Big Fish Strategies is a new series covering simple tactics that help catch large fish on the fly. This series covers a broad range of species and water types, but focuses on larger species and larger specimens of a species. Enjoy!
In certain parts of the country, angler seem to have quite good success retrieving flies in front of carp. At Beaver Island and other parts of the Great Lakes, Midwestern rivers, even just other parts of the Northeast, carp seem to be fairly receptive to a moved fly. In my waters, however, a retrieved fly is almost always rejected. I'm not quite sure why this is, but it is proven over and over any time I try to strip or twitch a fly in front of a carp. 9 times out of 10 it either ignores in of even spooks. Since the fly invariably needs to stand out to the fish visibly, that leaves pretty much one option. The fish needs to see the fly while it is actively falling through the water column.
There are three important considerations to make when you want a fish to see the fly on the fly: How quickly the fly sinks, where you are showing it to the fish, and what that fish is doing. Let's break each of those down one at a time.
The importance of fall rate should be fairly obvious: if you want a fish to see a fly while its falling, that fly should fall for a good little while. I always try to get away with the slowest fall rate I can. The deeper the water, the faster the fall rate of the fly I'm using. In 1-1/1.5' of water I fish unweighted flies or flies with light bead chain eyes. In 2-3 feet of water I fish flies with bead or small cone-heads and smaller lead eyes. In 3-5 feet of water I fish flies with heavy cone-heads and large lead eyes. The material and profile of the fly does matter as well. Slim profiles sink faster, broad profiles sink slower. Things like deer hair or bushy, thick hackle collars can also slow a sink rate. Generally though, look at how the carp flies in your box sink and familiarize yourself with their sink rates, then stick to the slower ones in shallower water and the faster ones in deeper water.
|This common fell to a slowly sinking unweighted mop in 16" of water.|
Where you are showing the fish the fly is often overlooked by the average angler, it's something I don't think gets remotely enough focus. Carp don't just see everything in their surrounding area, so a fly falling in a certain area may go unnoticed. One spot that is a little bit blind to them, and the place I was so inclined to cats at when i first started as well as a place I routinely have clients cast at, is right on their nose. Now, in deep enough water, they'll see the fly initially before it falls into a blind spot. At that point they may want it but have a hard time finding it. In very shallow water they may not see it at all. I think of the zones I want the fly to fall through as being roughly dinner plate sized circles around either eye. In clear water that window does expand out, occasionally as much as two feet. Put simply, put your fly either to the right or left of the carp. Also consider which side is closer to you and try not to cross the fish and show the fly to its far side: that can result in lining the fish and spooking it.
Last but certainly not least, you've got to pay attention to what the fish is doing when you make your cast. It may not see your fly because of its own behavior. If the fish is kicking up a heavy mud cloud, it will likely have a difficult time seeing a fly falling through the water column more than a couple inches from its face. Sometimes, in heavy mats of life litter on the bottom, the carp will even have there head burring in the bottom while the feed. In these cases, watch for the fish to pick up and move from one spot to the next. While it is doing so is the time to present your fly to the fish. At times, the fish may also favor one side, so regardless of its feeding strategy, if you don't get a positive or negative reaction on one side of the fish try presenting it to the other if it is possible to do so without crossing the fish with your leader.
Mastering the intricacies of the fall is transferable to other species as well, from brook trout to bonito. If you'd like to learn more about strategies, book a trip with me or join Patreon, where I'll be delving into technical aspects of fly fishing on a regular basis.
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