Recently I got a message from another fisherman, Dave Felce, who also likes to fish for carp on the fly. Dave lives in the UK but is an occasional visitor to Spain and likes to wet a line in Extremadura whenever he can. He was kind enough to say that he enjoyed what I had written on the subject in my book and that he has a perspective on the subject of fly fishing for carp that is very similar to my own.

He included with his message an excellent article he had written on the subject and was kind enough to let me reproduce it here:


Fly Carpin’: in praise of the Yanks!

 Okay, I’m going to touch on a number of subjects here, all broadly connected. Hopefully you’ll stick with me and see where I’m coming from!

So, carp fishing. And later, more specifically, fly fishing for carp. What is it about this subject that seems to have us Brits completely confounded? I really find it difficult to believe that, despite the huge volumes of writing (one hesitates to describe most of it as literature) on carp fishing, so little real understanding of the fisherman’s quarry is demonstrated. The basic (predominantly the only) approach to carp fishing in the UK appears to be this:

  • find a pond which has been stocked with carp, preferably big fat ones
  • put aside at least a couple of days
  • put everything including the kitchen sink into a huge wheel-barrow and trundle it down to a neatly manicured fishing/camping platform
  • throw literally kilo after kilo of bait into the water
  • sit back and wait

What really is the thinking behind this? What behaviour of the carp makes this a viable method? Having done a fair amount of research and observation over the years, I can only conclude that it is the carp’s ability to recognise new food forms and, to a certain extent become fixated on them that is being exploited here. But that’s it. There is no further insight to the habits and behaviour of the fish itself and I would suggest that these methods are more about the habits of the fisherman than their intended target. I’ll pick up on this again with respect to fly fishing in a moment.

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. Except fat, lazy carpers I guess….

What the majority of carp fishers seem oblivious to is the fact that carp have been around considerably longer than commercial boilies (or indeed fishermen) and are actually quite happy to munch away on natural food-stuffs. More than happy, in fact. Some of the older literature picks up on this fact, stating that carp have to be educated to recognise modern particulate baits over their natural foods, hence the need to use gallons of free offerings. One or two go further than this and suggest that on some heavily fished waters carp may actually be spooked by large amounts of bait and regularly fished areas. Hardly any suggest trying to identify what natural items the carp may be feeding on and trying to match them.

I’ve also read quite a few reports of multi-day sessions where carp simply didn’t materialise in the chosen swim. What on earth are these guys playing at?!! 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 know where the fish are, which has got to be a good start. And if you can’t see them, move on…..

As fly-fishers and keen observers you’ll have gathered that you’re already way ahead of the game here. Applying these principles to your trout fishing is something you do naturally every day. Note that I’m not suggesting that fly fishing is superior to “coarse” fishing as a method, just that how we go about it is undoubtedly more logical than the standard “chuck it and chance it” of the pre-baited swim merchants; no matter how complicated their rigs and baits are. The very few folks who actively stalk carp with coarse gear are essentially applying the same methods of observation and approach as the fly-fisherman, but they really are the exception rather than the rule. I have yet to meet a real one; just guys who’ve left their pre-set rods a few yards along the bank and have gone for a wander whilst bored.

All of which brings me round to fly-fishing for carp. And it’s here that, once again, we Brits demonstrate the stubbornness and ignorance for which we are renowned. 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 wide range of bread or fish-pellet imitations, designed to be used with handfuls of free offerings introduced to attract the fish. Do you recognise this approach….? Ho hum. May as well prepare your bivvy whilst you’re at it.

Come on folks! One of the reasons that natural baits have fallen out of favour with the bait-boys (but not with the carp!) is that it’s very difficult to attach them and present them 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 larva 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.

Take a look at the American scene and it’s a very different affair. Not only have they actively embraced the carp (and many other fish for that matter) as a suitable target for their fly rods; they’ve adopted the same principles of observation, imitation and presentation of food items that underpin the fly-fisher’s approach. Have a look at the American fly patterns for carp, have a read of the problems/behaviours they’re trying to reconcile and you’ll see what I mean. In a modern world where fly-fishing in particular is increasingly seen as archaic and out-moded, these folks are showing 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!

So, fat carpers; by all means enjoy your Sunday afternoon carping session snoozing on your bed chair with your bite alarms primed. I don’t blame you: it all seems very pleasant and I’m sure you deserve a break. But please don’t try and tell me that you’re hunting for carp.

“Free your mind and your ass will follow” George Clinton et al.

Dave with a fine-looking carp.

Dave with a fine-looking carp.