Carp on a Dry Fly

By Mike Weaver
Originally published in the Guide to Angling in South West England 2005.

When I started fishing over half a century ago, carp had an almost mythical quality. Carp fisheries were few and far between – and when you found them their inhabitants had a reputation for being almost impossible to catch.

All of that has now changed. Wherever you live, there are likely to be several carp lakes within a short drive. The popularity of carp fishing has encouraged numerous fishery entrepreneurs to dig a lake, stock it with carp and open up for fishing – as this publication readily demonstrates. Check virtually any of the stillwater coarse fisheries in Get Hooked and you will find lakes that are stocked with a variety of carp, including common, mirror, ghost, koi or grass – and the good news is that they will all readily take a dry fly in the right conditions.

And the ideal conditions for catching a carp on a dry fly are just when fly-fishing gets really tough on the rivers. In the dog days of summer when high temperatures, brilliant sunshine and low water make trout and salmon fishing increasingly difficult, that is the time to have a go for carp. Indeed, when the temperature hovers around 30 degrees C on a cloudless day your chances of finding the carp in just the mood to suck in a dry fly are at their best.

Go to any carp lake between mid morning and mid afternoon on such a day and you are likely to find the carp cruising or just basking at the surface. So right from the word go you have solved one of the basic challenges of fishing – locating the fish. In any branch of fishing, once you have found a fish you are well on the way to catching it.

However, as countless anglers have discovered, having located a fish you have to employ the right tackle and tactics to bring it to the net. First the tackle and anyone who fishes a fly for trout on lakes and reservoirs is already equipped for carp. All you need is a fly rod of around 9 ft, a standard fly reel, a 7 or 8 weight floating line and a leader of about 7 ft of 8 lb nylon and you are ready to go.

The choice of a dry fly offers endless opportunities for experimentation, but I have found an egg fly very effective. This is the pattern so popular with fly fishers on the Pacific coast of North America, where trout and other species take the eggs of Pacific salmon, and this simple fly is produced by tying Glo Bug yarn to a size 10 or 12 hook, my favourite colour being pink. The only problem is that the egg fly is not inherently buoyant, and on many carp fisheries there is no space for false casting to dry the fly. Fortunately, if you tie your own flies, this problem is easily overcome by tying in a bowtie of closed-cell foam at the head.

If there are plenty of carp at the surface, some will take readily if you simply cast the fly to them, but a bit of ground baiting with Pedigree Chum Mixer will usually get the fish feeding and willing to take the fly more readily. The snag is that I can cast a fly much farther than I can throw a dog biscuit, so this year I intend to get a catapult for long-distance ground baiting.

If all goes well, the carp will come up to the fly, suck it in and a lift of the rod will set the hook. Some fish, however, will stop and then start mouthing the fly without actually taking it. Those carp that stop to “taste” the fly hardly ever take it so save your time and look for another fish. When you do hook a fish, the first screaming run on a simple fly reel is an experience to savour.

Get everything right and you will be amazed at how many carp you will catch on a dry fly. A three-hour session in the middle of a hot still day can easily produce 10, 15 or even more carp and after playing that many fish on a single-handed rod in really hot conditions you will be ready to call a halt and go home for a rest.

A final word about choosing the right day. I usually fly fish for carp on a weekday when there are not too many other anglers on the lake. You want plenty of space for successful fly fishing, and the last thing that other anglers who have settled down for a few hours relaxed and peaceful bait fishing really need is a fly fisherman charging around constantly hooking and playing fish. Enjoy your fly-fishing but don’t wear out your welcome.