Fishipedia Report: Carpin’ Ain’t Easy

October 7th, 2011| No Comments

Fishipedia gets out in the sun and introduces the 8-weight to something it hasn’t seen in a while – backing. Catching carp on the fly might not be easy, and it’s a long way from the chalkstream, but it’s a lot of fun…

Carp on the Fly - Centre Lake, Newdigate FarmIf anyone in the UK was still dubious about the onset of climate change, 2011 probably changed all that. We got our summer sometime in April, starting one Thursday and continuing all the way through until Tuesday the following week. Thanks. In place of summer we got some kind of tepid autumnal washout and then, when everyone had all but given up hope and put their shorts and flip-flops in storage, October rolled around and brought a heatwave with it.

I guarantee you I’ve never worn sunscreen in this country in October before. Never. To say I was happy to be doing so on the first of the month, stood on the bank of a lake in Surrey (that’s just south of London for anyone who doesn’t know) as carp sucked debris and insects from the surface film is an understatement.

So this would be it. One final scrap with everyone’s new favourite fish on the fly – carp. My previous session had been something of a disaster, so I was hoping to reinstate my dignity, soothe my ego and head into the winter with some positive memories of my carping efforts.

Where and when

The location for the day was the Centre Lake at Dean House Farm in Dorking, Surrey. The thing I like about this lake is that there’s plenty of casting room. That’s not always easy to find when it comes to carp fishing – particularly on day-ticket waters. The other thing I like about this place is there’s a one-rod-per-person limit. That means you don’t get groups of guys criss-crossing the fishery with multiple rods, remote-control boats and wheelbarrow-loads of gear. There are plenty of carp in there, none of them massive, but for the roving fly angler, it’s just about perfect.

As with many fisheries in this part of the world, the fish here are well used to taking surface baits and have developed a taste for dog biscuits and bread, so flies have evolved to reflect that. Purists of the fly-fishing world would probably find it all a bit crude and ungentlemanly, but you know, sometimes things are more fun that way.

Carp on the FlyKeep it light, keep it moving

You don’t need a whole lot of gear for this kind of fishing either, and I like that. A vest with a few flies and the usual essentials, a bag of dog biscuits to get the fish feeding, a catapult to fire the bait out there, and a rod. Commercial fisheries will often insist on a large landing net and unhooking mat too, and rightly so, so make sure you have both.

My standard set-up for carp is an 8-weight with a floating line. A 12ft leader, tapered down to a 10lb tippet suits me fine. Pretty much a standard bonefish set-up really, although in place of the Gotcha is the dog biscuit imitation.

Carp on the FlyOn the subject of gear, it always amazes me how many fishermen I see turn up at these places and head straight to their favourite spot. No looking around for signs of fish, no weighing up the prevailing conditions – just a quick check to see if their favourite spot is free, unload all the gear and sit tight for the day. Now I know people like the just-sitting-about part of fishing, but you’ll still hear plenty of them moaning about how the fishing’s gone dead in the middle of the day, when the fish are happily still feeding in another part of the lake.

A flats guide in the Keys once told me how you’ll often find the best fishing on the first flat out of the dock because that’s the one everyone ignores. Similarly, I caught the majority of my fish that day from the spot every single person ignores – the first peg out of the car park. Perhaps the carp know they’re safe, perhaps it was just chance, but despite everyone having walked straight past, there they were, gathered in the corner, stirring up the shallows and sucking food from the surface layers in the morning sun.

Why I love fishing for carp on the fly

1. It not easy. You think it’s going to be, you conjure up visions of fish feeding happily on the surface, you convince yourself all you’ll have to do is roll the fly into their path and it’ll be “battle royale”. Only it’s never like that. Plenty of times I had the fish feeding confidently before I introduced the biscuit fly, only for them to spook at the very sight of it. But when it all comes together, it’s heart-stopping stuff. Take this guy for instance:

Carp on the FlyHe hoovered up every single free offering around the fly before giving the fly a derisory snort and sliding away. I kept the feed going in and eventually his greed got the better of him. It was one of the one of those great moments when there’s a perfect line of four snacks and your fly is next on the conveyor belt. The fish moves from one morsel to the next, snaffling each one more and more confidently before finally, his mouth closes around the fly, you strike, and bang, it’s on.

2. They fight like stink. My second fish of the day was pure opportunism. Having spooked the first swim, I’d moved to the far corner when I noticed some disturbance under the tree on the adjacent bank. Creeping down there I found a couple of fish drifting in and out of the root structure. Keeping well back from the bank I flicked out the fly and let it settle. It was only inches from the bank. I was beginning to wonder if my presence had been detected when, out of nowhere, a big pair of lips appeared and engulfed the fly. I don’t who was more surprised – me or the fish. He was shocked enough to disappear into the middle of the lake, taking me all the way down to the backing. Now for me, this is one of the best things about carp fishing – that big old propeller on the back’s not just for show and you have to really work the angles to tire them out. As with any fish, it’s better to get the fight over with as quick as you can, but with carp that’s not always possible. Time and again you think you have them beat and then they just take off again.

Carp on the Fly3. You can sight-fish for them. This, for me, is probably the best bit. I love all forms of fishing – I could be casting lures to pike, dry flies to trout or live crabs to permit and I’d be a happy man. However, nothing beats casting a fly to fish you can see – it’s the ultimate. Fortunately, carp are pretty obliging in this respect – when the conditions are right and the weather’s warm, they’ll hang around in the surface layers of the water, sometimes just soaking up the sun, sometimes on the feed. Obviously the dog biscuit imitation has become a firm favourite, but carp will also nail woolly buggers, boobies and all kinds of little nymph patterns.

4. They keep you coming back for more. There’s something truly addictive about this form of fishing, and it probably stems from the ratio of takes to fish caught. You simply have to go into it knowing that you’re not going to hit every take, that it’s going to be occasionally infuriating, and that you’re probably going to have to watch bait fishermen stacking up bigger numbers than you. I assure you though, you’ll be having waaaaaaaay more fun.

Carp on the Fly5. People will look at you like you’ve got a screw loose. In a lot of places, people are still only just catching on to fly-fishing for carp – if you turn up at some lake where everyone else is sat behind a bunch of rods, all wearing camo, and you casually break out the fly rod, then you can expect some funny looks. That’s fine. Just remember what the great John Gierach said: “If people don’t occasionally walk away from you shaking their heads, you’re doing something wrong.”

Carp on the Fly

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