.
Presentation depends very much on the fly used. Crayfish imitations and nymph type patterns can be ‘bumped’ along the bottom with swift jerks; floating terrestrials are best cast ahead of a feeding fish and left static.
Timing the strike can be problematic: carp are notorious for being able to eject a fly very rapidly if it feels ‘wrong’. You will need to watch your fly very closely and use a modified ‘strip-strike’ with the rod and line at the first indication of a take. I call it the “strip n’ sweep’. A standard trout-style rod lift will, more often than not, result in a miss and a spooked fish.
If you get everything right, the thrill and power of a large carp heading for the horizon is an experience never forgotten, testing you and your equipment to the limit. The anticipation of a truly wild fish approaching your fly, the feeling of dread and awe as it powers away from you, backing pouring from your reel! It’s very satisfying and highly addictive… You’ll understand why carp are known as the Golden Bonefish!
Hear more from Dave – https://www.buzzsprout.com/402997/5073431
Balanced tackle: Pretty much any standard 9′ #7-8 weight reservoir outfit will get you started. But bear in mind these are strong fish; even sub-10lb carp can smash 15lb tippets on the initial take. Once you get the bug and start targeting bigger fish you’ll find a good quality reel with low start-up inertia, smooth drag and plenty of backing essential. Also, consider a softer actioned rod, such as modern S2 glass to further cushion those blistering first runs. It’s why carp are known as “Golden Bones”!
Polarising glasses: And a broad-peaked hat are essential to reduce surface glare and help you spot fish.
Line cleaner: Casting across 20′ of bank will make your fly line dirty and inefficient. You may need to clean your fly line 2 or 3 times during the day. Take a spare line too, if travelling in remote areas with no tackle shops!
Sling pack: You need to be highly mobile. A simple waist bag or sling pack will carry all your needs. Ensure it will hold a water bottle.
Fish care: Unless you plan to photograph and release your prize in the water (preferred), consider carrying a lightweight unhooking mat. Big, heavy-bodied fish require support to avoid internal damage.
Bait & ‘free-offerings’: Really??! Leave them at home. You wouldn’t use them for trout…
Clothing: Contrary to popular belief, carp have pretty sharp eyesight. You don’t have to go full camo, but do consider the background behind you. In these contrasting shots you can see that a blue shirt blends nicely with the sky on occasion. Green camo would be useless here.
The angler in this picture has got it 90% correct…. shame about those bright white legs, tho’! Attention to detail at all times!
Tread carefully: Carp are highly sensitive to sound and vibration. Soft soled, flexible boots reduce sound on gravel or rocky shorelines. Walk slowly and place your feet precisely.
Stay well back from the edge: Basic stuff, but absolutely critical with spooky big fish in the margins.
Look for signs: Surface swirls, exposed backs and fins, ‘mudding’ etc. Use your ears too! Aggressively feeding fish can be very noisy. Experienced carpers call this activity ‘schlooping’.
Carry water: And some spare food. It’s hard work!
Flies for your wild carp fly box
The classic streamer pattern, tied heavy and scruffy on a strong, long-shank hook. Suggestive of a broad range of food organisms, I’ve had carp home in on this fly from quite a distance; then pounce on it like a cat. Exciting stuff!
Despite what many folks believe, carp are agile and aggressive predators and can often be seen preying on shoals of bleak or other small fish. In this situation the Floating Fry can be either fished static on the surface, or jerkily stripped back on a sinking line and short leader, ‘booby’ style.
Designed by Rob Kolanda, this fly is a great example of the exciting new breed of specialist carp flies, all loosely based on the classic bonefish patterns such as Crazy Charlies or Gotchas. Bumped along the bottom it rides point-up and sends up enticing scuffs of silt. These are must-have patterns in any carp-fisher’s fly box.
Hook: Partridge of Redditch K4AY-SE size 4 to 8
Thread: Black 6/0 Uni
Tail: Grizzly green marabou
Body: Ribbed tungsten scud body, Vicuna Carp Peacock
Belly: 3mm craft foam, clear scud back
Rib: UTC Ultra Wire
Legs: Red sili legs, barred centipede
Wing: Grizzly marabou
There are any number of these patterns out there. This is a variant of Pat Cohen’s Double Egg, tied on a jig hook. It can either be cast directly in the path of cruising fish or fished static under an indicator in coloured water.
Terrestrial patterns such as grasshoppers are great fun to fish with, and popular with carp too! When naturals are drifting on the surface, carp will often be found feasting on them right at the margins, frequently with their heads and backs completely out of the water. Also a go-to pattern when carp are seen ‘sunning’ themselves, apparently uninterested in feeding.
This crayfish pattern by Andrew Spinato is itself a variation of Del Brown’s permit fly, the Merkin. My simplified version just uses sparkle yarn, with no dubbed body. Where crayfish are present, carp will chase these voraciously, so use a strong tippet!
This is a really simple tie and is, once again, very effective fished static amidst the scum and detritus of the margins. It’s also a great pattern for barbel. In the smaller sizes try adding a ‘sighter’ plume of fluorescent yarn to help you pick the fly out!
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