Catch Carp on the Fly – Alternative surface fishing by Miles Quinlan

It’s definitely the weather for surface fishing. Most of you will be pulling out the mixers, bread and your cut down popups to snare a few carp no doubt.

However with Zigs already proving that carp are happy to take artificials, how about setting yourself the ultimate challenge to catch carp on the fly.

In his first article for the Angling Gazette, Myles Quinlan tells you how to get started.

Surface fishing is my favourite method to catch carp but unlike most anglers the technique I use is very different. I Fly Fish. Fly fishing for carp is very much underrated in this country and completely overshadowed by bottom bait fishing. It is my hope to bring about a new era of carp fishing in the UK. Let explain why:

Carp fishing has evolved so much in such a short space of time with more and more anglers conscious about “hiding” their rigs when fishing on the bottom. Sadly it seems though that surface fishing for carp hasn’t evolved much from the simple bubble float and bread crust or dog biscuits.
Carp on Fly - Rising to mixer
Although that method is still effective, I personally don’t believe that it’s an efficient way to catch the carp that have seen every type of rig under the sun. Most carp are cautious of static surface baits because history has taught them of the danger.

If you watch carp feeding on the surface most will only take baits that have just landed on the water, making a bait land that softly using a controller float is impossible resulting in few bites. Fly fishing is the perfect technique in these situations.

Fly fishing is not a new method to catch carp but it’s a style that few anglers use meaning that most large carp have never been caught on a fly and more confident to take. Without making a disturbance on the water you can land your fly on the water “naturally” without fear of spooking fish. 90% of carp will take anything that lands 6 inches in front of them.

This technique also allows an angler to use bait more accustom to fish. If carp are feeding on a fly hatch you to cast out an imitation that’s part of their natural diet resulting in a quick hook up. If the carp aren’t on the surface switch to a sinking fly such as a bloodworm imitation to fool fish that aren’t in the mood for feeding heavily. Sinking flies really help to catch the wiser carp.

Although fly line is quite thick and brightly coloured carp don’t seem to avoid it, to be honest they barely seem to notice it. Even if your line lands on a carp they don’t seem to care because it’s something they haven’t seen or felt before. Casting amongst a group of feeding fish without spooking them is simple, so it’s possible to cast to the individual larger fish. Although Fly fishing may lack in casting distance it’s the best way to present your bait.

One thing that I love about fly fishing is the amount of tackle that you need to take which isn’t a lot. Fly rods are multi piece, incredibly light with the reel and can usually be strapped to a backpack containing all the small bits (flies, leaders, forceps etc.). Other than the usual net and unhooking mat that’s pretty much it.

I recommend a strong rod for targeting big carp no less than an 8# weight rated rod. I personally use an 8# weight 11 foot switch rod for my fishing. It makes casting in tight swims easier and the length helps steer fish away from snags hidden in margins.
Carp on Fly - Playing Fish
A Large Arbor reel with a strong smooth drag is best to play big fish loaded with forward tapered line.

Fly fishing requires the use of 4 different lines all loaded on the same reel;

    1. Backing; the main bulk of braided line loaded on a fly reel first, the line isn’t used for casting but it comes in handy when fish make big runs.
    2. Fly line; weighted braided line used for casting. Forward taped floating line should be used for carp fishing; the main weight of the line is at the front enabling long casts and makes the fly shoot forward.
    3. Leader; a main length of mono usually tapered to help the fly turn-over. I use a short leader of 7-9ft simply to make sure that the fly turns over perfectly.
    4. Tippet; this is a short length of mono that is attached to the leader and fly.

The weight rating of the fly line is always matched to the rating of the rod; so an 8# weight rod should be loaded with 8# weight line. Fly line isn’t rated by breaking strain but by weight from 1# to 14#. A 1# weight would be used for targeting small river trout; 14# weight would be suited for big game tarpon fishing. Carp fishing only requires 8# or 9# weight outfits loaded with 20-30lb backing and 10-15lb leader and tippet, both weights are fully capable to land carp of 30lb plus.

Carp flies can be a bit tricky to find due to the fact that most are designed for trout fishing and the hooks aren’t strong enough to handle a big carp.

I personally tie my own flies to ensure the hook won’t fail when playing a big fish and it also allows me to get creative and experiment with different patterns.
Carp on Fly - Bugs
When fishing in crystal clear water I like to start with a sinking flies such as bloodworm imitations. These are my favourite flies to use because bloodworm are found in pretty much every lake I fish and are part of the carps natural diet. I use quite large bloodworm patterns usually tied on a size 8 curved shank hook to give a good presentation and also for hook strength.

If bloodworm flies don’t work I like to try big bright flies to get the fish’s attention. These flies look more like pike or perch flies but work really well for carp. I have no idea what it’s called but a came across it while flicking through an American carp fly fishing facebook page so decided to tie some and give them a go.
Carp on Fly - Brightly coloured
When nothing seems to be working and the fish aren’t on the surface I’ll run a small net through the margins to see what insects are in the lake.

This is the best way to match a fly to the natural food source and if I don’t have a perfect match I choose any fly that bears a resemblance to the real thing.

If the fish are on the surface and wary of surface bait I sight fish for them using bugs. I’ll look for any cruising fish and cast a fly 6 inches in front of it. I like using natural imitation flies for this type of fishing such as caterpillars, emerges, or beetles. These flies work especially well on lakes with overhanging trees and bushes.
Carp on Fly - Playing Fish2
When carp are on the surface and are willing to take surface bait fishing really can become easy. Keeping the carp competing and feeding within range is the trick but putting in the effort really pays off.

Casting a fly in front of a fish that’s feeding hard on the surface will result in a hook-up almost every time. The only thing to be careful of is to time your strike perfectly. This isn’t because you may miss the bite but because sometimes the fish get so confident that they almost swallow the fly.

This only happens on extremely rare occasions but you should always carry long forceps just to be safe.

I tend to carry a variety of loose feed mixing up size, colour and flavour to keep fish feeding confidently and to keep guessing. Feeding different colours allows me to change the colour of my imitation fly because sometimes carp will prefer a particular colour.
Carp on Fly - Landing Fish
Fly fishing over loose feed is by far the easiest way to catch a few carp on the surface in a short period of time.

I highly recommend fly fishing for carp for me it’s the most entertaining way to catch fish.

Fly fishing is fairly simple to learn but takes a lot of practice to get the cast right.

When practising casting DON’T use a fly with a hook instead use a bit of fluff on a clip it’s much safer to avoid hooking yourself. There’s lots of information and video clips available teaching fly casting and many fly fishing stores will offer advice.
Carp on Fly - Fish1
Good luck to anybody who wants to give this very exciting and rewarding style of carp fishing a go. If you get in a bit of practise and become comfortable with casting, I know it’s something you’ll be glad you tried.  Who knows, instead of rolling boilies next summer, you might even be tying flies.